basilica san marco

Is St. Mark’s Basilica Worth It? A Local’s Tips for Visiting 

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As somebody who lives near Venice and travels there several times per year, I am often asked if it’s worth it to go to St Mark’s Basilica. After all, the lines are long and the area is crowded with tourists. 

Although it suffers from the effects of mass tourism, Venice’s jaw-dropping landmark is definitely worth it. Visiting Venice and not going to the Basilica is like going to Paris and not going to the Eiffel Tower. 

It is a treasure trove of splendor inside, and the golden mosaics are not to be missed. If you are a history buff, then the long and interesting history of the impressive basilica will be a highlight of your time spent in Venice

Read on to get some practical information to make sure that you get the most out of visiting Saint Mark’s Basilica.

Practical Information to Visit St Mark’s Basilica

St Mark’s Basilica Opening Hours

St. Mark’s Basilica is open to visitors from Monday to Saturday, 9:30 AM to 5:15 PM, and on Sundays from 2:00 PM to 5:15 PM. 

On Sundays from 9:30 to 2:00, only the Loggia dei Cavalli and St Mark’s Museum can be visited since there are masses taking place during that time.

St Mark’s Basilica is open 365 days of the year but watch out for different mass times on holidays such as Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Easter.

Entry Ticket Prices

Entrance to the basilica is 3 euro if you buy the tickets at the desk when entering after waiting in line. However, there are other options for buying tickets and those options cost more than 3 euro. For instance, there are many St Mark’s Basilica tour options that will give you skip the line tickets, guided tours, and bundles for other St Mark’s Square attractions such as the Bell Tower, Doge’s Palace and other museums. 

There are additional fees for the Pala d’Oro (5€; free for children up to 6 years of age) and the Museum-Loggia dei Cavalli (7€; free for children up to 6 years of age). Access to the terrace overlooking St Mark’s Square is included in the price for the St Mark’s Museum. If you buy a skip the line tour you can also get an audio guide and access to all of these extras for one ticket price. Check out the deal here

entrance to san marco basilica

St Mark’s Basilica Dress Code

Visitors are required to dress modestly, with shoulders and knees covered. Bring a shawl or scarf if you are wearing a sleeveless dress or shirt. It is recommended to avoid wearing hats and sunglasses inside the Basilica.

No Backpacks or Large Bags Allowed

For security reasons, you have to check any backpacks or large bags in a baggage check before entering. It’s a good idea to do this before waiting in line. There is a baggage check to the left of the basilica, but as of the time of this writing, it is closed temporarily. For now, there is a guard at the entrance of the basilica that checks the size of the bag and will determine if you can go inside with it or not. 

baggage size for entry to san marco basilica

Best Time to Visit

If you are trying to plan your visit around the best time to visit Venice in general, then keep in mind that St Mark’s Basilica is fairly crowded all year. Even when there are fewer tourists at certain times of the year, the ones there will all be visiting St Mark’s Basilica no matter what. That said, you can generally find fewer tourists in the off-season of November until mid-December and again in January until early February. Once Carnevale season starts, it is crowded until the end of the summer. 

crowds at san marco basilica

As far as the best time of day to visit the Basilica di San Marco, you should arrive at least 15 minutes before opening time if you plan to wait in line instead of buying skip-the-line tickets from a tour company. Then, try later in the day just before they let the last people in. This is around the time that Venice starts clearing out in general. 

If you only have one day in Venice, then I highly recommend getting a combination ticket to get you in the Basilica, plus the Museo di San Marco, the Doge’s palace and even a gondola ride to make the most of your time so you aren’t waiting in any lines. (Click here for more information about that ticket)

Another great idea is to visit the basilica at night. There is an evening tour available from Get Your Guide that is worth every penny since you don’t have to deal with crowds and the way that the golden basilica is lit up is spectacular. You’ll see all of the treasures inside the Basilica including St Mark’s crypt underneath the church. 

Taking Pictures

There is photography permitted inside St Mark’s Basilica as long as it is for private use. If you are looking to take professional photographs or videos with professional equipment then you will need to get special permission. 

For everybody else taking pictures on their cell phones, this is permitted. 

ceiling of golden mosaics of san marco basilica

Attending a Mass at St Mark’s Basilica

The Mass and Services at St Mark’s Basilica are typically conducted by a canon from the Chapter of St Mark’s. The Patriarch of Venice leads the major celebrations during the liturgical year.

