Italy has a fabulous diversity of destinations. From the ancient city of Rome to the atmospheric home of pizza, Naples, the stunning Ligurian coast, and the charming villages of Cinque Terre.
Almost entirely surrounded by water, Italy also boasts an incredible number of unique and beautiful islands. From two of the Mediterranean’s great islands, Sicily and Sardinia, to historic Elba and the lesser visited islands of Venice.
These are some of the best islands in Italy, offering a magical array of Italian culture, food, and experiences.
Ferry is often the most efficient and cost-effective way to reach most of these Italian Islands (especially if taking a car to the islands). You can search ferry schedules, routes, and fares here.
15 of the Best Italian Islands for an Incredible European Island Escape
Located in the south of Italy, separated from the mainland by the narrow Strait of Messina, Sicily is one of the most famous islands of Italy and the largest island in the Mediterranean. Only 96 miles from Tunisia, with strong historical influences from the Arabs, Normans, and Byzantines, Sicily is a unique connector between Africa and Europe.
There are so many unique things to see and do in Sicily – such as its prominent natural attraction, Mt Etna, the tallest volcano in Europe and the most active in the world. We recommend an extended Sicily road trip to make the most of your time on this unique Italian Island. However, if you only have time to see a small part of this generous land, these are two of Sicily’s most famous cities, both popular Italian destinations for couples.
Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country, many of which are in Sicily. Palermo, the capital of Sicily is a great vacation destination itself. Palermo is loaded with World Heritage Sites, stunning architecture, and incredible history.
The churches in Palermo are a highlight with incredible golden mosaics, Byzantine architecture, and magnificent marble pillars brought from the Italian mainland. The Palermo Cathedral, Santa Caterina, La Martorana, and the Palatine Chapel should not be missed.
Look out for statues of Saint Rosalia, the Patron Saint of Palermo, around the streets in Palermo. Rosalia, who died in 1166, appeared to a hunter during the height of the plague in 1624. The apparition told him where to find her remains and to bring her bones to Palermo and have them carried in procession through the city. After the procession, the plague ceased, and Rosalia became the patron saint of Palermo. A sanctuary was built in the cave where her remains were found.
The food markets in Palermo are famous for their variety of delicious street foods. You can find all city’s specialties and Sicilian dishes at the two main Palermo street food markets, Ballaro and Capo Markets. Two Palermo specialties that shouldn’t be missed are the Pani câ meusa (spleen sandwich) and Arancini (rice balls). Be sure to indulge in Palermo’s famous desserts, including cannoli and gelato.
Recommended by: Michelle Moyer – Moyer Memoirs
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Sicily is famous for its cathedrals, architecture, gorgeous beaches, vineyards, cuisine, and southern Italian culture – all of this can be experienced in the small city of Cefalu, an hour from the capital of Palermo. The very walkable town is famous for the Duomo di Cefalù, the 12th-century cathedral in the Piazza Duomo, which houses a magnificent collection of Byzantine mosaics.
Enjoy views of the cathedral from one of the many cafes and restaurants in the busy piazza. The perfect place to enjoy a famous Sicilian granita, a cold, sweet treat made from water, sugar, and fruit.
To learn a bit of Sicilian history, Cefalu’s Mandralisca Museum has a fascinating collection of archaeological exhibits. For the adventurous, climb La Rocca, a tall, craggy mountain just outside the city. From the top, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the island, including Cefalu’s Old Town and the Mediterranean sea.
Cefalú is an hour from Palermo by car or direct train.
Recommended by: Erin Hynes – Pina Travels
2. Aeolian Islands
The Aeolian Islands are a volcanic archipelago off the northeast edge coast of Sicily. The seven islands are home to beaches of several colors, stunning cliffs, and an unforgettable lava-spewing volcano.
Each island has something to offer, but visit Salina and Stromboli if you only have time for two.
Salina is a wonderfully chilled-out island covered with vineyards and was the setting for the film Il Postino. Its central location and collection of excellent restaurants and hotels, particularly in the town of Malfa, make it the perfect base for exploring the Aeolians.
