The 30 Best Islands In The World

Condé Nast Traveler readers ranked the best islands in the world.

Is your favorite on the list? Read about all the best cities, hotels, resorts, spas, and cruise lines in the world in our Readers’ Choice Awards 2014.

30. Aquidneck Island (Newport), Rhode Island

30. Aquidneck Island (Newport), Rhode Island

Readers’ Rating: 81.011

The largest island in Narragansett Bay is where you’ll find Newport, one of our ten best small cities in America, lined with elegant Gilded Age mansions straight out of an Edith Wharton novel. The City by the Sea is also a center for sailing.

Pro tip: The Newport Jazz Festival, held in August each year, has played host to countless musical greats—Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, and John Coltrane, to name just a few. Pay a visit during the summer to see the next big thing in jazz.

Getting there: Drive to Aquidneck Island from Providence, only about 40 minutes away.

29. Vancouver Island, Canada

29. Vancouver Island, Canada

Readers’ Rating: 81.122

Vancouver Island is consistently one of our readers’ top islands in Canada; they implore you to stay as long as possible, since there is simply “so much to see and do.” Pick from salmon fishing, wine tasting, sailing, strolling along beaches and nature trails, or learning about glassblowing.

Pro tip: Check into Wickaninnish Inn, “a paradise at the end of the world,” says our readers. This cedar-plank inn is at the gateway to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. After a walk on “one of the most beautiful beaches,” enjoy a hot soak in an oversized tub with aromatherapy bath salts.

Getting there: Fly to Vancouver and then hop one of BC Ferries’ 25 routes to 47 terminals on Vancouver Island across the Strait of Georgia.

28. Isle of Palms, South Carolina

28. Isle of Palms, South Carolina

Readers’ Rating: 81.285

A getaway for affluent Southern vacationers since the 19th century, this narrow island is known for its picturesque marshlands, long stretches of Atlantic beachfront, golf and fishing.

Pro tip: Wild Dunes Resortis built on 1,600 acres of beachfront. Golf, play tennis, bike, or just stretch out on the sand.

Getting there: It’s less than a 20-minute drive to the island from downtown Charleston.

27. Hilton Head, South Carolina

27. Hilton Head, South Carolina

Readers’ Rating: 81.333

This South Carolina island is the whole package—12 miles of beachfront, miles of biking trails, and internationally acclaimed golfing and tennis. The historic downtown also offers plenty of shopping.

Pro tip: Hilton Head’s golf courses are world famous, regularly hosting PGA tournaments. The most venerable of these is the Harbor Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort.

Getting there:From Savannah, it’s a short drive to Hilton Head on I-95.

26. Anna Maria Island, Florida

26. Anna Maria Island, Florida

Readers’ Rating: 81.373

A narrow band off Florida’s west coast, this barrier island has some of the softest, whitest sand on the East Coast. And as it faces west, it’s a stunning place to watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico.

Pro tip: At seven miles long and two miles wide, Anna Maria Island is a great place for a leisurely biking trip along the water. By-the-hour cycle rentals are available at Beach Bums.

Getting there: It’s a 40-minute drive from Sarasota to the island.

25. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

25. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Readers’ Rating: 81.432

This singular island was voted the most photogenic place on earth in 2014, and it’s no wonder. Shielded by a protective barrier reef, Bora Bora’s famous lagoon is all the colors of the rainbow, crisscrossed by (friendly) manta rays and sharks.

Pro tip: Bora Bora’s luxe accommodations are mostly in thatched-roof bungalows extending over the lagoon. The swankiest of all is the St. Regis, complete with a spa that has its very own island.

Getting there: Hop on a local flight to the island from Tahiti, which takes about 45 minutes.

 

24. British Virgin Islands

24. British Virgin Islands

Readers’ Rating: 81.494

The southern chunk of the Virgin Islands archipelago is a laid-back, less developed alternative to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Made up of about 60 islands—many uninhabited—the beaches, rum bars, and shipwreck sites of the BVI are best explored by boat.

