Islands possess something extraordinary, whether it's pristine beaches or cliffs that plunge into the Mediterranean sea. Italy offers its visitors a vast selection of islands to visit, and this makes choosing a single destination somewhat difficult. Which are the Italian islands that should be visited at least once in a lifetime? In this article we will try to make things a bit clearer, especially as there over 800 islands to choose from. We have chosen 20 that will capture your heart with their beauty and uniqueness:
- Maddalena archipelago
- Tavolara island
- Islands of St Antioch and St Peter
- Aeolian islands
- Island of Elba
- Palmaria island
- Tremiti islands
- Pontine Islands: Ponza and Ventotene
- Island of Montecristo
With its coastline of over 200 kilometers of beaches, cliffs and coves, Sardinia is one of the best destinations in Europe for a holiday by the sea. Moreover, Sardinia has a priceless heritage of culture and history and, of course, it has uncontaminated, wild nature in which to enjoy unforgettable excursions. There are so many ways to experience Sardinia, ranging from relaxing under a beach umbrella with a good book, to embarking on special activities like bird watching, trekking and diving. Visitors who go to Sardinia for the beaches have a wide range of choices: some beaches are windy, with dunes and Mediterranean scrub, while others are sheltered and have with calm, transparent waters that resemble a swimming pool.
Bird watching is a very popular activity among those who love Sardinian holidays. We recommend the Coast of Oristano, where one can spot splendid pink flamingos, herons and falcons. The pond of Cabras offers refuge to migratory birds, but there are also cranes, black storks and ducks on St Peter’s island and the pond of Molentargius.
Asinara got its name from the Italian word for donkeys which, surprisingly, do live there. The white-colored fauna that live in the wild are one of the island’s main attractions, but those who come here stay mainly for the irresistible beauty of the crystalline sea. Located north of Sardinia, just above Stintino and Torres Port, this was initially an island of fishermen. Asinara is part of the National Park and is a Marine Protected Area.
Some parts of the island are off-limits to the public, but visitors can access spectacular locations such as the D’Oliva and Reale coves and Fornelli. Be sure to visit Murighessa, Sabina and Ponzesi cove beaches
Anyone who has been to the Maddalena Archipelago in Sardinia can say they have seen a glimpse of paradise. Embraced by transparent waters that display the colorful sea bed, Maddalena is a point of reference for the islands that overlook the north-east section of the Gallura coastline. The heavenly Maddalena has a modest 20 square kilometers surface area and is only accessible by sea; the island also has a historic center that will melt your heart with its heritage and folklore. Those arriving at the port can reach the Piazza Garibaldi in less than 15 minutes; here you can enjoy a coffee among the shops in the center. It is worth seeing the parish church of Santa Maria Maddalena, with its crucifix donated by Admiral Nelson before the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. From here you can reach Cala Gavetta for a fascinating glimpse of the historic center and then return to the waterfront to admire the buildings of the Navy Command. Among the most beautiful beaches on Maddalena are those of Monte d’Arena, which can be arrived at by following the panoramic road towards Spalmatore. Next is Bassa Trinità beach, in the fraction of Case Ornano, where a five hundred meter descent will reward you with Caribbean-like sand and stunning sea. Also worth visting is the Testa del Polpo – “Octopus Head” – beach, which takes its name from the large, evocative boulder that dominates it.
Island of Tavolara
A wonderful corner of paradise located in the sea of Sardinia, the island of Tavolara is a little treasure that captivates at first glance because of the immense mountain out of which it is made. Those seeking an in-depth visit will discover that this tiny island has a number of interesting attractions, including its unforgettably beautiful landscape. Moreover, in addition to its glorious beaches and coves, Tavolara stands out because of its great number of aromatic and fragrant plants. Don’t miss out on a visit to the Marine Protected Area of Tavolara, which stretches from Capo Ceraso to Cala Finocchio. It is also said that, for a brief period, Tavolara was a Kingdom founded by Giuseppe Bertoleoni during the Napoleonic invasion.
