Featured, Italy

Island Hopping in Venice – Is it Worth It?

21 Comments 26 April 2012

burano island

Colorful Burano Island

“You have to go to the islands! You have to go to the islands!” everyone kept telling me. Clearly they didn’t fully appreciate my neurosis regarding how stubborn I am. I can’t help it, if everyone keeps telling me to do something, then I really am skeptical about it and the less and less I want to do it. The more I heard about Murano and Burano the more skeptical and disinterested I became.

But then someone mentioned the magic word – cimitero. “What’s that? There’s a cemetery island too?” I thought. Visiting an island of the dead, now you’ve got my attention.

Julie and I navigated through the winding streets and canals of Venice to get to Fondamenta Nove water bus stop on the northern edge of the historic center. Of course we got hopelessly lost as I stopped to take photos and took wrong turns, but eventually we made it and squeezed onto a water bus heading for San Michele Cemetery.

Cimitero di San Michele

The island actually houses 3 separate cemeteries; a Catholic, Protestant, and an Orthodox graveyard. Each have a distinct personality to it and you’ll know immediately when you pass from one to another. In the Catholic section the remains are interred in high rows of tombs, resembling chests of drawers. There are photos of the deceased on the outside of the ‘drawer’ providing an interesting step back in time.

graves

The stacked graves of the Catholic Cemetery

flower oon grave

The Orthodox Cemetery has a completely different feel

Some interesting facts about the cemetery island:
• The bodies are allowed to decompose for twelve years, at which point they’re dug up. The families can then pay to ‘extend their lease’ or the remains are moved.
• In the past, the dead were transported by a funeral gondola and procession (it’s unclear if this still happens today)
• There are a few famous graves on the island; composer Igor Stravinsky and his wife Vera lie in the Orthodox cemetery as well as Sergei Diaghilev the head of the Ballet Russe who brought Russian dancers to the West and changed the history of ballet.

Murano

We squeezed back into the water bus (seriously, no claustrophobia allowed here) that passed by the Cimitero and we got off at the next island of Murano. Murano is the home of glass blowing. And, well…that’s exactly all there was to it. There were glass blowing factories, a museum (which was slightly expensive for me), and hundreds and hundreds of shops selling the same things made of murano glass.

glass bell tower murano

Murano glass sculpture in one of the piazzas

glass horse

Hand blown glass horse

glass color

Colors used in glass blowing

To accompany the hundreds of shops, there were thousands of tourists milling about and some restaurants and cafes catering to those tourists.

Very honestly – this island was hell to me. It existed for one thing, to sell to tourists; like a floating mall that I couldn’t get off of until the next boat came. And if you are like me and didn’t really want to buy any blown glass, it was a pretty big waste of time. Ok, I’m being a little harsh as I know plenty of people like to shop, but it just didn’t do much for me. There were a few lovely glass sculptures placed in piazzas, but not nearly enough to entertain me for long. However we spent the afternoon there having lunch and seeing a glass blowing demonstration; I don’t regret it, but next time I would skip it.

Burano

I had been told that this island was picture perfect – a rainbow of colors and cuteness oozed out of it like a newborn baby and it’s tiny little feet. Oozing cuteness is not normally my thing, but I have to admit I was excited about the photography opportunities there. I purposefully did not look at a single image of Burano before going there so that I could be surprised and find my own creativity.

Burano is known for fishing and lace making, so of course you’ll find plenty of lace shops catering to tourists there. However the colorful fishing houses which line the canals are the real draw; it looks as if an Easter egg exploded all over the island! There are even strict rules about painting your house in Burano according to Wikipedia – “if someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colours permitted for that lot.”

colorful alley

Even the little alleys are colorful in Burano

burano italy

The houses have strict color rules to follow.

It was lovely to photograph, but in my opinion the island had a weird feel to it; full of tourists mulling about and very few locals were seen. I wondered if a trip there in the early morning hours would yield scenes of fishermen taking out their boats and give it all a more natural feel.  The island and houses were so picture perfect it was a bit eerie to me, as if Mickey and Minnie were going to jump out from behind a pink home and start waving! Clearly my blood sugar was low and a gelato stop helped my attitude before heading back to the island of Venice on a long boat ride.

Overall, the advice to “Go to the islands!” was pretty sound if you are a typical tourists just looking to shop and take some photos. However if you have only a few days in Venice, then choose wisely based on your travel style.  For me, I loved the photography of Burano, but honestly I could have been just as happy sitting at the Cimitero di San Michele all day and taking photos! The beauty of travel is that it’s different for everyone!

More information:
I found this extremely helpful site on how to organize your self guided Venice Islands Tour from Europe for Visitors
If you are planning a trip to the islands – this should have everything you need in the way of water bus directions, advice, and what to do on the islands.
They warn you in the articles that the water buses can be crowded and they are (and we were in the off season!). I think that potentially doing the islands backwards may make things less crowded as you would be going the opposite way of the crowds. Start at Burano and then go to Murano and stop at the Cimitero at the end if possible.

