The Doge’s Palace, also known as Palazzo Ducale, was not just the home of the duke of Venice but also home to all of the major government offices. A general access visit includes the council rooms and Doge's apartments but there's so much more to discover - like the secret archives, hidden offices, prison cells and even torture chambers.
On a special access Secret Passages (or Secret Itineraries) Tour, a small group of guests gain entry to these hidden rooms where the darker work of the Republic was carried out. A definite highlight of the tour is the prison cell that once held the legendary ladies man, Giacomo Casanova, and the fascinating story of his escape.
Only our Doge's Palace Secret Passages Tour includes this access.
Venice has always had a strong Byzantine influence in its art and architecture. It’s only fitting, then, that the Byzantine mosaics in St. Mark’s Basilica are among the finest in Italy. They depict, in glimmering gold and glass, scenes from the old and new testament. Their sheer scale defies belief, with the entire church glowing from the light captured by all that gold. Perhaps the most famous mosaic in the church illustrates the legend of how St. Mark’s remains came to Venice. It shows two crafty Venetians hiding the saint’s body in a pork barrel to keep it away from the prying eyes of Muslim customs inspectors in Alexandria - the body’s resting place before the Venetians, ahem, acquired it.
You'll see the mosaics of St. Mark's Basilica on our Legendary Venice Tour, our Venice in a Day Tour, our Welcome to Venice Tour and our Secret Passages & St Mark's Basilica Tour. For a special visit though, consider upgrading your experience to enter the basilica after hours, when the mosaics are lit up and so much clearer on our Alone in St. Mark's Basilica Tour or our package of the same with additional Doge's Palace Tour.
Venice has always done things slightly differently. When the rest of Italy was still ruled by monarchs and strongmen, the Doges of Venice presided over a limited democracy in which their decisions were vetted by a council of the city’s patrician families. Their meeting spot was the Chamber of the Great Council, an immense hall with beautiful frescoes on the ceiling and friezes of the first 76 Doges lining the walls. Keep an eye out for the one wearing a black veil. That's Marino Faliero, who tried to overthrow the council in the 14th century. If cutting off his head wasn’t enough, the Great Council also condemned him to damnatio memoriae, meaning the complete annihilation of his legacy.
The Chamber of the Great Council is visited on all of our standard Doge's Palace tours including our Legendary Venice Tour, our Venice in a Day Tour, our Secret Passages Tour and our Alone in St. Mark's Basilica with Doge's Palace Tour.
Although two distinct sights, we're rolling these two highlights into one entry because they're accessible on the same special access ticket (well worth the additional cost).
The Horses These four bronze horses on the first level of St. Mark’s Basilica look like many bronze sculptures you are bound to encounter in Italy, but don’t be fooled; they’re anything but normal. The horses were sculpted sometime around the 4th century BC in Constantinople and have become a symbol of Venice because of how they came to the city. Venice helped sack Constantinople in the 1203 and the riches they plundered helped to kick-start their rise as one of the dominant powers of the Mediterranean. These horses were part of that haul and as such, have always represented the power (and luck) of Venice. Today you can see replicas on front of St. Mark’s Basilica but the real ones sit inside to protect them from pollution.
The Terrace The Terrace level of St. Mark's Basilica is easily the best view in the city, overlooking beautiful St. Mark's Square on one side (Napoleon called it the "drawing room of Europe") and the Doge's Palace and Venice Lagoon on the other side. With limited access it's never too crowded, so you can take some time to relax and enjoy this incredible space away from the crowds (and pigeons) at street level.
As these areas require an additional ticket, not many tour operators include it, but we do on most of our tours. You'll visit on our Legendary Venice Tour, our Venice in a Day Tour and our Secret Passages Tour.
The New Prisons are a relatively recent addition to the Doge’s Palace, added in the 16th century to accommodate more prisoners and improve their living conditions. The Bridge of Sighs is an unexpectedly lovely little span that connects to the Palace to the New Prisons (particularly when viewed from the outside). The name of the bridge dates back to the Romantic period and supposably refers to the sighs of men condemned to life in prison as they took in their final view of Venice. In truth, it this is probably a Romantic myth as there weren’t any convicts being condemned to life sentences in the New Prisons by the time the bridge was built. Nice story though!
The New Prison is visited on all of our standard Doge's Palace tours including our Legendary Venice Tour, our Venice in a Day Tour, our Secret Passages Tour and our Alone in St. Mark's Basilica with Doge's Palace Tour.
Can I bring a bag into the Doge’s Palace?
Although you are unable to carry large backpacks around the Doge’s Palace, there is a free bag check at the entrance. Feel free to leave handbags and purses here too and collect them after your tour.
Can I bring my children on the Doge’s Palace Secret Passages Tour?
Unfortunately children under the age of 6 years old are not allowed to join the Doge’s Palace Secret Passages tour due to Doge’s Palace safety policy.
I suffer from claustrophobia, should I take the Doge’s Palace Secret Passages Tour?
The Doge’s Palace Secret Passages Tour visits the secret archives and hidden passages of the Palace. This means that the tour does enter some small, relatively dark spaces between rooms. If you are nervous about this, we advise that you don’t take this tour.
What should I wear in St. Mark’s Basilica?
At St. Mark’s Basilica, as at all Catholic churches and religious sites, visitors are asked to cover their shoulders and knees. For men this means long shorts or trousers, while women should wear long skirts or trousers. If you are wearing shorter shorts please bring a sarong or something similar to cover up. If your top is sleeveless, we recommend that you bring a cardigan.
If it rains, or if there is “acqua alta” (high water), will my tour still run?
Yes! All Walks of Italy services will run, rain or shine. On some very rare occasions, when the weather is particularly dramatic, some sites may be closed. In these cases we will try to contact you in advance, where possible.