Piazza San Marco Venice.
I would be absolutely amazed if anyone who visits Venice does not end up in the Piazza San Marco at some point during your visit to Venice. The Piazza is the heart of the city where most of the main tourist and important sites can be found. The Doges Palace, The Basilica San Marco, The Campanile San Marco, The Torre Dell' Orologio are all found here at the square. So many historical and beautiful buildings surrounding the square make it The place to visit if you like. If you are arriving in the city from the International airport of San Marco the Alilaguna boat will probably drop you off near the Piazza just in front of the Doges Palace. Most of the water buses depart from here too.
Meandering through the alleyways and streets of Venice you will see signs directing you either towards Rialto or to Piazza San Marco. If you are lost in the side streets you could perhaps look towards the sky and catch a glimpse of the Campanile San Marco that looms above the square in order to get your bearings.
Historical features of the Square.
At the Eastern end of St Mark's Square you will find the Basilica San Marco, the Doges Palace, San Marco campanile and the Astrological clock. Some of these buildings have been here since the early 800's AD. At different stages throughout the centuries these buildings have been added to and improved especially as Venice became a major maritime Republic and an important trading centre. The Square was used for grand parades of both church and government not only that market traders plied their wares in the square. At the Eastern end of the square there is a smaller square to the left of the Basilica and the area in to the front of the Doges Palace is a smaller Piazzetta leading to the lagoon and waterfront promenade passing the two winged lions on high pillars.
The square is surrounded on three sides by imposing buildings built in the 16th Century housing shops and cafes in a colonnaded walkway above which are offices and homes that originally housed important government officials and important figures from San Marco. The pavement was originally built in the 12th century using bricks that were placed in herringbone fashion but due to the Aqua Alta (High tides from the Adriatic) and regular flooding the pavement was raised by one meter with improved drainage. The pavement was redesigned in the 14th Century and a pattern of squares of white Istrian stone was built into the brickwork which is thought to mark out places for the traders to set up their stalls.
St. Marks square today!
St. Marks square is still the place to head for if you wish to visit the Basilica and the Doges palace. The square is full of historical buildings and interesting buildings you could spend a couple of days here exploring all it has to offer. However as most people visiting Venice are likely only to be there for a couple of days there is a lot to pack in if you wish to see more of Venice. During the day time the square is full of tourists who flock here to these great buildings. The queues to enter these sites are really long so if you wish to get in to all these places get there early before the thousands of day visitors arrive by train, bus and cruise liners or leave some to later in the day when they have departed. Even when most of the people have left Venice is still packed with tourists but it is easier to find places to eat without having to wait for tables to become available. Walking around the square you will notice that some of the steps and pathways are quite worn due to the thousands of tourists who visit the square each day. There are by laws in place to ensure that you are not allowed to plonk yourself down and start eating a snack anywhere in the square you will be asked to move on by the police. There are virtually no places to sit and admire the architecture around the square unless of course you are feeling flush and sit with a drink in one of the expensive cafes surrounding the square.
Eating and drinking in St. Marks Square.
My advice is DON'T...... unless of course you have a very deep wallet or you really want to soak up the atmosphere or you are foolish with money and madly in love. To sit in one of the cafes or restaurants surrounding the square is probably one of the most expensive things you will do in Venice. The restaurants are pavement style cafes which allows you to soak up the ambiance of Venice and people watch at a price of course The bills are astronomical for example Euro 9 for a small coke plus Euro 6 Supplement for listening to the music. For coffee expect to pay around 18 euros. As for eating dinner don't expect any change from Euro 200 each for dinner. A bottle of wine starts from Euro 42 to Euro 300. You could probably get away with lunch for around Euro 100.