Islands of St Antioch and St Peter
The Archipelago of Sulcis, set in south-west Sardinia, is made up of the islands of St Antioch and St Peter. St Antioch is one of the largest islands in Italy, second only to Sicily, Sardinia and the island of Elba. Despite being one of the lesser-known Sardinian tourist spots, St Antioch is a small paradise of beaches that are suitable for the whole family, including the youngest children. For example, the cove of Sapone and the Grande and Forru ‘a macchina beaches are ideal locations for a day of diving. Sharing its name with the island, the town of St Antioch extends to the sides of a wonderful hill on the east coast. Once in the historic center, a visit to the St Antioch parish center built in 1102, is unmissable. On the outskirts are the Punic necropolis and the tophet, a large complex of excavations set on a hill that silently monitors the Sardinian coast. Don’t miss the coves of Portsxeddu, the beach of Maladroxia and one of the most crowded beaches on St Antioch, the Co’e Quaddus.
The beaches are wonderful, the food is marvelous and one is immersed in a heritage of culture and history that has no equal: Sicily, like Sardinia, needs no presentation. To those who arrive in Ragusa Ibla, the colorful houses, narrow streets and boundless beaches are picture perfect. Spectacular beaches aside, cultural visits to the island's historic nerve centers are also a must. For example, the chaotic and lively Catania at the foot of the Etna volcano (near the natural park), offers visitors a unique glimpse of Sicilian culture. And then there is Taormina, a marvelous city where the ruins of times gone by come together with today’s tourist comforts in perfect harmony.
A visit to Sicily must include a stop in the valley of the Agrigento temples, an important trace of the Greek presence on the island. Extending the stay until sunset, when the landscape becomes even more evocative, is highly recommended. San Vito Lo Capo, on the other hand, has one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy: it looks like a fragment of the Caribbean that was brought here for the occasion. And let's not forget a mandatory visit to Palermo, Trapani and Tindari.
Solitary and incredible, Favignana is one of the principal Egadi islands and is the undisputed pearl of Sicily.
This is the ideal destination for those who love the beach life, snorkeling in underwater caves and excursions. Among the most beautiful shores of the island is the Red Cove, surrounded by tuff quarries as a kind of natural amphitheater. Here the splendid blue water provides a simply wonderful backdrop to which diving enthusiasts should make a trip at least once in their life.
The Bue Marino cove also has spectacular tuff terracing in a former rock quarry, from which one can now dive as into a pool.
The water is deep and the seabed cannot be touched, but it is a wonderful blue paradise for swimmers. The Cala Azzura cove is the perfect beach for those who want a corner of paradise that is suitable for children too, where the shallow water and the pocket of sand offer everything needed for keeping children happy.
Also called the Lipari islands, the Aeolian islands are a Sicilian archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea that are known for their two active volcanoes: Vulcano and Stromboli. The islands’ beauty has earned them a place on the UNESCO "World Heritage List" of UNESCO since 2000. The seven sister-islands are Lipari, Panarea, Vulcano, Stromboli, Salina, Alicudi and Filicudi – and they never cease to amaze the traveler who is eager for new discoveries. Of strictly volcanic origin, the archipelago is a great attraction not only for swimming enthusiasts, but also for those interested in history and nature.
Island of Elba
The third largest island in Italy, Elba is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park and is just a few kilometers from the coast. Inhabited since the Paleolithic era, Elba has a long history and offers visitors a fabulous spectacle of nature and archaeology. To begin with, there is the beautiful Monte Capanne in the western part of the island: this mountain is around 1,000 meters high; a cable car leads straight to the top for enjoyment of a breathtaking view. Those wishing to reach it on foot can take advantage of the many trekking paths in the national park.
Pomonte is another attraction on the island of Elba. A destination for diving enthusiasts from all over Europe, it is here, near the Ogliera rock, that the wreck of the Elviscot merchant ship which sank in 1972, is preserved. Not to be missed is the town of Portoferraio, built on a gulf of the northern coast and considered the beating heart of the island. Also known as the Pink City because of the pink limestone in its central streets, Pomonte has treasures from the Napoleonic era and numerous forts with bastions. A further attraction is the Le Ghiaie Beach, a seaside resort that caters for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts. Those who love relaxation will find great joy exploring the beautiful Baths of San Giovanni, open since 1963.
The beauty of Capri is fertile ground for legends and myths. Crystal clear waters, beaches overlooking the sea, wonderful caves and lemon groves as far as the eye can see. The tourist thirsting for discoveries will want to take the chairlift to Monte Solaro to enjoy a breath-taking panorama. Diving enthusiasts know that Lido del Faro is the perfect place to dive in the blue waters of Capri: here there is no sand and there are no stones, only a very long cliff that welcomes bathers with its rough and irresistible appeal.
