There are thousands of islands in the Mediterranean. Greece holds 2,000 islands alone. Most have a few things in common: slow, sun-drenched summer days; cuisines that delight the tastebuds and nourish the soul; and the kind of cultural heritage that comes with belonging to a region that’s been coined the cradle of Western civilization. Yet each Mediterranean island is also distinct. From Italy’s most lavish getaway to Spain’s most romantic retreat, these are the best Mediterranean islands to visit for every type of traveler.
The best Mediterranean island for beach lovers: Sardinia, Italy
Mediterranean beaches are many things, but sandy is not always one of them. That’s what makes Sardinia so special. Not only does it have the longest coastline of all the Mediterranean islands after Sicily, but its soft, pale shores could also pass for the Caribbean. Northern Sardinia’s 12-miles Costa Smeralda has some of the prettiest beaches — just ask the megayachters who populate its marinas. Down south, Costa Rei and Costa del Sud have their share of luxury hotels, too, but they’re generally less glitzy and more accessible from Cagliari, the Sardinian capital, whose own Poetto Beach is one of the longest and liveliest on the island.
The best Mediterranean island for remote workers: Cyprus
In October 2021, Cyprus introduced a digital nomad visa allowing 100 non-EU remote workers to live on the island for up to three years if extended after the first year. This past March, the total number of residence permits the nation’s council of ministers agreed to issue increased to 500. Many of the island’s digital nomads congregate in Paphos, where you’ll find both a UNESCO-listed necropolis from the fourth century BC and coworking spaces with at least 10 Mbps internet speeds. The cost of living in Cyprus is still relatively low compared to the majority of Europe, though it’s possible to splurge on fine dining, especially in Limassol. Factor in the Tiffany Blue Waters, pine-covered peaks, and a nuanced mix of Greek and Turkish Cypriot culture, and you’ll be ready to fill out that visa application yourself.
The best Mediterranean island for history buffs: Rhodes, Greece
Legend has it that Rhodes, the largest of Greece’s Dodecanese Islands, was gifted to the sun god Helios by Zeus. Ancient Rhodians took their Helios worship seriously, erecting a statue in his honor in 294 BCE that’s now considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Colossus of Rhodes was destroyed during an earthquake a few decades after it was completed, but the island has no shortage of intact historical sites. In fact, the entire Medieval City of Rhodes was designated a World Heritage Site in 1988. The list of landmarks you should probably see is long, but to get you started, beeline for the 14th-century Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, then hit the Acropolis of Lindos south of Rhodes city.
The best Mediterranean island for foodies: Sicily, Italy
Sicilian food is technically Italian food. In fact, some of the most popular Italian dishes served stateside are Sicilian staples — cannoli and arancini, are examples. But Sicily’s food scene is also distinctly its own, with influences ranging from Spanish and French to Greek and Arab — the island is roughly the same distance from Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, as it is from Rome, after all. Mount Etna’s volcanic soil has also enriched the crops and vines in northeastern Sicily since before the Roman Empire. Homestyle trattorias are the best venues to eat your way across the largest island in the Mediterranean, but if you’re so inclined, Sicily also has 16 Michelin-starred restaurants to choose from.
The best Mediterranean island for partiers: Hvar, Croatia
It took a while for Croatia’s wilder side to catch up to legendary Mediterranean nightlife destinations like Ibiza and Mykonos. Now, islands like Hvar and Pag are having a moment. While Pag’s annual Sonus electronic music festival gets famously down and dirty, Hvar has a reputation for being the nightlife epicenter of the Croatian islands, with options ranging from bougie to boogie down. For the bucket list experience, make sure to hit the Hula Hula Beach Bar at least once, or really go all out during Croatia’s Yacht Week.
The best Mediterranean island for luxury travelers: Capri, Italy
Capri has been a jet-set haunt since Golden Age Hollywood stars like Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot graced its shores. Celebrities continue to dock their yachts in the Bay of Naples and flex their wallets in the designer boutiques and gourmet ristorantes that prop up the city center. Yet lavish as Capri can be, it also affords visitors the simple luxury of time. Whether you’re sipping limoncello cocktails in the Piazzetta, feasting on namesake dishes like Caprese salad and ravioli Caprese, riding the chairlift up Mount Solaro, or strolling through the Gardens of Augustus, Capri’s slow pace and sumptuous surrounds will make you feel like a million bucks. Just be prepared to spend as much if you plan on booking one of the island’s splurgiest hotels, which in the case of Punta Tragara can cost as much as $6,000 per night.
The best Mediterranean island for budget travelers: Vis, Croatia
In general, the cost of living in Croatia is favorable to budget travelers. Some islands, like swanky Hvar, have become more expensive as tourism has boomed. Others like Vis, which is the farthest island from the mainland, have remained quite affordable. The easiest way to reach Vis is by ferry from Split, Croatia’s second city, for about $7. On the island, hotels generally cost $50 to $100 per night while many of the top-rated Airbnbs cost $50 per night or less. Beaches are the big draw in Vis — hello, free entertainment — but the old town also has some relics of its ancient developments, there’s a glowing blue grotto you can boat through, and you can tour hidden bunkers and forts from the island’s days as a naval base.
