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20 Secret Islands in Europe

The 20 Most Underrated Islands in Europe

As summer draws closer, we’re looking for our next holiday destination. Islands are always a top pick: they offer a true escape to our everyday lives, as well as the opportunity to connect with nature. However, Europe’s popular islands are booming with tourism during the summer months. Mass tourism can dilute an island’s local charm, as well as drive up the prices. There are still some pretty isles that are not so hot on the tourist trail, though – for now. Think empty beaches, traditional villages, and wild, rugged landscapes. Here is our pick of the most underrated islands in Europe.

20. Herm, Channel Islands

Although it’s just a short boat ride from Guernsey, Herm feels a world away from the British Isles. With bucolic rolling hills and Caribbean-esque deserted beaches, there’s really nowhere like it. There are no cars, but the whole island is 1.5 miles long, so you’ll soon be acquainted with its dreamy pathways and coastal walks. You’ll have the turquoise seas and white sands all to yourself, and kayaking around the island is a rite of passage. It’s a true seascape, with only 64 residents calling it home full-time. Herm is also home to pods of dolphins, seals, and a puffin colony.


19. Ameland, Netherlands

If long windy walks, soft sandy bays, and wildlife watching is your idea of an idyllic holiday, Ameland could be your perfect island escape. It’s home to two nature reserves, which you can explore by bike or eco-car. However, the island is small and easy to explore on foot. It’s so small that when the tide is down, you can walk along the mudflats from Ameland to Holwerd. The Netherlands has a reputation for being flat, but from here, you can appreciate the beauty of its flat landscape. Along with its natural beauty, Ameland is an art and culture hotspot. Hollum has several museums documenting the island’s long maritime history, and the island hosts multiple festivals. Kunstmaand is a month-long celebration of art, and MadNes is a sustainable surf, skate, and music festival.


18. Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Scotland’s beguiling Outer Hebrides are beloved and visited by Scots, but despite their paradisical beauty, few tourists make it to the remote isles. Barra is beautifully desolate and wild, despite having an airport. In fact, Barra has the only commercial beach landing strip in the world. The flight to Barra, with its swirls of turquoise blue and shimmering white sands, is not dissimilar to flying over the Whitsundays in Australia. The island is nicknamed Barra-dise, and after a few days exploring the wind-bent grassy moors, pedalling along idyllic paths, and taking walks along empty beaches, you’ll see why.


17. Lošinj, Croatia

Not only is Lošinj one of Croatia’s best-kept secrets, but it’s also a healing haven. Due to the island’s unique purifying air, which is a combination of climactic, botanical, geographical, and biological factors, Lošinj is said to help those with lung and respiratory issues. Being a five-and-a-half-hour boat trip from Zagreb, the island is a far cry from pollution. And when you eventually do step onto its shores, you’ll be met by the crisp scent of the dense herbs: they are everywhere and are proven to have healing properties. Air quality aside, Lošinj is a little charmer, with pretty colourful houses and terracotta roofs. So many sandy coves are waiting to be discovered – hire a kayak and search for a secluded spot.


16. La Gomera, Canary Islands, Spain

With stunning natural scenery in abundance, La Gomera is the antithesis of the more visited Canary Islands’ typical arid volcanic landscape. It’s still characterised by volcanic mountains, but La Gomera is lush and vibrant, with ancient moss-covered forests and verdant hills that rival Madeira. The only way to get to the island is by boat, so there are few tourists here: you can have the hilly mountain villages, deserted rocky beaches, and showstopping hiking paths all to yourself. Time stands still in La Gomera; it’s beautifully sleepy, rural, and simple.

La Gomera

15. Gozo, Maltese Islands

Gozo is not an untouched island, but it is still relatively unknown to most tourists. It’s one of 21 islands that make up the Maltese archipelago, Malta being the largest. The island is as rugged as it is charming, with thriving local communities and craggy rock formations. You could easily spend your days tucking into sea urchin spaghetti and sipping coffee at Marsalforn Bay, but Gozo is packed with things to do. Explore mystic ancient ruins, bathe in cerulean natural pools (the Blue Hole is the most famous), wander through the Cittadella, and round off your days with a candyfloss sunset at Xlendi Bay.


