15 Must-Visit Islands in Europe

Written by Rachael Monson
Updated: September 19, 2023
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Have you ever been to Europe? From sprawling castles to white sand beaches, the continent offers so many amazing places to visit. Despite being the second-smallest continent of the seven, a visit to this seemingly magical land will leave you in awe of both nature and man-made creations. Whether you’re a history buff or just want to relax in the sun, at least one of these spectacular must-visit islands in Europe is the one for you! With four islands on the list, Greece takes the cake when it comes to islands you must visit. Spain follows closely at second place with three islands on the list.

Europeans belong to 87 distinct ethnic groups, and 33 of them reign the majority in their origin country. The people of Europe speak as many as 200 different languages, though only 24 are recognized as official. Interestingly, the most common language spoken in Europe is Russian. According to The Network of European Museum Organizations, more than 15,000 museums exist on the continent, bringing residents and visitors closer to the history of the captivating places to explore.

In no particular order, let’s take a virtual island-hopping adventure around the best must-visit islands in Europe! Make sure to read to the end to find out which islands we’d most prefer to visit.

#1 Capri: Italy’s Must-Visit Island in Europe With the Best Sights to See

Grotta Azzurra in the must-visit island of Capri, Italy, in Europe

The Blue Grotto, a cave located in Italy, brings fame to the island of Capri with its electric blue waters.

©Takashi Images/Shutterstock.com

One of the most famous islands in Italy, Capri, combines rugged terrain alongside gorgeous mansions and upscale hotels. To say this island is heaven for the rich would be an understatement. Expensive yachts dot the coastline during the summer, and homes sell for upwards of 3 million dollars!

If this island makes it onto your list of stops to make in Europe, you must absolutely see the Blue Grotto. This underground cave is filled with water that appears electric blue due to sunlight that shines on it through an underwater cave.

Visitors to Capri also enjoy shopping for one-of-a-kind handmade goods, especially those made of coveted Italian leather. Tourists also can’t miss visiting the central square, Piazza Umberto I (or Piazzetta to the rest of the world), which is the heart of the island’s social life.

Animals of Capri

Blue wall lizard (Podarcis sicula coerulea)

The blue lizard of Capri makes it home in only one place: the Faraglioni, or rock stacks, of Capri.

©reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

This must-visit island in Europe is also home to some unique plants and animals. The most special species found here is the blue lizard of Capri, or “lucertola azzurra,” in Italian. The scientific name is Podarcis siculus coeruleus.

In fact, the lizard is so special it appears on the flag of Capri. This blue lizard is a color morph of the Italian wall lizard and features bright blue coloration. The blue variety is found only at the top of one of the three Faraglioni of Capri. These are the large rock stacks jutting from the ocean just off the island’s edge. These Faraglioni are not unique to Capri but are found throughout the Mediterranean Sea. The unique lizards were discovered by one of the sailors or fishermen who climbed the Scopolo rock stack with his bare hands. The other rock stacks are named Saetta, Stella, and Monacone.

The color change these lizards show represents a prime example of island syndrome (when a species develops different appearances or evolves differently from its counterparts on separate islands). The phenomenon is also seen in panther chameleons found in different parts of Madagascar.

#2 Santorini: A Grecian Group of 5 Must-Visit Islands in Europe

Must-Visit Islands in Europe: Santorini inspires awe in all those who see it

Visitors often remark on Santorini’s awe-inspiring views and the villas built upon the steep cliffs.

©Dmitry Rukhlenko/Shutterstock.com

Santorini, Greece, inspires awe from the ocean looking upon it and from the island looking out. Once the remnants of an island were destroyed by one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history (the Minoan eruption), Santorini now welcomes over 2 million tourists each year. Santorini gains its fame from the long volcanic beaches full of beautiful lava rocks. Made up of five exquisite islands, only two of them are inhabited: Santorini and Therasia. The uninhabited islands are Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Aspronisi, and Christiana.

