Who doesn’t love a taste of island life? Where you can kick off your shoes, leave work behind, and cocktails aren’t just provided at the snap of a finger – they’re encouraged.
But island escapes aren’t just about lazy beach days – although that’s certainly a big part of it. They can also be full of adventure, water sports, wildlife-watching, and age-old cultures you can trace back over thousands of years. So, whether you’re looking for that typical tropical beach escape or a trip to an exotic ecosystem untouched by tourism, there’s an island out there calling your name.
Martinique is nothing if not culturally interesting. A French island in the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles, there is a fusion of French and West Indian cultures that you can experience, particularly through gastronomy. Boudin Creole and Boudin Blanc are the two main types of food, and the national dish ‘Colombo,’ made with spicy chicken and coconut, comes highly recommended. But food aside, the island’s scenery has plenty to inspire you, with gorgeous beaches, botanical gardens, volcanic peaks, and historical architecture. Discover the capital, Fort-de-France; its museums tell the tale of the island’s pre-Columbian and colonial past. Visiting Saint-Pierre is a must, too. This modern city was built among the ruins of the island’s former capital after it was destroyed when Mount Pelée erupted in the 1900s.
The Croatian island of Hvar can be found on the edge of the Adriatic. While it is certainly celebrated for its summer beach parties and glitzy nightlife scene, Hvar has so much more to offer than raves and hangovers. Take your time unpicking the history of the island with a visit to the port town of Stari Grad – the oldest in Croatia – and the Venetian-style fortress perched on a hilltop above Hvar Town. Or explore the island’s stunning natural scenery, from secluded beaches and inland lilac lavender fields to undulating vineyards famous for their fine Croatian wines.
Lovingly dubbed the Garden Isle, the Hawaiian island of Kauai is an enchanting place full of cascading waterfalls, tropical jungles, remote beaches, and rugged coastlines. A trip to Kauai is not your average fly and flop holiday. Here, there are adventures around every corner, and your experience is what you make it. Make memories zip-lining through the jungle, trekking to waterfalls, kayaking along winding rivers, and dolphin and whale watching. When it comes to natural wonders, you’ll have your fill: hike through the dramatic Waimea Canyon and explore the Insta-famous Napali Coast – more than 60 movies and TV shows have been filmed here.
dreamstime/© Miroslav Liska
You’ll need at least a week to explore all the captivating attractions the 18 volcanic Faroe Islands have to offer. Just a short flight from the UK, the island country has been associated with the Kingdom of Denmark, but it is actually self-governed. What makes the archipelago so special is that it’s incredibly underrated and untouristy. Did you know that you can see the Northern Lights here from November to February? Apart from its spectacular scenery of majestic valleys, remote villages, and jaw-dropping waterfalls, it’s also a popular spot for nature enthusiasts seeking a glimpse of thousands of coastal birds, including clifftop puffin colonies.
Made up of a collection of 74 sun-soaked islands, the Whitsundays nestled between the coast of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef is something truly special. The ultimate destination for divers and wildlife enthusiasts, the archipelago is largely uninhabited – at least by humans. A plethora of wildlife species call them home – from dolphins, sea turtles, and saltwater crocodiles to kangaroos, whales, and wallabies. As with most islands of this caliber, the majority of the activities are water-based and include sailing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. That being said, hiking, exploring the sights of the tourist hub of Hamilton Island, and sunbathing on pearly beaches like Whitehaven Beach are just as popular.
Tucked away in the southeastern Pacific, the Polynesian Easter Island is both remote and historically significant. The enormous Moai statues are undeniably the top attraction here, lending an air of history and mystery to this far-away island. Over 800 statues designed like humans with over-sized heads dot the island. They were created by the Rapa Nui many centuries ago, and each is believed to have taken at least a year to hand-craft. But there’s more to Easter Island than the Moai statues. There are some excellent beaches, remote caves, ancient petroglyphs, and hiking and cycling routes too! Diving into the island culture with a traditional Rapa Nui dancing show is truly memorable.
dreamstime/© Jeffrey Williams
A tropical retreat in the Eastern Caribbean, the once-colonial island of Saint Lucia is about as scenic as it gets. Characterized by the iconic Pitons, lush rainforests, clifftop waterfalls, banana and pineapple plantations, and some of the most beautiful volcanic beaches, it is unapologetically photogenic. While many fly in to take advantage of the island’s top-notch beach resorts and explore the quaint fishing villages, the melting-pot capital of Castries is also a popular cruise port. From sulfur springs and secluded bays to bustling markets and Caribbean dance parties, Saint Lucia has a bit of everything.
One of the most popular of Spain’s Balearic Islands, Mallorca is a celebrated beach escape that gets 300 days of sunshine every year. With quiet coves, limestone mountains, citrus orchards, and sleepy stone villages overlooking the Mediterranean, it’s perfect for relaxing. But there’s a lot more to Mallorca than meets the eye. The island is also home to several Roman and Moorish ruins, as well as a pumping nightlife scene in the capital of Palma. For those interested in history and architecture, don’t miss the royal palace with its glorious Moorish design and the Palma Cathedral with its enchanting Gothic façade. Built on the site of a Moorish mosque, this unusually mecca-facing cathedral boasts one of the largest stained glass windows in the world.
