Travel Report: Burano Island, Italy.
Burano Island, Italy.
Header image courtesy of Mazzorbo.
The pretty Italian island of Burano sits in the northern Venetian Lagoon, just a forty five minute boat ride from the city of Venice. Home to just two thousand residents, Burano is renowned throughout Italy for its lace production and charming, multicoloured houses. In fact, this tiny island often pops up on magazine lists as one of the most photogenic places in the world! Thus I made sure to include a little Burano time during my long weekend visit to Venice.
It couldn’t have been easier to get there. All I had to do was walk down to the city’s Fondamenta Nova Ferry Terminal and grab one of the water buses (vaporetto) that leave every twenty minutes. Soon enough we were whooshing through the water away from Venice, the city rapidly disappearing behind the thick January fog.
The Island dates back to the 6th century when it was settled by Romans fleeing the mainland because of hostile invaders. According to historians, its first community was most likely a group from Altino in northeastern Italy. Moreover, they reckon those first inhabitants named the island after a grand city gate that once stood in Altino, Porta Boreana.
The island began life as a fishing village and it was the fishermen themselves who began the tradition of painting the houses so that they could always see their homes while out at sea. Even on a dark, foggy day like this one.
Burano Island, Italy.
Over the centuries, people began travelling from all over Italy and beyond to come and see the island’s colourful homes. And the tradition remains strong today, though it’s much more complicated than you might imagine.
For example, if anyone wishes to change the colour of their house, or even apply a fresh coat of paint, they have to send an official request to the Italian government! Then, it’s a case of waiting for the relevant office to send a form in which you choose your desired colour. Apparently, they don’t grant every request, much to the irritation and confusion of local families.
In the last fifty years or so Burano has experienced a major boom in tourism. People love pretty things and the island’s houses have proved exceptionally popular with the Insta selfie-taking crowd. Luckily for me, the vibe was pretty sleepy that January day. In contrast, the summer can get manic, at least that was the case prior to the pandemic.
Much of the foot traffic gathers here on the main street with its huddled row of quaint storefronts. Indeed it is home to restaurants, cafes, bakeries, sweet shops and ice cream parlours. Oh, and let’s not forget the numerous stores selling traditional Burano lace.
Adventures in Italy.
The island’s lacemaking history dates back to the 1400s. With the men often away at sea, local women began meeting to learn and develop the skill. Their handiwork eventually became so good Burano came to the attention of none other than Leonardo da Vinci. Hence he made a special trip here in 1481 in order to pick out some choice cloth for the main altar of Milan Cathedral.
After that, Burano lace started getting exported all across Europe until the industry’s eventual decline in the 18th century. However, its fortunes bounced back somewhat with the opening of a lacemaking school. Today visitors to the island can pop into Burano Lace Museum to delve deep into this history and watch master lacemakers at work.
For me, it was only once I got away from the main street that the full extent of Burano’s charms revealed itself. Within minutes the background chatter faded away and I found myself on quiet if not deserted residential streets.
This allowed me to enjoy the houses close up with hardly anyone around. Just a photographer here and there, a woman hanging laundry from her window and a council worker sweeping the already spotless pavement.
The homes are truly beautiful and often decorated with personalised flourishes of art. There are flowerpots, hanging horseshoes, bronze doorbells and house names carved from wood. Furthermore, I spotted plenty of religious iconography, such as these statuettes of Jesus Christ and Mary placed in a little alcove above a bedroom window.
Burano Island, Italy.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Burano is now home to a small community of artists. Attracted by a simpler way of life, they came here to create in the island’s peaceful backstreets. Often with sea views from their windows as they draw, paint, sculpt and write. Actually, I could see myself in one such studio for an intense month of blogging. It’s a nice daydream.
Burano Island is an undeniably understated place where things move slowly. But it is surely well worth at least half a day when in and around Venice. The houses do not disappoint, especially if you’re lucky enough to come after a street has been freshly repainted.
Just be prepared for some of the buildings to be run down with dirty facades, certainly a world away from some of the sparkling photos posted by certain influencers. This didn’t bother me at all. Rather, I feel the real Burano is so much better and that the enjoyment of the place is all in the details.
For an alternative view of Burano Island and info on how to get there, check out this excellent article from somethingoffreedom.com.
For more Italian adventures, have a look at my article on Venice.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.
Wonderful post on this community and their colourful houses.
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Whether green, yellow, red, blue, purple, orange or pink – you can find almost all colours of the rainbow on the gorgeous Italian island of Burano. I just love how an entire island is a whole place of brightly popping colours – I would find it hard to put down my camera for even one second.
Burano is indeed a photographer’s wet dream. Thanks for swinging by Aiva.
