1. My all time favourite thing is to wander among the small calle (streets) and get lost in the magic this city has to offer. The true essence of Venice is found not in the main well trodden paths, but in the tiny streets where every day life carries on despite the hordes of tourists who descend upon the city daily. The labyrinth of streets initially seems daunting, that is, until you surrender to the pleasure of getting lost and discovering the delights off the beaten path.
2. Vaporetto #1. Take the #1 vaporetto from the station the whole way down the Grand Canal for one of the most captivatingly beautiful public transport rides one could experience. Try to score a seat in the front and soak in the spectacular architecture of the palazzo that line the canal. Once you have been in Venice for a few days you realise it is more pleasurable to walk than ride the vaporetto, but this trip is certainly an exception.
3. Bascilica San Marco - The Basilica, consecrated in 1094, is a spectacular display of the power of the Catholic church in Byzantine time. The gold, glass & marble mosaics gleam in the low light & the intricatly designed marble undulating floor is testimony to the fact that it is not built on solid ground. Enter through the door on the left rather than the main entrance - it is more peaceful & solemn.
4. Piazza San Marco This Piazza, is simultaneously vast and intimate. The scale and majesty of this "enclosed" space evokes the feeling of a very grand room. My advice is to visit in the evening when the throngs of tourists have dissipated and peace descends upon it. The surrounding architecture makes this a truly elegant and regal place to practice the Italian art of "passegiatta" - promenading around a magnificent square.
5. The Peggy Guggenheim museum. I love visiting this small and intimate museum of modern art. Located in Peggy Guggenheim's former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal, it is collection of her own pieces which she accumulated in the first half of the 20th century. It comprises works by Max Ernst (to whom she was married), Piet Mondrian, Georges Braque, Salvador Dali and Constantin Brancus, to name a few. Much of the art was collected as Hitler ravaged Europe and her autobiography is amazing for its unconventional and privileged lifestyle. Whether you are a fan of modern art or not, the Palazzo and its beautiful calm gardens are a wonderful respite from the crowds and you can easily relax here for several hours.
6. The secret tour of the Doges Palace. This tour, taken by a very knowledgable guide takes you behind the beautiful facade of the palacial Doges palace and into the bowes of the gaol that housed prisoners for centuries. The guide explains how the Doge and aristocracy of ancient Venice ruled the Republic through a combination of elaborate monarchic pomp and a republican constitution. Tickets can be pre booked by arriving to the ticket office in the Doges Palace http://www.venice-museum.com/secrets1.html
7. Visit the Rialto Food Markets. 6 Days a week, set on the backdrop of the Grand Canal, the restaurant owners and home owners of Venice shop in Erberia Food market for their fruit and Vegetables and the Pescheria for their fresh fish, calamari, octopus and prawns. It all begins early and ends around midday, so arrive early and wander around for a visual feast. Not only is the product so fresh it's almost jumping, but you will also get to experience a slice of the real Venice. When things start to slow down around midday, and you do not have a kitchen to cook in, just drop in to "Pronto Pesce Pronto" (directly opposite the fish market in the same street) - a small counter service fish cafe which serves an array of wonderful cooked seafood dishes and wine by the glass. The prices are good, plus the food is directly from the market so beautifully fresh and it is a local haunt of many of the market stall holders.
8. Take the elevator to the top of the Campanile in San Marco. The perspective you get from the top of the campanile can not be gained from any other vantage point in Venice. The view is one of terracotta intermingled with water - a scene that would be hard to replicate elsewhere! And into the bargain you don't even have to climb any stairs. This is preferable to do on a bright sunny day, either early or at sunset. You won't be disappointed.
9. Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Established by a group of wealthy Venetians philanthropists in 1478, Tintoretto was commissioned in 1564 to adorn the walls of this major guild. The result is large spectacular artworks depicting scenes from the New Testament, largely considered to be his best works. The scale, immense detail and use of colour to create intensity must be seen.