Windswept hair. Sun-kissed skin. Soothing waves. Endless azure water as far as the eye can see. These are just a few of the countless reasons why island travel is good for the soul. Most of us are busy people, caught up in the day-to-day grind, not making enough time to relax and take a break from our daily stresses. Give yourself something to look forward to and plan an island getaway. Then leave your stresses behind and unwind on a sandy beach with a fruity cocktail in hand. There are tens of thousands of islands around the world, if not hundreds of thousands, so chances are you’ll be able to find an island that meets your style and budget. To provide you with some island travel inspiration, here are a few of our favorites islands around the world!
Kauai – Hawaii USA
Hawaii. The most isolated landmass on the entire planet, yet one of the most sought-after island destinations. This archipelago lies 2,390 miles from the US mainland and nearly 4,000 miles from Japan on the other side of the globe. Hawaii is made up of 8 main islands, formed thousands of years ago by the eruption of undersea volcanoes. Kauai, the northernmost and oldest inhabited island, has been nicknamed the Garden Isle due to the tropical rain forest which covers a large portion of its surface.
Things to do in Kauai: Hike along the Na Pali Coast, go whale watching (December-April), surf the north shore, chase waterfalls, snorkel, lounge at the beach, go on a helicopter ride, and enjoy delicious Hawaiian cuisine. Need more ideas of things to do in Kauai? Check out our post A Week in Paradise: 7 Days in Kauai.
Mallorca (Majorca) is the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago, located in the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain. With countless budget flights to Mallorca from mainland Europe, you can easily get to this island paradise and be relaxing on the beach in just a few hours. With everything from a happening capital city (Palma) to endless coastlines and small Spanish villages, Mallorca is a Mediterranean paradise begging to be explored.
Things to do in Mallorca: Explore the capital city of Palma and discover the 13th-century Palma Cathedral Le Seu, take the historic wooden train to the town of Soller, lounge on one of many welcoming beaches (be aware that some are nude beaches), and enjoy the views from Bellver Castle. For more things to do, check out the video from our time in Mallorca.
Located off the coast of Portugal in the middle of the Atlantic is the Azores, a nine-island archipelago known as the Hawaii of Europe. In fact, it actually takes less time getting to the Azores from the east coast of the US than it does getting to Hawaii from the west coast of the US! With direct flights from Boston to the Azores on Azores Airlines, you’ll be enjoying the island life in less than 5 hours. If you’re already in Europe, you can hop on a cheap flight direct from Lisbon (capital of Portugal) and you’ll be to the islands in about 2.5 hours. With nine islands to discover, there’s much to see and do in this beautiful Portuguese archipelago.
(We visited two of the nine islands during our first visit to the Azores)
Things to do in the Azores: Terceira Island – Explore Algar do Carvão (volcanic cave), discover the black lava rocks at Biscoitos, enjoy the views at Miradouro do Facho, Serra do Cume, and Monte Brasil, and visit the small towns of Praia da Vitória, Porto Judeu, São Sebastião, and Angra do Heroísmo (the capital city). (For more things to do on Terceira, check out our Terceira Island post.) São Miguel -Stroll along the cobblestone streets of Ponta Delgada (the capital city), take a boat to Vila Franca do Campo, explore the geothermal hotspot Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas, wander through Terra Nostra Park, and soak in the thermal pools of Caldeira Velha. (For more things to do on São Miguel, check out our São Miguel post.)
San Juan Islands – Washington USA
Easily reachable by ferry or float plane, this small cluster of islands off the coast of Seattle (Washington, USA) is the perfect escape for nature lovers. There are no stoplights on any of the 4 main islands (San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw) and the wildlife viewing is remarkable. Though the Pacific Northwest has a reputation for being gloomy and rainy, the San Juans average 247 days of sunshine each year and only receive half the rain of Seattle or Portland. People come here from all over the world with hopes of seeing the islands’ resident killer whales. Lime Kiln State Park on San Juan Island is one of the best locations in the world for spotting orcas from land.
