Italy has a surprising number of islands (hundreds) – but if you’re just counting the inhabited islands then the total is around 50. Which are the most beautiful of all the Italian islands?
That’s a difficult call because Italy’s default mode is beautiful. I’d argue that you wouldn’t be disappointed with any of her islands.
But these 10 islands certainly pack a punch when it comes to heart-stopping scenery, picturesque harbour towns, and impeccable beaches.
Sicily is one of Italy’s most captivating destinations, and as the biggest island in the whole Mediterranean, it’s unsurprisingly a great all-rounder. Sicily has it all – ancient history, baroque cities, hilltop towns, soft white sand beaches, and some of the best food you’ll ever taste.
Oh, and then there’s the small matter of Mount Etna. Who can resist a volcano?
Sardinia is the second-largest island in Italy and equally as packed with treasures. It’s arguably the number one destination for beach bums thanks to its abundance of incredible sandy beaches and spectacular coastal scenery.
There’s no shortage of glitzy resorts on Sardinia’s champagne coast. But the interior is rural and unspoilt, with traditional villages and fantastic food. And its cities haven’t yet been subject to a deluge of foreign tourists.
And unique to Sardinia is its nuraghi, thousands of round prehistoric ruins that dot the countryside.
Elba is also somewhat off the beaten track for foreigners, although the name may be familiar for its Napoleon association (he spent a year in exile on the island).
This treasure island is part of the Tuscan archipelago (which forms the largest marine park in Europe) and mainly visited by weekending mainlanders. The main town Portoferraio is a colourful and attractive harbour town, but the island is popular mainly for its pristine landscapes – it’s one of the best islands in Italy for outdoor activities.
You can get there via ferry from Piombino on the mainland.
No list of beautiful islands in Italy would be complete without mentioning the legendary Capri.
Less than an hour from Naples, Capri has long been a destination island for the beautiful people. This is a place to see and be seen. The landscape is rugged, the buildings and gardens are immaculate, and the shopping is expensive.
It’s worth at least a day for the people-watching alone. There aren’t any proper beaches, the thing to do on Capri is rent a boat to explore its caves and grottoes.
Also located in the Bay of Naples, tourists have always bypassed Procida for the more popular Capri and Ischia. This is partly down to its size – Procida is tiny, and there’s simply no room for big boats to land.
This has had the happy effect of keeping it real on Procida, which is traditionally a fishing island, though its colourful houses are becoming increasingly in demand over the summer months.
The Aegadian Islands off the west coast of Sicily are small and simply irresistible. Levanzo is the smallest and arguably the most photogenic – the perfect miniature Italian island.
The whitewashed buildings of main (and only) village Cala Dogana provide a sharp contrast with the electric blue seas. All of the Aegadian islands are easy to reach from Trapani on the Sicilian mainland.
Ponza is one of the lesser-known Italian islands – at least outside Italy. It’s a popular weekend island for Romans (though increasing numbers of celebs are dropping by), and you can reach it by ferry from the port of Anzio.
La dolce vita is the order of the day here – lazy days by the sea, breathtaking sunsets, and fresh seafood. Not as manicured as Capri or Lipari, there’s a refreshing hint of wilderness about it.
The many Venetian lagoon islands make up a large proportion of Italy’s total islands. The most beautiful has to be the extremely Instagrammable Burano, which has become an influencer favourite thanks to its multicoloured canalside houses.
The story goes that the buildings were painted so that fishermen could find their home in the fog. It is also famous for its lace – you can still find the genuine article for sale though it doesn’t come cheap.
The UNESCO-listed Aeolian Islands to the north of Italy have their own unique brand of volcanic beauty. It’s an intense and wild landscape with deep colours, bizarre rocks clear seas, the smelly thermal mud baths of Vulcano, and then Stromboli – the volcano itself, which still erupts on a semi-frequent basis.
Lipari is the main island and the best base for exploring. The vibe is bucket-and-spade rather than boho-chic, though the town is picturesque and has plenty of historic alleyways to duck down.
But the best thing about Lipari is the famous view from Belvedere di Quattrochi.
Panarea is the chicest of the Aeolian islands, attracting a quietly monied clientele who come here for the privacy it affords. It’s quiet and expensive, and startlingly beautiful. This is Santorini without the crowds, even down to its whitewashed houses and infinity pools.
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Stromboli view: © Carolina09 / Adobe Stock
Sicily: © mRGB / Adobe Stock
Sardinia: By Elisa Locci / Shutterstock
Elba: © Jens Ottoson
Procida: © ronnybas / Adobe Stock
Capri: © evannovostro / Adobe Stock
Levanzo: By Andrea-Moreno / Shutterstock
Ponza: © claudiozacc / Adobe Stock
Burano: By fokke baarssen / Shutterstock
Lipari: © AlexanderNikiforov / Adobe Stock
Panarea: © nata_rass / Adobe Stock