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The 15 best summer holiday islands in Europe

A guide to the best holidays islands in Europe for Summer, featuring the top things to do and best places to stay in destinations including Majorca, Santorini, Crete, Ibiza, Sicily and Hvar.


Majorca, the largest island in the Balearics, may make you think of beach resorts, but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy both its coastline and the interior - the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range has been made a World Heritage Site in recognition of the extraordinary techniques used to develop agriculture on its steep slopes over the centuries.

Or you could visit a few of the wineries in the centre of the island, where local traditions are as strong as ever. Even if you have been to the island several times, there is always more to discover, particularly as there is now a stunning selection of rural hotels that provide a luxurious base for a week or two spent exploring the lush countryside in the interior as well as the dramatic coastline.

  • The best hotels in Majorca

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"Megalónisos", the "Great Island", is the Greek moniker for Crete and indeed it is almost a country unto itself. The island is home to one of the longest beach-lounging seasons as well; north-coast beaches tend to be long and sandy if a bit exposed, while others are apt to be shorter but more secluded. For those of a non-beachy disposition, there's plenty of interest inland: exquisitely frescoed country chapels of the 14th and 15th centuries, ruined Minoan palaces and towns, plus top-drawer hiking and botanising opportunities.

  • The best hotels in Crete

  • The 19 best Greek islands
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Mention Sardinia and most people think of the glitz of the Costa Smeralda but there's plenty more to divert you: the magnificent rugged landscape of the granite interior, the fabulous seafood and, for history buffs, the strange and evocative remnants of Sardinia's ancient nuraghic culture, not to mention a scattering of Carthaginian and Roman ruins, Pisan churches and Spanish Baroque.

  • The best hotels in Sardinia


The largest island in the Mediterranean is a fascinating mix of Greek temples, Norman churches and Baroque palazzos. Sicily is the kind of destination where sightseeing is always more than "just" sightseeing: it's the combination of history, a balmy climate and a vibrant contemporary eating, drinking and shopping scene that gives this island of wine, citrus fruits and ancient landscapes such all-year-round appeal.

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The White Isle is renowned for its beautiful coastline, stylish hotels and world-class nightclubs. Ibiza is also home to some lovely beaches including Cala Jondal, which manages to feel serene, sophisticated and happening all at the same time, and Cala D'Hort, with its mesmerising view of the volcano-shaped Es Vedra rock.

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Santoríni is really best approached by sea; as your arriving craft manoeuvres over the impossibly midnight blue waters of the caldera, the sheer lava cliffs of the caldera lip, layered in varicoloured rock, loom overhead, with white houses on top like a dusting of snow. It’s one of the spectacles of the Med, as is the reverse practice of staring out over the caldera waters from up top – something not lost on the strangely assorted clientele of honeymooners, cruise-ship patrons and backpackers.

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Unspoilt, idyllic, glistening sand, turquoise water… just about every tourist brochure cliché is actually true when you are talking about the beaches in Menorca. Among the best are Pregonda, which is great for snorkelling and diving, and Cala Macarella, for a sheltered cove backed by pine trees and holm oaks.

  • The best hotels in Menorca


With miles of beaches, a forested, mountainous interior, Crusader castles, frescoed churches, one of the finest medieval towns in the Mediterranean and eight sunny months a year, Rhodes can’t help but be a winner for holidaymakers. In a good year, nearly two million visitors pile in to stay, not counting short stopovers by numerous cruise patrons. The walled old town of Rhodes, a successive effort of the Knights Hospitaller of St John and the Ottomans, has justly been accorded Unesco World Heritage status, and rarely fails to impress with its sandstone architecture, flying buttresses over cobbled streets and a skyline exotically stooked with minarets and palm trees.

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This island in the Canaries has been undergoing a revolution and is turning into a rather upmarket destination. Don't expect anything glitzy or flashy though; this quiet revolution is all about staying in chic, eco-friendly places and spending your days cycling, walking, surfing or sampling the local wines.

All over the island, you see the influence of the visionary artist, architect and environmentalist César Manrique, who saved Lanzarote from the ravages of rampant development. His extraordinary creations accentuate the unique geology of the island and are now its main tourist attractions. You could easily spend a few days visiting the places he designed, particularly as quite a few also house stylish bars and restaurants.

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One of the greenest of the Greek islands - thanks to intermittent but torrential rains from September to May, and the thousands of olive trees that carpet the land­scape. It is also, perhaps surprisingly, one of the more rural, sleepy islands away from the main touristy honeypots. The main holiday developments are quarantined on certain coastal patches, and once inland you really seem to be on another island, even another era.

In remote glades, Corfiot villagers still celebrate summer-and-autumn panegýria (religious festivals-cum-fairs) with music and merchandise stalls - watch for posters (usually Greek only) plastered onto olive trees, and don't expect much action until after 8pm as a rule.

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Move away from the coastal resorts and find a side to Tenerife that most visitors never bother to seek out, including the Anaga Mountains. The area is almost untouched by tourism and communities continue to carve out their existence from the fertile earth, surrounded by rugged peaks that are often engulfed by cloud.

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Malta gets more than 300 sunny days a year and is surrounded by clear blue waters, some of the cleanest in the Mediterranean, and is much enjoyed by visiting swimmers, snorkellers and divers. Its unique selling point, however, has to be its 7,000 year history. Malta has a greater density of historic sights than any other country. Starting with its unique prehistoric temples, some of the oldest stone buildings in the world, it also has Roman catacombs, medieval towns, and the extraordinary architectural and artistic legacy of the Knights of St John (the Knights of Malta).

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Gran Canaria

Forever in the enormous shadow of its neighbour to the west, Tenerife, Gran Canaria is nonetheless never so eclipsed that it cannot provide temperatures around the 20 degrees mark as March makes the rest of Europe shiver. In truth, the third-largest Canary Island is a fabulous destination. The capital Las Palmas offers elegant culture at its Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno – but saves its best for the beach in the shape of Playa de las Canteras.

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Cyprus can’t quite compete with the riches of Sicily, but it does have some treasures of its own. Some of the key sights are in the Turkish north, notably the Roman ruins at Salamis outside Famagusta, and the Byzantine/Venetian castles at Kyrenia and Hilarion. But south of the border are some remarkable Roman mosaics at Paphos, and all over the island some wonderful Byzantine churches, many with ancient wall-paintings.

Then there are the beaches – and a wealth of good value accommodation. 

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Hvar is Dalmatia's trendiest destination and gets jam-packed in summer. So go instead in spring. The weather will be pleasantly sunny, the sea warm enough for a swim, and the main attractions and watersports up and running. The warmer weather also brings splashes of colour to Hvar's little-visited interior, with grapevines sprouting, the famed lavender fields turning silvery-purple, and pastures dotted with flowers and delicious wild asparagus.

  • The best hotels in Hvar

  • View our best luxury holidays in Croatia
  • View our best luxury Croatian cruises 
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Prefer somewhere a little more off the beaten track?

Then take a look at our guide to Europe's 17 best secret islands, including tiny Kastellorizo in Greece, pictured above.