Stromboli is best known for its volcano. Join a guided hike in the evening to watch the show, where lava spews about every 20 minutes. Or, you can enjoy the view from Osservatorio Restaurant. Stromboli also has the best beaches in the Aeolians, with sparkling black sand and wild blue waves.
The most beautiful view of the Aeolian Islands is from the top of Vulcano’s smoking caldera (be warned, the smell isn’t great).
Panarea Island has stunning cliff views, Lipari has the biggest city on the islands, and Alicudi and Filicudi make you feel like you’ve gone as far off the beaten path in Italy as you can go.
No matter where in the Aeolian Islands you choose to go, there are boat tours to explore the islands, or you can rent a motorbike for a day.
Don’t forget to try Malvasia wine and pane cunzatu — a local flatbread typically topped with olive oil tomatoes, capers, mozzarella, anchovies, and herbs.
The best way to get to the Aeolian Islands is to fly to Catania and take a shuttle van to the town of Milazzo. From there, Milazzo and all seven Aeolian Islands have frequent ferries running between them. And come in the summer — because summer is when the Aeolians truly shine their best.
Recommended by: Kate McCulley – Adventurous Kate
There is little doubt that Sardinia is the prettiest island in Italy – and indeed, one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The island, an autonomous region of Italy, is right at the heart of the Mediterranean. Italian by nationality, Sardinia could not feel more different from Italy. Step on the island, and you’ll realize that the atmosphere is different, the culture and its history are unique, as are the culinary traditions.
The culture of Sardinia comes from the many civilizations that ruled over the island. The Nuragic people left the impressive nuraghe – there are more than 7000 scattered around the island, one of them (Su Nuraxi, in Barumini) is Sardinia’s only UNESCO site. Punics, Phoenicians, and Romans first, and then the Pisans, the Genoese, and the Spaniards left their mark. There are incredible examples of Roman sites, such as the Roman Amphitheater of Cagliari and Spanish colonial architecture visible in many towns in Sardinia. There is even a Catalan enclave – the beautiful town of Alghero.
Sardinia has a plethora of stunning beaches with clear waters. It has mountains, hiking trails galore, plenty of wineries for wine tastings, and lots of beautiful cities and small towns.
Any time is a good time to visit Sardinia. When you go and where you base yourself (the island is huge) is a matter of personal taste. Visit in the summer months, and you will enjoy the beaches. Visit in the fall and winter, and you can enjoy festivals such as Autunno in Barbagia and Sa Sartiglia carnival celebrations in Oristano.
Plan to spend at least a week in Sardinia to enjoy just one or two of its main attractions or a month for a road trip around the island.
Sardinia is well connected to the rest of Europe via its three airports (Cagliari, Alghero and Olbia). The best way to move around the island is by car. Search Discover Cars to compare the best car rental deals from local rental companies in both Sardinia and mainland Italy.
Recommended by: Claudia Tavani – Strictly Sardinia
4. Caprera, La Maddalena Archipelago (Sardinia)
Caprera, located off the northeastern coast of Sardinia, is the second largest island of La Maddalena Archipelago and one of the most impressive National Parks in Italy.
The island is sparsely populated. Actually, nobody lived there from the time the Romans left until Garibaldi, Italy’s unification hero, bought the island and built his home there. Garibaldi’s house is now a museum and one of the most interesting places to visit in Caprera. However, most people who venture to this remote part of Sardinia do so to appreciate the incredible nature and the paradisiac beaches.
Spiaggia del Relitto (Shipwreck Beach), Cala Andreani, Cala Napoletana and Cala Garibaldi are among the most beautiful coves on the island. Yet, the best thing to do in Caprera is the hike to Cala Coticcio. Known in Sardinia as Little Tahiti, this protected cove can be reached on guided hikes that must be booked with one of the registered guides of Maddalena National Park.
Only four groups per day can visit the cove – two in the morning and two in the early afternoon. The moderate hike takes around 1.5 hours each way.
Once in Cala Coticcio, you will enjoy the clearest, most pristine waters you can imagine. Remember, this is a protected cove, so you must bring a straw mat (towels are not allowed), and as with the rest of Sardinia, taking sand, shells, and even pebbles is prohibited and punishable with a fine.
