From colorful fishing villages to organic farms, the Venetian lagoon is filled with must-see islands that are worth a day trip from Venice.
It’s not easy to leave a gorgeous city like Venice behind – even for a day trip. But the surrounding lagoon is filled with fascinating islands that are well worth exploring.
Here’s my list of Venice islands that you shouldn’t miss:
1. Color and lace in Burano
Burano is a tiny fishing village famous for its colorful homes and its tradition of delicate lace making.
The rows of houses in every shade of the rainbow are a photographer’s dream. Wander down the canals to admire this kaleidoscope. And explore the quaint shops, historic churches and tempting seafood restaurants that dot the island.
Insider tip: Burano’s yellow s-shaped cookies called Essi make a great treat between sightseeing.
Historians say Burano’s houses were painted bright to guide fishermen through the foggy lagoon on their way home. Others claim the different colors helped the fishermen (after they’ve had one too many) find their own house.
Things to do:
Stop at the Venice Lace Museum to explore the island’s tradition of lace making. The exhibits tells the story from the origins of the craft in the 16th century to the Burano Lace School.
And don’t miss the local fish restaurants and their hearty dishes made with the local catch.
Known as the “Garden of the Doge,” Sant’Erasmo’s farms and vineyards supplied the city with food since the 16th century.
Today, the bucolic island is still rural – and perfect for exploring on a bike.
Things to do:
Get off the ferry, take a short walk to the Hotel Il Lato Azzurro and rent a bike for the day.
Peddle around the island to best experience its natural beauty. Stop by some local farms and pick up a few regional specialties. From vineyards crafting prosecco and local honey producers making Miele del Doge (Italy’s best honey), to farms selling cut flowers and violet artichokes, the island is an oasis from the Venice crowds.
The island is also home to Venice’s only winery, Orto di Venezia. Sample a few of their wines and pick up a bottle. Then grab a picnic table overlooking the lagoon and enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
When you return your bike, order a platter of classic Venetian dishes or cicchetti from the hotel for a perfect late lunch.
Insider tip: It’s best to visit Sant’Erasmo in the spring and summer when the island is green and the fields are lush with flowers. Autumn lets you see the grape harvest in full swing.
Sant’Erasmo is about a 40-minute ferry ride away from the city. Take the Vaporetto line 13 from Fondamente Nove and get off at the Capanonne stop on Sant’erasmo.
– Contributed by Lori of Travlinmad
3. Glass blowing in Murano
Murano is famous for its glass blowing workshops – where artisans still use centuries-old techniques to create brilliant chandeliers, modern art, vases and beads.
Tour the glass factories to see the craftsmen at work shaping their creations in fiery furnaces. And browse the dozens of boutiques on this colorful island to shop for unique pieces in this iconic style.
Insider tip: Shops that sell real Murano glass display a “Vetro Murano Artistico” trademark decal in their window.
Murano is a cluster of islands linked by bridges with broad pathways that are a pleasure to stroll through.
It’s been producing glass since 1291, when the artisans were ordered to move their furnaces to Murano because of the dangers of fire. The secret of their craft was fiercely guarded – and Venetian secret police went after any artisan who dared to leave the republic.
Now this 700-year-old tradition of craftsmanship is a major tourist attraction – and Murano glass is exported around the world.
Things to do:
Head to the Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro) to explore the history of this craft in more than 4,000 different objects – from Phoenician flasks to a 330-kilo chandelier to the flamboyant designs of the 1970s.
The Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato is known for its 12th-century Byzantine mosaic pavement. It also contains the gigantic bones of a dragon that (according to legend) St. Donatus slew.
Head to Campo San Stefano to see the Comet Glass Star sculpture by Murano legend Simone Cenedese. It’s a brilliant abstract work that features a blue glass starburst.
4. Sandy beaches and poetry at Lido
Lido is the famous playground of the lagoon with its sandy beaches, ice cream parlors and seaside resorts.
The small island boasts some 7 miles (12 km) of beach – all just a 10-minute boat ride from Venice.
Once a bohemian destination for writers and artists, today Lido gets very crowded in the high tourist season. And it’s one of the most popular summer getaways in Northern Italy.
