Sure, there is a lot to see in Venice’s Centro Storico, the historic center, yet, there are also those smaller gems. In this guide, I show you how to visit Murano, Burano, and Torcello, comfortably on a self-guided tour. It’s actually pretty easy and inexpensive to visit these three islands on a day trip from Venice.
The Venetian Lagoon
Speaking about Venice, we are generally referring to the small, fish-shaped city center, the so-called Centro Storico.
However, that’s only one small island in the Venetian lagoon which spreads over 550 square kilometers and is located north of the Adriatic Sea. This lagoon emerged from the Brenta River and other waters from the Po valley around 4000 B. C. Only around 8 percent of the area consists of islands. The remaining surface consists of waters, mud flats, and marshland.
The lagoon forms the largest wetland connected to the Mediterranean Sea and has three outlets to the Adriatic Sea. This connection to the Adriatic causes strong water movements and spring tides. Therefore, the so-called acqua alta floods the Centro Storico regularly.
The northern part of the lagoon towards Torcello contains mainly fresh water. There is hardly any tidal range. It is therefore called laguna morta, which translates to dead lagoon. In contrast, the water level of the saltwater part – the laguna viva, hence, the living lagoon – rises and falls with the ebb and flow of the sea.
As a matter of fact, there is a total of 120 islands in the lagoon. However, only 11 are permanently inhabited. Apart from the Centro Storico, there are at least three more islands you should not miss when visiting Venice:
Of all the islands in the Venetian lagoon, Murano is the third largest one – after the Centro Storico and the Lido. It has a size of a bit over one square kilometer and actually consists of seven small islets divided by eight channels and connected through bridges.
The island of Murano is located about 1.5 kilometers – or one mile – north of the Centro Storico. It once used to be an independent commune, but is now part of greater Venice.
Although there are some landmarks such as the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato, the Church of San Pietro Martire, and the Palazzo da Mula, most people visit Murano for the famous glass, sold in uncountable small stores. Another great attraction is the Murano Glass Museum, housed in the large Palazzo Giustinian.
In the 13th century, Murano was a summer resort for the Venetian aristocrats who built beautiful villas with orchards and gardens there. As the furnaces that were used for glass melting became a fire hazard to the Centro Storico, the Venetians outsourced the glass production to Murano.
This way, the island became Europe’s prime glassmaking center. The heyday of production was in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Heart of Glass
Murano wasn’t only famous for its outstanding quality. During the 15th century, the local glassmakers invented cristallo. It was almost transparent and became the world’s finest glass.
On the other hand, they also developed a white-colored glass, a milk glass called lattimo, that looked like porcelain. Huge chandeliers, amazing mirrors, bowls and vases, jewelry, and beads were produced in large numbers.
To this date, glass is one of the most sought-after souvenirs among visitors to Venice.
In the 13th century, it took the nobles about an hour to row a boat from Venice to Murano – which, of course, they didn’t have to do themselves. Today, you can get there in about ten minutes.
Once in Murano, you need to
✔ learn about the history of glass making at the Museo del Vetro, Murano’s Glass Museum
✔ see some truly amazing contemporary art made from glass at the Fondazione Berengo Art Space
✔ attend a glass-working demonstration at the Former Church Santa Chiara – The Glass Cathedral
✔ admire the paintings by Bellini at the Chiesa di San Pietro Martire
✔ enjoy a – yes, Bellini – on the Campo Santo Stefano under the Torre dell’Orologio
But there is much more to explore – as you can read in my post.
Although Burano was already mentioned in 840, it remained a rather insignificant fishing island until the late Middle Ages. At that time, even Torcello and the neighboring island of Mazzorbo were more powerful.
Protecting Venice’s economic interests, fishing was heavily regulated although it was Burano’s main source of income. For instance, fishermen from Burano were only allowed to sell their catch on their own island and at the Rialto market. Trade with the mainland was banned. Obviously, this led to illegal business and smuggling.
