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Italian islands are the things dreams are made of. With many islands found in the sparkling turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, there’s no mistaking their colorful cliffside homes, and dramatic coastlines. From the narrow canals of Venice to the bubbling hot springs of Ischia, you’re sure to find something unique in each of the most beautiful Italian islands.
Italy’s mainland draws in visitors with ancient ruins, Medieval castles, hilltop country towns and artsy, fashion-forward cities. In contrast, Italy’s islands offer more off-the-beaten-path adventures thanks to rocky coves, natural hot springs, and pristine beaches.
A typical trip to Italy sees you exploring famous cities like Rome, Milan, and Venice and their top attractions, however, make some room in your itinerary for some of these gorgeous Italian islands. You won’t be disappointed.
Southern Italian Islands
Italian islands in the south are characterized by centuries-old archaeological sites, volcanic landscapes, and a slower-paced way of living, thanks to the perfect Mediterranean climate. Here are some of our favorites.
Sitting just off the toe of mainland Italy’s boot, Sicily is the country’s largest Mediterranean island and home to many historical ruins and archeological sites dating back to the Middle Ages. The island is separated from the Italian mainland by the Strait of Messina and can be reached via ferry or a short plane ride.
The island of Sicily is a place of extremes. Its landscapes range from beautiful beaches along the over-900-mile coastline to lush countrysides and charming villages overrun by colorful houses. Plus, there’s rumbling Mount Etna — Europe’s tallest active volcano – looming large near the city of Catania.
Sicily is a great place to visit for a perfect blend of cultures. The island boasts some of the world’s most well-preserved Roman and Greek monuments and fresco-filled Norman churches that you can easily explore with one of the numerous Sicily tours.
As the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily is a must-visit if you have curious taste buds. The island’s cuisine draws inspiration from Greek, Arabian, and North African traditional foods. Indulge in the island’s tapestry of flavors with a street food walking tour in Palermo, or opt for a cooking class for a more immersive experience.
Located in the Tyrrhenian Sea, just off the northern tip of Sicily, the Aeolian Islands are a group of volcanic land masses characterized by dramatic cliffs and canyons formed by eons of eruptions. Each of the seven Aeolian Islands boasts a distinct landscape and has something unique to offer.
The largest island Lipari has idyllic harbor-front eateries offering fresh seafood, stunning beaches, and quaint villages to stay, making it the ideal base for island hopping.
Stromboli is another Aeolian Island you should visit. It’s widely known for its volcanic activity, as the island’s smoking crater spews red lava every night. Take a boat tour as the sun sets to get a front-row seat to the dazzling show.
Vulcano is also characterized by volcanic activity and the island’s thermal mud baths, known for their therapeutic properties, and black-sand beaches are definitely worth exploring.
Situated in the Mediterranean Sea, off the northeastern coast of Sicily, this five-island archipelago is home to a treasure trove of natural attractions and wildlife. What sets the Egadi Islands apart from mainland Italy (and nearby Sicily) is the abundance of marine life and warm, crystal-clear waters, perfect for cruises, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
The largest island in the archipelago, Favignana is an ideal one-stop shop, offering scenic boat tours, diving spots, and a hike up to a Medieval castle, rewarding you with panoramic views. This fishing village is famous for its love of tuna and has an old tuna factory and museum to prove it.
Sitting in the Tyrrhenian Sea, on the southern edge of the Gulf of Naples, Capri is a playground for glamor-loving celebrities and Italian elites, and it’s easy to see why. In addition to the island’s beautiful beaches and brightly colored houses, Capri’s rugged coastline features soaring rock formations and daring hidden caves and grottoes.
This island of Capri is where you’ll find the iconic Blue Grotto, easily explorable via a boat tour. If you’re up for a thrilling activity, take the chairlift to Mount Solaro for epic views of the charming town of Anacapri. shopping, sunbathing, and limoncello tasting are also fantastic ways of immersing yourself in Capri’s glamorous vibes.
Another fascinating island off the coast of Italy’s Gulf of Naples, Ischia offers a much-needed escape from hordes of crowds that flock to the more popular Italian islands. The volcanic island draws in many wellness enthusiasts with its natural hot springs that are loaded with healing properties.
Ischia is only a short ferry ride from Capri, but these two beautiful islands off the coast of Italy feel worlds apart. Besides several sandy beaches, Ischia offers world-class botanic gardens like the Giardini la Mortella, which hosts a collection of succulents and cacti.
Take some time to explore the island’s top attraction, Castello Aragonese, a Medieval castle sitting atop a small rocky islet east of Ischia. To stretch your legs, consider hiking to Mount Epomeo, where you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the Italian island. Or better yet, join a boat tour that makes several stops around the island for swimming and shopping.
Tucked between Ischia and Cape Miseno, Procida is a relatively small island covering a little less than two square miles. Despite its size, the island serves up an eclectic mix of things to see and do, from pastel-colored buildings to maze-like streets dotted with wine bars and cafés.
Procida has a handful of dark-sand beaches and fishing villages generally void of large crowds, making the island one of the best day trips from Naples for a laid-back seaside vacation.
The island also has a thriving food scene, “calamari ripieni” and “luveri al sale” are two of the local favorites. Towns like Corricella and Chiaiolella offer a number of accommodations and restaurants serving decadent meals made with fresh fish or rabbit.
Beach lovers enjoy lounging along the shores of Chiaia Beach, while art enthusiasts marvel at the frescoes of the Abbey of San Michael. The church is located at the heart of Terra Murata, a medieval village set atop the highest point in Procida.
