Discover the Venetian Islands
Murano, Burano, Torcello: there’s a lot more to Venice than St. Mark’s and the Rialto. To plan an island-hopping trip in the lagoon, you'll need some background on each of the islands. Read on to learn what to expect, where to go, and how to start planning your adventure.
Planning Your Trip
The best way to hop between the outer Venetian islands is via the city’s vaporetto (waterbus) service – you can also take private water taxis, but these tend to be very expensive. Vaporetto tickets (good for 75 minutes after validation) are Euro 7.50 per trip. You can buy tickets at machines or kiosks at the various vaporetto stops – make sure you validate (stamp) all tickets in the yellow machines at the docks before getting aboard.
You can also pay the conductors onboard (find them immediately upon boarding, or risk a steep fine). It’s worth buying the 24-hour ACTV travel card (Euro 20) or 2- and 3-day cards (Euro 30–40) for waterbuses if you intend to take more than two boat trips in a day (there’s also a special Euro 13 return ticket for trips to the Lido). For the best things to do in town, check out our Ultimate Guide to Venice.
How many islands can you visit?
In one fairly rushed day, it is possible to visit Murano, Burano and Torcello, but a more comfortable plan is to see Murano with San Michele on day 1, then Burano and Torcello or San Francesco Del Deserto on day 2. Assuming it’s warm enough to hit the beach, the Lido is worth a day to itself, although a trip here can be combined with San Lazzaro.
Getting there and around
The Fondamente Nove waterbus stop, on the north side of the city, is the primary departure point for Murano, Burano, Torcello, Lazzaretto Nuovo, and San Michele. Line nos. 4.1 and 4.2 make the journey to Murano via San Michele. For Burano, Line no. 12 departs Fondamente Nove every 30 minutes; for Torcello change to the shuttle boat (Line 9) that runs from Burano, timed to match the arrivals from Venice. Line nos. 1, 2, 5.1, 5.2, and LN cross the lagoon to the Lido from the San Zaccaria–Danieli stop near San Marco.
All the islands are small and easy to navigate on foot, but check the schedule for the next island-to-island departure and your return so that you don’t spend most of your day waiting for connections. Guided tours of most of these islands are also available.
Venetian Islands: Murano, Burano, and Beyond
Relax on San Michele
Not much is open in Venice at 7.30am, but you can visit the tranquil island of San Michele, a short waterbus ride from Fondamente Nove. This has been the city’s cemetery since 1807, its high walls and lush, park-like grounds incredibly atmospheric. Apart from the odd groundsman pruning bushes and a few mourners with flowers, you’ll likely be alone. Pay your respects at the graves of Ezra Pound, Joseph Brodsky, Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Diaghilev, the Russian ballet impresario (his tomb is draped with ballet shoes).
Visit a glass blowing studio on Murano
Murano has long been famous for one thing: glass. In 1291, Venetian glassmakers were forced to relocate to the island (10min north of Fondamente Nove) due to the risk of fires. Its numerous fornaci (kilns) still knock out incredibly high-quality vases, bowls, glasses and all sorts of twisting, curving glass sculptures today.
Many studios offer free displays of mouth-blown glassmaking, and virtually all of them have attached showrooms, where you can stock up on glass goodies. It’s not cheap (and shipping will almost double the price), but buying elsewhere (including Venice proper) will be far more expensive. Murano’s Museo del Vetro (Museum of Glass) chronicles the history of glassmaking here – it’s a great primer, especially if you intend to purchase a lot.
Walk the colorful canals of Burano
Wandering the charming back streets of Burano is quite unlike anything else in Venice. There are no grand mansions here, just tranquil canals lined with the brightly painted, low-slung homes of the Buranesi fishermen. While the men of Burano were out catching fish, the women made lace. Lace-making eventually became the island’s chief claim to fame, and though the output of genuine handmade pieces is small these days, the craft remains very much alive. Visit the Museo del Merletto (Museum of Lace Making) to learn about its history here.
Unsurprisingly, seafood is also big on Burano. The Trattoria al Gatto Nero, the “Black Cat”, has been around since 1946, cooking up Adriatic turbot and sea bass, Burano-style risotto (made with ghiozzi, a long-bodied fish from the lagoon), and tagliolini with spider crab. Celebrities as diverse as actor Sylvester Stallone, Rolling Stone Keith Richards, and designer Philippe Starck regularly frequent little Trattoria da Romano, another seafood joint decorated with works of art donated by visiting painters since the 1940s. When it comes to sweet treats, you’ll see the donut-shaped butter biscuits (bussolà) known simply as “buranelli” sold all over the island.
Trace the footsteps of Hemingway on Torcello
Ernest Hemingway loved boating over to sleepy Torcello to eat, drink and write. Hard to believe now, but this was once a thriving city in its own right during the Middle Ages. Today it comprises little more than a cluster of ancient buildings, connected to the waterbus landing by a path along one long canal. On the way you’ll pass Locanda Cipriani, Hemingway’s favorite bar/trattoria, opened in 1935 by Giuseppe Cipriani himself. The primary sight on the island is the towering Basilica di Santa Maria dell’Assunta, justly famous for its spectacular 11th- to 12th-century Byzantine-style mosaics.
Go back in time on San Francesco del Deserto
Another side trip from Burano, tiny San Francesco del Deserto is not on the waterbus network – as a result, it’s like taking a trip back to the 13th century, with nary a tourist in sight. The island, surrounded by salt marsh and wrapped in cypress trees, is occupied almost entirely by a Franciscan monastery (St Francis himself is said to have stayed here). You’ll need to take a private boat (from Fondamenta del Pizzo in Burano) for around Euros 10 per person return (includes waiting time). Once on the island, simply ring the monastery doorbell and one of the friars will give you a tour (Italian only; otherwise English pamphlets available; closed Mondays).
Visit Lazzaretto Nuovo, the "Hospital Island"
Vaporetto no.13 (stops are “on request”) runs to Lazzaretto Nuovo, another tranquil island but this time with a grim history. In 1468 it was designated the “lazaretto” of Venice, a quarantine zone for people suffering from leprosy, plague and other deadly diseases. Abandoned in the 1970s, many of the island’s historic buildings (and fortifications built during the Napoleonic wars) remain. Free guided tours (the only way you can visit), take place April to October, only on Saturdays and Sundays, at 9:45am and 4:30pm. The tour is free.
See the Armenian monastery on San Lazzaro
The tiny southern lagoon island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni (“Saint Lazarus of the Armenians”) is dominated by its still-active Mekhitarist monastery (the Mekhitarists are an Armenian Catholic congregation). The Armenian connections are especially illuminating, but you can also tour the attractive gardens and visit the “Lord Byron Room”, where the Romantic poet came to study in 1816. A plaque outside the monastery states that Byron was a “devoted friend of Armenia, who died for the liberation of Greece.”
Have a beach day at the Lido
Though it’s definitely lost some luster from the years when it was a posh European resort, the Lido remains the beach of Venice, a seven-mile sandbar separating the lagoon from the Adriatic. The island has two main beach areas. Bucintoro is at the opposite end of the Gran Viale from the waterbus landing (10min on foot); San Nicolò, about one mile from the waterbus terminal, can be reached by bus B.
There’s not much else to do here but lounge on the sand, but the restored Ancient Jewish Cemetery (established in 1386), is well worth a look. Note that although the Venice Film Festival takes place here every September, the Lido becomes chilly, windswept and often deserted from October to April.
More Helpful Information
For more about Venice beyond the highlights, check out Getting Off the Beaten Path in Venice and Best Day Trips from Venice. If you want itinerary inspiration, see our collection of Italy trip plans created by local experts.