The Grancaffe Quadri is one such restaurant. There is a large outside eating area and a small band stand with white drapes. Five musicians play music in competition with a restaurant on the opposite side of the square. You can also eat inside and there is a lovely restaurant upstairs too which is finely and tastefully decorated with a superb ambiance overlooking the square. We were not able to get a table overlooking the square so chose to eat elsewhere. To listen to the band playing Con te Partiro made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and sent a shiver down my spine. It really is something special but of course at a price. My advice is to find a café or restaurant off the square down one of the maze of alleyways where you can find much better standard of food at a far better price.
There is a variety of tourist type shops surrounding the square and high class shops selling glassware and costume jewellery. These high end shops do not display prices on some of the things but it will make your heart flutter when they reveal the prices. Do yourself and your credit card a favour and walk down the alleyways of Venice if you really want to nab yourself a bargain, well a bargain compared to the prices you will pay in St. Marks square. Murano glass can be bought far more cheaply in the little side streets as opposed to here.
St. Marks square is a hive of activity full of tourists and lovers out to soak up the ambiance and beauty of this small area. It can be very busy during the daytime but much calmer once most of the day trippers have departed on their coaches or massive cruise liners. It certainly is the place to be during your stay in Venice not only for people watching but more importantly to visit the historical sites around the square. I absolutely adore Venice and although I have only visited the place twice and for only a couple of days each time we have packed an awful lot into our trips there. Be prepared to do a lot of walking, standing, queuing but it is well worth it. Historically it is a beautiful city with many beautiful buildings you won't be disappointed with it. Venice is a very expensive place but you can help save yourself a little money by eating and shopping away from St. Marks Square. Personally I love St. Marks Square very early in the morning and very late at night when there are less people in the square. Once in the square it feels quite safe but getting to the square when Venice is deserted can be quite spooky walking alone down the small dark alleyways. There are always people walking about no matter what time of the day so you will never be quite alone.
The main square of Venice has received great press throughout the years and I can understand why, it is very beautiful. It would be pointless for me to try and tell you why it's nice. I suspect everyone has heard of it or at least seen a photo, and any description I would try to give wouldn't be much justification and I suspect riddled with clichés. So I'll just say it's the most aesthetically pleasing place within possibly the most beautiful place on earth. But to enjoy it properly you need to take a few things into consideration.
The first time I went it was mid-summer and I hated it. I was on a tight budget and was at a great loss for somewhere to go to eat for cheap. Expect to pay out extortionate prices for absolutely everything in this area. The quality of food and drinks is great, but I always struggle to justify spending over 8 euros for a sandwich. Then there's the crowds. I kept hearing it's one of the most romantic places on earth, but I failed to see that. Imagine hordes of overweight tour groups oozing with sweat in the mid-day sun waddling around taking pictures. Thankfully the square itself is open compared to the rest of Venice so you can find a place to stop over in the corner. But don't expect to be able to sit down anywhere. The police make it their business to usher away anyone who attempts to sit down and take in the views. Therefore you have to keep moving, baking in the sun and fighting with the crowds. It's surrounded by beautiful buildings I would have liked to have went into, but I decided against it after seeing every queue sprawled out over large distances. But I fell in love with it at night time. Not when the tourists were arrogantly nibbling at their over-priced foods in the restaurants listening to live covers of Andrea Bochelli, but after that. When everyone had left. I met other tourists sleeping out and we sat, by ourselves, and only then did I realise how beautiful it was. Under a very strong moon we sat down in the middle soaking up our surroundings and chatting until the sun finally emerged. So that's what I recommend it to anyone going to Venice. It may sound strange, but try it. Stay out one night and relax in the square. Sure you'll be tired the next day, but you can be first in line for every queue and have the square entirely to yourself. You can listen to the Gondolas bobbing in the water, inspect every building at your own leisure and see it at the best time imaginable, night and sunrise. Just be sure to bring some provisions because everything shuts. I re-visited Venice a couple times after and found it more bearable during the day out of season, and then during Festival season it's a sight to behold. But I always made one night spare so I can have it all to myself once more, and experience it at its most romantic state.
