9 best European islands to visit

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When the islands of Europe are mentioned, especially when it comes to vacation hot spots, the Greek Islands win every time. Generally followed by the Balearics, the Canaries and some Italian islands, such as Sardinia or Capri. Granted, these are all beautiful islands and extremely popular with travelers, but not only does their popularity take away their appeal, there are also so many other beautiful European islands worth checking out. And, most importantly, they are not overrun with tourists and allow you to discover parts of Europe that you might not have considered before.

Being a dedicated Island fan, I’ve picked a few from this roundup that just might pique your interest and take you away from the crowds. Here are some islands that have that little something different, that are off the beaten track, or that are popular, but not at the time I recommend visiting them.

Ready for an island hopping tour?

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1. Guernsey, Manche

The Bailiwick of Guernsey is part of the Channel Islands and although it is a dependency of the British Crown, the island is a delicious mix of all that is French and English, located about 30 miles from the Normandy coast and 70 miles from the English coast. The small island with a total of 65,000 inhabitants is perfect for hiking, with a coastal path spanning 110 miles of varied terrain. The island is historic, with a beautiful natural landscape that has inspired painters and writers. It has cute little villages and towns full of restaurants serving the freshest seafood, but most of all, it invites you to slow down and explore at a more relaxed pace.

Pro tip: Hire a car at the airport and explore the island first, before enjoying the rest on foot.

Chalk cliffs in Rügen national park, Rügen, Germany
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2. Rügen, Germany

Do you know the painting Chalk cliffs on Rügen by German romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich? The artist is one of my ancestors, and I came to see him in a museum when I was young. For me, that sums up the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea perfectly. Beautiful white cliffs, lush countryside, all surrounded by the sea, which is beautiful and warm in summer, not too salty, and often freezes in winter. A former seaside resort of the company, the island is dotted with former large hotels and one of the most beautiful piers in the world, Sellin Pier, which houses a white restaurant on a platform accessible by a short jetty in drink. While the island has beaches perfect for swimming in the summer, it’s a year-round destination that invites visitors to slip on comfortable shoes, grab a map, and explore.

Pro tip: There are easy train connections from Hamburg or Berlin, which get you to the island in three to four hours.

Aerial view of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, France
Saint-Martin-de-Ré, France (Photo credit: Trabantos / Shutterstock.com)

3. Ile de Ré, France

Probably my favorite island in Europe, Île de Ré, exudes French charm at every turn. Just a bridge from the medieval city of La Rochelle with its picturesque harbor, it seems millions of kilometers from anywhere. Endless beaches, towns with small harbors full of colorful traditional fishing boats, good food, pastel-colored shuttered houses, and even its own breed of donkey, the Poitou donkey, which has the looks very shaggy with his dreadlocks. Quite often you see them wearing pants which is not a gimmick but protects them from mosquitoes.

Rent a bike and explore the lighthouse, windmills, salt marshes and don’t forget to buy some famous Ile de Ré coarse salt.

Pro tip: As much as I love this island, the French love it even more, and come in August when you can barely walk for people. However, a visit in September and all the tourists with children have disappeared, yet all the restaurants are still open and the beaches empty.

Bosphorus coastline, Princes' Islands, Turkey
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4. The Princes’ Islands, Istanbul, Turkey

I love that on a city trip you can take a short excursion and land in a completely different place for a day. The Princes’ Islands are made up of nine small islands in the Sea of ​​Marmara, four of which I believe are open to the public. The islands are only a 1.5 hour ferry ride from the heart of Istanbul. Arrive on the main island and you will immediately notice how quiet it is. No cars, just the sound of horse-drawn carriages and the hum of trams and electric buses. The islands are forested and quite hilly, teeming with top-notch real estate and narrow beaches, always packed with locals on weekends. There isn’t much to do in terms of sightseeing, but they offer such a contrast to the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, and the ferry ride is just lovely, that they are worth looking for. .

