The 10 best European islands to visit

The islands of Europe cover a wide range of experiences. Some are simple beach destinations, but others focus on food, wine, heritage and bustling cities. And some are brimming with natural beauty, even when you step away from the coast. There are hundreds of European islands to choose from but, sticking to one per country, here are ten of the best…

Sicily

Where? Italy

The largest island in the Mediterranean has an attractive food and wine scene, as well as some real city-stay options. Palermo has appropriate urban energy, as well as a gold-covered cathedral, while Syracuse bets on quaint charm and archaeological sites. But what really sets Sicily apart is the large active volcano in the middle. Excursions to Etna pass through fertile slopes and lava fields. See visiticily.info

Ibiza

Where? Spain

San Antonio, Ibiza.

San Antonio, Ibiza. Photo: iStock

One of the Balearic Islands off the west coast of Spain, Ibiza once had a reputation as a hippie hangout. Alternative lifestyles are still around, and the island tends to surprise with the beauty of its coastline, but nowadays Ibiza is synonymous with clubbing. Europe’s top temple of dance music hosts several massive clubs, blasting the beats day and night.

See Ibiza.travel

Corsica

Where? France

The D824 road winding along the coast from Capu Rossu towards Piana on the west coast of Corsica as the morning sun illuminates the distant mountains Credit: istock single use for travelers only

Photo: iStock

Corsica has several elegant towns and villages scattered along its coast. But the soul and allure of this French island really lies in the wooded and mountainous interior. As a result, it is usually a more adventurous type of tourist who chooses Corsica. It’s a mecca for walking holidays, while mountain biking trails and horse riding opportunities also lure visitors away from the Mediterranean Sea. See visit-corsica.com

Crete

Where? Greece

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Photo: iStock

The largest of the Greek islands, of course, has many seaside resorts. But it scores heavily on natural wonders and cultural heritage. The Samariá Gorge lays claim to being the largest gorge in Europe, and the 16km hike through it is extremely satisfying. Elsewhere you will find several remnants of the ancient Minoan civilization. The palace of Knossos, next to the Cretan capital Heraklion, is the best dog. See incrediblecrete.gr

Margaret Island

Where? Hungary

FJ6E56 Palatinus Outdoor Thermal Water Park, Margaret Island, Budapest, Central Hungary, Republic of Hungary Credit: Alamy Disposable Traveler Use Only

Photo: Alamy

This river island in the middle of the Danube is the perfect place to spend a summer day in Budapest. It’s a large pedestrian park, with different sections that will appeal to different people. You can opt for the open-air concert stage, the ruins of the monastery and convent, the spa complex or the rose garden. Novelty transport enthusiasts, meanwhile, won’t be able to resist the urge to ride the giant reclining bikes. See budapestinfo.hu

Spitsbergen

Where? Norway

credit: single-use istock for the traveler only

Photo: iStock

Deep inside the Arctic Circle, Spitsbergen is the main island of the Svalbard archipelago. This glacier-covered land of ice and snow is an amazing place to spot wildlife, especially polar bears and wild reindeer. But it also offers an extraordinary range of adventurous activities. Snowshoeing, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, night snowmobiling and kayaking around icebergs are on the menu. See visitsvalbard.com

Skye

Where? Scotland

Fairy Glen, Skye.

Fairy Glen, Skye. Photo: iStock

There are other Scottish islands which are arguably prettier, but Skye is a fantastic all-rounder. The Three Chimneys restaurant offers Michelin-starred cuisine, while whiskey lovers can visit the Torabhaig and Talisker distilleries. The more energetic can tackle the mountainous hiking trails, while animal lovers can take a boat tour to see dolphins and sea eagles. See isleofskye.com

Hvar

Where? Croatia

Hvar Croatia str25-cruise director

Photo: Supplied

In all fairness, you can choose from dozens of Croatian islands along the Adriatic coast. But Hvar tends to have a glamor factor that others can’t quite match. Hvar’s walled old town provides photo opportunities, while dozens of yachts moor in the bays. Chic accommodation and flashy restaurants are the name of the game in Hvar, although you can also sneak out into the countryside to visit the much more low-key wineries. See visithvar.hr

Gozo

Where? Malta

Deep blue hole in famous Azure Window of Gozo island - Mediterranean nature wonder in beautiful Malta - Unrecognizable divers swimming in water cave adventure credit: single use istock for travelers uniquely

Photo: iStock

Malta’s second island packs a lot into a relatively small space. The steep coastline holds several surprises, such as the red sands of Ramla Bay and the Inland Sea, a lagoon surrounded by rocks popular with divers. Many caves and snorkeling spots are balanced by historic sites, such as the Neolithic temples of Ggantija and the fortress-like citadel in the central city of Victoria. See visitgozo.com

Saaremaa

Where? Estonia

J4DWAF Castle Tours in Saaremaa, Estonia Credit: Alamy single use for travelers only FEES APPLY

Photo: Alamy

Now for something a little different… Saaremaa is the second largest island in the Baltic Sea. It is home to several very traditional villages and the kind of spa resorts that feel obsessed with health rather than relaxation. The medieval castle of Kuressaare, surrounded by a moat, is the star attraction, although you can indulge in the strange and mysterious Kaali meteorite field, almost 3,500 years old. See toursaaremaa.ee

Zeeland

Where? Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark on the Nyhavn Canal.  credit: single-use istock for the traveler only

Copenhagen, Denmark on the Nyhavn Canal. credit: single-use istock for the traveler only Photo: iStock

The largest island in the Baltic Sea is one that probably doesn’t realize it’s an island in the first place. This is because Zeeland is the island with Copenhagen. But as well as one of the coolest cities in Europe – with Scandinavia’s best food scene – there’s Hamlet’s Castle in Helsingor, the World Heritage-listed cliffs of Stevns Klint and the excellent ship museum Vikings in Roskilde. See visitdenmark.com

Disclosure: David Whitley was invited by the tourist authorities of Ibiza and Scotland.

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