Caprera can be enjoyed year-round. To make the most of its beaches and hikes, plan to visit between the late Spring (from mid-May) and October. There are no places to stay on the island, but the nearby La Maddalena has plenty of accommodation options.
Hotel Villa del Parco has small, fully equipped apartments, which are perfect if you want to self-cater (a scrumptious breakfast is included).
You can get to Caprera by car from La Maddalena island (they are connected by a bridge), which can itself be reached via a 20 minutes ferry ride departing every 30 minutes from Palau. You can find the best car rental companies in Palau here.
Alternatively, you can visit Caprera on boat tours of the Maddalena Archipelago that depart from either Palau or La Maddalena harbor. You can browse a full selection of Maddalena Archipelago Boat Tours here.
Recommended by: Claudia Tavani – Strictly Sardinia
5. Elba Island
Elba Island is a magical Italian island destination in the crystal clear waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Seven Islands make up the Tuscan Archipelago, the largest marine park in Europe – Elba, Giglio, Capraia, Montecristo, Pianosa, Giannutri, and Gorgona. Elba is the largest of the Archipelago and the third-largest island in Italy after Sicily and Sardinia. Elba is a highlight of our Rome to Pisa, Italy road trip itinerary.
Elba offers visitors a wealth of experiences, from pristine beaches, hiking, snorkeling, and plenty of historical attractions.
Elba is very prominent in Italy and France’s history books as it was the island where Napolean was exiled between 1814 and 1815.
Far from imprisoned on Elba, Napolean recreated his empire on a smaller island scale. He built roads, established schools and a mining economy, and created his own legal system. Don’t miss a visit to the regal residences of the French Emporer, part of the National Museum of Napoleonic Residences – Villa dei Mulini and the neoclassical Villa San Martino, Napolean’s summer residence.
Elba has a laid-back island vibe with plenty of great beaches and excellent restaurants. Be sure to book in advance for a meal at Molo G Osteria Portuale, a fabulous restaurant and bar tucked away at the end of the shipyard on the waterfront of the small marina in Portoferraio. Molo G sources local island produce to create delicious island specialties. There’s even a Pétanque court in the outdoor bar area.
Torremar and Moby ferry services sail daily to Elba Island from Piombino port. Both ferries take vehicles and have numerous daily sailings to Portoferraio, Rio Marina, and Cavo, with Portoferraio being the busiest port. You can get to Piombino port by train arriving at the Piombino Marittima train station located at the port. Sailings from Piombino take about 40 minutes. You can also fly to Elba Airport in Marina di Campo.
Venice is part of the Veneto region in northeast Italy in the Venice Lagoon, just off mainland Italy. The city of Venice is made up of a tight cluster of 118 small islands, separated by the canals Venice is famous for.
Venice is one of the most popular destinations in Italy, so it can get very busy during the summer, especially when cruise ships are in dock.
With this in mind, the key to Venice is to allow time to enjoy this incredibly unique island city without hustling with the crowds. Allow at least two days in Venice to have a chance to explore, and five days in Venice allows for some very interesting day trips – but no matter how many days you spend in Venice, there is always more to experience.
The most popular things to do in Venice include visiting the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Square and enjoying a gondola ride on one of the many canals. The Saint Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace VIP After Hours Tour is well worth the higher ticket price for unique access to two of Venice’s most popular attractions.
A true delight in Venice is simply walking down the quiet streets away from the crowds to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy an aperitivo and a cicchetti snack by the water.
The best time to visit Venice is during the shoulder season, from May to June and September and October, when there are fewer crowds, and the weather is pleasant. Winter can also be a good time to visit, but it can get cold and damp. The famous Venice Carnival takes place in February and offers visitors a fabulous spectacle with elaborate costumes and huge crowds – be sure to book well in advance for Carnival.
Arrive in Venice in style in a classic Venetian water taxi. A shared water taxi from the airport will set you back around €32 pp, and a private water taxi around €220 for a group of six.
Venice is well connected to the mainland, with a train station on the island. The airport is on the mainland, and you can either take a water taxi and arrive in Venice by boat or take a bus or taxi across the road bridge. The bus station is just across the bridge, as there are no cars allowed on the island.
