What Are the 8 Most Popular Churches in Venice?

Venice in Italy is the prime destination for art, with invaluable works found in many of the city’s churches. In this article, we explore the eight most popular ones in Venice.

Mar 4, 2024By Polina Grmanova, MA International Relations

most popular churches in venice


Venetian churches are a striking combination of architecture, art, and history. These churches and basilicas are genuine architectural masterpieces with paintings, mosaics, and sculptures by Italy’s most renowned artists. Since Venice boasts many religious buildings, we are uncovering the can’t be missed.


1. St. Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica. Source: Gary Houston


No visit to Venice can be complete without seeing the iconic St. Mark’s Basilica, dedicated to St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. It is the best-known symbol of the Floating City and its most-visited attraction. The current church replaced previous structures from the 9th and 11th centuries as they suffered unspeakable damage from fire. Until 1807, St. Mark’s Basilica was the center of political life in Venice because it functioned as the private meeting place for the Venetian Doge. Due to this, many famous politicians, popes, royals, and nobles visited the church. The architect behind St. Mark’s Basilica is unknown, but the building is a gorgeous mix of Gothic, Byzantine, and Romanesque styles. St. Mark’s Basilica was always the reflection of the power of the Venetian Republic, so its exterior and interior features gold, marble, precious stones, and sculptures from abroad.


St. Mark’s Basilica. Source: Michael Vadon


The façade proudly showcases the four bronze horse sculptures brought into Venice by Napoleon and five beautiful domes. The interior of the Venice Cathedral is thrilling. One of its best features is various mosaics, mostly from gold and as old as the 13th century. Many of these mosaics come from the paintings by the most renowned painters, including Titian and Tintoretto. But the truly extraordinary sight is the famous golden altar Pala d’Oro, created with an ancient technique of Byzantine enameling and decorated with gems.


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An exciting addition to the tour of the basilica is the Treasury, a room filled with the remains of various saints and the treasures from the city’s naval explorations. For an extra fee, visitors can also climb the 98-meter-high bell tower for an incredible city view. Getting inside the basilica might be difficult, so it’s best to arrange a “Skip-the-Line” ticket or book a spot on one of the many guided tours organized by locals. 


2. Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. Source: Zairon


The Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, or simply the Frari, is the largest church in Venice. Located close to St. Mark’s Basilica, the Frari is a perfect example of typical Venetian Gothic architecture. The construction of the church started in 1231 and lasted for 107 years. The Istrian stone and brick on the facade and the regalzier technique on the walls are fascinating elements for anyone into architecture. This Venetian church is famous for displaying artworks by renowned painters and sculptors. These include Palma il Giovane, Bellini, Vivarini, Canova, and Donatello.


In addition, the church is a burial place for the famous artist Titian. His altarpieces, The Assumption of the Virgin and the Pesaro Madonna, are the highlights of the Frari. When visiting the church, many visitors climb the 14th-century bell tower, the second largest after St. Mark’s. 


3. Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute. Source: Mark Altstiel


Santa Maria della Salute is a church deeply cherished by Venetians and one of the best-known among tourists. After the devastating epidemic of the plague in the 1630s, Venetians decided to build a votive church dedicated to the Virgin Mary or the Saint Mary of Health. Venetians still commemorate those events every November during Festa della Salute. Designed by Baldassare Longhena, Santa Maria della Salute is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture that took 50 years to construct. The church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring impressive artworks by artists like Titian, Tintoretto, Luca Giordano, and others. The basilica stands next to Punta della Dogana, a modern art gallery and an essential part of the contemporary art scene in Venice. 


4. Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

San Giorgio Maggiore. Source: Wolfgang Moroder


To reach the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, located on the island of the same name, visitors have to take the Venetian water bus called vaporetto. The church, designed by the prominent architect Andrea Palladio, is a perfect example of Renaissance architecture. Its symmetrical design, the Istrian stone facade, and the classical elements are all essential features of the Palladian style. The construction of San Giorgio Maggiore took place between 1566 and 1610. Its iconic look is part of many Venetian postcards and even Monet’s paintings. The best sections of the church include the impeccable Palladian Cloister, the Conclave Hall, and the Monastery Library with thousands of books and manuscripts. In addition to being a religious place, the building is the seat of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, which has played a vital part in the restoration and renovation of Venice. 


5. Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Source: Liridon


Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo is another exquisite Venetian church dedicated to the Roman soldiers and saints John and Paul. The current church appeared in 1430 after demolishing the original 13th-century structure. Doge Jacopo Tiepolo donated the land to the Venetian Dominican order, whose mission was to fight heresy and promote science and education. The basilica is a splendid example of the Gothic style, with its 55-meter dome and large stained-glass windows. Yet, what makes this church so famous, is the tombs of the twenty five Venetian Doges and relics of several saints. Moreover, it’s a treasure trove of valuable artworks by Lorenzo Lotto, Bellini, Jacopo Sansovino, Palma il Giovane, Vivarini, and Veronese. 


6. Santa Maria del Giglio

Santa Maria del Giglio. Source: Wolfgang Moroder


Back in the heart of Venice, a few minutes from St. Mark’s Square, stands Santa Maria del Giglio. It is one of the most fascinating Venetian Baroque churches. Locals mainly refer to the church as Santa Maria Zobenigo as per the Venetian name of its original owners. In the 17th century, the architect Giuseppe Sardi rebuilt the 9th-century structure for Antonio Barbaro. The exterior contains marble reliefs depicting places Antonio Barbaro visited and sculptures of him and his family.


The church had the honor of being painted by Canaletto for its beauty. Compared to the exterior, the interior of Santa Maria del Giglio is modest. Yet, it features paintings by Rococo artists like Francesco Zugno, Gaspare Diziani, and Morlaiter. Visitors can enjoy priceless artworks by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Tintoretto, and Giuseppe Angeli. In addition, inside the church is the only Rubens painting remaining in Venice – the Madonna and Child with Young St. John.  


7. Santa Maria Formosa

Santa Maria Formosa. Source: Nino Barbieri


Built in the 7th century, the church of Santa Maria Formosa is one of the first built in Venice. According to the legend, after the Virgin Mary appeared to the Bishop of Oderzo, he built a church dedicated to the saint. What makes this church so well-known is its close connection with Festa delle Marie, a major Venetian festival and an opening event to the Venice Carnival. It’s a tradition going back to the 10th century. The current look of the church dates to the 15th century, specifically to 1492, when the famous architect Mauro Codussi finished the construction.


The church is an intriguing combination of various styles and has two different facades built in the Renaissance and Baroque styles. The bell tower stands separately from the church. Santa Maria Formosa is another Venetian church filled with precious paintings. The works inside the church include artists like Pietro Lombardo, Palma Vecchio, and Vincenzo Catena. 


8. San Pantalon

San Pantalon. Source: Zairon


For those traveling to Venice for the first time, it is easy to overlook the church of San Pantalon due to its unassuming facade. Yet, it is one of the most distinguished Venetian buildings, famous for the majestic painting by Giovanni Antonio Fumiani. The church is part of Dorsoduro, a Venice neighborhood known for its art institutions and hip establishments. The original structure is from the 12th century, but the current Baroque look was the 17th-century work of architect Francesco Comin.


The bell tower, designed by Tommaso Scalfarotto, is from the 18th century. What makes the church special is the above-mentioned illusionistic ceiling painting, depicting the life of St. Pantalon. It is not a ceiling fresco but a magical painting created on 44 canvases combined. Moreover, the church is home to the last masterpiece by Veronese, the St. Pantalon Heals a Child, painted in 1587.

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By Polina GrmanovaMA International RelationsPolina is a passionate freelance writer with an MA degree in International Relations. She loves to travel and enjoys writing about it. Her work experience includes marketing and travel design. In her free time, she reads books on business and psychology and studies Human Design.