Pro tip: Swim among towering boulders at the Baths, a national park on the shoreline of Virgin Gorda. Giant rocks deposited by ancient volcanoes shelter sea pools and grottos teeming with marine life.

Getting there: There are no direct flights from the U.S. to the BVI, but connections are offered through airports in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas.

23. Frisian Islands, Germany

23. Frisian Islands, Germany

Readers’ Rating: 81.868

This archipelago threads its way north along the coastlines of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, shielding the Wadden Sea mudflats (a wildlife-rich UNESCO World Heritage Site) from the North Sea waves. The islands are a popular summer getaway for well-heeled Northern European vacationers.

Pro tip: The island of Sylt is Germany’s answer to the Hamptons, combining windswept dunes and colorful lighthouses with upscale resorts and fine dining.

Getting there: It’s a three-and-a-half-hour train journey from Hamburg to Sylt.

22. Prince Edward Island, Canada

22. Prince Edward Island, Canada

Readers’ Rating: 82.006

There’s more to this Canadian province than its famous mussels. You’ll also find rugged natural beauty, rolling farmland, and postcard-worthy seaside towns. PEI was the setting of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and its friendly, bucolic appeal endures.

Pro tip: Charlottetown, the capital of the province, is a great place to explore and learn about the area’s history, nosh on local seafood, and take in arts and culture. There’s also a natural wonder stemming from the Gulf of St. Lawrence: This 40-foot-tall Thunder Cove double arch composed of copper-hued red sandstone layers.

Getting there: PEI is reachable by car along the Confederation Bridge. Flights to the island are readily available from major airports in the U.S. and Canada.

21. Skiathos & Sporades, Greece

21. Skiathos & Sporades, Greece

Readers’ Rating: 82.056

The Sporades is an island group in the northern Aegean. The bustling Skiathos, closest to the mainland, has some of the most idyllic beaches in Greece—more than 60 of them. It also has an active nightlife scene, among whitewashed towns with tan roofs.

Pro tip: Skiathos’s sandy, picture-perfect beaches were used as filming locations for Greek isles–set rom-com Mamma Mia! The most popular of the island’s shorelines is Koukounaries, a mile-long stretch of calm water backed by a lush pine forest.

Getting there: In the summer months, Olympic Airlines flies daily from Athens to Skiathos. Seasonal ferries also travel to the island from Volos.

20. Öland, Sweden

20. Öland, Sweden

Readers’ Rating: 82.143

A vacation spot for Sweden’s royal family, this island in the Baltic Sea is a popular summer getaway for commoners, too. Here you’ll find pretty beaches, dramatic limestone outcroppings, fairy-tale forests, and hundreds of antique windmills. The whole southern portion of the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its well-preserved farming settlement.

Pro tip: Öland is brimming with historical sites, from the prehistoric standing stones at Gettlinge to the medieval ring fort of Eketorp. There’s also Borgholms slott, the ruins of a 12th-century castle ravaged by a 19th-century fire.

Getting there: Just off of mainland Sweden, the island is accessible by car or bus via the Öland Bridge.

19. Maldives

19. Maldives

Readers’ Rating: 82.319

There’s more ocean than land in the Maldives, a chain of tiny islands and coral atolls far out in the Indian Ocean. Most of the accommodations are on stilts over the water, in high-end luxury resorts (many eco-friendly) that cater to honeymooners and serious divers alike.

Pro tip: The Maldives are full of coral reefs that formed around volcanoes in prehistoric times, now sunken to form atolls. The reefs shelter thousands of species of fish, turtles, whales, and dolphins. Many resorts on the islands offer snorkeling excursions for guests looking to explore the underwater landscape.

Getting there: Many Asian and European airlines offer indirect flights to Male, the Maldives’ main city, from airports around the world.

