When you’re talking about visiting Venice, it’s tempting to focus on its world famous canals. It’s easy to understand why. From the birthplace of a pope, to the homes of Richard Wagner and Lord Byron, from the fictional homes of Othello and Desdemona, to Harry’s Bar (and the invention of the Bellini) – just one gondola ride down the Grand Canal has enough historic star power for a lifetime.
But no trip to Venice is truly complete without a visit to the tiny and beautiful lagoon islands.
Venice sits on a kind of archipelago, made up of many small islets, jutting into what’s known as the Venetian lagoon. The city of Venice is the largest settlement, but there are nearby islands, such as Murano, Burano, San Michele and Torcello, which are well worth experiencing.
For centuries, Murano has been the home of the world’s best in stunning glassware. Burano is famous for its colorfully painted houses. San Michele is the final resting place of many famous names, and Torcello offers a once-in-a-lifetime look into the city’s past. Each island can be reached by waterbus, or vaporetto, and is just a short ride from Venice.
Murano is known as the “glass island”, because of its centuries-old glass production. The glass produced here is colorful and exquisite, and has been sought after around the world since the ninth century.
When you visit Murano, you can see the famous glass kilns lined up, and several are open to the public, so you can walk in and watch glass blowers creating their art. One of the oldest glassworks is Venini, whose works can be seen in museums around the world. If you want to learn more about the venerable tradition and see some wonderful historic pieces, check out the Glass Museum. Of course, no visit would be complete without out picking up a few stunning souvenirs of your own!
While Murano built an international reputation for its glass-making, neighboring Burano is famous for its lace work. The delicate pieces of art have been made here since the sixteenth century, and of course, there is a Lace Museum to find out how it’s done. Burano is the prettiest of the lagoon islands, with all of its houses painted in vibrant blues, yellows, purples and greens. Make sure to visit a bakery and sample the local bussolai burnanelli, light and delicious round butter biscuits.
Torcello has an altogether different feel. In the 10th century, nearly 10,000 people lived and worked on the island. Today, it’s home to only 20 people, but the ruins of the old buildings, churches and homes are still there, crumbling and overgrown. Its unique charm attracted Ernest Hemingway in the 1940s, and you can still have dinner at his favorite restaurant, Locanda Cipriani.
San Michele also offers an interesting glimpse into the region’s past. As you walk through the walled cemetery, you can see the graves of Igor Stravinsky and Ezra Pound, among thousands of others.
For centuries, Venice has attracted visitors from around the world with its unique architecture and city planning. When it’s your turn to experience this incredible city, make sure to look past the obvious, and take the time to visit the lagoon islands for a truly wonderful glimpse into the region’s varied and picturesque past.