For attending mass, you need to enter through the side door called the ‘Porta dei Fiori’ on the north side of St Mark’s Basilica. 

porta dei fiori entrance for mass at st mark's basilica

Here are the schedules for the masses at St Mark’s Basilica:

Monday to Saturday Morning (Altar of the Nicopeia)

Time Activity
08:00 Morning Devotions and Mid-Morning Prayers (Held in St Theodore’s Chapel)
08:30 Holy Mass
10:00 Holy Mass
17:00 Eucharistic Adoration (Only on Tuesdays)
17:45 Evening Devotions and Readings (Held in St Theodore’s Chapel)
18:25 Recitation of the Rosary
18:45 Holy Mass

Saturday Afternoon and Vigil of Holy Days of Obligation (In the Nave)

Time Activity
17:45 Evening Devotions and Readings (Held in the Chancel)
18:45 Holy Mass

Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation (In the Nave)

Time Activity
08:30 Holy Mass
10:00 Solemn Mass (Chanted by the ‘Cappella Marciana’ Choir)
12:00 Holy Mass (Known as “Organ Mass”)
17:30 Evening Devotions, Eucharistic Blessing, and Procession to the Nicopeia
18:45 Holy Mass

A Brief History of St Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica, located in Venice in Northern Italy, boasts a rich history spanning over 1,100 years. Originally constructed in the 9th century the church served as a private chapel for the Doge or ruler of Venice, the basilica has undergone numerous transformations, reflecting the evolving architectural styles and artistic tastes of the times.

The original church of St. Mark’s was a modest structure, reflecting the architectural styles of the time. Its layout was based on a Greek cross design, with a central dome and four smaller domes surrounding it. This design was inspired by the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, showcasing the strong Byzantine influence on Venetian architecture.

The basilica was expanded when St Mark’s body arrived after being stolen from Alexandria and brought to Venice. The original structure was destroyed by fire in 976 AD, leading to the construction of a new, grander basilica for St Mark’s relics. This existing church, completed in the 11th century, forms the core of the present-day basilica.

st mark's basilica in summer

Over the centuries, St. Mark’s Basilica has been embellished with a variety of artistic and architectural additions, transforming it into a masterpiece of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic styles. The basilica’s iconic façade, adorned with marble and mosaics, is a testament to Venice’s wealth and artistic prowess during the medieval period.

The design and ornamentation of St. Mark’s Basilica continued to evolve over eight centuries, with each period leaving its mark on the structure. The Gothic period introduced pointed arches and elaborate stone carvings, while the Renaissance period saw the addition of classical elements and a greater emphasis on symmetry.

What You’ll See Inside: The Highlights of St Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica is a treasure trove of art, sculptures, and iconography, each piece telling a story of Venice’s rich history and religious devotion. The interior of the basilica is adorned with an astounding array of gilded mosaics, covering an area of about 8,000 square meters, making it one of the most extensively mosaic-decorated cathedrals in the world.

The Golden Mosaics

The precious mosaic decorations primarily depict biblical scenes, Christian saints, and stories of the city’s protector, St. Mark, creating a visual narrative of Christian faith and Venetian history. The golden mosaic tiles, in particular, are renowned for their brilliance, earning the basilica the nickname Chiesa d’Oro, or Church of Gold.

The Four Horses

One of the most notable sculptures is the Quadriga, a set of four gilded bronze horses that once adorned the Hippodrome of Constantinople. These horses were stolen during the Fourth Crusade and brought back to adorn the entrance to St Mark’s Basilica. The ones there now are copies with the originals housed inside the Museo di San Marco. 

quadriga four horses of saint mark's basilica

The Crypt

The basilica also houses a remarkable collection of relics, including the body of St. Mark himself. The story of how St. Mark’s relics came to Venice is a fascinating tale of intrigue and adventure, involving Venetian merchants stealing the saint’s body from Alexandria and bringing it back to Venice. The crypt is not usually open during normal opening hours. To see it you’ll need to book an after hours evening tour (Get more info here). 

Pala d’Oro

The Pala d’Oro, or Golden Pall, is an exquisite altarpiece located behind the main altar of the Basilica. Crafted from gold and adorned with precious stones, pearls, and enamels, it is considered one of the most refined and accomplished works of Byzantine craftsmanship. Originally commissioned in the 10th century and later embellished in the 14th century, the Pala d’Oro is a testament to Venice’s wealth and artistic excellence during the Middle Ages. Its intricate designs depict various biblical scenes, saints, the Virgin Mary and Christ in Majesty, offering a visual feast for visitors.

The Basilica Terrace

The Basilica Terrace offers visitors a unique opportunity to enjoy panoramic views of Saint Mark’s Square and the city of Venice. It also provides a closer look at the Basilica’s intricate façade and the famous bronze horses, which are replicas of the original Quadriga that are now housed inside the Basilica museum to protect them from the elements.

From here you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the Saint Mark’s Basin, the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) and the full breadth of the piazza also known as Europe’s Drawing Room.

The Floor

The floor of St. Mark’s Basilica is a masterpiece in itself, featuring intricate mosaics and geometric patterns made from various colored marbles. The floor’s design adds to the overall grandeur of the Basilica, showcasing the attention to detail and artistic skill of the craftsmen who worked on it.

floor mosaic of st mark's basilica

St. Mark’s Museum

Located inside St Mark’s Basilica, the museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts, liturgical objects, and tapestries. St. Mark’s Museum is home to a variety of religious relics, including fragments of the True Cross and other sacred items. These relics hold significant religious importance and provide insight into the devotional practices of the medieval Venice Republic.

