The Mediterranean Sea is brimming with hidden treasures to discover, and its most precious gems are perhaps its islands. Between their history, art, culture and mythology, they really do offer something for everyone. We’ve chosen thirty of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean to explore.
Let’s start with Mallorca, which is the largest of the Balearic Islands and is located just off the Spanish coast. Mallorca is a great destination for those looking for the unique charm of an island holiday with all the flare of mainland Spain.
And that’s definitely the case in Palma, the archipelago’s capital city, which is brimming with art, culture, history and entertainment for tourists. When arriving by sea, Palma’s beautiful, gothic cathedral immediately catches the eye. Next to it, you’ll find the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, which is built on the foundations of an Arab fortress and is one of the King of Spain’s summer residences. Walking through the city streets, you’re bound to spot a number of beautiful modernist buildings, including the Grand Hotel.
The crystal clear sea and verdant nature make this place a must-visit.
If nightlife is the only thing you think Ibiza is famous for, you’re missing out! Ibiza is so much more thanks its nightlife (which, we admit, is pretty great). Famous clubs such as Pacha put on amazing events whatever the season, while open-air stages such as Ushuaia often attract some the world’s best DJs. And the fun doesn’t stop in the clubs, you’ll also find plenty to do on beaches such as Playa de las Salinas, and the various bars scattered through the old town.
Ibiza has a lot of beaches to choose from and most of them are real oases of relaxation. They are free to visit and a far cry from the city nightlife. In Santa Gertrudis, you’ll find many casas de campo, which are surrounded by nature and dotted with splendid swimming pools, while Cala Comte and Punta Galera (the latter of which is only recommended if you don’t mind a bit of a walk) boast majestic, aquamarine waters.
It’s also worth remembering that Ibiza was once known as the isla bonita and was home to several hippy communities back in the ‘60s. The hippy atmosphere definitely lives on in Las Dalias market in San Carles de Peralta, where local artists and artisans sell their products in a decidedly bohemian setting. You can also visit Cala Benirràs, where hippies of the new millennium love to celebrate the setting sun during the summer months with a song and dance to the rhythm of bongo drums.
Menorca is perhaps the wildest of all the Balearic islands. It’s home to countless beaches nestled in unspoiled nature, some of which can only be reached by foot or by sea. Favaritx Beach – which is home to a picturesque lighthouse rising steeply above the sea – is about a thirty-minute walk along the promontory from the local car park, while the red sands and curious rock formations of Cala Pregonda can only be reached by sea.
Menorca is home to many beaches with turquoise blue sea waters that are slightly easier to reach (and therefore also more crowded in summer). First off, we recommend exploring Cala Macarelleta, Cala en Turqueta, and Santo Tomás Beach. The latter stretches for several kilometres before turning into Playa de Binicodrell and then Binigaus, and boasts crystal clear waters, fine sands and rocky caves. Santo Tomás has a lot of great beach facilities, and if you continue your stroll down the beach, you’ll reach a free section and even a nudist area.
Mainland Menorca also has a lot to offer, including Ciutadella, for example, which is an enchanting city of Carthaginian origin in the northwest part of the island with a truly spellbinding atmosphere. Fornells, on the other hand, offers a great sea view and the best paella in all of Spain (according to Juan Carlos).
Sun, sea, sand, and much, much more. Formentera, is a small Balearic paradise on earth. We recommend trying your hand at some snorkelling or sailing while you’re here, or getting stuck into a good book under your umbrella if that’s more your thing.
Playa de Ses Illetes, Playa de Llevant, Playa de Es Pujols and Cala Saona are among the island’s most enchanting beaches if you’re looking to indulge in a bit of relaxation among the beautiful scenery.
An island populated with white houses, blue roofs, black sandy beaches and a few spectacular sunsets to boot, it’s no surprise everyone wants to visit Santorini. There is no sunset on this magnificent Cycladic island that is not worth photographing, nor is there a black sandy beach not worth exploring.
When it comes to the best beaches on the island, Santorini caldera is definitely a must-visit. It’s a natural wonder that is best explored via a snorkelling expedition, boat trip, or by land, armed with a backpack, walking boots and a hat for some protection from the sun.
Also worth visiting are the remains of Akrotiri village, a Bronze Age port city destroyed by the island’s volcano and later uncovered in 1967.
