Venice shares its lagoon with three other principal islands: Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Guided tours of the three are operated by a dozen agencies with docks on Riva degli Schiavoni/Piazetta San Marco (all interchangeable). The 3- and 4-hour tours run 15€ to 26€, usually include a visit to a Murano glass factory (you can easily do that on your own, with less of a hard sell), and leave daily around 9:30am and 2:30pm (times change; check in advance).
You can also visit the islands on your own conveniently and easily using the vaporetti. Line nos. 12, 13, 14, 41, and 42 make the journey to Murano from Fondamente Nove (on the north side of Castello), and line no. 12 continues on to Burano and Torcello. The islands are small and easy to navigate, but check the schedule for the next island-to-island departure (usually hourly) and your return so that you don't spend most of your day waiting for connections.
Murano & Its Glass
The island of Murano has long been famous throughout the world for the products of its glass factories, but there's little here in variety or prices that you won't find in Venice. A visit to the Museo del Vetro (Museum of Glass), Fondamenta Giustinian 8 (tel. 041-739-586), will put the island's centuries-old legacy into perspective and is recommended for those considering major buys. Hours are Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm (to 5pm Nov-Mar), and admission is 8€ for adults and 5.50€ children 6 to 14 and students under 30, or free with the cumulative Museum Pass and for children 5 and under.
Dozens of fornaci (furnaces) offer free shows of mouth-blown glassmaking almost invariably hitched to a hard-sell ("No obligation! Really!") tour of the factory outlet. These retail showrooms of delicate glassware can be enlightening or boring, depending on your frame of mind. Almost all the places ship, often doubling the price. On the other hand, these pieces are instant heirlooms.
Murano also has two worthy churches: San Pietro Martire, with its altarpieces by Tintoretto, Veronese, and Giovanni Bellini, and the ancient Santa Maria e Donato, with an intricate Byzantine exterior apse and a 6th-century pulpit and columns inside resting on a fantastic 12th-century inlaid floor.
Burano & Its Lace
Lace is the claim to fame of tiny, colorful Burano, a craft kept alive for centuries by the wives of fishermen waiting for their husbands to return from sea. It's still worth a trip if you have time to stroll the island's back streets, whose canals are lined with the brightly colored simple homes of the buranesi fisherman. The local government continues its attempt to keep its centuries-old lace legacy alive with subsidized classes.
Visit the Museo del Merletto (Museum of Lace Making), 187 Piazza Galuppi (tel. 041-730-034), to understand why something so exquisite should not be left to fade into extinction. It's open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm (to 5:30pm Nov-Mar), and admission is 5€ adults and 3.50€ children 6 to 14 and students under 30, or free with the cumulative Museum Pass and children 5 and under.
Nearby Torcello is perhaps the most charming of the islands. It was the first of the lagoon islands to be called home by the mainland population fleeing Atilla and his Huns (from here they eventually moved to join the growing area around what is now Rialto Bridge), but today it consists of little more than one long canal leading from the vaporetto landing past sad-sack vineyards to a clump of buildings at its center.
Torcello boasts the oldest Venetian monument, the Cattedrale di Torcello (Santa Maria Assunta), whose foundation dates from the 7th century (tel. 041-730-084). It's famous for its outstanding 11th- to 12-century Byzantine mosaics -- a Madonna and Child in the apse and Last Judgment on the west wall -- rivaling those of Ravenna's and St. Mark's basilicas. The cathedral is open daily 10:30am to 6pm (shorter hours in winter), and admission is 3€. You can climb the bell tower for a panorama for 2€. Also of interest is the adjacent 11th-century church dedicated to St. Fosca and a small archaeological museum; the church's hours are the same as the cathedral's, and the museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 12:30pm and 2 to 4pm. Museum admission is 2€. A combined ticket for all three sights is 6€.
Peaceful Torcello is uninhabited except for a handful of families and is a favorite picnic spot (you'll have to bring the food from Venice -- there are no stores on the island and only one bar/trattoria and one rather expensive restaurant, the Cipriani, of Hemingway fame). Once the tour groups have left, it offers a very special moment of solitude and escape when St. Mark's bottleneck becomes oppressive.
The Lido & Its Beaches
Although a convenient 15-minute vaporetto ride away from San Marco, Venice's Lido beaches are not much to write home about. The Adriatic waters have had pollution problems in recent years, and for bathing and sun-worshipping there are much nicer beaches nearby -- in Jesolo, to the north, for example. But the parade of wealthy Italian and foreign tourists (plus a good number of Venetian families with children) who frequent this litorale (coastal area) throughout summer is an interesting sight indeed, though you'll find many of them at the elitist beaches affiliated with such deluxe hotels as the legendary Excelsior and the Des Bains.
There are two beach areas at the Lido. Bucintoro is at the opposite end of Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta (referred to as the Gran Viale) from the vaporetto station Santa Elisabetta. It's a 10-minute stroll; walk straight ahead along Gran Viale to reach the beach. San Nicolò, 1.6km (1 mile) away, can be reached by bus B. You'll have to pay 10€ per person (standard procedure at Italy's beaches) for use of the cabins and umbrella rental. Alternatively, you can patronize the more crowded and noisier public beach, Zona A at the end of Gran Viale. Keep in mind that if you stay at any of the hotels on the Lido, most of them have some kind of agreement with the different beach establishments (bagni).
The Lido's limited sports amenities, such as golf and tennis, are affiliated with its deluxe five-star hotels. Although there is car traffic, the Lido's wide, shaded boulevards are your best bet for jogging while you're visiting Venice. A number of bike-rental places along the Gran Viale rent bicycles for 4€ to 8€ an hour. Vaporetto line nos. 1, 6, 52, and 82 cross the lagoon to the Lido from the San Zaccaria-Danieli stop near San Marco.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.