Summer time for most people in the Western hemisphere means freedom. With schools closed for summer vacation, this is usually the time of year when families take their annual vacation outside of their comfort zones. Summer is also the season of the year for warm weather, perfect for beach and island adventures. This summer, take your pick from the 10 best island destinations in Europe.
1. Santorini (Thera), Greece
The island of Santorini is found in the Aegean Sea, about 200 km (120 mi) southeast of the mainland of Greece. The island is actually part of the remains of a larger island after a big volcanic eruption. The settlements along the cliffs surround a caldera or a deep lagoon which is about 400 meters (about 1,321 ft) deep. The lagoon’s deep waters make it impossible for small sea vessels to dock here. The deep blue waters also contrast very well with multicolored cliffs and the white houses with blue roofs. The island has consistently been on the top of the list for summer destinations in Europe.
Santorini was formerly known as Thera, which is one of the centers of Minoan civilization, before they were wiped out by the eruption. Among the best things to do on the island is to explore its archaeological sites such as Akrotiri, which is considered to be one of the most important prehistoric settlements in the Aegean region. Touring the island by electric bike is also possible but buses are the most common way of getting around. The island also has a thriving but small wine industry owing to a local grape variety only cultivated on the island.
Akrotiri of Thera Archaeological Site
Address: Akrotiri, Santorini
How To Access: You can travel to Santorini by air through the international airport in the capital Fira, or by cruise ships via the port of Skala. From Fira, you can take a bus or rent a car to Akrotiri, which is about 11.7 km (7.27 mi) from the capital.
Opening Hours: April to August: 8am to 8pm, everyday
Admission Fee: about USD 13.43 full, USD 6.72 reduced
Contact Information: +30 2286081939, +30 2103310280/3310966
Website: Akrotiri of Thera
2. Sicily, Italy
Revel in this island’s rich history, which dates back to the ancient tribes of Italy, the ancient Phoenicians and the Greeks. The Greeks left their mark all over the island, primarily in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. When the island was occupied by the Normans, Christian churches also became part of local architecture, most of which remain standing to this day. The Spanish also brought Baroque style churches to Sicily. Since the Normans, the population largely became Roman Catholic. The island is a very popular tourist destination because of its sunny weather and that’s not just in the summer months.
Aside from the lovely scenery, visitors also flock to Sicily for sightseeing. Because of its cultural and historical heritage, it is a good place to go to if you want to learn more about history in Europe. The island is full of archaeological sites, castles and coastal towers, witnesses to its historical importance throughout the centuries. Being a tourist island, it has several airports that offer regional and international flights as well as several ports, so getting to Sicily is not a problem. Going around the island is also a breeze with its roads and expressways as well as a railway system.
Valley of the Temples
Address: 92100 Agrigento, Italy
How To Access: From the Palermo or Catania airports, there are coach services to Agrigento, which is about a 2 hour ride away. From Palermo, you can also take the train to Agrigento from the central station.
Opening Hours: Hill of the Temples (All 6 temples) - 8:30am - 7:00pm, Daily
Admission Fees: about USD 11.20, regular; USD 5.60 concession
Website: Valley of the Temples
3. Tenerife, Spain
The island of Tenerife is the largest island of the Canary group of islands. Under the administration of Spain, it is considered to be a very important tourist destination in Spain and has been included on the list of Europe’s best summer island destinations. Next to the Rio de Janeiro carnival, it plays host to one of the biggest carnivals in the world. Tenerife is also called the “Island of Eternal Spring” because of its location, thus resulting in pleasant weather even during winter months.
If you prefer sand and sea, the southern part of the island is best for you, with its beaches and well-development resorts. If you are a nature buff, you can visit any one of the many nature preserves and parks on the island. For history lovers, there are several archaeological sites that show you the heritage of the island’s first settlers, the Guanches, as well as grand churches that remind you of Spain’s influence on the island. Religious festivities are a major thing in Tenerife, with the feast of the Virgin of Candelaria as the biggest one that happens twice a year (February and August). One can reach Tenerife by air, through the Reina Sofia airport or the Los Rodes airport. An extensive network of buses operate on the island making it easy to go around without renting a car or driving.
Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Address: Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife
Duration: every February; the carnival runs for 10 days, with several musical and dance performances and competitions as well as several street parades
Contact Information: +34 922609600
Website: Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
4. Sardinia, Italy
Next to Sicily, Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean and is considered to be an autonomous region in Italy. It is also one of the oldest geological bodies in the region, having been inhabited since the Paleolithic age. The Nuragic civilization was the first organized civilization on the island, but later on, the island’s strategic location brought to it many invaders and colonizers. In most cases, these occupiers left their own mark on the island’s culture and architecture.
While the island may be famous for its glittery and high-end resorts of Costa Smeralda, there is much more to see in other parts of the island. The capital city of Cagliari for example offers a mix of sand and sea, nature reserves and parks and archaeological wonders that will keep you occupied during your stay. To get to Sardinia, you can fly in through any of the three international airports, or any of the seaports. Within the island, a railway system can bring you to different parts, and even to the Italian mainland.
The Roman Amphitheater of Cagliari
Address: Via Sant'Ignazio da Laconi, 09123 Cagliari, Italy
Contact Information: Phone: +39 070652956; Email: [email protected]
Website: The Roman Amphitheater of Cagliari
5. Ibiza, Spain
Ibiza is an island synonymous to nightlife and partying, with its vast nightclub scene and all-night parties, especially in Ibiza town and Sant Antoni. But before this island in the Balearic became a tourist spot, it hosted the Phoenician civilization, and became the target of several invaders and colonizers. Beyond the parties, visitors can check out the many UNESCO World Heritage sites on the island. The old town of Ibiza is one of these, while the cove of Sa Caleta in Sant Josep de sa Talaia is another, because of the Phoenician settlements found in the area.
One international airport serves the island and has flights from different part of Europe. One can also reach Ibiza via ferries from major cities of Spain. Within the island, there are public buses that can take to you to other parts of the island and to the airport as well.
Dalt Vila, Ibiza
Address: Ibiza Town
How To Access: Walking to the area where you can see the old part of Ibiza town is recommended. There are two entrances to the area, the Portal de Ses Taules, which features Roman statues made of stone, and the Portal Nou through Plaza de Parque, which is slightly ascending.
Website: Dalt Vila
6. Majorca, Spain
Majorca is part of the Balearic Islands, and is in fact the biggest island in the archipelago. The island is a favorite destination of European tourists, because of its pleasant weather especially during the summer, its beaches and coves and limestone mountains. It is also a place full of history, having been colonized by the Phoenicians, the Romans and the Moors. Their influences are evident in local architecture and ancient structures such the Cathedral of Majorca located in Palma.
If you get tired of the beach, you can head to the mountains, where you can hike or explore by mountain bike. The island has two mountainous areas, one of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its cultural landscape. Getting to the island is not a problem with a big international airport in Palma, the capital, which has flights to other parts of Europe. The island also has a major rail system and an extensive bus system that serves the whole island. Some say one of the best ways to explore the island is to take the vintage train from Palma to Soller where you can take in the sights the island has to offer.
Soller Train (Ferrocarril de Soller)
Address: Eusebio Estada, 1., 07004 Palma de Mallorca
Contact Information: +34 971752051
Ticket Costs: Palma to Soller - about 28 USD; with tram to the Port of Soller and back to Palma - about 35.7 USD
Website: Ferrocarril de Soller
7. Menorca, Spain
Menorca is also part of the Balearic Islands archipelago, but it is an island much smaller in size compared to Majorca. The island’s location in the Mediterranean is one of the reasons why it was inhabited or settled by many civilizations, including the Minoans, the Romans, the Vandals and the Moors. Modern colonizers include Britain and Spain.