Insider tip: There are quieter and less crowded free beaches (spiaggia libera) on the two extremities of the island where you can lounge in the sand.
Lido also famously hosts the Venice Film Festival that sees film stars descend on the island from late August to September. There’s an open air cinema during the event where you can catch free film screenings.
This island on the Adriatic once attracted European elites and writers including Goethe, Lord Byron and Herman Melville.
Today it’s filled with luxurious villas, seaside resorts, bars and cafes – and lots of private and hotel beaches (like Hotel Excelsior) where you can rent a hut or sunbed.
Things to do:
Rent a bike and explore the natural oasis and dunes in Alberoni, a protected natural reserve on the south tip of the island. Its pine forests and beauty have inspired poets like Byron and Goethe.
Stay at the luxurious Hotel des Bains for a literary experience. It’s the setting of the masterpiece novella Death in Venice.
Stroll down Gran Viale, the island’s main street, for the best hotels, shopping and dining.
Head to the nearby island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, home to the Armenian Catholic Monastery, for an exhibit devoted to Lord Byron (who frequently visited the island and studied Armenian there).
5. Cathedral and history at Torcello
This quiet island is a sparsely populated oasis filled with nature reserves, rustic mansions, green fields and historic churches.
You’ll find a few souvenir shops, but Torcello is well off the beaten path.
Insider’s tip: Torcello is 5 minutes away from Burano via the vaporetto.
Though it was once the prestigious seat of Venice’s bishops for a millennia before St. Mark’s Basilica was built. It was settled long before Venice and once boasted a population of 20,000 people in is heyday. But a series of malaria outbreaks had most people fleeing to Venice.
Today the island is an ideal getaway to explore nature and crumbling architecture.
Things to do:
Visit the 7th-century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta for its glittering 12th-century Byzantine mosaics that depict the Last Judgment. Climb the bell tower for sweeping views of the lagoon.
See Attila’s Throne, an old stone chair in the main square that was reportedly used by Attila the Hun.
Visit the Museo Provinciale di Torcello for exhibits on local history and archaeological finds that include local relics and pieces from the paleolithic and Roman times.
Stop for lunch at a restaurant with a garden. The iconic Locanda Cipriani is a gorgeous hotel and restaurant that once hosted Ernest Hemingway, who visited the island and spent time writing in Torcello in 1948.
Don’t miss the Devil’s Bridge, or Ponte del Diavolo, which was built by the devil in one night – with no side railings – according to legend.
For an unforgettable experience, go birth watching in Torcello with local fisherman Andrea Rossi – an expert on the Venetian lagoon and its wildlife.
6. Sweeping views at San Giorgio Maggiore
Just across the water from St. Mark’s Square, this historic island boasts a bell tower with the most celebrated views of Venice.
Insider tip: San Giorgio Maggiore is just a few minutes away via vaporetto. And it’s well worth the trip for those sweeping panoramas.
The towering bell tower at Palladio Church offers the best views of Venice’s intricate canals – and landmarks like the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s.
Things to do:
Head inside the 16th-century Palladio Church (the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore) to view several works by Tintoretto and a beautiful altar sculpture. Take an elevator up the 200 year-old bell tower for majestic views of Venice and the lagoon.
Stop at the nearby Benedictine monastery (the oldest continuously operating in the world) to tour the cloisters, the library and the Borges labyrinth, a vast garden maze that’s a tribute to writer Jorge Luis Borges.
7. Art galleries and local life at Giudecca
Giudecca is a quiet, residential island that offers an authentic slice of Venetian life – and a thriving contemporary art scene.
This retreat from the city is home to artisan workshops, boatyards, typical Italian pizzerias, butchers and bakers. And it’s all against the backdrop of stunning views of San Marco just across the water.
Once home to Michelangelo, the island was once a rough, industrial area. And now it’s the city’s best-kept secret. Elton John and Miuccia Prada both have homes on this serene and distinctly Italian island.
Insider’s tip: Giudecca has three piers. Get off at the first one (Zitelle), explore the island on foot and ride back to Venice from the last stop (Palanca).
