13 Idyllic Islands in Europe for Vacation
Whether you love the sunny islands of Southern Europe, prefer to discover the breathtaking Northern Europe or visit a different region with every vacation: Europe has something for everyone. In this post, I’m sharing my picks for the thirteen most beautiful islands in Europe!
They’re ll beautiful for different reasons — not all are just white sand beaches and pristine water. From history to unique features and more, hope this helps you decide where to take your next vacation!
13 Beautiful Islands in Europe for Vacation
1. Santorini, Greece
One of the most beautiful Greek islands is the popular Santorini. Santorini is a lively island where there is always something to do in the capital Fira. You can go to the cozy restaurants, have a drink on the attractive terraces, shop and visit places of interest.
One top thing to do is to climb the 587 steps to Fira from the old port (or go for the cable car) and enjoy another spectacular view. For an even more active day, walk on the rocks that originated after the eruption. During the climb, see the breathtaking view of what nature has achieved.
Santorini is more than pleasant towns. The eastern side of the island is the place where you can enjoy the nice weather.
Kamari is one of the villages with a beautiful beach. The best thing about a more popular beach is that you can go there for all amenities. This way you don’t just lie on the warm sand, but afterwards you can walk along the boulevard to one of the restaurants for sunset.
Yes, technically speaking, the whole country of Iceland is an island! It’s about 3 times the size of the Netherlands. You will find nature at its best, and you can even plan a wellness day in the well-known Blue Lagoon, which is located in an old lava field. The unspoiled nature, on the other hand, is spread across the island.
Admire the huge glaciers that, thanks to the melting, form a special picture with Jökulsárlón, a large glacier lake. You will not easily miss waterfalls when you visit Iceland.
If you want to see as much beauty as possible on the island, you should follow the Golden Circle route. (Book a day tour here) You will pass by Geysir, one of the few geyser areas in the world; Gullfoss, the photogenic “golden waterfall,” and Thingvellir, a National Park in which you stand next to the separation between the North Atlantic and Eurasian plates.
3. Azores, Portugal
The Azores archipelago is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Portugal. It’s made up of 9 islands, each with its own characteristics.
São Miguel is the most popular island. You soon see that it is a huge green island on which you can take beautiful walks. Whale watching and a day at the beach are also possible when you are on the largest island in the Azores.
The island of Flores is one of the UNESCO biosphere reserves. As that title suggests, Flores is a very green island where you are among the endless amount of flowers (hence the name). On this flower island, climb the rocks and you pass lakes, waterfalls and beautiful views.
Other beautiful islands in the Azores include Santa Maria, Corvo, Pico, Faial, Terceira, São Jorge and Graciosa.
4. Åland, Finland
Between Sweden and Finland you will find the island group (more than 26,000 islands) called Åland. You will not find people on most of these islands, as they usually live in the capital Mariehamn. Check here for places to stay in Mariehamn.
This pleasant destination consists, not surprisingly, of beautiful nature. You are in the right place if you want an active holiday. Go cross-country skiing, kayaking, swimming and much more!
You wouldn’t expect it, but on Åland, you can catch the most sunshine of the region. Thanks to its location, the climate is more favorable than nearby Sweden and mainland Finland.
The sun combined with the rest on Mariehamn makes a trip to Åland very nice when you are looking for a way to get outdoors and away from the city. But no worries, Mariehamn also offers cozy restaurants, tasty beers, and atmospheric cafés, so you’re not too isolated!
5. Elba, Italy
If you’re thinking, “Hm sounds familiar,” chances are that you have paid attention during history! Elba is an island in Italy not far from the mainland and also the place where the French emperor Napoleon stayed in exile after he was put out of his power for the first time.
As a history lover you will find everything about his stay on Elba. He stayed here for less than a year, and yet you can find a lot about it in one of the museums.
In addition to the history lessons, Elba is also a fantastic holiday destination thanks to the sandy beaches, attractive markets, villages and nature reserves that you can walk or cycle through. It has, like most islands, beautiful views that are even more spectacular around sunrise and sunset. Don’t forget to take a dip in the sea where you can also snorkel to a ship that ran on the rocks of Elba in 1972.
Learn more about Elba with this Portoferraio walking tour.
6. Corsica, France
Napoleon has something with beautiful islands! French Corsica is the place where he grew up. You can also visit his birthplace and learn more about the childhood years of the one of the most striking historical figures.
Corsica may be part of France, but it is really a different experience than the country itself. From Ajaccio, the capital of the island, you have a great starting point to discover the different characteristics of Corsica. In Ajaccio, experience a bit of the bustle while enjoying some local dishes or relaxing on a terrace, drink in hand. If you want to learn more about the city, try this private tour with a local.
