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!

Getting to Sight #1. The first tour stop (Piazza San Marco) can be reached by: Alilaguna Water Taxi: Blue (B), Rosa (R); Water Bus: 1, 2, 4.1, 10, 7, 4.2, 5.2, 2, 20 + N (Night line).
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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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 or 1.7 Miles
Author: naomi
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Piazza San Marco
  • Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)
  • Giardinetti Reali
  • Calle Vallaresso (Ridotto)
  • Teatro La Fenice
  • Palazzo Bellavite
  • Campo Santo Stefano
  • Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti
  • Campo San Samuele
  • Palazzo Grassi
  • Chiesa Cattolica Parrocchiale S.Stefano Protomartire
  • Palazzo Grimani di San Luca
Piazza San Marco

1) Piazza San Marco (must see)

No visit to Venice – not even the recurring one – is complete without setting one's foot on Piazza San Marco, replete with the sense of history and art. Long before the tourists arrived, this was the city’s religious, commercial and political nucleus from where the Venetian Republic reigned for centuries. When the future founders of the city settled on the lagoon islands, this area was used to build a citadel – Palazzo Ducale – complete with the city's most precious place of worship, the San Marco Basilica. In the course of centuries, these two magnificent edifices have formed a public space so noble and majestic that no other square in Venice was seen worthy enough to bear the name “piazza” – hence, all the other Venetian squares are called either “campi” or “campielli”.

Today, Piazza San Marco remains the core of the city with the highest concentration of plush hotels, elegant and exorbitant cafes, most extravagantly-priced seafood, and luxurious shops. Evenings with mood lighting and live music here are especially romantic, so if you're happy to pay €15 for coffee or €25 for a cocktail, then take your time sipping it whilst enjoying the ambiance. However, if this is outside your budget, then head to the side streets of the San Marco quarter where there's just as plenty of action going on, and the colorful boutiques, bars and food outlets are more affordable.

Otherwise, enjoy this famous square for what it is and keep breathing its air... in and out. For 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.
Another word of advice: if you go for a gondola ride, avoid gondolas moored by the square. Look for those outside the main touristy areas as you will get much more of the side-canal views that look much better in the pictures – plus the whole experience will be much more romantic.
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 European building of its time which, in the course of centuries, had served many purposes, including Doge residence, seat of the Venetian government, court of law, civil office, and even a prison.

First built in the 14th century, much of the original palace was destroyed by fire in the 16th century reducing to ashes most of the art treasures held inside. Some of the greatest Venetian masters of the time, such as Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, Bellini, and Tiepolo, contributed to restoring the palace to its former glory, recreating gilded stucco, sculptures, frescoes, and canvases.

A blend of Byzantine and Gothic architecture on the outside, inside the palace is all Classical which, in turn, led the art critic John Ruskin to declare it “the central building of the world”.

The interior of the palace – spectacular furnishings and paintings, marvelously adorned ceilings – reveals lavishness on the scale that is hard to match. The most outstanding is the Grand Council chamber, featuring Tintoretto’s “Paradise”, reportedly the world’s largest oil painting. Running up to it, in terms of grandeur, is the Sala dello Scrutinio or the “Voting Hall” embellished with paintings depicting Venice’s glorious past.

A stark contrast to this splendor are the cell-blocks on the opposite side of the canal – grim remnants of the horror of the medieval justice – linked to the outside world by the Bridge of Sighs by which the prisoners were led to their cells. The word “sighs” refers to the laments of the numerous victims forced across the bridge to face certain torture and possibly death at the hands of the state inquisitors appointed by the city.

To get the most of your time at Palazzo Ducale, use the infrared audio guide available at the entrance and hear a fascinating story of the 1,000-year-old maritime republic of Venice and the intricacies of the government that once ruled it.


On the night of 25 July 1755, aged 30, Casanova was arrested for affront to religion and common decency and was sentenced to five years imprisonment without having had a trial. He was taken to the Doge's Palace and put in a cell under its roof, which was covered with lead plates. In summer, the lead roof absorbed the heat and turned the place into an oven, but prisoners also suffered greatly from the "millions of fleas".

Casanova's physical distance from the opulence of Venice and the center of government was negligible, the psychological distance immeasurable. Eventually, after 15 months of torment and despair, he managed to escape by making a hole in the ceiling and descending his way to freedom with bed sheet ropes. The only person ever to escape from the prison of Doge's Palace, he first sought refuge in Munich, then Strasbourg, and completed the final leg of his journey by coach to Paris, where he would start a new life.

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, the torture chambers where prisoners were interrogated, and the two cells that Casanova occupied.

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, a large number of gambling houses had sprung up. Casanova frequented the street since, for a profligate and a spendthrift such as himself, gambling was an easy way to refresh his fortunes and came along with many opportunities to socialize, flirt, and make new connections.

Casanova's favorite spot for a game of cards – as well the ideal backdrop for his conquests – is now the lavishly decorated "grand ballroom" of the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal, which used to be a major gambling house – "Il Ridotto" – until 1774, when it had closed permanently by order of the reformer Giorgio Pisani. Here, between walls covered with gilded leathers, nobles, or indeed anyone wearing a mask (baùta), could play.

When games were played strictly according to the rules, however, the house (or bank) had practically no advantage, so in time "Il Ridotto" and other gambling establishments devised subtle ways to dupe the punters. This was precisely what happened to Casanova, too, who had lost his fair share of fortunes over the years. At one point in time, he himself managed a small casino (in partnership with a wealthy backer).
Teatro La Fenice

5) Teatro La Fenice (must see)

Teatro La Fenice ("The Phoenix") 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 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:
Daily: 9:30am-6pm (variations may occur – check official website)
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

Situated opposite the Accademia gallery, next to the Palazzo Barbarigo, this palace is quite simply one of the most beautiful along the Grand Canal, lavishly adorned with Gothic tracery and a large, beautifully tended garden. Built in the 16th century, it represents a stunning mix of Gothic and Byzantine influences, and today accommodates headquarters of the Venetian Institute of Science, Letters and Art.

In the course of centuries, the palazzo changed hands many times during which it was internally modernized and externally decorated in the Venetian Gothic style with its signature rich window framing. The first round of neo-Gothic renovation took place in 1840 – by the young Archduke of Austria, Frederick Ferdinand, who embarked on this complex project in a bid to make the Hapsburg presence in Venice more prominent. The Archduke lived in the palace until 1878, after which it was sold to Baron Raimondo Franchetti who also undertook renovation, but never actually made the palace his personal residence.

The edifice now serves multiple purposes but is mainly dedicated to hosting changing exhibitions of contemporary art which, in turn, give it a breath of fresh air amid the massive dominance of the Renaissance art all around. Each room within the palace is fitted with Murano glass chandeliers, some of which are quite monumental.

Apart from the art and the unbeatable views of the Grand Canal, visitors to the palace can also enjoy a pretty on-site cafeteria with a fairly good lunch menu!

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

9) Campo San Samuele

Located on the bank of Grand Canal, this 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. Palazzo Malipiero was the temporary residence of the greatest Venetian lover of all times, Giacomo Casanova. In the center of the square stands the Chiesa di San Samuele, the church where Casanova was baptized.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palazzo Grassi

10) Palazzo Grassi

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

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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