The island is famously shaped like a fishbone. It’s about 2 kilometers long – but only about 300 meters wide, running parallel to Venice. A pathway along the sea has incredible views of Venice and some great local eateries.
Things to do:
Head to Tre Oci (Three Eyes) for photography exhibits housed inside a gorgeous neo-Gothic building with three enormous arched windows. Stop at Galleria Michela Rizzo and Spazio Punch for cutting-edge contemporary art.
For some great views, stay at the Hilton Molino Stucky – a former flour mill transformed into a unique hotel.
Visit the 16th-century Il Redendore Church, a gem of Renaissance architecture with a striking white marble facade. The church contains pieces by Veronese and Tintoretto. It’s also the sight of an annual feast in July that marks the city’s redemption from the plague.
8. Historic tombs at San Michele
San Michele is a cemetery island that boasts some notable tombs and historic churches.
Often called The Island of the Dead, San Michele is the final resting place of many notable figures. Nearly the entire island is one large cemetery and there are no shops or tourist amenities.
The island dates back to 1807, when officials deemed it unsanitary to bury the dead on the Venetian mainland. The bodies of the deceased were transported to San Michele in funeral gondolas.
The cemetery is surrounded by a high wall and lined with tall cypress trees – and it’s packed with spaces at a premium. Bodies are allowed to decompose for a decade then transported to smaller quarters.
The cemetery is largely Catholic with smaller graveyards for Orthodox and Protestants.
Things to do:
See the tombs of poet Ezra Pound, composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet master Sergei Diaghilev (whose tomb is adorned by point shoes left by admirers).
Visit the 15th-century Chiesa di San Michele, Venice’s first Renaissance church.
9. Monastery and gardens at San Francesco del Deserto
This serene refuge lined with cypress trees boasts a 13th-century Franciscan monastery and cloisters that offer a quiet getaway in the Venetian lagoon.
Today it’s home to friars who offer guided tours of the monastery, cloisters and gardens. You can wander the grounds filled with fruit trees and sculptures – and spot some wildlife in the lagoon marshes. It’s a perfect spot to take a break from the Venice crowds.
Insider’s tip: The island has no vaporetto stop, but you can book a boat that departs from nearby Burano.
The island has been inhabited since the Roman times, though it was briefly abandoned in the 15th century because of a malaria outbreak.
It was home to St. Francis (San Francesco d’Assisi), who landed here in 1220. A Venetian nobleman later donated the island in the 13th century to the Franciscans.
Things to do:
Visit the Church of San Francesco del Deserto, and its two cloisters – including one that was restored after Napoleon’s soldiers occupied and plundered the island in 1806.
Don’t miss the breathtaking views of the lagoon from the terraces.
See the tree trunk that was reportedly grown from a branch planted by St. Francis.
Visit a monument that narrates how St Francis remonstrated the island’s birds and they fell silent until he finished praying.
Pellestrina is a sleepy fishing village that boasts colorful homes, fish harbors, warm beaches and authentic, unhurried Venetian life.
The tiny island is lined with fishermen huts, vegetable gardens and a rustic countryside where you can still see old ways of rural lagoon life. Everybody knows each other, elderly women garden and make lace and restaurants serve hearty seafood.
Most local make their living as fishermen, while many women do a particular style of lace called bobbin dating back to the 17th century.
Pellestrina is a thin strip of land that stretches some 11 kilometers between the Venetian Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. It’s protected from the rough waters by a stretch of Istrian stone breakwaters.
Insider’s tip: There are no vaporetto stops on this tiny island, but you can take bus no. 11 from Lido to the northern tip of Pellestrina.
The island’s four sestieri are named after the four families that were sent to repopulate Pelllestrina after it was destroyed by war with Genoa in the 14th century.
Things to do:
Rent a bike and go cycling the length of the island – there’s a bike path that stretches along the lagoon. A shop in Pellestrina has bike rentals for the day.
Visit Ca’ Roman, a large nature reserve that boasts a wild unspoilt beach with sandy dunes surrounded by forests. It’s home to some 190 species of birds.
Don’t miss the port of San Pietro in Volta, the island’s oldest village, and an 18th-century church of the same name.