Is there a more glamorous or fascinating destination in the world than Capri? Probably not. Capri not only boasts incredible sea waters and breath-taking views, it’s also rich in history. Back in the 1960s, there was no member of the Italian (or international) jet set who hadn’t stopped by for a visit to its legendary Piazzetta or iconic Quisisana Hotel.
With its cobblestone streets, artisan shops, amazing flowers and lemons, and glistening sea waters – which are home to the iconic Faraglioni stacks – Capri is synonymous with beauty, elegance and luxury.
We definitely recommend visiting the Blue Grotto, which is one of most spellbinding places in the world. After reaching this magnificent cave by rowing boat, you can watch a magical spectacle as the blue, transparent water laps at and reflects onto the cave walls.
We’re not really sure where to begin when it comes to this amazing Mediterranean island. Sardinia really has it all. Nature is the star of the show here, from white, sandy beaches that give the Caribbean a run for its money to sharp rocky descents into the sea. Lina Wertmüller even chose Cala Luna as the location for her protagonists to be shipwrecked and ‘struck by an unusual destiny in the middle of the blue August sea’. What’s more, Sardinia’s natural landscapes are full of ancient, mysterious nuraghi (megalithic buildings) dotted throughout the countryside.
Sardinian cuisine varies greatly and includes delicacies such as pecorino cheese, creamy Gallura soup and sweet seadas. What’s more, you’ll also find great nightlife on the Costa Smeralda, as well as some amazing places to enjoy peace and quiet, such as Ogliastra, and finally, some great sailing opportunities in Caprera. There really is something for everyone.
What we said about Sardinia also applies to Sicily. This three-pointed island is so vast and beautiful that there really is something for everyone.
Of course, the Valley of the Temples is a must-visit UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring some perfectly preserved Doric temples. And while we’re on the theme of Ancient Greece and mythology, we also highly recommend a trip to ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ on the Messina Strait.
Palermo, Catania and Syracuse are all beautiful cities with their own spirit. We recommend visiting Palermo for its local markets and to try the street food. Catania has two souls, part characterised by its city life and part by the unpredictability of Mount Etna, which towers over the city (and is a great place to take a hike). Syracuse is home to some magnificent baroque building, as is the island Ortigia, which is also famous for its music festival.
Mykonos knows how to throw a party. Music plays non-stop on Mykonos’ beaches, which draw in crowds from all over the world all year round, thanks to its liberal attitudes and genuinely welcoming atmosphere. In fact, it is considered the capital of gender tolerance.
Its most iconic attraction is perhaps the white windmills with thatched roofs you’ll find in the ancient district of Kastro, which are a nod to the island’s rural past.
Speaking of the past, Mykonos is also home to a few legends. The island supposedly takes its name from Apollo’s nephew and may have been the place Heracles defeated the Giants, who were all turned into stone, thereby forming the foundations of the island itself.
There are many things to see and do in Rhodes, including five castles, two acropolises and an archaeological museum. It’s the perfect destination for ancient history fans!
However, nature lovers will by no means be disappointed by the largest of the Dodecanese islands. In the 60-hectare valley between Paradissi and Theologos, you’ll find a paradise on earth, where the climate, flora, and Pelecanos river come together to create the perfect habitat for millions of Euplagia quadripunctaria butterflies. It’s a real sight to behold!
Corfu is a diverse island and as such, it has something for everyone. It’s also home to some incredible beaches, including Paleokastritsa, which is great for families and diving fans. Meanwhile Agios Giorgios Pagi boasts beautiful golden sands, and Myrtiotissa has a more wild and rocky spirit.
Not only is Corfu associated with the Island of Phaeacia and Odysseus, it is dotted with picturesque villages such as Sidari and Old Perithia, as well as monuments of great historical and mythological significance, such as Achilleion and the Vlacherna Monastery, which is located in the middle of the sea!
Elba is the third largest island in Italy and its origins are rooted in ancient history. In fact, it has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic era, with deposits dating back to that era found on several parts of the island.
Not only does it boast some very ancient history, there’s also a lot for modern history fans to get their teeth into. In fact, near Ogliera rock is the wreck of the Elviscot merchant ship, which sunk in 1972 and is now a great place for mysterious underwater dives.
Elba is also home to a whole host of unspoiled nature (belonging to the Tuscan Archipelago National Park), and you can admire it on a hike to the top of Monte Capanne, or from Fetovaia, Capoliveri or Lacona beach.
