Maybe you’ve interrailed through the mainland, visited famous cities like London and Paris, or skied in the Alps. But there is nothing quite like visiting one of the best islands in Europe.
With over 500 islands between the different European countries, finding a good one isn’t all that hard. BUT, finding the best one—well, that takes work – which is why you have me!
From the famous white-washed Cyclades islands in Greece to the up-and-coming island of Madeira (which is pretty much already overtaken by digital nomads), this list offers different cultures, different landscapes, and, of course, different vibes. All to make sure you get what you’re looking for.
As social media has become a major inspo for my yearly trips, I’ve found myself heading to places that don’t quite fit what I’m looking for because some influencer… influenced. Sure, Santorini is gorgeous, but heading there as a broke college kid wasn’t my smartest move.
But hey, you live, and you learn. Now I’m here to make sure you don’t follow in my footsteps (unless you want to end up sleeping on a beach with nothing but a towel for warmth and some stale bread for breakfast… bleh!) Okay, enough of horror stories. Here are some of the best islands in Europe to add to your travel bucket list.
Best Islands in Europe
From warm, sunny destinations in the Mediterranean to the dramatic landscapes of the Atlantic, these European Islands offer all kinds of amazing opportunities for the perfect getaway. There were so many stunning islands to choose from, but if you’re backpacking in Europe defo choose a couple to visit!
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1. Hvar, Croatia
For a low-key boujee holiday—I’m talking yachts, chic rooftop bars, and luxury villas, look no further than the island of Hvar. This island is my favourite place to stay in Croatia situated in the Adriatic Sea. It has some of the most luxe vibes on this whole list of Islands.
Unlike Ibiza or even Mykonos, this European Island just seems to be effortlessly cool. There are still loads of parties and insane nightlife, but the class is a notch above the rest. If you’re keen to stay here I’d
- Why visit: Gorgeous blue waters to relax on and a glitzy harbor filled with yachts and some of the best nightlife
- When to visit: May-June to avoid the massive summer crowds but still have great weather
- How to get there: Fly into Split and then take a ferry to Hvar
I tend to only brag about the nightlife in Hvar because it’s that good, but I can’t forget about the amazing days spent on the Island. Hvar is a dream with its Renaissance-era architecture and famous castle to explore.
It also has gorgeous beaches with some of the clearest waters I’ve ever seen. You can spend your days lounging on the beach, soaking up the sun, or exploring the main square while sipping on a yummy Aperol spritz.
The best hotel in Hvar is for sure Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel, I just love the location! My balcony overlooked the harbour and it was gorg…
Somehow, Malta has been able to fly under the radar when it comes to the best islands in Europe. And what a shame because the island is absolutely stunning and is actually one of the most affordable islands in the Mediterranean.
- Why visit: The perfect Mediterranean escape for budget travelers. It’s steeped in history and is great for diving.
- When to visit: May-June and September.
- How to get there:
The island is the 5th smallest country in the world, but don’t let its size fool you. Malta is packed with history and charm, thanks to it being literally smack dab in the middle of Europe, Africa, and Asia.
You’ll find ancient temples that predate the Giza Pyramids and towering cathedrals that have survived centuries of turmoil. Along with all the history, Malta has crystal clear waters surrounding the island that are great for diving.
3. Madeira, Portugal
Madeira shot straight to the top of the list of my favorite islands in Europe after a short stint on the island. Located closer to Northern Africa than continental Europe, Madeira is the sub-tropical island you need when you can’t afford to fly to Hawaii.
The rugged island has some of the most luscious forests in Europe and is the perfect destination for travelers who enjoy a little bit of everything.
- Why visit: Amazing landscape for hiking, gorgeous weather almost all year round, and an incredible visa for digital nomads to stay longer.
- When to visit: All year round, but April and May is the perfect time to avoid the summer holiday goers
- How to get there: Fly into the international airport on the main island
Madeira has become a huge hotspot for digital nomads since the pandemic, with Portugals’s new digital nomad visa granting extended stays for remote workers. But don’t worry, if you don’t have that option, Madeira is still one of the best islands in Europe to visit.
You’ll find some sweet surf spots, stunning trails for hiking, and even some great nightlife in the capital city of Funchal. And while you’re here, you have to try some of the ridiculously good Madeira wine (I think it’s what makes the nightlife so good.)
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4. Santorini, Greece
Santorini speaks for itself. With its iconic white-washed buildings and out of this world sunsets, the Greek island has been welcoming heaps of visitors for years.
Along with being one of the most beautiful islands, it’s also one of the busiest and, tragically, one of the most expensive. During the summers, you can expect wall to wall tourists just trying to get a glimpse of the beautiful orange ball floating in the water, which can really take away from the magic of it.
- Why visit: Iconic views, delicious Greek food and wine, and unique black sand beaches.
- When to visit: April-June or September -October. Do not… under any circumstance, go to Santorini during July and August. Just trust me, ok?
- How to get there: Fly into Athens and then take a ferry or fly directly into Santorini’s airport
I know that so far I’m not really selling it. But if you can get to Santorini during one of the shoulder seasons, your mind will actually be blown by how gorgeous this island is.
