An island vacation can evoke palm trees, sunburns, and frozen drinks, but an island doesn’t have to have white-sand beaches and cocktails on demand to be worth visiting. We know the most beautiful islands to visit are the ones with incredible local cuisine, unique communities, and distinct historical traditions. Dive into the immersive experiences and local culture on tour and the sixteen best islands to visit in the world that you won’t find on every travel list.
Viewing Mont-Saint-Michel off the coast of Normandy at high tide can appear as if the island and its gravity-defying castle are floating in the sky. Accessing this island to visit has historically only been at low tide, but is now accessible by a pedestrian walkway any time of day. The island is a village of medieval homes and its central towering abbey has been a monastery, as well as a prison during Napoleon times. Make a stop at this impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site on our Grand Tour of France.
The largest of the three islands to visit off the coast of Naples, Ischia is home to the ancient, stone Aragonese Castle in its port. Drive around the island with a local guide to view Ischia’s six villages. Explore the village of Sant’Angelo on foot and see frescoes dating to the 13th-century featuring the coat of arms and saints connected to the noble families of Ischia. “You have to see to believe the beauty of this area,” said traveler Jane. Take an excursion to this charming Italian island rising out of the teal waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea on our Amalfi Coast Walking Tour.
A short ferry ride from Santorini, these twin islands are the perfect pair of beautiful islands to visit. Paros is known for its traditional villages and Naxos for its mountain views and long stretch of beaches. Explore them both on our Greek Islands Adventure: Athens, Naxos & Paros tour. Visit a family-run winery on Paros to learn about the vineyard’s unique type of grape vines, which are trained to grow close to the ground to protect themselves from the strong ocean winds. Take an excursion to the Apeiranthos Women’s Traditional Crafts Cooperative in Naxos to see how local women produce traditional woven textiles. Then, tour a kitron distillery and witness the production of liquor made from citron, a citrus fruit that grows on the island similar to a lemon, firsthand.
The island of Capri is one of the most beautiful islands to visit in Italy. It is known for its rugged natural beauty, top restaurants, and lifestyles of the rich and famous. If you don’t see any celeb anchoring their yachts in Marina Grande, try one of the extravagant shopping experiences on the island. Boat around the island to capture the best views of Capri, and take a ride to upper town to explore the Gardens of Augustus on our Italy & Greece tour. “The boat tour around Capri (found out it’s pronounced Cap-ri not Ca-pri), was perfect and started preparing you for the amazing wonders you would see,” said traveler Amanda.
Frequently listed as one of the top ten most colorful cities in the world, Burano is just as famous for the lace it produces. The island is a short boat ride from Venice located just north of the city in the Venetian Lagoon. Take a stroll to bakery Panificio Pasticceria Garbo for a bussolà, a Venetian butter cookie popular in the bakeries of Burano on an excursion on our Venice, Florence & Rome tour.
Renowned for its red-sand beaches, fresh seafood like lobster, and small towns with thriving main streets, Prince Edward Island is a gold chest on the treasure map off Canada’s Atlantic coast. “I had such a great trip seeing so many historic sites,” said traveler Madelene. “It’s beautiful country in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.” Explore the Bay of Fundy, a natural wonder that boasts the largest tidal change in the world, where you can walk on the ocean floor during low tide on our Canadian Maritimes: Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island tour.
Full of old-growth forests, rugged shorelines, and the Olympic Mountains rising out of the sea, Vancouver Island is one of the most beautiful islands to visit off the coast of Canada. Take a train ride through the coastal range of British Columbia ending in the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver on our Canadian Rockies by Train: Banff, Lake Louise & Vancouver tour. On the Vancouver extension, cross the 210-foot-high pedestrian Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge and see Canada’s southernmost glacial fjord. Cross the harbor and visit Butchart Gardens, home to 55 acres of stunning floral displays on the island of Vancouver.
Cape Breton is known as Little Scotland and it’s easy to see why. Scottish immigrants brought their traditional fiddle music and old world customs to the island that can still be found today. Experience céilidhs, highland scenery, and dramatic coastal views all without leaving North America on one of the prettiest islands in Nova Scotia. Explore the village of Baddeck, located along the shore of the Bras d’Or Lake and jouney along the Cabot Trail through Cape Breton Highlands National Park on our Fall Foliage Tour: The Canadian Maritimes.
