Top 10 Islands to Visit in the Venetian Lagoon

Located in the Northeast of Italy, the Venetian Lagoon is an enclosed bay in the Adriatic Sea. It may surprise you to hear that Venice and the lagoon is peppered with over 150 islands, both natural and man-made. Its vast waters spreads from Venice as far as the eye can see, and its islands are a popular travel destination. With so much culture and variety to explore, it’s no wonder the Venetian lagoon is visited by millions of tourists every year!

With over 150 to choose from, it’s difficult to decide which of the Venetian lagoon islands to visit first. If you’re struggling to decide which islands are a must-visit, then read on to peruse our top 10 picks…

Venice Lagoon
Venetian Lagoon

1. Burano, the ‘Island of Lace’

45 minutes’ boat ride from Venice lies the island of Burano with its  brightly coloured houses and  canals that line the streets that overlook the Venetian lagoon. Local legend says that all the houses on Burano should be painted in bright colours, so that local fishermen could see where they’re going in the common morning fog. As well as a fisherman’s island, Burano is also famed for its lacemaking that dates back to the 16th century, when islanders began making lace with fine needles. Lace played such an important role for Burano, that in 1481 Leonardo da Vinci travelled to the then Venetian-run Cyprus to retrieve some Burano lace, to be placed on the altar of Milan Cathedral!  At the height of its power, Burano exported lace all over the world. Today, Burano is renowned as the ‘Island of Lace’,  and skilled artisans still  hand-embroider stunning pillows and fabrics to keep its tradition alive.

Modern day Burano has around 3000 inhabitants. A top attraction on this Venetian lagoon island is the leaning bell tower, which can be seen from the water. There is also the Lace Museum, where visitors can view an array of beautiful items dating back to the height of lacemaking during the seventeenth century. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to taste a ‘Burano cookie’ from a local bakery before you leave the island, for a fully authentic experience!

Burano, the ‘Island of Lace’.
Burano, the ‘Island of Lace’

2. Sant’Erasmo, the ‘market garden’ of Venice

Sant’Erasmo is known as the Venetian lagoon’s ‘market garden’, because of its reputation as food provider to Venice. On arrival at the island, you’ll immediately see why: a vast expanse of flat land will greet you and you’ll see nothing but farms and agricultural smallholdings. It’s hard to believe that this quiet island is just 7 kilometres from the bustling metropolitan city of Venice!

When you visit the Venetian lagoon island of Sant’Erasmo, don’t miss an opportunity to see the famed artichoke plantations. A huge fort from the Napoleonic era dominates a part of the island. The fort of Maximillian was built between 1843 and 1844 and served as a base for the Italian Army until as recently as the First World War. A trip to Sant’Erasmo would not be complete without a visit the island’s Orto Winery – the only winery within Venice’s boundaries that dates back to the 18th century.

Artichokes growing on the garden island of Sant Erasmo
The market garden of Sant’Erasmo

3. Murano, and its famous glassware

Murano is a collection of seven islands that are located 1.5 kilometres North of Venice in the Venetian lagoon. This picturesque area is navigable via its eight canals and stunning, arched bridges. World-famous for its glass-making industry, its inhabitants have been exporting glass since 1291. It was on this island that Venetian mirrors, beads, and other products were made, then traded internationally by merchants from Venice.

Visitors to Murano shouldn’t miss an opportunity to visit one of the famous glassworks factories that still operate on this Venetian lagoon island. Some premises date back to medieval times, though many of the factories have changed hands since that period. For a complete understanding of the glassmaking industry of Venice, head to Murano Glass Museum, which has a collection of items on display from Egyptian times to the present day.

Murano, and its famous glassware by Lauren Yakiwchuk
Murano, and its famous glassware.

4. Lido, the beach island

This popular beach destination is known for its long stretches of sandy beaches, which open out into the green-hued Adriatic Sea. A far cry from the busy island of Venice, Lido is easy to reach by ferry and has a more glamorous, yet laid-back environment and has been a popular holiday spot for the wealthy since the 19th century. Famed for its Liberty architecture and design across the many grand hotels – Lido is home to the ultra-glamorous Venice Film Festival which takes place in Castello, opposite the port of Santa Maria Elisabetta.

Lido is 11 kilometres in length but extremely narrow, being mostly lined with beaches and resorts on both sides.

If you’re a golf-lover, then why not seize the opportunity to tee off at the Circolo Golf Venezia, where you can enjoy views of the Venetian lagoon? Then, after dark, head to the Venice-facing side of the island for romantic night-time views of the city. If you’re looking to enjoy the Venetian lagoon island of Lido at its most glamorous, then stay during August or September.

Lido, the beach island of Venice
Lido, the beach island

5. Pellestrina, the gateway to the Adriatic Sea

Along with the Venetian lagoon island of Lido, Pellestrina forms part of a natural barrier to protect Venice from the Adriatic Sea. This unusual island was once nothing more than some sand banks, but now has houses facing the Venetian lagoon and a tall white sea wall facing the Adriatic Sea. Some buildings are brightly painted, and others have a rustic look which seems more traditional.

Explore the sea wall by climbing the steps, which can be found at intervals along the wall. You will see scrub and beaches on the other side – this area isn’t so popular with tourists! The little island has a much calmer atmosphere than Venice, but still has a work ethic. As you walk along the lagoon shore on the walkway, you will see the island’s fishing fleet moored there.