(We visited two of the four main islands during our first visit to the San Juan Islands)
Things to do in the San Juan Islands: San Juan Island – Drive the San Juan Scenic Byway, visit the the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park, go whale watching to spot resident orcas, or try to spot them from shore at Lime Kiln State Park, go hiking at Mt Grant Preserve, and definitely do some ‘glamping’ at Lakedale Resort! (For more things to do, check out our post – Top 10 Experiences on San Juan Island) Orcas Island – Hike, bike, or drive to the summit of Mt Constitution, discover countless waterfalls, take a hike at Obstruction State Park, support the local artisan community, and do some ‘glamping’ with LEANTO in Moran State Park. (For more things to do, check out our post – Orcas Island Getaway)
While many visitors to Thailand flock to the more popular islands of Koh Samui and Phuket, there are numerous other islands that offer similar beauty and charm, minus the crowds, and Koh Chang is a perfect example! It’s easy to get to Koh Chang from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Bangkok via an air-conditioned 10-seater VIP van and ferry ride (7.5 hours total and only about $25 RT), and getting around the island is a cinch with plenty of truck taxis. The beaches are gorgeous and the food is delicious, so instead of visiting the over-commercialized islands of Thailand, consider a visit to Koh Chang!
Things to do on Koh Chang: Relax on the beach (Lonely Beach, Kai Bae Beach, and White Sands Beach were among our favorites), eat delicious Thai food, get a massage, and rent a kayak (at Kai Bae Beach) and paddle out to Koh Man Nai. Whatever you do, please DO NOT ride the elephants (despite the fact that Koh Chang translates to Elephant Island). For more things to do, check out the video from our time on Koh Chang.
We couldn’t pick just one Croatian island to highlight; we simply have too many favorites! Croatia is an ideal country for island travel There are literally thousands of islands off the mainland, though not all of them are inhabited and/or open for visitors. Getting between the islands is easy and affordable using the public ferries. During our first visit to Croatia, we visited the islands of Vis, Hvar, and Korcula. They are all wonderfully unique and each have their own rhythm and vibe!
Find out how to create your very own island-hopping holiday by reading our guest post on the popular Croatian travel blog, Chasing the Donkey. And for ideas on things to do on the islands we visited, check out our posts on Vis, Hvar, and Korcula.
This is one island where a boat is not required for arrival. You’ll have to pay a toll to pass over the San Carlos Bay on the Sanibel Causeway bridge, but shortly after leaving the Florida mainland, you are greeted with crystal clear water and shell-covered beaches as far as the eye can see. Life moves a little slower on Sanibel, which is always a welcome pace when you’re on holiday.
Things to do on Sanibel Island: Go ‘shelling’ (collect beautiful shells on the beaches that have been washed ashore from the Gulf of Mexico), visit the 19th-century Sanibel Lighthouse and wander along the boardwalks winding through the marshes, and discover abundant wildlife at the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which covers about half of the island.
Though the nearby island of Santorini may attract more visitors, the iconic white buildings set against the turquoise Aegean Sea on this dazzling Greek isle still entices a fair amount of travelers each year. Mykonos may be a little more well-known for its happening nightlife and gay-friendly atmosphere, but this shouldn’t discourage people of all walks of life from enjoying its alluring beauty.
Things to do on Mykonos: Visit the iconic 16th-century windmills, enjoy delicious Greek cuisine, take postcard-worthy images in picturesque Little Italy (shown below), snorkel in the crystal clear waters surrounding the island, or simply relax on the beach. (We only visited Mykonos for a half-day as a port of call on a Mediterranean cruise, but we still very much enjoyed our time on this charming Greek island!)
Santa Catalina Island – California USA
Just a quick boat ride (22 miles) from the coast of southern California is the captivating Santa Catalina Island (a.k.a. Catalina Island). The island is only 22 miles (35 km) long and eight miles (13 km) wide, with Mount Orizaba (2126 feet/648 meters) as the highest point on the island. Due to a conservancy protection, more than 80% of the island remains undeveloped. A herd of about 150 bison roam the island’s interior. The main town of Avalon has many restaurants, boutique shops, fancy hotels, and vacation rentals, making it the perfect destination for escaping busy city life.
