Guide to Burano, Venice's Colourful Island

Chiara Dalla Rosa / © Culture Trip
Photo of Hannah Bergin
30 August 2017

The Venetian Lagoon is an expansive bay in the Adriatic Sea, made up of over 70 named islands and dozens more small islets. Each is distinct in culture and character – from the magnificent hub Venice to privately owned getaways to the smallest specks of anonymous land left to waste away. To the north of the cove is Burano – a dazzling, rainbow-colored fisherman town.

Burano Houses and Gondolas | © Serge Costa/Flickr

Burano is, more specifically, an archipelago of four interconnecting islands, where the people of Altino (a town in the Abruzzo region of central-western Italy) fled to escape a barbarian invasion during the sixth century – at least that’s what is widely believed. The Altinos settled here and over the centuries established a content little community.

Burano Yellow House | © Terence Faircloth/Flickr
Colored Burano Homes | © Mathias Liebing/Flickr
Pink Burano Homes | © Simon/Flickr

The bright colors that distinguish the town today were in fact a deliberate feature in its original development plan. The fishermen who first lived here would paint their houses vibrant shades for two reasons: first, in order to distinguish their property from that of their neighbours and secondly, to be able to see their homes from off-shore.

Reflection in Burano Canal | © Stefano Montagner/Flickr
Burano Waterway | © Oliver Clarke/Flickr
Laundry in Burano | © Simon/Flickr

Legend has it that a siren one day attempted to seduce one of the island’s betrothed fishermen. The siren queen, impressed with his fidelity, rewarded the fisherman by creating a wave from which a beautiful lace wedding veil materialized. A source of admiration and envy throughout the town, Burano’s women attempted to replicate the magical lace veil, originating the famed Burano lace business, which flourished in the 16th century. A school specifically dedicated to the craft was established on the island, and today it is a museum.

Merletto Lace Museum, Burano | © Avital Pinnick/Flickr
Lacework at the Merletto Lace Museum, Burano | © Avital Pinnick/Flickr

Not unlike a Picasso painting, Burano continually entices visitors away from the bustling waterways of Venice, even if only for a day, with its mad jumble of colors guaranteed to cheer the flustered tourist. What is notable, however, is that the town has managed to retain its authenticity. It is still inhabited, for the most part, by farmers and fishermen, who bring a fresh catch to the shores daily (the Burano speciality is the ‘risotto de gò’ – risotto made with the goby fish particular to the Venetian Lagoon).

Burano Seafood Restaurant | © John Bugg/Flickr

There is a very real, distinctly happy Mediterranean community here. Elderly women toddle along the paths, children race through the alleyways, and sea-men gather in groups along the canals laughing and roaring in loud, animated Italian.

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