Ischia is the ideal destination for those who dream of swimming during every season of the year. It is also wonderful for walking among authentic villages, eating well, doing lots of trekking and relaxing in a thermal spa that never breaks down. Just go to Sorgeto, where healing water flows into the sea and creates a warm area for spectacular diving, even in winter.
Ischia is a paradise for spas and for diving into the past: an island of uncrowded evocative beauty and little piece of paradise that are not the subject of mass tourism. For example, Monte Epomeo, the highest mountain in Ischia, offers uncontaminated nature where trekking paths blend with the trees. Don’t miss the La Mortella Gardens, either: this is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Ischia, immersed as it is in the nature and beauty of Mediterranean and succulent plants.
Another well-respected attraction is the Cava Scura spa. Here, in a tuff canyon, visitors enjoy the pools dug into the rock and take a shower of hot water coming directly from the heart of the mountain. Moreover, there are the Fumaroles of Sant’Angelo, where the steam which comes out of the sand can be used for cooking on the sand with some tinfoil. The Poseidon spa is a spectacular sea-facing garden in which to bathe. Those who have never been to the Bay of Cartaromana must try to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Roman archaeological remains and the thermal baths overlooking the Aragonese Castle.
For the unadorned loveliness of a free beach, there is the Cava dell’Island beach, at which there are no resorts but an amazing sea.
Few people really know Procida, but those who discover it remain completely fascinated by it. Procida is an island in the Gulf of Naples where myth, color, folklore and beauty come together in a unique display. In her book “The island of Arturo", Elsa Morante wrote: "My island has solitary little lanes enclosed between ancient walls, beyond which there are orchards and vineyards that seem to be imperial gardens. It has various beaches with clear and delicate sand and other, smaller, shores covered with pebbles and shells, hidden among large cliffs”. The colorful little houses leaning against the alleys of Procida rise on a jagged coast from which coves, beaches and narrow streets full of orchards emerge. Procida should be calmly enjoyed on foot, walking from the docking port to the countryside at the heart of the islet.
Let’s start with the Bay of Chiaia, with its paradisiacal beaches, islets and cliffs that make this area one of its kind. Then there is Terra Murata, a fortified citadel that jealously guards the highest point of the island, built specifically for defensive purposes. The Castle of Avalos is dominated by the view of Procida, which can be reached along narrow paths that also lead to the Abbey of San Michele. Here a tour of the underground offers a truly complete exploration.
From the village of Procida one reaches the alleys of Casale Vascello, one of the most authentic locations of the island with its brightly colored houses piled next to each other as though to protect against enemies. Next is Corricella, the fishermen's village of the island. Among the most famous beaches is the sandy Chiaiolella and that of Chiaia, to be reached via a set of stairs. The beach of Pozzo Vecchio is the bay used in the renowned Italian film "Il postino".
Island of Palmaria
Together with the nearby islands of Tino and Tinetto, Palmaria has been a UNESCO World Heritage site, since 1997. The island is a small fragment of paradise which has fallen directly into the Ligurian Sea. Those who arrive at the Venere Port are facing the north side of the island; this is the most inhabited area. Here the coasts slope down towards the sea and have allowed the formation of delightful beaches that are ideal for bathers. On the other half of the more adventurous islands, visitors can explore the wonderful cliffs of the place, including the famous Blue Grotto, where a tortoise-shaped stalactite and reflections of the sea cliffs create a dreamlike atmosphere. Also worth seeing is the Grotta dei Colombi, which can only be reached by descending with ropes. The surface of Palmaria is also dotted with a series of bunkers dating back to the Second World War; these offer unforgettable and highly evocative glimpses into the history of Italy.
Those who love free beaches must experience the beauty of Punto Secca, easily reachable from Port Venere. If you prefer beach facilities, we recommend taking a trip to the Il Gabbiano establishment, where sun beds and umbrellas can be rented. The beach Gabbiani, reachable by boat, is another perfect place for a dream day.
Canals, mirror-like water and bridges suspended in the wonder of a place where glass plays a legendary role: we are in Murano, a Venetian hamlet and cluster of islets immersed in the Venetian lagoon.
In addition to housing the first rudiments of the glass tradition, Murano is a place of marvelous architecture, churches and culture. Noteworthy are the Basilica of Saints Maria and Donato, founded in the seventh century and that of St. Peter the Martyr erected in the mid-fourteenth century. Here there are precious paintings by Giovanni Bellini, including the Assumption of the Virgin and Saints and the Doge Barbarigo presented to the Virgin and Putto. Not to be missed are the the Glass Museum, Palazzo della Mula, Ponte Vivarini and the Lighthouse.