Animals of Santorini

Unlike many of our must-visit islands in Europe, Santorini lacks a wide variety of natural flora and fauna (plants and animals). This is possibly due to the volcanic activity in the region. Olive vineyards are common here, but if there are endemic creatures here, they haven’t been discovered yet. Endemic refers to creatures and plants that live or grow only in the region discussed. For instance, Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are endemic to the Southeastern United States. They are found naturally anywhere else.

Olea europaea olive tree green immature fruits close up

Santorini doesn’t have much in the way of unique animals, but they have lovely olive vineyards.

©jessicahyde/Shutterstock.com

#3 Malta: The Country of 7 Must-Visit Islands in Europe

Gozo island - Malta is a must-visit island in Europe.

The island of Gozo is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malta.

©Dragan Adoroarte/Shutterstock.com

Comprised of seven picturesque islands, Malta makes the top of many bucket lists for travel. The country of Malta includes the inhabited islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino, along with the uninhabited islands of Filfla, Cominotto, Manoel, and Selmunett. Malta gained its fame for its idyllic landscapes used in Hollywood productions, such as the show Game of Thrones. Some people visit the country of islands just because of this fact. Others come to view the Megalithic Temples of Malta. The seven temples found on the islands of Malta and Gozo feature massive Bronze Age structures and a look into humanity’s prehistoric past.

Animals of Malta

Blue Rock Thrush of Malta - one of Europe's Must-Visit Islands

The national bird of Malta, the stunning blue rock thrush, amazes visitors with its vibrant color.

©Michele Aldeghi/Shutterstock.com

Famous for the Maltese dog breed, Malta is home to some unique and wonderful wild creatures, too. In fact, four unique species of bats call the islands home. Vagrant hedgehogs (Erinaceus algirus) also live in the area along with the country’s national bird, the blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius). Animal lovers will have a blast in Malta, seeing all the special creatures that live there!

#4 Mykonos: The Grecian Island with Must-See Animals in Europe

Mykonos - Greece's must-visit island in Europe

Fishing is a common pastime in Mykonos.

©imagIN.gr photography/Shutterstock.com

If you’re looking for a place to party in the summer, Mykonos offers a lively atmosphere with wonderful views. Many bars and dance clubs feature world-renowned DJs and blast music across the beaches well into the night.

If parties aren’t your jam, one of the most iconic features of this island is the 16th-century windmills that still stand. The majestic beaches and access to historic architecture help to bring over 500,000 tourists to Mykonos each year.

Animals of Mykonos

lizard Hardun Agame or Stellagama stellio

The unique lizard species found in Mykonos, Stellagama stellio, goes by many names.

©Klaus Brauner/Shutterstock.com

Besides a multitude of street cats and iconic pelicans (considered the mascots of the island), Mykonos is home to some incredible unique creatures. One of these is the agama stellios lizard. They go by many names, including stellagama, Ludakia stellio, or starred agma. Stellagama stellio are a species of lizard similar to iguanas but smaller. They look kind of like bearded dragons but have yellow heads and bright blue markings. These lizards are endemic to Mykonos.

#5 Madeira: Portugal’s Top Must-Visit Island in Europe

Madeira is one of Portugal's must-visit island in Europe.

Madeira, Portugal produces its own type of wine with the same name.

©Castro Cicero/Shutterstock.com

With dramatic cliffs and friendly locals, Madeira is definitely a must-visit island in Europe. Located in Portugal, the four-island archipelago gains much of its fame from the wine produced here with the same name. Not only that, but the capital, Funchal, has stunning botanic gardens and a huge harbor. The capital also displays a world-renowned New Year’s fireworks show each year. Madeira is also famous for its delicious variety of local cuisine only found there. One of many interesting dishes served there is espada com banana (black scabbardfish with banana).

Animals of Madeira

Zino's petrel the symbol of the coast of Madeira

Zino’s petrel is the symbol of the coast of Madeira.

©Monika Polackova/Shutterstock.com

Of the vast array of unique animals, it seems the endemic coastal birds are the species that hold a special place in the hearts of the locals. Alec Zino, a local ornithologist (a scientist who specializes in the study of birds), rediscovered an extremely rare bird in Madeira in 1969.

