Venice Islands – Go Off The Beaten Path In The Lagoon

We tend to think of Venice as an island, as one island. In reality, there are dozens and dozens of islands in the Venetian Lagoon and, while Venice itself is the most important and most well-known, there are many other islands that play integral parts in Venetian life. Most of them are rarely visited by tourists, providing a chance to get a glimpse of another Venice.

Venice Islands

Three islands are an exception to the little-visited rule – Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Famous respectively for glassmaking, lace, and and an 11th-century basilica, they are perhaps best reached on tours that provide boats and guides. Other islands can be visited by using the Venetian public transportation system, the vaporetti. It's on those islands that you leave the tourists behind.

Murano

Murano Island

You might be familiar with the term "Murano Glass". That's because for centuries Murano was, by custom and law, the centre for glass making in the Venetian Empire. Secrets were jealously guarded and glass blowers were forbidden to take their craft elsewhere.

Murano today is still most famous for its glass works, and most visitor activities centre around learning about and shopping for glassware. The sometimes overblown (so to speak!) designs are not to everyone's tastes, but a visit to a glassblower is fascinating and there are nice pieces if you shop carefully.

Murano is, in some ways, a mini version of Venice, with its own Grand Canal, a series of smaller canals, bridges, markets, a bell tower, and the 12th-century Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato. It's also, like Venice, made up of a series of smaller islands. The island is best visited on a guided tour, but vaporetti lines 41 and 42 also service Murano.

Burano

Burano

Burano was, and is, traditionally the centre for lacemaking. Today it's just a much known for its colourfully-painted fishermen's houses, its charming canals and piazzas, and restaurants specializing in fish dishes. Go for lunch and then spend the afternoon visiting the lace museum and wandering the meandering streets.

Burano is farther away from Venice than Murano (the ferry ride is about 40 minutes) and is located north of our map. It's reached on tours and by vaporetto line 12.

Torcello

Torcello

One of the earliest islands in the lagoon to be settled, Torcello also boats the oldest building in Venice — the cathedral of Sana Maria dell'Assunta, founded in 639. The cathedral was rebuilt and expanded in the 11th century (you can still find remnants of the earlier church) and features wonderful early Byzantine mosaic work. It's definitely a place to get away from the crowds for, while Torcello was once a thriving place, today it's more deserted and tranquil. Take vaporetto line 9 from Burano, or sign up for a motorboat cruise.

Motorboat Cruise to Murano, Burano and Torcello

Motorboat Cruise to Murano, Burano and Torcello

This 4-hour tour takes you to the islands without the need to figure out the Venice transportation system. Board your boat near Piazza San Marco and cruise the Venetian Lagoon on your way to Murano. You have time to visit a glass maker before sailing north to visit Burano and Torcello. Available daily.

If You're Really Into Glassware…

San Giorgio Maggiore

San Giorgio Maggiore

A 3-minute vaporetto ride from San Marco gets you to the lovely postage-stamp island of San Giorgio Maggiore, known for the 16th-century Benedictine church designed by Andrea Palladio. We think it's one of the Insiders Secrets of Venice, with a bell tower that boasts the absolute best views of Basilica San Marco, just across the canal.

Lido di Venezia

Lido di Venezia

The Lido still retains international celebrity due to the actors who walk the red carpet during the Venice Film Festival, but a century ago Lido was a renowned resort and destination for the aristocrats of Europe. Today, there are fewer aristocrats and more ordinary Venetians enjoying its beaches, although it still is a resort destination. As a visitor, you'll want to get away from the main streets and shops and hotels, and head south to explore the hidden parts of the island with beaches, parks, and sand dunes. Perhaps you'll stumble on the remains of an 8th-century palazzo. Vaporetti lines 1, 2, 52.

Sant'Erasmo

They call Sant'Erasmo Il Giardino di Venezia, the garden of Venice, because it's an agricultural island that produces most of the produce eaten by Venetians. Although it's the largest island in the lagoon, Sant'Erasmo is sparsely populated because it's filled with farms and orchards. It's rarely visited by tourists, but is a great place for a rural walk (so different from Venice) and nice views of the other islands. Vaporetto line 13 makes stops at three places on Sant'Erasmo

Isola di San Michele

If you were going on a ghost tour of Venice San Michelle might be the island to visit. This is Venice's cemetery, but while you might expect it to be spooky, it's actually a pleasant place with walkways among the tombs, flowers, and two nice churches. Maybe that old joke about cemeteries being so nice that people are dying to get in could apply to San Michele; the island is crowded with graves and after a stay of ten years or so, remains are removed to be stored in an ossuary. Vaporetto lines 41 and 42, the same lines that serve Murano.