12 European Islands You Never Thought to Visit—But Totally Should
You don't need the Caribbean or Indonesia for picture-perfect island destinations: Put these stunning, off-the-beaten-path isles on your radar this summer.
Vestvågøya, the geographical center of the Lofoten Islands, is distinguished by its dramatic landscape—soaring peaks, sheer rock faces, glimmering lakes, and surf-washed shores—quaint fishing villages, and the Lofotr Viking Museum. No matter when you visit this arctic arcadia, expect eye-popping weather phenomena, from the magical midnight sun to the mythical northern lights. Don’t miss these unforgettable bucket-list trips that won’t break the bank.
Only an hour ferry from Santorini, Folegandros—a 12-square-mile islet with just 765 year-round residents—has all the Grecian allure without the crowds and sky-high prices. Hike the rocky cliffs, kick back on the pristine beaches, watch the sunrise over the Aegean, soak in the laid-back vibe of Chora, and feast on matsata (handmade pasta with a red sauce and chicken, goat, or rabbit). On your next European tour, try going by sea.
Gozo, the second-largest isle in the Maltese archipelago after Malta itself, is storied for its jaw-dropping scenery. The biggest draw is the Azure Window, a 92-foot-tall limestone arch—the film location for the Dothraki wedding in the first episode of “Game of Thrones.” Gozo also boasts some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the Mediterranea, plus Ġgantija, a megalithic temple complex that’s older than the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge. Here’s how to pick the perfect vacation based on your personality type.
São Miguel, Portugal
Delta recently announced new direct flights from New York to the Azores and they’re a total game-changer. In less time than it takes to get to Los Angeles, you can now fly to Ponta Delgada (PDL) on São Miguel, the largest and most populous island in the Portuguese archipelago. Volcanic craters, lush vegetation, saltwater lagoons, and hot springs make it a superb place to start your Azorean adventure.
The farthest inhabited isle off the Dalmatian Coast, Vis is less touristy than its neighbors Hvar, Brac, and Solta. Its isolated setting and past as a military base have spared it from the pitfalls of over-development. Laze about on unspoiled beaches, savor fresh seafood from the Adriatic, sip local vino, and enjoy a history lesson at the Archaeological Museum, a former fortress that now displays a dazzling assortment of ancient treasures, ranging from traditional fishing tools to a 4th-century bronze head of the Greek goddess Artemis.
Despite an uptick in popularity over the past few years—thanks in part to the 1991 award-winning movie “Mediterraneo”—Kastellorizo remains a quiet haven. Its most celebrated site is the breathtaking Blue Cave, a limestone subterrane larger than the Grotta Azzurra in Capri. Colorful houses and boats ring the harbor. Nearby is the medieval Castello Rosso (“Red Castle”), which gave Kastellorizo its name. If you’re traveling on a budget, check out these cheap European vacations for under $400.
Faroe Islands, Denmark
Tired of the tropics? Trade Fiji for the Faroe Islands, situated between Iceland and Norway, approx 200 miles northwest of Scotland. This remote, autonomous archipelago is steeped in mystery. What it lacks in bikini-ready weather—its subpolar oceanic climate is windy, cloudy, and cool—it more than makes up for in rugged mountains, deep fjords, majestic waterfalls, sparkling lakes, and sweeping panoramas.
Texel, one of the Dutch Wadden Islands, is set off the coast of the Netherlands. With unrivaled natural splendor such as sandy shores, dunes, grasslands, tulips, and forests, and culinary delights like fresh-churned cheese, Texel is a picturesque paradise with plenty to savor. Don’t leave without visiting Ecomare, a museum, aquarium, and sanctuary for birds and seals.
Dubbed “the French Riviera’s last frontier,” Porquerolles is a bastion of scenic beauty and Provencal charm—an antidote to the extravagance of St-Tropez. This crescent-shaped enclave seduces privacy-seekers with its uncrowded beaches, eucalyptus-shaded trails, vineyards, and relaxed atmosphere. Wondering where to stay? There are a handful of moderately-priced accommodations for rent near the marina and a luxury hotel, Le Mas du Langoustier, at the western end. You’ll also want to visit these small European towns that not many people know about.
Koster Islands, Sweden
Summer in Scandinavia is marked by pleasant temperatures and 18 hours of sunshine a day. And there’s no better place to experience the season than the Koster Islands. This tiny archipelago, 100 miles north of Gothenburg, is the high point of Sweden’s first Marine National Park, Kosterhavet, for so many reasons: Archetypal fishing villages, sensational seascapes, and cold-water reefs to name a few.
Tresco, Isles of Scilly
OK, we’ll admit that getting to Tresco takes a bit of effort, but it’s well worth it to see a totally different side of the UK. What makes the second largest of the Isles of Scilly so special? For starters, its subtropical climate and romantic ambiance. Beyond being warm and sunny, the top attraction is Tresco Abbey Garden, an Eden of more than 20,000 exotic plants, plus shipwrecked figureheads at the Valhalla Museum. Rounding out the allure are quiet coves, miles of white sand, and castle ruins.
Cíes Islands, Spain
Off the coast of Galicia lies the Cíes Islands. Declared a nature reserve in 1980, the islands have a cap on visitors—no more than 2,200 a day. Instead of cars and hotels, you’ll find blissfully empty beaches, cerulean waters, and an abundance of birds, including the largest colony of seagulls in the world. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of native bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the Atlantic.