Once thought to be extinct, the freira-da-Madeira (or Zino’s Petrel), was an exciting find! Zino’s observations, along with DNA analysis, revealed that the bird did belong to a distinct species. These little seabirds only lay one egg per year, contributing to their rarity. Scientists estimate only 40 breeding pairs exist today. They suspect both the male and the female remain faithful to their partner for life. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists them as endangered. A similar bird native to the area, the Desertas petrel, also finds itself on the IUCN list as vulnerable. Locals in the area take great care in not disturbing the birds and protecting them from careless tourists.

#6 Corsica: France’s Mountainous Must-Visit Island in Europe

Corsica is certainly a Must-Visit Island in Europe

On a clear day, it’s said that you can see all the way to Italy from Monte Cinto on the island of Corsica.

©Balata Dorin/Shutterstock.com

Want to experience challenging hikes with amazing views? Corsica, France is the must-visit island in Europe for you! The fourth-largest island in the Mediterranean, Corsica shows visitors her remarkable history and natural beauty at every turn. Did you know that both Napolean Bonaparte and Pasquale Paoli were born in Corsica? Both of these influential historical figures hailed from the island. Bonaparte played a key role in the French Revolution and ruled France for over a decade. Meanwhile, Paoli freed the Corsicans from the rule of the Republic of Genoa. The Corsican people are very proud of their history and culture. They are also friendly and free-spirited, welcoming guests to their land.

Animals of Corsica

France, Impressions of the island of Corsica

The island of Corsica has its own wildcat species.

©Werner Schmidt/Shutterstock.com

Corsica celebrates many animals as uniquely Corsican, from their donkeys and horses to dogs and wildcats. Perhaps most exciting is the Corsican cat-fox (or Corsican wildcat), which was confirmed as a unique species in 2023. The wildcat is part of the shepherd’s mythology, and stories of them have been passed down from generation to generation. More research is being conducted, but the cats are truly a separate species contrary to previous thoughts that considered them a group of domestic cats affected by island syndrome.

#7 Azores: Portugal’s 9 Island Paradise and Must-Visit Islands in Europe

Azores has 9 Must-Visit Islands in Europe

São Miguel, one of the nine Azores islands, is shaped like a heart when seen from the air.

©iStock.com/aroxopt

Want to avoid crowds of tourists? Portugal’s hidden gem is the place for you! With nine different islands to explore, the adventures available for you in the Azores are immeasurable. Corvo, Faial, Flores, Graciosa, Pico, Santa Maria, São Jorge, São Miguel, and Terceira are all accessible. You can even take a cruise that includes a visit to each. This volcanic region has black sand beaches and warmth emanating from within that you just can’t get anywhere else.

Animals of Azores

Azores chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs moreletti) subspecies of common chaffinch that is endemic to the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores

The Azores bullfinch makes its home only in the islands of the Azores.

©Yulia_B/Shutterstock.com

According to Azores Wildlife’s website, the area’s special species are all birds. Two of these species are endemic to the region, while others are subspecies affected by island syndrome. The Azores bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina) and Monteiro’s storm petrel (Oceanodroma monteiroi) are the two unique species found on the island. This must-visit island in Europe is a great place for bird watchers!

#8 Ibiza: Spain’s Party-Capital and Must-Visit Island in Europe

Ibiza is a top Must-Visit Island in Europe

Ibiza is often heralded as the party capital of Europe.

©iStock.com/amoklv

Known for its party-rich beaches, Ibiza is one of the most famous islands in all of Europe. Extremely well-known for its fabulous dance parties, complete with electronic dance music, this island attracts millions of tourists each year. Ibiza is also a UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) world heritage site. The island’s government is working toward promoting more family-oriented tourism. Ibiza is full of rich history and beautiful places to see. Ibiza Old Town is the perfect place to explore and learn about times past in the area. There are also many unique boutiques for shopping.

Animals of Ibiza

Ibizan Hound standing posed to perfection

Ibizan Hounds originated in Ibiza as hunting dogs.