The painted houses are so photogenic Leighton and I like your picture of the lace. On our Easter visit the day we visited these islands it tipped it down with rain!
Ah bummer, I guess I should feel blessed that I only had a bit of fog to contend with. Thanks for stopping by Marion.
At least the reflections from the puddles were quite nice!
You really did Burano Island justice Leighton. I love the coloured houses and neat orderly canal scenes and I’m with you, a few scrapes and chips enhance the authenticity of the local scene. The lacework is exquisite. It must have been nice to get away from the manic main tourist spots. Thanks for sharing. Allan
Thanks Allan, it was such a brief visit but managed to charm me. I really would love to do that month of writing in the off-season, living in one of the houses on a quiet side street.
Love it! I not only want to visit, I want to live there. It reminds of me of certain barrios in Mexican cities. The colors are assigned to maintain a colorful atmosphere. It takes a certain civic attitude to belong and the kind of pride that’s nice to be around. Feels good to know this is an international vibe.
You’re right, the residents deserve credit for keeping it all up and taking pride in even the little details.
I love all the colours, and the way these islands are so far removed from the crazy tourism of St Mark’s Square
Thanks for dropping by Hannah. It’s a charming place and indeed peaceful in the off season.
What a beautiful, colorful place Burano Island is! The reflections of the houses and boats on the canal make charming photos, and I love the neighborhood shots. You are very good at getting into how the real residents of a place live. The laundry shots and the shoes on the windowsill are my favorites. I can’t imagine the tediousness of lace making. I did click on the link you provided, and those women, though immensely talented, must have the patience of saints to sit and make those beautiful pieces. This is definitely a place we would love to visit. Thank you for sharing your insight.
Thanks Kellye, I’m so glad you got a good feel for the place. You’re right, the lacemaking looks tedious, I wouldn’t last an hour I’m sure.
Colourful houses indeed … definitely a tourist magnet 😀. Lace making is also a great skill in Gozo (sister island of Malta). Thanks for sharing Burano Island Leighton … even though it must be amazing to see Burano Island in sunny weather, your photos in the fog certainly brought some mystery to the place.
Thanks Corna, I’m sure Burano sparkles in the summer, but you know antisocial old me ha ha. I think I would still choose grey with less people.
Lovely little island, well worth an excursion from Venice, as of course is its neighbour Murano. However, despite the historical reasons for the coloured houses, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it’s become just a little bit Disney, if you know what I mean. Still very definitely worth seeing though.
Yes I know what you mean. I think I would have come away with a whole different feeling had I visited on a sunny day at the height of the tourist season.
The houses are so charming, glad you got to experience them before all the influencers getting their pics! I think Cinque Terre has the same rule with their houses too. I’m glad billionaires can’t just swoop in and change everything though.
Yes, those pesky billionaires. I would imagine Burano’s touristy appeal grew and grew in the years following my visit. Then again, COVID may have balanced things out a bit.
I took a half-day trip to Burano from Venice in 2018, and it was beautiful. In contrast, I went in June, so it was warm and sunny; I see for you going in January yielded some foggy, but mystical views…and hopefully a bit less hot weather! Burano is certainly Instagram heaven these days, but despite the over-tourism, it still retains a lot of charm in its fisherman and lace-making history!
Glad you enjoyed Burano too, I’m guessing your photos came out beautifully in the June sunshine. Thanks for dropping by Rebecca.
We contemplated taking a day-trip to Burano when visiting Venice, but ended up visiting Verona instead. Glad to see what it looks like through your pictures. It does look very charming with those multi colored houses. That’s crazy about how people need to send an official request to the government to paint their own house!
Well, I would certainly love to do Verona one day. Thanks for taking a look at this charming and somewhat quirky island.
Leighton, now I am genuinely drooling like a baby! Italy is number one on my travel bucket list and I cannot tell you how excited I am about these articles!!!! Thank you! Thank you!
Hey Juliet, great to have you back. Thanks for checking out my articles from Italy, I only wish there were more of them!
Good morning! I’m so sorry I get quiet from time to time. I have a few life challenges that sometimes keep me from catching up with others. My sincere apologies and just know that your travels and how you share them bring such joy!
You are of course welcome to check in anytime and shouldn’t feel obliged. Take good care of yourself Juliet.
I’ve never heard of it but now I want to visit Burano!
Thanks for stopping by Maggie.
I love the vibrant colors, and the reason for them; so the fisherman could keep home in their sights; lovely.
Thanks for taking a look Tricia, it is difficult not to be charmed by Burano. Hope all is well with you in your neck of the woods.
wow, that lace work is incredible! I can’t even imagine how someone could make such intricate and delicate pieces by hand. It definitely has a more artistic feel to it with the colorful homes and the small inviting details everywhere. There is just something so warm and inviting to this place away from the more pomp and tourism of Venice.
