Sights in the San Marco neighborhood

The mosaics of St. MarksBasilica di San Marco ★★★ - Let's just come out and say it: there simply is no church in Europe more lavishly decorated, more exquisitely mosaicked, more glittering with gold than San Marco, the cathedral of Venice. Built in the 11th century, this medieval basilica topped by a quintet of Byzantine domes is swathed inside in 40,000 square feet of glittering golden mosaics... » more
The pigeons of St. Mark's Square in VenicePiazza San Marco ★★★ - The living room of Venice is a year-round carnival, one of milling tourists, the glittering mosaics of St. Mark's cathedral, 16th-century arcades, kids feeding an endless supply of pigeons, locals relaxing at outdoor café tables under 16th century arcades, and couples caught up in Venice's romance dancing on the cobblestones to the competing strains of the cafés' live pianists and classical trios... » more
The Palazzo Ducale in VeniceDoge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) ★★★ - The sumptuously decorated seat of Venetian power for 900 years, the Ducal Palace ostentatiously displays the wealth of this formerly mighty maritime republic with grand rooms saddled in Renaissance masterpieces (by Tintoretto, Titian, Veronese, etc.)—and the famous Bridge of Sighs over to the state prisons—but the best way to see it—and unlock its history—is to take the Secret Itineraries tour of the hidden hallways, secret chambers, and prison cells (from which Casanova famously escaped) that lie secreted behind the walls and gilded frippery... » more
The belltower of St. Marks in VeniceCampanile di San Marco - From the narrow balcony around the top of the belltower of St. Mark's Basilica, you will be able to admire the multiple domes and spires of the cathedral's rooftop along with a glorious sweep across Piazza San Marco, the city of Venice, the Grand Canal, and the busy Bacino San Marco basin... » more
The Ponte di Rialto in VeniceRialto Bridge - This shop-lined, 16th-century stone bridge was, until the 19th century, the only place you could cross the Grand Canal. It has for centuries been a gathering place and prime meeting spot, the place you to get the pulse of the city (or these days, the pulse of the tourists)... » more
The church of San Giorgio Maggiore in VeniceSan Giorgio Maggiore - Nearly every visitor to Venice snap a picture of it, yet barely a handful ever board the vaporetto to visit this Palladio-designed church on its own little island in the Bacino San Marco, where the Grand Canal empties out in front of Piazza San Marco. This is a shame, since they're missing a Venetian architectural glory decorated with works by Tintoretto, Carpaccio, and Jacopo Bassano—plus spectacular views from the bell tower... » more
The Jewish Ghetto of VeniceTorre dell'Orologio - This late 15th-century clock tower has a bell that chimes the hours with the help of two hammer-wielding statues standing on the very tip-top of the tower and known as the "Moors of Venice." You would think there would be some kind of great story behind that... » more
A painting of a Doge by Giovanni Bellini in the Museo Civico CorrerMuseo Civico Correr - A nice little hodgepodge of collections installed above the arcades alongside Piazza San Marco. The best of this trio of city museums is the art gallery (good Carpaccios, plus works by all three Bellinis—Jacopo and sons Giovanni and Gentile). The others are devoted to, respectively, Venetian history (read: lots of paintings of ships) and the Risorgimento (Italy's 19th century unification movement; the sort of thing every Italian kid studies ad nauseam in school but, frankly, no one else cares about). Hard to believe it's nearly always empty when, across the square, St. Mark's is packed to the gills... » more
Giardini Papadopoli, VeneziaGiardinetti Reali - The Venice park hidden in plain sight: a pocket-sized garden wedged between Piazza San Marco and the Grand Canal—once part of Napoleon's royal palace, now zipped past by many visitors (the main tourist office occupies a small building here)... » more
The bacino Orseolo, a gondola parking lot behind St. Mark's Square in VeniceBacino Orseolo - This little wide spot in the canal, cupped in the curving yellow walls of the Albergo Cavalletto & Doge Orseolo (making for some sweet views from the hotel's red-awninged windows), is where dozens of gondolas bounce gently in the water in the late afternoon and into the evening. Gondoliers park their here rides after work and then stand around in their striped shirts, swapping war stories... » more