©Sally Wallis/Shutterstock.com

Several interesting animals hail from Ibiza, including the Ibizan Hound. These beautiful red and white sighthounds originated on the island from the combination of various other breeds. The purpose of this breed is to hunt rabbits and other small game. Since they are incredibly fast and athletic, they are great hunters for equally fast prey. Although people in the United States do sometimes use them for lure racing and hunting, the breed is quite rare, and few are seen outside the island.

Another neat creature that lives in Ibiza, though not exclusively there, is the genet. This cat-like creature is actually a member of the Viverridae family. With its spotted coat, some prize it for its pelt. However, only a few varieties around the world find themselves on the IUCN red list. Some people even keep genets as pets!

#9 Mallorca: Spain’s Most Historic Must-Visit Island in Europe

Mallorca is one of the most history-filled Must-Visit Islands in Europe

Full of history to learn and explore, Mallorca draws those who appreciate architecture and art.

©iStock.com/Balate Dorin

One of Spain’s most historic islands, Mallorcan visitors find ancient stone villages and cathedrals to explore. Guided tours offer insights into the history of the towns and prehistoric life there around 2500-2300 BC. Those not too interested in history lessons should visit the capitol, Palma, and experience the art galleries and music festivals. Visitors can also participate in snorkeling and a bustling nightlife.

Animals of Mallorca

Pine processionary caterpillar's have venomous hairs that make them a danger to people on our must-visit island in Europe, Mallorca.

The pine procession

caterpillar

forms a line together as they move along, hence the name.

©Gonzalo Jara/Shutterstock.com

Mallorca isn’t home to a vast number of unique animals. Aside from rabbits, lizards, and snakes, only one species really stood out to us: the pine procession moth. The caterpillar stage of these moths makes the list of the top seven caterpillars you should never touch! Numbering in the hundreds along the hiking trails of Mallorca, brushing against one of these caterpillars will leave your skin embedded with fine hairs carrying their venom. The venom causes severe allergic reactions in some people. Others only experience a rash and burning, itchy skin.

#10 Sardinia: Italy’s Beach Lover’s Must-Visit Island in Europe

Beautiful spring scenery. Colorful morning scene of Sardinia, Italy, Europe. Fantastic sunrise on Capo San Marco Lighthouse on Del Sinis peninsula. Picturesque seascape of Mediterranean sea.

In springtime, the island of Sardinia blooms with stunning varieties of mountain flowers.

©Andrew Mayovskyy/Shutterstock.com

With over 1,200 miles of beach to laze about on, Sardinia is the beach-lovers paradise of Italy. The interior of the island is beautifully mountainous, perfect for visitors who enjoy nature hikes. Not only that, but Sardinia is one of the few places with nuraghi. These mysterious Bronze Age stone ruins shaped like beehives intrigue tourists and residents alike. Crystal-clear blue waters aren’t the only thing beckoning people to this exquisite island; the people here are friendly and inviting. The many festivals they host honor their traditions and celebrate the island they call home.

Animals of Sardinia

Cavallino della Giara, Equus caballus giarae, Giara's horse, wild horses, Giara basaltic upland, Medio Campidano, Sardinia, Italy

Giara horses, native to Sardinia, are small but sturdy.

©fabiano goreme caddeo/Shutterstock.com

A bird-watching paradise, Sardinia boasts many interesting birds to see. Most excitingly, pink flamingos! That’s not the only amazing creature found here. In fact, Sardinia is the only place on Earth with Giara horses. These small but sturdy wild horses used to roam the entire island but are now limited to just a small, protected area. Some locals still use these horses for farming though most of them are wild. Others have cross-bred the endemic horse breed with Arabian horses to create a tough, sporty mix.

#11 Rhodes: Greece’s History Lover’s Must-Visit Island in Europe

Rhodes, Greece

Rhodes features various nicknames, including the Island of Snakes and Island of the Sun.

©iStock.com/Vladislav Zolotov

In the past, Rhodes was known for its Colossus of Rhodes. This was an absolutely massive statue said to have straddled the port of entry into the island. The statue is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Medieval Old Town of Rhodes City is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, Rhodes it’s a very popular tourist spot and a must-visit island in Europe. Visitors also love to see the Acropolis of Lindos, which towers over the modern-day city of Lindos and contains the Temple of Athena Lindia. Rich history aside, Rhodes is absolutely gorgeous. Tourists enjoy learning to surf in the crystal water and visiting the thermal springs.

