7 Cool Things to Do in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)

St. Mark’s Square, Venice’s largest and most important piazza, is among the most famous piazzas in all of Italy, its grand nature inspiring even Napoleon to call it the “drawing room of Europe”.

St. Mark’s Square (in Italian, Piazza San Marco) is both incredibly beautiful and incredibly interesting, and undoubtedly a must-see spot when visiting Venice.

Wondering what exactly to do in the lovely (and let’s admit it–often crowded) Piazza San Marco?

We’ve rounded up the best things to do in St. Mark’s Square, plus essential travel tips.

Piazza San Marco Venice st marks square on a sunny day
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The Best Things to Do in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square

Step inside St. Mark’s Basilica.

Stunningly beautiful and absolutely unmissable, St. Mark’s Basilica is the jewel of Piazza San Marco, and arguably one of the most beautiful churches in all of Italy.

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Built with heavy Byzantine influences, St. Mark’s Basilica is full of incredible details, including its fantastic mosaics, relics of St. Mark himself, and four bronze horses (that are actually mostly made of copper!) with a very interesting origin story–more on that below.

Touring the interior of the church is free, but unless you show up early, be prepared to wait to enter–wait times regularly climb past 45 minutes!

Close up of facade of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice

To get around this, we recommend getting in line before the church even opens in the morning. St. Mark’s Basilica opens at 9:30 AM, and if you can be in line by 9:00 AM (especially during the busy summer season), you’ll have a much smoother day in Venice.

Alternatively, you can purchase a skip-the-line entrance ticket for 3 Euros, or visit as part of a guided tour that covers both the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica.

Book your tour of St. Mark’s Basilica + the Doge’s Palace today!

Prefer something a bit more exclusive? This after-hours tour might be right for you!

Jeremy Storm wearing a gray t shirt on the roof of St. Mark's Basilica--definitely worth visiting this spot during your day trip to Venice from Florence!
Jeremy on the rooftop of St. Mark’s Basilica–don’t miss this viewpoint when exploring the basilica!

Tour the Doge’s Palace.

The Doge’s Palace is arguably one of the most interesting historical sites in Venice.

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While it is (obviously) a palace, and you can tour the Doge’s apartments, the main focus of a visit here is the broader government in Venice–which, at the height of the Venetian Empire, was rather forward-thinking for its time!

Several councils made up the government, and the largest body was composed of male members of every noble family in the city.

Photo of Venetian Lagoon as seen from the Doge's Palace in Venice
Not a bad view that they had from inside the palace!

This is also where you can walk across the Bridge of Sighs and see the view it is truly famous for.

Originally, the bridge was known not for its beauty as seen from the outside, but the view of Venice and its lagoon from the inside–the last glimpse of the city that many prisoners who made their way across it ever saw.

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The Doge’s Palace is truly fascinating, and of all things to do in St. Mark’s Square, this is the most enhanced by a tour–we highly recommend booking one, as your experience will be so much better for it (and your time spent waiting in lines will sharply decrease, too!).

This tour is incredibly well-reviewed and is a great option.

Photo of interior of largest council chamber in the Doge's Palace--definitely worth visiting during one day in Venice! The ceiling is the focus of the shot and is covered in gold, there's a crowd in the distance.

If you’d like to learn more about the Venetian Empire, I also highly recommend the book City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas for a deep dive into the history of the empire.

Book your tour of the Doge’s Palace + St. Mark’s Basilica today!

Prefer something a bit more exclusive? This after-hours tour might be right for you!

Not into tours?

You can still skip the line at the Doge’s Palace by purchasing a priority ticket in advance.

Interior courtyard of the Doge's Palace, Venice

Soak in the views from Campanile San Marco.

For one of the most iconic views of Venice, head directly up the Campanile San Marco!

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From here, you’ll have a fantastic view of the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Venetian Lagoon, the most famous square in Venice, and more from above.

And, unlike most tower views in Italy, this one comes with little-to-no exertion: rather than climbing hundreds of stairs to the top, you simply take an elevator to the top.

Photo of the city of Venice from above, taken from San Marco Campanile, during a visit to Venice in November.

Enjoy a coffee at one of Piazza San Marco’s beautiful cafes.

There are several beautiful cafes scattered along the edges of Piazza San Marco in Venice, drawing in visitors with the promise of excellent coffee and pastries served with a hefty side of people-watching and live music.

The prices are eye-watering, of course, but you’re not really paying for coffee as much as the chance to be absorbed into the Drawing Room of Europe, moving from spectator to participant for a few minutes.

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By far the most famous of these cafes is the stunningly beautiful Caffe Florian, which opened its doors in 1720 and is considered the oldest cafe in Europe!

Sipping an Italian caffè at a 300-year old cafe while overlooking an (almost) 1000-year-old church and reflecting on the history both have witnessed is definitely a bucket-list-worthy experience in Venice!

tourists enjoying coffee at an outdoor cafe in famous venice square st marks

Museo Correr

Located right on Venice’s Piazza San Marco, the beautiful Museo Correr has a tendency to hide in plain sight (in large part your attention tends to be pulled in so many directions when exploring St. Mark’s Square).

