Venice shares its lagoon with four other principal islands: Murano, Burano, Torcello, and the Lido. Guided tours of the first three are available (20€ to 35€ for 3 to 4 hours), but while these can be informative, unless you are very short of time you’ll enjoy exploring the islands in far more leisurely fashion on your own, easily done using the vaporetti.
Line nos. 4.1 and 4.2 make the journey to Murano from Fondamente Nove (on the north side of Castello). For Murano, Burano, and Torcello, Line no. 12 departs Fondamente Nove every 30 minutes; for Torcello change to the shuttle boat (Line 9) that runs from Burano, timed to match the arrivals from Venice. 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.
Vaporetto line nos. 1, 2, 5.1, 5.2, and LN cross the lagoon to the Lido from the San Zaccaria–Danieli stop near San Marco. Note that the Lido becomes chilly, windswept and utterly deserted from October to April.
The island of Murano has long been famous throughout the world for the products of its glass factories. The illuminating Museo del Vetro (Museum of Glass) ★★, Fondamenta Giustinian 8 (www.museovetro.visitmuve.it; tel. 041/739586), provides context, charting the history of the island’s glassmaking, and definitely worthwhile if you intend to purchase a lot of glassware, providing plenty of background so you know what you’re buying in the stores outside. Daily hours are 10am to 6pm (Nov–Mar to 5pm), and admission is 10€ for adults and 7.50€ children 6 to 14 and students 25 and under.
Dozens of fornaci (kilns) offer free shows of mouth-blown glassmaking, almost invariably hitched to a hard-sell tour of their factory outlet. Once you’re on the island, you can’t miss these places (and they’re pretty much of equivalent quality), but Original Murano Glass (9:30am–5pm daily; reserve free tours and demonstrations at www.originalmuranoglass.com), at the Ellegi Glass fornaci, Fondamenta San Giovanni dei Battuti 4, is a dependable choice (it’s a few minutes walk from the Murano Faro vaporetti stop). Almost all the shops will ship their goods, but that often doubles the price. On the other hand, these pieces are instant heirlooms.
Murano is also graced by two worthy churches (both free admission): the largely 15th-century San Pietro Martire ★ (Mon–Sat 9am–5:30pm, Sun noon–5:30pm), with its paintings by Veronese and Giovanni Bellini, and the ancient Santa Maria e Donato ★ (Mon–Sat 9am–6pm, Sun 12:30–6pm), with its intricate Byzantine exterior apse, 6th-century pulpit, stunning mosaic of Mary over the altar, and a fantastic 12th-century inland floor.
Lace is the claim to fame of tiny, historic Burano, a craft kept alive for centuries by the wives of fishermen waiting for their husbands to return from the sea. Sadly, most of the lace sold on the island these days is made by machine elsewhere. It’s still worth a trip if you have time to stroll the back streets of the island, whose canals are lined with the brightly colored, simple homes of the Buranesi fishermen—it’s quite unlike anything in Venice or Murano. 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) ★, Piazza Galuppi 187 (www.museomerletto.visitmuve.it; tel. 041/730034), to understand why something so exquisite should not be left to fade into extinction. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm (Nov–Mar to 5pm), and admission is 5€ adults, 3.50€ children 6 to 14 and students 25 and under.
Butter biscuits known simply as buranelli are also a famous product of the island—expect to be offered them in almost every store.
Torcello is perhaps the most charming of the islands, though today it consists of little more than one long canal leading from the vaporetto landing to a clump of buildings at its center.
Torcello boasts the oldest Venetian monument, the Basilica di Santa Maria dell’Assunta ★★★, whose foundation dates from the 7th century (tel. 041/2702464). It’s justly famous for its spectacular 11th- to 12th-century Byzantine mosaics—a “Madonna and Child” in the apse and a monumental “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 (Nov–Feb to 5pm), and admission is 5€ (audioguide an extra 2€). Also of interest is the adjacent 11th-century church of Santa Fosca (free admission), a simple Byzantine brick church with a plain interior, and the Museo di Torcello (tel. 041/730761), with two small galleries showcasing archaeological artifacts from the Iron Age to medieval period, many found on the island. The church closes 30 minutes before the basilica, and the museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 10:30am to 5:30pm (Nov–Feb to 5pm). Museum admission is 3€. You must buy tickets for all attractions at the Basilica entrance.
Peaceful Torcello is uninhabited except for a handful of families (plus a population of feral cats), and is a favorite picnic spot. You’ll have to bring food in from Venice—there are no stores on the island and only a handful of bars/trattorias plus one fabulous destination restaurant, Locanda Cipriani ★★★ (Wed–Mon noon–3pm and 7–9pm; closed Jan to mid-Feb; www.locandacipriani.com), of Hemingway fame, which opened in 1935 and is definitely worth a splurge. Once the tour groups have left, the island offers a very special moment of solitude and escape.
The Lido ★
Although a convenient 15-minute vaporetto ride away from San Marco, Venice’s Lido beaches are not much to write home about and certainly no longer a chic destination. For bathing and sun-worshipping there are much better 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) who still frequent this coastal area is an interesting sight indeed.
The Lido has two main beach areas. 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, about 1.5km (1 mile) away, can be reached by bus B. Renting loungers and parasols can cost from 10€ to 20€ per person (per day) depending on the time of year (it’s just 1€ to use the showers and bathrooms). Keep in mind that if you stay at any of the hotels on the Lido, most have some kind of agreement with the different bagni (beach establishments).