Animals of Rhodes

Ο συλλογος προστασιας του μικροσωμου αλογου της Ροδου Rhodes horses– Φαέθων – Phaethon ευχετε σε ολον τον κοσμο Χρονια πολλα …!!!! Καλα Χριστουγεννα με υγεια και αγαπη..!!!

Posted by Φαέθων – Phaethon on Saturday, December 24, 2022

Like others on our list, Rhodes has a few animals unique to its land. Namely, the Rhodian pony. These miniature horses are endemic to the island and are threatened with extinction. Efforts to save the species began in 2001 by the Phaethon Association. The Rhodian ponies are one of the two smallest horses in the world, along with their cousins, Skyros ponies. A Greek news outlet reported only 11 Rhodian ponies left in existence as of November 2022. In March 2023, Phaethon posted to their Facebook that only eight of the ponies remained. Their hope is to breed the miniature horse and increase the population.

#12 Corfu: Greece’s Largest Must-Visit Island in Europe

Beach and boat in Paleokastritsa, Corfu

Corfu features over 3 million olive trees.

©Balate Dorin/iStock via Getty Images

Corfu is one of Greece’s largest islands, and thousands of visitors come here each year. They come to see the historic architecture, some of which still stands from the Venetian era. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Corfu’s Old Town, features the Spianada square, where people can sample some delicious Greek and Venetian dishes. Beautiful beaches and stunning greenery earn this island the nickname Emerald Isle. It is the greenest of all the Grecian islands.

Animals of Corfu

Stone Marten or Beech Marten, martes foina, Adult, Normandy

The adorable beech marten is an omnivore, eating both meat and fruit.

©slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

Though this island has many wonderful creatures, few of them are unique to the island itself. Hedgehogs, martens, bats, and moles all make the island their home. The most notable animal we discovered was the beech marten (or stone marten). Martens live throughout much of Europe and Central Asia. This small weasel-like creature, no bigger than a typical house cat, gets itself in trouble sneaking into chicken coops and taking its pick of the birds for dinner. They’re rather cute, but don’t be fooled. These martens are fierce and elusive predators.

#13 Sicily: Italy’s World Heritage Capital and Must-Visit Island in Europe

Palermo, Italy

Sicilians take pride in their city and enjoy sharing their culture with visitors.

©Travel Faery/Shutterstock.com

Sicily is famous for its cathedrals, vineyards, and beaches. It also boasts fame for its amazing architecture, including major landmarks such as the Palermo Opera House and the Valley of the Temples. Sicily contains seven of the 58 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy! From the water looking in, Sicily clearly appears as a land full of rich and beautiful architectural and artistic design. People here speak Sicilian instead of Italian. Sicilians are known for their warmth and friendliness. Locals often rejoice in the chance to share their food and culture with visitors. Much of the island is hills, so those who love hiking will enjoy Sicily, too!

Animals of Sicily

Animals That Use Echolocation

Sicilian shrews have a similar appearance to the European water shrew.

©Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock.com

Many of the animals found in Sicily venture there during migration. That means that what animals you’ll see will depend on when you visit. However, they do have a special tiny creature all their own. The Sicilian shrew is a small, nocturnal mammal. They are not classified as rodents despite looking similar to a mouse. Unlike mice, they are insectivores. Not much appears to be known about the little creatures or their habits other than our knowledge that they are endemic to Sicily. They are dark gray on top with a white belly. Their long noses give them an excellent sense of smell. Despite their presence in Sicily, you’re very unlikely to see one due to their shy behavior and tendency to late-night activity.

#14 Hvar: Croatia’s Party Lover’s Must-Visit Island in Europe

Hvar is well-known for its parties, but it’s also famous for the fields of lavender that grow in early summer.

