Venice’s mainland is fascinating enough but its islands, each with its own distinct character, open up a whole new world for visitors. Venice’s islands are well worth a visit, depending on your interests, and are within easy reach.
An essential part of a trip to Venice is being on the water – and not just on a gondola. The Venetian Lagoon is home to a distinct culture that has been shaped by its unique geography and history. The islands in the lagoon also have their own distinct character, traditions and architecture and exploring them can give you a glimpse into their unique ways of life.
On some of the lesser visited islands of Venice, you can even find relaxation and tranquility, away from the crowds. The islands offer a serene atmosphere that’s difficult to find on Venice’s main island – no matter how beautiful it is. Let’s explore some of the islands of Venice you should visit, together.
Map of Venice Islands
Travelling to the Islands of Venice
Visit Venetian Islands By Vaporetto
The vaporetto is Venice’s public waterbus system and it’s the main means of transport for visitors and locals alike. There is a fleet of boats that operate on regular schedules and run not only throughout the city but also to the outlying islands.
Each island has its own vaporetto stop, making it easy to hop on and hop off as you please. To ride the vaporetto, you can purchase a ticket, which can be bought at the ticket booths located near major vaporetto stops or from automated machines at some stops. There are different types of tickets available, ranging from single rides to multi-day passes, depending on your needs and how much you think you’ll be using it. Once you have your ticket, simply board the waterbus, and enjoy the ride!
More info on the vaporetto and tickets here.
Visit Venice Islands by Private Boat Charter
Several companies offer private boat charters to the islands of Venice. Check them out online or ask your hotel concierge for details. Private boat charters can be expensive, but they offer a customized and flexible way to explore the islands and, if you’re travelling in a large group, it might be worth it costwise.
Visit Islands of Venice by Water Taxis
A private water taxi offers a luxurious, comfortable experience. It’s expensive, but it means travelling in style.
Rent a Boat to Visit Venice Islands
If you have sailing experience, you could even rent a boat and explore the islands on your own. There are several companies in Venice that offer a variety of boats, from motorboats to larger yachts and they’ll be able to give detailed information on where to sail and – most importantly – where you can dock!
Take an Organized Tour to Visit Islands of Venice
You can also join a public tour or organize a private tour to take you to the islands of Venice. Private tours are led by experienced, licensed guides who can offer insights and information about the islands. They can also customize the tour according to your preferences.
Main Islands of Venice
|ISLAND||BEST FOR||HIGHLIGHT(S)||OPEN TO TOURISTS|
|Murano||Families, couples, photographers, shoppers||Glass-blowing demos, glass products||Yes|
|Burano||Families, couples, photographers, arts&crafts lovers||Colorful homes, lace- making, picturesque canals||Yes|
|Lido||Families, couples, beachgoers, fans of watersports, movie buffs, young people||Beautiful beaches, relaxation, watersports, the Venice Film Festival (in late August-early September)||Yes|
|San Giorgio Maggiore||Couples, art lovers, history buffs, nature lovers||The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the view of Venice from the belltower, the Cini Foundation, the Borges labyrinth||Yes|
|Torcello||Couples, romantic travelers, art & architecture lovers, history buffs, nature lovers||The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Church of Santa Fosca, the Devil’s bridge, Locanda Cipriani.||Yes|
The island of Murano is world-famous for its centuries-old tradition of glassmaking.
It was originally settled by the Romans, who established a community of fishermen and salt-makers on the island. Over time, the island grew in importance, and in the 8th century, it became a major center for trade and commerce.
In the 13th century, the Venetian Republic ordered all the glassmakers in Venice to move to Murano to prevent fires from breaking out in the densely populated city. This move was great for Murano, as it soon became known throughout Europe for its exquisite glassware.
During the Renaissance, Murano’s glassmakers developed new techniques and styles that elevated Murano glass to an art form. The island’s glassmakers produced everything from chandeliers and mirrors to fine jewelry and decorative objects. They were forced to keep the secrets of glassmaking on pain of death and had to get special permission if they wanted to leave the island and travel.
