Whether you’re looking for the palm-fringed beaches of the tropics, mountain hikes with endless views, or a culture-packed odyssey through Ancient Greece, there’s an island somewhere in the world waiting to be discovered.
You may prefer a cosmopolitan spot packed with culture and activities, or a remote island where the sea and all its meditative qualities are all you need. Here are sixteen islands in all corners of the world that invite you to explore.
1: Zakynthos, Greece
Basking in the sapphire Ionian Sea, Zakynthos is best known for its dazzling beaches. The most famous is Navagio, or Shipwreck Beach, one of the most iconic in the whole of Greece. Accessible only by boat and hemmed in by towering, chalky cliffs, Navagio is characterized by the rusting hulk of MV Panayiotis, a small cargo ship that washed up there in 1980.
Shipwrecks aside, the beaches on Zakynthos are so pristine that sea turtles often choose to lay their eggs there, which is why access to Marathonisi islet, one of the prettiest spots and part of the National Marine Park, is limited during the breeding season. You can still swim off the beach, though, against a backdrop of pine, olive, and oak trees to a soundtrack of trilling cicadas.
2: Delos, Greece
Sleepy Delos is the antithesis of its glamorous neighbor, the party-loving Mykonos. Nobody lives on Delos, so you can only visit during a day trip, where you’ll wander around ancient shrines, one of which is said to be the mythical birthplace of the twins Apollo and Artemis.
Wildflowers grow in the ruins of Doric temples; follow the trail up one of the low, scrub-covered hills and you’ll look down on a Greek amphitheater and the remains of what was once a thriving port in the first century BC, with a population of around 30,000.
The museum contains exquisite statues and artifacts from around the site that give you clues of what life was like there over 2,000 years ago.
Cyprus has a wealth of experiences to enjoy, from hikes in the cool forests of the Troodos Mountains to long, lazy afternoons savoring an extensive meze lunch in one of the many vine-shaded tavernas.
Situated at a crossroads between the Mediterranean and the Middle East, Cyprus is rich in history, too. Visit the Tombs of the Kings just outside Paphos to admire the intricate mosaics dating back to the 4th century BC, or see Kolossi Castle, a medieval Crusader stronghold.
Fans of mythology will want to pay homage to love at the south coast’s dramatic white sea stack, Aphrodite’s Rock, where the goddess is believed to have emerged from the foaming surf of the aquamarine Mediterranean.
4: Madeira, Portugal
An exotic and enchanting outpost of Portugal, Madeira perches in the mid-Atlantic, basking in almost year-round sunshine and tropical gardens in constant bloom.
Funchal, the capital, is packed with cobbled squares and street cafes, with retail opportunities including the art deco Mercado dos Lavradores, or farmers’ market, adorned with intricate blue-and-white azulejos, the characteristic Portuguese tiles.
The deep waters around the island are rich in marine life, with whale and dolphin spotting a popular tour. A round-island tour, meanwhile, will whisk you up to Cabo Girão, a towering rock wall and the highest cliff in Europe.
5: Canary Islands, Spain
The volcanic Canary Islands, scattered across the Atlantic off the coast of North Africa, are all quite different from one another, as they developed at different times.
One of the most beautiful Spanish islands, the lush and subtropical Tenerife is dominated by the snow-capped cone of Mount Teide, and where you’ll find the gorgeous little town of La Laguna, where cobbled streets are lined with old, pastel-colored mansions. Santa Cruz, the capital, is all grand architecture, quirky shops, street art, and flower-filled parks.
Read: Things to Do in Tenerife
Lanzarote, in contrast, is stark, a mass of black, volcanic rock and dazzling white houses. You’ll see how close you are here to the inferno under the earth’s crust in Timanfaya National Park, where dunes undulate in shades of pink, ochre, and yellow, and water pours into a hole in the ground then shoots back out seconds later as a boiling geyser.
