A day on the outlying islands ★★★

A day on the outlying islands, Venice, Italy (Photo courtesy NASA/GSFC/MITI/ERSDAC/JAROS)

The other islands of Venice—Murano, Burano, and Torcello

Ever wonder what Venice looked like before all the tourists, or even before the fancy palazzi and art-stuffed museums?

Well, the answer lies just a 1.5-mile vaporetto ride away on the fishing village islands of the northern Venetian lagoon. 

Though there are dozen of islands beyond downtown Venice—including the long, skinny barrier island of the Lido, lined with 19th century beach resorts—by far the msot rewarding are a trio of islands in the northern lagoon you can visit in one long, perfect day.

How to get to the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello

There are two main ways to get to the islands of the Venetian lagoon: by tour, or by public transport.

Tours of Venice outlying islands

Tours—either in a group tour (from $24) or on a private tour (from $156)—take care of all the boat transportaionaround the islands (and on your schedule, not that of the vaporetto system), and obviously also provide a private guide for all the sightseeing.

Somewhat amazingly, a tour will also cost less than doing it yourself using public transport.

These tours also (almost invariably) include a visit to one of the Murano glass factories. This does give you an insight into how that famous Venetian Murano glass is made, but remember that the real purpose is to get you to buy glass trinkets in the shop at the end of the factory tour. Fair enough—and perhaps you're only too happy for the shopping opportunity. Just know that this is an integral part of most escorted island tours.

How to get to Murano, Burano, Torcello using the vaporetto system

Do-it-yourself tour using Venice's public transportation network using the vaporetto water ferries costs around $26.

Doing the outlying Venice islands on your own is a bit more complicated (and time consuming), but eminently possible. Give it all day. Here are the details.

First of all, if you have been buying individual vaporetto (water bus) tickets as you need them, go ahead and invest in an 24-hour unlimited ride pass for today (€20 ($22)—if you think you can fit it all into just 12 hours, you can save €2 ($2) with a 12-hour Travelcard, but I wouldn't bother). You are going to take the water bus at least five times, so it will definitely save you some money.

Below in the "Tips" section are your public trasnport options for getting to and around Murano, Burano, and Torcello.

A Day On The Outlying Islands tours

More tours
 

Tips

How long does it take to visit all three islands?

Get up early in the morning since to visit all three islands takes a good five to seven hours.

The time you spend on Burano and Torcello is in one-hour increments (vaporetti ferries leave hourly), and one hour is about enough for each.

Add in 10 minutes for the ride from Venice to Murano, 35 minutes from Murano to Burano, 5 minutes from Burano to Torcello, and 70 minutes from Torcello to Venice

If you start by 9 or 10am, you can be back in Venice by late afternoon/early evening (assuming you take time to have lunch).

Time it just perfectly, and you ride back to Venice with the sunset sending orange sparklers across the waters of the lagoon as you arrive. Very cool.

The main outlying islands boat: Line 12

Unless you are close to the Ferrovia or Piazzale Roma stops (from which you can catch vaporetto Line 3, the express to Murano), you should probably first make your way to Fondamente Nove vaporetto stop,which is way up on the north side of the Castello district (though there is a "shortcut" is you are near San Marco; see below).

Line 12 is the main vaporetto line to take to reach the outlying islands in the Northern Venetian lagoon.

Line 12 stops at the main "Faro" (lighthouse) vaporetto stop on Murano (8 min.), then continues to the residential island of Mazzorbo (another 24 min.), then across a channel to Burano (10 min. from Mazzorbo—which means 34 min. total from Murano, or 42 min. total from Venice).

From Burano, you can grab the #9 traghetto up to Torcello and back (5 min. each way).

Getting back to Venice: From Burano, Line 12 continues to Treporti and, in summer, on to Punta Sabbioni, where all the campgrounds are), before turning back around to reverse its route: Burano, Mazzorbo, Murano, Fondamente Nove.

(Note: From Fondamente Nove, instead of line 12 you could also take Line 4.1 or 4.2, a local line which makes all 7 local stops around Murano before circling back to Fondamente Nove.)

How to get to the outlying islands from San Marco: A (sort-of) short-cut

From the San Marco area you can grab the 4.1 or 4.2 vaporetto or the Alilaguna line (blue) (for trips within the city like this, they only charge the standard €7.50 ticket)—from the Piazza San Marco/S. Zaccaria stop. 

The #4.1 or 4.2 ferry will chug around Venice, making eight local stops, then stop at Fondamente Nove before turning to head up and around Murano and back (On the Alilagune B line, Murano will be the 5th stop after San Marco).

Either way, the ride takes about 40 minutes.

Get off in Murano and explore. From Murano, you can continue on the #12 line to Burano, thence Torcello, etc.

The reason I call this a "sort-of" shortcut is that these boats from San Marco takes a half-hour longer than if you left directly from Fondamenta Nove.

Then again, it'll also probably take half an hour just to walk from Piazza San Marco to Fondamente Nove, so the timing is about equal, but taking a boat the whole way is a bit easier (especially if you're leaving early in the morning and want to ease yourself into the day).

How to get to the outlying islands from the train station or Piazzale Roma area

From Ferrovia (train station) or Piazzale Roma (parking lot), you can grab the express Line 3 to reach Murano in about 20 minutes (24 min. from Piazzale Roma).

How to get to the outlying islands directly from the Venice airport

If you happen to be staying on Murano—or just want to hit it en route to Venice—the Alilaguna B (blue) and R (red) ferries from the airport both stop at Murano (~30 min.).

Staying late? There's a night ferry

By the way, if you tarry too late on the outlying islands (last boats: somewhere between 11pm and midnight, depending), never fear.

night vaporetto Line NLN connects Fondamente Nove with Burano (just make sure you are on teh boat headed back to F.te Nove and not the one that goes on to Punta Sabbioni).

night vaporetto Line NMU connects Fondamente Nove with Murano.

If it's getting late on Torcello, they're really good about shooing you down to the docks so you won't miss the last #9 traghetto to Burano at 8:10pm.

If you manage to miss that, you can still hop the night line, but it'll come out to Torcello by request only, so you have to call ahead (tel. 800-845-065)—plus it only stops at 11:56pm, 12:35am, 1:31am, and 2:31am en route to Burano (where you'll have to wait again for a night ferry going the other direction, since this one continues on to Treporti and Punta Sabbioni, not Venice).

Or you can get really lucky and call ahead to catch the 1:35am from Torcello, which goes semi-express back to Fondamente Nove.

(Don't miss it; the next one's at 4:03am.)

Dining on the islands

Meals: As far as lunch goes, you can either pack a picnic in from Venice (Torcello is prime for picnicking), or sit down for a good meal at a restaurant: 
 

Hotels on the islands

Though there are now tiny B&B and/or rental rooms operating on Burano (two of them) and Torcello (three—including at Cirpriani), most of the lodging in the Northern Lagoon is concentrated on Murano, which has several small hotels, B&Bs, and rental apartments:

Hotels on Murano

Hotels on Burano

Hotels on Torcello

Hotels on Mazzorbetto