TOP TIP Avoid the gondola rides. They're naff, touristy and expensive.
When you arrive at Marco Polo airport, it's well worth splashing out and hiring a water taxi to take you to central Venice. It's extortionately priced - about 130,000 lira [HK$468] so agree on a price before boarding - but as you bump along in the speedboat you'll feel like a film star. And the sight of Venice coming into view is breathtaking.
Culture vultures should time a trip around the next Venice Biennale (2003), the world's most glamorous forum for contemporary art - especially as it will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. More than 50 nations each send one avant-garde artist to represent their country, and running concurrently are a host of music, dance, theatre and cinema events [www.labiennale.org].
Make sure you visit during Carnevale, Venice's answer to Mardi Gras. It's held during the fortnight before Lent [next year from February 1-12] and Venetians dress up in elaborate costumes and masks for the many balls, concerts and parties or simply to parade through the streets. Hotels are bursting at the seams, however, so booking months in advance is essential.
Avoid visiting in summer when Venice heaves with tourists and the canals smell terrible. Easter and the first half of August are unbearably busy too. We visited in November and although cold, it was wonderfully romantic and you could snuggle up and wander through the narrow cobbled streets without being jostled by the hordes.
It's such a cliche, but you can't visit Venice without sampling a Bellini at Harry's Bar. The fresh peach juice and Prosecco cocktail was invented here and though the bar's nothing special, and cramped, it's an institution. Marcel Proust, Lord Byron, Charlie Chaplin, Truman Capote, Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway were all patrons [Calle Vallaresso 1323, San Marco. Tel: 3904 1528 5777].
For a romantic candlelit meal you can't beat La Cusina overlooking the Church of Santa Maria della Salute. The food is fabulous, service faultless and if it's your wedding anniversary, the staff treat you like royalty and ply you with complimentary treats [Westin Europa & Regina Hotel, San Marco 2159. Tel: 3904 1520 0477; www.westin.com].
Libreria San Pantalon is a beautiful shop. It sells a great selection of hand-crafted stationery, including the famous Italian paper photo albums, notebooks and cards [Dorsoduro 3950, Salizada San Pantalon. Tel: 3904 1522 4436].
A visit to Caffe Florian in Piazza San Marco is a must. Open since 1720, this opulent Venetian institution serves exquisite coffee and pastries, and has catered to such notables as Byron, Amadeo Modigliani and Proust [tel: 3904 1520 5641; www.caffeflorian.com].
Burano, a fishing and lace-making community seven kilometres north of Venice, is a lovely day-trip. Bonbon-coloured houses line the streets, offering great photo opportunities. Take vaporetto 12 [a water 'bus' - an experience in itself] from the Fondamente Nuove - the journey takes 40 minutes.
In most Italian bars and cafes, having a coffee at the bar [al banco] is cheaper than having one seated [al tavola], particularly alfresco. And don't drink cappuccino after midday - you'll scream 'foreigner'.
Next week: Sri Lanka
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