San Marco District Walking Tour (Self Guided), Venice

San Marco is one of the six districts of Venice, set in the very heart of the city. It is known primarily as the home of the eponymous Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) and other notable locations, such as Saint Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace, Harry's Bar, the Palazzo Dandolo, San Moisè, the La Fenice Theatre, the Palazzo Grassi and several churches. Once the seat of the Venetian government, today the district is densely packed with many hotels, banks and expensive shops. In large part, San Marco makes Venice what it is and, as such, demands exploration!
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San Marco District Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: San Marco District Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Venice (See other walking tours in Venice)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 km
Author: naomi
Piazza San Marco

1) Piazza San Marco (must see)

A visit to Venice – even not the first – is not complete without Piazza San Marco, and it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the sense of history and art here. Long before the tourists arrived, it was the city’s religious, commercial and political nucleus from where the Venetian Republic reigned for centuries. When the founders of Venice settled on the islands of the lagoon, this area was where the first rulers built their citadel – the Palazzo Ducale – and where they established their most significant church – the Basilica di San Marco. Over the succeeding centuries, these two great edifices developed into a public space so noble and majestic that no other square in Venice was considered fit to bear the name “piazza” – all other Venetian squares are named “campi” or “campielli”.

Nowadays the Piazza San Marco is what keeps the city running, having the highest concentration of plush hotels, elegant and exorbitant cafés, the most extravagantly-priced seafood, and the most luxurious shops in Venice. Evenings with mood lighting and live music are especially romantic, so if you're happy to pay €15 for coffee or €25 for a cocktail, then take your time over it and sit and enjoy the ambiance. If that is outside your budget, then there is plenty of action nearby, in the side streets of the San Marco quarter, animated with colorful boutiques, bars and food outlets which, as usual, are more affordable for everyone.

Otherwise, enjoy this famous square for what it is and try to breathe in and out. You're in Venice!

If your time permits arrive later on the afternoon before or while it gets darker. Charming, romantic... and pretty empty. During the day, however, some stalls are selling souvenirs, bags (and knock-offs) and other things at surprisingly fair prices.
If you are going to do your gondola ride, it is best to avoid getting a gondola parked outside the square. Look for gondoliers outside the main touristy areas and you will get much more of the side-canal views that look better in pictures – plus the experience is more romantic as a whole.
Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)

2) Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) (must see)

Built on the foundations of a 9th-century fortress, this palace is unquestionably the finest secular building of its era in Europe, having served as the residence of the doge, as well as the home of all of Venice’s governing councils and law courts. Additionally, it housed a sizeable number of the Venetian Republic's civil servants and even prisons.

The palace dates to the 14th century, though a 16th-century fire destroyed much of the original building, reducing many of its masterpieces to ash. Some of the greatest Venetian masters of the time contributed to the restored palace, replacing the works of the old masters with gilded stuccowork, sculptures, frescoes, and canvases – among these, Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, Bellini, and Tiepolo.

The architecture is a combination of Byzantine and Gothic, whereas the courtyards and much of the interior are based on Classical forms – a blending of influences that led art critic John Ruskin to declare it “the central building of the world”.

The regular tour of the palace is interesting enough, showcasing lavish rooms of a splendid scale. The furnishings and paintings are spectacular and visitors gets to explore the various administrative salons and marvel at the ceilings. The most outstanding feature is found in the Grand Council chamber – namely, Tintoretto’s “Paradise”, said to be the world’s largest oil painting. The second grandiose hall, which you access from the grand chamber, is the Sala dello Scrutinio or “Voting Hall”, with paintings telling of Venice’s past glories. On the other hand, Titians paintings are found all over the palace, even lining staircases and in minor rooms.

Towards the end of your visit to the Palazzo Ducale, you cross the Bridge of Sighs by which prisoners were led to their cells on the other side of the canal. In complete contrast from the splendor of the palace, the cell-blocks confront visitors with the grim remnants of the horror of medieval justice. The “sighs” in the bridge’s name stem from the sad laments of the numerous victims forced across it to face certain torture and possible death at the hand of state inquisitors appointed by the city.

If you don't want to miss out on the importance of much of what you’re seeing, seek out the infrared audio guide at the entrance that gives the fascinating history of the 1,000-year-old maritime republic, and the intrigue of the government that ruled it.

