There are a number of small islands in Venice’s lagoon that you can visit via Vaporetto (water bus) – San Michele, Murano, Burano, Torcello, Lido, Mazzorbo, and Sant’Erasmus. The two most popular (and therefore the most crowded and touristy) are Murano and Burano.
You can buy all sorts of water bus tickets. One single use (good for 75 minutes) ticket cost 7.50 €. I suggest getting the day pass which costs 20 € and allows you to hop on and off again for a full day. You’ll leave from the Fondemente Nove vaporetto stop, a 15-minute walk from San Marco or Rialto. You’ll have to take the 4.1 or 4.2 line to the first two islands (San Michele, cemetery island, and Murano). From Murano, you’ll switch to taking the 12 line, which will get you to Burano and Torcello. The 18 will get you to Lido and Sant’Erasmus. Be sure to check the direction the vaporetto is going before getting on!
Click here for the full vaporetto route map.
I suggest dedicating a full day to seeing some of these islands. The way I like to plan out this day trip is first by picking out the islands you want to visit. I recommend visiting the islands in order (from closest to Venice to farthest), then taking one long boat ride home back to Venice at the end of the day. The journey back is a nice time to sit and relax after walking around all day and you will see beautiful views of Venice and all of the lagoon. You may even get to see the sunset over the lagoon. It’s a 45 to 60 minute ride back from the farthest island, Torcello.
Going in order starting with the island closest to Venice, here are some island highlights:
San Michele, Cemetery Island
On the way to San Michele, there is a bronze sculpture in the water. The sculpture is of two figures in a small boat pointing towards San Michele, supposedly representing Dante and Virgil on their way to the afterlife.
In 1806, after Napoleon declared that it was unhygienic to bury bodies within a city, this island became Venice’s cemetery. It has become the final resting place for most Venetians, as well as some notable foreigners such as composer Igor Stravinsky and poets Ezra Pound and Joseph Brodsky. The cemetery is divided into sections,or “campis” – preti (priests), suore (nuns), frati (monks), bambini (children), soliders and victims of war (marinai), etc etc. Many of the graves have heaps of flowers on top of them, and most have a photograph of the departed.
A word of warning, this island is almost always crowded with tourists. In appearance, the canals and buildings look similar to Venice, just more condensed. In 1292, a Venetian law outlawed the production of glass within Venice because of the risk of fire. The large furnaces used in glass making and blowing were moved to Murano and have remained there since. Most visitors come to the island to buy this famous glass work and see the glass being blown. The streets are lined with small shops selling all sorts of glass work – jewelry, plates, vases and decorative items, as well as fine art galleries displaying more abstract pieces.
Burano is known for its picturesque, colorful houses and its lacemaking. This island is mostly residential; there are a handful of restaurants, lace shops, and a church whos belltower leans at the same 5-degree angle as the tower of Pisa. The island is small – you can walk a full lap around it in about 15 minutes.
The early residents of Burano were fishermen and merchants. Because of the thick fog that often covered the lagoon, residents of Burano painted their houses different bright colors so fishermen could find their way back home to the island.
This island is great for just getting lost and exploring – although it’s nearly impossible to actually get lost due to the small size of the island. Put down the map, pull out your camera or paints and follow the colors! Be sure to wander through the heavily residential areas to get a genuine picture of life on the island.
The island of Torcello is actually the original birthplace of Venice. It was in the 5th century that settlers from the mainland came to the island to escape barbarian invasion. Today, with a population of 20 full-time residents, it is the least developed island in the lagoon. A refreshing breath of green – the island is covered in vegetation, trees, and marshes. Not many tourists make their way out to this island, so it’s a very peaceful escape.
There is only one “attraction” to visit on the island, the 11th century Santa Maria Assunta Church, famous for its ornate mosaics. With your purchase of an entrance ticket, you get a great audio guide about the construction of the church and a detailed explanation of the mosaics that adorn the walls. I also recommend purchasing a ticket to climb the church’s bell tower. From the top, you can see 360 views of the island and the lagoon.