Hey Meg, glad you like Burano. I had also hoped to visit another nearby island, Murano (famed for glassmaking), but it wasn’t meant to be. A reason to go back one day I guess. Hope you are well!
The modesty of the houses is so refreshing after the splendour of the Venetian palaces. And the colours! It’s a place I didn’t know much but which now attracts me. Great post!
You’re right, it’s a pleasing change of tone to the grandeur of central Venice. Thanks for your comment.
This brings memories of our visit there. Great images of these charming houses. 😍 such an amazing site.
Definitely on my list if ever I return to Venice – we missed it first time around, inexplicably! Especially if I could come off season as you did, and explore those quieter back streets, I’d be wielding my camera like crazy! I love all your detail shots, like the boots on the windowsill and the little artist’s quote 🙂
Thanks Sarah. Looking back, I wish I’d done the other island, Murano, too. I’m sure you would have a field day on Burano with that lens of yours.
Love the boots, broom and flower pot!
Thanks for dropping by Geoff.
Burano looks so beautiful with the brightly colored houses, and that is really neat to discover the history of their lace making as well!
Glad you enjoyed the article Allie, thanks for stopping by.
Burano looks very charming. I missed it during my trip to Venice – didn’t know about its existence at the time. Will definitely love to visit (preferably off peak season as well) someday.
Hey Amarachi, I’m sure you would get some great shots at Burano. I have been enjoying your moments from Jeonju, a place I also really liked. Hope you had a fantastic trip.
I did, thank you! South Korea, in general was wonderful and I loved Jeonju a lot too!
sorry that I’m a little late to the party on this one. you have presented this beguiling italian island well and have shown a wonderful eye for detail as ever
No worries Stan, I’m glad you got the chance to catch up with this look at Burano Island. Hope you are keeping well.
Thanks for your comment Xena.
Burano is such a poetic and photogenic place. The shots of details are my favourites, and the laundry lines give this place such a peaceful, sleepy vibe. Staying in a studio on a quiet backstreet and enjoying the tranquil pace of life sounds wonderful. The story behind the different colours is so touching. I saw similarly colourful houses in the villages of Cinque Terre and I wonder if those brightly coloured houses originated from the same desire.
Hey Leah, thanks for your observations! I will now have to Google Cinque Terre and have a look. Appreciate you reading and leaving such a nice comment.
Hi all. Thanks for your lovely ‘tour’ of this historic place. We will be in Venice (first time) from November 10th thru the 14th. Is this Island “open” then? Any ideas would be helpful. Much thanks.
Hey, thanks for reading! The island is open all year round, so no worries there. I think just the museum is closed on Mondays.
Oh, thanks for the speedy reply. We hope to go. Thank you so much.
Love the colors. How interesting that it’s a controlled process to be approved. Usually historic places are more concerned with changes to the architecture. The laundry in front of the blue house is my favorite.
Thanks for checking out this piece on Burano Island, Ruth. You’re right that it’s curious to have such a song and dance about the colour. I suppose it’s to make sure that nobody covers their house in polka dots or tiger stripes.
I’ve been several times to Venice but have only visited Murano island, not Burano.maybe some other time, nice photos.
Thanks for your comment Tanja. I didn’t make it to Murano, so that would be on my list if I ever make it back.
This looks like such an amazing trip – definitely going to add Burano to my list of places to visit. I’m heading to Italy early next year but sadly am not going to make it up to Venice.
Hey, thanks so much for reading, leaving a comment, and indeed for following Leighton Travels. I hope you have a great time in Italy next year, where are you heading?
I’ll be doing Rome, Florence and Perugia
Wow, what an incredible place! Thanks for posting.
Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!
I love the colourful houses, nice and cheerful.
Thanks for your comment.
Looks like an amazing place to visit!
Thanks for your comment, Greg.
Italy is pure magic.
Thanks for the shots
Such stunning photos 🥰
Thanks for your comment!
Always follow your blog ☺️
“You may have the universe if I may have Italy” – not surprising words perhaps coming from an Italian, however, I feel that the old Verdi had a bit of a point there. A charming place, Burano. I’d love to go back to Italy and see more of the southern part.
Nice quote, Anoush. I too would love to see more of Italy one day. Like you the southern part of the country particularly appeals. How Sladja and I would love to spend a month or two living in Sicily. Thanks so much for plugging through my recent articles, it is much appreciated.
I love all the pictures and wish I could visit one day
Thank you for reading and commenting Salwa, Burano Island is such a pretty place and an easy half day trip from Venice.
Thanks for your comment!