Visit the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore for some of the finest panoramic views of Venice in Italy including San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, and the Grand Canal.
Some of the best views of Venice can be enjoyed from the campanile of the San Giorgio Maggiore church. From the square in front of the church, visitors can enjoy marvelous views for free of the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), Campanile di San Marco, and Santa Maria della Salute but a short elevator ride to the top of the bell tower shows the whole of Venice at its best. Many consider the panoramic views from here the best in Venice and despite the campanile being no hidden secret, it gets far fewer visitors than the bell tower of San Marco. Although San Giorgio Maggiore is free, it is sensible to save time on other sights in Venice with advance purchase online skip-the-line tickets and Venice museum passes. Further sights on the island including the Cini monastery may be seen on guided and audio guide tours but these do not include the church or campanile.
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Italy
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is on a similarly named small island across the waters from the Piazza San Marco in Venice. The first church was built here in the eighth century with a Benedictine monastery established in 982. (There are still a few monks at San Giorgio but the Cini Foundation now uses the majority of the complex.)
The present Renaissance basilica was mostly erected between 1565 and 1610. Its brilliant white façade – designed by Andrea Palladio but completed by Simeone Sorella) – receives praise and criticism in about equal measures. Noteworthy is how the architect managed to superimpose a classical temple façade on a typical Christian basilica with the side aisles significantly lower than the central nave.
The two arched niches feature the two patron saints of the church: San Giorgio (Saint George) and San Stefano (St Stephan). The façade has been criticized for the hole in the pediment – too cheap or too lazy to add statues?
The façade faces the Doge’s Palace and Piazza di San Marco across the water. Some of the most emblematic views of Venice are of San Giorgio glimmering in the setting sunlight viewed from across the water of the Bacino di San Marco.
Venice Views from the Campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore
Many visitors to San Giorgio Maggiore rush through the surprisingly bare Renaissance church to get to the bell tower. However, it is worth paying attention to some of the magnificent art on the way back.
Access to the campanile is at the front left inside the church. Pay the fee (€5), go up a few steps, and then zoom to the top of the tower in a modern glass-walled elevator. From the top of the campanile, visitors can enjoy breathtakingly beautiful 360° views of Venice.
Arriving at the top at the hour is fun – the bells are delightfully loud. The tower has 9 C# bells.
The Campanile di San Giorgio Maggiore is 63 m high. The present neo-Classical bell tower was built in 1791. (Previous towers collapsed after earthquakes or storms in 1442, 1726, and 1774.) It is similar in appearance to the Campanile di San Marco – however, the round top section makes it easy to distinguished even in the absence of other landmarks.
Art in the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice
San Giorgio Maggiore is probably most famous for the panoramic views from the campanile or the views of the church from waterfront in front of San Marco and the ducal palace. However, the church has many artworks, which can be seen for free.
At first glance, the vast interior of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore is surprisingly bare. The walls are mostly whitewashed and the chapels not overly decorated, as is popular in many other churches in Venice. The main reason is that the Benedictines kept control of the decorations – in many other churches chapels were sold to wealthy families, who were allowed to decorate as they please, whatever the taste.
At the front of the church, just off the passage to the bell tower, is a wooden angel. It stood on top of the campanile but was removed after being hit by lightening in 1993.
Of more artistic merit is the magnificent wooden choir stalls. Note the rather dainty St George slaying the dragon at the entrance to the choir stalls. Also in this area, note the 3-D effect of the marble floor tiles.
The church has three paintings by Tintoretto and further works by Bassano and Ricci. The Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese was stolen by Napoleon and is still the largest painting in the Louvre. The organ dates from 1750.
Visiting San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Italy
Getting to San Giorgio Maggiore is easy. Vaporetto (water bus) 2 stops here. It is a simple crossing from San Marco Zaccaria. (Line 2 is circular passing amongst others the Canal Grande, Ferrovia train station, Piazzale Roma bus station, Tronchetto car park, and San Marco.) Buy a return ticket if not using a transportation pass – there is currently no ticket office on San Giorgio.
Access to the church of San Giorgio Maggiore is free while the ride to the top of the bell tower is €6. Opening hours are 9:30 to 6 pm opening only at 2 pm on Sunday. Currently, this church takes no lunchtime break.
From the campanile, visitors can clearly see the courtyards and the garden of the monastery behind the church. The monastery is only open on weekends (sometimes Friday too) and may be seen on an audioguide tour.
The magnificent views from San Giorgio Maggiore are no real secret and being directly in the field of vision when leaving the Piazza San Marco the church can hardly hide. However, the number of visitors to the church and the bell tower is surprisingly (and pleasantly) low. While the queue for the Campanile di San Marco may be over an hour, visitors can often go directly into the elevator of San Giorgio – the queue here next to the elevator is often for the adjacent toilet, not for ascending the campanile. Audio-guide tours are available for the rest of the island but these do not include the campanile. Skip-the-line tickets are available for many sights in Venice and especially worth buying in advance during the high season.