Venice generally is tricky to navigate, but finding the square is easy. Most boat taxis will take you that way and you can find some directions sprayed upon stone walls. Alternatively just follow the mass of tourists squeezing their way through the shoulder wide alley ways. I never use tour groups, but you can, if you feel it necessary, easily arrange them at the train station, any tourist information point and even in the square if you want to be shown there and around. But I never like the regimentation of it all, and it looks like an unromantic way to experience the romantic square.
So anyone going to Venice will always see the square. It's just a given. It is surrounded with tourist shops, ice cream shops, cafes, restaurants and even the odd internet cafe. Be that as it may I will advise you to buy some drinks and food from further afield if you're not riddled with cash. Plus expect crowds in the summer. Huge crowds. So try going when cheaper and nicer out of season.
There can be few more memorable sights than one's first glimpse of St Marks Square. The guide books recommend a first entrance in time-honoured fashion, on the number 1 vaporetto from the station (or Piazzale Roma, where the buses arrive and the big car parks are), alighting the boat adjacent to the square, and making your way through the piazzetta into the square itself. I think the best way to first see St Marks though, is when you are doing the general 'being lost in Venice' thing, and then, suddenly, you turn a corner, walk through a little underpassage and find yourself in the largest piazza in Venice. And it is big... It is hard to describe the square Napoleon famously described as the most elegant drawing room in Europe. On one side, there is the golden domes of St Marks and with the stolen body of St Mark and the stolen horses of Constantinople crowning her. The other three sides of the piazza are colonaded magnificently facaded buildings, palaces and museums, hiding those well-hidden Venetian secrets. The Quadri and Florian are the famous coffee shops which stand on the borders of the square, with equally famous prices. They charge you extra if the music is playing but you shouldn't even consider sitting down if you are on any kind of budget. Just as nice is to perch on a step and listen and look. Because St Marks is the heart of Venice, it is the place many tourists crowd to, but I was there last week and it was almost empty, so if you pick your moment it can be wonderfully sparse. The pigeons plague the square and the pigeon feed sold is laced with contraception, in a desperate bid to reduce the resident population. If you stand on the top of St Marks, you can see children running through the pigeons (and some adults!) to great effect! The poor pigeons do take a bit of a beating. Last week, I had the dubious privilege of watching one being eaten by a
seagull in the centre of the square.. I can't promise such excitement on every visit, but in the snow, the square looked particularly special. St Mark's Square is also prone to the infamous 'Acqua Alta' when Venice floods. There are walkways erected and usually the waters come from about November till April and seeing the square flooded is quite spectacular, if you have wellies on, anyway! St Marks is centre of Venice, if not in a physical way, in a cultural and emotional sense, it is a place of demonstrations, of rallies and public meetings. It is unmissable. So go, but have your coffee elsewhere, and mind the pigeons!!
The Piazza San Marco, or St Mark's Square, is the best known square in Venice. Bordered on three sides by the Museo Correr, and with the Basilica San Marco and the Campanile at the east end of the square, this is rightfully acknowledged as one of the most impressive and beautiful places in the world. When I stumbled across it while wandering fairly aimlessly (and maplessly) through the city in December 1997, the square was shrouded in fog, and the Basilica at the far end of the square was only visible at all because it was illuminated. The scene was truly ethereal, and I think just this view of the square was what really endeared Venice to me. The Museo Correr around the square, holds an impressive collection of Venetian art, as well as several works from Flemish and Paduan artists, so that their influences on Venetian art can be traced. On the south side of the square, is Florian's café, a popular meeting place of writers in the 19th century, a favourite of Dickens, Proust and Lord Byron. The café is quite small, and despite spilling onto the pavement outside, there is always a queue to get in. With the frequent threat of flooding, and how low the square is, duckboards are often distributed all over the square, allowing visitors to walk across the square without getting their feet wet. When I visited the square, a few boards were still in position, but most had been neatly piled out of the way. The Piazza San Marco is a stunningly beautiful place, and although I doubt that anyone visiting Venice wouldn't walk through the square, it certainly shouldn't be missed!
(St Mark's Square).