Pro tip: If you’re not sure which ferry to take or which island to choose, try a guided day trip from Istanbul, with a visit and lunch on the main island.

The lighthouse and sand dunes of Texel, the Netherlands.
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5. Texel, Netherlands

Texel is the largest of the Dutch North Sea Islands, one of the Frisian or Wadden Islands stretching from the Netherlands to Germany and all the way to Denmark. These islands lie in the vast mudflat area known as the Wadden Sea, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site due to its unique ecosystem. They vary in size, with the Texel being tall in comparison, measuring 15 miles long and 5.5 miles wide. Basically the grass covered sand dunes, the islands are a haven for wildlife, especially birds and seals, and the beaches are gorgeous. Having said that, the tide goes down very far, and when it comes back it goes up fast, so when you walk on Wadden always be careful. Texel has several small communities but with a lot to offer, from cheese tasting to wine tasting (yes, this North Sea island has a vineyard!) And there are a few good restaurants, offering, unsurprisingly, great food. ‘excellent fresh seafood.

Pro tip: Stay at the Strandhotel Noordzee, right in the sand dunes and with great views.

Rocks on the shore with turquoise waters, Formentera, Spain.
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6. Formentera, Spain

When everyone leaves for Mallorca or Ibiza, can I suggest visiting Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic Islands instead? Reached by a rather scenic ferry ride from neighboring Ibiza town, little Formentera is not half as crowded as its more popular neighbors, but instead has deserted beaches with turquoise waters, lighthouses, stunning boardwalks, and superb underwater dives. San Francesc is the island’s largest community with its 3,000 inhabitants, but has a surprising number of good restaurants, cafes and shops, catering to day trippers and yachts arriving from across the Mediterranean Sea.

Pro tip: This island is the perfect size to explore by bike or scooter. Don’t forget to pack a picnic and a beach towel.

Rocky islands of the Stockholm archipelago, Sweden.
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7. Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

Some 30,000 islands make up the Stockholm archipelago, some just large enough for a small beach hut, others sports villages and ferry ports. Each is charming and offers the kind of getaway you don’t get in many places. Many Swedes own a beach house on one of the many islands off the Swedish coast and use them on weekends or during the summer months. Most are basic, with no electricity or amenities, and you have to get there by pedal boat, bring your supplies with you, and take the island’s leftovers when you leave. But when it comes to tranquility, it doesn’t get much better.

Pro tip: You can take day trips to different islands from Stockholm, which will give you an idea of ​​how beautiful this part of Sweden is. But better yet, why not rent a tiny house on one of the islands and do like the locals?

Aerial view of Comino Island, Malta with boats in the water.
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8. Comino Island, Malta

While Malta is a large island with a magnificent historic capital, Malta is also an archipelago, with only three of the islands inhabited: Malta, Gozo and Comino. Although at the last count, Comino had only reported a population of three. A popular excursion spot on the two larger islands, Little Comino is a nature reserve and famous for its Blue Lagoon, and so popular because in Malta itself a good beach swim is paramount due to the rocky coastline.

Pro tip: Best accessible by boat from Malta, an organized boat trip also gives you the chance to see other coves and beaches on the island.

Port and village of Porto Azzurro at sunset, Elba Island, Italy.
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9. Elba Island, Italy

The island of Elba officially belongs to Tuscany in Italy. Do I have to say more? The third largest island in Italy, and famous for welcoming Emperor Napoleon during his exile from France in 1814. Elba is historic, with much to see, surrounded by the beautiful Tyrrhenian Sea, offering many many water sports. Elba is large enough to give you a chance to travel and explore before settling into a more relaxed resort. The best thing is that while Italians know this place, foreign tourists usually head to the better known islands which makes Elba a bit quieter.

Pro tip: During your Tuscan road trip, take the approximately 1 hour ferry ride to Elba Island from Piombino and add a few or three days of R&R on Elba Island.

Other European adventures to discover:


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