This gorgeous art and history museum, though, definitely deserves to be visited–and if you visit the Doge’s Palace, your ticket also includes entrance to the Museo Correr!

aerial view of piazza san marco venice as seen from outlying island

Interesting Details in St. Mark’s Square

Look past the most famous things to do in St. Mark’s Square, and you’ll notice some truly remarkable details.

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The horses guarding St. Mark’s Basilica.

Look closely at the front facade of St. Mark’s Basilica, and you’ll see four of the most famous statues in Venice: the Horses of St. Mark.

When Venice participated in the Sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, they brought back the four bronze horses (which are actually made of copper) to Venice, where they stood overlooking the Piazza di Marco.

the 4 horses of st mark square on st marks basilica

However, they didn’t start their life in Constantinople–Venice captured the horses in 1254, but they date to the 2nd or 3rd century AD, and possibly hail from Ancient Greece or Rome.

Since 1254, though, they have lived in Venice with one notable exception.

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In 1797, Napoleon took the horses and placed them on top of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (the arc that faces the Louvre) in Paris, and then remained there until 1814, when they were brought back to Venice.

It’s worth noting that the horses overlooking St. Mark’s Square today are replicas–but you can still see the originals by visiting the museum on the second floor of St. Mark’s Basilica.

view of one of the horses of st mark overlooking saint marks square venice italy

The impressive St. Mark’s Clocktower (Torre dell’Orologio).

It’s hard to make your way through St. Mark’s Square without catching sight of the stunning St. Mark’s Clocktower (or in Italian, Torre dell’Orologio), with its gorgeous blue face complete with gold zodiac symbols–but to truly enjoy this 500-year-old masterpiece, consider going inside!

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Essentially hidden in plain sight, the interior tour of St. Mark’s Clocktower will show you a fascinating, secret side to this gorgeous building.

Visits can only be completed by guided tour and must be booked in advance.

Close up photo of St. Mark's Clocktower with blue face visible. Touring the inside of this beautiful clocktower is a great way to see Venice off the beaten path.

The imposing columns of San Marco and San Todaro.

Atop these two striking columns, the winged lion of St. Mark and the statue of St. Theodore (one of the first protectors of Venice–Todaro in Italian) stand guard over Piazza San Marco and the city.

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The origin of these two statues is quite murky, their artist’s name(s) long lost to history, but they arrived in Venice in the 12th century and have, with limited exception, have watched over the city ever since.

In the 18th century, public executions took place between the two columns–and because of this, if you’d like to hold with Venetian tradition while visiting St. Mark’s Square, you’ll need to avoid passing through the two columns.

view of statue of san todaro in venice italy with lagoon in the background

Tips for Visiting Piazza San Marco in Venice

Show up very early–or late.

We have stopped by Piazza San Marco at least a couple dozen times at this point, often when walking from one corner of Venice to another, and without a doubt, our favorite times to be in the square are after 8:00 PM and shortly after dawn.

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Not only will you be able to avoid the worst of the crowds that way, but the temperatures tend to be better, too! 

Photo of Piazza San Marco at night in Venice with a few people walking around and lights on the buildings illuminating the square

Pre-book your tickets or tours for major sights.

If you hope to tour major attractions in St. Mark’s Square like the Doge’s Palace or St. Mark’s Basilica, you’ll save an enormous amount of time by pre-booking your tickets in advance.

Book your tour of the Doge’s Palace + St. Mark’s Basilica today!

Prefer something a bit more exclusive? This after-hours tour might be right for you!

intricate gold ceilings in doges palace in venice. one of the most interesting facts about venice was that its empire was a republic

Backpacks, large purses, and immodest dress aren’t allowed in St. Mark’s Basilica.

If you’re hoping to tour St. Mark’s Basilica while visiting the square, be sure to look the part!

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There are lockers nearby to drop a bag in if needed, but your trip will be smoother if you simply explore the best things to do in St. Mark’s Square with as few belongings weighing you down as possible.

For clothing, avoid shorts and cleavage when visiting the basilica.

view of venice st marks square at dawn with cafe tables set out for the day

… and neither are photos.

Please keep in mind that interior photos are not permitted in St. Mark’s Basilica, so snap an extra dozen or so of the exterior detail instead!

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If you visit Venice in winter, keep the acqua alta in mind.

Venice’s famous acqua alta (literally “high water”) often touches St. Mark’s Square.

If you’re visiting Venice from November through February, there’s a chance you may experience some (most likely minor) flooding.

We saw Piazza San Marco partially covered in water during our very first trip to Venice, and I’ll never forget the sight!

tourists waiting in line to enter st marks basilicia in venice st marks square during acqua alta

Don’t spend too much of your trip to Venice in St. Mark’s Square.

Piazza San Marco is a beautiful, striking place that is home to some of the most famous things to do in Venice.

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It’s absolutely worth visiting… and it’s absolutely essential that you stray far, far away from it, even if you only have one day in Venice.

The famously overwhelming crowds of Venice tend to be incredibly dense in St. Mark’s Square–but wander even 5 minutes away down tiny side streets and along narrow canals, and you’re likely to quickly find yourself alone in Venice.

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aerial view of venice san marco piazza, red and black text on a white background reads "st marks square travel guide"
About Kate Storm
Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

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