Murano remained an important center of glassmaking throughout the centuries, and today it is still home to many glass factories and artisans. As well as its glass-making tradition, Murano is known for its beautiful historic buildings, including the 12th-century Basilica of Santa Maria e San Donato and the Palazzo da Mula.
Things to Do on Murano Island
- Visit one of the glass factories and watch a glass-making demo.
- Shop for glass – traditional 18th century or modern creations, tiny glass animals or precious chandeliers – there’s something for everyone.
- Visit the Murano Glass Museum
How to Get to Murano
The easiest way is from Venice mainland via the vaporetto on lines 3, 4.1 or 4.2. Info on routes here.
When to Visit Murano
The best time weather-wise is in the shoulder season (spring or autumn). Murano can be pretty crowded during the height of summer and if you’re interested in seeing the glass-making process in action, it’s best to visit Murano during the off-season of November to March. Many glass factories still offer tours and demonstrations during this time, and you’re more likely to get a close-up view of the glass-making process without the crowds.
Burano is known for its brightly-colored houses, charming canals, and centuries-old tradition of lacemaking. Burano has a long and fascinating history that dates back to the 6th century. The island was settled by the Roman Empire, and over time it became a major center for fishing and agriculture. In the 16th century, Burano became known for its intricate lacemaking, which became a major industry on the island and helped to sustain its economy.
Today, Burano is a popular tourist destination that attracts visitors from all over the world. One of the island’s most distinctive features is its colorful houses, which are painted in a variety of bright hues like pink, green, blue, and yellow. The tradition of painting the houses in different colors dates back to the 16th century, when fishermen would paint their houses bright colors so that they could be easily spotted from the water.
An Instagrammer’s dream for its colorful houses, Burano is also still known for its lace-making tradition. Many shops on the island sell delicate lace products like tablecloths, doilies and handkerchiefs.
Things to Do on Burano Island
- Take photos! You’ll never tire of snapping the bright houses and the color combinations are unreal, especially on a summer day.
- Visit Burano’s very own ‘leaning tower’, the belltower of the Church of San Martino.
- Buy some handmade lace.
- Visit the island’s Lace Museum .
How to Get to Burano
The easiest way is from Venice mainland via the vaporetto line 12. The journey takes 45 mins – 1 hour depending on the route. Info on routes here.
When to Visit Burano
The best time to visit Burano is during the spring or fall, between April to June or September to October. During these months, the weather is mild and pleasant, and the crowds are smaller compared to the peak summer season.
The average temperature during these months ranges from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius (59 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit), which is perfect for strolling around the island and enjoying the colorful houses and canals.
Torcello is one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the Venetian Lagoon, with a history dating back to the 5th century AD.
It was once a thriving trading center and home to over 20,000 people, but today it is a quiet and peaceful oasis with only a handful of residents. According to legend, Torcello was founded by refugees fleeing from the nearby city of Altino, which was destroyed by Attila the Hun in the 5th century.
The island is also a popular destination for birdwatching, with a variety of migratory birds passing through the area throughout the year.
Torcello has inspired many famous writers and artists over the years, including Ernest Hemingway, who mentioned the island in his novel “Across the River and into the Trees”.
The Locanda Cipriani became a true refuge for Hemingway, where he alternated writing and copious drinking with duck hunting among the island’s reed beds.
Today it’s a very beautiful, but sleepy little island with a population of just a few dozen people. So if you’re looking for some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of mainland Venice, Torcello might be just the place for you.
Things to Do on Torcello Island
- Visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, which dates back to the 7th century. The church is famous for its stunning Byzantine mosaics, which are some of the oldest and most beautiful in the world.
- Indulge at Locanda Cipriani. Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice, in 1935 also founded the Locanda Cipriani on Torcello. It’s a popular destination for tourists and locals alike who come to enjoy its beautiful gardens, charming rooms, and delicious traditional Venetian cuisine. The locanda (literally, ‘inn’) has hosted many famous guests over the years, including the aforementioned Hemingway, Orson Welles, and Charlie Chaplin.
- Cross the intriguingly named ‘Devil’s Bridge’ but be careful – it has no parapets (traditionally all bridges in Venice were like this).