©Ajan Alen/Shutterstock.com

Another top party destination on our list, Hvar, Croatia, competes with Ibiza in the lavish celebrations category. Yacht parties and dancing might be your draw to the island, but its rich and interesting history is worth noting. Various civilizations previously inhabited the island, including the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, and Austrians. Visitors also appreciate the well-preserved medieval architecture, including the Hvar Fortress. Not only that, but the town of Stari Grad is one of the oldest settlements in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Animals of Hvar

Eurasian Eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) standing on a post.

Eurasian eagle-owls call Hvar home throughout the year.

©LesPalenik/Shutterstock.com

Yet another island with no specifically endemic creatures, Hvar still flourishes with many animals to see. From migrating birds to several species of stunning reptiles, the island has a bit of everything. One of the more interesting birds residing here is the Eurasian eagle-owl. These massive owls weigh up to 10 pounds with a wingspan just a bit shorter than 2 feet. These owls live on the island year-round.

#15 Tenerife: Spain’s Top Must-Visit Island in Europe for Stargazing

Canary Islands 

Tenerife is part of the famous Canary Islands.

©iStock.com/Balate Dorin

We may well have saved the best for last! With enchanting beaches and a busy nightlife, Tenerife, Spain, is a dream of an island. However, if you’re the stargazing type, this island shares the title of the best place to see the stars in all of Europe. The island also hosts the fifth-largest cave formed by lava in the world. Named the Wind Cave, this natural wonder is a can’t-miss adventure in Tenerife. To top it all off, the island has several Michelin Star restaurants to choose from for visitors seeking amazing food. It seems Tenerife has it all, from breathtaking sights and delicious food to incredible activities and unique animals!

Animals of Tenerife

Bolle's pigeons are one of the unique animals found on Tenerife, a must-visit island in Europe.

The Bolle’s pigeon is one of two pigeon species endemic to the Canary Islands.

©Hobbyfotowiki, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Tenerife and the Canary Islands as a whole have several exciting native creatures. On this island, you will experience magnificent birds, unique reptiles, and even special fish! Aside from the endemic Canary bird, named for the larger group of islands where it came from, one particular bird caught our eye. Generally, a pigeon isn’t much to write home about, but the laurel pigeon is absolutely stunning! This bird’s dark purple-gray feathers shine in the sunlight giving it a purple glow. The laurel pigeon is one of two endemic pigeon species on the Canary Islands. Its smaller cousin, the Bolle’s pigeon, features similar coloration. The main difference between the two is the color of the tail feathers. Laurels have white tail feathers, and white Bolle’s pigeons have dark ones.

Summary of the 15 Must-Visit Islands in Europe

Here’s a rundown of our top 15 must-visit islands in Europe. We included a brief column stating whether the island has unique endemic animals that visitors should strive to see or not. Remember, endemic means the animals are only found in that place. Not all our islands on the list have endemic creatures, but all of them have wonderful plants and animals to see!

Listing NumberIsland Name, CountryUnique Endemic Animals?
1Capri, ItalyYes, lizard
2Santorini, GreeceNo
3Malta (Mediterranean Sea)Yes, bird
4Mykonos, GreeceYes, lizard
5Madeira, PortugalYes, bird
6Corsica, FranceYes, wildcat
7Azores, PortugalYes, bird
8Ibiza, SpainYes, dog breed
9Mallorca, SpainYes, insect
10Sardinia, ItalyYes, horse
11Rhodes, GreeceYes, horse
12Corfu, GreeceNo
13Sicily, ItalyYes, shrew
14Hvar, CroatiaNo
15Tenerife, SpainYes, bird

Final Thoughts on the 15 Must-Visit Islands in Europe

After taking this incredible, virtual island-hopping adventure around Europe, we’ve chosen the islands we’d most like to visit! Our top picks are Corsica, Tenerife, and Capri. Which must-visit island calls to you?

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Janoka82/iStock via Getty Images


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About the Author

Rachael Monson is a writer at A-Z-Animals where her primary focus is cats, big and small. She also works as senior veterinary assistant and has been in that field since 2012. A resident of Mississippi, she enjoys spending her off time playing video games with her husband and hanging out with her pets (a Bengal cat named Citrine and Basset Hound/Pomeranian mix dog named Pepsi).

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