When people think of Europe, they tend to think of the countries on the continent. Yet Europe has many islands. In fact, there are over 300 islands off the coasts of European countries. These 300 islands vary in size between 19 and 88,745 square miles, and there are hundreds of smaller pieces of land surrounded by sea.
Over 100 of these islands are home to at least 10,000 people. The biggest of them, the UK, is home to 61.5m people.
Many of the islands, even the smallest ones, can be visited. A significant number sit just off the coast of the mainland, so they are easily accessible. Often even those islands that do not have a permanent population are interesting and popular locations with tourists.
Here are our favorites unheard of islands in Europe:
Lyngør Islands, Norway
This unusual island is located 7.5 miles off the coast of Norway. It was once a popular home for sea captains. The island can only be accessed via boat and there are no cars allowed.
Only 70 people live permanently on the island, but it is a popular tourist destination, and there is a sail factory located on the island as well as several very popular restaurants.
The island of Mljet is located just off the coast of Croatia. It covers an area of just 20.8 square miles.
The majority of the island is covered by woods and is a National Park. Currently, there are just over a thousand people living on the island in thirteen villages. It is a popular destination and many of those who visit Dubrovnik visit Mljet, so there is a ferry that runs between the two locations. The journey takes 2.5 hours. There is also a ferry from Ston, which takes 90 minutes.
Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands located just 17 miles from Athens it is a popular destination for both Greek and foreign tourists. At 33.75 square miles, it is quite a big island.
Hydrofoils run regularly from Piraeus, and the journey only takes 40 minutes; the ferry takes an hour. Once on the island getting around is easy because there is a good bus service.
This island is located off the East coast of Germany, but it is only 12 miles from the Danish island of Lolland. It is a popular place with all kinds of tourists including many Danish and German nationals. The island is well known as a sunny spot to enjoy water sports.
It has 2,200 hours of sunshine every year and is home to rugged cliffs and freshwater lakes which provide all kinds of opportunities for those who love active holidays.
Île dePorquerolles, France
This exclusive island is located just off the coast of the French Riviera and for many years was an exclusive destination for the rich and famous. Today, there is a regular ferry, so it is growing popular with day-trippers.
It is a car-free island with wonderful beaches providing a fantastic break from the very busy French Riviera.
Sao Miguel, Portugal
Compared to the other islands in this list, this is a big place. It covers 290 square miles and is the largest Portuguese island with a population of 45,000. Locally, it is called the green island and with good reason.
It has lush fauna and, unusually, several of the bodies of water on the island are also green. Year round, the Gulf Stream maintains a comfortable temperature. The island is also known for its hot springs.
Sylt, North Frisian Islands, Germany
The island of Sylt really is idyllic. It is home to 12 unique villages that have been largely unspoilt. Visiting gives you a chance to step back in time and escape a frenetic modern life.
The island has a large health and wellness centre and 25 miles of pristine sandy beaches. This is a beautiful destination to travel alone.
Egadi Islands, Italy
This trio of islands are located just off the coast of Sicily. Over the centuries, they have been home to Arabs, Romans and now Italians.
Today, the islands are popular with walkers and are great for snorkelers who enjoy the exceptionally clear waters surrounding the islands.
El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain
This island is the smallest in the Canary Islands group. This stunning island is located just off the coast of Africa, and is governed by Spain.
It is a UNESCO site, which has the status of Biosphere Reserve. Apart from one small village, which is home to 10,000 residents, the volcanic island is completely unspoilt. It is one of Europe’s last truly wild places.
Other types of European islands
If the list of unusual European islands listed above do not appeal, try visiting some of the other fantastic types of islands on offer in Europe. There are several wonderful lake islands in Europe. Most of them are privately owned, but some can still be visited.
Alternatively, visit the evocative Mont Saint-Michel off the coast of Normandy and St Michael’s Mount off the coast of Cornwall. Both mounts are home to a striking castle and church.
They are not islands as such because they are connected to the mainland by causeways, but nonetheless they are startlingly beautiful and quite unlike any other destination you have visited.
How to prepare for an island visit
Do your research before embarking on your island adventure as you would before visiting any foreign country. What are the customs? What is the native language? What will you be able to do while you are there? How will you get from place to place once on the island?
There can be so much to experience while on the islands so research in advance so you can make the most of your trip. Remember other things too like bringing your passport and getting health insurance card.
If you are blessed with the opportunity to explore lesser known destinations, such as some of these unheard of islands in Europe, you are sure to create memories to last a lifetime.
A Guide To Levada Walking In Madeira
Madeira is a fantastic choice for an active getaway, especially if you love walking – the isle is famed for its levadas – irrigation channels that supply water to the often precariously-placed farms and villages that cling to the sides of the mountains or line the lower ground by the seashore.
As well as having this highly practical use, the tracks alongside the levadas are excellent hiking routes.
As they span more than 1,500 km, you’ll have plenty of trails to follow during an active getaway in Madeira – what’s more, they take you past every kind of landscape, from the island’s mountains and forests to its rugged sea cliffs.
Few suggestions you can follow of levada walks in Madeira:
Vereda do Pico Ruivo
This trail leads you to the summit of the island’s highest mountain – Pico Ruivo.
Starting at Achada do Teixeira, it should take you around 1.5 hours to complete the path that runs for nearly 3 km.
Although you’re climbing Pico Ruivo, you begin walking just 300 m below the top of the peak, so you won’t have to tackle a particularly strenuous ascent.
Levada do Caldeirao Verde
Stride out along this path and you’ll fully appreciate the feat of engineering that many of the levadas represent.
Leading you into the interior of the island – and at times through tunnels carved by hand out of the rock – it’s something of a journey of exploration.
Among the highlights en route is the Casa de Abrigo das Quelmadas, a traditional shelter with a thatched roof that’s maintained as part of the Quelmadas Forestry Park.
Levada Faja do Rodrigues
This route will take you through parts of the native laurisilva forest, which has been protected by UNESCO for more than ten years.
The waterfalls and mountain streams that characterise the trail support a vast array of plant life, including geraniums, Madeira mahogany trees and the Madelran orchid.
Vereda da Ponta de Sao Lourenco
This is an excellent walk to choose if you want to be by the coast, as the trail skirts around Sao Lourenco Point in Madeira’s easternmost peninsula.
Strong winds coming off the sea have resulted in few trees growing here, so it’s a great place to fully appreciate the island’s volcanic landscape.
As you wander, you are likely to spot numerous birds, with species such as Cory’s shearwater, Bulwer’s petrel and the common canary often seen in the area.
Regardless of where you decide to go walking in Madeira, it’s important to consider your safety.
Some of the levada trails can be very isolated and may not be well-frequented, so you should always leave details of the route you intend to take, as well as the time you plan to return, with your hotel.
There are operators that offer guided levada hikes, which are perfect either if you do not have a walking companion and would like one, or are nervous about striding out alone.
Have you ever taken a levada hike?
(photo credit: 1 )