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(CNN)In its heyday, the Queen of the Adriatic was the world capital of publishing, banking, jewelry and trade.
Venetians established the first bank at Rialto in 1157, the first casino in 1638 and the first film festival in 1932.
These days, the local population has dwindled to less than 60,000, while the number of tourists has soared to more than 20 million a year.
But in best of Venice tradition, the culture and luxury markets are thriving.
In addition to art and cinema, La Biennale includes dance, theater and music, and it's become the most important architecture festival in the world.
You'll get lost in Venice. It's part of the experience.
Don't worry; the best of Venice is always right in front of you.
Aman Canal Grande Venice
You can sleep under a Tiepolo ceiling in Aman Resort's first property in a major European city.
Through the centuries, Palazzo Papadopoli has hosted grand parties and welcomed visitors from around the world.
Now the Arrivabene family has found a clever solution to continue that tradition.
The 16th-century palace is still the home of Count Giberto Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga and his wife, Bianca, who live on the top floor with their five kids.
They rent out the rest of the property to Aman Resorts, and guests are encouraged to consider it their palazzo-away-from-home.
There are only 24 rooms for guests, plus two private gardens and a rooftop terrace -- making you feel like a privileged guest at a cozy, civilized house party that's been going on for centuries.
After a €34 million ($46 million) nip and tuck, the Gritti recently reopened in all its familiar splendor.
The spirit of Ernest Hemingway permeates the corridors of this Venetian institution, right down the hall from where Somerset Maughan once found his muse.
New themed suites have been added: the Peggy Guggeheim Suite has a Pablo Serrano sculpture and Manolo Valdes' "Dora Marr" on the wall, along with a view of Peggy's place, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, across the canal; the La Fenice Heritage Suite features a centuries-old harpsichord; the Redentore Terrazza Suite, with a 250-square-meter rooftop terrace, complete with mini-pool and views across the Grand Canal, is the most impressive.
The Gritti Palace, Campo Santa Maria del Giglio 2467, 30124 Venice Italy; +39 041 794 611
Hotel Al Sole
Hotel Al Sole is housed in a palazzo built at the beginning of the 1400s for one Giovanni Marcello, and is still owned by the Marcello family, whose roots here stretch back more than a millennium.
Its members include bishops and admirals, composers and commanders -- Titian himself painted a portrait of Doge Nicolò Marcello.
The hotel is located close to Piazzale Roma and Campo Santa Margherita with comfortable rooms and a peaceful garden.
Hotel Al Sole, Santa Croce 134-136, 30135 Venice Italy; +39 041 244 0328
Novecento Boutique Hotel
The Novecento Boutique Hotel is off Campo San Maurizio, which puts it right in the center of Venice's universe.
Furnishings and tapestries are Far East and Mediterranean originals, a reminder of the days when Venice and the Orient were big trading partners.
There are only nine rooms, all with en-suite bathrooms and exotically furnished common areas, an honesty bar, plus a small garden for breakfast when the weather is fine.
There are only four rooms at Corte 1321 Bed & Breakfast: two quads, one triple and one double, all with en-suite bathrooms.
If you can fit yourself into one of those categories, you'll score a great location, tasteful furnishings, private courtyard complete with ancient well, Wi-Fi and a TV -- one quad comes with a kitchen.
If you're a single, or you're a couple who want to stay in a quad, the price is higher, depending on the season.
Close to the Rialto Bridge, it's tricky to find, but easy to reach once you get your bearings.
Corte 1321, Campiello Ca Bernardo San Polo 1321, 30124 Venice Italy; +39 041 522 4923
Views on Venice
If you plan to stay in Venice for three nights or more, renting an apartment allows you to live like a Venetian, particularly if you like to cook.
Filippo Gaggia is the personable Views on Venice owner who handles the most desirable properties in the city, from moderate to expensive -- he even rents his family palazzo, the impressive Palazzo Loredan dell'Ambasciatore, once home to the ambassadors of the Holy Roman Empire.
Views on Venice, San Marco 4267/a; +39 041 241 1149
Ristorante Quadri (upstairs)
Ristorante Quadri was awarded one Michelin star in 2012.
In a merger of the Titans, the Alajmo family, of the renowned Le Calandre -- the three-star Michelin restaurant in nearby Padua -- took over the Quadri in Piazza San Marco in 2011, transfusing fine dining with an awesome view of one of the most dramatic venues on the planet.
Max Alajmo designed the menu, zapping traditional Venetian and Italian classics into the 21st century.
The focus is on fish that arrives daily from the Rialto market.
The Laguna tasting menu includes Burrata cheese ravioli with mixed seafood, fresh tomatoes and oregano.
Bartender Giuseppe Cipriani founded Harry's Bar in 1931 after having a 10,000-lira loan repaid by a young American named Harry Pickering, who threw in an extra 30,000 lira so Cipriani could open a high-society bar.
It was an instant hit, attracting the international elite.
The next year Giuseppe's son was born, and he named him Arrigo, which is Italian for Harry, who runs the show today.
Harry's Bar is a Venetian rite of passage.
The Bellini -- puréed white peache and prosecco -- was invented here, as well as the Carpaccio, created for an ailing countess ordered by her doctor to eat raw meat.
The food is classic Venetian.
Harry's Bar, San Marco 1323, 30124 Venice Italy; +39 041 528 5777
Ristorante Al Vagon
Celsa Grinzato grew up at Al Vagon, which was bought by her parents in 1951.
Her husband and kids work there; now her granddaughter is growing up there.
The fresh produce comes from San Erasmo, a local island in the lagoon; the fish comes from the Rialto market.
Celsa makes the desserts by hand; the semifreddo alla meringa -- ice cream cake -- is a specialty.
