The top 15 holiday islands in the world

Amanda Angus / 26 May 2015 ( 01 November 2016 )

If you're thinking about taking an island holiday but aren't sure which one to pick, let us lend a little hand...



Cut off from the hustle and bustle of life on the nearest mainland, islands tend to develop a distinct culture that might be influenced by their neighbours but is never quite the same.

Here are our personal favourites, in no particular order…

The Canary Islands

The Romans knew them as ‘The Fortunate Isles’, and the residents of the Canary Islands certainly have a lot to feel fortunate for! 

This Spanish archipelago is located closer to the coast of Africa than it is to Spain and encompasses Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro.

 Each one is remarkable for a myriad of reasons – here you can marvel at dramatic volcanic scenery that includes black-sand beaches and eerie lunar landscapes, stroll through forests of unusual vegetation, savour the charming blend of European and African cultures, and of course, relax and make the most of the perpetual mild weather that these islands enjoy.

Things to do in the Canary Islands

Sri Lanka

From the green mountains of tea plantations to deserted and dry national parks, and the wild and strong currents of the South beaches to the untouched, calm and idyllic beaches of the East Coast, the allure and beauty of holiday to Sri Lanka relies on the great diversity it has to offer. 

Here you’ll find an amazing heritage of archaeological sites such as Sigirya, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, a vast selection of temples featuring all the different religions this country embraces, and a wealth of flowers and colours, in particular the beautiful lotus flower, spread in every busy corner of the streets and temple entrances.

The best things to do when on holiday in Sri Lanka

The Azores

Located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Azores are part of Portugal, and consist of nine islands: Flores, Corvo, Graciosa, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, São Miguel, Santa Maria, and the Formigas Reef. 

Along with the Canary Islands, these form the geographical region of Macronesia and are delightfully untouched by urbanisation. 

Here you’ll find unique sights like the Sete Cidades crater lakes on São Miguel, two sparkling pools of two distinctly different hues, one blue and the other green. 

On Terceira, make sure you keep your eye out for the Holy Spirit houses – there are almost 70 on the island, and all are beautifully ornate. Or on Faial, visit the thriving town of Horta; this is a popular stop for yachts crossing the Atlantic, so a stroll around the marina is an enjoyable pastime. 

Look out for the murals of varying quality that have been painted on every available surface – these paintings are effectively the calling cards of the various yachts that have paid a visit over the years! 

The waters that surround the island are just as captivating – perhaps create wonderful holiday memories and join a memorable optional excursion in search of the dolphins and whales of the Atlantic Ocean on Saga's Azores Island Hopping tour

Find out more about the Azores

Cuba

From astounding scenes of natural Caribbean beauty to faded architectural grandeur, Cuba is an island of intriguing contrasts. 

Still some way from the beaten tourist trail but rapidly gaining popularity as a must-visit destination, you’ll find it a haven of relaxation or an unforgettable adventure, depending on what you’re looking for. 

In Havana, Cuba’s effervescent capital, you’ll find crumbling mansions still imbued with a sense of majesty, streets filled with classic cars and salsa beats, and bars boasting a connection to Hemmingway. 

Located close to the western-most coast of Cuba, the UNESCO World Cultural Landscape of the Viñales Valley is tranquil, relaxing, and the perfect way to wind down after the faster pace of Cuba’s bustling cities. 

Round limestone mountains called mogotes are scattered throughout the valley floor, farmers peacefully tend their tobacco plantations, and birdsong fills the air. 

Or perhaps visit Jibacoa in the north of Mayabeque province, midway between the capital of Havana to the west, and Varadero to the east. 

The attractive coastline here is punctuated by sandy coves and rocky headlands, and Jibacoa’s long, sandy beach – Arroyo Bermejo – is sheltered by high rocky crags. A short distance from the beach lie coral reefs, teeming with marine life amid the clear, warm waters.

Off the beaten track: 3 hidden gems to visit in Cuba

Brac Island (Croatia)

Brac Island lies just off the coast of Croatia, between the island of Hvar and the mainland, and close to the cities of Split and Makarska. 

It boasts the same pristine beaches and crystal clear, aquamarine waves as the rest of this unspoilt country, but is quieter and even more untouched by tourism. 

Here you’ll find the Zlatni Rat, which is not an indigenous rodent but instead an unusual spit of beach made up of smooth white pebbles that extends out into the Hvar Channel – perfect for a holiday packed with swimming and sunbathing!

3 essential things to do in Croatia

Sicily

Captivating Sicily, with its sleepy coastal villages and fragrant citrus and olive groves, is located just off the coast of the toe of Italy’s boot. 

If you choose to holiday here you can admire ancient Greek ruins, which include a fantastically preserved amphitheatre and a temple. 

Discover the lava-covered slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s tallest active volcano; see the famous salt works with the windmills that formerly drained the seawater from salt ponds; and explore some of the island’s natural attractions such as the Ear of Dionysius – a vast canyon resembling a human ear.

The top Italian destinations for holidays

Malta

Not only does Malta benefit from enviable year-round sunshine, this little island also boasts a unique charm that never fails to impress, and has plenty to offer even the most discerning traveller! 

