It's been a few years since my last visit, but I still remember sailing out of Venice on my Mediterranean cruise. A beautiful, clear day, I was up on the top deck, taking in all of the stunning sites. As we passed by some of the islands, it reminded me that while there is so much to see and experience in Venice, we oftentimes don't leave the city itself.
I always suggest setting aside a day, weather permitting, to get out and visit the Venetian Islands. If time is limited, a half day tour of Murano, Burano and Torcello will give you a good flavor, but if you have the time, spending a full day exploring these islands plus San Michele and possibly Lido di Venizia won't be disappointing. Find the right vaporetto stop, hop on and be on your way.
Glass has been made here for at least 1300 years. Artisans craft everything from watches, paperweights and glass figurines to wine stoppers and magnificent chandeliers. You can certainly find these souvenirs all around Venice, but there's nothing like getting them right from the source! A visit to the Glass Museum provides a fantastic history of glass making too.
Famous glass artisan Dale Chihuly credits many of his inspirations to Venice, having worked at Venini Glass on a Fulbright fellowship back in 1968.
The island is not very big, but quaint and easy to get around. Take some time to visit the Lace Museum, where you can learn the history of this art. The two story building contains impressive displays of both historic and contemporary designs. With some luck you'll be able to observe a sewing circle of ladies wielding their needles and talents.
Be careful though when purchasing lace items to take home. True Venetian Point lace is very limited, and many of the items in the shops are imported or machine made.
If you have time to spare, take a stroll over to Mazzorbo, a very small, mostly rural island connected to Burano by a footbridge. A walk through the area gives you a chance to see more brightly painted homes and time away from the more touristy areas.
Be sure to check out the Protestant and Orthodox sections - not as well kept as the Catholic section, they contain several graves of famous foreigners, including Ezra Pound (American poet), Serge Diaghilev (whose grave normally is decorated with a ballet slipper), and Igor Stravinsky (Russian composer and pianist).