Finally, Portoferraio, (the pink city), is a picturesque location with lots to discover. Somehow, we think Napoleon probably didn’t have the worst time during his exile here.
The largest of the Aeolian islands, this is perhaps one of the best places to experience continental Sicily.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, which is the main street leading to the old town, is lined with low-roofed, colourful houses, while above the fortified city overlooking the sea, you’ll spot a castle and necropolis watching over the whole island.
Lipari is home to a plethora of natural beauties, which you can easily reach by sea. One of the most spellbinding views on this island is probably of the former pumice quarries. The bright white backdrop and coastline make the surrounding water appear bright blue, while the entire area is ‘decorated’ with some truly stunning industrial archaeology.
An irresistibly charming island and a melting pot for different cultures, the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of Malta, French and English followed one another in their domination of Malta.
As we know, Malta’s combination of crystal clear waters and history is unrivalled, making it a truly remarkable place for a holiday. In fact, this island is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Valletta, the Saflieni Hypogeum and a series of megalithic temples.
Nature, magic and mythology are the key ingredients in Ischia. Here, you’ll find the Scoglio degli Innamorati (which looks like two lovers kissing ) and Scoglio del Fungo, which is supposedly the eternal home of a young couple.
The island itself is also fairly magical, and is home to some of Europe’s best thermal water springs, by way of the Poseidon Thermal Gardens. From the top of the Belvedere di Zaro, you can admire Ischia’s amazing beauty and the surrounding sea.
Volcanic islands always have a certain charm to them and Stromboli is no different. In fact, Jules Verne chose it as the setting for the end of his film, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
There really is no better place for a holiday, given that Stromboli is home to an active volcano that erupts every day, reminding us of Earth’s primordial power, and you can even join a night trip to admire this breath-taking volcano in action from the sea.
Stromboli is also the name of a beautiful village dotted with white houses and bougainvillea plants, while in the nearby village of Ginostra, time feels like it’s stopped. Electricity only reached this area of the island a few years ago, and the only means of transport is a mule travelling from one street to the next.
A trip to the Aeolian Islands wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Sciara al Fuoco (stream of fire), which is a truly unforgettable experience!
A wild island off the beaten track and one that’s the all the more precious and charming for it, the occasionally unforgiving and harsh island of Pantelleria is perfect for intrepid, adventurous visitors. Off-road vehicles and boats are in fact the transport method of choice when exploring this island’s best loved attractions.
Pantelleria is a volcanic island and you’ll find one of its must-visit sites in a former volcano crater. The Mirror of Venus is a light blue, warm lake surrounded by white, clayey and sulphurous sands, which have great healing properties for the skin. The Mirror of Venus is a great place to visit when strong Mistral winds are blowing, as it remains entirely sheltered from adverse weather conditions.
You can also embark on a great hiking trail leading from the lake to Cala Cinque Denti, as well as to Punta Spadillo lighthouse and Ondine lake. Other great places for a dip include Balata dei Turchi or the Arco dell’Elefante, which are more easily reached by sea.
In the centre of Pantelleria, you’ll find a national park, which is entirely uninhabited by humans, in order for the local nature to flourish. We also recommend visiting an attraction located right on edge of the park, Bagno Asciutto di Benikulà, which is a natural sauna housed inside a cave!
Scauri and Pantelleria are the island’s main towns. Scauri is an enchanting port town, while Pantelleria has all the chaotic charm of a North African conurbation. Here, you’ll find delicious traditional island dishes, such as fish couscous and sweet baci panteschi.
Finally, you’ll spot a number of typical stone houses on Pantelleria, which are called dammusi. They’re often found in the countryside in the middle of nowhere, making them the perfect place for a holiday in total serenity.
Chios is supposedly the birthplace of Homer, and you’ll see why. Chios city is brimming with culture, and is home to an archaeological museum, a Byzantine museum, a cultural centre that puts on theatre performances, and finally, one of the best libraries in the whole of Greece.
The island is also home to numerous medieval villages, each more beautiful than the next, as well as a series of natural wonders, including the very impressive Olympi Cave.
Perhaps the most famous person to be born on Samos was Pythagoras, father of the famous theory and the person responsible for our bad algebra grades.
