Go here, not there: Overlooked European islands you need to visit


Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, updated with new information.

Destination dupes are one of the biggest travel trends of 2024. Some tourist hotspots experienced a surge of interest since pandemic restrictions were lifted. So, it’s nice to find lesser-known alternatives that offer similar landscapes, vibes or cultural cachets without the hefty price tags or crowds.

Thanks to the Taylor Swift frenzy set to sweep the continent starting in May, Germany’s Euro 2024 football championship in June and the Paris Olympics in July, summer travel to Europe is poised to be a pricey experience.

Unfortunately, for families with children in school, peak summer travel is often the only option for a sunny getaway. That’s where destination dupes and undiscovered gems offer a perfect stand-in.

Most people think of Greece and immediately book a trip to Santorini or Mykonos. Others head straight for Mallorca or Ibiza when planning a Spanish island escape. However, Europe has hundreds of islands that are perfect alternatives to more tried and tested destinations.

Our take on “go here, not there” isn’t written to discourage you from visiting the most touristy islands. Rather, the goal is to flag more affordable, underrated alternatives (in addition to) the more popular spots.

So, in lieu of those package holiday magnets, here are some of Europe’s lesser-known islands you should consider visiting for this year’s summer escape.

Instead of Ibiza, consider Formentera in Spain

Formentera’s white sands. SALVIDEO/GETTY IMAGES

If you want to experience the Spanish sunshine in a luxurious, hip way, consider visiting Ibiza’s blissed-out little sister Formentera. You’ll still find cool bars, beautiful beaches and delicious restaurants — all without the frantic party vibe of Ibiza. Instead, Formentera has a decidedly boho-chic ambience for those who are mostly done with the raging party scene but still want to experience sexy Spanish coastlines, cocktail in hand.

Daytime activities include exploring the island — which is relatively flat — on bike. (The island boasts more than 62 miles of bike trails.) You can also visit some of the most gorgeous beaches in Europe, including the famous crystal waters of Ses Illetes and the hidden beach cove Calo des Mort. Evenings are for admiring the sunset and bar-hopping in the village of Es Pujols.

Related: 9 quirky destinations in Europe you have to see to believe

The good news about visiting Formentera is that you don’t have to skip Ibiza entirely. You can spend a bit of time in Ibiza, then take a 30- to 40-minute ferry over to the paradisiacal island.

Instead of Santorini, consider Paros in Greece

A charming harbor in Paros, Greece

A charming harbor in Paros, Greece. SVEN HANSCHE/EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES

While Santorini‘s whitewashed, blue-domed buildings and magnificent sunsets are a call to the island, it can be crowded and often expensive — especially during the high season (summer). Paros, which is also home to whitewashed villages and stunning shorelines, is a solid alternative.

Much like Santorini, Paros attracts foodies and wine lovers in equal measure, as the island is home to thousands of acres of vineyards. Be sure to sample local wines, which are mainly white Monemvasia blends and red Mantilaria varietals. You also indulge your taste buds with fresh mizithra cheese, honey, roasted locally caught mackerel and even a special Greek-style pumpkin pie.

You won’t have to skip Santorini entirely if you want to visit Paros; the ferry between the islands takes a few hours. Or, you can fly to Paros Airport (PAS) from Athens in about 45 minutes.

Instead of Capri, consider Ischia in Italy

The Italian island of Ischia

The Italian island of Ischia. GIUSEPPE GRECO/GETTY IMAGES

Capri is the quintessential Italian island: weep-worthy scenery, delicious food and stylish visitors. But Capri, like many popular Italian locations, is often overflowing with tourists during the warmer months and is overly expensive compared to other Italian coastal destinations. For a real Italian experience, head to Ischia, another island in the Gulf of Naples popular among Italian visitors.

If you’re traveling with a family, kids will love medieval Aragonese Castle, which juts off of Ischia onto its very own little island. Ischia is also known for its special thermal waters. The whole family can enjoy the mineral properties of the volcanic waters at Poseidon, a collection of baths overlooking the sea. Couples may prefer the Negombo thermal baths, which are built into natural rock and have more of a private feel.

Getting to Ischia takes around an hour on the hydrofoil from Naples. For a real, local Italian adventure, combine a trip to Ischia with a few days in the city of Naples; there, you can explore castles, eat pizza and wander the hilly Spanish Quarter. Just watch out for zooming motorbikes.

