In between days packed with churches and art museums, I’ll occasionally have a free day to explore whichever city we’re in during my semester abroad, and today is one such day! I took the opportunity to travel to the smaller islands surrounding Venice in the Venetian Lagoon, first buying a 1-day vaporetto pass, then navigating the docks, and finally skipping across the bright green waters, making stops at Burano, Mazzorbo, Murano, and Torcello along the way. Here’s a summary of my island hopping adventure in Venice!
How to start island hopping in Venice
To navigate the islands in the Venetian lagoon, you’ll need to catch a boat. There are plenty of private tours and water taxis you can take, but you’ll save a ton of money by simply catching one of the vaporettos that continuously shuttle passengers between Venice and the neighboring islands.
I’d recommend the 1-day pass (€20) as opposed to individual tickets (€7.50) because you’re pretty much guaranteed to get your money’s worth unless you only plan on visiting one island. There are lots of ticket machines around the island, but your best bet is to purchase them at the dockyard you’ll be leaving from.
Or you can purchase them ahead of time here.
I started my island hopping journey at the Cannaregio dockyard in Venice, as it’s one of the bigger stations and therefore had vaporettos leaving for most of the islands. I never waited more than 20 minutes for a vaporetto, even on the smaller islands, but most of docks have timetables so that you can plan your departures accordingly.
Enough of the logistics, let’s go explore the Venetian lagoon!
Riding the Vaporetto
The vaporettos are medium-sized boats, but that didn’t stop them from getting PACKED with passengers. The dockhands seemed used to this though, and shoved me right out of the way when I foolishly stood in front of the docking rope… like a fool.
Despite being so crowded, I found that most people like to sit in the interior room of the vaporetto, which left plenty of room in the open-air standing section in the middle. In all honesty, skipping across the bright teal water was half of today’s fun, and totally worth the 20 euros by itself.
As we sped along the 30 minute water journey to Burano, I looked out onto the lagoon watching the islands as we passed them by, gripping the waist-high railing for dear life as the vaporetto rocked on a choppy patch of water. Some islands were big, residential areas that remind me of Staten Island, but as we sailed deeper into the lagoon, most of the islands were merely outcroppings- just a few meters wide. Some of them were so small that they could only accommodate one red-bricked cottage and a few surrounding trees! A lot of these smaller, private islands are abandoned, giving the whole Venetian lagoon an eeiry, otherworldly vibe.
After what was basically a sightseeing cruise without narration, the vaporetto began to slow down and people started to shuffle towards the middle of the boat where they’d be letting us off soon. In the distance, a cluster of vibrantly-colored buildings surrounded by sailboats appeared, which meant we’d finally reached my first stop on the lagoon journey- Burano!
Next to Murano, Burano Island is one of the most famous islands in the lagoon. Burano is known for its hand-made lace, but nothing could prepare me for way that Burano GLOWS with bright prismatic color. The island is set up like a traditional European fishing village, with its identical looking buildings lining the saltwater canals. It’s actually a lot like Venice on a smaller scale, and much more intimate. But what makes Burano stand out from anywehre else I’ve been is that every building is painted a different bright pastel color!
The result is that you’re basically walking along a canal lined with rainbows!
I don’t even know where I went, I just wandered up and down the bridges above the canals, past lime green, cerulian, and tangarine homes, and down little alleyways where tourists like me posed in front of their favorite colored background.
I did walk into a lace-craftsman shop or two, and although the lacy designs were, in fact, beautiful, one of the shopkeepers admitted to me that all of the island’s lace is imported from China. I’m not sure if I believe that, but I wasn’t planning on buying souvenirs anyway. No room in a carry-on, you know?
After walking through Burano, I started walking the wooden docks that ran along the waters edge. It was about halfway around that I stumbled upon a bridge stretching over the lagoon to an even smaller island. From what I could see, it looked like a garden with an old, crooked bell tower rising up from the garden wall. After watching a group of nuns cross the bridge back into Burano, I was intrigued and decided to pop over to the little island of Mazzorbo!
After crossing the bridge , I found that Mazzorbo was far smaller than I’d anticipated. Since there are no buildings on this island, you can see all the way across it, and that’s only about a quarter mile squared. About 2/3 of Mazzorbo is taken up by a winding path leading you through a bunch of little flower and vegetable gardens. In October, most of the plants were dead, but the island’s most recent art installations scattered along the trail make up for it. Each installation depicts a giant land-animal being suspended in the air by a series of pulleys. It was… unusual, but also kind of funny in its absurdness, and I’m glad that whoever designed this art project just kind of went for it. The old bell-tower I’d seen from Burano is, intact, crooked, and is situated along the wall behind a small vineyard that takes up the other 1/3 of Mazzorbo.
It couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes that I spent walking along the trail and through the gardens, but I was glad to have found such a weird little island in the first place. Thanks nuns!
After crossing the bridge back into Burano, I hopped on a vaporetto bound for Torcello, and said goodbye to the colorful, lacy island.
Before leaving on my island hopping adventure, my professor had suggested a stop at the island of Torcello, where there was supposedly a very old Byzantine church. I’ve seen a lot of old churches on this trip so far, but the idea of visiting an island outside of the famous Murano-to-Burano route was too intriguing to pass up, and so I hopped aboard a vaporetto bound for Torcello!
From the moment I stepped off the boat, I knew Torcello was going to be a great place to explore. Why? Because unlike ANY of the other islands I’ve been to in the Venetian lagoon, Torcello is so… peaceful.
When I visited in the afternoon, there was hardly anyone on the island, and even those who were seemed to be older couples, all walking the trails while holding hands.