14. Vrångö, Sweden

This sweet little island is a speck in the Gothenburg archipelago. A longstanding maritime culture and postcard-perfect natural beauty make this one of Europe’s best-kept island secrets. It’s home to only 300 permanent residents, and most of the visitors are daytrippers from Gothenburg. The island’s beautiful walking routes, cycling trails, swimming spots, and wind-bent machair beaches are all yours. There are no cars and little to do but relax and soak up the blissful quiet life.


13. Kalsoy, Faroe Islands, Denmark

The Faroe Islands are a picture of unbelievable nature. The archipelago is comprised of 18 islands shaped by volcanic activity, and Kalsoy is one of the least visited yet most astonishingly beautiful. This craggy, rocky island of soaring peaks is surrounded by inky, thrashing water, adding to Kalsoy’s brooding atmosphere. It has all the best bits of the Faroe Islands packed into one: jaw-dropping hikes, traditional villages – Mikladalur is particularly charming – and candy-striped lighthouses. But most of all, it has the feeling that so many Faroe Islands’ visitors crave: wild adventure and quiet solitude.


12. Filicudi, Aeolian Islands, Italy

The Aeolian Islands were formed by volcanic activity, leaving seven unique, rustic isles in its wake. While the island group used to be totally off-the-beaten path, more travellers are discovering the glorious islands. However, while most visitors are heading to Lipari and Stromboli, in-the-know travellers seek solace on Filicudi. With a population of only 300 people, it’s a small and welcoming community. Accommodation comes in the form of small, local hotels or homely holiday rentals, and days consist of sunbathing and swimming. Life passes by without fuss and with a commitment to savouring a slower pace of living.


Photos by @kellybehunstudio

11. Föhr, Germany

Scattered on the North Sea, there’s an archipelago of windswept, remote isles: the North Frisian Islands. The most popular (and pricey) is Sylt – it’s considered to be Germany’s answer to the Hamptons, where moneyed Germans spend their summer break. But Sylt’s smaller neighbour, Föhr, is much quieter, wilder, and more rural. Nieblum is a sleepy village on the island, where local law insists all houses must have thatched roofs. It’s a place for contemplation, where days consist of bike rides along boardwalks and reading in cosy strandkörbes (wind-breaking hooded beach chairs). Unsurprisingly, the seafood is incredible – you’ll be hard-pressed to find monkfish so fresh and affordable.


10. Santa Maria, Azores, Portugal

This untouched gem is the most southerly island in the lush Azores archipelago. It’s the smallest of the islands and most importantly, the sunniest. Enjoy days of long sunshine, perfect for exploring Santa Maria’s deep ochre landscape and traditional whitewashed villages. It’s one of the Azores’ less visited islands, but it’s just a 20-minute flight from the archipelago’s most popular and largest island, São Miguel. So, visitors can spend their day on São Miguel, and come back to this quiet, lush haven. Not only is Santa Maria loved for its enchanting vineyards, viewpoints, and historic lighthouses, but it’s also the only one of the Azores islands to have a white sand beach.

Santa Maria

9. Isle of Rum, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Scotland’s Isle of Skye is not exactly a travel secret anymore, but let us introduce you to its neighbours: the Small Isles. There are four: Rum, Eigg, Canna, and Muck. Each island offers something exceptional, but Rum piques it for us. The brooding island is a treasure trove (the shape even resembles a diamond) of incredible wildlife, remote wilderness, blustery white-sand beaches, and knee-buckling peaks. The famous Cuillin Ridge walk is not to be taken lightly and mirrors the ridge walk on Skye. Around 30 people live in the island’s main village, Kinloch, and tourists are few and far between. For a far-flung mountain escape, it’s hard to beat Rum. A place where porpoises, dolphins, and even orcas swim in its waters is very special indeed.

Isle of Rum

8. Porquerolles, Côte d’Azur, France

Nowhere says hazy summer dreams quite like the French Riviera. Porquerolles is a shining example of the perfect unspoilt French Riviera island: completely unpretentious, relaxed, and rustic. It might be unstyled, but it’s held onto the best of the Côte d’Azur in the form of Provençal rosé, which is produced on the island.

It’s a car-free Mediterranean paradise island, just a few minutes by boat from the mainland. Visitors explore the protected area by bike or foot, marvelling at the 300ft cliffs, olive groves, and empty beaches. The island’s south coast is peppered with small inlets – hire a kayak and weave through the natural waterways.