Colorful houses, fishermen, lace and much more: we are not in Procida but in Burano, the jewel of the Venetian lagoon. This warm, colorful and welcoming island offers a completely new perspective on Veneto, in which the lifestyle of times gone by still seems available. Among the alleys and suspended bridges of Burano there are a number of locations that should be on your itinerary. For example, the House of Bepi, the Bepi of the sweets, that was transformed into a multicolored house right in the center of the city. Then there is the Cao di Rio, one of Burano’s most picturesque canals, upon which houses are reflected in the water to form extraordinary plays of light. Don’t miss Piazza Baldassarre Galuppi and the Church of San Martino Vescovo.
Offering much more than capers and typical dammusi buildings, Pantelleria presents a dream landscape that will make you want to come back.
Pantelleria is a Sicilian island located in the middle of the Sicily Channel. The island’s rich heritage of biodiversity has made it a destination for many tourists every year.
Not to be missed is the important spa destination Mirror of Venus, so named because it is said to have reflected Venus before meeting Bacchus.
The Elephant Arch is perhaps one of the most iconic locations of the island due to the enormous rock of lava stone that looks like the trunk of this great animal. Also worth seeing is the Acropolis of San Marco and Santa Teresa, two wonderful hills full of ancient history.
Part Europe, part Africa, Lampedusa is a paradise of wild beaches, coves to reach by boat and wonderful food. Who can resist the the wonders of this place that lies between Sicily and Tunisia, a meeting point for cultures and traditions? There are many places to see and there is never enough time to spend in Lampedusa.There is, for example, the bronze obelisk of Cassodoro that was created by artist Arnaldo Pomodoro in memory of those killed in the wars. Then there are the Fontana Cascella and the sanctuary of the Madonna of Lampedusa. Of course there are unforgettable beaches like the Island of Rabbits, where we can admire animals such as the loggerhead sea turtle and enjoy the amazing water.
An Italian archipelago located in the lower Adriatic, the Tremiti islands are part of the Puglia region, in the province of Foggia.
They are a marine nature reserve of the Gargano National Park, and offer a pristine sea that is rich in marine fauna and ideal for diving enthusiasts.
There are two inhabited islands: San Nicola and San Domino; Capraia, Pianosa and Cretaccio are uninhabited. Not to be missed are the Cala delle Arene, Cala Matano, the Grotta del Bue Matino and the Tomb of Diomede, in San Nicola.
Pontine Islands: Ponza and Ventotene
Ponza is perhaps one of the most touristic of the Pontine islands, and one of the most fascinating historic centers in the province of Latina and Lazio. Visitors must see the Capo Bianco, the Caves of Pilate, that of Ulysses, the Punta del Fieno and the Chiaia di Luna, immersing themselves not only in the beauty of the historic center of Ponza, that is made up of lanes and steps, but also in the pristine nature of a location that welcomes you with open arms. Among the beaches that are not to be missed is the Frontone Beach, sheltered by a rock that resembles the pediment of a Greek temple.
Ventotene is another of the unmissable Pontine islands which, despite being very small, tells a story that always makes you come back. Not only are the people always the same here, but there is only one beach: Cala Nave, which is never too crowded. Don’t miss a visit to the remains of Villa Giulia or the former prison of Santo Stefano. Ventotene is particularly coveted by passionate readers who, of course, will have heard of the wonders of the “Last Beach" library.
Island of Montecristo
Of the islands near Elba, Montecristo is certainly the most fascinating - perhaps because Alexandre Dumas set one of his most famous novels here. Sites to see in this wonderous place, where nature has remained practically intact for centuries, are the Monastery of San Mamiliano, the Grotto of San Mamiliano (called "Grotto of the Dragon"), Cala Corfù - a wild beach surrounded by nothing - and the Fortress of Montecristo, which stands on the top of the island and once guarded the coasts. Montecristo is accessed at the Maestra cove, where the pebble beach welcomes tourists wishing to relax.
Visit the most beautiful Italian islands with Costa Crociere cruises
Set off with Costa Crociere cruises to discover the most beautiful islands of Italy, real pearls of the Mediterranean sea. Let yourself be captivated by the crystalline sea of Sicily and Sardinia, by the colors of Murano and Burano, by the fascinating Capri and much more.
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