Despite sharing space in the lagoon just a few short miles from Venice, Burano and Murano might as well transport you to a totally different place. Each has their own vibe and distinct but entwined histories. If you are looking for a change of pace after a couple of days in Venice, this is where you’ll find it.
We put lots of brain cells toward figuring out how to structure our day trip to Murano and Burano, because there are any number of different combinations you can make for which islands to visit (news flash: there’s more than just those two), what to visit first, where to end the day, and so on. We were advised to factor in the length and route of the vaporetto lines (water buses), midday heat, and tourist density at different times of the day. It was our most challenging day to plan by far.
I hope to make your travel planning easier by sharing the itinerary we finally landed on, which I highly recommend. We also had a couple of learnings from the day which are listed at the bottom. Enjoy!
We decided to do something radical and visit Burano before Murano. Most people do the opposite because thick crowds plague Murano in the afternoon. In our case, we were just going to Murano to see a glass demonstration and to do some shopping, while in Burano we wanted to have all the cheerful houses to ourselves. So we went against the grain.
We set off early that morning to get to Burano before the earliest tourists. We caught an 8:40 a.m. vaporetto at Fondamente Nove in Cannaregio, about a 20 minute walk from the San Marco district. The No. 12 line stops in Murano and continues on to Burano, unlike the No. 7 which departs from the S. Zaccaria stop near St. Mark’s Square and ends in Murano (you have to catch another line to Burano from Murano, and service on the No. 7 service begins later in the day).
Around 9:30 we stepped off the boat in Burano and seemingly into the tropics. A three-dimensional patchwork quilt of pinks, greens, oranges, blues, reds and every other color under the rainbow greeted us upon our arrival.
Local legend suggests that buildings were originally colored brightly so the fishermen in the lagoon could spot them from far away, as well as avoid crashing into the shore in dense fog. While this may be true, we know for sure that the bright colors were useful to demarcate individual properties in earlier times.
Nowadays they are a photographer’s playground. With no two neighboring houses painted the same color, and with strict color controls, the island is able to maintain its vibrancy. It’s like the most rigid yet cheerful homeowner’s association you could be a part of.
The sun was getting hotter, but we were just getting started.
As if Burano could get any more picturesque, the canals added another dimension with the way they reflected the colors of the buildings.
Eventually we took a break to enjoy some coffee and a traditional bussolà Buranello, a traditional cookie from Burano. It’s a hard cookie flavored with vanilla, rum or lemon, and is said to have been used to give fishermen energy for their day and also scent drawers since they are long lasting. More on the cookie can be found on Burano’s official website.
Though it was historically a fishing village, Burano is perhaps best known for its lacemaking. I happened upon this woman working on a creation outside of her home.
The likes of Leonardo da Vinci and King Louis XIV have sought lace from Burano. The tradition is not as strong nowadays, but you can still catch people practicing the craft as you walk the streets. Burano’s shopping areas are saturated with lace shops where you can buy locally-made lace goods.
The island of Burano is quite small, and after just a couple of hours we were ready to make our way to Murano. We hopped back on the No. 12 vaporetto and stepped onto the shores of Murano as the sun was hitting its highest point in the sky.
Murano is known worldwide for its glassmaking, which came to the island in 1291 after a decree prevented any glass furnaces to be housed on the main island of Venice due to the risk of fire (some historians believe there were ulterior motives for the law, however). The discovery of the process of producing clear glass in the 15th century enabled Murano’s glassmakers to become the only producers of mirrors in Europe, cementing the island’s status as the premier and most coveted glass manufacturers on the continent. As such, glassmakers enjoyed many privileges in society, including being allowed to marry into Venice’s aristocracy. They were also not allowed to leave without risking severe punishment including death or having one’s hands chopped off. Hopefully they enjoyed lagoon life.
Ellegi Glass was recommended to us by our hotel, so we stopped in there for a glassmaking demonstration. It was incredibly impressive to witness the artisan’s ability to create sculptures in mere minutes. This wasn’t any Renaissance Festival demonstration: These guys are some of the most talented glassmakers in the world.
After selecting a couple of pieces to take home with us from the store (including a fantastically delicate color blocked vase that reminds me of the homes on Burano), we set out to explore the island.
I’ll be honest: Murano isn’t nearly as impressive architecturally or aesthetically as Venice or Burano. Frankly, it was a bit of a letdown after exploring both of those islands first. It also didn’t help that it was hot as sin that day, so we agreed that we would grab some lunch, do a little shopping, and be on our way.
A word to the wise if you want to purchase glass in Venice: look for the official Murano Glass sticker. This designates that one of the operating foundries on the island of Murano actually produced the wares. Yes, imported glass does make it into the stores in Venice. Downloading the Original Murano Glass app will enable you to scan the barcode of the stickers to spot any fakes. We stuck to buying glass from the manufacturers themselves to erase any doubt about authenticity.
My Takeaways from the Day
- You definitely want to budget a full day to enjoy the island hopping, though we wrapped up our visit in the early afternoon. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could probably tack on Torcello, the oldest continuously-populated island in the lagoon (older than Venice itself), and see all three major islands in a day.
- You can visit Murano in the morning if you really want to avoid crowds, but I would encourage those who are more interested in getting great vacation photos to do Burano first. I found the Murano crowds not to be that bad, and Burano was pretty idyllic until the masses began to arrive.
- Save your glass shopping for Murano. They have an amazing selection of unique pieces at the glassmakers’ studios. It also gives you the opportunity to say you bought direct from the source, which is hard to do nowadays. Honestly, the Ellegi store was the best one that I visited and we probably went to four or five different glassmakers that day.
Have you been to Murano or Burano? How was your experience? Let me know in the comments!
Additional Reading and Resources
- Burano Official Website
- Smithsonian Journeys: The Rainbow Island of Burano, Italy
- Official Murano Glass
- History of Murano Glass
- Murano, the Glass Island
- Ten Facts You Didn’t Know About Murano Glass
- Ellegi Glass Shop