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Dotted around the seas surrounding continental Europe are thousands of islands. Most will have heard of Cyprus, Great Britain, Iceland, and Sicily, but there are also hundreds of lesser-known islands that barely register as specks of dust on a map. From a Mediterranean islet that’s less than 0.2 square miles to a Nordic island with a population of two, here are ten tiny islands in Europe that you can visit.
With over 6,000 islands — 227 of which are inhabited — Greece is an island-hopper’s paradise. Off the southern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula is Elafonisos, an under-the-radar island noteworthy for its azure-green waters, sugar-like sand, abundant snorkeling, and dazzling wildflowers packed into just seven square miles. In the namesake main town, octopuses hang from boats in the marina ready to be served up at tavernas — grab a waterfront table to end the day as the setting sun bathes the island in romantic tangerine hues.
Jump on a high-speed ferry from Germany’s northern coastline to reach the North Sea archipelago of Heligoland, which consists of two tiny islands, the main Heligoland and smaller Düne. Historically Danish, the islands were controlled by the Brits for much of the 1800s and later became naval bases during the World Wars. Today, many tourists arrive from Germany, lured by the bargains on offer at duty-free shops, but those that stay longer than a day can uncover myriad things to see and do. The main island has scenic walks along blustery beaches and a two-mile-long clifftop pathway. It’s home to the relics of war bunkers and Lummenfelsen, which is one of the world’s smallest wildlife preserves.
Herm, Channel Islands
Herm is one of the Channel Islands, a self-governing archipelago of islands that are British Crown dependencies yet geographically closer to France. A three-mile boat ride from Guernsey, Herm offers a tranquil landscape with no cars and abundant wildlife. Inhabited over the years by Neolithic tribes, missionary monks, Norman dukes, and German military troops, Herm is just over 0.75 square miles. You can walk the island’s perimeter in about two hours, or longer if you stop to relax at quiet white sand beaches. Spotting Europe’s southernmost puffin colony, hiking over clifftops, kayaking, and paddle boarding are some of the island’s many activities.
Isola di Montecristo, Italy
Encompassed by dazzling turquoise waters in the Tuscan Archipelago is an island so exclusive that you need to apply to visit. Only a thousand people per year can visit Isola di Montecristo, and the lucky ones who do will experience an unblemished paradise. Three walking trails wind through evocative landscapes to the ruined Monastery of San Mamiliano and the Cave of the Saint, with never ending sea views along the way. Potential visitors to this biological protection zone — home to Italy’s only remaining wild goats — have to plan well in advance, though. The normal wait time is between three and four years.
A short boat ride from mainland Estonia is culturally rich Kihnu. It’s an island of rugged beaches and coastal meadows that can be crossed by bike in under an hour. But it’s perhaps best known as the home of one of Europe’s last-surviving matriarchal societies. The island’s men traditionally worked at sea for long periods, which left the women to farm, make clothes, and maintain folkloric arts, crafts, and music. So impressive are the results of these efforts that UNESCO named the island on its list of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. See it with your own eyes at markets, homesteads, and the annual Mere Pidu Festival in July.
Koltur, Faroe Islands
Koltur is the second smallest of the 18 Faroe Islands. It’s just one square mile — about 484 football fields — and has a population of two people and about 60 sheep. Husband and wife Bjørn and Lukka Paturrson have lived here alone since 1997. They fish, rear sheep, and tend to the village’s grass-roofed medieval houses. Trails take visitors around the island’s grassy landscapes and to the top of windswept Uppi á Oyggj mountain. Access is by helicopter and boat, although journeys are dependent on unpredictable currents and winds.
Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast has no shortage of captivating islands scattered along the sun-drenched Adriatic Sea. Flat and forested Krapanj covers an area of just 0.15 square miles and is a five-minute boat ride from the mainland. The island is famous for sea sponge harvesting, and you’ll observe sponges displayed in wicker baskets outside waterfront shops and at a local museum. There’s plenty more to see and do: Visitors can enjoy a day walking around the seaside promenade and rent a boat to reach secluded coves, admiring Renaissance paintings at the centuries-old monastery, or savoring Croatian delicacies such as squid ink risotto and octopus potato salad.
St. Michael’s Mount, England
On Cornwall’s south coast, a magical granite causeway appears at low tide and leads to a rocky island crowned by a medieval castle. St. Michael’s Mount is bathed in ancient history and legends. Cornish folklore states that it was once home to mermaids and a giant named Comoran. Benedictine monks built a priory here in the 12th century, soldiers battled at the island during the War of the Roses, and beacons warned London of the incoming Spanish Armada in 1588. Today, visitors can tour the castle, hunt for the giant’s stone heart, wind through cobbled streets and flower-filled gardens, and drink in majestic sea views from the turrets..
Stretching just 0.1 square miles in the Mediterranean Sea, Tabarca is small in size but big in history. Inhabited since Roman times, the island served as a refuge for Barbary pirates in the 18th century — until King Carlos III fortified the island and populated it with Spaniards in 1760. Today it beckons tourists on year-round day trips from Alicante. Days are spent swimming in crystalline waters and wandering through cobblestone lanes of the whitewashed town center, filled with boutiques, guesthouses, seafood restaurants, and tavernas.
Whalsay is one of the 300 islands and skerries (uninhabited rocky islets) of the isolated Shetland archipelago. It’s an island with great literary connections. Acclaimed Scottish poet Christopher Grieve (better known as Hugh MacDiarmid) lived here, and it’s the setting for Ann Cleeve’s novel Red Bones. The island has a fishing heritage that dates back to the Hanseatic League. These traditions flourish in the main village of Symbister and are celebrated at the Pier House Museum. A popular coastal walk circles the five-mile-long and two-mile-wide island., and visitors can even play 18 holes at Britain’s northernmost golf club.