St. Mark’s Basilica is one of Venice’s top attractions. Lines can be legendary to visit this ornately beautiful cathedral. In this guide, we cover what you need to know about how to visit St. Mark’s Basilica and get the most out of your visit, including what to do when you are here, the best time of day to plan your visit, and how to skip the line.
Overview of St. Mark’s Basilica
Saint Mark’s Basilica dates back to the 9th century AD. This cathedral is dedicated to Saint Mark the Evangelist, the patron saint of Venice, and it holds the relics of Saint Mark.
In 1063, work began to enlarge the cathedral. Over time, more windows were added and the exterior got a major makeover, with elaborate mosaics and the addition of columns, which were spoils from the Fourth Crusade.
Over the course of eight centuries, mosaics were added to the interior of the cathedral, as well as treasures from the Crusades.
The four gilded bronze horses were spoils from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. They were placed on the main façade of the church to demonstrate Venice’s triumph over Byzantium. However, since 1974, the four horses sit inside the cathedral and replicas now overlook St. Mark’s Square.
The Pala d’Oro is a Byzantine alter piece that is covered in gold and studded with almost 2,000 gems.
St. Mark’s Basilica
Things to Do at St. Mark’s Basilica
A visit to St. Mark’s Basilica is more than just entering the cathedral and gazing up at the golden mosaics. You can see the Pala d’Oro, visit the tombs beneath the cathedral, or climb up the second level to see the four gilded bronze horses and look out over St. Mark’s Square from the terrace.
The Exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica
With its domes, colorful mosaics, gothic adornments, arches and columns, St. Mark’s Basilica is a wonder to behold.
Mosaics on Saint Mark’s Basilica
The western façade, which is the front of the cathedral, faces St. Mark’s Square. Mosaics in the archways depict the Last Judgement and Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. The replicas of the four gilded horses gaze out across St. Mark’s Square and visitors can enjoy the view from the terrace.
The southern façade is also very beautiful and is adorned with more spoils and gothic adornments.
Southern façade of Saint Mark’s Basilica.
Visit the Golden Interior
The inside of Saint Mark’s Basilica is covered with golden mosaics. In fact, there are more than 8,000 square meters (85,000 square feet) of mosaics inside of the basilica.
Golden tile ceiling
These shimmering mosaics are made with real gold. A piece of gold leaf is sandwiched in between layers of glass and these tiny glass tiles cover the arches, columns, and walls of the interior of the cathedral.
The appearance of the interior of Saint Mark’s Basilica changes, depending on the amount of light that enters the cathedral.
Saint Mark’s Basilica in the evening
PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you really want to see St. Mark’s Basilica shine, take an evening tour, the only time of day that the lights are turned on. During the daytime, the mosaics are only dimly lit by the light that shines in through the windows. The interior of the basilica has a much different appearance in the evening, when the mosaics are illuminated by the lights.
The Tile Floor
The golden mosaics are a sight to see but don’t forget to look down. The floor of the basilica is covered with over 2,000 square meters (22,000 feet) of marble.
Marble tile floor of Saint Mark’s Basilica
See the Pala d’Oro
The Pala d’Oro is a Byzantine alter piece that is covered in gold and studded with almost 2,000 gems.
To see the Pala d’Oro, you will have to pay an additional fee of €5. This is paid inside of the basilica near the entrance to the Pala d’Oro.
The Tomb of St. Mark
Located underneath of the basilica, in the crypt, is the Tomb of St. Mark. The remains of St. Mark were smuggled in from Egypt and placed in this tomb.
Tomb of Saint Mark
The Treasury contains the spoils from Constantinople, after Venice emerged victorious. There are vases, artwork, and glasses covered in gold and silver and precious gems.
Museum-Loggia dei Cavalli
Inside of the museum are artifacts and artwork from the basilica’s history. It also contains the bones and relics of Christian saints.
Most people visit the museum to see the four gilded bronze horses, which once sat on the terrace. These have been moved inside, into this museum, where they can be better protected from the weather.
Loggia dei Cavalli
The museum has an additional fee of €7. This is paid inside the basilica just before entering the museum. This fee also covers the terrace.
As you head upstairs to visit the museum, you also get a wonderful view of the inside of the basilica from the upper level.
