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Procida, Italy
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The 8 best Italian islands to visit

Discover Italy’s offshore offerings with an expert’s guide to the best Italian islands, from petite Procida to stunning Sicily

Grace Beard
Written by
Grace Beard

Whether for its charming towns and villages or its miles of coastline, for the mountains in the north or the world-class cities of Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan, it’s no wonder travellers are so drawn to Italy. And while the country’s boot-shaped mainland certainly isn’t short of incredible places and amazing things to do, its offshore offerings are equally as enticing. There are hundreds of islands within the Italian border; two of which – Sicily and Sardinia – are the largest in the Mediterranean. Many Italian islands are characterised by black-sand beaches and dramatic landscapes shaped by years of volcanic activity. Some, like Capri and Panarea, are playgrounds for the wealthy, while others retain a more rustic, salt-of-the-earth charm. One thing’s for sure: Italy’s islands are beautiful, and these are some the very best ones to visit.

📍 The best places to visit in Italy
🛏 The best hotels in Italy
🏝 The best beaches in Italy

Italy’s best islands to visit this year

Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Sardinia

Best for: Food, beaches and agriturismo

Equidistant from the Italian coast and Africa’s northern tip, Sardinia – the Med’s second-largest island, after Sicily – is a place of tradition and unpretentious beauty, where life is lived simply (and, relatedly, where people live longer). A seemingly infinite number of beautiful beaches skirt the coast, from the ivory sands of Cala Gonone in the east to the crystalline waters of Tuerredda in the south. Venture inland for tiny, traditional towns and rugged mountain scenery – and don’t leave without tasting some creamy pecorino, suckling pig or lobster stew. 

Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Sicily

Best for: History and architecture 

Sicily, along with Sardinia, has a character distinct from mainland Italy; the islands are two of Italy’s five autonomous regions, with their own languages and ways of life. Sicily has been shaped over the years by a long history of occupation – just take in the diversity of the island’s architecture to get to grips with the many civilisations that have passed through this island at the heart of the Med. You’ll find everything here from incredibly preserved ancient Greek temples and flamboyant baroque buildings to Norman churches and Palermo’s art nouveau kiosks. And when you’re done soaking up Sicilian history? Soak up the sun instead: Sicily’s beaches are as picture-perfect as they come.

Elba and the Tuscan Archipelago
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3. Elba and the Tuscan Archipelago

Best for: Beaches

When you think of Tuscany, you might think of rolling hills, Renaissance art and rustic hilltop towns – and not, perhaps, a chain of islands home to seriously stunning tropical-esque beaches. Well, Italy is nothing if not full of surprises. Elba, the largest island of the Tuscan archipelago, is home to stretches of powdery sand to rival any beach in the Caribbean. It’s also famously the site where Napoleon was exiled, and from which he escaped. But it’s not all sun, sea, sand and political history: the quiet, tumbling towns and hilly landscapes that characterise mainland Tuscany extend to the region’s islands. Fancy a hike? Elba’s Monte Cappane offers several trails, complete with wildlife and breathtaking views over the entire archipelago (and beyond).

Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Capri

Best for: A luxurious break

Thanks to its rousing beauty, Capri was a favourite haunt of artists and intellectuals in the nineteenth- and twentieth- centuries. Today it’s fair to say that the island has become a summertime playground for the moneyed. Beneath Capri’s towering limestone cliffs, yachts dot its aquamarine waters, visitors sip locally-produced limoncello and beautiful, bronzed people sun themselves in beach clubs perched on rocks. A word of advice: Capri is on the small side and so feels very crowded in the summer months. Consider visiting off-season. In spring, fragrant wildflowers blanket the island, while September’s sea temperatures are known to carry the residual warmth of summer.

Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Ischia

Best for: Volcanic hot springs

For somewhere a little more salt-of-the-earth than Capri, catch a ferry across the Gulf of Naples to neighbouring Ischia. This is where volcanic hot springs invite invigorating soaks, glorious beaches are filled with holidaying Neopolitans, and gelato stalls and restaurants jostle for custom in busy town centres. Made famous by Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels and their TV adaptation, Ischia is bustling – but, crucially, not too busy (yet). Make the most of it while you can. Take in the views from the tropical perch of Giardini la Mortella, marvel at the dramatic view of Aragonese Castle, visit boutiques in the upmarket village of Sant’Angelo – and don’t forget to stop for a swim at Chiaia di Rose.

Lipari and the Aeolian Islands
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6. Lipari and the Aeolian Islands

Best for: Hiking and dramatic landscapes

Spattered across the Tyrrhenian Sea, just north of Sicily, are the seven Aeolian Islands – an archipelago of dramatic cliffs and canyons, carved out over the years by volcanic eruptions. Lipari is the largest of the bunch, and its namesake town – home to a lively port and harbourfront restaurants – is the perfect place to base yourself. This corner of Italy is where you’ll find one of Europe’s only active volcanoes, Stromboli. Though its eruptions are frequent – a spectacle of smoke plumes and streaming lava not to be missed – the volcano is actually a very popular and safe hiking spot. On Lipari’s northeastern tip, you’ll find another natural wonder in Cave di Pomice, a milk-white canyon made from natural pumice stone that slopes into the sea. Meanwhile, the tiny isle of Panarea has a surprisingly buzzy (if expensive) nightlife scene.

Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Procida

Best for: Colourful houses and laidback charm

Though tiny – at two square miles, it’s the smallest island on this list – you can’t miss Procida, with its stack of striking, pastel-painted buildings that appear to rise from the Bay of Naples. Explore those two square miles and you’ll find a place of generous natural beauty and laidback charm. Maze-like streets are lined with wine bars, cafés and restaurants, while a handful of pretty beaches – many made up of dark, volcanic sand – grace the island’s western and southeastern coasts. Food on Procida is defined by seafood and citrus: for fish, head to the fishing villages of Corricella and Chiaiolella, while seafront bar Felice Mare serves up fresh, zesty lemon granita.

Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Ponza

Best for: Wild swimming

The moment you catch sight of Ponza (typically on a ferry sailing over from the Pontine coast), you’ll wonder why this tiny island has flown under the radar for so long. Beneath the brightly-coloured houses climbing up steep hills, you’ll notice a complex of caves carved into the island’s rockface; a system of tunnels created by the Romans thousands of years ago. Boats bob on the marina, ready to sail visitors to crescent-shaped beaches and secret swimming coves. Diners enjoy long lunches of just-caught seafood and cactus parmigiana at beachfront restaurants. The ocean is a way of life here, making Ponza the perfect summertime escape.

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