EXPLORING VENICE’S OUTER LAGOON BY SUP/Stand Up Paddleboard
An forgettable perspective on the quiet side of Venice’s lagoon.
Everyone pictures canals — and crowds — when they picture Venice, but did you know Venice is only one island (actually, many tightly interconnected islands) at the edge of a huge lagoon? And did you know the outer lagoon can be a placid, tranquil place to explore abroad your own paddleboard/SUP?
I didn’t discover this until my third visit to the area, when I took a ferry to visit the outer lagoon islands of Burano and Torcello for the first time. All the peaceful canals winding off in different directions there begged to be explored, and I knew paddleboarding would be the perfect way to do it. So, a year later, I set off for Venice again, this time with my SUP. I had a fabulous, safe, solo adventure exploring the outer lagoon on my stand up paddle board. I doubt I’m the first, but I haven’t come across any other accounts of such a venture, so I have compiled these notes in case you’re interested. I know I’ll be heading back for more aquatic exploration soon!
(Note: since I was paddleboarding alone, I don’t have lots of good pictures. I used my time to enjoy the scenery rather than engineering complicated selfies. Sorry! I hope the photos here will at least give you a taste of what awaits on this unique adventure.)
EXPLORING VENICE’S OUTER LAGOON BY SUP
First, one caveat. I only paddled in open water, wide channels, or through quiet back canals. I did not paddle through the “inland” canals of Burano or Torcello (and certainly not Venice) as I felt it would be frowned upon. I only recommend paddling in public waterways you’ll have to yourself. There are plenty, and you’ll only encounter the lucky few with their own means of transportation out there. Most of the time, that means meeting nobody!
Second, you should not set off on your own if you’re a beginner. You don’t need to be an expert, but you should know how to paddle efficiently, maintain balance, etc. Tips on appropriate SUPs are listed below.
Burano (and neighboring Mazzorbo, connected by a bridge) is the perfect “base camp” for exploring the outer lagoon (see below for accommodations and other information). By day, this little island is packed with day trippers, but by evening, it quiets down again. This suited me perfectly since I was out paddleboarding in remote, quiet areas during the day and only ventured out on foot in the evenings.
Venice’s outer lagoon is a maze of waterways, islets, and mud banks, so it’s important to have a means of orienting yourself. Before leaving for my trip, I used Google Maps’ “satellite view” and zoomed in on the greater Burano area, printed these off, and stuck them in plastic sleeves to use as a reference on the water. The maps here are freehand sketches not perfectly drawn to scale, but they’ll give you an idea of what each route encompasses.
Every morning I set off for a 2-4 hour exploration in a different direction. Here are my favorite routes and destinations:
Exploring ruins north of Burano by SUP - La Cura and Sant’Ariano
(see sketch with route in blue)
Heading due north from Burano, I followed a wide, winding canal to the distant ruins of La Cura and Sant’Ariano — sites of earlier church complexes that were later abandoned. Apparently, the walled-in complex of Sant’Ariano was re-purposed as an ossuary and filled with bones (according to some accounts, filled almost to the height of the walls!). La Cura is on private property and there’s not much left to see. I waded through mud to step ashore at Sant’Ariano, but the bushes are too thick to peer over or through.
Nevertheless, this was my favorite tour, with its feeling of being miles away from the outside world. In the course of three hours, I passed one anchored sailboat and was passed by two small motorboats, but otherwise, I spent the hours alone. My favorite was the views south, where the churches and bell towers of Burano and Torcello peeked up from the flat islands between. For a while, I just sat on my SUP and let it drift while I listened to the birds and the distant clang of bells. Just magical.
Exploring Burano, Mazzorbo, and Mazorbetto/Laghi by SUP
(see sketch with route in pink)
Setting off from my base in Burano, I set off to the west and neighboring Mazzorbo, paddled under the footbridge, and crossed the channel to check out the Napoleonic fort on the northeast corner of Mazzorbetto/Laghi (technically, two separate islands but they’re only separated by a narrow little canal). The gate to the fort was locked, so I was only able to get a peek from a distance.
Next, I continued south to circumnavigate Mazzorbetto/Laghi via the quiet back canals. On the west side of Mazzorbetto/Laghi, there are wide views over a wide open area of the lagoon in the direction of the airport. That’s not so interesting, but I did enjoy watching the flamingos wading in the distance there. Coming around the north end of Mazzorbetto/Laghi, you can either turn north and explore the Torcello area or return to Burano.
Paddling from Burano to Torcello by SUP
(see sketch with route in orange)
Torcello is a fascinating destination in its own right, site of the earliest habitation of the outer lagoon. I highly recommend taking a ferry over, climbing the campanile (bell tower), and visiting the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta with its 11th and 12th century Byzantine mosaics.
