Visiting Venice is like visiting a living museum. Its beautiful setting, its abundance of artworks and architecture and its maze of streets and canals make it a unique experience.
We arrived by train into Santa Lucia station and were able to change money, buy a snack and get a map from the Tourist Information Office – all within the station building. Going out the main doors and down the steps took us to a large pedestrian area – to the beginning of the Grand Canal – the main thoroughfare of Venice.
From the station we took a Vaporetto (water bus) towards the San Zaccaria stop, just near St Marks Square. This trip down the Grand Canal was a wonderful introduction to Venice.
Our hotel, Locanda Al Leon (locanda is Italian for inn), was located down a tiny laneway called Calle dei Albanesi – a couple of minutes walk from the San Zaccaria water bus stop. Just before a small square called Campo SS Filippo e Giacomo we saw the red awning of Locanda Al Leon – and couldn’t believe our luck to be staying in such a central location!
Locanda Al Leon, Venice
We booked Locanda Al Leon in advance. It is in an area called Castello and conveniently located in the heart of Venice – a few minutes walk from St Marks Square.
There were four of us travelling together and on arrival there was only one double room available in the hotel itself, and the other two in our party were given a room in an unmarked building across from Al Leon – it was very nice and we communicated via the phone.
We also had the option of an apartment about 10 minutes walk from Al Leon where we could have all stayed together however we liked the location of Al Leon better.
We had a large room on the 3rd floor (steps were very steep) overlooking Campo SS Filippo e Giacomo. A continental breakfast was included in our room rate and was served in a small breakfast room. We can highly recommend Locanda Al Leon for its excellent location, value for money and lovely rooms decorated in Venetian style.
The charming man on reception recommended a fabulous restaurant for dinner – Trattoria Alla Rivetta – right next to Ponte San Provolo – a one minute walk away. We can also highly recommend this place for excellent food and atmosphere.
The best way to see Venice is to walk and walk. The streets are a maze and it’s easy to get lost but somehow you always find your way to your destination. The streets are particularly pretty at night.
The Grand Canal, Venice
Suggested things to do in Venice:
St Mark’s Square (Piazza san Marco)
St Mark’s Campanile (belltower)
St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)
Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
Take a gondola ride
Take a boat ride along the Grand Canal
We took a Vaporetto to the Lido however it wasn’t looking its best in the winter. We did enjoy the boat ride across the water and the views of Venice surrounded by snow-capped mountains. On an earlier visit we had taken a tour of the islands of Murano (glassblowing) and Burano (known for its lace shops).
A magic memory was taking a gondola ride through small canals and under low bridges. We even passed Marco Polo’s house!
Our gondolier was a charming young man who said, as a child, he wanted to either play soccer or be a gondolier when he grew up. He loved his job and was very proud of it. He even serenaded us – so we had the whole package.
Previous visits to Venice had been in the summer and this winter trip afforded fewer crowds, cheaper hotel prices and very clean water in the canals but, on the downside, scaffolding surrounded the Bridge of Sighs and the belltower in St Marks Square.
Best advice is not to take too much luggage if you are travelling on the vaporettos – they are crowded and have no facilities for luggage. Also, during our visit, the water levels were high and in the mornings we had to walk along temporary timber walkways near the Grand Canal and in St Marks Square.
Venice is a magical place and warrants a few days to do it justice.