One of the great artistic secrets of Venice is the Frari church, formerly known as Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. It really is hidden and we wouldn’t have known about it at all if it didn’t have a dedicated track in the Rick Steves app. We likely would have walked right past it if we hadn’t known to look for it. As a church it isn’t unimpressive looking, but there are so many churches in Venice, and Europe generally, that it can be hard to know which ones you should go into. They are probably all worth seeing, but as with all things in travel there just isn’t enough time.
How to Get There:
Like most things in Venice outside of St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge, the Frari Church is not easy to find. I honestly don’t know if we would have found it if our friend Holly hadn’t had a working phone with data and GPS. Your best shot if you don’t have a phone with data may be to use the Lonely Planet guide. Remember that your phone’s GPS will still work to show you where you are as long as you have downloaded the map before hand.
Because of the congested nature of the Venetian alleys you will not see the Frari Church until you are actually in the Campo dei Frari where it stands. It dominates the square as it is a large redbrick gothic basilica. But having already passed a number of churches you may be unsure if you are in the right place. You will see a sign with the word Frari on it, and then you will know you have arrived.
Before you head out to visit the Frari Church make sure that you are appropriately attired to visit a religious site, this means being modestly covered, removing your hat, putting away your selfie stick, etc.
When you arrive you will enter through the front door and there will be a small booth to your right where you can purchase your tickets which are just €3 per person. There are some steps just to the left of this booth where you can leave your bag if you would like, although I don’t think it was required.
What You Will See:
Unless you know an awful lot about 16th century Venetian art and the Franciscan order I would definitely recommend using the Rick Steves’ audio guide here. I don’t pretend to know anything about art of any century so I really liked having something to listen to in the Frari. I am sure I would have enjoyed seeing the religious paintings without the guide, but I certainly wouldn’t have understood their significance in context.
One of the really special things about the Frari Church is the chance to see full alter pieces in their intended settings. The church has a number of chapels and each one has an alter piece of its own.
You also get the chance to see the church’s reliquary which I was excited about since both Notre Dame and Saint Mark‘s charge you to see their reliquaries.
In addition to the art, there is a ton of it for a single church, and the relics, you will also see several tombs that are quite impressive. The visit to the church won’t take you much longer than total length of Rick’s audio guide, depending on how long you want to look at the artwork.
It is worth noting that you are allowed to take pictures in here, which is rare for a church. I did not realize this until we were leaving, which is why we have so few and such low quality images for this post as I just snapped a few on my phone on the way out.
I really enjoyed visiting the Frari Church and highly recommend it. Not only is it very cool to see, but it is also very cool temperature wise inside. Considering that when we were in Venice it was blistering hot and oppressively humid, this was a great blessing. It is not very expensive to visit, so it is certainly wort the cost of getting in. As a lesser known site in Venice it doesn’t get very crowded which in contrast to St. Mark’s Basilica gives you the time and attention to enjoy yourself.