Recommended by Claire Sturzaker – Tales of a Backpacker
7. Murano Island
Murano is an island in the Venetian lagoon famous for its glass. The unparalleled craftsmanship of Murano Glass makes it one of the most revered and collectible glassware brands in the world.
Venetian glass earned its reputation as the finest quality in the late 1200s with the establishment of a guild and laws governing its production. With the escalation of the industry, the glass blowers of Venice were sent to Murano because the Venetians were afraid the fires from the furnaces would destroy the buildings in the city.
The traditional techniques of Murano glass have survived for centuries, so understandably, one of the best things to do in Murano is to see glass-blowing demonstrations at artisan shops or larger production houses. You can book a tour of a Murano glass factory with a glass-blowing demonstration for less than €10 or watch a glass-blowing demonstration followed by a glass workshop where you can make your own unique Murano Glass piece. There’s also a glass museum you can tour.
Murano is a small island, so it is easy to explore on foot. Wander the alleys of the island to take in the canals and buildings, and step inside the Duomo di Murano dedicated to Santa Maria and San Donato. The Murano lighthouse is a great photo spot.
If you want to visit Murano independently, take line 12 Vaporetto (public ferry) from Fondamente Nove. You can also join a guided tour of the three islands.
Visit Murano on its own or in combination with nearby Burano and Torcello on a half-day Venetian Islands tour for approx €25.
You can visit Murano year-round, but spring and fall offer good weather and fewer tourists than the peak summer months.
Recommended by: Dhara – It’s Not About the Miles
8. Burano Island
Burano Island, located in the Venetian lagoon, is said to be one of the most colorful towns in the world and one of the most photographed places in Venice.
The cheery island of Burano, with its tranquil village atmosphere, is where visitors can get a glimpse of local life away from the hustle and bustle of Venice.
The famous colored houses of Burano were painted different colors to designate where one family’s quarters finished and the next started. There is also a legend that the bright colors helped fishermen establish which was their home during thick fogs.
Burano is not just famous for its brightly painted houses. The island is also famous for lace. The delicate and detailed Burano lace dates back to the 16th century. The women who created the intricate works each specialized in a single stitch, meaning each piece, no matter how large or small, could be the work of as many as seven or more women – passed from one woman to the next taking months to complete.
Today Burano lace is produced by machine but is by no means less beautiful than the traditional pieces.
When you visit Burano, make sure you try Burano Risotto – Risotto di gò, a typical Buranella fish risotto.
If you have allowed at least two days in Venice, you’ll have time to visit independently on line 12 Vaporetto, which will continue from Murano Island to Burano Island and return to Venice. Or, you can join the combined Venetian Islands tour, which will include transfers and give you information on each island’s local treasures and history.
Recommended by: Daniel James – Urban Abroad
It may surprise travelers that one of Italy’s best-kept travel secrets is next door to one of its most over-touristed destinations. The small lagoon island of Sant’Erasmo, a short ferry ride from Venice, feels like a world away.
The lagoon island was once the Garden of the Doge, the breadbasket for the Ruler of the Venetian empire. The island supplied him, the city, and its subjects with produce, wine grapes, honey, and other staple foods. That tradition continues today, and a visit to the island makes a unique day trip from Venice.
Veneto is one of the most prolific Italian wine regions, and growers on Sant’Erasmo still harvest Dorona grapes from some of the island’s original vines, as well as Prosecco grapes for Veneto’s signature bubbly wine.
To get to the island, catch the number 13 ferry from the Fondamente Nove. Once there, it’s easy to hike and explore on your own. But renting bikes for the afternoon is even better. It is also possible to take a kayaking tour around the Sant’Erasmo and Vignole islands.
Stop at Il Lato Azzurro Hotel, where you can rent bikes, or stop in the afternoon for some wine and local food. It’s also just across the street from one of the beaches on the island where you can enjoy a picnic lunch.
