St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) is the crown jewel of Venice, one of the most sumptuous cities in the western world. This ornate cathedral blends elements of Gothic, Byzantine, Romanesque, and Renaissance architecture—testimony to the city’s political and economic dominance that spanned centuries. Topped by soaring domes and with an interior of astonishing golden mosaics, the church is so opulent it is known as the Chiesa d’Oro, or the Golden Church. Construction began in 828, when the body of St. Mark was smuggled back to Venice from Alexandria; the church has been rebuilt, expanded, and delicately restored over the centuries.
St. Mark’s Basilica is the most famous monument in Venice and hosts millions of visitors each year, so there are often long lines to enter. To avoid the crowds and wait times, book a skip-the-line tour, or opt for an after-hours tour for private evening access. While the exterior is visited on just about every city sightseeing tour, a guided tour is the best way to experience the cathedral, given the complexity of its art and architecture. A private or small-group evening tour led by an expert tour guide offers a unique and intimate experience, and the basilica is located on St. Mark’s Square, so you can easily combine a basilica tour with a gondola ride and a Doge’s Palace tour.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Like most churches in Italy, St. Mark’s Basilica requires visitors to wear appropriate clothing—no exposed shoulders, knees, or midriffs.
- Large bags are not permitted in the basilica. Deposit any luggage at Ateneo di San Basso (in Piazzetta dei Leoncini).
How to Get There
The cathedral is on the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco, adjacent to the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) along the Grand Canal. The nearest vaporetto (ferry) stop is San Marco–San Zaccaria.
When to Get There
The basilica is most crowded at midday, so begin or end your Venice tour with a morning or late-afternoon visit. Summer is the most popular time of year to visit, while Venice is relatively quiet from November through February (aside from the Christmas and New Year holidays, and during Carnival).
The Pala d’Oro
St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is famous for Michelangelo's “Pietà” and Florence’s Duomo is known for Brunelleschi’s dome, but St. Mark’s Basilica’s greatest treasure—the stunning Pala d'Oro—dates back centuries before either of those masterpieces. This glittering gold and enamel altarpiece from AD 976 is considered one of the most important, refined examples of Byzantine enamel in the world.