If you're visiting Venice for the first time you'll never forget the experience of arriving at St Mark's Square by boat. After strolling around the piazza, see the mosaics in the Byzantine St Mark's Basilica then take a wander through Venice's atmospheric lanes and alleys. And when you come back to Venice again, seek out less-visited churches on tranquil piazzas and visit Venice's lagoon islands.
The Grand Canal curls its way through the heart of Venice, forming a backwards 'S' shape as it meanders from the train station to the Church of Santa Maria della Salute in Dorsoduro. Venice has been divided into six sestieri districts since 1171: there's Cannaregio with its main street running from the train station to the Rialto Bridge. The heart of Venice is in San Marco, Castello has local street life and the Arsenale shipyard, and Dorsoduro has the Accademia gallery. San Polo is medieval, while Santa Croce is secluded.
Stake an early place in the queue to visit St Mark's Basilica then drop into the Doge's Palace next door with its grand chambers decorated by Tintoretto. Ride the lift to the top of the Campanile bell tower for stupendous views of Venice's terracotta roofs and pink and gold palaces, then learn about Renaissance art at the gallery. Imagine bygone Venice at the Ca' Rezzonico palazzo housing the Museum of 18th-Century Venice and visit the Frari church to see Titian's Assumption. Cross the Rialto Bridge to San Polo and make your way back to St Mark's Square, following Dorsoduro's maze of backstreets.
Tour the Peggy Guggenheim Collection's idiosyncratic 20th-century art then ride a ferry to the whisper-quiet island of Giudecca to visit Palladio's Redentore church. Take a daytrip to Venice's lagoon islands: eerily abandoned Torcello with its faded but still grand Byzantine Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral; and Murano to see a Venetian glassware factory at work. Take off to the beach for the day at the once fashionable Lido, then explore the quiet Castello district and trace Venice's important maritime history at the Arsenale dockyard.
Venice Marco Polo Airport flies over seven million passengers each year. The airport is 13 km (8 miles) by car and 10 km (6 miles) by boat from the city centre. It takes 1 hour 40 minutes to reach St Mark's Square by waterbus and 20 minutes to Piazzale Roma by road.