View of the inside of Saint Mark’s Basilica from the upper terrace
The Terrace of St. Mark’s Basilica
For one of the best views of Venice, don’t miss the terrace. This terrace runs along the west and south façade and from here you get a wonderful view, not only of St. Mark’s Square, but also the bell tower, Torre dell’Orologio, the Doge’s Palace, and the Venetian lagoon.
You will enter the terrace by walking through the museum, so you will have to pay the €7 fee to visit the terrace, even if you don’t want to visit the museum.
Saint Marks Basilica Terrace
View of the tiled mosaics from the terrace.
The view of Saint Mark’s Campanile from the terrace
Saint Mark’s Square
How to Get to Saint Mark’s Basilica
The closest water taxi/vaporetto stations are San Marco-San Zaccaria and San Marco Giardinetti. From both of these stations, it is a 4-minute walk to the basilica.
You can also ride the vaporetto or water taxi to the Rialto station and it is an 8-minute walk from here.
It takes 30 minutes to walk from Piazzale Rome (the bus and train station) to Saint Mark’s Basilica.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit St. Mark’s Basilica?
There are two ticket prices: tickets purchased onsite (cheaper but you will have to wait in line) or online in advance (a little more expensive but you skip the ticket line).
Onsite Ticket Prices
Basilica: €3; The entrance fee is paid at the entrance into the basilica. You can pay with a credit card or with cash.
Pala d’Oro: €5 for a total of €8; this is paid inside of the basilica just before entering the viewing area for the Pala d’Oro.
Museum-Loggia dei Cavalli: €7 for a total of €10; this is paid just before entering the museum and it includes the outdoor terrace.
Bell Tower: €10
Get updated pricing on the official website.
The official website has a note that tickets can only be purchased at the San Basso Ticket Office on Saturdays and Sundays (not at the cathedral). This is a COVID regulation and could change so check the website before your visit to double check this.
Tickets Sold Online in Advance
You can also purchase your ticket online in advance. This costs a few more euros but you can save a lot of time waiting in line to enter St. Mark’s Basilica. When you purchase your ticket, you will choose an entry time. With this online ticket, enter St. Mark’s Basilica at the Porta San Pietro entrance, which is on the left hand side of the front of the cathedral.
Basilica and Pala d’Oro: €12
Basilica, Museum, and Loggia dei Cavalli: €15
Basilica, Museum, Loggia dei Cavalli and Pala d’Oro: €20
Bell Tower: €12
More tile mosaics inside of the basilica.
When is St. Mark’s Basilica Open?
St. Mark’s Basilica is open from 9:30 am to 5:15 pm. Last admission is at 4:45 pm.
On Sunday’s from 9:30 am to 2 pm, you can only visit the Museum-Loggia dei Cavalli, while mass is being held.
Best Time of Day to Visit Saint Mark’s Basilica
Since St. Mark’s Basilica is one of Venice’s most popular attractions, lines can be long all day to enter.
You can line up early to be one of the first to enter, but you will have to get here well before opening time. We tried this on our most recent visit to Venice in July 2022 (they did not have the option to purchase online tickets in advance during our visit). For a 9:30 am opening time, we got in line at 9 am. The line was already very long. Once the basilica opened, it took us 30 minutes to enter, getting inside at 10 am.
If you plan to stand in line for tickets, I recommend getting here no later than 9 am. As we stood in line, it rapidly grew longer and I have heard that wait times can be an hour or longer.
But the best way to avoid this wait is to purchase your tickets online in advance.
Another good time to enter is an hour before closing time (last entry is at 4:45 pm). Just be aware that if lines are long, you might not get in at this time, either.
One of the best times to visit Saint Mark’s Basilica is at night but you can only do this on a tour (see below). The inside of the basilica is illuminated (it’s beautiful!) and crowds are extremely low since there are just a few small group tours.
How to Skip the Line at St. Mark’s Basilica
There are three ways to skip the line at St. Mark’s Basilica:
- Purchase your ticket online in advance. You will book a time slot and enter at your assigned time. This avoids the long wait in the ticket line.
- If you can’t purchase a ticket online from the official website, you can purchase a ticket in advance through a 3rd party seller such as this ticket through GetYourGuide. If you do this, just be aware that you will have to pick up your ticket in Venice in advance, so it adds another step to your visit.
- Take a guided tour of St. Mark’s Basilica. We loved this nighttime tour but this daytime tour also gets rave reviews and includes the Doge’s Palace.