Navigating Torcello is pretty simple. There are lots of different hiking trails you can take off the main path, but the main path will lead you to all of the island’s biggest sights. Torcello is heavily forested, so if you’d like, these trails are a great way to see the Venetian lagoon’s natural ecology. The canal is lined with trees and birds fly between them overhead, chirping all the way. Every once and awhile, a restaurant or inn would appear, but for the most part it’s a quiet walk to Torcello’s first attraction, the Ponte del Diavolo.
Ponte del Diavolo, or “Devil’s Little Bridge”, stretches over the quiet canal with no railings or guards to prevent you from toppling in. For whatever reason, there was a line of people waiting to take a picture on it.
After skirting around the bridge’s crowds, I finally reached the end of the trail and found the church that my professor had been talking about. It was round and made of brink. It also had the classic byzantine mosiacs inside, but I only got to see the church form the outside, as they were closed.
That’s okay though, because they’ve got a lot of artifacts from the old church complex and mosaic glass-cubes just sitting out on the lawn outside the church, free to look at for all.
Though the trail across Torcello had ended, there were a few shoe-trodden paths that lead around the church’s grouns, so I went off exploring, or course.
At first, I came upon a vineyard littered with stone sculptures. It felt like an especially spiritual place, and I looked around for a moment, both to feel the awe of the sun-dappled field and to linger just in case, by some chance, a magical being… like a troll or fairy hopped out from behind one of the busts. That did not happen. So I continued to walk around the grounds until I stumbled upon a wide section of the canal that was lined with docks. I walked across the singular wooden plank of one of the docks, praying I wouldn’t fall in and ruin my phone until I got to the end and carefully sat down to enjoy the Venetian lagoon’s nature, all by myself in total peace and quiet.I can’t remember the last time I got to be truly alone since starting my study abroad, and it was doing wonders for my tired brain.
As I sat on that splintery dock, looking down at the cloudy green water, then at the pale, cloudy sky, I heard a crashing in the trees. I looked towards the crashening to see a huge male pheasant flying across the canal into the forest lining the opposite banks, full feathers on display. It was a spectacular moment.
After creeping back to land, I explored another set of nature trails winding through small streams and waving reeds. After retracing my steps back to the church. I decided that although Torcello had been wonderfully refreshing, it was time to explore another island- so onto Murano!
I’ve been to Murano once before to see a glass-blowing demonstration, so I wasn’t incredibly pressured to shop or look for glass, and decided to just wander around the island until it was time to head back to the hotel.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for on Murano, so onward I walked, down streets lined with glass shops, along canals, and across bridges until I found my first major landmark- the glass tree. It’s around 30 feet tall, and built from layers of multicolored glass rods to look like a Christmas tree. It’s also lit up at its base to make the whole thing shine. As I waited my turn to snap a pic of the work of art, I stood beside two other ladies who were also waiting. So what was the hold up?
The hold up was another lady, who had been snapping selfies right in front of the tree since I’d gotten there. The three of us waited, first patiently, then impatiently for her to finish, but the number of facial expressions she had to capture were seemingly endless. After a little over 5 minutes of her oblivious posing, one of the Italian women on my left shook her head and gave the lady a piece of her mind. Whether it be for the chance to finally get what she was going for, or a final act of defiance, the selfie woman took a few more pictures and scooted away. Just after leaving, the bell tower behind the tree began to chime, and the view couldn’t have been more perfect!
After leaving the tree and assertive lady behind, I continued walking down the small streets of Murano to see as much as possible before dusk fell, which was happening soon.
I think my favorite thing about Murano is the abundance of small, shadowbox shrines to the Virgin Mary. These are little sculptures or paintings of Mary, often holding baby Jesus, kept behind glass for protection and mounted on the walls along streets. Whether on busy roads or tiny streets, they seem to be everywhere! A lot of times, there are candles or flowers left beneath the shrines, evidence of a prayer that’s just happened. I’ve never seen anything like these street shrines outside of countries where Hinduism is practiced, and I think they’re beautiful! It’s also a great example of Catholicism’s presence in Italy outside of its grand churches.
By the time I got back to the vaporetto station where I’d started, the sun was already setting, which meant I needed to get back to the mainland of Venice, and that my island-hopping adventure in the Venetian lagoon was now over.
What an incredible day! Today’s adventure through the Venetian lagoon has probably been one of my favorite days during my study abroad so far! Besides getting to travel to 4 very different islands, I also just really loved riding on the vaporettos. I also ended today feeling a lot more confident in my directional skills. They’ve always been lacking, but after navigating the vaporettos and islands pretty much on my own, I now have hope that I can improve.
If you’ve got the time, I can’t recommend island hopping while in Venice enough! Especially to Burano, my favorite of the 4 islands. Hopefully, the first part of this post serves as a good enough guide to help you plan your own journey through the lagoon, and that the last part inspires you to get out there and explore the islands!
If you’ve been island hopping in Venice, please tell me which islands you’ve visited in the comments! I love to read them 🙂
Where did she come from?: Saint Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy
Where is she going?: The fish markets and sunrise at Accademia bridge
2 thoughts on “Island Hopping in Venice- Murano, Burano, Torcello, and more!”
Long time reader, first time commenter — so, thought I’d
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Keep up the good work– and take care of yourself during
the coronavirus scare!
Honestly I’m so flattered that this blog has a long-time reader, I really appreciate it!
WTBE’s current theme is ‘Bloggist’ because it’s free and I’m too broke to get a paid one, plus it lets me use my banner. I’ve thought about changing it because it doesn’t allow for a lot of customization, but it’s been great for a blog just getting on its feet!
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And you take care as well!