The best Mediterranean island for scuba divers: Malta
Throughout history, Malta’s position in the heart of the Mediterranean made it a coveted and contested territory. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, French, Sicilians, and others have all their mark on the island, giving rise to its rich and complex cultural landscape today. Yet one of the best ways to get to explore Malta is underwater. The Maltese archipelago — whose three largest islands are Malta, Gozo, and Comino — plays host to more than 100 dive sites, from wrecks to walls to tunnels. Gozo’s 50-foot-deep Blue Hole is the most famous, offering a series of arched swim-throughs that are particularly thrilling on night dives.
The best Mediterranean island for solo travelers: Mallorca, Spain
For some solo travelers, meeting people is a top priority. For others, it’s a fate worse than lost luggage. In Mallorca, you can be as social or reclusive as you want. Mallorca is a lot tamer than neighboring Ibiza — and less expensive — but it still gears up for a lively festival season every summer. Steer clear of the capital city Palma if you’re not looking to link up with strangers. Instead, head to villages like Estellencs and beaches like Cala Varques to escape the crowds. Spend your days hiking, biking, sea caving, cliff diving, and catamaran cruising. As for logistics, Mallorca has plenty of accommodations to fit every budget and one of the best bus systems in the Balearic Islands — although, if you can drive stick, winding around a Mediterranean coast in a rental car always makes for a memorable solo adventure.
The best Mediterranean island for families: Naxos, Greece
The largest island in the Cyclades, an island group that includes Santorini and Mykonos, Naxos serves up the quintessential Greek island experience without the crowds or costs of neighboring destinations that have become popular stops for Mediterranean cruises. There are educational attractions like the ruins of Potara, an unfinished temple to Apollo, and several kid-friendly beaches, including Agios Georgios outside the capital city Chora if you have little ones and Plaka Beach if your kids are old enough to try windsurfing. Best of all, Naxos has its own airport, so you won’t have to worry about schlepping the whole family and all your things on a long ferry from Athens — though it’s also close enough to the other Cyclades to plan day trips if you want.
The best Mediterranean island for couples: Formentera, Spain
Santorini is often marketed as the most romantic island in the Mediterranean, but sharing an intimate setting with throngs of other couples is a quick way to kill the mood. The smallest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, Formentera has no such problem. That Formentera has been overshadowed by sister isle Ibiza and is only accessible by boat has allowed it to maintain a ruggedness that’s seductive in its simplicity. The beaches here are said to be some of the finest around — most famously Ses Illetes, Migjorn, and Llevant — and they’re populated with enough restaurants and bars to fill a vacation’s worth of date nights. You’ll even see a few beach clubs, but rest assured that the vibe is more siesta than Tiësto. Formentera also has lots of spa hotels, so plan on getting at least one couples massage.
The best Mediterranean island for hikers: Corsica, France
At roughly 3,400 square miles, Corsica is the Mediterranean’s fourth-largest island. About half of it belongs to a regional nature park that’s crisscrossed by hiking trails, including the GR20 footpath that runs north-south for 112 mountainous miles. The hut-to-hut hike has been called Europe’s toughest long-distance trek, on average taking between one and two weeks to complete, but it can also be split in half from Calenzana to Vizzavona and Vizzavona to Conca. June through October is the ideal time to tackle the trail although July and August can get busy. If you want to treat yourself to a beach vacation after scaling Corsica’s peaky spine, shoot for June when the average temperature hovers around the mid-70s.
The best Mediterranean island for wellness retreaters: Ischia, Italy
The volcanic island of Ischia shares the Bay of Naples with Capri but only sees a fraction of its sister island’s tourism. This alone makes it a good candidate for a relaxing retreat, but it’s Ischia’s thermal spas that have made it a wellness destination since the days of ancient Rome. Many of the island’s hotels revolve around its thermal pools while other spas — including Sorgeto, Poseidon, and Negombo — are designed for day use. Other body and skin treatments, from massages to mud baths, are generally available as well. On the rare occasions, you’re not soaking in Ischia’s healing mineral waters, spend your downtime strolling around its many public gardens, then track down the island’s handful of vegan restaurants for light, healthful meals.
The best Mediterranean island for LGBTQ travelers: Mykonos, Greece
As far as amazing LGBTQ destinations go, Mykonos is up there with Provincetown, Fire Island, and San Francisco. It tends to attract an epicurean crowd to the island’s numerous gay bars, clubs, and hotels. LGBTQ travelers have reported feeling safe and welcome in Mykonos, but visitorship in LGBTQ spaces skews decidedly male. For gay women, Lesbos, the birthplace of the ancient poet Sappho from where the term lesbian derives, is a popular alternative. Both islands host LGBTQ-leaning events that you may want to plan your trips around, such as the Xlsior festival in Mykonos and International Eressos Women’s Festival in Lesbos.
The best Mediterranean island for nature lovers: Mljet, Croatia
Mljet is as pristine as an Adriatic island gets, in large part because 5,400 of its forested acres are protected as one of Croatia’s eight national parks. Tourism is light in Mljet, largely centering on the fishing village of Pomena where only about 50 people live year-round. There’s one main hotel there, Hotel Odisej Mljet, but if you’re coming for a nature escape, you can pitch a tent at a number of campgrounds for less than $10 per night. When you’re not hiking through Mljet National Park, cycling around its saltwater lakes, or touring them by kayak, pop by the cave where locals believe the Odysseus of myth was once shipwrecked.