What’s that? You want see more of the islands?!  We took lots of video footage in Venice so be sure to check out the videos provided by Go with Oh!
View video footage of my visit to the islands

View Burano and Murano Photography:

Disclosure: Go with Oh hosted my apartment lodging in Venice. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!

Your Comments

21 Comments so far

  1. Walter says:

    Hi Sherry,

    I am surprised by the two cemetery photos because when I was there in mid-Feb. earlier this year, they had a strict no photo policy with a big sign right outside the cemetary when arriving by Vaporetto.

    Did you get a special permission or did you just snap those two pics for our sake? ;-)

    I’d be curious as I will definitely return to the cemetary but just hate to be told off by someone that I am not supposed to take photos in case I did against their guidelines.

    Thanks and cheers.
    Walter

    • Sherry says:

      I never saw any sign saying photos were not allowed and there were other people taking photos, so I’m not sure if it changed or not. I certainly wouldn’t have taken them if it had been restricted. Return and see if it has changed or if I just missed the sign!

  2. Lynn says:

    Well call me a typical tourist but I loved Murano and Burano :). I bought a bunch of the glass candy and have delighted in confounding visitors to our house for years with our beautiful fake confectioneries…I don’t remember it being especially crowded, but this was back in 2001…pre 9/11. The one place we didn’t go that I would like to go back and see is the Lido…

  3. Fantastic article Sherry! I missed the islands when I was in Venice. I’m going to have to return.

  4. Lane says:

    I think it’s all in the time of year and day as to what experience you’ll have. I’ve heard raves and rants about the islands.

  5. Laura says:

    I LOVED Burano! I didn’t visit the others but would love to go back. When I was on Burano there was barely a tourist since it was off season and it was soooooo quiet walking around by myself. But because there weren’t many tourists I did get to catch some of the locals- old women sweeping the sidewalks, a few guys cleaning their boats, and a woman hanging laundry. Such a beautiful, bright place!

    • Sherry says:

      Sounds like you had a really special and unique experience there! I would have liked that much more. :)

    • Cami says:

      We spent several hours on Burano one late afternoon-evening in late June. Many residents were outside, including two adorable little girls with a doll buggy and a cat. We enjoyed walking the streets and taking pictures of the technicolor houses and had a lovely meal at a restaurant there. Definitely one of our favorite memories of Italy. We have since recommended a trip to Burano to everyone visiting Venice and they have all had similarly lovely experiences.

  6. Travis says:

    Beautiful photos! I love the colorful houses! Wish I was there!!

  7. Emilia says:

    I didn’t care much for Murano (or Lido, where I’ve been almost 20 years ago – it didn’t impress me much then). But I enjoyed discovering the little alleys in Burano, too…But what I loved more was Torcello: it has a desolate feel that doesn’t suit everyone, but it was very quiet, with very few tourists. The main reason for crossing the little canal from Burano is the cathedral, with one of the most beautiful mosaics I’ve seen. Some lawns to picnic if you want (or some few good restaurants), the views of the lagoon…lovely. Well, memories are dearer because I visited it on my birthday :-)

  8. darngooddigs says:

    It’s always validating to read travel advice that matches what you already decided to do! When we visited Venice a few years ago, we stuck to the main city and just spent several days getting lost and exploring every corner. We never made it to the outer islands, and didn’t regret our decision. That said, if we ever go back, I think we’ll have to go explore Burano and Murano.

  9. Liz says:

    I just returned from Venice. I only visited 2 islands-Murano and Burano. I came to the same conclusion as you about Murano-so touristy, and I didn’t feel like it was anything special. I was pleasantly surprised with Burano, however. I wasn’t expecting what I saw, and the houses were beautiful! I also heard there is a haunted island that no taxis or boats will take you to…which intrigued me to no end!

  10. I’ve never made it out to the islands, but after seeing your photos, I’m thinking maybe it’s worth braving the crowds! Thanks!

  11. Mark H says:

    I visited quite a number of islands including the touristy Burano and a couple of the lesser known ones which are far more interesting with their old chuches and more normal ways of life. I loved the cemetery island. I popped into Burano at 7am in the morning to avoid the onslaught of travellers – locals do get out a bit at time but it was very quiet. I suspect they have probably been “forced” to be virtually nocturnal so overrun their island is during the day.

  12. Russell Smith says:

    Stumbled across your interesting blog tonight. I was wondering the very same thing for my 5 day visit in early August, whether I should give the islands a miss and concentrate my photography more around Giudecca and Dorsoduro. Thanks for the tip.

  13. Barbara says:

    After reading the title of this post I couldn’t wait to read your review. I must admit I came away with the same thoughts as you. We did have enough time in Venice to be able to enjoy both islands of Murano and Burano. We took our time, visited the shops, ate and enjoyed watching the locals go about their business. We also came away with many beautiful and colorful photographs that I can’t wait to share as well. Thanks so much for your insights on traveling to these lovely islands and your beautiful photography as well.

  14. Claudine says:

    I really liked the various glass sculptures in your article. I know that I would love to see those colorful houses in person.


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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