Venice's San Giorgio Maggiore – 8 Fascinating Facts + 2 Activities

It's an island. It's a church. It's a three-minute vaporetto ride from Venice, although few tourists make the trip. The views from the dominant bell tower are stunning. The gleaming white facade and the brick & marble tower seem to float in the Bacino San Marco, St Mark's Basin. And although the church is on its own small island of the same name, it almost seems close enough to touch from Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square).

Venice's San Giorgio Maggiore is one of those great insider secrets — so perfect yet undiscovered. Its brilliant white marble sparkles above the blue water of the lagoon. Go to see the church, marvel at the views from the bell tower, and think about the influence the architect Palladio had on future generations.

1. An Ancient Settlement

An Ancient Settlement

The island of San Giorgio Maggiore was probably first settled during the time of Ancient Rome. The first church, however, wasn't built until 829. (It was later destroyed by an earthquake.) In 982 a monastery was founded on the island.

2. No Lines

Venice Insider Tip. Unlike the bell tower of Basilican San Marco, there are rarely lines at San Giorgio Maggiore, there are no crowds, and it costs only about half as much. And the view from the bell tower of Piazza San Marco is postcard perfect!

3. Even Longer Views

From the campanile tower you also see views of the rest of Venice as well as far across the Adriatic. On a clear day, you can even see the Alps.

4. Andrea Palladio, Architect


The current 16th-century Benedictine church was designed by Andrea Palladio and is considered his masterpiece. You may not know his name, but he's one of the most influential architects in Western architecture, His work was loved by Christopher Wren and Thomas Jefferson. You can see Palladio's influence in Jefferson's Monticello and in many others great works of architecture.

5. Go for the Revolutionary Design

Palladio used a new (at the time) amalgamated design, with a two-tiered layered facade. The stacked pediments and portico (porch) are inspired by Greek design, with side windows modelled on Roman baths. It's these side windows that help make it one of the best-lit churches in Venice.

6. Go for the Bell Tower

San Giorgio Maggiore

The campanile (bell tower) was designed by Giovanni Scalfarotto to be similar in the style to St. Mark's. The bell tower fell in the 15th century and had to be rebuilt. Today, there is an elevator for easy access. By the way, the bell rings in the key of C#.

7. Go for the Artwork

The interior of San Giorgio Maggiore is decorated with works by Renaissance masters Tintoretto and Bassano. Highlights are The Adoration of the Shepherds by Bassano, and Tintoretto's Shower of Manna from Heaven and The Last Supper.

8. See Tintoretto's Last Work

Tintoretto's final painting, Deposition, was left unfinished and completed by his son. Today it's in the Basilica San Giorgio Maggiore's Cappella dei Morti, the Chapel of the Dead.

Cruise the Grand Canal & San Giorgio Maggiore

Cruise the Grand Canal & San Giorgio Maggiore

We like this cruise around Venice in a luxury motorboat captained by an expert guide. You get to see all the sights along the Grand Canal — you know: Rialto Bridge, the Doge's Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, etc — learning all about them, before you zip across the basin to San Giorgio Maggiore. Stop to explore the basilica and even climb the bell tower. Sundays, Wednesdays & Fridays.

Tour the Venetian Islands

Another great way to view San Giorgio Maggiore is on this affordable island tour, that also visits the Lido, the glassmaking island of Murano, and Burano Island, famous for its brightly-coloured houses and the fine lace made there.