***Casanova Tour***

Casanova was sentenced to five year in prison for his libertine behavior which is considered dangerous to society. He was taken to Doge's Palace on the night of 25 July 1755 and put in a cell under the roof of palace. The cell was covered with sheets of lead. But Casanova managed to escape by making a hole in the ceiling and descending his way to freedom with bed sheet ropes. Casanova was the only person ever to escape from the prison of Doge's Palace.

Book in advance for the guided "Secret Itinerary" tour that takes you into otherwise restricted quarters and hidden passageways, such as the Doge’s private chambers and the torture chambers where prisoners were interrogated.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am–7pm, last admission 6pm (Apr-Oct); 8:30am–5:30pm, last admission 4:30pm (Nov-Mar)
Giardinetti Reali

3) Giardinetti Reali

Giardinetti Reali, located near the Piazza San Marco, numbers among the few green oases in Venice. The garden was established by an order of Napoleon in the early 19th century. This public garden has a variety of trees and flowers with narrow pathways and seats where you can spend a leisurely afternoon or evening.
Calle Vallaresso - Ridotto.

4) Calle Vallaresso - Ridotto.

Calle Vallaresso is a street next to the Piazza San Marco where for centuries were situated gambling houses. Giacomo Casanova frequented the street during his time. Casanova was famous for his passion for money. He loved to spend money, and gambling was an easy way to get some. Gambling for him was a way of socializing, flirting and making new connections. Also, here, you will find the Ridotto theater that used to be a major gambling house during Casanova's time.
Teatro La Fenice

5) Teatro La Fenice (must see)

Teatro La Fenice ("The Phoenix") is an opera house in Venice. It is one of the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of Italian theater and in the history of opera as a whole. Especially in the 19th century, La Fenice became the site of many famous operatic premieres at which the works of several of the four major bel canto era composers – Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi – were performed.

Doesn't look like much from the outside, but that's because all you need is to step inside to be transported to the elite 14th-century royalty of Italy. Plan an evening watching a romantic ballet or live opera show with your loved one in this historic theater and it will be the highlight of your trip!

Why You Should Visit:
One of Italy's most treasured theaters, and for good reason!
The self-guided audio tour lasts around 15 mins; what will take you more time is taking pictures and admiring the intricate detail of the architecture.

If you go on a tour while the theater hall is closed for a rehearsal, it might be best to reschedule for a later time when it is open, as that is where all of the grandeur lies.
For the cheaper tickets, it might be hard to see the stage, but you can stand and listen to the music if you fancy.

Opening Hours:
Mon: 9:45am-7:30pm; Tue-Sun: 9:45am-11pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palazzo Bellavite

6) Palazzo Bellavite

Palazzo Bellavite is a 16th century palace located on Campo San Maurizio. Once it was a prestigious residence. Now it is a study center and an office complex. The place was home to the Venetian poet Giorgio Baffo. He was a good friend of the young Casanova and also a lover of Casanova's mother, Zanetta Farussi.
Campo Santo Stefano

7) Campo Santo Stefano

Campo Santo Stefano was and still is the favorite meeting-point of the Venetians. Many love affairs were born through walking up and down this square and many Venetians found themselves duped into courting stupendous ladies only to discover, when it was too late, that beneath the mask was just a plain woman. This square once hosted bullfights, but nowadays it hosts outdoor fairs during Christmas and Carnevale seasons.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti

8) Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti (must see)

Just opposite the Accademia and next to Palazzo Barbarigo, this palace is quite simply one of the most beautiful ones that line the Grand Canal, adorned with lavish Gothic tracery and a large, beautifully tended garden. Built in the 16th century, it incorporates a stunning mix of Gothic and Byzantine influences, and today is the headquarters of the Venetian Institute of Science, Letters and Art.

The palazzo was internally modernized and externally enriched in Venetian Gothic style in the 19th century, with rich window framing, by a series of grand owners. The first neo-Gothic improvements were made after 1840 when the young Archduke Frederick Ferdinand of Austria embarked on a complex project intended to give a more prominent Habsburg presence along the Grand Canal, as Austria-Hungary had been awarded the territories of Venice after the Napoleonic Wars. The Archduke lived here until 1878, when the palace was bought by Baron Raimondo Franchetti who also commissioned restoration, but never actually made the palace his personal residence.

