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 on tour are the ones with incredible local cuisine, diverse communities, and distinct traditions. Dive into the 16 best islands to visit in the world that you won’t find on every travel list.
16. Mont-Saint-Michel, France
When you view Mont-Saint-Michel, which is located off the coast of Normandy, at high tide it can appear as if the island and its gravity-defying castle are floating in the sky. Historically, visitors have only been able to access this island at low tide, but the recent addition of a pedestrian bridge means travelers can now reach the island at any time of day. The island is home to a village featuring medieval-style houses. Its central towering abbey has famously served as a monastery, but was also used as a prison during Napoleonic times. Make a stop at this impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site on our Grand Tour of France.
15. Ischia, Italy
The largest of the three islands to visit off the coast of Naples, Ischia is home to the ancient, stone Aragonese Castle. The medieval castle was built in 474 BC on a volcanic rocky islet that connects to the island. 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 back to the 13th-century, which features 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. Add an excursion to visit this charming Italian island rising out of the teal waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea on our Amalfi Coast Walking Tour.
14. Paros and Naxos, Greece
A short ferry ride from Santorini, these 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. These complimentary islands are a 45-minute ferry ride apart and you’ll 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. When you pop over to Naxos, you can visit the Apeiranthos Women’s Traditional Crafts Cooperative during an optional excursion. You’ll 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 and is similar to a lemon.
13. Capri, Italy
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 celebs 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 the 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.
12. Burano, Italy
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 andnis 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 on Burano, during free time on an excursion on our Venice, Florence & Rome tour.
11. Prince Edward Island, Canada
Renowned for its red sand beaches, fresh 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.” Marvel at red dunes and breathe in fresh sea air as you stroll along the boardwalks on our Canadian Maritimes: Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island tour.
10. Vancouver Island, Canada
Full of old-growth forests, rugged shorelines, and views of the Olympic Mountains rising out of the sea, Vancouver Island is one of the most beautiful islands to visit off the coast of Canada. Join local, certified naturalists and marine experts for a guided boat ride along the coast of Vancouver Island on our Canadian Rockies: Banff, Kelowna & Vancouver tour. You may spot grey, minke, humpback, and killers whales, all of which call this part of British Columbia home. Then, visit Butchart Gardens, home to 55 acres of stunning floral displays on the island of Vancouver.
9. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
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, which 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 journey along the Cabot Trail through Cape Breton Highlands National Park on our Fall Foliage Tour: The Canadian Maritimes.
8. Viti Levu, Fiji
Whether it’s digging your toes into the warm, white sand of Natadola Beach, diving in the blue waters of Pacific Harbor, or exploring local villages, Fiji is the best island to visit to immerse yourself in remote island life. Visit Viseisei Village, one of the oldest settlements on Fiji and taste kava, a ceremonial beverage, during a traditional welcome ritual. Take a walking tour of the village and learn how 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.
7. Uros and Taquile Islands, Peru
The approximately 80 floating Uros Islands are built entirely from dried totora reeds floating on the water. Stop at the islands to see how the Uros 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 the local potato product, chuño, and its many nutritional benefits from Uros community members. 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.
6. Magdalena Island, Chile
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—there’s 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) while on tour,” said traveler Amy.
5. Ambergris Caye, Belize
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. They’re both famous for their crystal clear waters and abundant sea life. Talk with a local marine biologist to learn about the reef’s 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.
4. Zanzibar, Tanzania
One of the best islands to explore, this destination off the coast of Africa boasts clear waters, exquisite spice fields, and the historic capital of Stone Town. Stroll through a market with a local tour guide to learn about local spices and ingredients, then put your knowledge to work during a cooking class as you craft 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.
3. Okinawa, Japan
Known as the Hawaii of Japan, thanks to its lush landscape and pristine beaches, Okinawa is also known for its stargazing, local cuisine, and is the best island to visit to see cherry blossoms. The island is known as a Blue Zone, because of its 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 above 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.
2. Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Ready for an action-packed island adventure? Phi Phi and its islands, called kohs in Thai, are packed full of exhilarating island activities. Visit the iconic Khao Phing Kan, or James Bond Island and experience the local lifestyle at a Muslim fishing village on nearby Koh Panyee Island. On Talu Island, explore sea caves by canoe with experienced local paddlers and have a sit down lunch on a floating restaurant. Soak up the laid-back atmosphere of the Phi Phi Islands, which are famous for their crystal clear waters, macaques monkeys, and perfect snorkeling conditions, during an excursion on our Thailand Adventure: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & the Islands tour.
1. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Ha Long Bay is not one island, but thousands of towering, verdant islands as tall as city skyscrapers that are 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.