Venice is one of those heralded cities that tops the bucket list of billions of people around the globe. People are drawn to its ethereal beauty, romantic gondola vibes, and of course, the traditional Italian food and wine. And while there are plenty of things to see, do, and photograph in Venice, it’s not a city that warrants an extended trip, even with all of the Italian landmarks housed within the city limits. So, many visitors take to exploring the Venetian lagoon and its islands. Murano, Burano, and Torcello in particular have captivated tourists for years. We’ve compiled this guide on how to visit the islands of the Venetian lagoon on your next trip.
Exploring the Venetian lagoon is a special experience.
Table of Contents
About the Venetian Lagoon
The Venetian Lagoon, in Italian referred to as Laguna Veneta, is a girdled bay in the Adriatic Sea. It only comprises approximately 8% land, which includes Venice and its many islands.
The lagoon is strategically located at the end of a mostly enclosed sea. Meaning, the Venetian Lagoon is subject to high variation in water levels. That’s the reason you will always read about rising water levels and flooding in the city of Venice.
Formation of the Venice Lagoon occurred between 6,000-7,000 years ago. Today, its present condition is largely the result of humans. There are a lot of ecological and pollution concerns due to human intervention. This includes air and water pollution, erosion, as well as loss of landscape. It’s no secret that Venice is sinking. Which is probably why people from all over the world come in droves – to see it before it disappears forever.
There are approximately 120 islands in total in the Venetian Lagoon – this number varies depending on what you would consider an island in terms of size. Water completely submerges some of the islands during high tide.
Three of the most beautiful and most visited islands of the Venetian Lagoon are Murano, Burano, and Torcello. All three of these islands are easily accessible as day trips from Venice.
Exploring the Venetian lagoon by vaporetto
The easiest way to explore the islands of the Venetian Lagoon is by Vaporetto. A vaporetto is akin to a water taxi. You have a few options when it comes to your vaporetto ride. The best, most efficient way if you plan on making a day out of exploring the Venetian Lagoon is to get a hop-on-hop-off pass. This pass costs €20, which is remarkably cheap considering you’re in Venice. It is good for 24-hours and is also valid for all buses.
If you want to go to a single island, or don’t plan on getting your money’s worth for the all-day pass, a single ticket costs € 7.50. They are also valid for other durations of time – you can even get one for 7 days for €60!
You have to validate the ticket as it is under time restrictions. You have to validate it as soon as you get on the vaporetto, and each time you change you must validate it again. Simply hold the ticket near to the validator on board. You’ll get a green light when you’re good to go!
The Italian officials love to make money from tourists who ‘play dumb’ and either intentionally don’t validate their ticket, or do so with innocent ignorance. Either way, police will give you a find if you don’t validate.
Best time to visit the Venetian lagoon
This section is really important if you want to (try to) avoid the crowds. The tourists of Venice are no joke (which is a huge part of why it’s among my least favorite cities to visit). Who can enjoy the moment when you’re being elbowed, pushed, stepped on, and pick-pocketed? I digress.
So, if you’re like me, and want to avoid crowds (as much as possible), then the best time to visit is in the shoulder season. In Spring, the shoulder season is April-May, whereas in the autumn it’s September-November.
With less crowds comes more affordable (and abundant) accommodation and lower prices. It’s also not quite so hot during these months, so you won’t have to worry about sweating through your shirt.
May and September are my personal favorite times to go. Temperatures are comfortable, restaurants and other tourist services are fully operational, yet not overrun with crowds.
The absolute worst time to go is in August. Unbearable heat, coupled with the fact that Italy is on vacation for the month, means you’ll likely not have a great time.
Carnival is in February or March, so if you plan on visiting during those times, expect skyrocketed hotel rates and an overall shitshow of people.
In the Winter, you’ll see far fewer crowds, but the islands are prone to flooding.
You can expect the general rule of thumb for each of the islands we’ll cover in terms of the best time to visit.
Exploring the Venetian lagoon’s most popular islands
The island of Murano is most famous for its glass production. This will likely be your first stop if you’re taking a day trip from Venice to the three islands. From Piazza San Marco, you take vaporetto line 42 direct to Murano.