Things to do on Catalina Island: Rent a golf cart and explore the island, partake in a wide array of water activities (snorkeling, SCUBA diving, kayaking, submarine tour, parasailing, etc.), sip on a cocktail beach-side at Descanso Beach Club, go on an island hummer tour, get your thrills on the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour, and peruse the shops in Avalon.
Berlengas Grande – Portugal
Reachable only by an often turbulent 35-50 minute boat ride from Peniche in Portugal, Berlengas Grande is an undeveloped nature reserve that welcomes a maximum of 350 people at any given time. It’s less than a mile long (1500m), only a half mile wide (800m). It is close to 300 ft (88m) at its highest point and –100 ft (-30m) at its lowest. Trips to the island only occur during the summer months (May-September) due to inclement weather during the other months of the year. If you’re looking to get away from it all, a trip to this unspoiled, rugged island will satisfy your need for solitude.
Things to do on Berlengas Grande: Visit the 17th-century Fort of São João Baptista das Berlengas, admire Berlenga Grande’s lighthouse (built in 1841), access the island’s many caves via a boat tour around the island, snorkel or scuba, camp under the stars, or spend the night in the fort. For a closer look at the beauty of Berlengas, check out our post – Berlenga Grande: Portugal’s Secret Island.
Up to this point, we’ve highlighted primarily warm and mostly tropical destinations, but let us not forget about the absolutely stunning islands located in the northern waters of the Atlantic. The United Kingdom is technically an island all on its own, and even still, there are islands off its coast worthy of exploration. Scotland has close to 800 off-shore islands (though not all are inhabited) and we’ve had the opportunity to visit a handful during recent visits. Isle of Skye is certainly Scotland’s most popular island, which is undoubtedly lovely, but we also enjoyed the absolute beauty of Isle of Mull.
Things to do on Isle of Mull: Visit Duart Castle (a 13th-century fortress; one of Scotland’s oldest inhabited castles), take in the scenic views at Carsaig Bay, Loch na Keal, and Calgary Beach, and take a short (10 minute) ferry ride to Isle of Iona and explore its beautifully preserved abbey. (For a closer look at the beauty of Mull, check out our post – 3 Reasons to Visit Isle of Mull.)
Like the United Kingdom, Ireland is also an island unto itself. Achill Island, Ireland’s largest off-shore island is reachable by car from the Corraun Peninsula in County Mayo. A drive along the Atlantic Drive showcases the island’s best coastal views! Achill Island is home to 5 Blue Flag beaches and some of Europe’s highest cliffs. Megalithic tombs and promontory forts dating back 5,000 years can be found on the island.
Things to do on Achill Island: Drive 25-mile (40 km) along the Atlantic Drive to explore the dramatic coastline of Achill Sound, visit quaint villages along the drive including Shraheens, Derreens, and Cloughmore, discover the beaches of Keel and Keem, and explore a 15th-century fortified tower house and Kildamhnait Castle.
Completely breaking all traditional norms of what island travel typically looks like, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include Iceland in our list of favorite islands around the world. Completely surrounded by the North Atlantic, this often frozen landscape offers some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever laid eyes on! The summer months offer endless hours of daylight, whereas the cold and dark winter months reward lucky visitors with glimpses of the Northern Lights!
Things to do in Iceland: Drive Ring Road around the entire perimeter of the island, drive the Golden Circle to discover the country’s many highlights, explore Iceland’s countless and gorgeous waterfalls, take a journey along the scenic Snæfellsnes Peninsula; if visiting in the winter months, stay up late to hopefully catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights and hike on a glacier and explore ice caves.
This list only highlights about 15 or so of the many islands we’ve had the privilege of visiting around the globe. Considering our love for being close to water, we have no doubt that our future travels will continue to include beautiful islands near and far; no matter tropical, temperate, or arctic. So, now you can help inspire our future travels…
What’s Your Favorite Island?!