Venice is well-known for its canals, gondolas, Carnivale and the Bellini. And of all the notable places, the Piazza San Marco might be the most popular and heavily-trafficked part of Venice. Most would tell you to steer clear of the overcrowded touristy square, but not me.
Being a coffee-lover, people-watcher and a sucker for history and elegance, I’d advise you to make it a point to visit one of the famous historic cafes, whose tables spill out onto the piazza. Here, waiters dressed smartly in black pants, bowties and white dinner jackets will deliver what is sure to be the most expensive drink you’ve ever had. But in return, you’ll be rewarded with time to linger, a priceless view and from April through October, musical accompaniment. A fair trade, indeed. On second thought – why not visit them all?
First opened in 1720, Florian is one of the most beautiful cafes in the world. On the inside you’ll be amazed at all the gilt-gold decor, the red velvet banquettes, hand-painted mirrors and gorgeous frescos that adorn the ceiling. In a word – stunning. Famous clientele reportedly included Casanova, who used to hunt for prospects here, as it was the only cafe that admitted women at the time. It’s also home to the Venice Biennale, an annual contemporary art exhibition. Florian is located the furthest away from the Basicila, at the far end of the square.
This cafe and restaurant has been around since 1775. Quadri started its life as a cafe, but in 1860 the addition of a restaurant on the second floor breathed new life into the place. The decor of pastel yellow and light green stuccoed walls serves as a perfect backdrop for Pongo’s paintings of daily Venetian life. Frequented by both modern day actors attending the Venice Film Festival, including Woody Allen and past literary greats like Proust, the cafe is a popular haunt for artists, writers and journalists. The gelato al forno is an exclusive favorite.
Located at the foot of the L’Orologio (clock tower) in San Marco square, Lavena has been open since 1750. Billed as an Austrian-style salon, it boasts green marble tables, 18th century mirrors and hand-blown Murano glass wall lamps and chandeliers. Visitors can sit near second-floor windows which look out onto the piazza. The cafe’s orchestra is named after Richard Wagner, a loyal customer who is alleged to have composed part of his world-renowned opera Parsifal at a table. To locate Caffé Lavena, just look for their signature yellow chairs on the Piazza San Marco in front of their doors.
And just so you can get the full effect, here’s a little video of an orchestra playing at Lavena on the piazza!
There are plenty of other budget ideas for Venice, so I highly recommend you shell out extra euro to grab a table and watch life go by on Venice’s Piazza San Marco.
Heading to Venice? Perhaps you’d be interested in one of these Venice excursions.