Some of Venice’s best cafés, restaurants, bars, shops and markets can be found near the square, so why not spend an entire day exploring this area? Or head here during the evening to avoid the crowds and experience St. Mark’s Square at night.
What’s in this guide?
- St. Mark’s Square history and facts
- What to see at St. Mark’s Square
- Restaurants, bars and shops nearby
How to get to St. Mark’s Square
Located in Venice's San Marco sestiere (district), the famous square is a 28-minute walk from Santa Lucia train station. Alternatively, take the number 2 vaporetto (waterbus) from Ferrovia B, outside the station, to the Rialto stop. From here, it’s a 5-minute walk to reach St. Mark’s Square, with the whole journey taking 16 minutes.
St. Mark’s Square history and facts
The area where St. Mark’s Square stands today was always a major religious site in Venice, housing the first chapel of the doge, built around 819. The chapel was dedicated to St. Theodore, the patron saint of Venice.
Around 828, the relics of St. Mark were stolen from Alexandria and brought to Venice. The city adopted St. Mark as their new patron saint. A new church was erected in 836 to house the relics whilst a campanile was added later, between 888-891.
Another, smaller church dedicated to San Geminiano stood across the Rio Baratario on the square's western side.
Expansion of St. Mark’s Square
It wasn’t until the rule of Sebastian Ziani (1172-78) that significant changes to the area occurred, which is when St. Mark’s Square was born. The Church of San Geminiano was destroyed, and the Rio Baratario was filled in, creating more open space. A new church dedicated to San Geminiano was later built in a different location on the square.
The Doge of Venice acquired several other buildings in the vicinity, demolishing them as the square expanded. During the late 12th century, St. Mark’s Square was paved with bricks in a herringbone pattern.
More buildings were erected on the south and north sides of the square, including the Procuratie's stunning Byzantine arches. This design feature still characterizes St. Mark’s Square today. The upper floors of the Procuratie were used as offices for the procurators of St. Mark, whilst the ground floor was let out for shops.
Developments from the 16th century onwards
Major reconstructive works took place in St. Mark’s Square from 1537 onwards. The architect Jacopo Sansovino was appointed to oversee the project. His most notable additions were the Loggetta at the foot of St. Mark’s bell tower and the Marciana Library.
He also reconstructed the façade of the Church of San Geminiano using white Istrian stone. Napoleon eventually destroyed the church in 1810, building the Napoleonic Wing in its place.
What to see at St. Mark’s Square
Thanks to the long and rich history of St. Mark’s Square, there’s plenty to see here! You could easily spend an afternoon walking around the piazza and taking in the impressive beauty of the many buildings, sculptures and decorative work. Or visit the many notable attractions to learn more about the city’s past.
Decorative elements and sculptures
The Lion of Venice is an ancient bronze sculpture erected between 1172-77 during the reign of Sebastian Ziani. It came to represent St. Mark, the city’s patron saint. A replica statue of St. Theodore sits atop the other granite pillar in the square, erected around 1329.
Many of the other decorative elements you can still see around the square were added in the 13th century after Constantinople was captured during the 4th Crusade. Some of the stolen treasures include the marble, mosaics and four horses on the façade of St. Mark’s Basilica, two square pillars in the smaller piazzetta and the four porphyry statues known as the Tetrarchs.
St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica is one of Venice’s most popular attractions, for a good reason! The 11th century Roman Catholic church dominates the piazza with its domed structure and ornate façade. Whilst the exterior of St. Mark’s is impressive enough, venture inside to be amazed by the gold mosaic decorations that adorn the basilica.
St. Mark’s Campanile
The campanile (bell tower) of St. Mark’s Basilica is the tallest structure in Venice at 98.6m high. The original tower was built in the early 10th century, reaching its full height in 1514. Intended as a watchtower to see approaching ships, it also served as a landmark of Venice for local vessels.
At the base of the campanile is the loggetta, built by Jacopo Sansovino between 1538-46. This small yet richly decorated building was once used for meetings held by Venetian Republic officials and the procurators of Saint Mark.
When the bell tower collapsed in 1902, the loggetta had to be rebuilt, although half of the original materials were salvaged. Today, it’s the entrance to the campanile’s elevator.
The Clock Tower
First erected in the 15th century at the east side of St. Mark’s Square, the Clock Tower was built to link the commercial centre of Venice (Rialto) with the political and religious centre (the piazza) via Le Mercerie. It’s decorated with religious statues, Roman and Arabic numerals, the Lion of Saint Mark and zodiac symbols.
The Marciana Library
The Marciana Library, or Library of Saint Mark, is one of Italy's earliest surviving public libraries. It is home to the most significant classical texts and manuscripts globally.
Although the collection was donated to the Republic of Venice in 1468 by the scholar Cardinal Bessarion, the library was not built until 1537-88 during Sansovino’s extensive renovations of St. Mark’s Square.
The Doge’s Palace
Constructed in 1340, the Doge’s Palace was the residence of the doges of the Venetian Republic. It is one of the most-visited attractions in Venice and a striking feature of St. Mark’s Square.
Located next to St. Mark’s Basilica, you'll find it in a smaller, adjacent square known as the piazzetta. Today, it’s a museum, where you can learn about the civic and political history of the city.
The south side of St. Mark’s Square opens onto the Grand Canal, with stunning views across to the island of Giudecca. This is a great spot to take photos or watch the sunset.
Restaurants, bars and shops near St. Mark’s Square
St. Mark’s Square is well-located for many of the best restaurants, bars and shops in Venice, so there’s plenty to do in this area once you’ve finished sightseeing! Enjoy a coffee overlooking the famous piazza, head for a few drinks along the Grand Canal or indulge in some retail therapy.
Best restaurants near St. Mark’s Square
Discover traditional Venetian dishes at these authentic restaurants near St. Mark’s Square, perfect for a leisurely lunch or dinner after a busy day:
- Osteria Enoteca San Marco
- Ai Mercanti
- Ristorante Centrale
- Trattoria Leoncini
- Al Chianti
- Le Maschere
- Ristorante La Piazza
- Osteria Carla
Looking for more recommendations on where to eat in Venice? Our dedicated restaurant guide has you covered.
Best bars near St. Mark’s Square
From historical cafés and bars overlooking St. Mark’s Square to waterfront terraces and cosy wine bars, these are the best places to enjoy a drink or two nearby:
- Caffè Florian
- Caffè Quadri
- Bar Longhi
- Bar Dandolo
- Harry’s Bar
- Birreria Forst
- Al Chianti
Our nightlife guide includes all the best bars, pubs and clubs in Venice, so you can plan the perfect night out.
Best shops near St. Mark’s Square
The best shopping streets in Venice are conveniently located near St. Mark’s Square. For luxury and designer shops, head to Calle Larga XXII Marzo and Salizada San Moisè.
Discover international fashion brands and Italian high-street favourites in Le Mercerie. Exit St. Mark’s Square under the Clock Tower, and you’ll come to the city’s busiest shopping area. Look out for these streets:
- Marzarieta Due Aprile
- Marzaria San Salvador
- Marzarie del Capitello
- Marzaria San Zulian
- Marzaria de l’Orologio
Travelling by train to Venice?
If you're taking a trip to Venice, why not travel by train? Travelling to Venice by train is easy due to the high-speed rail connections operated by Trenitalia and Italo. You can travel to Venice from some of the most popular locations in Italy, including Peschiera del Garda to Venice (1h 16m), Verona Porta Nuova to Venice (1h) and Trieste Centrale to Venice (1h 37m).
Need more information about travelling to Venice by train? Check out our dedicated page to trains to Venice.