18. Moorea, French Polynesia

18. Moorea, French Polynesia

Readers’ Rating: 82.417

Due northwest of Tahiti and surrounded by a bright blue lagoon, this volcanically formed island is comprised of verdant mountains jutting up behind white-sand beaches. In the interior, you can explore the ruins of marae—crumbling temples built by ancient Polynesians.

Pro tip: Snorkel to your heart’s content at the Lagoonarium de Moorea, a protected part of the lagoon where you can explore a coral reef teeming with sharks, rays and thousands of fish.

Getting there: From Papa’ete in Tahiti, boats ferry passengers on the 12-mile journey to Moorea.

17. Bali, Indonesia

17. Bali, Indonesia

Readers’ Rating: 82.423

“There’s nothing quite like Bali,” says senior digital editor Laura Dannen Redman. “It’s the kind of place where you’ll eat the best fresh fish of your life on the beach with your feet in the sand. You’ll watch whole families zoom by on motorbikes, or maybe a monkey will steal your glasses at Uluwatu temple. Every experience is memorable.”

Pro tip: Avoid Denpasar, where you fly in, and Kuta, a tourist trap; visit culturally rich Ubud instead, or take a few days to venture north to Munduk in the mountains.

Getting there: Many international airlines fly to Bali from hubs in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong.

16. Oahu, Hawaii

16. Oahu, Hawaii

Readers’ Rating: 82.457

The most visited of Hawaii’s islands, Oahu is the seat of the state capital, Honolulu, and also the site of historic Pearl Harbor. The island’s North Shore is legendary for its surfing, and Oahu is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America.

Pro tip: With its views toward Diamond Head and resort surroundings, white-sand Waikiki Beach has one of the most iconic shorelines in the world.

Getting there: Hawaii’s main airport in Honolulu is easily reachable from many cities on the mainland.

15. Sea Island, Georgia

15. Sea Island, Georgia

Readers’ Rating: 82.514

Old Southern charm—and old money—oozes from every pore of this private island just beyond the Georgia marshlands. The area is divided between two high-end resorts, the Sea Island Beach Club and the Cloister, and has played host to famous guests over the years: Calvin Coolidge, Eugene O’Neill, and Bill Clinton among them.

Pro tip: The Cloister is as luxurious as resorts come, with a Mediterranean aesthetic, a world-class golf course, horseback riding, a spa, and miles of private beach.

Getting there: It’s a 90-minute drive from either Jacksonville, Florida, or Savannah to Sea Island.

14. Bermuda

14. Bermuda

Readers’ Rating: 82.519

Though this small island sits in the North Atlantic, its climate is decidedly subtropical. A British Overseas Territory, Bermuda is a melting pot of British, American, and Caribbean cultures, and offers tons of things to do: snorkeling near pink-sand beaches, golfing, shopping, museum hopping, and more.

Pro tip: Bermuda is riddled with watery underground caverns, its most famous being the Crystal and Fantasy Caves. Tours take you on a walkway over eerily clear water, with pale stalactites hanging overhead. One of the site’s first visitors? Mark Twain.

Getting there: There are direct flights to Bermuda from eight cities on the East Coast, including New York, Atlanta, and Miami (2 to 3 hours).

13. Menorca, Spain

13. Menorca, Spain

Readers’ Rating: 82.643

Menorca wins among the Balearic Islands, with more (and superior) beaches than Ibiza and Mallorca combined. UNESCO has declared it a biosphere reserve to help guard its natural wetlands and rare archeological sites, which has kept tourism low-rise and low-key.

Pro tip:Beaches and coast-adjacent restaurants are a no-brainer, but don’t miss the chance to explore Menorca’s enigmatic megaliths—so many, in fact, that the island is home to the greatest concentration of prehistoric monuments in the world.

Getting there: For a sea voyage, take a ferry to the island from Barcelona (9 hours). If you’d rather have a shorter journey, flights travel direct to Menorca from many major European cities.

