You want to go to Europe to explore the wide variety of culture and arts throughout the continent's many countries, but the idea of lounging on the beach somewhere sounds equally enticing. Why not do both? Don't go fight the crowds at all the popular "hot spots" in Europe. For your next vacation, consider visiting one of the exotic European Islands. It will be a unique travel experience that you won't soon forget!
Why Travel to a European Island?
Some of the European Islands featured here are territories of mainland countries, and others are "stand-alone" sovereign states, including Malta and Iceland. Yet, each of these regions might as well be their own nation. European cultural influences are evident, and the language or dialect may be "borrowed" from elsewhere. However, when it comes to the sights, sounds and tastes of these islands, you simply have to go there for the experience that mainland cannot match!
12 European Islands You Won't Want to Miss
Tenerife (Spain, Canary Islands)
Although the Canary Islands are an autonomous territory of Spain, they are actually off the coast of the African continent, about 100 km south of the border of Morocco and Western Sahara. Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and offers a wide range of activities from watersports to hiking, photography and unique cultural activities. Spain's highest mountain, Mount Teide, is found on Tenerife. From the top of this World Heritage Site, you'll have a grand view of the rest of the volcanoes on the island. The region is rich in wildlife and natural beauty. Not surprisingly, tourists love to visit Tenerife - 12 million each year, to be precise!
For amazing architecture, fresh, tasty cuisine, and unique culture, the island of Sardinia has it all! You'll step back in time to an ancient era when you visit the Bronze Age stone towers (called Nuraghe), or the Roman bath runs at Fordongianus. The sacred well of Santa Christina is an architectural marvel, as well.After your sightseeing, be sure to take a walk along one of the gorgeous sandy beaches of Sardinia (Luna Beach is pictured above). Fresh seafood is found in coastal restaurants, or you can enjoy a meal of slow-roasted meat inland.
If you like wine, you'll love Madeira! Winemaking has long been a tradition in this Portuguese region. Like Tenerife, Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, located in the northern Atlantic ocean. Its about 520 km from the African coast, and 1000 km from the west coast of Europe. Temperatures hover around 70 degrees F year round. Just perfect!
Yes, its true. Santorini is just that beautiful. The island is a popular destination, either on its own, or as part of a Greek isles cruise. Magical and romantic, many couples enjoy Santorini as a honeymoon destination.Postcard-perfect photos like the one above are signature Santorini. Famous white houses with blue domes are nestled into the cliffs created by eons of volcanic eruptions. You can walk the crater rims or stroll along the magnificent beaches.
The Azores (Portugal)
If you haven't heard of the Azores, you're not alone. The 9-island archipelago, a territory of Portugal, is one of the most undiscovered European islands. Stunning natural beauty greets you and may even make you wonder whether you should keep the secret of the Azores to yourself so that it doesn't get overrun by tourists....If you like spending time outdoors, the Azores is the place to visit. Hike along trails to reach waterfalls, calderas and tiny seaside villages. All you'll need are a pair of sturdy shoes and a camera! While there, be sure to walk to Sete Cidades on Dso Miguel, the main island. The village is nestled within a caldera, flanked by one blue and one green lake. Another favorite destination is the fajas, or coastal plains, of São Jorge. Visit Faial, which is a favorite among the yachting community and stop at the famous Peter Café Sport.Amazingly, you can get to the Azores in just 4 hours via plane from Boston!
Fuerteventura (Spain, Canary Islands)
If you like Tenerife, you may want to extend your vacation to the Canary Islands with a visit to Fuerteventura, one of the Canary islands. The island is very popular with water sports enthusiasts, in large part due to the strong winds that propel sailboats across the waves. Surfers love the giant swells and the beaches are simply amazing. Take your pick among clean, pristine white or black volcanic beaches. There are even guided walking tours along the sands.
Sicily is the large Italian island being kicked by the "boot" that is the mainland country. Practically a nation in itself, Sicily is steeped in history, art and excellent wine! Forget what you've read or heard about this island with a storied past. The people there are friendly and helpful, and while your travel experience will have an Italian flair, it will also be uniquely Sicilian!
Ionian Islands (Greece)
The Ionian Islands are a group of Greek islands that are also called the Heptanese, the "Seven Islands." Located off the west coast of Greece, in the Ionian sea, the islands consist of:
- Corfu (Kerkyra)
- Paxos (Paxi)
- Lefkas (Lefkada)
- Ithaca (Ithaki)
- Cephalonia (Kefalonia)
- Zante (Zakynthos) and
- Cerigo (Kythira)
Though the islands are now part of Greece, they have a storied history with influences from a number of European countries. The experience is a unique blend of Greek and Italian culture.
The Šibenik Islands, within central Dalmatia where the Krka river empties into the Adriatic Sea, are a jewel in a dense archipelago of islands. Part of Croatia, they were heavily fortified to ward off the attacks of the Yugoslav Army and the Serbs during the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995). The four main fortresses can be viewed, and all architectural damage from the recent war has been repaired.
- Tvrđava Sv. Nikole
- Tvrđava Sv. Mihovila
- Tvrđava Sv. Ivana
- Tvrđava Šubićevac
The relatively small population allows the natural wonders of the islands to shine through. Be sure to visit the islands of the Kornati National Park, the Krka National Park and the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Waterfalls like the one shown above are even more stunning in real life!
Iceland may not be the first location that comes to mind when you consider European Islands. Yet the island nation will not disappoint tourists looking for a fresh alternative to traditional travel plans.The scenery is pure and unmarred, given that its the largest uninhabited area in Europe. Enjoy birch forests, deserts of black sand and boiling pools of mud. The hot springs allow for outdoor swimming year round. Oh, and yes, there is that volcano too!
Malta Island (Malta)
History buffs and budding archeologists will love visiting Malta! The Neolithic Temples built 1000 years before the pyramids of Egypt were created with 20-ton blocks. Just how the ancient civilizations accomplished this feat is anyone's guess. You'll also want to see St. Paul's island, which marks the spot where St. Paul shipwrecked on the Malta coast. The event is commemorated in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles! From there, you should visit the places where the Knights of St. John defended Christianity. Its not just about history, however. Malta boasts some amazing views along its coastlines. Walk along the trails, or consider a boat excursion around the islands for the best vistas.Ibiza (Spain)
Whether you want to party at the clubs or take in spectacular scenery, the Spainish island Ibiza has plenty of options. Young adults flock to world-famous clubs including Pacha, Amnesia and Club Privilege. Keep a watch out for celebrities and models...