Tips & links

San Marco walks & tours
San Marco lodging
San Marco dining

Where to eat in San Marco
★★★ Bistrot de Venise [meal]
★★ Osteria La Campana [meal]
★★ Vino Vino [light meal]
Rosticceria Teatro Goldoni [quick]
Rosticceria San Bartolomeo [quick]

About the star ratings

I have rated every sight and experience in Venice from zero to three stars.

Three stars, two stars, etc. are fairly self-explanatory—but note that it's not that the "no-star sights" are not worth the bother.

In fact, in any other city they'd probably rank much higher. They're just cursed to be in Venice, competing for your precious vacation time alongside St. Mark's Basilica, the Accademia Gallery, and a gondola ride—all solid three-stars.

This is a purely subjective rating, but it will help you get a sense of which sights pack the highest wow factor—and where to spend your time. In fact, you could view the starts thusly:

  • Anything rated three stars you should try to see even if you only have one day in Venice.
  • With two days, you can try to pack in as many two-starred sights as well.
  • With three or four days, you'll have time to fit in some one-star sights around the edges of your sightseeing schedule.
  • If you're lucky enough to be in town for more than four days, you might take the time to visit some of the no-starred sights.
How to find the Venice sights that will interest you

There are several ways helps you browse the sights of Venice, each neatly tucked into its own box below. You can get quick lists of all the top sights—the ones no one wants to miss when they visit Venice—or of all the attractions that are free of charge.

Or you can check out Reid's List, a thoroughly subjective compendium of some of my favorite, slightly less famous sights and experiences.

If you prefer thematic categories, you can see all the major museums or churches or palazzi at once, or if you're looking for something else to see or do nearby a major sight, you can peruse everything by neighborhood.

If you like to leave the planning of the daily itinerary to others, you can also sign up for a guided tour or two.

Or, if you want help cramming as much of it all as possible into your visit, you can peruse our perfect itineraries for one, two, or three days in Venice.

The top half-dozen or so sights listed under each category above are just a sampling. If you want to read short, one-line reviews of all sights within a category, click on the category title (or you can click on an individual sight for a quick link to its full description).

Tours, walks, & activities
How long does it take to see Venice?

Planning your day: You could spend an afternoon in Venice, a day or two, or a week and never run out of things to do and new corners to discover.

I would try to give Venice at least a day and a half. Three days would be better, but most people don't have that kind of time, even for Venice.

I have suggestions for how to spend anywhere from half a day in Venice up to three full days on the Venice itineraries pages.

Venice is a city that, at first glance, seems excessively touristy and overrun. Some visitors can't wait to move on to someplace that feels a bit less like a canal-rodden Disneyland.

However, given time (and purposefully getting lost once or twice), Venice reveals its serenissima side and begins to seduce even the most jaded of travelers.

Venice itineraries

Venice sightseeing passes

There are several cumulative ticket museum passes and discounts for pre-booking Venice:

  • Museum Pass ★★ (covering 11 civic museums and sights)
  • Chorus Pass (covering 16 major churches)
  • Venice Connected (a pre-booking service for sights and services offering minor discounts)
Venice links & resources

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Stay & dine in S. Marco
Where to eat in San Marco
★★★ Bistrot de Venise [meal]
★★ Osteria La Campana [meal]
★★ Vino Vino [light meal]
Rosticceria Teatro Goldoni [quick]
Rosticceria San Bartolomeo [quick]

Hotels in San Marco
RR Gritti Palace [splurge]
RR Locanda Fiorita [moderate]
RR Hotel Violino d'Oro [moderate]
RR Hotel ai do Mori [moderate]

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» Hotels in San Marco from

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