The Islands of Venice – A Guide to Burano and Murano

Written by Rem Malloy, since 1995 Rem has been guiding and designing trips to Italy and all of Western Europe and is considered an expert in his field for over 30 years.

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There’s something truly romantic and charming about Venice. Strolling hand in hand along its beautiful cobblestone streets, sharing gelatos, and marvelling at the magnificent buildings at Piazza San Marco. There’s so much history to discover and things to see in this glorious Italian city, whether it’s the Rialto Bridge, Basilica di San Marco, or Ponte Dei Sospiri.

Sure, Venice is beautiful in itself, but if you want to escape the crowds of tourists, head to Burano and Murano, two of the most beautiful islands near Venice. The former is famous for its colourful buildings, while the other is renowned for glassmaking. 

If you are heading to Venice and have enough time to see both islands, you should go on a day trip to Burano or Murano. Both Venice islands are not too big and can be explored easily in a single day.

To make the most of your visit and see all the amazing things that both islands have to offer, here’s your guide to Burano and Murano.

Burano

Burano is a small island at the northern end of the Venetian lagoon. Famous for its colourful houses, Burano is often hailed as one of the prettiest towns in Italy. With fewer tourist crowds and a more authentic feel, this historic fishing village offers a glimpse of Venice’s other side of life.

Burano is home to only 2,000 full-time residents, with tourism as its primary industry. Every day, hundreds of day-trippers come to the island from Venice to marvel at its colourful houses and picturesque canals

Compared to the other islands of Venice, Burano is much quieter and has a more laid-back feel. And although it can get crowded on a busy summer day, it is not as busy as Venice, so if you want to experience the canals in a more relaxed setting, Burano is a great place to visit.

History

Due to the Roman remains discovered on Burano, it is believed that the Romans first settled on the island. During the 6th century, the island was permanently inhabited by people fleeing from hostile invaders on the mainland. 

Even though the nearby island of Torcello is politically more important, it was abandoned around the 16th century in favour of Burano, mainly due to the high demand for its lace. The women of Burano are known to produce lace by hand, and although the island’s lacemaking industry waned around the 18th century, they eventually revived it and is still present nowadays.

How to Get There

Just like with visiting the other islands around Venice, the best way to get to Burano is through maritime public transportation; the Vaporetto ferry. From Venice, Take Line 12 from the Fondamente Nove dock to Burano. The one-way ticket will cost you around 7.50 euros or $9, and the journey will take about 40 minutes.

If you don’t want to use public transportation, you can take a private water taxi from Venice going to Burano. However, expect to pay a premium price. Hiring a water taxi from Venice to Burano will cost around 130 euros or more, so if you want to save money, taking the Vaporetto ferry is the way to go.

What to Do in Burano

Check out the leaning bell tower

Even though the leaning tower in Burano is not as famous as the leaning tower of Pisa, it’s still worth visiting. The bell tower is from the 17th-century church of San Martino, also known as the “Campanile Storto di Burano”. While trying to make the structure stand higher and boost the island’s prominence, the municipal government has incorrectly calculated the weight, causing the tower to tilt.

Admire the colourful houses 

Most tourists head to Burano to admire the brightly coloured houses that line its scenic canals. The practice of painting the houses in bright colours is mainly due to the island’s history as a fishing village. 

These bright colours have made it easier for fishermen to locate their homes amidst the thick fogs around the lagoon. It’s also believed that the locals use bright paint to mark where their property ends and begins.

Buy Lace 

Aside from tourism, the island’s other source of income is lace production. Thus, another thing to do in Burano is to buy lace and learn the history behind its lace-making industry. 

Even though lacemaking is still famous today, there are only a handful of traditional lacemakers left on the island. In addition, many stores are selling cheap imitation lace, with much of it made outside of Italy, which has badly affected the island’s lace-making industry. 

Visit Museo del Merletto

To learn more about the island’s lace-making industry, check out Museo del Merletto, the lace museum. Located in the historic palace of Podestà of Torcello, the museum tells the story of lace making in Burano, which has endured for centuries. Inside, you will find a video detailing the early origins of lacemaking and how it spread to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Malta, and France.

Murano

Of all Venice lagoon islands, Murano is among the best known. Many tourists visit the island for a day trip from Venice, as it’s close to the mainland and has its own Grand Canal. Famous for its glassmaking industry, Murano is a great place to visit for a more intimate look into the local Venetian life.

Lying just 1.5 km away from the old city of Venice, Murano is a collection of seven individual islands linked together by bridges. It has a totally different atmosphere than Venice and is glass-makingmuch quieter. 

For those interested in learning about the famous Murano glass, a visit to this beautiful island is a must. Its artisan glassmaking history dates back to the early centuries, and Murano glass is still revered to this day.

History

Murano Island was founded between the 5th and 7th centuries, although it only experienced a major development after 1291 when glass furnaces from Venice were moved here. Since then, Murano became the manufacturing centre for Venetian glass and had been exporting large quantities in various parts of Europe. 