The edifice now has multiple uses, being mainly dedicated to displaying changing contemporary exhibitions – which is quite great, because with all the massive Renaissance art in the surrounding churches and museums, this provides a breath of fresh air. Each room is lit by Murano chandeliers, some of which are monumental; particularly important being those in the rooms that overlook the Grand Canal. The first “noble floor” has an area of about 500 m² and is equipped with air-conditioning, as well as with supports for hanging paintings or other types of works.

The views of the Grand Canal can't be beaten, and the pretty cafeteria in the building is excellent for a healthy and tasty buffet lunch which, by the way, is also one of best values in Venice!

Opening Hours:
[Cafeteria] Daily: 9am-6pm
Campo San Samuele

9) Campo San Samuele

Campo San Samuele is a square located on the bank of Grand Canal. The square is home to some amazing palaces of great historical, architectural and cultural importance for Venice, such as the Palazzo Malipiero and the Palazzo Grassi, to name just two. Both palaces were homes of the greatest Venetian lover of all times, Giacomo Casanova. In the center of the square is located the Chiesa di San Samuele, this is the church where Casanova was baptized.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palazzo Grassi

10) Palazzo Grassi (must see)

Palazzo Grassi (also known as the Palazzo Grassi-Stucky) is an edifice in the Venetian Classical style located on the Grand Canal of Venice. It was designed by Giorgio Massari, and the building was completed between 1748 and 1772. The latecomer among the palaces on the Grand Canal of Venice, Palazzo Grassi has an academic classical style that is in contrast to the surrounding Byzantine-Romanesque and Baroque Venetian palazzi. It has a formal palace façade, constructed in white marble, and lacking the lower mercantile openings typical of many Venetian patrician palaces.

The Grassi family sold the palazzo in 1840, with ownership that followed passing through many different individuals. The Palazzo was purchased by the Fiat Group in 1983, under the late chairman Gianni Agnelli, and it underwent a complete restoration overseen by Count Antonio Foscari Widmann Rezzonico, the current owner of Villa Foscari. The group's aim was to transform Palazzo Grassi into an exhibition hall for the visual arts. It continues to be used as an art gallery today. Between 1984 and 1990, Pontus Hultén was in charge of the art museum which also contains a 600 seat outdoor theatre. Since 2006, the palace has been owned by the French entrepreneur François Pinault who exhibits his personal art collection there.

Why You Should Visit:
After seeing and admiring a mind-numbing amount of Italian Renaissance art, it is refreshing to come across this modern art museum for a change of pace.
The building itself is splendid with a wonderful staircase and stunningly ornate gold-encrusted ceilings.
Gazing out of the windows provides a further brilliant, if slightly distracting, artistic vision.

When going to an exhibition, make sure you visit both museums sites to not only get value for money but to experience the whole collection.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Mon: 10am-7pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Chiesa Cattolica Parrocchiale S.Stefano Protomartire

11) Chiesa Cattolica Parrocchiale S.Stefano Protomartire

This is one of the largest churches in Venice and is situated in the northern part of the city. The edifice was built in the 13th century, rebuilt in the 14th and redecorated partially in the 15th. Many years of construction, reconstruction and redecoration show us today a magnificent, wonderful architectural gem with painting and design to match. The church is the resting place for a few famous persons, such as: Francesco Morosini, Doge Andrea Contarini and others.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palazzo Grimani di San Luca

12) Palazzo Grimani di San Luca (must see)

The Palazzo Grimani di San Luca is a Renaissance building in Venice. It is located on the Rio di San Luca channel of the city, at the point in which it flows into the Canal Grande. The palace was built in the mid-16th century for procurator Gerolamo Grimani by architect Michele Sanmicheli, and completed after his death by Gian Giacomo de' Grigi, known as "il Bergamasco". The façade has three sectors with Corinthian columns, also inspired to the Roman architecture, in particular to the triumphal arch. The residence of the patrician Grimani family until 1806, Palazzo Grimani is currently the seat of the Venice' Appeal Court.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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