At some point, Venice considered the security situation so pressing that Burano was divided into four quarters. It was prohibited to leave those by boat after dark under penalty of death. Hence, it’s no wonder that there were only two wealthy families on the island of Burano. The majority of the inhabitants were rather poor fishermen.
Nevertheless, men on Burano continued to make a living from fishing, while women dedicated themselves to lace embroidery. As a matter of fact, the lace school Scuola di Merletti picked up on this craft. Since 1872, it has created masterful copies of the old patterns and techniques.
In 1924, Burano became formally part of the municipality of Venice – despite the strong opposition of its residents.
Burano is located less than 10 kilometers northeast of Venice’s Centro Storico. Just like its big sisters Venice and Murano, Burano is actually a group of small isles – there is five of them – that are connected by bridges.
Today, with an area of less than 2.5 square kilometers, Burano is one of the larger and with over 2700 inhabitants one of the most densely populated islands in the Venetian Lagoon.
Once in Burano, you need to
✔ learn about the history of lace making at the Museo dei Merletti, Burano’s Lace Museum
✔ take a souvenir picture in front of the colorful Casa di Bepi Suà
✔ take a good look around from the Tre Ponti bridge
✔ admiring Giambattista Tiepolo’s Crucifixion at the Oratory of Santa Barbara
✔ just stroll up and down Burano’s streets, getting dizzy from all those bold colors
But there is much more to explore – as you can read in my post.
As you visit the less than 0.5 square kilometers large island, it’s very difficult to imagine that Torcello gained importance as a center of politics and trade in the 7th century. Of all the important sacral buildings, today, only the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta remains.
Yet, excavations exposed a village of wooden houses from the 10th and 11th centuries. The houses overlooked canals, and numerous furnaces indicate the production of glass. Amphorae with rests of olive oil and wine from the Mediterranean reveal trade with distant places.
After all, back then, Torcello had about 20,000 inhabitants and was wealthier than Venice.
After the 12th century, this prosperous era ended, and the island lost its significance. The lagoon around Torcello swamped, and malaria epidemics became a constant threat. As many inhabitants left the island for Venice or Murano, they took everything valuable or even useful with them.
Consequently, Torcello was almost completely demolished. Around 1860, there were only around 360 inhabitants left.
Very little remains of the once magnificent buildings on Torcello. During the island’s heyday, there were twelve parishes and sixteen monasteries, albeit including other islands in the northern part of the lagoon. Today, all that’s left are the Basilica Santa Maria Assunta and the Church of Santa Fosca.
Over the decades, Torcello’s population shrunk to an all-time low of 15 permanent residents.
Once in Torcello, you need to
✔ awe at the mosaics of the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta
✔ visit the Chiesa di Santa Fosca
✔ trace the island’s history at the Museo Provinciale di Torcello
✔ dance on the Devil’s Bridge
✔ enjoy a snack and local wine at the Taverna Tipica
But there is much more to explore – as you can read in my post.
How to Get There And Around
While you can explore the Centro Storico, the fish-shaped historic center of Venice, by walking, this is not an option if you also want to visit the other islands scattered in the Venetian lagoon.
Fortunately, apart from public land transport, the ACTV transport company has also a comprehensive network of vaporetti, water buses, taking you to any place in the lagoon on a regular schedule.
There is vaporetto line #12 going from the stop Fondamente Nove on the northern edge of the Centro Storico to the islands I’m introducing in this post.
Vaporetto #12 makes its first stop at the lighthouse of Murano and continues in the early morning and late afternoon not only to Burano, but also to the island of Torcello. After 9 a.m. and before 5.30 p.m., it goes only to Burano. From there, you have to continue to Torcello by shuttle boat #9. Conveniently, it’s going back and forth between those islands every 15 minutes.
Also, once the regular vaporetti are suspended, there is a nightly connection by line NLN; hence, you never get stuck on any of the islands overnight.
Which Ticket to Buy
While at 9.50 €uros, individual tickets are ridiculously expensive, there are travel passes that are actually not that bad. If you’re planning to visit the three islands from this post in one day, you definitely should opt for a day ticket.
