Traveling To Venice ~ The Lagoon Islands

If you have a few days in Venice 

take the time to explore the northern lagoon islands for a completely different Venetian experience.

Murano via

“That a silk robed, clove scented princess named Venice could be sprung from a swamp was a mad fancy…”
~ Marlena di Blasi

Start with a trip to the glass blowing island of Murano.
Don’t take a “free” boat trip from the city center – these are paid for by the glass factories and you will be under significant pressure to buy glass. Also this is often a one way free ticket so you may have to find your own way home.
Instead take a vaporetto across, bypass the Colonna and Faro stops, and get off at either Museo or Venier.

Murano has been the home of Venetian glass blowing since1291. when the wooden buildings of central Venice were considered to be at too great of a fire risk so the furnaces were moved across the water. The population of 5000 swells by day with glass factory workers coming over from the mainland. In a centuries old tradition apprentices learn flamework, twisting and blowing from master craftsmen. 

Take in a glass blowing demonstration in Murano
image courtesy of

Take a factory tour and watch a glass blowing demonstration and find out more about the history of Venetian glass at the Museo dell’ Arte Vetraria.

Make sure you allow yourself time to walk around Murano’s town center and get a feel for this wonderful place. Explore it’s canal system (including it’s own Grand Canal), the floating market, and the mosaic floor of the 12th century Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato. Another must see is the parish church San Pietro Martire with its two beautiful Giovanni Bellini paintings.

Murano is lovely to stroll around. If you are buying glass avoid the cheapie tourist glass – it’s unlikely to have been made here. Choose a reputable showroom and get the real thing.


From Murano take a vaporetto to Burano, the lace island.

Beautiful Burano
image courtesy of

For centuries Burano has thrived as a fishing community. While the men would be out at sea fishing their women would stay home making lace. The men would paint their house bright shades of blue or red or gold so that they could spot their home from the sea when they were fishing. Consequently the island is a riot of color with canals full of fishing boats and nets.

image courtesy of

Lace making started here in the 15th century. The Burano-point and the Venetian-point evolved and the lace grew in demand all over Europe. A lace school was established in 1870 to keep the lace making skills passing on to younger generations. It still exists, you can go there to see lace being made, and it also houses the lace museum.

Burano is conntected to the smaller neighboring island of Mazzorbo by a bridge. Its lovely to stroll around, and from the  bridge you have a wonderful view of Venice.

A word to the wise: Burano lace is very expensive. You can find it in the more expensive stores on the island. The endless stalls and vendors on the streets selling cheap lace import it all from China, so it’s not legit.


Torcello, the ancient mother of Venice
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“Across the marshes (…) and with their reeds bent by the heavy north wind, he saw the squared tower of the church at                                                Torcello and the high campanile of Burano beyond it. “
                                   (Ernest Hemingway “Across the River and into the Trees”)

Quiet, sparcely populated Torcello is Venice’s oldest continously populated region, was Venice’s earliest settlement, settled in the 5th century and at one point in the 1300s housing a population of more than  20 000. 

In the 1200s the lagoon around Torcello slowly became a swamp, attracting malaria carrying mosquitos. As the Rialto area developed Torcello’s inhabitants fled to Venice leaving behind an 11th century church, a great basilica, palaces and houses that decayed, and canals that silted up. Today there is only one muddy canal running from the pontile to the piazza.

The Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta was first built in 638 and is famous for it’s remarkable mosaics which date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. 

Mosaic-Of-Mary-In-The- Apse-of-Basilica-Santa-Maria-Assunta-Torcello
The spectacular mosaic of Mary in the apse of Basilica Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello

The superbly detailed Last Judgement on the back wall is well worth visiting. (Make sure you check out the devils pushing the damned into hell.) 


While you are there go next door to the 11th century Byzantine church Santa Fosca, and also go sit in the (strangely comfortable) “Attila’s Throne” concrete chair in the piazza. Legend dates it to the 5th century leader of the Huns, and it is said to be good luck to sit in it.

Attila’s Throne, Torcello.

Check out my other travel posts about Venice here
Read aboout the Dorsoduro here
Read about Ca’ d’ Oro here

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