Most first-time visitors to Venice spend the majority of their time around its (rightfully) famous Saint Mark's Square. Those with a bit more time in Italy also fit in a visit to Murano, a nearby island. This is the place to go if you're interested in the famed Murano glass, where you can watch a glass making demonstration and maybe buy a Venetian glass souvenir or two.
It's got a totally different atmosphere and you'll enjoy it.
Where to stay on Murano
In case you are wondering, we stayed at Hotel Paganelli near St. Mark’s Square, and it was a perfect location. But if you want to try something a little more unusual, consider staying on the glass island for a while so you can enjoy all Murano has to offer.
Or perhaps I should be more precise and say islands. Murano is actually a collection of 7 individual islands, all linked together by bridges. Imagine exploring after the tourists leave for the day!
Getting to Murano
Even if you have limited time in Venice, you can still fit in a quick trip to Murano, as it is only a few minutes' journey by vaporetto.
Getting to Murano is pretty straightforward. On our second day in Venice, we walked straight to St. Mark's Square, where we caught vaporetto line 42 to Murano. Unlike our trip to Burano, the weather was cool, with feathery wisps of clouds high overhead.
Stepping off the boat brought us to a different world. Here was a quieter, more laid-back island with its own Grand Canal and (of course) fascinating shops and sidewalk cafes.
Murano has been occupied since Roman times, and each century brought its own architectural style to the island. They are still there, all vying for attention, and that makes Murano that much more attractive.
What to see in Murano Island
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 were able to see. Maybe you'll have more time and can do more than we were able to.
Tip: For an organized excursion, Get Your Guide offers plenty of options with specific start- and stop times, such as this popular Murano and Burano Half-Day Glass and Lace Tour. For more things to do in Murano, check out this page.
1. Museo del Vetro 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).
- Find it at: Fondamenta Giustinian 8, Murano, Venice, Italy, +39 041 5274718
2. Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato
Dating from the 7th century, the Basilica of Saint Mary and Saint Donatus is the duomo for Murano Island. Inside, exquisite, Ravenna-quality Byzantine mosaics cover its floor and dome. Outside, the bell tower, like most bell towers, is separate from the Church.
While many churches contain the bones of saints, this basilica contains more than just the relice of St. Donatus. Suspended behind the altar are four rib bones, measuring more than 1 meter long. According to legend, these bones came from a dragon that St. Donatus slew in Greece. Who knows? Maybe it's true.
- Find it at: Campo San Donato 11, Murano, Venice, Italy
3. Chiesa di San Pietro Martire
The Roman Catholic Church of Saint Peter the Martyr was built in 1506 and still functions as a parish church. This naked brick building is popular with tourists because it houses the chapel of the Ballarin family, notable for their glassmaking skills, as well as excellent Renaissance art works by artists such as Tintoretto and Bellini.
- Find it at: Chiesa di San Pietro Martire, Murano, Venice
4. Campo Santo Stefano
Campo Santo Stefano is best known for Simone Cenedese's ‘Comet Glass Star,' an abstract blue glass starburst sculpture in the middle of the square. Next to it are the Church of St. Stephen and a 19th century clock tower. Both dominate the island and can be seen from far away.
Maybe as a result, this is one of the most visited spots on the island.
- Find it at: >Campo Santo Stefano, Murano, Venice, Italy
5. Palazzo da Mula
The Palazzo da Mula is one of the last remaining examples of Venetian Gothic architecture. The building was once a luxurious summer residence of the Venetian patricians, who could afford an ornate facade with large Gothic windows. A garden and courtyard made Palazzo da Mula unique among Venetian palaces due to the high price of land in the island empire.
- Find it at: Fondamenta da Mula, Murano, Venice, Italy
6. Glass factories
As a precaution against fires, the Doge of Venice ordered all Venetian glass makers to move their furnaces (fornaci) to Murano in 1291. This worked out well, as glass was becoming a coveted craft, and this kept the workshops safe. Curious eyes were eager to steal the secrets of the trade. It didin't take long for Murano to become associated with the most coveted and high quality glass in the world.
Their reputation has been secured, so these days many of Murano's glass factories offer demonstrations and have a shop for visitors. We didn’t visit any during our day on the island because
- We had read that the best factories prefer to focus on their craft, rather than on tourism, and
- I enjoy watching glass blowers so much that I have been known to completely lose track of time.
Better not to start at all, we thought. Only later did we find out that time-pressed visitors like us can take a 40-minute factory tour. *sigh* Maybe next time.
Tip: Beware of the scams offering a “free” excursion to see the glassworks at Murano or the lace-making in Burano. You’ll pay for your “free” ride with the grossly overpriced shops you’re escorted to, often at higher prices than you thought you’d agreed to. In the long run, it might be cheaper to pay for a vetted tour guide who will bring you to reputable vendors.
7. Glass shops
Murano is best known worldwide for its exquisite, hand-crafted glass. If you're not in the market for glass and just want to look, visiting a shop is still fun. Also remember that many glass factories have showrooms where they display their best products.
Besides its glass, few other sourvenirs are worth buying as a memento of your visit. Don't waste your time in a souvenir shop. That is, unless you’re in the market for postcards and other standard tourist stuff.
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.
Tip: No matter where you travel, never sign a contract that’s not in English, and use a healthy dose of skepticism if anyone offers to “translate” it for you.
Explore the island of Murano
In addition to these “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 by rushing past the island's many ancient buildings, beginning with all those details that make Murano so uniquely Venetian and ending with the quirky things that its creatives have sprinkled around their island.
Murano doesn't just live 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. Take your time and make the most of it.