A Guide to Venice’s Islands
Did you know that Venice is an archipelago of 118 islands? The floating city we know and love is made up of tens of minuscule islands separated by canals and linked by over 400 bridges. You walk over them without realizing it. But Venice also spills over its six sestieri (neighborhoods) and into the lagoon with more islands to explore. Here’s a guide to some of Venice’s most must-see islands for an afternoon or a weekend affair.
San Giorgio Maggiore
If you stand in between the columns of Piazza San Marco and look out, you’ll notice a mini Venice across the lagoon. This is San Giorgio Maggiore, a tiny island with an incredible fete fo architecture. The domed building is the eponymous San Giorgio church, a multilevel marble landmark designed by Renaissance phenom Andrea Palladio. Explore the tiny island for its pedicured gardens hiding mazes, and exhibition spaces Le Stanze del Vetro (on the grounds of former boarding school) and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini , a contemporary arts foundation.
In 1291, the Republic of Venice officially decreed that all glass making furnances were restricted to the tiny island of Murano. In 1295, the republic passed a subsequent law forbidding the glassmakers from leaving, effectively making Murano glass the worlds best kept secret. reputation seeped out of the lagoon, and now Murano is the most popular of the Venetian islands.
Today, master glass artisans allow visitors to experience their artistry with open studio visits and behind-the-scenes experiences at historic fornace (furnaces). Murano may be tourist destination but it is still one of the world’s most premiere glass making sites and key best experiencing Murano is to get past the souvenir shops and explore deeper into the island with a by-appointment visits to artisans like Seguso, Barovier & Toso and Berengo. For the history stop into Museo del Vetro.
La Certosa is a tiny island northeast that was once home to Napoleon’s armies. Today, the 54-acre island is vast greenery that Venice is reclaiming with the Parco della Certosa project, a public-private partnership, intent on island recovery including tree plantings, archaeological excavation. And it’s also a beloved pitstop and marina for Venetians. So much so that the Alajmo brothers of Michelin star fame, have set up Hostaria, a casual dining outpost. Yes, the spaghetti is worth the trip.
A mini version of Venice, Burano is tiny island with a rainbow of brightly colored houses lining picture-perfect canals. Like most of the outlying islands, Burano is a microcosm of locals who have grown up with one another for generations and for generations have been making its famous lace products by hand. The Museo del Merletto (Lace Museum) chronicles Burano’s more than eight centuries honing lace craftsmanship.
Mazzorbo is a quiet island with th less than 400 inhabitants – hard to believe it was once medieval Venice’s leader on the political and commercial scene. Why visit? Venetian architecture without the tourists, Mazzorbo remains untouched and out of the way of clutter and kitsch. Europe’s oldest bells resides in bell tower of Chiesa di Santa Caterina, the island’s 13th century (and last remaining church). The island also has vast stretches of land, farms and vineyards including Venissa, restaurant-resort-winery that is reviving heritage dorona di Venezia grapes.
San Michele is mesmerizing. The island is surrounded by surrounded by a pedicured redbrick wall with cypress trees peeking over. Why? Because this tiny island is the final resting place for Venetians and famed outsiders, including American poet Ezra Pound, Italian painter Emilio Vedova and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. San Michele has been city’s official cemetery ever since a Napoleonic decree banished burials from Venice churchyards.
Lido di Venezia
Lido, the largest Venetian island, comes to mind during the Venice Film Festival, where the world’s best directors and actors gather annually in August to celebrate their films. What most people don’t know is that all year round, Lido is a charming community of families.
A jewel box of art nouveau and art deco architecture — including villas, hotels and ornamental gardens, Lido is also a summer destination. Its stabilimenti balneari are beautifully coiffed and colorful waterside establishments on the island’s six miles of uninterrupted beach.
Torcello is one of the most remote islands in the Venetian archipelago and the oldest that has been continually populated. In fact, the island predates Venice. Like its counterparts, the once busy settelment is sparsely populated. Traces of its resplendent history include the seventh-century Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunta with its beautifully preserved Byzantine mosaics and a head-spinning bell tower that overlooks Burano.
The best and only way to visit Venice’s islands is by water. If you have time, purchase up a 24-hour ACTV ticket and wait for avaporetto (waterbus). Vaporetti are also a great way to see the Venetian Lagoon. If time is slm, hire a motoscafo, a sleek, wood-paneled water taxi, which can privately arranged through Consorzio Motoscafi.
This article first appeared in Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, March 2019. Updated 2023.