Like its big neighbor, Menorca also has beautiful beaches and coves where one can enjoy the sun and sand. Visitors however are urged to go beyond the beach and venture into the various ancient ruins and monuments all over the island. It will surely give guests a better appreciation of Menorca’s culture. If you happen to be on the island in summer, make sure to take part in the Festes de Sant Joan de Ciutadella, which happens yearly, from June 23 to 25. This festival which commemorates the birthday of St. John the Baptist features an elaborate parade of Menorcan horses and the lighting of bonfires in the streets all over town. If you cannot catch this festival, there are many more happening all throughout summer.
Festes de Sant Joan de Ciutadella
Address: Ciutadella, Menorca
How To Access: From Port Mahon, where the airport is located, you can take public buses to Ciutadella which is about 1 hour and 10 minutes away. The fare on express and regular buses is about 5.35 USD per person per way. Taxis are also available but much more expensive.
Duration: every June 23 to 25
Website: Festes de Sant Joan de Ciutadella
8. Cyprus, Republic of Cyprus
Cyprus is the only island country on this list of island destinations. This island is the third largest in the Mediterranean in terms of size and population. Historically, the Greeks were first to inhabit the island and later on, because of its strategic location, became subject to several colonizers and settlers. Only ruins, monuments and archaeological sites remain of these civilizations that left their mark on the island. Visitors are encouraged to take off their suits for a day or two to explore the many historical sites on the island. One such site is the Kato Paphos Archaeological Park, located near the harbor of Paphos.
Cyprus is served by two international airports (Paphos and Larnaca), which have flights from all over Europe. Going around the island can be done by rental car or by public bus. The island has an extensive network of motorways.
Kato Paphos Archaeological Park
Address: Paphos, Cyprus
Operating Hours: 8:30am - 7pm, Daily
Contact Information: +35 726306217
Website: Kato Paphos Archaeological Park
9. Crete, Greece
Crete is known as the home of the Minoan civilization, one of Europe’s most advanced civilizations as well as one of the earliest. In terms of size, it is the largest of the Greek isles. This island has a mountainous terrain, with several mountains and valleys, as well as gorges, rivers and lakes. Its climate is mainly Mediterranean, with a hot and dry summer and a mild winter. The smaller islands surrounding the big island are best for island hopping, diving and snorkeling, but one of the most popular things to do on the island is visiting the many archaeological and heritage sites such as the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and the Palace of Knossos.
The capital Heraklion has an international airport and port, while another international airport serves Chania. Through these airports, international flights from all over Europe come and bring thousands of tourists to the island. Car rental is the best way to go around the island.
Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Address: Xanthoudidou 2, Iraklio, Greece
Operating Hours: 8am - 8pm, Daily, Apr-Oct
Contact Information: +32 2810279000
Website: Heraklion Archaeological Museum
10. Malta, Republic of Malta
Yet another island country on the list is the Republic of Malta. This island’s strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean is the reason why it has become a naval base for several civilizations and colonial powers, from the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Moors, the French and the British. Despite its size, the island is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including its capital Valletta, and the seven megalithic temples that date back to prehistoric times.
Only one international airport in Luqa serves the nation, and the easiest way to get around is by bus, although car rental is also possible. Heritage visits and tours are the best way to spend your vacation in Malta. In Valletta alone, you can get lost in the city’s streets and various piazzas, which showcase Baroque and Modernist influences in architecture.
National Museum of Archaeology
Address: Auberge de Provence, Republic Street, Valletta VLT 1112
Contact Information: +35 621221623
Operating Hours: 9am - 6pm, Daily, March till December
Website: National Museum of Archaeology
More than sand, sea and sun
Come away from your summer vacation on any of these island destinations with a deeper appreciation of history and culture, and an understanding why it is important to preserve sites like these for future generations.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.