Top European Islands to Visit
At times, it’s easy to forget that continental Europe is surrounded by a remarkable selection of islands. If you’re hankering for an island getaway — and, who isn’t? — there’s likely to be at least one that ticks all the boxes.
There are several factors to consider if you’re struggling to decide on which island, or islands, to visit. Are you looking for pristine, unspoiled beaches, neat rows of umbrellas and sun loungers, or rugged mountains and dense forests? Bustling streets or total isolation? Are you interested in history and quaint Old Towns or drawn toward modern conveniences and glitz and glamour?
Budget plays a role, too — getting to and from these islands isn’t always easy, and as a result, prices are often steep. Conversely, some islands are surprisingly affordable and accessible via major ferry routes.
Factoring in price, natural beauty and diversity, we’ve compiled a list of the top 25 European islands you can visit ... and should visit.
Santorini is one of the Aegean Sea’s Cyclades islands.
A volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC left it with a hostile, rugged landscape, complete with multicolored cliffs and lava-pebbled beaches.
These days, it’s known for its iconic whitewashed houses, which provide the perfect contrast to the island’s dramatic blue seas and romantic sunsets.
The Greek island of Corfu has seen British, French and Venetian rule, lending it an intriguing history still visible to this day. Although now unmistakably Greek, the influence of previous rulers, in the form of fortresses, medieval roads and French architecture, makes this a delight to visit.
These days, luxury resorts dot the shoreline, and although popular, Corfu still retains a sleepy island charm — particularly if you head inland.
Ibiza may be a love it or hate it affair, but there’s no denying this Spanish island’s popularity among tourists. Although it’s home to some quiet villages with isolated beaches, most outsiders venture there for the legendary nightlife.
During summer months, Sant Antoni and Ibiza Town come to life as European nightclubs open up satellite branches to cater to the sun-drenched masses.
Formentera may be the smallest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, but for many that’s the primary reason to visit.
It’s a popular day trip for people staying on nearby Ibiza — the island’s long beaches, clear waters and fewer crowds making it the ultimate respite from its better-known, party-focused neighbor.
Mallorca is a Balearic Island that seems to have it all — nightlife in the capital of Palma, Roman and Moorish architecture, and all the Mediterranean island gems you could wish for — sheltered coves, shimmering blue waters, remote peaks and characterful towns.
Hikers and cyclists will revel in the rugged landscape, while those looking to relax by the sea can do so with ease.
Mykonos, a Greek Island in the Aegean Sea, may be best known for its party scene in the summer, when loud music pulsates from beach bars and nightclubs.
Although many consider it to be Greece’s answer to Ibiza, the capital port town of Hora is fascinating to explore on foot, the restaurants are among the best in any of the Greek isles, and a drive along the island’s scenic backroads will help you escape the revelry.
During peak summer months, Croatia’s Hvar boasts one of the best nightlife scenes of all the Dalmatian Islands; the bars and clubs in the small Old Town overflow with tourists from passing sail boats and cruise ships.
In the shoulder seasons, the tourists all but disappear, leaving behind a historically fascinating and eerily quiet island ripe for exploration.
The Croatian island of Vis is a quieter version of the Dalmatian’s buzzing Hvar, though it’s no less enticing.
Arrival by ferry from Split takes just two hours, and a stay in Vis town allows for easy exploration of the Venetian-built island on foot.
Fresh seafood, Italian-inspired architecture and, of course, classic Dalmatian beaches are easy to find in this laid-back island destination.
Capri is is well known for its stunning natural attractions — rugged cliffs, diminutive beaches leading to azure oceans, verdant plant life and, most famously, the Blue Grotto, a sea cavern with dazzlingly blue water.
Although prices on this small Italian outpost in the Bay of Naples may be prohibitively high for an extended stay, it’s an easy day trip by ferry from the mainland.
Travelers looking for the scenic charm and beauty of a Spanish island, but without the non-stop parties associated with Ibiza and Mallorca, often look to the quieter Minorca.
There, a variety of beaches and turquoise bays contrast with pine-lined fringes, and old harbors with Georgian mansions serve as throwbacks to an altogether different time.
Gozo is one of 21 islands that make up the Maltese archipelago, and with its nature, beaches and history, it’s one of the most enticing to visit.
