From tiny jewel-toned cities to quiet, sandy beaches where there’s not another soul around, the quaint international islands on our list beckon with the promise of adventure and relaxation. You’ll find unique destinations from across the globe and plenty of spots that would be perfect to tack on as a day trip or weekend getaway. Whether you’re looking to add Antarctica or Australia to your list of continents you’ve visited or explore more familiar scenes in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, there’s a beautiful international island destination that will satisfy any traveler.
1. Saint Helena
This tiny volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean beckons adventurers with its black sand beaches, dramatic coastline, and interesting history. A colorful cast of characters have inhabited or visited the island, the most notable being Napoleon, who was exiled there. You can still visit his now-empty tomb and various residences on a tour of the island. Another notable visit would be to Plantation House, which is home to the oldest known land animal, a Seychelles giant tortoise named Jonathan who’s at least 185 years old! The island is also a great spot for hiking, snorkeling, looking for whale sharks, and sipping coffee from one of the many coffee plantations. With so much history and unique sights, you won’t run out of things to do on this 77-square-mile island.
2. Naxos, Greece
Shining white buildings perched on a hill above sparkling blue waters — the very image of a Greek island — is enough to inspire wanderlust! If you’re ready to make a visit a reality, Naxos is the perfect island for you because it’s quieter and less crowded than more touristy Santorini or Mykonos. You’ll find plenty to explore on this island, including the longest beaches in the Aegean, Venetian castles, and the remains of a temple built for the Greek god Apollo. You can spend days exploring all of the ancient ruins on the island, but keep in mind that the terrain is quite hilly and uneven in places, so good walking shoes are a must! After sightseeing, take a dip in the sea and enjoy fresh seafood and other Greek delicacies at one of the many amazing restaurants on the island. Be sure to review all of our recommendations before your Greek island getaway here!
3. Kangaroo Island, Australia
Visiting Kangaroo Island is like visiting a tiny version of Australia with the same unique wildlife, bushlands, and beautiful beaches. There’s plenty to explore on this island and we recommend renting a car when you arrive for your adventures. But watch out while you’re driving, because the local wildlife (including kangaroos!) may just cross your path. There are various wildlife parks you can visit for an up-close look, and since many of the animals you may want to see are nocturnal, you can book a nighttime guided walk. After visiting the animals be sure to sample some of the island’s amazing produce, including honey that’s sought out across Australia. For all of our tips, be sure to see our full list here.
A tiny piece of France in the Indian Ocean, Réunion Island is home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, a melting pot of delicious cuisines, and many idyllic beaches. Hiking is a popular activity on the island and you can explore calderas and craters left behind by the island’s volcanic history. You can also take in views of the peaks and craters from one of the island’s many beaches, but be cautious about swimming — in many parts swimming is actually banned because of shark attacks. After exploring, be sure to sample some of the island’s unique cuisine, which is a mixture of French, Indian, Chinese, and African dishes. Visiting Réunion Island is one big adventure, so be sure to check out all our tips before your trip.
There’s something for everyone on beautiful Mauritius, and it’s the perfect spot for a romantic island getaway or an action-packed trip. It’s quite a long journey to get to the island, so you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the gorgeous white sand beaches and other scenery. Unlike other tropical islands, there’s no distinct rainy season and the temperature is pretty steady, making this one island you’ll want to visit at any time of the year. You can take in the island’s flora and fauna during a hike or visit to one of the colorful national parks, but the real reason to visit Mauritius is to spend as much time as possible lounging on the island’s picture-perfect beaches. See our full list of the best things to do here.
6. Banwol, South Korea
If purple is your favorite color, you’re in luck because there’s an island just for you! In Banwol, South Korea, everything on the island is painted purple. You can enter the island via a purple bridge and if you turn up wearing purple, the island’s entry fee is waived. The reason for the color is part of a government initiative to boost tourism, and the island’s abundant purple campanula flowers provided the monochromatic inspiration. The island can only be explored by bike or by foot and during your visit you can stay in a purple hotel and eat in a restaurant that only serves purple food. To learn more about this unique island, check out our article here.
7. Prince Edward Island, Canada
Literary fans will love taking a trip to Prince Edward Island and exploring locations that provided the inspiration for Anne of Green Gables. You can visit landmarks that play a big role in the book and in author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s life, including Green Gables Heritage Place which is staged to reflect key details from the book. In addition to the literary sites, you can also enjoy visiting lighthouses, beautiful coastal drives, and strolling along waterfront boardwalks. The island is also renowned for its delicious seafood, including local lobster and of course mussels. For all of the sites to visit on your literary adventure, be sure to check out our full list.
