The Venetian lagoon is dotted with interesting places to visit. Depending on the weather forecast, you should jump at a tour of the islands the first chance you get—especially if you’re there at a time of year when rain is likely. Below, I set out a plan for visiting three of the most popular islands: Murano, Burano and Torcello, starting out from the Ferrovia vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal. You can easily adjust the itinerary depending on where your hotel is located.
To start your tour, take the vaporetto no. 42 to the Fondamente Nove stop, where you can catch the island-hopping LN line to Murano and Burano. From Burano, take the T line to Torcello. You can take this vaporetto back to Burano when you've finished looking around. From Burano, take the LN back to Fondamente Nove. If you're staying near the Ferrovia stop, you can take either the 41, the 42 or the 51 back from Fondamente Nove to your hotel.
A note on vaporretto etiquette: Do not stand near the exits, especially when the boat is pulling up to a stop. If you don’t have a choice, be sure to move out of the way to let other passengers on and off.
And now, a few tidbits about the islands to whet your sight-seeing appetite:
- Murano. Watch a glass-blowing demonstration at one the the island's famed foundries, and be sure to tip the artist. However, DO NOT go into the adjoining showrooms, unless you want to spend the big bucks. You will be hounded by salespeople that stick to you like glue. The pieces on display vary in price according to artist, and even small pieces can cost an arm and a leg. If you’re intent on buying something and not paying the earth, it’s possible. But be very, very assertive.
- Burano: A beautiful, tranquil treat, especially on a sunny day. The island used to be famous for its lace, although nowadays much of it is imported. The pieces in the shops are beautiful to look at, but quite expensive. And anyway, the best part about Burano isn’t the lace. It’s the brightly-colored houses. Just wandering through the streets and canals is enough to lift anyone’s spirits.
- Torcello: A nearly deserted island, with only a few remaining residents. The draw here is the ancient Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, with its Byzantine-style mosaics of Madonna and Child and the afterlife on opposing walls. There’s also the Church of Santa Fosca (interesting outside but not inside) and a small museum. Tip: If possible, visit the Cattedrale before you visit the Basilica di San Marco. You’ll be more impressed by the mosaics in both that way.
As soon as possible after your arrival in Venice, get your hands on an Actv map. Actv is the company that runs Venice's vaporetto routes, and the map is enormously helpful. You can also use their excellent website, http://www.actv.it/en, to plan your itinerary.
Whatever you do, be sure to give a full day to your island excursion. Soaking up the islands' atmosphere requires plenty of aimless wandering.