Often referred to as the Enchanted Isles, the Galápagos Islands are a collection of volcanic islands and smaller islets in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador. What makes this string of islands so special is the spectacular ecosystem. It provides a home for a diverse array of animals, plants, fish, and birds that you won’t find anywhere else on Earth. As much as 97% of the archipelago is a national park and biosphere reserve that’s been around for over 60 years. Known for its extraordinary and unique geology, the Galapagos is home to still-active volcanoes and more iguanas than people. Located close to the equator, yet cooled with chilly sea breezes, the Galapagos has a unique climate. So unique, in fact, that it is home to the only penguin colony in the Northern Hemisphere. It also means that it’s a great place to visit all year round!
Ko Phi Phi is possibly one of Thailand’s most famous archipelagos. It is most notable for a stunning natural bay that was filmed in the movie The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. But while many come here and have this renowned bay at the top of their to-do list, there are many more reasons to tempt you to Phi Phi beyond Maya Bay. The six islands of Phi Phi are jaw-droppingly beautiful, with pearl-white sand beaches and emerald waters. Spend your days swimming and snorkeling among extraordinary marine life or hire a longtail boat. The surrounding islets like Monkey Beach are worth a visit, home to a plethora of cheeky tree-swinging monkeys.
wikipedia/Arno van den Tillaart
Lofoten is an island group that’s famous for its dramatic natural attractions – from towering mountains to the deepest bays. Those in the know come here hoping to witness the mysterious Northern Lights and to hike the Svolvær Goat, one of the most popular climbing peaks in Norway. For those looking to get off the beaten track, this archipelago is a real treat, with opportunities for fishing, bird watching, cycling, and sea kayaking in the summer, and skiing and tracking down the Aurora Borealis in the winter. Visiting these islands is unforgettable as village life seems charmingly stuck in time. Even the sun shines until midnight for part of the year.
flickr/Philippine Fly Boy
Palawan is an island province in the westernmost part of the Philippines. This string of islands is a pure paradise, made up of national parks, enigmatic limestone caves and bays, and bright turquoise inland lakes and lagoons. For those looking to explore offshore, Palawan is home to some unforgettable diving sites, such as the shipwrecks of Coron Bay that have transformed over the years into natural coral reefs. Every day in Palawan is magical – go swimming in waterfalls, kayaking on secluded lagoons, and paddle boating to see luminous fireflies when the sun goes down. After all, the island of Palawan wasn’t declared the 2nd best island in the world by Travel and Leisure for nothing.
The Seychelles are one of those elite island destinations. Popular among the rich and famous, these 115 granite islands in the Indian Ocean are idyllic, to say the least. Encompassing a triumph of nature reserves, golden beaches, rainforests, and extraordinary coral reefs, it is a natural utopia. Each island has something special to offer: Mahe for a culturally-rich experience, La Digue for getting back to nature, Praslin for beach hopping, and Silhouette for sensational diving. In the Seychelles, you’ll share the beaches with giant 100-year-old Aldabra tortoise and see protected bird species such as the rare Seychelles black parrot – it’s also the national bird.
Possibly one of the most popular islands on Earth, Bali is a yogi and surfer’s playground, with regular retreats on the social calendar. While Bali as a whole has become much more commercialized in recent years, with everything from backpackers to top-rated villa hotels, there’s still plenty of culture to be found here too. Bounded by forest-clad volcanoes, incredible beaches, and undulating rice paddies, you’ll find Balinese temples, authentic villages, and tourist towns in the Land of the Gods. The Uluwatu Temple is the main highlight in Bali. Perched on the edge of a cliff, it is one of the best places on the island to catch the sunset. Water babies will be in their element in Bali too. Part of the Coral Triangle that’s home to the highest biodiversity of marine life, it’s a fantastic snorkeling and diving destination.
The volcanic island of Santorini is probably one of the most recognized islands on Earth. Characterized by its whitewashed and blue-domed Cycladic towns hugging the caldera cliffs above the edge of the Aegean, this Greek island is world-famous for its enviable sunsets. Stroll through the alleyways of Oia town, wine and dine at gourmet tavernas, relax on the volcanic beaches, or sail off into the sunset on a glamorous catamaran cruise. As it’s one of Greece’s most expensive islands, you’ll undoubtedly rub shoulders with the rich and famous. For its views and Mediterranean climate alone, Santorini is something special.
Beach bliss is the order of the day on the volcanic island of Bora Bora. While the enormous turquoise lagoon is the main attraction here, many flock to the island for its dazzlingly white beaches and ultra-luxurious resorts that include romantic over-water bungalows. If you’re up to exploring, though, there’s more to Bora Bora beyond the beach. Hike the slopes of Mount Pahia for 360-degree bird’s eye views, snorkel the coral gardens at the isle’s northern tip, and swim with sea turtles as part of a local conservation initiative. For those with a PADI license, scuba diving may provide electrifyingly close-up encounters with manta rays and lemon, blacktip, and grey reef sharks. Don’t forget your underwater camera!
Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the idyllic Maldives archipelago is spellbindingly beautiful. Close to the equator, the Maldives has a warm and tropical climate that’s perfect for lazy beach days all year round. This low-lying island group is celebrated for its high level of luxury and emphasis on the slow life. Perfect for honeymooners, the Maldives’ designer accommodation is out of this world – take your pick of underwater villas, over-water villas, and everything in between. There’s even an underwater restaurant for those looking to dine surrounded by schools of tropical fish. As relaxation is key in the Maldives, you can spend your days sipping on cocktails and sunbathing, interspersed with a snorkeling, diving, or surfing excursion to keep things interesting.