How to Get to Torcello
The vaporetto line 12 leaves from the Fondamente Nove stop in Venice and goes directly to Torcello. The trip takes around 40 minutes.
Alternatively, you can take a vaporetto to Burano and then transfer to a smaller boat or water taxi that will take you to Torcello. This option may be a bit more expensive, but it can be a scenic way to travel and allows you to see more of the islands in the Venetian Lagoon.
When to Visit Torcello
In the spring, Torcello is full of blooming flowers and lush greenery, making it a great time to take a leisurely walk or bike ride around the island. In the fall, the weather is cool and crisp, and the autumn foliage adds a beautiful touch to the island’s scenery.
San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore is a small island directly across from the main island of Venice.
It is home to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, which was designed by the famous architect Andrea Palladio and completed in 1610.
The church is famous for its beautiful façade and bell tower, which offer stunning views of Venice and the surrounding lagoon. If you’ve seen any famous watercolors or oil paintings of Venice, chances are that San Giorgio Maggiore was part of the scene.
As well as its historic sites, San Giorgio Maggiore is home to several modern art installations, including a large glass sculpture by the American artist Dale Chihuly.
The island was also used as a film location for several movies, including the James Bond film “Casino Royale” and the thriller “The Tourist.”
Things to Do on San Giorgio Maggiore
- Climb the belltower for the perfect view of St. Mark’s Square in the distance.
- Visit the Cini Foundation, which hosts art exhibitions, music concerts, and theatre performances.
- Explore the Borges Labyrinth – an art installation and Italy’s most beautiful boxwood labyrinth created in honor of the Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges, who was known for his fascination with labyrinths and mazes.
How to get to San Giorgio Maggiore
You can take Vaporetto Line 2 from the San Zaccaria stop to San Giorgio Maggiore. The trip takes just 5-10 minutes.
When to Visit San Giorgio Maggiore
The shoulder season, as always, and the island is especially beautiful at sunset when the light transforms the skyline of Venice and the lagoon into a magical sight. So, if you are a photography enthusiast or simply enjoy stunning views, you may want to plan your visit accordingly.
The Venice Lido is long, narrow sandbar or barrier island that separates the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. It’s around 7 miles long and under 1 mile wide.
The island is home to the famous Venice Film Festival, which takes place every year at the Palazzo del Cinema.
It’s also known for its beautiful beaches, which draws visitors from around the world. The beaches are especially popular in summer, but the Lido has lots of other attractions too, including historic hotels.
The Lido is also famous as the place where aging writer Gustav Von Aschenbach becomes infatuated with a young boy named Tadzio in Thomas Mann’s novel “Death in Venice”.
Things to Do on Venice Lido
- Sunbathe and swim! Do it in style with a sunbed and a beach umbrella at one of the well-equipped beach concessions or just lay your towel down. Kids will love splashing about in the shallow water.
- Rent a bike: The Venice Lido is a popular destination for cyclists, with several bike rental shops located on the island. Cycling is a great way to explore the island’s beautiful beaches, historic landmarks, and scenic countryside.
- Visit the Jewish Cemetery
- Visit the protected nature reserve, the Oasis of Alberoni
How to get to Venice Lido
You can take Line 1 or Line 5.1 from the San Zaccaria or Arsenale stops to the Lido di Venezia stop. The ride takes approximately 15-20 minutes. Info on routes here.
When to Visit Venice Lido
If it’s beaches you’re after, the best time to go is during the summer months. The beaches are busiest in July and August but can still be enjoyable in June and September.
If you’re a film buff, the best time to visit Venice Lido is during the Venice Film Festival, which takes place every year in late August or early September.
If you’re a sports enthusiast, the historic Vogalonga regatta takes place on the Venice Lido every year on the Sunday after Pentecost. It’s a great time to visit if you’re interested in rowing or boating.
Lesser-Known Venetian Islands You Can Visit
A truly atmospheric island, San Michele is often called the “Island of the Dead”, because of its cemetery, which was established in the 19th century to help alleviate overcrowding in Venice’s other cemeteries. It is the final resting place of many notable people, including poets, writers, and composers.