Gran Canaria, in contrast, has fertile, volcanic slopes planted with citrus trees and mangos, the sheer-sided, green Agaete Valley producing Europe’s only home-grown coffee. For a beach day, head to the palm oasis of Maspalomas, miles of rolling surf backed by rippling dunes.
Shaped like a fishhook and basking in the warm Sargasso Sea, Bermuda is a slice of rural England draped in cascading bougainvillea and fringed by pink-tinted beaches. Everything here is pristine, from the candy-colored houses to the chichi shops of Hamilton, and the velvety greens of the many golf courses.
Snorkel over mysterious shipwrecks or explore the chunky fortifications of the Royal Naval Dockyard, part of which houses a colorful craft market. Try the fearsome local specialty, a Dark ‘n’ Stormy; dark rum, ginger beer, and lime juice over ice. One may not be enough but two, as the saying goes, is too many.
7: Tasmania, Australia
Wild Alpine scenery, cascading waterfalls, rushing rivers and exotic wildlife are only part of the charm of Tasmania. Once a much-feared penal colony, and before that, home to indigenous people for thousands of years, this isolated island is now a rising star in Australia’s culinary and arts scene.
From the hipster little capital of Hobart, hop on the ferry to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, and marvel at one of Australia’s finest collections. Join a trip to Bruny Island to see outstanding local produce: oysters, fresh fish, locally made cheeses, smoked salmon, game, and fine wines.
As for the famous Tasmanian Devil, you’re unlikely to spot one in the wild but an after-hours tour of the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary should provide a close encounter with these fierce-looking marsupials.
8: North Island, New Zealand
World-class wine, glorious beaches, cosmopolitan cities, and dazzling scenery are all compelling reasons to visit New Zealand’s North Island. In Auckland, whizz up the spindly Sky Tower for sweeping views of the city and ocean below. Spot wildlife, hike the forested trails, and kayak around sheltered coves in the Bay of Islands.
Wander around Art Deco Napier, taking time to sample the wares of the Hawkes Bay wineries, or wallow in the hot springs at Te Puia, a landscape of bubbling mud pools and spouting geysers. One of the best things to do in Tauranga, on the other hand, is to kayak in Lake Rotoiti, where you’ll witness the stunning bioluminescent light of glow worms.
In the south, New Zealand’s cool capital, Wellington, is all neat Victorian houses, craft breweries, and artisan coffee shops. Take a day trip from here to hike the curiously sculpted Putangirua Pinnacles.
9: Mystery Island, Vanuatu
Tiny Mystery Island is encircled by a necklace of white-sand beaches, in which its clear waters make up a dedicated marine reserve teeming with tropical fish flitting over dazzling coral gardens. It’s so heavenly, it’s hard to imagine that locals on neighboring Aneityum believe this tranquil spot is haunted.
Mystery Island is so small you can walk around it in 40 minutes or so. Snorkeling and paddle-boarding across limpid lagoons are pleasant ways to fill the day. Or you could hop across the water to Aneityum to visit the traditional Keamu village and learn about Vanuatu’s time-honored traditions of weaving, fishing, and hunting.
10: Moorea, French Polynesia
Lush Moorea is one of the sleepier spots in French Polynesia’s Society Islands, where there are dreamy beaches, verdant mountains, pineapple plantations, and a landscape dotted with ancient sacred sites.
You’ll want to spend time basking on a white sand beach and swimming in the limpid lagoon, the scent of frangipani on the breeze, but Moorea offers adventure, too, from off-road safaris through green valleys to trekking through the rainforest of the Opunoho Valley, where you’ll learn about local flora and fauna.
11: Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Swirls of turquoise and indigo surrounding tiny islets fringed by white sand give the illusion of an impressionist painting from the heights of Mount Otemanu, Bora Bora’s tallest peak.
Whether you’re looking for day treks amid basalt spires cloaked in a bottle-green rainforest, snorkeling in the company of graceful manta rays, or simply relaxing on the soft sand of Matira Beach while sipping a cocktail from a coconut shell, Bora Bora has to be one of the most romantic and alluring spots on the planet.