However, the more days you buy, the cheaper are your rides. Here is a chart on how much you pay for a day pass in 2022:
|168 hours (7 days)
Keep in mind that you can use the 24-hour ticket for two days. As a matter of fact, the clock starts ticking the moment you validate your ticket and lasts for 24 hours. With the other tickets, it’s the same, obviously.
Although it’s very touristy and can get really busy, a trip to the islands is a great addition to your Venice experience. Murano with its glass artisans, the fishing village of Burano with its lace industries, and the great church houses of Torcello are just beautiful.
As I said, especially during the high season, the islands can get really busy and the Vaporetti are packed with people.
You’ll have a much better and far more relaxed experience if you follow this itinerary: Take an early Vaporetto to Burano. Since most of the landmarks open only around 10.30 a.m., starting your trip around 9 should be fine.
If you’re already at the Centro Storico, you can hop on Vaporetto line #12 at the stop Fondamente Nove and go straight to Burano. However, if you’re coming from Piazzale Roma or the train station Venezia Santa Lucia, you’re better off taking the Vaporetto line #4.1 to the stop Faro on Murano and changing there to line #12 which takes you to Burano.
Once you’re on Burano, I recommend continuing to Torcello by Vaporetto #9 right away. You should arrive on the island around 10 a.m. The Basilica Santa Maria Assunta opens its gates at 10.30 a.m. so that you’ll be one of the first’n’few visitors.
On your way back, you spend a couple of hours in Burano before you end your day at Murano.
Following this itinerary, you strive a bit against the stream of visitors.
Getting There Organized
Another valid option is to visit the three isles on an organized tour. This option is even not more expensive than going by yourself. However, you have to stick to their schedule and itinerary which can be a bit of a drag. On the other hand, you don’t have to jiggle timetables and check out routes. You just hop on a boat and leave the planning and organizing to others*:
Which One is the Best?
As a matter of fact, I’m not a big fan of categorizing’n’comparing. We have different tastes and we like various things and enjoy distinct activities. So, I’d answer this question by “See for yourself”.
On the other hand, I understand that you’re in Venice for a couple of days and have limited time to explore. Therefore, I’ll give you an answer, and that would be Burano. The reasons are that it’s a bit of a drag to get to Torcello. Also, you have to go there via Burano, anyway. Unless you’re a historian and cannot live without seeing the admittedly amazing mosaics at the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, visiting exclusively Torcello would be a pretty bad effort-gain ratio.
Obviously, you can quickly cross the lagoon to Murano since this island is closest to the Centro Storico. However, to me, Murano is just a smaller version of the main island. So unless you want to see the cradle of the world-famous glass products, you won’t spot anything extremely different from what you see at the Centro Storico.
Burano, however, has a totally different architecture since it wasn’t home to wealthy families but to average fishermen. Instead of palaces, there are houses, and those come in all the beautiful colors of the rainbow.
Therefore, if you absolutely have to pick just one island, go to Burano.
What to Eat And Where to Sleep
Most visitors come to the smaller island on day trips which is fine with regard to the number of landmarks you’ll find there. Visiting Murano and Burano is mainly walking up and down alleys. In Torcello, visiting the landmarks takes about an hour and a half.
Yet, it is absolutely recommendable to stay the night as you get to know the places in a totally different atmosphere once the throngs of people are gone.
Since the islands mainly cater to day-trippers, there are many restaurants serving all the nice treats you also get in Venice or on the mainland. Prices are approximately like in the Centro Storico.
Like in many places around Italy, you can save some money – and the environment more plastic – if you drink the water from the fountains you find in many places and on basically every square. Yes, for you Italy-rookies, those fountains might not look that trustworthy but don’t worry, unless there is a clear sign stating otherwise, it is tasty clean drinking water.
On this map, you see which places not to miss during your island hopping in the lagoon. Clicking on the slider symbol at the top left or the full-screen icon at the top right will display the whole map including the legend.
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Note: This post is being regularly completed, edited, and updated – last in November 2023.