Recommended by: Lori Sorrentino – Italy Foodies
Capri, one of the most beautiful Italian islands, is located on Italy’s western coast, in the Tyrrhenian Sea near the coast of Naples. Take a 45-minute ferry ride to Capri from Naples, Sorrento, or the Amalfi Coast. Or, enjoy a group tour on a smaller boat for the day. This is a very popular day trip from Positano for travelers staying in the famous seaside village, or you can take a full day trip cruise with lunch from Naples.
Capri’s popularity dates back thousands of years, when royalty would vacation on the island. It was in the 1950s when the island’s popularity really took off as a major tourist destination. In the late 60s, the island caught the attention of American tourists when Jackie O became a frequent visitor to Capri. She is known for having the famous Capri “Canfora” leather sandals custom-made for her foot.
Today the island is famous for the leather sandals favored by Jackie O, along with lemon production, beach clubs, and the Blue Grotto. The island has also put its stamp on fashion items such as Capri pants and the delicious Caprese salad said to have been created on the island.
Take the funicular up to Capri town, shop for sandals and eat a lemon granita. On your way back down to the marina, stop at Da Paulino to enjoy lunch under the lemon groves. End your day with a boat ride around the island to see the various grottos and the famous Faraglioni Rocks. You can find some incredible Capri day trips and boat tours here.
The best time to visit is in September when the crowds from the summer have died down, but the weather is still hot, and the water is still warm. See our complete guide on things to do in Capri and tips for visiting.
Recommended by: Tori Mitchell – Tori Pines Travels
Ischia Island is located off the coast of Naples in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Along with the better-known island of Capri, Ischia is part of the Phlegraean Islands in the Campania region of southern Italy.
If you’ve been traveling through Italy for a while, Ischia will feel like a more authentic, timeless version of Italy. A breath of fresh air away from the tourist trail. You’ll likely be greeted in Italian everywhere you go, and you can enjoy classic local dishes at much lower prices than in nearby Capri.
You can soak up the local island atmosphere of laundry drying in the warm Italian sun, charming, brightly colored old cars parked against stone walls, and a fortified castle still in use since 471 B.C.
It’s possible to visit Ischia on a day trip from Naples, where you can navigate to the major sites on foot, by taxi, or by bus. If you stay overnight, you’ll want to rent a car or scooter to explore the island’s far side or drive around the ring road. The best time to visit is between May and September when all of the local attractions and shops are open for the season.
The easiest way to reach Ischia is on the one-hour ferry from Naples. You’ll likely pass by the comparably huge crowds headed to Capri as you make your way to the boat bound for Ischia.
Recommended by: Amber Haggerty – Amber Everywhere
Italy lays claim to some of the world’s most beautiful islands, and one of the most beloved Italian Islands close to Naples, and one of Italy’s little gems, is Procida. Situated in the Bay of Naples, the colorful island is located between Capri and Ischia. Named Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2022, Procida is a mere two square miles and has less than 11,000 residents but offers travelers plenty to see and do.
Terra Murata is a can’t-miss landmark on Procida, the historic fortified village perched on the island’s highest point, with magnificent ocean vistas.
Inside the walls of the original stronghold town, you’ll find the 11th-century Benedictine Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo, the Palazzo d’Avalos, the deconsecrated Church of Santa Margherita Nuova and Museo Casa di Graziella.
Head to the Panoramica sulla Corricella viewpoint for an iconic view of the vibrant harbor of Procida. Don’t miss one of the best things to do on Procida, indulge in a Lingua di Bue, a long, rectangular pastry filled with local lemons. Pasticceria Bar Roma, by the main port, has the most famous Lingua di Bue.
The best time to visit Procida is in the summer or shoulder season, but beware, prices will be far higher than during winter. While still charming, winter is rainy on the island, and the ferry ride to Procida can be extremely uncomfortable if the seas are rough. To reach Procida, you can take a ferry from Naples or Ischia. There are also plenty of day tours that visit the Italian island.
Recommended by: Megan Starr – Megan & Aram
One of the most underrated islands in Italy is Ventotene in the Pontine Island Group in the Tyrrhenian Sea – A wonderful choice for those wanting to explore Italy off the beaten path.
Ventotene island is extremely popular among Italians in the summer months. You’re guaranteed a local feel when wandering the narrow streets lined with pastel-colored houses with the mouthwatering aroma of fresh seafood and pasta flowing from windows at lunchtime.
