Lagoon tour by boat

The Fortress of Sant'Andrea from the 1500s

A boat tour in the Venetian Lagoon is probably the only way to somehow get “off the beaten track” in Venice.

Thirty to forty million visitors come to Venice each year. Thousands will therefore find their way into even the darkest, narrowest and most obscure alleyway. The situation is not much different on Murano, Burano and the Lido di Venezia, for that matter.

There is, however, a lot more to Venice than just the city and the main islands. The entire Venetian lagoon is full of history, culture and, of course, nature. There’s a lot to see and experience, but except for the major islands, it isn’t really accessible.

Boat tour in the lagoon

Do you want to see the 1500s Forte di Sant’Andrea and the scarce remains of its twin, the Forte di San Nicolò?

Do you wonder what the MOSE project actually looks like?

Do the story of the island of Poveglia, its role in the War of Chioggia in the Middle Ages, as a quarantine station for the black plague and the modern ghost stories invented by the media intrigue you?

Each of these places are within range of a boat ride of about an hour from Venice.

A slightly longer boat tour can get you to Torcello, Sant’Ariano, Lio Piccolo or San Francesco del Deserto to the north, or Poveglia, Malamocco, Isola Campana, Sant’Angelo della polvere or San Giorgio in Alga to the south.

Islands like Lazzaretto Nuovo, San Lazzaro degli Armeni and San Francesco del Deserto, where the owners offer guided visits, are easily within reach.

On some islands we can land, while others are out of bounds, either because they’re privately owned, or because there are restrictions on them. I have made a list of most of the islands, and an interactive map of the lagoon islands with their location.

Practical matters

A boat tour in the lagoon takes time. Just the travelling time from Venice to Burano to the north or to Poveglia to the south is an hour each way.

It therefore doesn’t make sense doing tours of less than half a day.

A boat tour in the Venetian lagoon, starting from Venice, must necessarily be either to the north or to the south. Otherwise, all the time passes going from one end of the lagoon to the other.

If we’re visiting abandoned islands, expect collapsed walls, brambles and insects. So, wear good shoes and practical clothes.

Example itineraries

Half day in the northern lagoon

In four hours we can go from Venice to one of the islands Fortress of Sant’Andrea, Lazzaretto Nuovo or San Francesco del Deserto, passing the other islands in the boat. A visit to one island usually takes at least an hour, and often more.

A round-trip — without spending much time on any single island — can get us to Torcello and back by different routes, passing many islands along the way.

Full day north

In six to eight hours we’ll have time to visit at least two islands, spending some time there, while getting quite a bit around the lagoon by boat. There’ll be time for a picnic somewhere with a packed lunch.

There are places at Sant’Erasmo, Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello where we can stop and eat, but my experience is that once you sit down at a table, at least two hours will pass there.

Half day in the southern lagoon

The southern lagoon is more abandoned than the north. On a half-day tour we can get to Poveglia, spend some time there, and then return to Venice by another route.

Full day south

A full day around the southern lagoon will involve a lot of island hopping, but the islands that can be visited are few.

There will be time to go south along the Lido, passing the islands of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Lazzaretto Vecchio to Poveglia and Malamocco, then around to Batteria ex-Poveglia, Isola Campana, Sant’Angelo della polvere, and San Giorgio in Alga.

There are several island hotels, and a handful of privately owned, inaccessible islands south of Venice.

Some islands, like the Isola Campana, Batteria ex-Poveglia and San Giorgio in Alga, are only accessible if the tide is high enough. Due to the ruinous state of the islands, the lagoon bottom is covered in stones.

What others said

October 2, 2023

I walked with Rene for two days in September and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m fairly good on my European history, so quite demanding but I learned so much. I especially recommend visiting some of the lagoon islands!

David
Verified

Prices and booking

A half-day tour (four hours) is €200 for 1–2 persons, and €300 for 3–4.

A full-day tour (six to eight hours) is €350 for 1–2 persons and €500 for 3–4 persons.

Booking is by email. Just drop me a note with what you’d like to do, when you’ll be here, and how many you are.

I need a deposit of €100 to accept the booking. If I cancel a tour, for whatever reason, I’ll return the deposit in full.

The price includes the boat, petrol, and my guiding fee.

Entry fees or contributions to islands like Lazzaretto Nuovo, San Francesco del Deserto, and San Lazzaro degli Armeni are not included.

A guide visit to the Lazzaretto Nuovo with me as the guide is €100, to be paid directly on the island. The monasteries generally don’t do tickets, but they do require some kind of contribution, usually in the range of €10-€20 per person.

No food or drink of any kind is included in the price, but you’re free to bring your own.

Fun and play

Food and drink in the boat is not a problem. Neither is a glass of wine, but I will not have drunk people on the tours.

It is possible to go for a swim from the boat. It is not safe everywhere, but I know where and when we can do it.

Experience and safety

I ran a kayaking company in Venice for over ten years, so I know the lagoon and its islands better than most. So, whatever you’d like to do in the lagoon, I’d be able to tell you if it’s possible, if it’s safe, and know how to take you there in the best possible way.

My boat is a 6m topetta, with a legal capacity of up to four passengers. It has a 10 HP petrol engine, so it’s not a racing boat, but it’ll get us where we want to go.

Caveats

With boating and nature, there’s always a “but.”

I do not do boat tours after dark. All tours must start after sunrise and well before sunset. I do not go to the Redentore Feast by boat.

Boat tours are subject to the weather and the tide.

The weather in Venice can be quite variable and unpredictable, at all seasons. Often a forecast is only reliable for a few days.

Needless to say, there’s little fun, and less safety, in being in a small open boat in the lagoon under the rain, in a dense fog, or worse, in a thunderstorm.

The tide is a part of life in Venice. The water rises for six hours, and it falls for six hours, as the Venetians like to say. The tidal excursion is up to 1.2m at spring tide. Consequently, there are places which are out of bounds at low tide, the surrounding canals are shallow.