7. Inis Mór, Aran Islands, Ireland

Escape to desolate beauty with a trip to Inis Mór. While you might see daytrippers, few stay overnight – but a few days on this rocky isle will lead you to believe you’re much further from the mainland than a 40-minute boat journey. It is, after all, on the edges of Europe: the last bit of land before America. The atmospheric island tells the story of thousands of years of Irish history, with longstanding grey stone pubs scattered across the patchwork fields. Dún Aonghasa is an archaeological marvel: the structures atop the 100-metre cliff are from the Bronze Age. Folklore and mystery surround the prehistoric fort, and the same goes for the Wormhole: an inexplicable rectangle hole above the foamy Atlantic Ocean.

Inis Mór

6. Kythira, Greece

The Peloponnese islands lie off the coast of Athens, and Kythira is right at the bottom of the peninsula. Its distance from the mainland has kept mass tourism at bay, and the sun-soaked island has kept its far-flung charm firmly intact. Greece is always beautiful, but most visitors wouldn’t describe the landscape as ‘lush’. Kythira, however, is the anomaly. Yes, the coastline is ribboned with beautiful beaches, but head further inland and there are also flowing waterfalls, gorges, and valleys to explore. If you want to mix up your beach days with waterfall chasing and hiking through Eden-like valleys, Kythira is the place to be.


5. Marettimo, Egadi Islands, Italy

If you want unspoiled island charm with a touch of Italian buzz, Marettimo is just the place. Scattered near Sicily, the Egadi Islands offer rustic charm and raw natural beauty, and help visitors find the true meaning of la dolce vita. There are few cars on the island, few places to stay, more cats than people, and most beaches have no umbrellas or sunbeds to hire. It’s stripped-back Italy at its best: pebbly, hard-to-reach beaches all to yourself and hidden emerald coves for diving and swimming. Life on the island revolves around the unpretentious marina, with its small but excellent selection of well-priced seafood restaurants.


4. Senja, Norway

Norway’s Lofoten Islands are beautiful, wild, and remote, but they are increasingly getting more popular. Searching for a true off-the-beaten-path Norweigan escape? Despite being Norway’s second-largest island, Senja is untouched by mass tourism. Located in Northern Norway, Senja is often nicknamed ‘Norway in miniature’. It has everything you could want to see distilled into one island: showstopping craggy peaks, surprising turquoise waters, white-sand deserted beaches, and wildlife in its natural habitat. Visitors can spot moose and reindeer during the summer, and whales in the winter. September to April is the best time to catch the Northern Lights, while the summer months offer Midnight Sun: 24-hour daylight.


3. Lastovo, Croatia

This sun-soaked time warp is a gem of the remote Mediterranean. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, with over 70% of the island covered in lush forest. The crystal-clear coastline is beautifully diverse – relax on a soft-sand beach, take a dip in a rugged cove’s sparkling waters, or snorkel above the healthy coral reef. The island’s isolation helps it grow unique flora and fauna, too. As well as a beautiful landscape, Lastovo is home to ancient stone villages. It’s a look into a Croatia gone by: there’s a unique way of life here that’s been preserved. Despite the modern world's changes, Lastovo has maintained its cultural heritage through local attire, music, dialect, customs, and more.


2. Île d’Yeu, France

Île d’Yeu is a little-known island in the wild Atlantic. In-the-know French locals spend sunny weeks on the paradisiacal isle, where unspoilt nature and quaint villages offer a quiet respite from everyday life. There are many beautiful beaches for soaking up the island charm, but visitors with itchy feet will find plenty to do, too. Rent a bicycle and head to Port Joinville for freshly caught monkfish, meander around the 14th-century fortress of Vieux Chateau of Ile d’Yeu, and fall in love with the whitewashed beauty of Saint Sauveur.

Île d’Yeu

1. Anáfi, Greece

When you hop off the boat at Anáfi Port, you’d be forgiven for thinking your captain took a detour to Santorini. The Cycladic island is a vision of flat-roof white houses clustered onto the cliffside, domed churches sitting atop hills, and untouched beaches. There’s an undiscovered magic to Anáfi, a rare Greek island unaffected by mass tourism, but local life thrives. Washing lines string across terracotta stone paths and the main town of Chora is abuzz with local restaurants and bars. Visiting Anáfi is a gorgeous taste of the simple, laidback life: where days consist of floating between relaxing on sandy beaches, walking through the bougainvillaea-clad alleyways, tucking into super-fresh seafood, and watching the sunset over the Aegean Sea.


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