Instead of Madeira, consider the Berlengas Islands in Portugal

Berlenga Grande, Portugal

Berlenga Grande, Portugal. NUNO PINTO/EYE EM/GETTY IMAGES

Madeira is popular with international tourists, especially U.K. visitors searching for winter sun. However, the Berlengas off the coast of Peniche (one of Europe’s famed surfer hubs) are lesser-known islands that are wild and mostly uninhabited. The islands are considered a natural reserve and are protected spaces for a number of bird species and marine animals.

The most popular of the islands is Berlenga Grande, which is about 5 miles off the coast and is reachable by boat in 45 minutes. The scenery from the boat is simply breathtaking — admire the island’s rocky cliffs and tranquil coves as you go. The island’s remote feel and undisturbed nature really make it seem like a secret paradise.

Related: 11 best hotels for a beach holiday in Portugal 

Daytrips allow visitors to spend time swimming, snorkeling and exploring caves, but don’t visit if there’s even a glimpse of bad weather on the horizon. Large storms tend to plague these parts — one reason why divers can see a number of shipwrecks near Berlenga Grande. And those with motion sickness beware: The boat ride can be rocky, even in optimal weather conditions.

Instead of Tenerife, consider La Gomera in Spain’s Canary Islands

The Canary Island of La Gomera

La Gomera in the Canary Islands. HIEKE LAIBACH/EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES

Tenerife is one of the largest and most popular Canary Islands. Its volcanic beaches and lively dining and nightlife scene are a call to travelers seeking warm temperatures and year-round vitamin D. La Gomera, a short ferry ride away from Tenerife, is a natural paradise offering incredible hikes and gorgeous scenery. It’s less touristy and perhaps even more beautiful than some of the more populated Canaries.

With more than 150 hiking trails — many of which are within the island’s unique Laurisilva forest in Garajonay National Park — the island is ideal for anyone looking to trade the busy city for lush greenery. La Gomera also features black sand volcanic beaches and is home to the famous Organos rock monument, named for its dripping rocks that resemble an organ. With restaurants featuring farm-fresh cuisine and local volcanic wines, visitors can not only explore nature but also the best of local Canarian gastronomy.

A trip to La Gomera is best combined with visits to other Canary Islands. The ferry from Tenerife to La Gomera takes less than an hour, and it is possible to bring a car along, too. Or, you can fly to the main airport, La Gomera Airport (GMZ), from Tenerife or Gran Canaria.

Instead of Hvar, consider Rab in Croatia

The Croatian island of Rab

The Croatian island of Rab. ATTILA BARABAS/GETTY IMAGES

Hvar’s famed party scene and gorgeous beaches make it one of Croatia‘s best hot spots to visit — especially if you’re seeking sun and sea after a visit to the walled, medieval city of Dubrovnik.

But Rab is on a whole other level when it comes to island beauty. It features classic Croatian red-roofed buildings, 30-plus beaches and numerous bike trails for those wanting to get some exercise on their next sunny escape.

Rab is best suited to active travelers since it offers many activities, such as sailing, trekking, cycling, diving, snorkeling, climbing and fishing. From sandy beach coves to wooded forests to rocky canyons, the geological contrasts this island features are especially beautiful. The north is rocky and dry, and the west side of the island is lush and green.

While it only takes a 15-minute ferry to reach Rab by boat from the mainland, its location off the more northern coast of Croatia makes it slightly more time-consuming to reach. Consider including a stop here during a Croatian road trip from a hub like Zagreb.

Instead of Porquerolles, consider Houat and Hoedic in France

The French island of Houat.

The French island of Houat. YANNICK BODIN/GETTY IMAGES

Part of the Iles d’Hyeres archipelago, Porquerolles is a popular summer vacation spot for visitors heading to the Cote d’Azur, especially since it’s only a 10-minute boat ride from the French mainland. But for a more local and really off-the-beaten-path French island adventure, visit Houat and Hoedic, two small islands off the westerly Quiberon Peninsula.

Beyond their main Breton villages, these islands are delightfully exotic and uninhabited (think: breezy beaches, wooded paths and the ruins of old forts). Explore the larger of the two islands, Houat, on foot or by bike; you’ll discover a destination that’s ideal for communing with nature. For an even more tranquil escape, make your way to Hoedic, a tiny island with nearly 5 miles of hiking and walking trails. It is a truly great place to get out and explore.

Arrive by boat from the mainland in less than an hour from the Quiberon Peninsula. The closest airport is Nantes Atlantique Airport (NTE). You could combine a visit to these islands with time spent checking out castles and sipping wine in the Loire Valley. Win-win.

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By: Lori Zaino
Title: Go here, not there: Overlooked European islands you need to visit
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Published Date: Wed, 10 Apr 2024 15:00:32 +0000