12: Lifou, Loyalty Islands
New Caledonia’s bucolic Loyalty Islands are possibly some of the world’s most remote islands to visit, mere specks in the South Pacific some 2,000 miles from Australia. Largely undeveloped, you won’t find any high rise here, just soft, coralline beaches, sea caves, sleepy villages, and on Lifou, an interior of dense shrubland.
Lifou is especially lovely, with vanilla plantations adding spice to the breeze and coral cliffs forming a backdrop to pristine white beaches. A tour of the island will take you to more dramatic scenery, where foaming waves pound the jagged Xodre cliffs.
If you go with a guide, there are sea caves to explore at one end of Luengoni Beach, where you can swim with a flashlight and admire the emerald hue of the water inside the caves.
13: Jeju Island, South Korea
South Korea’s largest island, Jeju, is an impressive sight. Take in towering cliffs and misty waterfalls, the lofty heights of the ancient volcano, Hallasan, which is also the country’s tallest peak, and the bizarre tuff cone of Seongsan Ilchul-bong, which rises out of the ocean.
The island is lush with palm trees, pineapple plantations, and tangerine groves. While a profusion of luxurious beach resorts makes Jeju a popular choice for honeymooners, its hinterland is wild and unspoiled, and a paradise for active travelers.
Hike Hallasan, which is riddled with volcanic craters, and walk in the native Gotjawal Forest. Sangumburi Crater is an almost perfect sphere, with sweeping views from the rim across the island toward the Pacific. There’s a rich cultural life on Jeju, too, with temples, traditional villages, and markets to explore.
14: Ishigaki, Japan
A tropical jewel in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture, Ishigaki is famed for world-class diving and snorkeling in its crystal clear waters, as well as its culture and history. Taketomi Island is one of the best spots for swimming, the water an astonishing shade of aquamarine, while a trip to the desert island beaches of Iriomote island involves traditional transportation in a cart drawn by water buffalo.
Hike to the top of Mount Omoto or walk through the forests of Banna Park. For a taste of local culture, check out Yaima Village, a historic open-air museum, where old houses with distinctive red-tiled roofs have been carefully preserved and visitors are entertained with displays of traditional music and dance.
A squirrel monkey park—not something you’d find in many places—offers a chance to encounter these cute, intelligent little creatures.
Read: What Is Japan Known For?
15: Falkland Islands
Isolated in the South Atlantic, the remote islands of the Falklands are a speck of British culture thousands of miles from home, with British pubs and scarlet post boxes. The islands’ dramatic military history is a not-so-distant memory for many visitors, with sites from the 1982 war with Argentina at the top of the sightseeing agenda.
Really, though, the birds are the star attraction here. Away from the bustling little capital, Port Stanley, you’ll find sweeping beaches like Volunteer Point, a rookery accessible by 4×4 that is home to hundreds of majestic, if noisy King penguins.
At the privately-owned Bluff Cove Lagoon, you’ll see King, Magellanic, and Gentoo penguins numbering in the thousands—don’t miss trying a traditional Falklands afternoon tea of scones with cream and fruit preserves.
16: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
A visit to the volcanic Galapagos Islands is an immersion in nature like nowhere else. Spend your days hiking and snorkeling among animals that have no fear of humans. Get up close to sea lions, penguins, giant tortoises, land and marine iguanas, and strange birds like the blue-footed booby, which nests here on the black rocks.
The setting for this explosion of life is dazzling, from the sharp spike of Pinnacle Rock, a volcanic plug on Bartolomé island, to long, sweeping beaches in a range of different colors including powder white to glittering olive green. Of all the remote islands to visit in the world, the Galapagos is sure to change the way you view nature.
Ready to pack your bags and set sail? Browse our worldwide voyages and start planning your next adventure to one of these remote islands today.