Islands of the Lagoon
Venice is a city of islands (about 100 in all) that lie 4 km or 2.5 miles off the Italian mainland in a shallow, brackish lagoon. Although most of the islands lie close together and are linked by bridges, not all are: Some are accessible only by boat, with trips ranging from about 6 to 45 minutes according to distance. This means you'll need a waterbus ticket to reach the islands, but sightseeing will be free once you get there. (You'll save money with a 12-hour to 7-day tourist card, for more on boats and fares, see our Vaporetto Routes and Vaporetto Fares pages.)
The islands of most interest to tourists are:
San Michele, Venice's public cemetery. The walled island is only a few minutes from the Fondamente Nove vaporetto stop, and it's a surprisingly cheerful place to visit. The Catholic sections are well-maintained, with high-rise mausoleums for the residents' bones (which are usually removed from underground graves after 12 years), while the Reformed and Orthodox sections have the atmosphere of old British or New England churchyards.
Murano, the center of the Venetian Lagoon's glassmaking industry since 1291 A.D. You can visit a factory and watch a glassmaker at work without paying (or buying) anything. The island also has several nice churches and two glass museums, one of which--the Barvovier & Toso Museum--is free.
Burano, traditionally Venice's lacemaking island, which has an interesting lace museum (admission charge) and is famous for its brightly painted houses. A wooden footbridge connects Burano to Mazzorbo, a satellite island with a modern council-housing estate that's worth visiting if you're intrigued by architecture or urban design.
Torcello, which once had a greater population than Venice and is just a few minutes from Burano by a connecting boat line. Even if you're on a tight budget, you should pay to visit the thousand-year-old cathedral with its stunning Byzantine gold and stone mosaics. Buy a combination ticket that includes the tower, which is easy to climb and offers great views of the island and the Lagoon.
The Lido is a residential suburb with a lively shopping district. Cars and buses are allowed, so watch out for the mostly slow-moving traffic. (The island's sightseeing possibilities are minimal, but you can walk to the beach--which is on the opposite side of the narrow island from the boat landing--and wet your feet in the Adriatic Sea.)
For more information on visiting the islands, click the links below. Afterwards, go to the printable list of Venice's Top 11 Free Sights, which you can take on your trip to Venice.
Next page: Printable 'Top 11 Free Sights' list