Full of narrow canals and waterways, Murano is actually an archipelago of seven islands interconnected by bridges. It is, however, referred to as one island.
You can easily set off on foot and explore the area in a few hours. Though you can easily explore Murano, it’s the largest and most popular island to visit outside of Venice.
Among the most popular things to see in Murano include the Church of San Pietro Martire, the church of Santa Maria e Donato, the Glass Museum, and Palazzo da Mula. Shopping for authentic Murano glass is among the best things to do.
Something really special is to see a blown-glass demonstration. My next door neighbor growing up had a glass-blowing studio in his backyard, and I would always sneak over to see him work. It’s an incredible experience!
While you can find some amazing, authentic pieces, you should also be wary of buying something kitschy and foreign-produced. There are a lot of knock-offs in Murano.
Murano is like a humble version of Venice. It has nowhere near the extravagance and opulent architecture. Though, it does have some highly photographic places that aren’t completely overrun with crowds. Definitely grab some photos of the Church of Santa Maria e Donato. It’s very distinct from typical Venetian architecture, which makes it truly stand out in your photographs.
Getting from Murano to Burano, simply hop back on the vaporetto for a thirty-or-so minute ride. Burano is slightly smaller, but much prettier (in my opinion) than Murano. The vivid colors of the fishermen’s houses are an Instagrammer’s dream.
Burano is a tiny fishing village nestled in the Venetian Lagoon. It’s one of the most popular places to visit with Instagrammers and photographers for its otherworldly bursts of color. The entire island only has three (main) canals. You can explore it on foot in an hour or two.
According to local lore, the cheerfully colored houses were painted as such in order for the (oft inebriated) local fishermen to be able to find their way home and not wander into their neighbor’s house. A more boring rumor is that they wanted to be able to see them while fishing in the lagoon – but I prefer the first legend.
Today, the law protects the colored homes of Burano. Home owners must apply for permission to repaint their homes. Only a small selection of colors are allowed, even upon approval of the application.
Though you won’t find any glassblowing in Burano, you will find intricate lace making if you’re looking for a local, artisanal craft for souvenir purposes.
In fact, Leonardo da Vinci used authentic Burano lace in his work at the Milan Duomo cathedral.
Sadly, with the rise in cheaply produced textile imports from Asia coupled with the fall of the lace trend as a whole saw the collapse of this local industry. Today, it is largely produced for tourists.
Similar to the glass in Murano, the lace in Burano will either be handcrafted, authentic, and pure, or it will be cheaply produced probably in another country. Look at the price tag for an indicator.
In addition to photographing the adorably colored houses of Burano, if you’re into the process of lace making, head to Museo Merletto in Piazza Galuppi. Here, you can learn all about the traditions and techniques used in the local industry.
Torcello is undoubtedly the quietest of the bunch. While I personally don’t think it’s as charming as Murano or Burano, people love to visit Torcello for a reprieve from the crowds. From Burano, take the vaporetto line 9 to Torcello.
In comparison with Murano and Burano, Torcello seems almost uninhabited.
Torcello was actually rumored to be where the Venetian settlement all began. The island was settled as early as the 5th century, by refugees who were evading the enemy (likely Huns) toward the last days of the Roman Empire.
At its peak, the population was something around 20,000 people. Which is impressive considering you can mosey around the entire island in less than twenty minutes! Sadly, eventually malaria hit and most of the population died off or fled the island.
The main reason to visit Torcello is to see the stunning Byzantine influence in the colorful tiled mosaics that adorn the 7th century Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell’Assunta.
There are a few other archaeological museums and small art museums that are worth a visit to see the medieval relics and other ancient artifacts.
is it worth it to explore the venetian lagoon islands?
In short, yes! Especially if you need to escape the hustle and bustle of Venice. For me, that answer is always a yes, haha!
If you don’t want to navigate the entire experience yourself, you can always take a guided tour. There are many day trips and excursions from Venice that take you around the Venice Lagoon to visit the surrounding islands. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to do the planning, these guided day tours are perfect for you.