With an SUP, however, you can explore the backwaters of this interesting island. I paddled west over the “top” of Burano, passed the main canal that cuts north through Torcello, and continued farther west until I found a small canal heading north. This eventually wound around, letting me reach the north side of Torcello. At one point, low tide forced me to wade through mud for about 50m. Therefore, high tide would be better, but I still loved the secret, “jungle” atmosphere of this canal.
Paddling from Burano to San Francesco del Deserto
(see sketch with route in purple)
For this outing, I headed south across open water from Burano to the monastery at San Francesco del Deserto. I was happy peeking from the outside, but if you call ahead, you can arrange to tour the monastery. Call +39 041 5286863 or visit their website for more information.
I discovered that even in the wide open areas of the lagoon, water is only about knee deep at low tide, except along the ferry channels marked by thick pylons (called bricoli). From the monastery, I headed due west for a close look at ruins on Madonna del Monte (without going ashore), then set a new course for the south end of Mazzorbetto and followed the shoreline “home” to Burano.
Getting off an exploring on foot might seem like a good option, but you’ll find yourself sinking knee-deep in mud when you do. I quickly learned to stay on my board and take in the sights from there.
When the weather is fair, the only real safety concern are tides. Tide tables for Venice can be found here and they are also displayed on monitors at the Burano ferry terminal. The trick is figuring out how the tide will behave in any given snaking section within the maze of canals. I could clearly feel when the tide turned and I had to paddle against the current. However, even at peak flow, I was still able to make steady headway against the current so it felt quite safe.
Of course, with any water-based activity, it pays to be extremely cautious and make your own decisions about the safety of each venture. Disclaimer: this is not expert nautical advice, simply an account of my own experience. Any decisions you make are your own responsibility!
In early June, midday temperatures were uncomfortably hot (above 30°C), so I made sure to get off to 6am starts to return to my home base by 10am to beat the heat.
There are a handful of SUP rentals in Venice, and possibly one on Burano, although the shop was closed for the season when I visited. I timed my trip for early June to beat the heat and crowds and brought my SUP with me.
LOGISTICS: GETTING TO VENICE and BURANO
Paddling from a home base in Burano is easy. Getting there requires several transfers, but it’s worth it. It’s possible to fly, drive, train, or bus to Venice. I took a Flix bus which dropped me off on Tronchetto (one of Venice’s main islands, where a huge parking garage is located). From there, the “People Mover” elevated shuttle runs every few minutes to Piazzale Roma, right on the edge of Venice proper.
Piazzale Roma is the main ferry hub for Venice. From there, catch vaporetto (ferry) 4.2 or 5.2 to Fondamente Nove on the north side of Venice, a bigger ferry stop with four separate piers. The 4.2 arrives at pier B and the 5.2 arrives on pier D. Change to pier A for ferry 12 to Burano (about 45 minutes). Once on Burano, you’ll continue on foot to your accommodation (see tips below).
To make things easier, I packed my SUP in a large rolling duffel bag. Once in Burano, all I had to do was pump it up and head off on my choice of adventures, big or small. This is definitely one of those cases when getting there is the biggest challenge.
At night, I locked my SUP outside my accommodation with a cable and lock I brought with me.
For paddle board excursions, I recommend bringing:
• lots of drinking water
• sun hat, sun glasses, sunscreen
In general, I found the Lonely Planet Venice & the Veneto useful for information on Burano, Torcello, and for the time I spend sightseeing in Venice. I also love reading Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series for the authentic Venice background to captivating mystery stories.
Neither Burano nor neighboring Mazzorbo offer a lot in the way of accommodations, but that’s what keeps the islands a haven in the evenings after the day trippers depart.
I do not recommend basing yourself in Venice and taking the ferry for SUP day trips starting from Burano. It’s just too much hassle to transport and pump up/deflate the SUP each time. But I do recommend spending some time in Venice itself. My favorite accommodation there is the wonderful Combo Venezia, an upscale hostel with private singles and doubles in a fabulously renovated monastery located close to the Fondamente Nove ferry stop.
There is a large Coop supermarket on Burano and a handful of restaurants to choose from when everything quiets down in the evenings.
I ate breakfast at “home” in my AirBnB and packed picnic lunches. For those, I would tie up to one of the docks/mooring structures along any shoreline in the outer lagoon, sit with my feet in the water, and spread out my picnic on my paddleboard. Heaven!
The best time to go is May/June or September/early October, avoiding the heat of summer.
If you love the idea of visiting the lagoon by small watercraft but don’t have your own SUP, one alternative is Venice On Board. This wonderful local organization preserves traditional boats and techniques and offer private lessons. They can teach you to row a gondola-like boat in Venice or take you sailing in the lagoon on a flat-bottomed sailboat. Contact them by email (email@example.com) or visit their website.
I hope this has been helpful and interesting, either as a planning tool or armchair adventure. For other exciting trips and ideas, click on “HOME” at the top of the page. Thank you for visiting TheTravelBug.blog and happy travels!