We had 4 days to explore Venice, which I think is probably longer than the average amount of time.
Now, don’t get me wrong; the city is beautiful and utterly beguiling. You could stroll its maze-like streets and wander relentlessly into its little nooks and piazzas for many days. But in reality it’s not a big city and if you’re not a lover of museums, 4 days to see all the major sights feels like plenty.
So, for any stays longer than a couple of nights you’re definitely going to want to venture out to the islands of Murano and Burano. Of the many little islands in Venice’s northern lagoon, these two are world-famous in their own right.
Both of the islands can be reached with ordinary vaporetto (water bus)/ferry tickets and are free to explore. You will have to pay for entry into any of the islands’s museums or factories. I didn’t feel the need to.
Murano vs Burano
Of the two islands I’d only ever really heard about Murano. It’s famed for its glass-making and you’ll see colourful, gaudy (and often strangely misshapen!) Murano glass for sale in shops all over Venice.
History: Venice’s furnaces were moved to Murano in the 13th century due to fire hazards in the centre of the city, and by the 15th century Murano glassmakers had raised the bar and set standards which couldn’t be equalled anywhere in the world. In fact, because trade secrets were so closely guarded, any glass-worker who left the city was deemed guilty of treason.
Only a 10 to 15 minute ferry ride from Fondamente Nove, or 45 minutes from San Zaccaria near St Mark’s Square, you’ll reach the main stop on Murano Island.
I recalled having seen images of starkly contrasting, brightly painted houses alongside narrow canals, with tiny bridges crossing them in places. While that’s true of Murano to an extent, I later discovered that it was mostly pics of the more photogenic Burano that I’d seen before!
On the morning I visited Murano it was initially quite overcast which probably dampened my enthusiasm for the place a bit. It seemed surprisingly unremarkable.
Having spent a couple of days in “Venice proper”, getting a ferry away from it was fun, and the island is great to wander around for a couple of hours. But there’s not a lot there besides shops, restaurants and a couple of churches and good photo opportunities. Unless you’re really into glass or you visit the museum, or stop for lunch, you won’t want more time than that there.
Before heading to Murano I’d made a note of some of the prices of glass on Venice’s main islands. Even though the pieces are all uniquely handmade, you’ll see lots of similar-looking glass from shop to shop. The comparisons with prices on Murano itself showed that there’s no vast difference. In fact in some cases the glass on Murano was more expensive. I guess they’re aware of their captive audience.
Tips: Shop around, both in the centre of Venice and on Murano. The prices in the shops closest to the main ferry stop on Murano seemed to have the highest prices. They’re probably relying on the fact that excited tourists getting off the ferry will pay those prices in their initial excitement at being there.
If you like a piece of glass but aren’t entirely happy with the look of it there are plenty of other shops on the island where you’re likely to see something very similar whilst wandering around.
Restaurants on the island seemed to be a little more expensive than average for Venice; again reliant on the captive audience.
People naturally stroll around Murano and then head straight for the ferry stop on the other side of the island to go to Burano. The queue was enormous, so it might be worth timing it right. We caught a ferry back to “Venice proper” for lunch, before heading to Burano from Fondamente Nove later on. The ferry will always stop at Murano first, but it ensured we had more choices for lunch, as well as a seat on the ferry, all refreshed without queuing, later on.
By the time we reached Burano in the afternoon – around a 50 minute ferry journey from Fondamente Nove (around 35 minutes from Murano) – it was bathed in glorious sunshine. I instantly preferred it to Murano.
With its brightly coloured fishermen’s houses in long terraced rows running alongside winding canals, it’s vibrant and characterful. There are plenty of opportunities for some fab Instagram selfies, drawing visitors down its narrow alleys in search of the perfect backdrop. And be sure to check out the leaning bell tower which is inclined 1.83 metres due to land subsidence.
Burano has links to lace-making and seafood, and there are plenty of restaurants to sit, eat and people-watch for a while. We spent a lovely hour or so at a little table in the sunshine with an Aperol Spritz watching the world go by. Blissful.
Although we didn’t go there, the tiny island of Torcello is just another 3 minutes’ ferry ride from Burano. Apparently there are now about 15 permanent residents, even though this was once the original island settlement with a population of around 20,000 people. Very little has survived from those times, except for a couple of interesting churches.
For me, Burano was a much better experience. The glass-making of Murano is interesting, but less so when you’re mostly only wandering from one glass shop to another. The museums didn’t interest me enough to want to pay to go in. Murano is worth the trip but has less character than Burano and I was ready to leave after an hour and a half.
Not being particularly interested in lace-making, and also a flexitarian (so not interested in the seafood), I expected Burano to bore me a bit. But it was much livelier and prettier than Murano, and it supplied me with some of my favourite photos from my trip. We spent lots of time meandering the tiny streets and taking it all in.
I’d definitely recommend visiting both islands on a warm and sunny day to see them at their best. You won’t need too long and can easily do them both in half a day to a full day.
Going to see Burano in late afternoon/early evening seemed to work well because many of the tourists had gone and it was easier to wander around in peace, enjoying the shadows cast by the setting sun on all the vividly painted houses.
Tickets and Prices
Vaporetto water bus/ferry tickets are €7.50 per person for a one-way journey (valid for 75 minutes). Alternatively, there are ACTV Tourist Travel cards which can be used as often as you want in 24 hours for €20 each. 48-hour tickets are €30. 72-hour tickets are €40, and 7-day tickets are €60 each. You must validate your ticket on the electronic card readers before you get on board every time you use it.
Ferries run every 15 minutes until midnight. Be careful not to do what we did and get on one that’s facing the wrong direction. At the end of our day in Murano and Burano we wanted to ride along the Grand Canal but got on the first ferry that came along. And we ended up getting stuck! It went back out to Murano and stopped all around the island before it eventually headed back in.
We wasted over an hour sitting on the damn thing before we finally got to the Grand Canal!