No trip to Venice is complete without visiting Murano and Burano, the nearby islands where Venetian glass and lace are made.I’d like to begin by showing you the must-see things on Murano, the glass island of Venice. (You will find the link to Burano at the end of this article, so never fear.)
Most first-time tourists spend the majority of their time in Venice seeing the sights around its (rightfully) famous Saint Mark’s Square. Those with a bit more time also try to squeeze in a half-day tour to Murano, where they can watch a glass making demonstration and maybe buy a glass souvenir or two.
However, the more intrepid visitors, with more time and curiosity, will avoid that whirlwind “tourist attraction” experience. Instead, they will spend a day or two on Murano just exploring its back streets and remaining on the lookout for all that the island has to offer.
Perhaps, to be more precise, I should say islands. Actually, Murano is a collection of 7 individual islands, all linked together by bridges.
Getting to Murano
The following morning we walked straight to St. Mark’s Square, where we caught vaporetto line 42 to Murano. Unlike our previous day on Burano, the weather was cool, with wisps of clouds high overhead. As we stepped off the boat we felt as though we had entered a different world. Here was a quieter, more laid-back island with its own Grand Canal and (of course) fascinating shops and sidewalk cafes.
7 things to see on Murano island
Murano has been occupied since Roman times and its centuries of varying architectural styles vie for attention. Unfortunately, our cruise itinerary only gave us a few hours to enjoy what the island had to offer. We couldn’t fit everything in, but here’s my list of the top things we wanted to see. Maybe you’ll have more time and can do more than we were able to.
1. Glass factories
Many of these fornaci offer demonstrations and have a shop for visitors. We didn’t visit because we were told that the best factories prefer to focus on their craft, rather than on tourism. Besides, I enjoy watching glass blowers so much that I have been known to completely lose track of time. Better not to start at all. Maybe another time….
2. Glass museum
If you’re interested in the art of glass making, Museo del Vetro is for you. This is a history museum that showcases Venetian glass techniques over the centuries, and displays varieties of glass from as far back as Egyptian times. The building itself has served a number of purposes over its lifetime: first built as a patrician’s palace, it became home to the bishops of Torcello in 1659, then two centuries later it became Murano’s town hall. It only became a museum when Murano was annexed to Venice in 1923. Admission is €10 (some discounts are available).
3. Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Donatus
Basilica dei Santa Maria e San Donato is known for its 12th century Byzantine mosaics, both on its floor and in its dome. Its floor is similar to Venice’s Basilica di San Marco and the bell tower, like most bell towers, is separate from the Church. While many churches contain the bones of saints, this basilica has the bones of a dragon that was slain by Saint Donatus, hence its name. Or so they say.
4. The Church of Saint Peter the Martyr
Chiesa di San Pietro Martire was built in 1506. It houses the chapel of the Ballarin family and art works by Bellini.
5. Campo Santo Stefano
Campo Santo Stefano is best known for the abstract blue glass starburst sculpture in the middle of the square. Next to it are the Church of St. Stephen and its 19th Century clock tower. As a result, this is one of the most visited spots on the island.
6. Palazzo Da Mula
This was a luxurious summer residence of the Venetian patricians. The ornate facade features large Gothic windows and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Veneto-Byzantine patere and panels from the 12th and 13th centuries.
7. Murano glass shops
The island of Murano is known for its exquisite, hand-crafted glass worldwide. Besides that, there is not much else worth buying, unless you’re in the market for postcards and other standard tourist souvenirs.
Buying glass? Buyer beware.
Because so many souvenir shops try to pass off cheap Chinese counterfeits as Murano glass, true Murano glass is now protected with a trademark. Look for the “Vetro Murano Artistico” trademark decal in the windows of shops and showrooms that sell authentic Murano glass.
Our best tip for visiting Murano
In addition to these 7 “must-see” things in Murano, there’s an even more important “must-do” item you must put on your itinerary: Savor every moment. Avoid the temptation to rush from place to place so you can squeeze everything in. You will miss so much as you pass the island’s many ancient buildings, beginning with all those details that make Murano so uniquely Venetian and the quirky things that its creatives have sprinkled around their island.
Murano isn’t just living in its past glory; it has a fun, modern vibe as well. We got a real kick out of these quirky lamp posts.
The most precious thing about travel is the opportunity it offers to expand your horizons. It’s a chance to see new things, experience new traditions, meet new people, taste new foods.
Italy should not be rushed. Take a bit of time to just sit and watch Murano’s daily life: exasperated mothers with crying children, excited teens with cell phones in their ears, wizened old ladies walking hand-in-hand with their beloved husbands. Sit quietly in a church for a while and savor its peace. Sip a glass of the local wine and enjoy the waiters’ foreign chatter, just because you can. It’s all part of the travel experience.
This is your trip and your opportunity. Seize it.
Continue to Part 2: One Day in Burano, Italy, Murano’s lacy twin
Further reading on Amazon:
- Made in Venice: A Travel Guide to Murano Glass, Carnival Masks, Gondolas, Lace, Paper, & More by Laura Morelli
- Rick Steves Pocket Venice Travel Guide by Rick Steves
- Lonely Planet Venice & the Veneto (Travel Guide)
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