Venice’s smallest but foremost sestiere (district), named after the city’s patron saint, is bounded by the Grand Canal on all but one side, which explains the number of stately palaces in the area. It revolves around Piazza San Marco and the majestic Doge’s Palace, the political and legal core of the city until the 18th century. Running off the square are the Mercerie and Calle Larga XXII Marzo, offering wall-to-wall designer shopping. But beyond that San Marco has a residential air, with a great range of places to eat. Don’t hesitate to wander down minor alleyways: surprises include unusual wellheads and many craft workshops.
The expensive elegance of Venice is most evident on this main thoroughfare linking Rialto and Piazza San Marco. Mercerie means haberdasher’s, but these days it is home to designer fashion outlets. Just below the ornate Torre dell’Orologio archway is a sculpted female figure commemorating a housewife who lived here rent-free as a reward for inadvertently knocking a mortar into the street, killing a revolutionary leader and so halting the short-lived Bajamonte Tiepolo revolt in 1310.
Built on a Greek cross plan, and crowned with five huge domes, this is the third church (see Basilica di San Marco) to stand on this site. In 1807, it succeeded San Pietro in Castello as the cathedral of Venice. Dark, mysterious and enriched with the spoils of conquest, the basilica is a unique blend of Eastern and Western influences. Embellished over a period of six centuries, it features fabulous mosaics, marble and carvings and served as a fitting location for ceremonies of the Republic. It was here that the elected doge was presented to the city following his election. This is also where sea captains came to pray for protection before embarking on epic voyages.
Campo S Fantin • Daily guided tours
Long masked in scaffolding since a 1996 arson attack left it gutted, the historic “Phoenix” theatre rose from the flames in 2003. Selva’s 1792 opera house has staged countless world premieres includ-ing Rossini’s Tancredi in 1813, five operas commissioned of Verdi, most notably Rigoletto and La Traviata, and works by Stravinsky and Luigi Nono. Legendary divas such as Maria Callas and Dame Joan Sutherland have sung in this glorious setting (see Places for Children).
Corte dei Risi, S Marco 4299 • Open 10am–6pm daily • Adm • www.scalacontarinidelbovolo.com
Often used as a film set, this fine 15th-century palace with its beautiful external “snail-shell” staircase (bovolo means snail in Venetian) is squeezed into a diminutive square deep in San Marco. Visitors can climb the winding steps of the staircase, a blend of Renaissance, Gothic and Byzantine styles, via five floors of loggias to a dome sheltering a splendid belvedere. From here there are magical panoramic views over the city’s rooftops.
The statue of celebrated Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni scrutinizes the milling crowds on this crossroads square. Strategically placed for a host of inviting bars crammed into the alleys radiating off it, “San Bartolo” serves as the fashionable hang-out for the city’s young and trendy. The northern end is occupied by the main post office, once home to Venice’s German community. They worshipped in the Chiesa di San Bartolomeo (open 10am–noon Tue, Thu & Sat; free admission).
The seat of the Venetian government from the 9th century until the fall of the Republic in 1797, the Doge’s Palace was the official residence of the Venetian ruler, known as the doge. It started life as a fortified castle in the 9th century, but this and several subsequent buildings were destroyed by a series of fires. A Gothic masterpiece, the bulk of the pink marble building appears perched on loggias and arcades of white Istrian stone. Allegorical historical paintings embellish the walls and ceilings of the halls and chambers. These rooms are testament to the glory of the Venetian Republic.
Campo S Samuele, S Marco 3231 • Open 10am–7pm Wed–Mon • Adm (includes Punta della Dogana) • www.palazzograssi.it
Set on the Grand Canal, Palazzo Grassi dates back to 1740, when a wealthy merchant family commissioned Giorgio Massari to design the building. It is now home to the François Pinault collection, housing contemporary masterpieces by Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Michelangelo Pistoletto. It stands alongside picturesque Campo San Samuele, which features a graceful Veneto-Byzantine bell tower.
Campo S Benedetto, S Marco 3780 • Open 10am–6pm Wed–Mon • Adm • www.visitmuve.it
Flamboyant Spanish artist and theatrical stage designer Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871–1950) adopted Venice as his home and muse, and transformed this 15th-century palace in Gothic-Venetian style into an exotic atelier. The building retains rooms created by Fortuny himself and visitors can admire Fortuny’s gorgeous velvets, his famous pleated silk dresses, some 150 paintings, lamps, a remarkable stage curtain and fascinating 19th- century photographs. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions.
Campo S Maria del Giglio, S Marco 3231 • Open 10:30am–4:30pm Mon–Sat • Adm • www.chorusvenezia.org
Opening on to a lovely square next to the Grand Canal, this church is a further example of Venetian Baroque extravagance. Commissioned by the Barbaro family, its façade exalts their generations of maritime and political triumphs, with crests, galleys and statues. Works of art inside the church include Venice’s only canvas by Rubens, depicting a Madonna and child. Tintoretto’s contributions are the Evangelists on the organ doors.
