Venice is one of those special cities that always has something new up its sleeve. No matter how many times you've been or what you think you know, there's always some new adventure waiting around an alley way that you never knew existed.
The Republic of Venice endured for nearly 1,000 years, and at one point the Venetian empire extended all the way down the Croatian coast to Crete. Such famous historical figures as Marco Polo, Casanova, Titian and Tintoretto lived here and contributed their stories and art to this canal city.
If it's your first visit, it's unlikely you'll get past the crowds at St. Mark's Square or Rialto bridge—and that's okay. However, if you're staying a bit longer or coming back for more, here's my list of must-see spots and must-do activities:
The inhabitants of this small group of islands just north of Venice proper have been making, or rather perfecting, glass for hundreds of years. Visit the glass factories to watch the masters blow delicate creations through red hot tubes. In moments, the skilled artisans craft chandelier parts, vases and other swirling creations before your eyes. There's also a glass museum on Murano and so many shops that you might feel like you're in a mall, but if you come during the off season or spend the night after the crowds have left, you'll find a very intimate Venetian experience that's often missing in the tourist areas of the main island of Venice.
The charming island of Burano is a 30-minute water ferry ride from Venice (a little less from Murano) and is famous for its lace production. The world isn't buying handmade lace like they were during the Renaissance, so the main draw these days is to see the extremely photogenic, brightly hued houses that line the canals. If you are a resident and decide you'd like to paint your house a different color, you're going to need approval first; the governing powers of the island are serious about keeping the town a lovely blend of pastel and it shows. There are lots of cute little restaurants as well. I found what I thought to be a hidden gem called Trattoria da Romano and thought I'd found a hidden gem until I saw pictures of Keith Richards and Robert De Niro eating there.
3. Isola di San Michele
During the 15th century French occupation that took place in the First Italian War, it was determined that burying the dead on the main island was unsanitary, so a special place was allocated for that very purpose. The deceased were transported to Isola di San Michele by gondola and laid to rest at one of the four cemeteries that make up the entire island. The stop on the ACTV is Cimiterio and it's an interesting place to wander around for an hour or two. Igor Stravinsky is probably the island's most famous interred resident, but the walls of the many burial vaults are equally fascinating.
Few people may associate Venice with beaches, but the 7-mile-long sandbar called Lido is responsible for popularizing beach resorts and swimming in the sea for leisure and relaxation. The very first beach resorts in the modern world were created here in the 19th century, and the sandy beaches overlooking the warm Adriatic Sea remain as popular today as ever. If you happen to be visiting in September, you might be lucky enough to catch the Venice Film Festival, which also takes place on the island.
5. Painting hunting
Looking for a little artistic adventure? There are famous paintings scattered throughout Venetian churches that you can visit for free, while a list of local treasures can make for an interesting scavenger hunt. Having a reason for getting lost in the less visited alleyways can help you get to know Venice better than the main tourist paths.
6. Eating and drinking
When in Venice...try the local food. Pasta sepia is the most famous dish in Venice and looks like black spaghetti, because it's made with the dark black ink of the cuttlefish. It's a little intimidating at first glance but tastes pretty good if you can get past the inevitable black-stained lips. Bellinis were invented at Harry's Bar near St. Mark's and although it may not taste exactly like what you're used to (and may cost a bit more), you can nevertheless impress your friends when you brag about it later. The most common drink of the Venetians is the spritz, a cocktail made with Campari or Apersol and sparkling wine. Look around you and you'll notice that's what almost every local drinks.
To get around, you purchase a 24-hour pass from any ACTV counter for 20€. Make sure you validate your ticket at the machine when you're boarding on your first voyage. Single trips are 7€ each way, so you can save quite a bit of money with the all day pass if you're ferry hopping.