While Venice is a beautiful and wonderfully diverse city, it’s also rather small. After a number of days spent wandering through the stunning corridors that crisscross the city and admiring art, you may feel inclined to visit one of the smaller islands that surround Venice, such as Murano, Burano, or Torcello.
Of course we can’t be impartial when it comes to choosing a Venetian island to visit, and we wholeheartedly recommend Murano – the home of the most beautiful glassware in the world and the place to experience true Venetian lifestyle of the bygone era. Murano is a tiny island in the Venetian lagoon, just north of Venice proper. Renowned for its glassmaking tradition, the island boasts a population of 5,000 people, many of whom are direct descendants of famous glassmaking families.
The island is rich with culture and tradition and was once used as a refuge for Venetian glass-makers, who were forced by governmental officials to leave the city of Venice in the 1291 and establish their furnaces on Murano. For lovers of art, history, fine craftsmanship, or simply for breathtaking views- Murano is definitely a location to consider. here we give you the scoop on the top 5 things to do on Murano island. And, what’s great, you can actually do all of this in one day and still have time left for a nice dinner either right here on Murano or in Venice, a short vaporetto ride away.
1. Take a Walk Around Town
The island of Murano consists of 7 individual islands linked together by beautiful bridges. While this sounds overwhelming, the whole island actually measures a mere 1 mile, which is easily walkable in 20 minutes.
Much like the city of Venice, Murano has a ‘Canale Grande’ (Grand Canal) that runs down the center, and separates rows of ancient buildings. The main and arguably most impressive building on the island is the municipal building, called ‘Palazzo Da Mula’. This dates back to the 13th century, and features a characteristically gothic facade, popular in Venetian architecture. The canals, along with the island’s three remaining churches, in addition to the beautiful buildings- are reasons enough to take a walking tour of Murano.
2. Visit the Museum of Glass
The Murano Museum of Glass was renovated in early 2016, so the interior is likely to please avid museum goers, who look for a more interactive experience from their travels. The exterior, however, has remained largely the same as when it was built in the early 1300s.
The building, built in typical Venetian fashion, features gothic influences and a distinct touch of opulence. In the late 1600s, it became home to a bishop, who later purchased the property and sold it to his archdiocese. In the 1800s, the building was then sold to the Murano Municipality, who eventually converted it into a very large museum.
The museum itself focuses on the history of glassmaking, and the exhibitions are organized in chronological order, across several floors. This is a convenient way for guests to work their way through the mesmerizing collection of masterpieces, that date back hundreds of years, and give visitors an insight into the Murano of the past.
3. Browse The Glass Stores
Tourists visiting Murano will typically relish in the opportunity to bring home a glass souvenir, and there are no shortage of glass mementos to choose from. However, you should be very careful while picking a Murano Glass piece to make sure you choose one produced by the island’s local artisans and not something that came from the Far East. We authored lots of articles on this subject as the problem of counterfeits has become very significant in recent years due to the flood of cheap factory-made products from outside of Italy. For help in picking an authentic Murano Glass item see our in-depth guide. If in doubt please do not buy anything and move on to another store, or better yet wait till you get home and shop from an online merchant such as GlassOfVenice so you can take your time to select the pieces you love and won’t have to carry heavy glassware with you or wait for it to come from Italy.
If you decided not to shop on Murano, simply wandering around and looking is fun and free. In fact, window shopping is consistently ranked as one of the best activities to participate in while visiting Murano. For this reason, shop owners are accustomed to tourists who opt to browse, and won’t pay any attention to those that choose to admire their products without buying them. Some stores actually double as galleries, to serve this purpose, while others offer cheaper products for customers to consider- as they gaze longingly at the higher end sculptures. Please keep in mind that while many store owners don’t mind you looking, they will object if you decide to take photos.
4. Visit the Duomo Di Murano Santi Maria e Donato
‘Duomo’ is an Italian word that can’t be literally translated, but is most commonly used to refer to a “large” or “main” church. A duomo will typically sit within the perimeter of the main square and will act as the venue for religious events taking place in the area. For this reason, most Italian cities have a Duomo, and Murano is no exception to this rule.
The main church in Murano, called “Santa Maria e San Donato”, is a breathtaking tribute to Italian spirituality. It features a highly detailed mosaic flooring, a brick exterior, and a tall bell tower. The structure as a whole is wonderfully diverse and truly delightful to visit. Many tourists visit the island purely for this church, as it’s internationally renowned, in part thanks to the mosaic flooring that is so rare and unique.
While church visits may not be high on your list of priorities, it’s important to note that as a Catholic country, some of Italy’s most prized possessions lie in their churches. While visiting Italy in its entirety, it’s highly recommended that you take the time to see some of the world’s most beautiful and ornate places of worship (regardless of your personal beliefs), as they are home to stunning works of art and are outstanding examples of medieval and renaissance architecture.
5. Admire The Glass Blowing
Visiting the glassmaking factories is arguably the most popular activity for visitors of the Murano island, and for good reason. Murano is internationally renowned for its history of glassmaking and is recognized as the home of the world’s best artisanal glass. Murano’s worldwide fame has led to some factories opening their doors, and welcoming tourists, in an effort to generate business and increase interest in their products. When deciding to see glass-making demonstrations please know that the top art glass workshops on Murano do not offer glass-making demonstrations to tourists as they consider it a distraction from their main business, and those that do may try to pressure you into buying. The best place to see glass-making without the sales pitch is Abate Zanetti School – the one-of-a-kind school for glass-making. This school offers tours in conjunction with Murano Glass Museum, which are well worth the money and provide a valuable addition to learning the history of Murano’s top craft in the museum. Whether or not you choose to purchase glassware, seeing the glass masters at work is a wonderful way to gain a little insight into the traditional techniques used in Murano glassmaking.
Murano glassmaking largely involves the practice of blowing glass, often in teams, and using a well-choreographed process where the lead master sitting on a special bench is playing the key role in crafting and shaping the object while the helpers assist and also move around in quick sequence to bring the molten glass from the furnace and back. Some factories will offer demonstrations that involve a portion of audience participation, allowing you and your family to experience glassmaking for yourself. Others will walk you through the process, step by step, and allow you to witness Venetian glassmaking from start to finish.
It’s important to note that glassmaking involves the use of furnaces, which can prove significantly hot in summer. If you intend to visit a glassmaking factory in the months of June or July (most of them are closed in August)- it’s highly recommended that you dress lightly and bring plenty of water to help cope with the intense and often overwhelming heat.
We hope these 5 travel tips will help you spend an enjoyable day on Murano and appreciate the beauty, history, and artistry of this island shaped by its tight relationship with the art of glass-making.