For a more immersive experience, the museum offers interactive exhibits that allow visitors to engage with all the history and art of St. Mark’s Basilica in a hands-on manner. These exhibits are designed to be educational and accessible, making them a great option for visitors of all ages.

Getting to St Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica is centrally located in Venice, making it accessible from various parts of the city. Venice is a walkable city and all roads lead to St Mark’s Basilica essentially. Here are some tips on how to get there, along with estimated walking times from popular sights:

From Rialto Bridge

Walking Time: Approximately 10 minutes

Directions: Head southeast from the Rialto Bridge along Calle Bembo. Continue onto Calle Larga Mazzini and then onto Merceria Orologio. Follow the signs for Piazza San Marco, and you will find St. Mark’s Basilica on the eastern end of the square.

From Venice Santa Lucia Train Station

Walking Time: Approximately 30-40 minutes

Directions: Head south from the train station towards the Grand Canal. Cross the Ponte degli Scalzi bridge and continue along Rio Terà Lista di Spagna. Follow the signs for Piazza San Marco through various streets and campos (squares). The route will take you through the bustling Strada Nova and eventually lead you to St. Mark’s Basilica.

By Vaporetto (Water Bus):
Take Line 1 or Line 2 from Piazzale Roma (Vaporetto stop: Ferrovia).
Get off at San Marco Vallaresso for Line 1 or San Marco Giardinetti for Line 2.
St. Mark’s Square is a short walk from the Vaporetto stops.

From Accademia Gallery

Walking Time: Approximately 15 minutes

Directions: Head east from the Accademia Gallery towards Campo Santo Stefano. Cross the Ponte dell’Accademia bridge and continue along Calle Larga XXII Marzo. Follow the signs for Piazza San Marco, and you will arrive at St. Mark’s Basilica.

From Piazzale Roma

Walking Time: Approximately 30-40 minutes

Directions: Starting from Piazzale Roma, head southeast towards the Grand Canal and cross the Constitution Bridge to reach the Santa Lucia Train Station. From there, follow the Lista di Spagna and Strada Nova, keeping an eye out for signs directing you to Rialto and San Marco. Continue your journey by crossing the Rialto Bridge and proceeding along Calle Larga Mazzini, which will lead you straight to St. Mark’s Square.

By Vaporetto (Water Bus):
Take Line 1 or Line 2 from Piazzale Roma (Vaporetto stop: Piazzale Roma).
Get off at San Marco Vallaresso for Line 1 or San Marco Giardinetti for Line 2.
St. Mark’s Square is a short walk from the Vaporetto stops.

piazzale roma

Tips for a Smooth Journey

  • Wear Comfortable Shoes: Venice is a city best explored on foot, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes for your journey.
  • Use a Map or GPS: Venice’s narrow streets and winding canals can be confusing. Use a map or GPS to help navigate your way to St. Mark’s Basilica.
  • Take Your Time: Venice is filled with charming streets, picturesque canals, and hidden gems. Allow yourself time to explore and enjoy the journey to St. Mark’s Basilica.
  • Consider a Water Taxi: If you prefer not to walk, consider taking a water taxi to the San Marco Vallaresso stop, which is a 2-minute walk to the Basilica.
water taxi stand at st mark's square

FAQ About St Mark’s Basilica

How long does it take to see St Mark’s Basilica?

The time it takes to visit St. Mark’s Basilica can vary depending on the visitor’s interest level and whether they choose to participate in a guided tour or use an audio guide. On average, a visit can take around 1 hour. This allows enough time to admire the Basilica’s stunning architecture, intricate mosaics, and other significant art pieces. If you plan to visit the museum, terrace, or other additional areas, you may need to allocate more time so 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Can you take photos in St Mark’s Basilica?

Yes, photography is allowed inside St. Mark’s Basilica for private, non-commercial use. However, visitors are encouraged to be respectful and mindful of the religious nature of the site. Flash photography and the use of tripods are generally not permitted.

Can you wear flip flops in St Marks Basilica?

While flip flops are technically allowed, it is recommended to wear comfortable and supportive shoes when visiting St. Mark’s Basilica and exploring Venice in general. The city’s cobblestone streets and the need for a fair amount of walking make it more practical to wear sturdy footwear. Additionally, visitors should ensure that their attire is respectful of the religious nature of the Basilica, covering shoulders and knees as required.

Wrapping It Up

To skip entering St. Mark’s Basilica would be giving up an opportunity to experience the soul of Venice, to understand its allure, and to witness firsthand the art and architecture that have captivated visitors for centuries. It is a vital piece of the Venetian experience, a jewel in the city’s crown, and a moment of discovery that should not be missed.

Although it is a bucket list item that usually is just visited to take a picture for Instagram, if you treat it like the icon that it is, you’ll gain a greater appreciation for it.

Sal Presti

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