The cemetery on San Michele is divided into several sections, including a Jewish section and a Protestant section. The most famous section is the Catholic section, with the graves of famous figures like Ezra Pound, Igor Stravinsky, and Joseph Brodsky. Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev is also buried here.
San Michele was another location for the novel “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann (and the film version starring Dirk Bogarde) and the creepiest of all Venice-centered films, Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 horror “Don’t Look Now”.
Sant’Erasmo is one of the largest islands in the lagoon and is known for its agricultural production.
It’s often referred to as the “Garden of Venice” because of its fertile soil and farming traditions. The island produces a variety of fruits and vegetables, including artichokes, asparagus, and strawberries. It’s also known for its vineyards and wineries. The local wine, called Venissa, is made from the Dorona grape, which is unique to the Venetian Lagoon.
The island has several beaches and walking trails that offer beautiful views of the lagoon and the surrounding islands, as well as a small church, the Chiesa di Sant’Erasmo, which dates back to the 10th century. The church has simple, rustic architecture and a peaceful setting.
While it’s off the beaten track of most tourists, it can be a great destination for a day trip, especially if you’re interested in experiencing a different, more rural, side of the Venetian Lagoon.
This is one of several lazzaretti (quarantine islands) established in the Venetian lagoon during the 15th and 16th centuries in response to outbreaks of the bubonic plague and other contagious diseases.
Lazzaretto Nuovo became a quarantine island in 1468 and was used as a place to isolate and treat ships and people suspected of carrying infectious diseases before they were allowed to enter the city of Venice. Over the centuries, quarantine buildings, hospitals, chapels, and other facilities were built there.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the island was used primarily as a military base, and was heavily fortified with walls, watchtowers, and gun turrets. It was also used as a prison and as a storage depot for military supplies.
The island is only open to the public from May to October and you’ll need to book a tour to visit. Find out more here.
Mazzorbo has a long history, dating back to the Roman era. The island was once an important center for silk production and was also a strategic military outpost during the Middle Ages.
The island is mainly known for its vineyards, which produce a unique type of white wine called Venissa.It is made from a rare grape variety that was rediscovered on the island in the 1990s – Dorona, which produces a beautiful golden/amber wine.
One of the most interesting things about Mazzorbo is its unique blend of ancient and modern architecture. The island is home to several modern buildings designed by famous architects, including the Venissa Wine Resort, a luxurious hotel complex that features sleek, minimalist design and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
The Resort is owned by the Bisol family, a well-known and respected name in the world of winemaking. It’s a top destination for everyone who loves fine food and wine and makes for a truly romantic experience for couples.
If you’re visiting the island of Burano, just cross the footbridge near the vaporetto stop on the south side of the island to reach Mazzorbo.
San Francesco del Deserto
San Francesco nel Deserto, (St. Francis in the Desert), is named after Italy’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi, who is said to have visited the island in the early 13th century. It is home to a Franciscan monastery built on the site where St. Francis is thought to have prayed during his visit.
The monastery has a rich history. It was used as a refuge during times of war and plague in Venice, and has hosted several important religious figures, including Pope John XXIII.
The monastery is still used by the Franciscan Order, and visitors are welcome to explore the island and visit the monastery. It’s a popular destination for tourists seeking a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of Venice.
The island is known for its peaceful atmosphere and the beautiful monastery gardens are filled with citrus trees, flowering plants, and herbs. Organized tours of the Venetian Lagoon often include a stop at the island, and you can also arrange to visit the island by hiring a private water taxi. The closest vaporetto stop is on the nearby island of Burano and it’s a short boat ride from there.
Guided tours of the monastery are offered by the one of the Franciscan monks. Information on opening hours (Italian only) here.
Fancy renting your own private Venetian Island? Located in the north-eastern part of the Venetian lagoon, Santa Cristina is a private island, transformed into a little paradise by Renè Deutch, one of the descendants of the Swarowski family.
There are 8 rooms, each with a private bathroom made of wood and marble, a library with the family’s travel books and a kitchen. Around the large pool is an orchard, olive groves and vineyards.
