Venice is the Italian city that is having the toughest battle with over-tourism. The small city of canals can be overrun with groups who arrive for the day and flock to the main square. The number one sight to see? Piazza San Marco. So, if you want to get inside Venice’s most famous church, it is best to plan ahead to skip the line at St. Mark’s Basilica.
There are several ways to skip the line at St. Mark’s Basilica (or “San Marco” in Italian) depending on when you visit if you want to take a tour, and how far in advance you plan. You can buy a reserved priority entrance from the church itself or enter with a guide who has special access.
Basilica San Marco is free to enter, but every tip for how to skip the line does incur an extra cost. However, I also have a few tips on how to see the church with fewer crowds in general.
Side note: keep in mind that St. Mark’s is a church, and you have to be dressed appropriately if you want to go inside. These tips on what to wear to the Vatican also apply to San Marco. Large bags and luggage are also forbidden, so be sure to leave those back at your hotel or you will be turned away even if you have a reservation.
Ready to visit? Here is how to buy official tickets and even get last minute priority entrance to skip the line at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice:
Buy Official Skip the Line Tickets
From April 1st to November 1st, the Basilica allows you to book online to skip the lines during the most crowded times of the year. The entrance to the St. Mark’s Basilica is still free but there is a small reservation fee (€3) to reserve your skip-the-line spot. The small fee is more than likely very worth it to be able to by-pass the groups outside if you are planning to visit Venice during peak season. First, select the day, then the number of adults and the time you want to enter the basilica. There is no additional cost for children 5 and under, but you should add them to your reservation. You do not have to print out the voucher – showing it on your smartphone is fine.
Take a Guided Tour (even at the last minute)
If the online reservations for the basilica are sold out for your preferred day and time, you can also find skip the line tickets included with a guided tour. Good guided tours will include headsets so you can hear the guide as they explain the different features of the glittering cathedral. There is so much history inside that taking a tour is the best way to ensure that you don’t miss a thing and that you can walk right into the entrance. This one-hour walking tour is the best value. Most tours of the Basilica are combined with the adjacent Doge’s Palace – another one of Venice’s top attractions. If you are on a budget or not a tour person, you can sometimes find self-guided tours with skip the line access for as low as €12.
Go in the Afternoon
If you can’t get skip the line tickets, or you simply want to risk the crowd, then try to go to St. Mark’s in the afternoon instead of in the morning. The largest crowds tend to flock to the square, and thus the church, in the late morning. The lines are particularly bad if there is a cruise ship docking in Venice that day. Try going after 1:30 pm when things tend to quiet down a bit.
Attend an Early Mass
While it is generally true that the afternoons are less crowded than the mornings, you can also go to a very early morning mass if you want to get right inside the basilica. Masses are held at 7 am, 8 am and 9 am every day (with additional times later in the day depending on the day of the week. The 7 am mass is the best time to visit with the smallest number of people. Attending mass in St. Mark’s can be a beautiful experience, but please keep in mind that you cannot wander around the basilica while the service is taking place. You can enjoy the frescoes and general calm from the comfort of a seat if you enter in order to worship at these times.
Take a Night Tour
If you want a truly unique experience inside St. Mark’s Basilica, you can book a tour that offers special access to the grand church after it has closed to the public for the day. The night tours are always limited to small groups, and it is really incredible to be inside without the crowds. You can read more about my experience inside St. Mark’s at night.
St Mark’s Basilica Opening Hours
St. Mark’s Basilica opens its doors from 7 am to 7 pm. You cannot wander through the church if there is a mass taking place, but you are welcome to take a seat and join the services. The church closes for religious holidays and you can find a full list of closures update on the basilica’s website.
Other Things to do Nearby
While you are there – be sure to climb the bell tower for amazing views of Venice! You can also book a 15-minute slot to visit the terrace at Fondaco dei Tedeschi. The high-end retail shop is right next to the Rialto Bridge and offers an amazing vantage point to take in the Grand Canal and the rooftops of the city. (Plus, it’s free!)
The Doge’s Palace is adjacent to the church and is well worth a visit. You can purchase a Venice Museum Pass in advance for €27 (or €20 if you wait in line at the museums) which allows you entrance to the Doge’s Palace and 9 other Venice museums, including two that are right one St. Mark’s Square.
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