Venetian glasswork exquisitely decorates chandeliers, chalices and mirrors and has long been in demand the world over, especially during the Golden Age of the 16th century. Although the industry moved to Murano in 1295 as a safety measure against fire, there are still many furnaces around the San Marco district that welcome visitors.
Visit the Doge’s Palace on Piazza San Marco first, arriving early to fit it all in. Must-sees are the Sala del Senato, Sala del Maggior Consiglio, prisons and the Bridge of Sighs. Then take a break for coffee in the modern café in the palace’s former stables and watch the gondolas glide past the glassed-in doorway.
Time your visit to Basilica di San Marco for midday, to catch the mosaics illuminated by huge spotlights so they glitter to their utmost. The tiles were laid at angles to catch the light.
Lunch at Harry’s Bar, as Hemingway’s hero did in Across the River and into the Trees. Order the carpaccio (wafer-thin slices of raw beef) invented here by Cipriani (see Harry’s Bar).
The Mercerie is shopper’s heaven, packed with international high-fashion stores from Benetton to Cartier, and classy souvenir glass and hand-crafted paper workshops. For yet more, cross over to Calle Larga XXII Marzo for designer delights such as Bulgari and Cartier jewellery.
Return to Piazza San Marco in time to enjoy the views over Venice and the lagoon from the Campanile at dusk. At ground level again, it’s time for a Bellini aperitivo at Caffè Florian to watch the sun set over the façade of the basilica.
Frezzeria, S Marco 1725
Since 1860, Frette has been importing top-grade cotton from Egypt and transforming it into towels and custom-made household linen.
Calle delle Botteghe, S Marco 2970
Exhibited in galleries all over the world, this is contemporary glass at its most innovative. Moretti’s trademarks are “paper cone” vases, tumblers and huge sculptures.
Ponte S Moisè, S Marco 2090
Come here for strikingly simple but exquisitely elegant necklaces and earrings in clear and coloured glass designed by two sisters.
Calle dell’Ovo, S Marco 4773
This small store offers an array of exclusive designer glasses with frames made from buffalo horn and titanium, as well as blown-glass vases and lamps. You can also get cashmere clothing in 70 colours and luxury bags in various leathers.
Calle San Moisè, S Marco 1474
The fortress-like premises of these world-famous French jewellers gleam with gold, precious stones and well-crafted handbags and watches.
Campo S Salvador, S Marco 5033
This family company has been designing fashionable clothes and accessories for city girls since 1951.
Salizzada San Moisè, S Marco 1494
Striking contemporary jewellery, watches, accessories and Rosenthal porcelain are sold here.
Campo S Salvador, S Marco 4800
This family-run firm was established in 1953 and is known worldwide for the superb Italian elegance it displays in the likes of shoes, belts, bags and jackets.
Frezzeria, S Marco 1582
Go straight to the source for flamboyant frocks and shoes for special occasions and crazily beaded bags, all sporting the “double-F” Fendi mark.
Calle dei Fuseri, S Marco 4271
Fabulous Italian fashion is available here from designers Silvano Arnoldo and Massimiliano Battois – let them help you create your look in this minimalist cube of a store.
Calle Larga XXII Marzo, S Marco 2425
Exquisite hanging silk lamps of Fortuny design are reproduced with hand-painted patterning and glass beading.
Campiello della Feltrina, S Marco 826
Right off Piazza San Marco, this artisanal workshop has stationery, printed paper and books bound in leather, all crafted by hand.
Calle delle Botteghe, S Marco 3451
This art gallery sells attractive and affordable etchings and prints of Venice by artists Baruffaldi and Cadore.
Frezzeria, S Marco 1232
Commedia dell’arte marionettes, musical puppet theatres and glittering Carnival masks are available here for sale or hire.
Calle Dose da Ponte, S Marco 2742
Crumpled boots and a raincoat slung over a chair are actually sculptures – there are even life-size wooden cars, complete with engines.
Calle dei Frati, S Marco 3532/36
Ceramics enthusiasts must not miss this extraordinary shop of beautiful pottery. It has been run by the same family since it was founded – at this address – in 1938, and the focus is firmly on high-quality pieces.
Calle Fiubera, S Marco 793
The Valese family foundry has been creating their animals, lamps and door knockers in brass and bronze since 1913. Examples of their work can even be found in Buckingham Palace and The White House.
Salizzada Pio X, S Marco 5164
A kaleidoscopic display of handwoven shawls from India and musical instruments from African countries are part of an enterprise that is intended to guarantee artisans a just income.