The island reached its peak around the 16th century when more than 30,000 people moved to the island. Glassmaking still continues today, but at a considerably reduced scale.

How to Get There

The cheapest and most convenient way to get around Venice is by Vaporetto water bus. Therefore, if you are heading to Murano from Venice, your best bet is to take the Vaporetto. 

Several lines connect Murano to the main island, so your best option depends on which area in Venice you will be leaving from. The one-way fare should cost around 7.50 euros, or $9. Take the day passes if you plan to take the water buses several times a day.

The fastest option to Murano is Line 12, which will depart from Fondamente Nove station and take less than 10 minutes of travel. If you are staying close to Santa Lucia train station, you can also take Line 8; a direct ferry ride to Murano. 

It’s also possible to travel to Murano via Line 4. This circular route stops at many docks throughout Venice before continuing to Murano. Therefore, you can expect this route to take longer. Meanwhile, Line 7 is a seasonal route that runs only from spring to fall. 

What to Do in Murano

Learn about the History of Glassmaking at Museo del Vetro

If you are interested to learn about the art of glassmaking and its history, the Museo del Vetro should be your first stop. This museum is housed in a 17th Century Palace converted into a museum in 1861. It now stands as a testament to Murano’s glassmaking history and showcases the varying glassmaking techniques in Venice. 

The museum displays an expansive collection of glasses, some of which were collected from Egyptian times. In 2016, they renovated the exhibition area to make it more dynamic and interactive.

Visit the Mazzega Glass Factory

The glassmaking industry of Murano is still very much alive today, and the Mazzega glass factory is at the centre of it. You should visit this factory if you want to witness how the famed Murano glasses are made. 

Around the 1950s, Mazzega completely changed the glassmaking techniques, setting the standard of glassmaking in Murano and other parts of Italy. The factory’s showroom is divided into 11 subjections displaying the different glasses made in the factory. During your tour of the factory, you will also learn more about the glassmaking techniques and other interesting insights into Murano’s glass making industry.

Aside from the Mazzega glass factory, you will find several other glass factories in Murano that tourists can visit. Some of these factories still use the same techniques from centuries ago. There are even tours that allow participants to try their hands at making their own glasses. 

If you are interested in buying some Murano glasses, check out the many shops on the island selling different Murano glasses with varying styles, designs, colours, and shapes.

Explore the Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato

Like most of the islands around Venice, Murano is home to several interesting buildings. One of these is the Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato, one of the oldest churches within the Venetian lagoon that is famous for its Byzantine mosaic pavement built around the 12th century. 

But as time has gone by, the pavement has worn out and diminished in effect because of superficial repairs. However, it was kept intact to preserve the remnants of history. The pavement is said to be the only aspect of the construction that is dated more precisely. 

Aside from the colourful mosaic pavement, visitors visit Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato because it contains the relics of Saint Donatus of Arezzo. It’s also believed that the large bones behind the altar belong to the dragon that Saint Donatus slew.

Stroll through the Grand Canal

Just like on the main islands of Venice, Murano has its own Grand Canal. But unlike the one in Venice, which is often crowded with tourists, Murano’s Grand Canal is quieter, smaller, and more relaxing to explore. 

The Grand Canal is a great place to stroll and enjoy the gorgeous sights by the canal, which is also lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops. To cross the canal, go over Ponte Vivarini, also known as the ‘Long Bridge’; a charming and stylish bridge made of metal.

Admire the Comet Star Sculpture

Make your way towards Campo San Stefano, and you’ll find the remarkable Comet Glass Star sculpture created by Simone Cenedese, one of the famous glass masters in Murano. Built in 2007 for the Natale di Vetro celebration, this beautiful work of art is permanently displayed at the clock tower in a square across the bridge from San Pietro Church. The sculpture has become one of Murano’s symbols for Christmas. 

You might also be interested in checking out Simone Cenedese’s glass factory and showroom, which can be found on the island.

Summary

Burano and Murano are some of the must-see islands near Venice, and taking a day trip to these locations is highly recommended. While the main island of Venice is becoming overcrowded, these islands remain quiet and are less crowded, offering a more authentic experience. 

Burano is famous for its lace-making industry, while Murano is renowned for its glassmaking, offering a fascinating insight into niche areas of Italian history. These islands are also home to some of the most interesting attractions in Venice, from magnificent churches to beautiful bridges. 

If you want to see a different side of Venice and witness how locals go about their daily lives, you should visit these islands on your next trip to Venice.

For help and advice planning trips to the islands of Venice on your Italian holiday, get in touch with our team for personalised recommendations and help organising a bespoke tour of the area.

About the Author

Rem Malloy started Italy4real back in 1995 with his mother, Deborah de Maio.

He specialises in Italian tours as well as customised tours to France, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. He was also featured in the Travel Channel show Mysteries at The Museum in 2016.

Rem has family in Italy and his mothers home town is Cava di Terrani, near the Amalfi Coast. The family has a street named after them in Sorrento, Via Luigi de Maio; a relative who was mayor of Sorrento.

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