There are many different strategies for exploring the stunning city of Venice, Italy. Some visitors choose to wander along canals and over bridges, abandoning the idea of following a map. Others choose to focus on the main attractions – St Mark’s Square, the Rialto Bridge, and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum – to guide them through the city. Another approach for experiencing the beauty of Venice is to gain a bird’s eye view. To do so, there are two bell towers in the city that offer different, yet equally striking, perspectives of the famous Italian city.
St Mark’s Campanile
Start with the better known of the two bell towers, the one in Piazza San Marco. St. Mark’s campanile ( the Italian word for bell tower) contains an elevator that will take you over 300 feet to the top of Campanile di San Marco. Stepping out of the elevator, you will discover a very different perspective of Venice than you experience on the ground.
When strolling the streets of Venice, it feels as if water is everywhere. The canals, large and small, are significant to the local atmosphere. Yet from above, Venice seems almost free of canals. Although the canals densely wind their way through the city, from the top of the bell tower, all you can see are red roofs and a new, spectacular view of Basilica San Marco. Some visitors think that this view is even better than exploring the inside of the Basilica itself.
The entrance fee for the bell tower is approximately 8 euros. A quick elevator ride will bring you to the top, where you will be greeted with 360-degree views of Venice. Be sure to look out across the wide lagoon towards the bell tower at San Giorgio, where you can experience yet another perspective of Venice by riding an elevator to the top.
The bell tower in Piazza San Marco is a popular attraction in Venice. The best time to visit (to avoid crowds) is early. If you’re visiting during the off-season, don’t be surprised if the line is only a few minutes at any time of day. (During an October visit, I waited less than 5 minutes to enter the elevator in the middle of the afternoon).
San Giorgio’s Campanile
Fewer visitors venture to the top of the bell tower in San Giorgio – but this is a mistake. Located on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, directly across the lagoon from Piazza San Marco, this bell tower offers an incredible view of Venice’s most famous square. Once you become aware of the bell towers, you realize what a role they play in city life. Marking the hour, the bell towers can be heard at almost all locations throughout the city.
The island of San Giorgio is only a short vaporetto (water bus) ride away from St Mark’s Square. On a sunny day, the boat ride in the open water is a pleasure in itself, but arriving at San Giorgio there is plenty more to see. This bell tower is part of a beautiful 16th century church with a white marble façade. On a recent visit, I stepped off the vaporetto to find a bride and groom sharing their first kisses in the square out front of the church.
On this side of the lagoon, you won’t pay premium prices for attractions. To reach the top of the bell tower, you will only pay approximately 3 euros. I didn’t check my watch before climbing in the elevator and, to my surprise and great pleasure, it was only five minutes after I arrived that the bells started ringing, signifying the top of the hour. It was an incredibly exhilarating (and odd) feeling to be that close to the bells as their chime rang out across the water.
Deciding which bell tower is your favorite can be part of the evening discussion over a bellini or two at a small bar or outdoor café. On the ground, this city is full of mystique around every corner. Seeing Venice from above only confirms that there is always somewhere new to discover in the famous, sinking city.
Written by and photos by Jessica Colley for EuropeUpClose.com