Another of Venice’s quarantine stations in times of plague, San Servolo was originally home to a Benedictine monastery that was founded in the 6th century. The monastery was later converted into a psychiatric hospital in the 18th century and the island was also used as a military hospital during World War I.
San Servolo is now a museum and cultural center that hosts art exhibitions, conferences, and other events. It is also home to the Venice International University, which offers graduate programs in a variety of fields.
The island is known for its beautiful gardens, which include rare plants and trees from around the world. Visitors can also explore the island’s historic buildings, including the former monastery and hospital.
San Servolo is also famous for its natural beauty. The island offers stunning views of the Venetian lagoon and the city of Venice itself. You can reach the island on the ACTV vaporetto line 20. Details here.
Interesting Islands of Venice That are Off-Limits to Tourists
Technically Poveglia can be visited… although you’ll have to make a request to the municipality of Venice many months in advance (or find a private boat to take you) but it’s not for the faint-hearted.
The island has been virtually abandoned for decades and remains one of the most mysterious and intriguing places in the Venetian Lagoon. It was another of Venice’s plague quarantine stations and it is estimated that over 100,000 people died on the island. Some even say that the soil is made of the bones of the dead and it is haunted by the ghosts of the people who perished there.
The island was used as a mental hospital in the early 20th century. Patients were reportedly subjected to cruel and inhumane treatments, and there are rumors of mass graves on the island.
The island has been featured in several books, movies, and TV shows, including the TV series “Ghost Adventures.”
The Italian government has put Poveglia up for sale once again. So if you’re brave enough and have the cash, why not got for it?
San Giorgio in Alga
San Giorgio in Alga has a long and varied history. It was originally a Benedictine monastery founded in the 11th century, and it was later converted into a military fortress in the 16th century.
The island played an important role in the defense of Venice against invading armies. Its strategic location at the entrance to the lagoon made it an ideal spot for a fortress, and it was heavily fortified with walls, towers, and cannons.
In the 19th century, this fortress was used as a prison for political prisoners.
San Giorgio in Alga was abandoned in the 20th century and fell into disrepair. There has been talk of redevelopment, but for the moment it continues to languish, abandoned, in the lagoon.
Visiting the Islands of Venice with Kids
Visiting a Venetian island can be a fun thing to do with kids, especially if it’s really crowded on the mainland.
If you’ve got a stroller, you may need to fold it up on the vaporetto. It depends on how crowded the boats are and the mood of the workers. Be ready to fold it up, but fingers crossed, you won’t need to.
Breastfeeding mammas will find more quiet places to feed than on the mainland. Look for benches or make your way into a restaurant or cafe.
The best playgrounds in Venice are on the mainland.
The most popular islands for kids tend to be:
- Murano (looking at the colorful glass and watching a glass-blowing demo)
- Burano (seeing the colorful buildings, fun for older kids and teens with social media who are looking for a perfect photo opp)
- Lido (beaches)
Islands of Venice FAQ
Most Vaporetto boats are wheelchair accessible. Although Venice and its islands are full of bridges, many areas are accessible with a little planning. The City of Venice tourism website offers information on accessibility and there is an accessible Venice map. The website Sage Travelling offers some great resources.
There are more than 100 inhabited and uninhabited islands spread across the Venice Lagoon
Yes! Sleeping on one of the islands allows you to get away from the crowds and offers a unique perspective on Venetian life. There is accommodation on many islands including Burano, Murano and Mazzorbo.
Yes, absolutely. Families still live on the main islands, although island life presents its own series of challenges, especially with the onslaught of summer tourism.
The population of Venice and its islands has been declining steadily, while the population of mainland Venice (an area called Mestre) remains stable or increases as families are driven out of the historic center by rising rent costs, a shortage of accommodation (places being converted into Air B&Bs), logistical difficulties and mass tourism.
This is tough one, because even though the answer is ‘of course’ – most islands are easily reached via vaporetto if you’ve set your heart on visiting one in particular. However, you’ll probably find there’s more than enough on the main island of Venice to keep you busy for a day, a week, or even longer!