Tremiti Islands (Off the Coast of Puglia)
Located in the Adriatic Sea, off the northern coast of Puglia, the Tremiti Islands are a relatively small, unheard-of archipelago rich with an abundance of aquatic life and diving spots. Along the coast of these idyllic islands, you’ll find rugged cliffs, turquoise waters, shipwrecks, and sheltered coves ideal for snorkeling.
The Tremiti Islands offer amazing alternatives to the crowd-filled beaches of the Puglia Region. San Domino is the biggest island in the archipelago, so it’s home to the majority of attractions and beaches. Most of your time here will be spent in the water, but for some land action, head over to the Roman catacombs on San Nicola for a bit of a history lesson.
Central Italian Islands
Simply, the central region can be described as the “classic” image of Italy that first comes to mind. The rolling hills of Florence and temples like Rome’s Pantheon paint a picture of this region, but the gorgeous islands off Italy’s western coast tell an equally extraordinary story.
As one of the most recognized Italian island names, Sardinia sits nearly halfway between the Italian Peninsula and the tip of North Africa. It is, without a doubt, the beating heart of the Mediterranean. Not only is Sardinia one of the most beautiful islands in Italy, but it also scores high on the list of the world’s prettiest islands as well.
Sardinia’s Emerald Coast is among the most famous in the world, thanks to its luxury resorts, white-sand crescent-shaped beaches, and craggy cliffs that make it a must-see destination. In stark contrast, the island’s interior shows evidence of a Nuragic Civilization that existed in the Bronze Age.
If you’re a history buff, consider taking a day trip from Cagliari to wander through the Nuragic Monuments of Sardinia, getting historical insights into the area from a knowledgeable guide.
Tucked along the Strait of Bonifacio, between Sardinia and Corsica, the La Maddalena Archipelago is where you’ll find some of the clearest waters in the world.
The islands were declared a national park in 1994 to keep the cove-filled shorelines, sparkling blue waters, and white-sand beaches exceptionally clean and unspoiled.
The best way to experience La Maddalena’s dazzling turquoise waters is via a boat tour from Palau. This tour stops at several beaches across the archipelago, including the Spiaggia Rosa, whose mesmerizing pink sands will leave you awestruck.
Ponza is the largest of the Pontine Islands found in the Tyrrhenian Sea. This Italian island is characterized by rows of colorful homes climbing steep hills, secret swimming coves, sea arches, and natural saltwater swimming pools along its coastline.
Ponza Island has a longstanding history of civilization dating right back to the Neanderthal era. But it’s the Romans who made the most impressive mark. Take a boat tour around the island, stopping at grottos, coves, and rock beaches along the way to discover the history of the island.
Situated about six miles from the mainland, Elba Island is the largest of the Tuscan Archipelago and the third biggest island off of Italy’s coast after Sicily and Sardinia. The island is a nature lover’s paradise, offering thrilling hiking trails, wildlife sightings, and snorkeling opportunities.
Elba Island is home to several well-maintained beaches along the Tuscan Coast, thanks to its national park status. The island has many historical attractions, like the Fortress of Volterraio, Villa San Martino, and Villa dei Mulini, where Napoleon Bonaparte spent time in exile.
Northern Italian Islands
You won’t find many islands in the northern part of Italy however when you do they are some of the most beautiful isles of Italy, if not the world, for very different reasons.
Islands of Venice
Sometimes referred to as the “city of 118 islands”, Venice is a city build on water off Italy’s north-east coast. The archipelago is famous for its intricate network of canals and bridges that connect the islands. Venice is practically roadless, so the best way to see the city’s highlights is on a gondola ride or a Vaporetto (water taxi) en route to your hotel.
There many hidden gems in Venice, and many of them, like Torcello Island, lie in the Venetian Lagoon. Burano is known for its vibrant-hued homes, while Murano is popular for its original glassware. In San Michele and Torcello, you can see some of the oldest cathedrals in all of Venice. If you want to escape the bustling metropolitan, Lido and Chioggia make for perfect day trips from Venice — and who wouldn’t want quieter beaches and canals?
If you’d like to explore a few of these beautiful islands, neighborhoods in the metropolitan city like San Marco, San Polo, and Dorsoduro are among the best places to stay in Venice. These areas host the city’s most famous landmarks, like the Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal, as well as the best hotels in Venice.
Isola San Giulio, Piedmont
Unlike the rest of the most beautiful islands in Italy on this list, Isola San Giulio stands out as it’s not along the coast. The unique Italian island is located in Lake Orta in the Piedmont Region of the country’s northwestern territory – hence the nickname, “island in a lake”.
Isola San Giulio may be a tiny island, but it is loaded with things to see and do. The island’s fairytale-esque landscape is due to its numerous basilicas, churches, and castles. Spend your time strolling through its narrow streets and admiring the island’s distinctive architecture.
Exploring Isola San Giulio is one of the best things to do in Piedmont. The charming Medieval atmosphere, cobblestone streets, and small piazzas epitomize the laid-back feel of the island. The rocky foothills of the Alps and the lush greenery surrounding the island only add to its serenity — so it’s no surprise that Isola San Giulio is one of the most romantic places in Italy.
Summary of Italy’s Most Beautiful Islands
From the crystalline waters of Sardinia to the dramatic cliffs of Capri and the historic richness of Sicily, each of these islands offers a unique blend of natural wonders, cultural heritage, and culinary delights.
Explore any of Italy’s stunning isles and unveil a captivating narrative of history, traditions, and the inherent charm that makes it a top destination for travelers seeking a blend of adventure and timeless beauty.