8. Ko Lanta, Thailand
Situated off the coast of Thailand is the island district of Ko Lanta, where you’ll find a riot of beautiful colors in the surrounding coral-fringed beaches and tropical rainforests. You can rent a motorbike to explore the island where you’ll see soaring limestone cliffs, caves, and waterfalls. Explore the crystal clear waters by snorkeling or scuba diving, and relax on Long Beach, which is the perfect place to take in a sunset. Be sure to check out all our recommendations for Ko Lanta and for the rest of your visit to Thailand here.
9. Procida, Italy
If you’re looking for a rainbow of colors, the Italian island of Procida is calling your name. Its beautifully painted pastel buildings in a riot of hues contrast nicely with the deep blue ocean waters surrounding it. In addition to the breathtaking views, you can also explore numerous ancient Greek artifacts and learn about the island’s history as an outpost for the shipping industry. The island was also recently named Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2022, the first time an island has won the honors. Recipients of the award take on numerous projects to highlight cultural heritage and increase tourism, so 2022 may be the perfect time to visit this colorful island!
10. Vis, Croatia
Croatia is known for its Rivas, wide promenades that hug the coast, and are full of shops and restaurants. The Riva on Vis island is no exception and is teeming with coffee bars, restaurants, boutiques, and other places to sit back, relax, and enjoy a meal or drink with a gorgeous view of the water. You can also venture into the interior of the island to visit a beautiful waterlogged sea grotto known as the Blue Cave. The island also has a complex military history, including a submarine tunnel you can visit and explore. If you’re planning a visit to Croatia, be sure to check out all our must-see spots here.
11. Madeira, Portugal
A true hidden gem that even the Portuguese don’t visit often, Madeira is an island paradise worth visiting. The hilly terrain of the island offers some unique ways to get around, including gondola rides up the hills to take in sweeping views of the island, and wicker sledge cars that can transport you back down the winding roads. The island is easy to explore on foot and is filled with unique walking trails and cobblestone streets — just be sure to take along a sturdy pair of walking shoes! After all the walking, you’ll want to chow down in one of the many delicious restaurants and enjoy a glass of the island’s famous fortified wine. For all of our recommendations, see our list of all the reasons why Madeira is Portugal’s best-kept secret.
12. Ile De Re, France
A retreat for the Parisian upper class, Ile De Re is comparable to the geography of Martha’s Vineyard, with its salt marshes and sand dunes. The best way to explore the island is by bike, and it’s easy to rent a bike on the island for your stay. In addition to wonderful restaurants, cafes, shops, and museums, you can also take a boat cruise from the harbor to see a fortress built in 1661 in the middle of the sea. Ile De Re is also known for its wide, sandy beaches, which welcome surfers and naturists alike. See all our recommendations for Ile De Re and nearby La Rochelle here.
13. Ambergris Caye, Belize
If you’re seeking outdoor adventure, then a visit to Ambergris Caye, Belize, should be at the top of your list. The island is accessible via a 13-minute scenic prop plane flight from the Belize City Airport. One of the most popular activities on the island is scuba diving to explore the coral reefs and the Blue Hole, a martini glass-shaped limestone sinkhole that’s about 480 feet deep. You can also enjoy the outdoors and beautiful landscape while snorkeling, biking, and sailing. Venture into the island’s interior to explore Mayan ruins or go on a jungle safari or hike to see local wildlife. For more outdoor experiences on Ambergris Caye, be sure to check out our full list.
14. South Georgia
If Antarctica is on your bucket list, then a visit to tiny South Georgia Island off the coast is a must. On the island, you’ll enjoy scenic hikes that bring you up close to wildlife including albatrosses, penguins, elephant seals, and more. You can also spend time on a boat at sea watching for whales and taking in views of the dramatic coastline. Because tourism to Antarctica is limited to avoid the impact travelers have on the continent, you’ll need to plan ahead and choose an expedition through the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators. Here are 9 reasons why the extra planning is worth it for a visit to this spectacular island.
15. Mustique, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Once only reserved for royals, anyone can now plan a trip to the private island of Mustique, part of the Caribbean archipelago nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This island is just 2.2 square miles and is a secluded getaway still beloved by celebrities and royals alike. During your stay, you can rent a luxury private villa and enjoy horseback riding, hiking, and lounging on the perfect white sand beaches. Sailing and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters are also popular, and the scenery can’t be beat. The island’s warm hospitality and quiet pace will draw you in, and make you feel like you’re getting the royal treatment, too!
Ready to explore even more quaint international islands? Be sure to check out our list of top islands from last year. If you’re looking to keep your travel within the U.S. there are plenty of quaint islands to be found as well!