Whether it’s digging your toes into the warm white sand of Natadola Beach, diving in the blue waters of Pacific Harbor, or exploring a local village, Fiji is the best island to visit to immerse yourself in remote island life. Visit Viseisei Village, one of the oldest settlements in Fiji and taste kava, a ceremonial beverage, during a traditional welcome ritual. Take a walking tour of the village and learn to collect, husk, and extract milk from coconuts during a hands-on demonstration. Get lost in an epic island adventure with an extension to Fiji on our New Zealand: Untamed Landscapes tour.
The approximately 80 floating islands of Uros are built entirely from dried totora reeds floating on the water. Stop at the islands to see how the Uru people have lived on the lake for centuries and how local craftspeople build reed rafts by hand on our Grand Tour of Peru: Machu Picchu to Lake Titicaca. Learn about Uros agriculture from community members like the local potato product, chuño, offering many nutritional benefits. Explore nearby Taquile Island and learn about the high-quality textiles produced on the island while visiting a local family’s property for lunch overlooking the Andes.
Part of Patagonia, the southernmost tip of South America, Magdalena is the best island to visit for animal lovers. The island is home to the largest colony of penguins in South America, over 60,000 of them. Take an excursion to get up close to these special birds on our Chile to Argentina: Santiago, Patagonia & Buenos Aires tour. Ferry across the Magellan Strait to Magdalena Island, part of the Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, while keeping an eye out for the colonies of sea lions and flocks of marine birds that take refuge there. “In addition to the penguins, we also saw a ton of unexpected wildlife like guanaco (wild llama), huemul (rare Patagonian deer), emu, birds, and coati (like raccoons),” said traveler Amy.
Belize’s biggest island overlooks the Belize Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system in the northern hemisphere, and is a gateway to the Great Blue Hole—a massive marine sinkhole off its coast. It’s the best island to visit for not one, but two of the top snorkeling spots in the world, Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Coral Gardens, famous for their crystal clear waters and abundant sea life. Talk with a local marine biologist to learn about the reef ecosystem and discover how NGOs and the government are working to increase conservation efforts and address coral bleaching on the island. Explore this wild paradise on our A Week in Belize: Ruins, Reefs & Rainforests tour.
One of the best islands to explore, this island off the coast of Africa boasts clear waters, exquisite spice fields, and the historic Stone Town capital. Stroll through a market with a local tour guide learning about local spices and ingredients, then put your knowledge to work with a cooking class crafting authentic Zanzibar dishes. On a visit to Christ Church, a former slave market, learn about the history of slavery in East Africa. Explore the natural beauty of the Tanzania coast while visiting a coral lagoon home to endangered sea turtles, all on the Zanzibar extension of our Tanzania Wildlife Safari.
Known as the Hawaii of Japan for its lush landscape and pristine beaches, Okinawa is also known for its stargazing, local cuisine, and the best island to visit for cherry blossoms. The island is known as a Blue Zone, with a high number of centenarians, people living to at least 100 years old due to their unique environment.
Cruise the islands of the Kerama archipelago to snorkel the coral reefs off the coast of Okinawa keeping your eyes peeled for humpback whales. The whales gather in the warm waters to breed and raise their calves from late December to April. Step back in time while visiting historic sites that played an important role for Japanese and American troops during World War II like the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters. Explore the incredible features of this Japanese island on an extension of our Grand Tour of Japan.
Ready for action-packed island adventure? Phi Phi and the its islands, called “kohs” in Thai, are packed full of exhilerating island activities. Visit the iconic Khao Phing Kan, or “James Bond Island” and experience the local lifestyle of a Muslim fishing village on nearby Koh Panyee Island. On Talu Island, explore sea caves by canoe with experienced local paddlers as your guides and have a sit down lunch on a floating restaurant. Soak up the laid back atmosphere of the Phi Phi Islands famous for its crystal clear waters, macaques monkeys, and perfect snorkeling conditions during an excursion on our Thailand Adventure: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & the Islands tour.
Ha Long Bay is not one island, but thousands of towering, verdant islands as tall as city skyscrapers rising out of the water. Embark on a luxurious overnight cruise through these soaring uninhabited islands on our Vietnam & Angkor Wat tour. Explore an island cave with a local guide and take in panoramic views across the bay. Watch the sunrise during a Tai Chi lesson then hop into a small boat to visit Ti Top Island to swim, or hike to the top for another stunning view. “It’s one of the most amazing places I've ever been” said traveler Tyson. “We went kayaking, spent some time on the beach, went squid fishing, and went hiking through an amazing cave.” Named one of the new seven wonders of nature, Ha Long Bay means descending dragon in Vietnamese and is just as fascinating to behold as its origin myth.