Venice is synonymous with water. It sits at the centre of the Venetian lagoon, an area of canals, mudflats and salt marshes that form the largest wetland in the Mediterranean. Naturally, the lagoon is peppered with islands and, as I discovered, you can easily fit a few of those islands into a single day trip from Venice.
Why Visit The Islands Of The Venice Lagoon?
A boat trip into the Venetian Lagoon is an easy day out, and a chance to explore a different side of Venice. The ride is enjoyable and, if you time it right, you may catch a spectacular sunset on your return.
The lagoon islands themselves are picturesque, each one a miniature Venice with canals, churches, cafés and restaurants. Each has its own distinctive character, with traditional crafts, monasteries and vineyards. There is even a cemetery island!
My first stop was at Burano, around 45 minutes from Venice. This is a photographer’s dream: most tourists visit for the multi-coloured houses that cast their reflections in the water, and the tiny hidden-away courtyards.
The traditional industries of Burano are lace-making and fishing. There are lots of shops selling locally made lace and, of course, you can enjoy freshly landed fish in the canal side restaurants. You can also visit the Lace Museum (Museo del Merletto) and learn about the history and craft of lace-making.
Unfortunately the museum was closed on the day I visited, but I enjoyed walking around the island. It is very small, but as I ventured beyond the main street I found fishing boats, and the Church of San Martino with its freestanding belltower that leans at a perilous angle. (I had already spotted the tower from the boat as it approached Burano…)
The vaporetto does stop at the island of Masserbo but I approached by foot – there is a long wooden bridge connecting it to Burano. Masserbo is not quite as pretty as Burano but it is quiet and a pleasant place for a stroll.
I walked to the Chiesa di Santa Caterina at the other end of the island. Once part of a Benedictine convent, this has some original artworks, a ceiling shaped like a ship, a small garden and a belltower.
Masserbo is dominated by the Venissa Vineyard. The island was largely neglected until the vines were replanted in 2008, reviving a lost tradition. Today the vineyard retains its historic features, including the medieval walls and the 11th century belltower of San Michele Arcangelo. Although I visited out of season, and there wasn’t much to see, at other times of year visitors can enjoy vineyard tours and wine-tasting, or eat in the Michelin-starred restaurant.
From Masserbo I took the boat to Murano. This is closer to Venice than either Burano or Masserbo, and so tends to attract more tourists.
Murano is the centre of the Venetian glass making industry, and you will find lots of shops where you can watch glass production, or buy pieces to take home. Whether or not you like Murano glass is a matter of personal preference (it is too ornate for my taste), but it does have the virtue of being particularly durable.
If you want to find out more about glass making you can visit the Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro). There are also two churches to visit on Murano – San Pietro Martire and the 12th century Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato – both of which contain important artworks.
Other Islands Of The Lagoon
I only managed Burano, Masserbo and Murano in one day, but there are several other islands you could visit, particularly in the summer when the boats are more frequent. Torcello, close to Burano, is less visited but notable for its cathedral with an ancient mosaic floor. Or, if you just want to get away from it all for a few hours, try the agricultural island of Sant’Erasmo.
For something entirely different, you could visit San Michele, the closest island to Venice. This is the cemetery island, with a grand church, different zones (such as the Protestant section and the Orthodox area), and the graves of some famous people, including Ezra Pound and Igor Stravinsky.
South of Venice you can also visit the islands of Giudecca and San Giorgio.
Visiting The Venetian Lagoon Islands: Some Practicalities
- The vaporetto (or water-bus) leaves from Fondamente Nove. It is also possible to get on at San Zaccaria (or several intermediate stops) but you need to be aware that this will make your journey considerably longer (this route goes around the lesser known Castello district of Venice and is actually quite interesting if you have the time)
- There are several possibilities for guided tours of the lagoon islands, such as a full day excursion to Burano and Murano
- If you travel out of season (as I did) you may find that the vaporetto runs less frequently and that museums are not open every day. On the other hand, the popular islands such as Burano and Murano will be less crowded
- Most of the islands have a choice of places to eat and drink
- If you want to extend your visit, it is possible to stay overnight in Burano or Murano.