Whether it is your first or fifteenth time in Venice, it is easy to get lost amid the labyrinth of bridges, footpaths and waterways, but save that pleasure for later. On this walking tour, a knowledgeable guide will navigate the city for you, uncovering its treasures as he or she shares its tales. Travel by boat down the beautiful Guidecca Canal to the heart of Venice, St Mark’s Square, and disembark at the bustling Riva degli Schiavoni. Stand in the regally proportioned square so famous for its pigeons and pealing bell towers. Sights here include the Campanile and the 15thcentury clock tower where two huge bronze statues strike the hour.
Walk to St Mark's Basilica, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, and admire its façade mosaics and golden dome, both superbly restored to their original grandeur. Next, take in the beauty of the Doge's Palace, a 14th-century Gothic masterpiece with pink marble exterior and lacy stone arches. For nearly a thousand years, this was the seat of the Venetian government and the residence of the Republic's elected leader, the Doge. After viewing this sight from outside, you'll have free time to explore the shops and cafes around St Mark's Square, where necklaces of Venetian glass make a treasured souvenir.
Travel by boat to two islands of the Venetian Lagoon: Murano of glass-making fame, and Burano with its gaily painted fishermen's houses. En route, your guide will provide information, then enjoy independent exploration at each destination.
Start with a visit to Murano, "the island of glass." In the 13th century the glass factories moved here from the city to prevent fires and by the 15th century this was the leading glassproducing center in Europe, noted especially for its chandeliers. To this day glass-making is the heart of the local economy. You'll have the opportunity to watch a master at work and see why these artisans once enjoyed privileges reserved for the ruling elite, including immunity from prosecution and the right to bear arms. The island's 11th-century Camaldolese Benedictine Monastery of St Michael fostered map making, critical to the era of navigation.
Your next stop, Burano, is actually an archipelago of islands connected by bridges. Stroll along canals lined with brightly painted boats and just-as-colorful houses. While the men fished, the women specialized in delicate lace, and the island was an important trading hub in the 16th century. Today, lace made by the time-consuming traditional methods is highly prized and can be seen in the Lace making Museum.