Nighttime Tour of St. Mark’s Basilica
If you want to visit St. Mark’s Basilica without the crowds, want to see it illuminated, and learn about the history from a knowledgeable guide, I highly recommend taking an evening tour. You can also add on the exquisite Pala d’Oro.
We took this evening tour of St. Mark’s Basilica. It is a small group tour that lasts two hours and includes a walk through St. Mark’s Square, a visit to the Tomb of St. Mark and the Pala d’Oro, plus a guided tour of the interior of the basilica. It does not include the terrace.
Inside Saint Mark’s Basilica on an evening tour.
The Pala d’Oro
What We Did
On our first two visits to Venice, we never made it inside the basilica because the line was always super long.
On our most recent visit, we took the evening tour of St. Mark’s Basilica and then revisited the basilica the following morning, since we also wanted to visit the terrace (which was not included on the evening tour).
Both were great experiences. The evening tour is more expensive but you will only be one of a handful of people inside the basilica and to see it illuminated is an incredible experience.
Our morning visit was very crowded, but a lot cheaper, and we loved the views from the terrace.
Skip the Line Tours of St. Mark’s Basilica
There are numerous “skip-the-line” tours of St. Mark’s Basilica. These are designed to decrease your wait in line.
They are worth considering but you also need to know that there is a skip-the-line line, meaning that all of those skip-the-line tours still need to line up and go through security, so you could still have a 15- or 30-minute wait to enter the basilica.
With that being said, it could still be quicker than waiting in the general entrance line.
There are lots of options. You can simply get a skip-the-line ticket and tour the basilica on your own. Or you can take a tour that includes the basilica and the terrace. Some tours include both St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace.
Helpful Tips for Visiting St. Mark’s Basilica
Shoulders must be covered and short skirts and short shorts are not allowed. They were turning people away who were wearing short shorts (about mid-thigh) and tight leggings. To be on the safe side, wear shorts or a skirt that goes below your knee.
Backpacks and Luggage
Backpacks and luggage are not permitted inside of the basilica. You can store them at Ateneo San Basso.
What to Do after Your Visit
- After your visit, sit in St. Mark’s Square and have a drink or brunch at Caffe Florian. Ai Do Leoni, which is located across from the north façade of the basilica, is a great spot for lunch.
- Climb the campanile (the bell tower) for one of the best views of Venice
- Tour the Doge’s Palace
- Stroll the canals of Venice
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it free to visit St. Mark’s Basilica?
There is a 3€ fee to enter St. Mark’s Basilica. There are additional fees for the Pala d’Oro and the Museum-Loggia dei Cavalli.
How long does it take to visit St. Mark’s Basilica?
A typical visit takes about an hour, once you are inside of Saint Mark’s Basilica (the line to enter can be quick or take an hour, depending on visitation).
Is Saint Mark’s Basilica worth it?
Absolutely. Visiting St. Mark’s Basilica is one of the best things to do in Venice. With its golden mosaics, marble floors, artwork and artifacts, this basilica displays the power and might of Venice when it was at its peak. St. Mark’s Basilica is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Italy and well worth the visit. If you are concerned about long lines and crowds, take a skip-the-line tour or take an evening tour of the basilica.
If you have any questions about how to visit Saint Mark’s Basilica, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about Italy
VENICE: We cover the top experiences in Venice in our Venice Bucket List. Learn where to get the best views of Venice in our article 12 Beautiful Views of Venice. And to help you plan your time, take a look at our one day in Venice itinerary and two days in Venice itinerary.
VENICE HOTELS: In our Venice Hotel Guide, we cover not only where to stay in Venice, but also the best hotels in each area (or sestiere) that fits your budget.
DOLOMITES: We cover important things to know before you go and travel tips in our article How to Plan a Trip to the Dolomites. And for ideas on what to do, read our article Best Things to Do in the Dolomites.
ITALY ITINERARIES: If you are just beginning to plan your Italy itinerary, take a look at our 10 Days in Italy Itinerary for five different ways to spend 10 days in Italy. We also have a detailed 10 day itinerary that includes Rome, Florence, the Cinque Terre, and Venice and a 10 day northern Italy itinerary that includes the Dolomites and Venice.
We have TONS more information about Italy in our Italy Travel Guide, including Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, the Dolomites, the Amalfi Coast, the Cinque Terre, and Puglia.
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