The largest of three islands, Malta’s unique blend of cultures and over 7,000 years of history have combined with the perfect climate to create photo-opportunities at virtually every turn. From admiring the crystal-clear Mediterranean waves to exploring 16th-century buildings and the streets of UNESCO-protected Valletta, you’ll never be far from your camera on holiday in Malta.

Malta's historic sites: the top historic attractions to visit when in Malta

Cyprus

Legend has it that the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, was born out of the sea here on the lively island of Cyprus

Located close to the eastern-most reaches of the Mediterranean, Cyprus has two very distinct cultures – Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot, but something that surprises a lot of people is how much of a home from home Cyprus is. 

There are so many things that might remind you of England, from seeing your favourite high street department store to British teabags on the shelves – they even drive on the right side of the road, unlike other European destinations!

Find out more about holidays to Cyprus

St Lucia

St Lucia is one of the Windward Islands, set between the Atlantic to the east and the Caribbean to the west. 

The island is roughly tear-shaped and although small, boasts plenty of naturally dramatic features. 

The capital, Castries, is an intriguing fusion of modern and traditional architecture, set against a backdrop of dense rainforest, banana plantations and imposing mountains. 

Here you can even visit a ‘drive through’ volcano, with bubbling mud pools and hot springs, or climb Les Pitons, the twin peaks created by volcanic activity that have become the island’s best-known landmark.

9 things to see and do in St Lucia

Iceland

Enchanting Iceland’s charm lies in its ability to make the most of its considerable natural attractions – what might be a somewhat unwelcoming, stark country is made infinitely more hospitable by the friendly locals and the abundance of unusual activities in which you can take part. 

Number one on most visitors’ lists are the awe-inspiring Northern Lights – evening excursions to get a glimpse are relatively reasonably priced and if you don’t manage to see them on the first night, you’ll be able to have another go the following evening. 

Other unmissable trips for your Iceland holiday include a soak in the Blue Lagoon, a thermally-heated pool packed with minerals, and dolphin and whale-watching in the cold Atlantic/Arctic waters.

Iceland's hidden gems: unusual places to visit when in Iceland

The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands consist of 13 major and many smaller volcanic islands and are one of Ecuador’s 24 provinces. They lie on the equator, approximately 1,000 kilometres west of the Ecuadorian coast. 

Charles Darwin studied the archipelago’s endemic species during a visit in 1835, and the islands’ unique fauna and flora inspired him to form his theory of evolution. 

Fun fact: The archipelago’s name translates to ‘island of the tortoises’ in ancient Spanish, which means that the majestic, slow-moving Galapagos tortoise is actually called an ‘island of the tortoises tortoise’.

Meet a Galapagos tortoise for yourself on a tour of this spectacular archipelago and Machu Picchu with Saga

The Balearic Islands

There are so many reasons why the Balearics are the perfect place to holiday.

From Majorca’s charming, tucked away villages, spectacular mountainous scenery and lively coastline to Minorca’s serene, sparkling coves, rolling green countryside and dazzling fiestas and the understated beauty of Ibiza’s UNESCO-protected Old Town, there’s simply something for everyone.

Check out our Insider’s Guide to Minorca

Mauritius

The heavenly island of Mauritius, deep in the Indian Ocean, is the epitome of an island paradise. 

Protected from the open sea by the world’s third largest coral reef, here the white sandy beaches and calm water of the crystal clear blue lagoons are picture postcards made real. 

As well as being a relaxing idyll, it’s filled with extraordinary wildlife that flourished prior to the arrival of humans some four hundred years ago. 

It was here that the now extinct dodo once lived, but you’ll still be able to look out for the Mauritius kestrel, Mauritius parakeet and the pretty pink pigeon.

An insiders guide to holidaying in Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues

Madeira

Madeira is the perfect destination – relaxed and laid back, it has an entrancing charm to it. Wherever you are on the island, regardless of the time of year you visit, 

Madeira’s temperate climate and fertile land mean that it can support many flowers and plants from far-flung locations, making it an unusually verdant island with plenty of diverse greenery and flowers. 

Even in December, Madeira is lovely and warm, especially when the sun is out – which is most of the time. You’ll find geraniums and hibiscus everywhere and it’s all still so green because the trees don’t lose their leaves. 

Consider a visit to the Botanical Gardens, home to a profusion of plants and flowers from all over the world where you can also enjoy sampling some of the island’s famous Madeira wine…

See what Saga's expert holiday creator had to say about Madeira

Borneo

Borneo, with an area of 287,000 square miles, is Asia’s largest island and the third largest in the world after Greenland and New Guinea. 

It is shared by three countries; Brunei, the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the Indonesian state of Kalimantan, which accounts for three quarters of the island’s area. 

The rainforest here is one of the oldest in the world, and is one of the only remaining natural habitats for the endangered Bornean orang-utan. 

With new species of plants, insects and animals discovered continually, and a plethora of beautiful National Parks to enjoy, a holiday to Borneo is perfect for anyone with a desire to get back to nature.

Saga offer holidays to these islands and many more. Find out more about them here

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.