12. Boracay, Philippines

12. Boracay, Philippines

Readers’ Rating: 82.683

This itty-bitty island (10 square miles) in the Western Philippines is as close to the tropical idyll ideal as you’ll find in the Philippines, with gentle coastlines and transporting sunsets. Add in a thriving nightlife scene, and you have one of the top tourist spots in the region.

Pro tip: The aptly named White Beach is Boracay’s main draw, with powdery white sand and shallow azure water ideal for swimming and snorkeling.

Getting there: Fly from Manila to Caticlan in Malay; from there, pump boats ferry passengers to White Beach.

11. Tasmania, Australia

11. Tasmania, Australia

Readers’ Rating: 82.691

Thrill seekers flock to Tasmania, off the coast of South Australia, for its challenging hikes (and rewarding views).

Pro tip: Check into the Saffire Freycinet. “There’s no point in trying to compete with a setting as majestic as the Freycinet Peninsula, with its powder-white beaches and iridescent-blue bays,” say our readers.

Getting there: There are (cheap) flights from Melbourne to Hobart all day on Australia’s regional carriers.

10. Big Island, Hawaii

10. Big Island, Hawaii

Readers’ Rating: 82.761

The incredibly varied landscape of Hawaii’s largest islandis staggering, from snow-capped peaks and one of the world’s most active volcano (Kilauea) to tropical coves and placid fishing villages.

Pro tip: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to three active volcanoes oozing slow-moving lava that you may or may not be able see firsthand. Still, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has more than 140 miles of hiking trails to explore, traveling through rainforests, black lava fields, and up rugged peaks.

Getting there: Regular flights travel between Honolulu and the Big Island’s two largest towns, Hilo and Kona.

9. Kangaroo Island, Australia

9. Kangaroo Island, Australia

Readers’ Rating: 82.803

Though Australia’s third-largest island is only ten miles off the coast of Adelaide, its bucolic way of life has remained largely untouched by mainland development. And thanks to its watery isolation, Kangaroo Island has remained predator-free, leaving it home to a huge variety of wildlife: koalas, spiky echidnas, long-nosed bandicoots, sea lions, platypuses, and of course, kangaroos.

Pro tip:To experience the island’s natural grandeur, both animal and geological, visit Flinders Chase National Park. Admirals Arch is an otherworldly natural rock formation carved out by the sea, beneath which you can observe colonies of fur seals.

Getting there: Regional airlines fly between Adelaide and Kangaroo Island’s Kingscote (30 mins). You can also take a 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw on the island.

8. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

8. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Readers’ Rating: 83.359

This small isle in the Caribbean Sea hasn’t been overrun by development, thanks to the fact that two-thirds of the landmass is national parkland. It makes an ideal getaway for hikers seeking out jungle trails and snorkelers who’ll nose down over the surrounding reefs.

Pro tip: With its shallow, turquoise water and soft sand, St. John’s Trunk Bay is often counted among the finest beaches in the world. Explore the diverse marine life with a snorkeling expedition along the Underwater Trail through a teeming coral reef.

Getting there: There are no airports on the island, so boat travel is your main option. Ferries depart from two spots on St. Thomas—Red Hook and Charlotte Amalie—and take 20 to 45 minutes to arrive at Cruz Bay in St. John.

7. Santorini & Cyclades, Greece

7. Santorini & Cyclades, Greece

Readers’ Rating: 84.080

No island group is so shrouded in myth as this chain in the Aegean Sea, site of Apollo’s birthplace on the sacred isle of Delos and the gateway to Hades on uninhabited Keros. Santorini, on the southernmost end of the Cyclades, is a volcanically formed island with dramatic cliffs, ancient ruins, and picturesque towns that’s said to be the inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis.

Pro tip: Watch the sun set from Oia, a small village on the southwestern coast made up of whitewashed structures and cave houses built into the cliff side.