Pellestrina, the gateway to the Adriatic Sea.
The village of Pellestrina is one of four on the island of the same name

6. San Lazzaro degli Armeni, home to Armenian monks

Known in English as ‘Saint Lazarus of the Armenians’, the Venetian lagoon island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni has been home to an Armenian Catholic monastery since 1717. This tiny, square island is only 7.4 acres in size and has been enlarged on four occasions through land reclamation. San Lazzaro degli Armeni started life as a leper colony in the Middle Ages but a monastery was founded in the early eighteenth century, when the island was settled by Armenian Catholics.

San Lazzaro degli Armeni
San Lazzaro degli Armeni

7. San Servolo, the island of the psychiatric hospital

The Venetian lagoon island of San Servolo has a taboo history: it was once the location of an asylum for patients suffering with mental health conditions. Once a home to religious orders, the island was transformed into a military hospital, then an asylum in the early eighteenth century. In 1932, it was elevated to status of a psychiatric hospital and Italian Prime Minister, Benito Mussolini, had his wife admitted to the facility.

San Servolo now has a special museum dedicated to the island’s psychiatric hospital. The museum explores themes of social exclusion and marginalisation through its exhibitions, shedding light on historic perceptions of mental illness. Visitors to the museum can also explore an eighteenth-century pharmacy, anatomical room, and library. Furthermore, San Servolo is now the home of Venice International University and is credited with some of the most beautiful parkland and exotic gardens that can be seen in the Venetian lagoon.

San Servolo Venezia
San Servolo, the island of the psychiatric hospital

8. San Francesco del Deserto, the deserted island

Between the Venetian lagoon islands of Burano and Sant’Erasmo is San Francesco del Deserto. The island is home to a Franciscan monastery, which was founded by San Francesco d’Assisi in 1230 after the Fifth Crusade in the Holy Land. The island added ‘del Deserto’ to its name in the middle ages when it was temporarily abandoned because of disease and plague.

Visits to San Francesco del Deserto are by boat and on arrival, guests will see a tall wooden cross and cobblestone road that leads up to the monastery. Inside the monastery walls, visitors can enjoy a tour of the medieval cloisters, church, and idyllic gardens filled with fruit trees and flowers. Not to be missed are the terraces overlooking the Venetian lagoon, which allow stunning views of the island of Burano.

San Francesco del Deserto, the deserted island
San Francesco del Deserto, the deserted island

9. San Giorgio Maggiore, and the great basilica of Venice

You may not realise, but the island of San Giorgio Maggiore is one of the most photographed places in the Venetian lagoon. Situated a stone’s throw away from the pontoons of Venice, San Giorgio Maggiore is home to one of the most impressive basilicas you will ever set eyes upon. Its shores are lined with gondolas, making it one of the most ‘Venetian’ sights you’ll see in the lagoon.

Visitors to the island can explore the impressive marble basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, which contains some of the most important artworks in Venice. This enormous structure has three floors filled with paintings by Tintoretto and holds the ‘Madonna enthroned with Saints’ by Sebastiano Ricci. If you’re not an art lover but enjoy climbing to a grand height to enjoy the views, then the Basilica’s Campanile is well worth scaling. With views over Venice equal to what can be seen from the Campanile di San Marco, this Venetian lagoon island is a must for sightseers.

San Giorgio Maggiore, and the great basilica of Venice.
San Giorgio Maggiore, and the great basilica of Venice

10. San Michele, the cemetery island

The Venetian lagoon island of San Michele has had a very colourful history and been used for many different purposes. From serving as a stop-over to fishermen and monks, to being a prison and then a cemetery. Today, it is known as Venice’s burial island, and bodies are taken to San Michele in funerary gondolas.

This Venetian lagoon island has two churches, named Isola di San Michele and San Cristoforo. The church of San Michele is the older, larger church of the two, dating to the 1460’s. It has a beautiful white façade of Istrian marble and a chapel that overlooks the waters of the Venetian lagoon. The church is built so close to the water’s edge that the terrace frequently floods and is splashed by passing boats. The graveyard is peaceful and reflective and contains the remains of many Venetians. It also bears the tombs of the ballet patron, Sergei Diaghilev, the composer, Igor Stravinsky, and the poet, Ezra Pound.

San Michele, the cemetery island
San Michele, the cemetery island

Here’s some important facts about the Venetian lagoon islands:

What is the Venetian lagoon?

The Venetian lagoon is an enclosed bay in the Adriatic Sea

How many islands are in Venice and its lagoon?

The city of Venice is made up of 118 islands, connected by over 400 bridges above sweeping canals that welcomes millions of tourists each year. Its lagoon is home to over 40 islands that are not connected to Venice, such as Burano, Murano and Sant’Erasmo. Not all of the islands in the Venetian Lagoon are inhabited.

What is the largest island in the Venetian lagoon?

The largest island in the Venetian lagoon is Murano

How big is the Venetian lagoon?

The Venetian lagoon is 550 square kilometres in size

Which Venetian lagoon island has the largest population?

Venice has the largest population of the Venetian lagoon islands, having over 50,000 inhabitants

La Bella Vita
La Bella Vita

Discover the Venetian Lagoon aboard La Bella Vita

Discover European Waterways’ Venetian Lagoon Cruise aboard 20-passenger hotel barge La Bella Vita, visiting many of the island mentioned above plus so much more. La Bella Vita also cruises between Venice and Mantua. For more information delivered to your doorstep, order a free copy of our brochure or perhaps have a no-obligation chat with a member of our team via our Contact Form.

Share this article