Romans, Arabs, Sicilians, French and British have all ruled over this idyllic patch of land in the Mediterranean Sea, which is particularly popular for its ruins, dive sites, beaches and hiking trails.
Ireland may not have conventional small-island charm, but it’s still an island, and is well deserving of a visit.
It’s Europe’s third largest island, and packed full of enough scenery, history, culture, food and, of course, drink, to supply more than just a fleeting holiday.
Rhodes, the conveniently located capital of the Dodecanese group of Greek islands, serves as a sound compromise between relaxing island getaway and adventure-filled retreat.
Here you’ll find rolling green hills and valleys, glistening beaches, interesting archeological sites and enough tourism infrastructure — cafes, restaurants, hotels and operators — to allow you to take it all in in total comfort.
Mljet boasts eye-catching greenery, and its calm seas, sandy beaches, saltwater lakes and abundant aquatic life make it one of Croatia’s most beautiful isles.
It’s also known for its wine, goat cheese and olives, and is an easy ferry ride away from iconic Dubrovnik, famously the filming site for “Game of Thrones.”
São Miguel Island, Portugal
Portugal’s São Miguel Island is the largest in the Azores archipelago, and it’s a scenic delight.
Twin crater lakes, hot springs, rich plant and marine life, and architecture dating back to the 16th century set the scene for an incredible island holiday.
Porquerolles may be just 10 minutes from Toulon, but this crescent-shaped island feels like another world. A quaint village near the port offers all touristic conveniences, from hotels and restaurants to bicycle rentals.
Although the northern reaches offer sandy beaches on which to relax, it’s an island popular among active travelers, owing to spectacular cliff-based hiking in the south.
Most venture to Scotland’s Isle of Skye for its otherworldly rugged landscapes, which contrast perfectly with its small fishing villages and medieval relics.
The island forms part of the Inner Hebrides, on Scotland’s West Coast, and has a rich history and rare wildlife, which together with quintessentially Scottish pubs and restaurants make for a thoroughly unique island adventure.
Ischia may be lesser known than Bay of Naples neighbor Capri, but this volcanic outcrop is possibly even more appealing.
It’s popular for its thermal springs, seabeds littered with Roman ruins, manicured gardens and medieval Aragonese castle.
Zakynthos Island, Greece
Zakynthos Island is a popular summer haunt, thanks to its selection of great beaches and associated activities.
Zakynthos, also known as Zante, also has a diverse landscape, and has earned the nickname "Flower of the East" because of the reportedly more than 7,000 flower species that grow there.
Malta is the largest of three islands that form part of the Maltese archipelago. It’s in the middle of the Med, just 95 square miles, and known for its honey-colored stones that contrast with the deep blues of the surrounding ocean.
Habitation dates back to 5,200 B.C., which lends the nation a fascinating history largely still visible today — hence its reputation as an open-air museum of sorts.
Traditional villages and idyllic golden beaches make Paros one of the most popular islands of the Cyclades.
It’s located in the Aegean Sea and is particularly popular among those looking to escape for a romantic weekend away amongst whitewashed houses, blue-domed churches and narrow paved streets.
Elba is part of the Tuscan Archipelago, and the third largest island in Italy. Though initially famous for harboring exiled French leader Napoleon in the 1800s, its history dates back much further than that.
In the present day, it’s known for stunning beaches and clear blue seas. Most head to the island for its sea-based activities like snorkeling and diving, but it also has excellent inland hiking and mountain biking.
As the largest island in the Mediterranean, and located just off the toe end of Italy, you’d almost be forgiven for thinking Sicily is part of the mainland.
But this famous island sings to a different tune, thanks largely to its cultural marvels, historical significance and staggering natural beauty.
Greece’s largest island, Crete, is also understandably one of its most popular. It’s a wonderfully traditional island that balances history and culture with modern-day conveniences, along with all the natural beauty you’ve come to expect from Mediterranean islands.
Large urban centers combine with quaint villages to serve up an island holiday to suit most tastes and budgets.
Sardinia is a peaceful island with more than 1,200 miles of coastline dotted with secluded coves perfect for soaking up rays and dipping your toes into the Med.
Though the Costa Smerelda coastal area is a hangout of the rich and famous, the remainder of the island is delightfully restrained and unmistakably Italian.