Located on a quiet canal, there's plenty of outdoor seating where you can watch the gondolas go by.
Al Vagon, Centro Storico sotoportego del Magazen No. 5597, Venice Italy; +39 041 523 7558
Bar Rialto da Lollo
The best tramezzini and panini -- sandwiches -- in Venice are in this little cafe under the Sottoportici degli Oresi at the Rialto Bridge.
The codfish and artichoke tramezzino is a standout and the coffee is excellent.
Clubbing, as it's known in the outside world, is almost nonexistent in Venice, with noise ordinances kicking in at 11 p.m., codes against live music and elderly Venetian women armed with watering cans on patrol in top-floor apartments.
However, a few best of Venice night spots have managed to wriggle their way around the rules.
There are no cars in Venice, so no worries about driving home.
Campo San Giacomo di Rialto and the Erberia
According to legend, this is the place where Venice was born on March 25, 421 A.D. at noon, and it's still a major hub in the Venetian wheel.
Bars and eateries in and around Campo San Giacomo di Rialto -- known locally as San Giacometto -- and the adjoining Erberia have evolved into Venice's main party scene.
Think of the campo as a giant, outdoor living room, connected by a bunch of different dining rooms, bars, cafes and kitchens.
Some places have live music; some have DJs, some just have a good sound system.
You can segue from spritz hour to dinner to after-dinner drinks to rowdy rocking to weeping in your best friend's arms without ever having to leave the zone.
Campo San Giacomo di Rialto and environs, from morning to late night
Tourists have taken up the habit, ignoring protocol and drinking spritzes at all sorts of hours.
It's a Venetian tradition to have a spritz with friends after work and before dinner, and bars all over town serve them up with gusto.
The spritz was introduced in Venice when the city was under Austrian occupation in the early 1900s, and is a mixture of white wine or prosecco, seltzer and either Aperol, Campari (more bitter) or Select (sweeter), adorned with an olive and an orange slice and usually served on ice.
Spritzes are often accompanied by a snack, from potato chips to cichetti (Venetian appetizers).
Spritz are served at most bars in Venice; starting at about €2 ($2.70)
There are some terrific singers in Venice -- sometimes you'll find them at Remer.
Taverna al Remer
Remer is one of the few establishments in Venice (outside of hotels) that knows what happy hour and cocktails are.
The place feels like a tavern, with clunky wooden tables, but with a touch of class -- discreet antiques are scattered throughout.
There's a piano, and that means there's music, and musicians dropping by.
If you want dinner conversation, it's best to sit in the other room.
Outside there's a small square on the Grand Canal, and a little dock with a great view of the Rialto Bridge, where you can wander with your best-of-Venice drinks.
At lunch (noon-3 p.m.) there's a substantial all-you-can eat-buffet with local produce, including wine, water and cofee for €20 ($27).
At Happy Hour (5:30-7:30 p.m.) there's an all-you-can-eat snack table with cocktail included for €8 ($10.75).
Dinner starts at 8 p.m., with local Venetian classics, mainly fish.
The music starts cranking at 9 p.m. and has been known to last until 1 a.m. and beyond, depending on the crowd.
Taverna del Campiello Remer | Cannaregio 5701 Campiello del Remer Sestiere Cannaregio, 30121 Venice Italy
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Shopping and Attractions
It's been compared to Disneyland, but it's actually the Magic Kingdom, where jobs such as maskmaker, glass blower, gondolier and fish monger still exist, and counts and countesses still live in palazzi.
The best of Venice starts here.
The best of Venice starts here.
If you buy a normal time-limited vaporetto (water bus) ticket from 12 hours to a week, and pay €10 more at the time you purchase your ticket, you can ride on the Art Vaporetto for as long as your ticket lasts.
This is something everyone should do.
Instead of being stuck on a crowded boat, you can ride on a comfy vaporetto with Wi-Fi, put in your earplugs and listen to a guided tour of the Grand Canal as you travel down one of the most spectacular water ways on the planet.
The Vaporetto dell'Arte runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every 30 minutes, seven days a week, and makes only 10 stops.
It highlights the art and culture to be found at each stop, provides a map, and encourages visitors to hop on and off.
A "Maison" offers an exclusive range of services that aren't available in usual Louis Vuitton stores, such as a nifty VIP shopping salon that disappears behind a wall and Made to Measure shoes.
Maisons are also larger and are housed in distinct buildings -- in this case, the former Cinema San Marco designed in 1936 by architect Brenno del Giudice, a manifesto for contemporary architecture in its time.
On the top floor, the store features a cool exhibition space.
Vuitton has partnered with the Fondazione Musei Civici a Venezia, Venice's Civic Museums, to sponsor the restoration of classic artworks, which are loaned to this new space.
Then, a contemporary artist is invited to exhibit, inspired by the classic work.
The newly-opened store's opening exhibit is entitled "Where should Othello go?" and features the restored painting "The Death of Othello" (1879) by Pompeo Molmenti, together with the contemporary video art "Strawberry-Ecstasy-Green" (2013) by New York-based artist Tony Oursler, and runs through November 24, 2013.
Louis Vuitton Venezia, San Marco 1345; +39 041 522 4500
La Bottega dei Mascareri
Maskmaking in Venice can be documented to the 13th century, when masks were used for a variety of reasons -- in government, on stage, as a form of dress and as a means of disguise.
During Carnival, social and class distinctions were flipped on their heads, with servants dressing up as masters and vice versa.
These days there seems to be a mask shop on every corner, but only a handful are the real deal -- most are Chinese imitations.
Sergio Boldrin and his brother, Massimo, have been a major force in keeping this art form alive.
La Bottega's creations are completely handmade the traditional way, from papier mâché, and were featured in the film, "Eyes Wide Shut."