Walking through the cliffside villages, you’ll feel like you’re in a postcard. The caldera views are especially stunning during sunset and sunrise, and I promise you, there isn’t anything quite like having some fresh octopus while overlooking the Aegean Sea.
5. Sardinia, Italy
In the past few years, Sardinia has taken the world by storm as one of the best European Islands to visit on your Euro summer trip. The island has managed to maintain its authenticity over the years and is the perfect place to visit if you’re looking to indulge in some local culture while also soaking up the sun.
- Why visit: Crystal clear waters to spend the morning swimming and sunbathing, incredible local seafood dishes, and charming old towns to explore.
- When to visit: May-June or September-October are the best times to stay in Sardinia for the best weather and fewer crowds.
- How to get there: Fly from any major European cities to Cagliari Airport
Head out to explore the coast on a boat tour, where you’ll be able to discover hidden coves and beaches. The waters are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The sparkling blue is so clear you can see all the way to the bottom of the sea.
And after a day in the sun, make sure to head into the villages to get a taste of the Sards culture. Sardinia produces the world’s most centenarians, and walking through the streets might give you some hints about their secrets for a long, long life.
6. Mallorca, Spain
As the largest Island in Spain, Mallorca has been swooning summer lovers for years. Its warm weather throughout the year is the perfect way to extend your summer escape.
For the longest time, I loved the color of the waters around the Mediterranean, but the freaking rocks at the shore made going to the beach miserable. I grew up in the Caribbean, so we don’t know anything about rocks on the shore! So you can imagine how happy I was when I discovered Mallorca’s white sandy beaches.
- Why visit: The perfect European Island for a true beach holiday. It’s great for families, honeymooners, and even solo travelers
- When to visit: April-October is the best for the warmest weather, but the island gets super busy during July and August.
- How to get there: Take the ferry from other Balearic Islands or fly into Palma de Mallorca Airport from any major European city.
There are so many things to do in Mallorca it’s practically a one-stop shop for just about every single traveler. Amazing beaches, check! Epic hikes, check! Delicious food, check!
And for those who want to get off the beaten path, rent a car for a few days, and get lost in the coastline of the island, finding hidden beaches and coves.
7. Corsica, France
From the bluest waters of Meddi to the rugged mountains, there are heaps of things to do in Corsica. The French island brings together so many different facets to an island escape, making it one of the most diverse European islands.
- Why visit: For people who love adventure and outdoor activities but still want some good ole’ beach time.
- When to visit: May-June or September-October for the best hiking weather, but still warm enough to go for a swim.
- How to get there: As the 4th largest Mediterranean island, Corsica is easily accessible by ferry from France or Italy, or you can fly into one of its four airports.
With hundreds of beaches along the coastline, you won’t be fighting over a spot on the sand or a place to stay. But what sets Corsica apart from other islands is the incredible mountains. It’s one of the best islands for hiking, camping, and even rock climbing!
Corsica also has some of the best food, with its French and Italian influence; prepare your tastebuds for long dinners and lots of wine.
8. Isle of Skye, Scotland
Switching it up a bit with the Isle of Skye. This enchanting island is located off the coast of Scotland, and while the weather isn’t very warm, and there aren’t any crystal clear beaches to relax on, it more than makes up for it with some of the most epic views your eyes have ever seen.
- Why visit: Perfect for hikers and explorers who want to go somewhere a little less mainstream.
- When to visit: May-September has the best weather, but it’s still Scotland, so bring a rain jacket.
- How to get there: A ferry from mainland Scotland or a scenic drive over the bridge will take you to this magical island.
Isle of Skye is seriously epic—like you will be saying, wtf around every single bend. It has some of the most dramatic cliffs that make you feel like you’re in a faraway land. (Technically, you are, but it feels more magical than that.)
Everywhere you go is like exploring a storybook. The fairy pools and waterfalls feel otherworldly; I’ve never seen something so whimsical without even trying. This island is perfect for hikers or anyone who likes to discover the wonders of nature. And, of course, you have to finish every hike with a trip to the pub, where you can taste some of Scotland’s finest whiskies and then crash in one of the many great hostels here.
Don’t Forget Insurance for the Islands!
Make sure you have your own back with some good Europe travel insurance – I never travel without it.
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
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Final Thoughts on the Best Islands in Europe
Europe is full of dream destinations, and deciding where to go is the literal bain of my existence, but every time I arrive at a new European Island, I am met with a beauty that I could have never expected.
And sure, different people want different experiences. I mean, I would never take my sunburn-prone dad to lay on a beach somewhere, and you definitely wouldn’t catch me trying to convince my designer bag friends to trek up a mountain. But with Europe’s islands, there is something for everyone.
From the beautiful blue waters of Santorini and Mallorca to the insane views of Skye, each island brings something different to the drawing board.
But if you’re like me and want it all, then I can’t imagine anywhere better than Madeira. I think it’s the best European island to check all of the boxes on your holiday. You can get your heart rate up on some killer hikes and then relax in the refreshing waters of Porto Moniz. The food is divine, the views will make you want to pinch yourself, and life just feels good.
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