Top 5 (+1) Islands to Visit in the Lagoon of Venice

July 18, 2014
Enrico Catani

The city of Venice is one of the most special cities around the world, and every year attracts enormous crowds of tourists. Founded in the 5th century, its urban structure is spread over 118 small islands separated by canals and connected by bridges and walkways.
The whole city is a splendid aggregate of palaces, churches, squares and other architectural masterpieces that create a magical, unique atmosphere. Furthermore, several historic buildings contain art works by some of the greatest artists of all time, such as Titian, Tintoretto and others.
However, what most tourists ignore is that, besides the world-famous historic centre, there are still numerous beautiful outer islands that are definitely worth a visit.
So, here is a list made by ItalyXP of best small islands around Venice, all reachable by waterbus from the central area of the city. Don’t miss those scattered treasures, spread in the vast expanse of shallow water of the Venetian Lagoon.

Murano Island

The enchanting island of Murano is one of the most characteristic places in the Venetian Lagoon, as well as the most famous. Composed by seven minor islands, it represents the ideal location for a half-day trip, and a great break from the crowds of Venice.
The Murano Island is internationally renowned for the art of glass making: an ancient craft tradition, handed down from generation to generation, that represents an inestimable richness for Venice.
A few centuries ago, all the Venetian glass factories were moved to this island in order to protect the glass-making secrets. Today, the tradition continues and tourist can enjoy a visit to the Glass Museum or to the craft shops selling hand-crafted glass sculptures and souvenirs of rare beauty. The Murano Island also has several historical treasures, such as the Romanesque churches, as well as picturesque canals and good restaurants that serve local specialties.
A tour to Murano is one of the best things to do if you are in Venice, not only to admire its beauty, but also to discover the authentic, ancient traditions of the city.

Burano Island

If you visit Venice for more than one day, we highly suggest a visit to Burano, a lovely island in the Venetian Lagoon, about 40 minutes on a waterbus from Venice.
The Burano Island is mostly famous for its brightly colored houses lined with the canals, which create a sort of urban rainbow. According to the legend, the island's fishermen were the first to color their houses, so they could see them while they were out fishing. True or not, today Burano boasts a unique cheery atmosphere: a sort of dreamland, with flower boxes sitting on the windowsills and gondolas passing along the canals…
The island is also famous for its artisan lace production: in the many craft shops that dot the streets you will have the opportunity to admire the master artisans at work, and to buy lace products of the highest quality. Also, among the Burano’s attractions, there's the Lace Museum and a 15th century leaning tower, which is the bell tower of the San Martino church.
The colorful island of Burano is the perfect place for a half-day excursion, to discover Venice’s craft tradition and breathe the peacefulness and prettiness of this fisherman’s town.

San Michele Island

Originally populated only by monks, this small island to the east of Venice is renowned as the most peaceful in the Lagoon… And not surprisingly, since the entire area of San Michele was decreed a cemetery and used as such since the 1836, when the Venetian government decided to start hauling their dead across the sea, instead of burying them all over town.
Formerly two islands, which are now joined together, the San Michele Island is dedicated to the dead, and its land is completely occupied by long ranks of tombs and small basilicas. Observing the tombs of the San Michele cemetery, arranged in narrow lines, you can have a very clear idea of the social structure of Venice: because of the lack of space and high taxes, most of the Venetians is buried on land. Here, you will mostly find tombs and memorials of the most illustrious figures
The cemetery of San Michele is neatly structured, with elegance and formality, and holds several monumental tombstones and sculptures. The graves are arranged in compact rows, separated by paths for the convenience of mourning and visitors.
A place of interest in the island is also the enchanting Church of San Michele: built in the 15th century on a design of Mauro Codussi, is one of the earliest Renaissance churches in Venice, with a white façade of marble overlooking the lagoon.
Although not very lively, the San Michele Island it’s worth a visit. You can make a short trip by taking a water bus from central Venice, or making a stop here during your tour of the Venetian Lagoon.

Torcello Island

Located in the heart of the Venetian Lagoon, this amazing island is the oldest settlement of the archipelago and it represents the ideal refuge for those in search of a nice short, peaceful excursion nearby Venice.
Inhabited since the early years of the Roman Empire, its origins are older than those of Venice. Today, the island is sparsely populated with less than thirty inhabitants, but it boasts a rich cultural and historical heritage: among its main points of interest is the Devil's Bridge ("Ponte del Diavolo" in Italian), a rare example of a bridge without lateral supports. Crossing the bridge you reach the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, an impressive church complex built in 639.
The Torcello Island is also rich in ruins of its once splendid palaces, churches, monasteries, and even a mysterious throne that is supposed to have belonged to Attila, the king of the Huns.
Easily reachable by ferry boat, the Torcello Island is an unmissable stop during your Venetian Lagoon tour: a great place to enjoy a nice stroll or even spend a night in the legendary Locanda Cipriani, so beloved by Hernest Hemingway!

San Giorgio Maggiore Island

This beautiful island of the Venetian Lagoon can be admired from the Riva degli Schiavoni, one of the major wharves in Venice, about 400 meters from the city. The island boasts a splendid skyline, romantically lying on the sea, providing an amazing background.
In addition to being one of the most photographed places in Venice, its landscape has also been portrayed in many famous paintings. Originally, it was called the “Isle of cypresses” to the abundance of these trees. Today, it’s famous for its architectonic and artistic importance, and for being scenery of the masterpieces from the greatest Italian artists between the 16th and the 17th centuries.
The first church was built in 790 in honor of San Giorgio, the Saint from which the island takes its name. In 982 the island was donated to the Benedictine Order, so that they could build here a monastery. However, both buildings were destroyed by a terrible earthquake in 1223, and the restoration of the whole island ended only in the 16th century, when the new Church of San Giorgio Maggiore was built over the remains of the old one: the present building, designed by Andrea Palladio, is well worth taking the lift to the top as there is a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and the lagoon. In its interior are several artistic masterpieces, such as “The Last Supper” and “The Raccolta della Manna”, two splendid paintings both realized by Tintoretto.
The island of San Giorgio Maggiore is not really a tourist spot: there are no bars or restaurants here, but a visit is strongly suggested for those who want to have a unique view of Venice or simply want to eXPerience the proverbial serenity of monastic life.

San Francesco del Deserto Island

This small, tranquil island is located in the quietest area of the Venetian Lagoon, about 5 kilometers from Venice, surrounded by old salt marshes and absolute peacefulness. It was inhabited since ancient Roman times, as testified by some underground findings, but it became famous for being the place where Saint Francis of Assisi docked in 1220, returning from Egypt. Apparently, the Saint found in the island the ideal place to pray and meditate.
The main point of interest here is the convent of Franciscan Friars, originally founded by Saint Francis himself. The complex is surrounded by a charming garden full of cypress and pine trees that characterize the spiky silhouette of the island.
In 1810, Napoleon transformed the island of San Francesco del Deserto in a military base, driving away the inhabitants. But fortunately, the Franciscans monks were able to return in the island in the mid-1800’s, remaining here until today.
It’s not a difficult task to visit them: all you have to do the large door of the convent and knock. The monks will be glad to give you a guided tour of the monastery and its gardens. Exploring this bucolic religious retreat you will have a glimpse of the meditative life of the Franciscan Friars… A mystical eXPerience we definitely suggest.

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