Most visitors to Venice head directly into the city, La Serenissima, and then venture off to their next destination in Italy or Europe. But the charm of the canals and the Venetian spirit can easily get lost in the hordes of tourists, which is why savvy travelers head to the nearby islands, such as Burano. With fewer crowds and a more genuine feel, this historical fishing village offers another side of life on the Venetian Lagoon.
Today, Burano is still a quiet village with about 2,000 full-time residents and its main industry is tourism, with day trippers from Venice coming to buy lace and photograph the colorful and picturesque canals. It's much quieter and more laid-back than the big city, and while the small town can definitely feel crowded on a busy summer day, it's nowhere near as popular as Venice. If you want to experience the magic of the canals and the picturesque buildings in a much more relaxed atmosphere, Burano is the place for you.
A Bit of History
Although earlier Roman remains have been found on Burano, the island was permanently settled in the sixth century by people fleeing hostile invaders on the mainland. Burano is still an active fishing village and its residents have always relied on the lagoon for sustenance. Although the neighboring island of Torcello was politically and strategically more important, it was abandoned and Burano rose to prominence in the 16th century because of the high demand for its lace. Women in Burano have always made the lace by hand and although lacemaking waned in the 18th century, it was later revived once again.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: Tourism in Burano corresponds with tourism in Venice, so the biggest crowds can be found in the summer months and around Carnival. Spring and autumn are both great seasons to balance out good weather with fewer tourists. Winter is the low season and everything is cheaper, but be aware that if it rains a lot, Burano is prone to flooding.
- Language: The most-spoken language is Italian, although if you have an ear for languages, you may hear locals speaking the local Venetian dialect. Since Burano depends on tourism, many restaurant, hotel, and shop workers also speak varying levels of English, French, Spanish, and German.
- Currency: As with the rest of Italy and most countries in Europe, Burano uses the euro (€). Credit cards with chips are accepted at many locations, although smaller stores or eateries may not accept them.
- Getting Around: The island is small enough to explore on foot, but biking is also possible. There are no motor vehicles on the island, which only adds to the sensation of exploring a Venetian Renaissance town. To move around the canals, water taxis and gondolas are available, just as in the city of Venice.
- Travel Tip: Buyers should beware of any lace that costs less than $50, because it's likely not the real thing. Real Burano lace takes a long time to make and even the smallest piece of lace could take weeks to finish. Just one tablecloth may take a team of women up to a whole year to complete and can cost up to $500 or more.
Things to Do
Most visitors are drawn to Burano's brightly colored houses that line its boat-filled canals. The tradition of painting houses in this manner is said to relate to the island's heritage as a fishing village—the bright colors made it easier for returning fishermen to find their homes in the thick fog of the lagoon. It is also said that the Burano residents favor the bright paint as a way of marking where one property ends and another begins.
The island's next biggest attraction is lace production. Although Burano is still famous for its lace today, there are only a handful of traditional lacemakers remaining on the island. Many visitors come to buy lace in Burano but, unfortunately, a lot of stores sell cheap imitation lace, much of it made outside of Italy.
- If you're coming to Burano for the lace, you'll want to start your visit with a stroll through the Museo del Merletto, the lace museum. This way, when you start shopping for lace on the island, you'll know exactly what you're looking for.
- To see lace being made in real-time, head to Martina Vidal, where lacemakers have been tatting for four generations. This atelier has three floors of lace clothing, housewares, and gifts. And if you can't find what you're looking for there, Emilia Burano is another good shop to find authentic lace.
- Although it may not be as famous as the one in Pisa, it's worth noting that Burano also has a leaning tower. The former bell tower of the 17th century San Martino Church is a great spot for pictures.
- To learn more about the history and way of life on the lagoon, you can take a boat tour with Domenico and Enrico of Pescaturismo Nettuno. Both are fishermen who are deeply committed to preserving the natural beauty and native traditions of Burano and the lagoon. On this tour, you'll get to ride in an authentic bragosso, a fishing boat, while supporting sustainable tourism in Burano.
What to Eat and Drink
Being an island, seafood is the specialty of the area. Freshly caught fish from the surrounding lagoon and the Adriatic Sea are prepared in restaurants throughout Burano, with local highlights including cod cooked in butter or cuttlefish prepared in its ink. If you aren't a fan of seafood, then try polenta, which originally comes from the Venice region. And you can almost never go wrong with a pizzeria in Italy.
As with most places that cater to tourists, it can be difficult finding local restaurants with high-quality food. Trattoria da Primo e Paolo just a short walk off of the main square serves some of the best seafood, while Trattoria a Gatto Nero has been a Burano legend since 1965.
For a truly authentic Venetian experience, seek out a local wine bar, or bacaro. These homey bars specialize in house wines and little tapa-sized snacks called cicchetti, perfect for an early evening pick-me-up between lunch and dinner. Even though vino is the Italian word for wine, do like the locals do and order an ombra when you're in a bacaro. These are small glasses of regional wine that usually cost just a couple of dollars, at most.
Where to Stay
There are some Airbnb options on Burano, but there are only a few hotels such as the Casa Burano, which offers sleek modern rooms spread out over three traditional, colorful houses. It's easy to just visit for the day and return to Venice later, but spending the night on Burano is a magical experience. After the daytime crowds head back to their hotels in Venice, the canals go quiet and residents come out to talk and play cards, fishermen tend to their boats, and church bells call worshippers to mass. It's a quiet, authentic side of Venice that few tourists get to see.
Few cities offer maritime public transportation, but for the islands around the Venice Lagoon, it's the only way to get around. Take Line 12 of the vaporetto ferry to get to Burano and other islands, which leaves Venice from the Fondamente Nove dock. A one-way journey costs 7.50 euros, or about $9, and the trip takes roughly 40 minutes.
You could take a private water taxi from Venice to Burano, but be prepared to pay for it. A water taxi from Venice to Burano comes out to about $130 euros or more, which converts to over $160.
Money Saving Tips
- Avoid the high season of tourism to save on flights and accommodations, which lasts all summer and during holiday periods such as Christmas break and Carnival (Mardi Gras).
- To get to Burano, use public transportation. Taking a water taxi can eat up your entire day's budget, while the vaporetto ferries are inexpensive and a thrill to ride.
- Look at accommodations in Burano instead of just spending the day. Most tourists choose to stay in Venice, so you can usually save some euros (and have a more authentic experience) by sleeping in Burano.
- Don't feel obliged to leave a tip. Many restaurants in the Venice area add on a coperto surcharge per diner, so check the bill. If there's no extra charge and the service was good, leave an extra euro or two in a casual bar and about a 10 percent tip in nicer restaurants.