Regular hours for visiting St Mark’s are Monday to Saturday from 9:30am to 5:15pm, with last admission at 4:45pm. On Sunday from 9:30am to 2pm only the Museum is open. Visit www.basilicasanmarco to check for possible closures and any changes to their current hours. Aside from the basilicas regular hours one can also take a special access night tour of St Marks.
Is the night tour worth the extra cost, or is it better to visit during normal hours?
The question of course is inherently subjective, but I’m going to do my best to answer it
Let me start by briefly comparing and contrasting the two options (or, if you’d prefer a more direct answer, just skip to the end).
Waiting in Lines & Restricted vs Unrestricted Access:
During the day you will most likely have to wait in line to enter. The length of the line will vary depending on the season and time of day. On the main floor of the basilica one is not really at liberty to walk about freely, one’s movement will be restricted by gates and ropes directing traffic along a specific route.
One of the best benefits of the night tour is its relaxed atmosphere. There is no line. Although you do have to wait for the small group to gather about the guide and do a simple roll call of sorts. Once inside you’re free to wander about. No gates or ropes, no one way flow of traffic, meander where you will or even sit down. The night tours usually start with the small group sitting in the large area with chairs reserved for mass and blocked off during the day. Sitting there in the stillness they turn the lights off completely and then slowly turn them on again. Which adds a nice dramatic flair to the experience.
The Pala d’Oro is a Byzantine altarpiece made of gold and covered with jewels and enamels depicting prophets, angels, and scenes from the lives of Christ and St. Mark.
During the day you pay a small extra fee of €5 to see the altar treasure known as the Pala d’Oro. To actually see it you wait in another, albeit smaller, line and are then herded past the treasure most likely with a fair number of other people, although this will depend on the season and time of day.
At night viewing the Pala d’Oro is included in the tour. It is just you and the few others in your group. You may linger in front of it to gaze longer or wander elsewhere.
You can’t visit the Museum at night.
The biggest benefit of the day visit is the museum. Only open during the day you must pay a small extra fee of €7 to visit the Museum. The Museum itself is small but has some interesting things to see. Most importantly it houses the original bronze horses and it gives one access to the upstairs.
The four bronze horses are believed to have been taken from Constantinople during the fourth crusade.
The Upstairs Access:
Being upstairs gives you access to unique views from balconies both inside and out as well as views of the mosaics up close. Unlike the main floor below it is a little more relaxed upstairs. One is allowed to wander a little more freely and explore some of the old stone mezzanine walkways.
From the outside balcony, which is really more like partial roof access, one gains a lovely view of Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s square) and the smaller Piazzetta San Marco. The balcony which runs along the roof of the basilica is also the perfect height for observing the Torre dell’Orologio, the renaissance clock tower of Venice.
Wrapping it up:
While the Pala d’Oro is very shiny and pretty, I personally thought the bronze horses to be more magnificent. While the Pala d’Oro can be viewed both day and night the horses can only be seen during the day. Even though the night tour is more relaxed, being able to explore the old stone mezzanine walkways and the views from the interior balconies allowed me to experience a peaceful atmosphere similar to that experienced during the night tour.
With the exception of two possible scenarios the overall benefit of being able to visit the Museum, with the bronze horses and its upstairs access, make the day visit better than a night visit.
What are the two exceptions?
Scenario One – If one is only going to be in Venice for a day or two then the timing of the night visit will actually make it the better option. Being able to see St Mark’s at night allows one to visit other sights that are only open during the day.
Scenario Two – If you are looking for a more religious or spiritual experience, in keeping with the Basilica as a Catholic Church but can’t be there to attend mass or want the best compromise between seeing St Mark’s as a tourist and religiously, then I would definitely recommend the night visit. Being there at night with just a few other people was certainly a more serene experience.Italy