I remember being surprised when I learned which European country had the largest number of islands of any in the world – I was imagining some South Pacific nation or at the very least, somewhere like Greece, but apparently Finland is the nation with the most islands, not just in Europe but across the globe. Here are our travel tips for some of the fab islands in Europe, famous and not-so-famous, which include some of the best places in Europe to visit.
So, let’s start with a particularly interesting group of Finnish islands: the Aland Islands. They’re quite unique because they are a kind of autonomous region of Finland and the locals actually speak Swedish! They even have their own postage stamps; but beyond that, these islands are a great place to relax, swim (in summer) and try their special apple vodka.
Aland Islands by ezioman
Gannets on Isle of Noss, Shetland Islands
You might also be inspired to head to the Shetlands to experience Europe’s largest fire festival, the Up Helly Aa, a festival with Viking roots that takes place in late January each year.
Up Helly Aa by chatirygirl
Farnes Puffin by left-hand
The French island of Corsica is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts to visit, with great hiking and rock-climbing possibilities inland, and perfect beaches and scuba-diving opportunities on the coast. On top of all that, there are several excellent museums in its capital, Ajaccio, and very good food and wine.
Sperone Beach, Corsica by David Locke
Off the coast of Brittany, the Gulf of Morbihan is home to numerous small French islands. Heather recommends a number of these islands for a tranquil day trip, including the largest, Belle-Ile-en Mer (it was popular with Matisse and Monet!), Isle de Houat for great beach walks, Isle aux Moines with its cycle paths and fishermen’s cottages and L’Ile d’Arz, a lush green island you can circumnavigate on foot.
Isle de Houat by Heather Cowper
No post on European islands would be complete without mentioning Greece, and I’ve picked Inka’s lovely post on sightseeing in Naxos in the Cyclades to share. She recommends Naxos because there are so many great sights within a reasonable walking distance from each other.
Gates to the Apollo temple by Inka Piegsa-quischotte
Heading back to northern Europe to Sweden, Marcus wrote a great post on the island of Gotland and its capital, Visby. Although it’s a common destination for summer partying, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site with lots of historical and cultural sights to explore.
Visby, Gotland by Marcus Cederstrom
When it comes to Italian islands, we have plenty of posts about them here on Europe a la Carte. Starting out with Sicily, we have an overview post about seven things to do in Sicily including see Mount Etna, the cities of Palermo and Catania and visiting the Aeolian Islands.
Aeolian Islands by tore_urnes
Andy wrote about reasons not to overlook Sicily when planning a trip, the reason that most caught my eye being the sensational food, and Sian told us about visiting Erice, a secluded medieval town with gorgeous views and the imposing Pepoli Castle.
Pepoli Castle by sian
The next largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily is Sardinia, and we have plenty of good reasons to entice you to make a trip there, such as checking out the amazing coastline at Villasimius in the south-east.
The Fortress at Villasimius, Sardinia
We also have some tips on timing your trip and getting accommodation, plus a great post from Heather about taking a boat trip around various ports of Sardinia. They include visits to beaches and sea caves that you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.
Sea caves on Sardinia by Heather Cowper
And just like Sicily (or anywhere in Italy, really!), no trip to Sardinia would be complete without tasting the local foods. Although Heather warns that service comes at a relaxed pace, there are all kinds of seafood to try and more meat-based dishes if you travel inland.
Sardinian food by Heather Cowper
Our final Italian islands tip is a trip to the Tremeti Islands in the Adriatic Sea off Puglia. They are part of a national marine park and include some historic fortresses and dramatic rocky coastlines.
Tremiti Islands by Kimberly Sullivan
The small Baltic nation of Estonia is home to one of my favourite island areas, the island of Saaremaa in the south-west and some of the tiny islands surrounding it. Saaremaa is a great relaxing holiday destination and I enjoyed a day trip to the tiny island of Abruka (population: 14).
Abruka by Amanda Kendle
We have a wealth of posts on Cyprus with lots of great tips from Karen. One of my favourite sights in Cyprus from Karen’s posts is Aphrodite’s Rock, both because the area looks absolutely gorgeous and because apparently if you swim around the rock you will be blessed with eternal beauty.
Aphrodite’s Rock, Cyprus
Aran Islands by Marcus Cederstrom
A great day trip to escape the bustle of Istanbul is to explore the Princes Islands, easily reached by ferry from the capital. There are nine islands in the group and there are almost no cars to be found – instead, you can often get transported around in horse-drawn carriages.
Photo by Inka Piegsa-quischotte
One of the most popular of the many islands scattered along the coast of Croatia is Korcula. Check Neha’s post on five things to do in Korcula for a good overview. One highlight is exploring the walls of Korcula – not dissimilar from the beauty of mainland Dubrovnik.
Walls of Korčula by neha
There is also plenty to explore in Korcula town, with architecture dating back to the 15th century, and Vela Luka, the other main town on the island.
Korcula town by neha
Heading for a moment back up to Scandinavia, the Danish island of Bornholm is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. It is just a hundred miles south-east of Copenhagen and has incredibly white beaches and lots of sporting activities like horse-riding, cycling and golf.
Beach on Bornholm by bjarke svendsen
The Channel Islands (which I’ve just learned are not technically part of the UK) are full of interesting spots to visit. Karen talked about walking on Jersey, particularly discovering some of the amazing gardens being kept there.
Private garden on Jersey
There are also some great activities to do with kids on Jersey, including visiting Durrell Wildlife (formerly known as Jersey Zoo), riding an amphibious vessel to Elizabeth Castle and taking a dip at the Aqua Splash pool complex.
The photo posing area at Durrell Wildlife Jersey
If you’re interested in the historical aspects of the Channel Islands, then try the Occupation Tapestry Gallery, the Jersey War Tunnels and the Jersey Museum and Art Gallery – all interesting and full of relevant information.
“Outbreak of War” at the Occupation Tapestry Gallery, Jersey
Gran Canaria, in the Spanish Canary Islands, is a very popular destination for Europeans seeking a Winter sun getaway. We have a useful post about things to do in Las Palmas, its capital, which includes a video of Karen’s favourite beach there, Playa de las Canteras. If it’s beaches you’re after then we even have a summary of six great beaches so you can take your pick!
Playa de San Agustin
Elsewhere on Gran Canaria, Karen found plenty of beautiful spots to photograph in the village of Santa Lucia in the mountains.
Looking down on Santa Lucia park
You can also find a great overview of things to do on Gran Canaria which includes a few non-beach experiences like exploring the mountains and desert dunes.
Maspalomas Dunes, Gran Canaria
And our final island tip for Spain is to enjoy the beaches on Las Islas Cies. When Inka visited she overheard Playa de Rodas being described as the best beach in the world.
Islas Cies by Inka Piegsa-quischotte
Last but definitely not least, the island of Malta is another great island destination in Europe. There are numerous reasons to head there but I am rather taken by these Malta beaches, as highlighted by Karen - clean sand, clear water and at least some of the time, not too many people.
Your Favourite European islands
You can let us know your top islands in Europe by leaving a comment.