Getting there: Direct flights to Santorini are available from London and Athens. But if you want to take the scenic route and get the full Cyclades experience, take a ferry from Athens (5 to 8 hours).

6. Great Barrier Reef & Whitsunday Islands, Australia

6. Great Barrier Reef & Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Readers’ Rating: 84.467

The Great Barrier Reef consists of more than 3,000 individual reef systems and hundreds of islands, a living structure so vast that it’s visible from outer space. The 74 islands of the Whitsundays offer some of the best snorkeling and sailing in the world.

Pro tip: The waters of Whitehaven Beach are renowned for their swirling bands of colors, a mix of blues, greens, and whites created by changing tides mixing the sand and sea.

Getting there: It’s a one-and-a-half-hour domestic flight from Brisbane to the Whitsunday coast.

5. Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

5. Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

Readers’ Rating: 85.119

The entirety of this five-island chain in the Indian Ocean became a national park in 2002, preserving its status as a nearly untouched natural sanctuary. Wildlife abounds here, and the beaches are pristine.

Pro tip: A snorkeling or diving expedition is a great way to see Two Mile Reef, a barrier reef that’s home to more than 2,000 species of fish. It’s also home to marine turtles and dugong, an endangered marine mammal similar to manatees.

Getting there: From Johannesburg, fly to Vilanculos Airport in Mozambique. From there, many lodges and hotels on Bazaruto offer transfers to the island via helicopter, plane, or boat.

4. Kauai, Hawaii

4. Kauai, Hawaii

Readers’ Rating: 85.269

Rain falls on Mount Wai’ale’ale almost 360 days a year, but the weather on the rest of Kauai isn’t nearly so bad. And from rain forests to massive canyons to hidden beaches, it’s the site of incredible biodiversity.

Pro tip:Waimea Canyon has been called “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and the epithet fits. Ten miles across and 3,500 feet deep, it’s been carved out over eons by lava flows and water pouring down from the summit of Wai’ale’ale.

Getting there: Some airlines fly directly from West Coast cities to Kauai. If you’re arriving in Honolulu, a trip on a local air carrier takes about half an hour.

3. Maui, Hawaii

3. Maui, Hawaii

Readers’ Rating: 86.471

Hawaii’s second-largest island boasts rugged terrain, volcanic beaches, and the towering Mt. Haleakala. It’s the place to be for snorkelers, hikers, and food lovers alike.

Pro tip: To catch as much of Maui’s natural beauty as possible, drive the Road to Hana, a 68-mile scenic route featuring awe-inspiring waterfalls and ending at the breathtaking Seven Sacred Pools.

Getting there: Many mainland airlines offer direct routes to Maui from airports on the West Coast. Otherwise, it’s about a half-hour flight to the island from Honolulu International Airport.

2. Kiawah Island, South Carolina

2. Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Readers’ Rating: 86.574

Though it’s only a short trip from downtown Charleston, this small barrier island on the Atlantic coast can feel like it’s a world away—whether you’re planning a day on the links or a day at the beach.

Pro tip: The island is dominated by the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, which is home to 90 holes of golf spread over five courses, many with scenic ocean views. The PGA Championship was held here in 2012. There are also extensive tennis, spa, and dining offerings.

Getting there: It’s a 33-mile drive from Charleston International Airport to the island, which is located just off the mainland.

1. Palawan, Philippines

1. Palawan, Philippines

Readers’ Rating: 88.750

This small island—one of the Philippines’ 7,107—shot to the top of our list this year with a recent claim to fame: It’s now home to one of the new seven natural wonders of the world, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River.

Pro tip:Palawan’s natural wonder is one of the longest underground rivers in the world, traveling five miles through a subterranean cave system. Guided boat tours take visitors down a portion of the waterway, where karsts, natural rock formations created by dissolving limestone, loom in every direction.

Getting there: From Manila, it’s an hour-and-15-minute flight to Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s main airport. Alternately, ferries travel between Manila and the island several days a week (about 24 hours each way).

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