Venice is made up of over 100 small islands, but generally “the Venice islands” refers to the three most famous outlying islands in the Venetian lagoon: Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Murano, just north of Venice proper, has been the center of Venice’s famous glass-making industry since 1291, and the island’s expert glassblowers still handcraft stunning pieces of Murano glass today. Farther north, Burano has quiet canals lined with brightly painted fishermen’s houses and is home to Venice’s traditional lace artisans. Its neighboring island of Torcello, first settled in 452, is believed to be the first populated island in the Venetian lagoon.
The only way to visit Venice’s islands is by boat. By far the best option for avoiding the hassle and delays of the vaporettos (ferries) is booking a private motorboat tour. Tours enable you to make the most of your time on each island—visiting the glass factories on Murano, lace-making demonstrations on Burano, and the historic sights on Torcello—without having to navigate the complicated and crowded interisland public transportation system. Choose a half-day sightseeing tour if you are pressed for time, or a more leisurely full-day Venice cruise to explore the Grand Canal and lagoon islands at a more relaxed pace.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Be sure to bring your camera to capture the picturesque glassblowing demonstrations on Murano and traditional lace-making on Burano.
- Murano glass and Burano lace are famous for their impeccable quality—and prices reflect that. Be wary of glass or lace shops that advertise “bargain” prices, which often means low-quality goods imported from outside Italy.
- Murano’s glass shops are known for their hard-sell techniques, so always book your Venice islands tour through a reputable company to avoid unpleasant strong-arming tactics.
How to Get There
From St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), take vaporetto 4.1 from the San Zaccaria stop, or a private water taxi from the Grand Canal boat launch near the Doge’s Palace, to Murano. From there, local water buses or taxis run to Burano and Torcello.
When to Get There
The Venice islands are most crowded in summer. The crowds thin considerably from November through February, though chilly temperatures can mean a less pleasant boat trip across the lagoon.
Torcello in Literature
Over the decades, a number of famous artists, musicians, and Hollywood stars have spent time on the quiet island of Torcello. Ernest Hemingway, for one, wrote parts of “Across the River and into the Trees” during his stay on the island in 1948.