Campo S Maria del Giglio, S Marco 2520
Handmade velvet and silk cushions and tapestries are a feast for the eyes at this small branch of the historic Italian fabric shop (see also Luigi Bevilacqua).
Calle dei Fuseri, S Marco 4365
In addition to the brocade slippers and bizarre footwear with built-in toes, special-order shoes are also hand-crafted here.
Campo S Luca, S Marco 4589
A paradise for those with a sweet tooth, Marchini is one of the oldest pasticcerie in the city. Orange and pistachio chocolates come in Venetian mask shapes.
Corte del Tintor, S Marco 5513 • Closed Sun
Tucked away behind Campo San Bartolomeo, this is a cosy osteria run by a friendly sommelier-owner. It has an excellent selection of wines and cicchetti (bar snacks).
Rio Terrà Assassini, S Marco 3658
Tuck into a huge, fresh fruit salad smothered with yogurt or a tramezzino (sandwich) in this quiet side-alley café, with tables inside and a few outside. The coffee’s good, too.
Campo S Fantin, S Marco 1916
Next door to the renowned Fenice Theatre (see Teatro La Fenice), this legendary venue offers outdoor seating on a patio. Alternatively, go inside to the bar and munch a toasted sandwich.
Calle dei Stagneri, S Marco 5185
Sporting an original red London phone box, this “English pub” serves draught beers and ales, and light meals until midnight. There is even a dartboard and live music.
Corte dell’Orso, S Marco 5495
This great spot offers bar snacks at aperitivo time, but also has an elegant restaurant. Wednesday nights see the addition of live music.
Calle dei Fabbri, S Marco 4578/C
A friendly, standing-only corner bar, Cafetteria Doria serves divinely rich hot chocolate that is perfect for winter, and refreshing sorbetto al caffè in the summer months. There is also an impressive choice of teas.
Campo S Stefano, S Marco 2797
Have a fresh orange juice or cappuccino and pastry as you watch life go by in the square. The usual hot dishes are available, and there is also a pasticceria offering tasty tarts and pastries.
Ponte Ferai, S Marco 950
Come here to enjoy melt-in-the-mouth fruit tarts, exquisite pastries and Venice’s best panettone.
Campo Santo Stefano, S Marco 3464 • Closed Sun
Tourists and locals alike are unable to resist this great sandwich bar. Bag a table outside for a well-earned coffee or light lunch.
Campo S Stefano, S Marco 2801 • 041 527 48 79 • €€€
The menu at this marvellous eatery blends Sicilian dishes with Venetian cuisine and includes pasta, meat and fish, plus fabulous desserts.
Calle Vallaresso, S Marco 1325 • 041 520 02 11 • €€€
Part of Hotel Monaco, Grand Canal offers stylish dining all year round. The extensive menu features Venetian cuisine and fish dishes.
Calle Specchieri, S Marco, 468 • 041 523 21 48 • €€€
This elegant restaurant (see Do Forni) boasts a long list of celebrity guests. The menu features seasonal speciali-ties and an extensive wine list.
Calle della Bissa, S Marco 5424 • 041 522 35 69 • €
Also known as the Gislon, this place serves great mozzarella in carozza, a deep-fried cheese sandwich.
Calle delle Madonna, S Polo 594 • 041 522 38 24 • Closed Wed, 25 Dec–31 Jan • €€
A well-known, bustling restaurant (see Trattoria alla Madonna), perfect for traditional seafood. Seafood risotto is a speciality.
Campo S Luca, S Marco 4153 • 041 522 11 80 • Closed Sat & Sun • €
A great spot for grilled meats and fish or lasagne. You have the choice of eating at the bar or at a table outside. American Express is not accepted.
Calle delle Botteghe, S Marco 3447 • 041 528 93 36 • Closed Sun, Aug • €
A Venetian stalwart since 1971, Al Bacareto serves typical local dishes. Try the bigoli in salsa (spaghetti with anchovy and onion purée).
Frezzeria, S Marco 1610 • 041 528 52 42 • Closed Sun • €€
An exemplary wine list accompanies the tasty bar snacks and a small, but perfectly formed, menu.
Via XXII Marzo, S Marco 2398 • 041 520 89 01 • €€€
Resembling a caravel sailing ship, this restaurant has trestle tables adorned with pewter plates. The menu features Venetian dishes with a modern twist and a good wine list.
Campo Sant’Angelo, S Marco 3808/10 • 041 277 06 88 • Closed Mon, 7 Jan–7 Feb • €€€
Amalfi cuisine, including Neapolitan pizza, pasta and fish dishes, feature at this fine-dining restaurant.
For a three-course meal for one with half a bottle of wine (or equivalent meal), taxes and extra charges.
€ under €40 €€ €40–60 €€€ over €60