The Best Kept Secret In Venice: The Islands Of The Floating City

September 14, 2016

Draped over more than 100 small islands, Venice is where the land meets the sea. From a speck of land where glass-making is an art to a happening lido with the world’s oldest Film Festival, Linda Volpe uses her insider knowledge to round up some of the lagoon's most suggestive islands.

Getting lost is going to be the best part of your trip to the so called “Floating City”. It is as if a painter has trailed his brush down Venice’s endless narrow streets and swollen canals: the city is unusual not just in its structure - a car-free haven of islands connected by bridges, but also its timeless beauty and enduring traditions exert a pull on tourists.

Winning people’s heart for centuries, the city has long been the romantic traveler’s darling: it goes without saying that a suggestive gondola ride is as beautiful, and equally expensive, as it gets. Canal Grande cuts through Venice like a brushstroke, offering a breath-taking itinerary enveloped by poignant buildings and significantly steeped in history.

Its uncanny charm encompasses museums, exhibitions or century-old shops, retaining the allure of a city that has transformed itself into a hotbed of creativity, and its traditional eateries, the picturesque and paired down 'bacari' cafe, boast a foodie’s flair that follows right after the art. Venice’s main island certainly doesn't lack attractions but there are plenty of reasons to wander off the usual path. We recommend staying at the central but less-expensive-than-most, Hotel Anastasia which at less than 300 metres away from San Marco square will leave you within good striking distance for taking a 'vaporetto' - a public ferry or a boat-taxi - or even a private speedboat and exploring Venice's islands.

1. Murano - The Glass Island

Glass-blowing on Murano Island, Venice.

If San Marco Square is a must-see option in Venice (which it is), then Murano is just a few steps behind it in terms of importance. Located a 20-minutes boat-ride away from the town’s centre, at first glance the island might look no different from our starting point, featuring the well-known crooked houses and crisscrossed by a network of canals. You'll feel a definitive sense of typical Venetian elegance tinged with a slightly gritty edge, but Murano boasts its own, captivating appeal: it is the homeland of glassblowing techniques that are said to date back to the 8th century. Stroll around and you'll discover that it's dotted with glass shops and factories, with glass-making demonstrations happening daily. See how it's done on a glass factory tour with a workshop demonstration and take home a very special souvenir. 

2. Burano - Colours and Lace

Colourful Burano Island in Venice, Italy.

Painted in hues of blue, yellow and orange, Burano welcomes its visitors with a grid of colourful houses and the distinct feeling of a place where time has stopped. Find respite from the hustle and bustle of the main settlement, get lost in the maze of cobblestone streets, or stand in awe in front of the strikingly beautiful showcase of traditional lace boutiques. If you know where to find Burano's Secret Corners, you can see the best of the island in under an hour giving you more time to explore elsewhere. 

3. Torcello - Mosaic-Making

View of Torcello Island in Venice, Italy

Holding hands with Burano, Torcello rises out of the northernmost end of the Venetian lagoon and shares with its neighbour a palpable sense of energy. Only a handful of locals still reside in the secluded Torcello, a place imbued with a otherworldly feeling and one of the lagoon’s oldest settlement. St. Mary’s church is the village’s historical landmark and a place where the art of making mosaics, and a representation of the Last Judgment in particular, still manages to leave visitors wide-eyed. Pressed for time? Take a combined tour of Murano, Burano and Torcello and you'll see all three of the islands in four hours.

4. Poveglia - Blood-Chilling History

Spooky 'plague' carnival mask from Venice, Italy.

A forgotten islet nestled off the cost of St. Mark’s Square, Poveglia boasts a history that would make the bravest man‘s skin crawl. During the XVI century, the year in which Bubonic Plague brutally hit Venice, it hosted terminally ills Venetians who were brought to its shores to end their lives in misery and awful suffering. Not only that, but in 1966 it became home to an insane asylum. These horrors have left an indelible mark on the island’s history - nowadays, Poveglia is abandoned and carries a reputation for being haunted: it's rumored that the ghosts of the tormented souls who died here never left...

5. San Lazzaro Delgi Armeni - The Monastery

The bell-tower of San Lazzaro degli Armeni island in Venice, Italy.

For too long San Lazzaro degli Armeni has been mercilessly ignored, even by the true-born Venetians. A place where history, religion and Armenian culture are woven together in a monastery that's spread over the island’s entire area, San Lazzaro houses ancient pottery, artifacts, century-old books, breath-taking frescos and, unexpectedly, a fully-fledged mummy. A thorough visit of the monastery must include a chat with the locals - the monastery's friendly monks will provide you with a well-defined insight into Armenian history without mentioning any of the Kardashian sisters. They will also most certainly convince you to buy a few of their homemade products as souvenirs.

6. Il Lido - Beach-Life and Cinema

Beach huts on the Venetian island of Il Lido.

Il Lido is the lagoon’s biggest island, and perhaps its most coveted beach resort. An atmosphere of exclusivity pervades polished streets and fairytale hotels, creating a destination that has been home to the Venice Film Festival since 1936, drawing thousands of cinema aficionados every year. Il Lido is a happening antidote to Venice's busy streets and one really pleasant way to explore the island is to take a bike-ride along the entire eight-mile stretch, stopping to lounge at the sandy beach, stroll down the glittering seaside promenade or take a refreshing dip into crystalline waters.

Have you been to any of Venice's islands? Tweet us @travioor or post a comment on Travioor's Facebook page

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Linda Volpe An incurable dreamer with a thirst for adventure, Italian-born Linda lived in Gothenburg before moving to London at 20 and now plans to relocate to South America. Travelling and writing are her greatest passions.