Ventotene is made up of volcanic rock, so there are only two sandy beach areas – The first is Cala Rossano, near the New Port (Porto Nuovo), on the northeast side. The second is Cala Nave, a sandy bay located on the southeastern side after the Scogli del Faro (the rocks of the Roman Port). Both are easily accessible from town. There are plenty of spots where you can sunbathe and jump from the rocks into the crystal clear water and lots of options for boat cruises around the island to visit different bays, soak up the sun and swim straight from the boat.
Take a day trip to the prison island of Santo Stefano, only a stone’s throw away from Ventotene. There are also some incredible dive opportunities for experienced and novice scuba divers with multiple underwater caves. There are dive centers in the port area at the ferry port.
It is easy to reach Ventotente from Rome by train to connect with the ferry at Formia or travel directly by ferry from the Port of Naples. Due to the ease of access from the capital (and Naples), the island will be crowded with domestic travelers from the capital in the peak summer months. September is an excellent time to go for the Ventotente Santa Candida Festival for parades, fireworks, and the launch of giant handmade hot air balloons made with tissue paper – you will find souvenirs of the hot air balloons in the little shops throughout the island.
Recommended by: Linn Haglund – Brainy Backpackers
14. Ponza Island, Lazio
Head to Ponza if you’re looking for a low-key island paradise in Italy and a more local experience. Romans flock to the island during summer to escape the heat in the city, so don’t expect to hear more than a smattering of English. Ponza is the largest island in the Pontine Islands archipelago on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is a perfect long weekend escape from Rome. (it is also possible to visit Ponza on a day trip from Rome if you are short on time).
The island has a long history dating back to the Phoenicians and ancient Greeks. The Romans took the island in 312BC and cemented Ponza as a favorite holiday destination of Italians.
Even though it is peak season and prices will be higher, summer is a great time to visit Ponza. There are several festivals throughout the season, including a fish festival, a watermelon festival, and perhaps the most important, the San Silverio festival.
Take it easy in Ponza and enjoy lazy days on the beach. Hop on the water taxi to the Frontone Beach Club, enjoy aperitivo at Bar Tripoli, and dinner at Il Tramonto.
If coming from Rome, take the train from Termini Station to Anzio to connect with the ferry. Ferries depart from Anzio, Formia, and Terracina, you can find more information on ferries to Ponza here. Given the small size of the island – 7 km with a single road running north to south and restricted traffic areas during summer – a car is not advised on Ponza. There is a bus service, taxis and scooter hire available.
Recommended by: Olivia Windsor – Livguine
15. The Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore
One of the most idyllic island destinations in Italy is away from the sea, on Lake Maggiore. The Borromeo family, who gave its name to the group of islands, still owns the largest islands, Isola Bella and Isola Madre.
You can visit both islands on a day trip from Milan or as part of a Lake Maggiore road trip. Make your way to Stresa by car or the local train, then hop on the ferry to the first island, Isola Bella. You can purchase an all-day Borromean Islands hop on hop off boat ticket to explore all three islands, including the quaint fishing village on Isola dei Pescatori, at your leisure.
Visit Borromeo Palazzo on Isola Bella – the main attraction is behind the palace: ten terraces of impeccably manicured gardens. Teatro Massimo is the work of fantasy: three levels of greenery and mythology-inspired statues, with a fountain at the bottom. The symbol of the Borromeo family, a unicorn, stands at the top of Teatro Massimo, overlooking the gardens.
Next, head to Isola Madre, the largest of the Borromean Islands and the first to be acquired by the family. Again, you can visit the Isola Madre palace and the botanical gardens.
If you plan on visiting both islets, the best choice is to buy a combined ticket online. The best time to visit is from April to September, when temperatures are pleasant and different flowers are blooming.
Spend the night in the charming Stresa Village to continue to enjoy the incredible atmosphere of the scenic lake.
Recommended by: Anda Bartos – Travel for a While
These gorgeous Italian Islands remind us why Italy is one of the most popular destinations in Europe. With such a diverse range of islands, you can plan an Italian Island escape any time of year.