In addition to the main island of Venice, we knew we wanted to explore the outer islands, the most famous of which are Murano, Burano, and Torcello. For that, we decided to get a 3-day vaporetto (watertaxi) pass so that we could explore the islands as well as the canals of Venice.
Each of these islands is known for something: Murano is home to the world famous and gorgeous Murano glass; Burano is famed for its lace production as well as its colorful buildings; and Torcello is known for the church on this small island.
What we didn’t realize is that that there are many other islands in the lagoon – some of which have vaporetto stops. So, naturally, we decided to explore some of those as well.
Here is our story.
We had gotten our first peek of Murano when taking the watertaxi from the airport to our AirBnB. We knew that, like Venice, it was a series of islands connected by bridges and canals and that it had a Grand Canal. What I hadn’t realized is that it had a lighthouse. If you recall, I am a bit obsessed with lighthouses – so this was a wonderfully unexpected find!
After disembarking, we found the canals were lined with cafes and, as expected, glass shops.
We perused the glass shops, not knowing what we wanted exactly (if anything), but more to look at the artistry. What we found were streets upon streets of glassblowers, galleries, and tourist shops galore. It was a bit overwhelming!
We went into one store which looked relatively normal (ie, neither high class nor uber-cheap). Before we knew it, we were being shown to a back room, and then upstairs, to more back rooms, all full of intricate and gorgeous handmade glass pieces – art, chandeliers, serving sets, you name it they had it.
We couldn’t take pictures in the shop (would hate to give away their artistic secrets!) so you’ll have to use your imagination. Think ornate, intricate, classic as well as streamlined, modern. They had it all. And man oh man was it pricey.
Once we realized glass purchases weren’t in our future, we took a quick look around the island before heading to Burano. Not surprisingly, glass was used in some of the art sculptures around the island.
Like in Venice, the history of Murano was apparent in the architecture and age of the buildings.
Next stop – Burano. Bring on the colored buildings and lace! The colored buildings were in full sight even from the vaporetto, which got us excited about the photographic prospects.
We had heard that Burano was the best place to eat lunch – so we had purposefully planned this island as the second on our day trip – so that we could eat like kings. It wasn’t meant to be, though…as we truly could not find an “authentic” restaurant for lunch. I am positive they must be somewhere, but they were not readily apparent to tourists. And even when we stumbled on a couple they were either closed or fully booked. Hmmph!
Regardless, after a worse than average tourist lunch, we made our way around the island looking at the colorful buildings. Had we known the eating situation – we definitely wouldn’t have chosen to visit at mid-day in the harsh sunlight. But anywho! Learn from our mistake — the best time to visit Burano for photographic purposes is definitely in the early morning or later evening when the light is more flattering.
We hope you enjoy these photos of picturesque Burano…
Besides the happy colors of the houses, another unique feature of Burano was the curtains they used to cover the doors. Some were closed, some were drawn to the side, but they all added an extra colorful feature. My guess is that they are used for both privacy and to block out the heat of the sun.
On this main thoroughfare in Burano, you can see the bright colorful houses on the left, with the more rundown, unkept colors on the right. We’re not sure the reason, but it made for an interesting contrast.
It was clear as we walked around that we are all visiting Burano for the same reason – to see the colors. Some folks even went so far as posing in front of the buildings for effect.
But the amount of laundry on the line throughout many of the streets reminded us that locals live here too, even if we couldn’t spot many on the streets.
Amongst the colored houses, there were also many shops selling lace…
…as well as other cheap souvenirs for tourists. Overall, while the colored houses were beautiful, the full experience felt a bit too touristy. Another reason that coming early or late would likely be preferable — to avoid the crowds.
From Burano, we walked over the bridge to the island of Mazzorbo. We were hungry and in search of food (this is before we ended up at the cheap tourist place), so we didn’t explore the island much. But we did find a nice winery (Venissa) with a restaurant that was a bit out of our price range.
In addition to grapes, the winery also grew some of its own food for the restaurant. Most notably for me, I saw my first artichoke! I like artichokes, but had never seen one growing before, so this was exciting. This area spoke to me since I love the idea of sustainable restaurants.
While we didn’t explore Mazzorbo for long, it was clear that we were starting to see islands with more green and less stone. Quite a change from Venice!
Torcello was smaller than Murano and Burano and even more green than Mazzorbo. The most notable sites on Torcello were the Church of Santa Fosca (straight ahead) next to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (left).
There was also another winery…which I’ll admit, was a beautiful site amidst the stone and history.
We didn’t spend long on Torcello before getting back on the watertaxi and perusing the rest of the area.
I don’t recall ever hearing of St. Erasmo before this trip, but it is on the watertaxi line so we decided to look into it. A quick google search told us this was the island where many of the vegetables are grown for the market stands in Venice. Given our adult-onset gardening adventures, I decided I wanted to see the island.
Jeff and Laura humored me as we visited “vegetable island.” Thanks guys!
Our first clue that this island was much less frequented was the fact that we transferred from a large water taxi to a much smaller one in order to get to it. This thrilled me. What thrilled me even more was that several locals got on board and a couple of them were quite smiley.
About 5 minutes into the ride, I just couldn’t stop myself and had to ask the smiley elderly gentleman “Parlo Inglese?” Unfortunately the answer was no, but we did our best to communicate.
I learned that he was 85 years old and lived in Punta Vela (the first stop of 3 on St. Erasmo). He had worked for 42 years on Murano as a glassblower. He raised shrimp and grew peppers on St. Erasmo.
If you’ve read my posts before, you know I call these “Moments of Authenticity.” There is nothing more authentic than successfully communicating with a local – both of our eyes lit up with excitement when we would make a connection or achieve an understanding. My Italian is nonexistent, but it was fun to try!
As he was disembarking, we shook hands and he invited me to come back to his house (mi casa). In the instant it took me to (1) translate what he was offering and (2) think of Laura and Jeff as part of this proposal – he was getting off the boat. I’m not one for regret, so I don’t regret not going. But next time, I won’t hesitate. I have no doubt that going to his house and hearing about his life, meeting his wife, etc would have been an amazing experience.
After that experience, I was pumped and just generally excited about life. We got off at the next stop to see the island.
The below church looked quite different from the rest in Venice. And notably, this was the first island we’d been on that had cars! Most were mopeds or small cars/trucks, but nevertheless, it meant we couldn’t just walk in the middle of the street as with everywhere else. It only took a honk or two before we remembered…(smile)
After the church, we walked the street for 15-20 minutes until we reached the next watertaxi stop. During that time, we passed all sorts of gardens…
…as well as fields of artichokes, which St. Erasmo is known for.
I truly enjoyed this walk and seeing all of the gardens, not only out of my interest for gardens, but also for the need to experience nature. While Venice is lovely, it is primarily stone and water, so seeing some green things growing was a nice break from the hard lines of the city.
Last but not least was the island of San Michele – the cemetery island. This island is easily seen from Venice, as evident from the shot below. Tourists can visit the island as long as they are respectful and do not take photographs.
Several famous people are buried here, including Igor Stravinsky and Ezra Pound. San Michele still accepts Venice’s dead, though for some it is only a temporary placement, until they get rotated to the main island due to space limitations.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-tour of several of the outer islands of Venice. These can be explored in a day – though I would have loved to have more time with each of them. Maybe next time!