The Ancient Greeks knew a lot about philosophy, symposia and wine, and in fact, Samos is home to one of the world’s most famous wine labels, as well as a lot of local island produce. What’s more, Psalida beach boasts crystal clear waters, making it the perfect place to explore in the summer.
Still a part of Greece but perhaps more embracing of its biblical rather than Greek traditions, Patmos is considered a mystical island. It is precisely here that the last and most mysterious section of the Bible is said to have been written, in the Cave of the Apocalypse, which is located near the capital Hora and is open to the public.
If you’re hoping to explore Patmos’ beautiful coves, such as Diakofti, Petra, and Psili Ammos, we recommend a nimble means of transport, such as a moped.
The largest of the Cyclades islands and – thanks to its beautiful, wide beaches – the best place for water sports, Naxos is also a great place to relax in uncrowded and difficult to reach coves.
According to tradition, Ariadne was abandoned by Theseus on Naxos after they escaped Knossos and the Minotaur together. In addition to its capital of Chora, we recommend visiting the village of Apiranthos and its wonderful marble buildings.
The island of Korčula is an interesting example of how to cleverly export tourism trends. In fact, this particular Croatian island has embraced the wellbeing and tourism, combining age-old traditions with unspoiled nature and healing muds found in the local area.
Beautiful beaches, olive groves and vineyards do the rest, making it a truly must-visit Mediterranean destination.
This heavenly islet between Malta and Gozo owes its name to Kemmuna, or cumin, the only plant capable of growing on its soil.
Comino is surrounded by blue, turquoise waters, and its Blue Lagoon is one of the island’s main attractions. In a small bay between Comino and Cominotto, the water is so blue it looks like it should belong in a swimming pool. It is the perfect destination for people wanting to swim in a true paradise on earth, and it’s also great for scuba diving enthusiasts, thanks to its varied marine life.
With its pier running from white houses down into crystal clear waters and golden sands, the photos of Paros don’t lie: it really is as beautiful as you might expect.
What’s more, Paros hasn’t yet suffered from the influx of mass tourism, and is therefore a great place to let your hair down at local beach parties while you relax by the sea.
One of the most famous islands in Greek mythology, this is where Ulysses was unable to return, and where poor Penelope stopped and started a shroud in order to resist the Proci’s pressing marriage requests. Right in the centre of Stavros is a statue of Homer’s hero, while a number of archaeological finds found near the town seem to support the idea that Ulysses once lived here.
In addition to Homer-related cultural sites, Ithaca is also home to numerous beautiful beaches for a holiday filled with sun, sea and culture.
The definition of a pleasant place, this is where you’ll find the Cave of Calypso, who kept Ulysses away from home for seven years after the end of the Trojan War. The cave is located above the magnificent beach of Ramla l-Ħamra, one of the most beautiful on the island and famous for its red sand.
Gozo is so beautiful and relaxing that it has become one of the Mediterranean’s favourite destinations for yoga retreats.Gozo è così bella e rilassante che è diventata una delle mete predilette del Mediterraneo per fare ritiri e workshop di yoga.
This small pearl in the Cyclades islands is great for those looking to immerse themselves in nature and adventure. It’s home to a number of spectacular coves, including Livadaki and Agali beach, which can only be reached after a hike through nature.
In Folegandros, you can also try a Greek specialty called Matsata, which is a pasta dish topped with meatballs stewed with vegetables.
Levanzo has some very ancient beauty, such as the crystal clear waters at Cala Dogana, as well as archaeological finds, such as drawings and engravings, in Genovese Cave dating back to the Upper Palaeolithic era. The drawings depict extinct animals from the Quaternary period, as well as species that are still alive, such as the tuna fish you’ll still find swimming in the waters surrounding the island.
We recommend exploring Levanzo by donkey for a truly unforgettable experience.
We’ll wrap up with Zante, which is so beautiful, Ugo Foscolo even dedicated a famous sonnet to it.
Shipwreck Beach and the Keri Caves are among the best and most popular tourist attractions here, while the southwestern part of the island is home to Zante Marine National Park, where a community of endangered Loggerhead sea turtles lives.
Explore the Mediterranean with Costa Cruises`
Set sail with Costa Cruises and explore the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean, as well as their heavenly beaches, history and mythology. Let yourself be won over by Sicily and Sardinia’s crystal clear waters, the power of Stromboli’s volcano, Mykonos’ carefree attitude and much, much more.