If you like to walk on vacations you should not miss a visit to the National Park of Corsica. It covers around 40% of the island and has various unique features. Walk past historic buildings, among endless greenery and spot the golden eagle and the smallest wild sheep in the world, the Mouflon. Check out some of the fun tour options here
7. Orkney Islands, Scotland
Scotland also has beautiful islands that coincide within the Orkney archipelago. With around 70 islands, of which only a few are inhabited, it is a beautiful sight on the north coast of Scotland. Mainland is the biggest island where you will also find the largest cities of the Orkney Islands. Kirkwall and Stromness are two cozy, lively destinations where you can stay.
On Mainland, you can also enjoy excellent walks over sandy beaches, cliffs, through green hilly areas, and with a view of deep valleys and beautiful views. You might also spot many species of birds on the island because the Orkney Islands are part of the migratory routes that thousands of birds travel every year. Moreover, with a bit of luck, you can see the Northern Lights.
8. Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are a Danish island group lying between Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. The landscape is rough and the weather unpredictable, which makes it a truly unique destination. From the capital Tórshavn on Streymoy you can easily go to other islands by car, because many of the (larger) islands are connected by bridges and tunnels.
On Vagar, admire the photogenic Mulafossur waterfall. Tinganes is an old district on Streymoy where you learn more about the parliamentary history of the islands. Walk along Sørvágsvatn, also known as Leitisvatn, which is the largest lake in the island group. The most beautiful places on the Faroe Islands are a very good match for the holiday makers who do not like to sit still.
9. Hvar, Croatia
The Croatian island of Hvar is a lively island where you can dive into the active nightlife, stand among the fragrant lavender fields during the day and enjoy the nice weather on the pebble and sandy beaches. Don’t be put off by the nightlife if you are looking for a relaxing holiday. On Hvar, you can really relax when you are not staying in the city center. Stroll through the charming city with narrow streets and along the harbor during the day.
On your trips through Hvar, also view the Spanjola Fort with its beautiful view and walk past the old theater that dates back to 1612. Around June, Hvar smells of lavender. When you arrive at the village of Velo Grablje, you’ll immediately discover where that scent comes from. The lavender fields not only smell very nice but are also beautiful!
10. Madeira, Portugal
Once again a beautiful, natural island is Madeira in Portugal. Walk along the different routes on the island, including deep valleys, picturesque villages, and green gardens full of flowers and plants. For a challenging climb, pay a visit to Pico Ruivo, the highest mountain in Madeira. The island also offers ideal conditions for diving, rock climbing, snorkeling and surfing.
Madeira is a beloved destination not only to do with the beautiful nature. The capital Funchal is a cozy place with a choice of luxury restaurants, cozy cafés, a botanical garden and a lively nightlife for lovers. Discover more about the history of Madeira in the São Tiago Fort and admire the decorations in the University Church.
11. Gotland, Sweden
Although many of the beautiful islands in Europe are in the south, the north of Europe should certainly not be skipped. The Swedish Gotland is an island with a rich history. It is suspected that there were already residents on Gotland in the Stone Age.
You will also find many historical points on the island that show elements of life in the past. Vikings have also played an important role in Gotland. The village of Tofta is also called Viking Village, so don’t be surprised if you see people shooting bow and arrow and try to throw the ax yourself.
To enjoy Gotland, rent bicycles and discover the island in a different way than walking. Visit the Lummelunda cave, enjoy the beach in the beach village of Ljugarn and visit the Kneippbyn amusement park. In the latter you will also find Villa Kakelbont, the home of Pippi Longstocking.
12. Skye, Scotland
One of the largest Scottish islands is Skye. The beautiful island has a rugged, rocky appearance and has many picturesque villages. The Quiraing, one of the mountain areas on Skye, has a beautiful walking route where you can walk between the changing landscape with a magnificent view of the island. The Old Man of Storr is a rock formation on the island and one of well-known tourist points.
On the other side of the island you will find a smaller version of the Quiraing called Fairy Glen. The green landscape does justice to the name and gives a fairytale feel. Fairy Pools is another fairy-tale name on Skye. Fairy Pools are clear lakes where you can take a dip or take beautiful pictures if you prefer to skip ice cold water (book a tour here).
Visit the best of Skye in a day with this tour from Portree.
A few years ago I was in Malta for a week. An interesting island, full of beautiful villages and nature on one side and full of partying youngsters who (just like me) came to take English lessons. So you have to know a little bit where you need to be to avoid that crowds.
But don’t be put off because Malta is also very beautiful, has nice beaches and a wonderful climate. It is one of the smallest countries in Europe, but full of culture and I can still remember all the good food I ate here!
Don’t miss the capital of Valletta during a visit to the island. As far as I am concerned, this is the most beautiful city on the island, with its grandiose architecture and amazing balconies. Admire the colorful boats in Marsaxlokk and go to the neighboring island of Gozo for green nature. My favorite moment was perhaps the few hours that I spent in Blue Lagoon, a bay with azure blue water that looks like it’s straight out of a postcard. Book this tour to make the most of the lagoon and sea caves.
What are your favorite islands in Europe for vacation?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe and Tiqets for specific attraction deals.