Venice, Italy is one of the most serene European destinations to explore. Filled with stone bridges, narrow alleys and dozens, if not hundreds, of artisan crafted gondolas navigating its canals. The Italian town is the perfect retreat for the water lover who also enjoys taking in places still holding on to their authenticity.

We recently spent a little over a week navigating the many twists and turns of this luxe city—a designation it holds just behind its neighbor, Milan. During our time there, we were able to take in the best that Venice has to offer—from private cooking classes with a local chef to sailing the Venetian lagoon aboard a luxury floating boutique hotel. Now, we're sharing all that we learned through this expertly crafted travel guide.

As you begin to make your travel plans for summer—and beyond—keep this guide close if you're looking to explore the best that Venice, Italy has to offer. Oh, and if you are based in the U.S., United Airlines offers a regular direct flight from Newark International Airport, so it makes the travel process smooth.

Author DeAnna Taylor in front of one of the many canals. Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor.

Where to stay

Venice is composed of several small islands as well as the main island of Venice. What many first time visitors may not realize is, you can't just drive from place to place—even within each individual island. You must either utilize the local water taxi systems, small boats or your own two feet. Because of this, we highly suggest staying aboard Uniworld's luxury boutique floating hotel, the SS La Venezia.

Technically deemed a river cruise, staying aboard this smaller ship while visiting Venice will allow you to easily get to and from the best islands. Onboard, it has everything that any hotel on land would—a 5-star restaurant with an upscale menu featuring some of the best in local cuisine, a bar/lounge that also offers nightly entertainment and some of the best wines and cocktails from the region, as well as accommodations outfitted with furnishings crafted in Italy—that are truly fit for a king or queen.

The Venice itinerary is an 8-day route that visits the colorful island of Burano, the Italian glassblowing capital of Murano, the quaint island of Chioggia, while also allowing a few days to explore the main island, too.

The SS La Venezia at night. Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor.

Best things to eat

Pizza and pasta lovers, get ready to walk into heaven. Like most European destinations—in comparison to those found in the U.S.—dining out at local restaurants won't break your pockets. You can have your fill of handmade pastas, oven-fired pizzas, fine wines, and the country's iconic Aperol Spritz for a fraction of what you would likely spend at home.

We recommend dining at Al Gato Nero (The Black Cat) in Burano. It's a very small yet authentic Michelin star awarded restaurant. Make sure you reserve a table well before you arrive in Venice, as it is one of the most sought after spots there. And while on the main island, we suggest Pizza 1000 Gourmet. A newer eatery tucked away in Venice's alleys, you can experience some of the most uniquely crafted pizzas you'll ever have. And no matter what pizza you order, you should also get an order of the Carbonara pasta.

For dessert, you can't go wrong with stopping for gelato at the many stands found on all of Venice's islands. Our favorite gelato was found in Burano, and it only cost 2 euros.

Patio seating for Al Gato Nero in Burano. Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor.

Things to do and see

You're in Venice, so one of the first things to do is watch the gondolas sail the many canals. Of course, if you're up to it, you can also take a private ride for about 80 euros.

The cool thing about Venice is that it's literally like a giant maze, filled with tall, multi-story brick buildings lining the narrow alleyways. You can spend hours just getting lost and seeing what each turn has to offer. We suggest picking up a map or if you have cell service, plug in any spots into your apps for easier navigation, especially if exploring by foot.

On Venice island, you'll want to see St. Mark's Basilica and Doge's Palace, both iconic landmarks located on St. Mark's Square. If you aren't staying on the SS La Venezia, be prepared to wait in line to get inside. However, the Uniworld sailing includes private after-hour tours of both spots, so you can take them in without the crowds.

Colorful row homes and shops found in Burano. Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor.

Just beyond the square, you'll find all the luxury shopping your heart desires. From Italian brands like Bottega Veneta, Fendi and Gucci to other European brands such as Louis Vuitton and more. Shopping is a retail port in Europe. Items are usually 20-25% cheaper there, and you will also qualify for a VAT tax refund as a foreign passport holder.

Of course, you can't go all the way to Italy and not visit a winery. While Prosecco (an Italian sparkling wine varietal) reigns supreme, you can also try unique offerings grown from grapes only found in the region. Dominio di Bagnoli is a gorgeous winery and estate, about a 45-minute bus ride from Chioggia (since this is in the countryside, cars and buses are permitted to take you there).

Other things you can do while in Venice: take a private half-day cooking lesson with a local chef, check out the glassblowing demonstrations on Murano, snap dozens of photos in front of the colorful row homes in Burano and grab Aperol Spritzes and Bellinis from street vendors (yes, you can walk and drink while exploring).

Dominio di Bagnoli Winery in Venice. Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor.