With origins that date back to the 11th century, St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice has not only withstood the test of time, but has also become one of the world’s most iconic travel destinations. The basilica features thousands of square footage of gilded mosaics, ancient green-marble columns, and the Pala d’Oro, a glistening gold screen adorned with priceless gems. It was not only the religious heart of Venice centuries ago, but the city’s everyday life revolved around it, too.
Today, Saint Mark’s is the only basilica in the city. So whether you’re coming for Carnival or if Venice is a stop on your Grand Tour of Italy, a visit to the basilica and square it’s located in is an absolute must. Traveler Jordan decided to take another stroll around St. Mark’s Square at midnight for an unexpected perspective on the world-renowned attraction. “Odd as it may sound, walking around a place steeped in so much history that late at night was both enchanting and eerie at the same time,” she said. “I could truly feel the history and culture.” Not only is it awe-inspiring, but there’s much to see in Venice nearby.
Read on to find the best things to do near Saint Mark’s Basilica.
Discover how Venetian leaders used to live it up
(The Doge’s Palace is a two-minute walk from Saint Mark’s Basilica)
Whether you’re taking our 9-day Venice, Florence & Rome trip or indulging in the romance of a 12-day tour of Italy for New Year’s Eve in Venice with Florence & Rome, you’ll walk past the stately Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace. Located two-minutes away from Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, this 14th-century Venetian Gothic relic is full of marvelous architectural flourishes. You can pay for a guided tour if you choose to visit in your free time on tour. The guides will regale you with tales about the ornate gateways crowned with statues of religious figures, grand chambers with massive frescoes by Paduan artist Guariento di Arpo, eerie prisons (one held the famous Casanova), and jaw-dropping façades decorated with geometric patterns crafted with Istrian stones.
A Doge (pronounced doezh) is comparable to a duke and was the head of the Venetian government. His apartments within the palace naturally reflected his importance. Fireplaces made from Carrara marble, frescoes by masters like Titian, and carved wood ceilings are just some of the trappings that make these spaces so impressive.
Walk an ancient bridge once marched by prisoners
(The Bridge of Sighs is a one-minute walk from Saint Mark’s Basilica)
Venice is home to about 400 different bridges. And one that’s only a one-minute away from St. Mark’s Basilica is also one of the most iconic. The Bridge of Sighs, or Ponte dei Sospiri in Italian, connects the Doge’s Palace to an old prison across the canal. It is among the city’s most visited attractions. And why not? This covered bridge doesn’t just have an amazing history that dates back to the year 1600, but it’s quite pretty, too. The enclosed white limestone structure is carved and decorated in stunning detail, including lattice-like screens that used to allow prisoners one last glimpse at Venice’s picturesque beauty.
Explore St. Mark’s Basilica on tour
Witness Venetian life at a local market
(Rialto Market is a seven-minute walk from Saint Mark’s Basilica)
For trips like the 12-day Venice, Florence & Rome itinerary, where there’s a free day in town, it would be absolutely worth it to strike out early in the morning and head to Rialto Market. It’s at the base of Rialto Bridge, located just a seven-minute walk from Saint Mark’s Basilica. This daily open-air shopping extravaganza offers a dynamic look at the way locals live in Venice. The bustling scene of eager shoppers haggling for fish and inspecting produce is worth the early-morning wake-up call. Once you’ve snapped your share of photos, consider strolling around nearby alleyways before they get too crowded. It’s the perfect time to grab an espresso and some breakfast.
Trek up Campanile San Marco for unforgettable views
(This bell tower is in the same piazza as Saint Mark’s Basilica)
A tour of St. Mark’s Square and basilica in Venice is already an incredible sensory experience that will yield countless photo ops. But if that’s not enough, and you’re craving an eye-popping survey of the entire city, devote a bit of your free time (our Venice itineraries include plenty of it) to trekking up Campanile San Marco. The belfry of this red-brick bell tower was where Galileo Galilei once impressed the Doge with the prowess of his telescope. Today, from the 320-foot-high perch on the tallest building in Venice, you won’t need a telescope to see all of this magnificent city stretching before you. In a destination full of incredible views, this is definitely the best one.
Relax a bit at historic cafes and restaurants
(Ristorante Quadri and Caffè Florian are a two-minute walk from Saint Mark’s Basilica)
Considering the amount of foot traffic that passes around St. Mark’s Basilica, it’s only natural that the area features its fair share of fantastic restaurants, trattorias, and cafes. If a culinary journey is more your speed, this central pocket of Venice won’t disappoint. Start with an absolute classic: Caffè Florian, operating since 1720, is among the oldest on the continent. Its plush, Old World-interiors—red velvet seats, gold-trimmed mirrors—have hosted the likes of Lord Byron for coffee and biscotti.
A two-minute walk from Saint Mark’s Basilica is another historic dining room: Ristorante Quadri. You’ll want to book a table way ahead of your trip. Have your focaccia and burrata in either the dramatic indoor space (with its Murano chandeliers) or pick a seat on the terrace that looks right at the square.
Sail into the sunset
(The Grand Canal is a twelve-minute walk from Saint Mark’s Basilica)
All of our trips to Venice include the option to add additional excursions, which can be layered on top of your guided itinerary during free time. One of the most memorable Venice add-ons is a leisurely sunset cruise around the Grand Canal. You’ll set off from St. Mark’s Square at dusk, just as the sky begins to change colors and Venice’s skyline takes on an even more picture-perfect glow.