Scattered like pearls across the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic seas of the Mediterranean, Italy's gorgeous islands have been the setting for ancient myths, epic wars, historic events and – more pleasantly – unforgettable vacations. Popular summer beach destinations for Italians and foreign visitors alike, Italy's top islands can be visited almost all year – although they can be cold in winter and many services, especially at the seaside, will close for the season.
Though there are hundreds of islands off the coasts of Italy and in its lakes and lagoons, we've narrowed down a few of our favorites. On the following Italian islands, you could spend days or weeks vacationing and still not experience everything there is to see and do.
Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and the 5th largest in western Europe, is rich with Greek and Roman ruins, vibrant, earthy cities, and a distinct culture. Unless you have more than a week to visit Sicily, it's best to visit one or two parts rather than trying to see the whole island. Highlights of Sicily include the seaside resort towns of Taormina and Cefalu, the Greek Temples at Agrigento, the cities of Palermo and Syracuse, the Baroque towns of the Noto Valley, and Mount Etna, Europe's biggest active volcano. Sicily can be reached by air arriving in Catania or Palermo airports, by ferry, or by train or by car crossing the bridge that connects the mainland from Calabria to Messina in the island's northeast.
With its stunning beaches, dramatic coastline and well-developed seaside towns, Sardinia, the Mediterranean's second-largest island, is a popular summer destination. But the island's rugged interior holds many interesting sights and is steeped in traditions. Highlights include the prehistoric stone towers called nuraghi that dot the island, the mountain towns like Orgosolo whose walls are covered with murals, the seaside town of Alghero, and Cagliari, the island's largest city. Sardinia can be reached by air arriving in Cagliari or Alghero or by ferry from the mainland, Sicily, or Corsica.
The island of Capri has been a popular vacation destination since Roman times and continues to draw big crowds, mainly coming for the day. Spend a couple of nights so you can better appreciate its charm in the evening, when the tourists have left. Highlights of a visit include the famous Blue Grotto, Villa San Michele, the towns of Anacapri and Capri, and picturesque rock formations off the coast. Capri, just off the Amalfi Coast, is reached by hydrofoil or ferry (more frequent in summer) from Naples, Sorrento, or Positano. The nearby island of Ischia, known for its thermal spas, is also worth a visit and sees far fewer tourists than Capri.
A visit to any of the many islands of the Venetian Lagoon offers a chance to get a real look at lagoon life, as well as to escape what can sometimes be stifling crowds in Venice. Several islands that can be visited as day trips from Venice. Murano, the most popular, is known for its glass-making and you'll find glass in shops all over the island. Some factories allow visitors and there's a glass museum. Burano Island is known for its handmade lace and colorful houses. Torcello is a nature reserve and its 7th-century Cathedral has spectacular 11th and 12th-century Byzantine mosaics.
Elba is the largest island in the Tuscan Archipelago National Park and Italy's third-largest island. Elba is famous as the place where Napolean was exiled, and several sites on the island recall his stay there. Highlights include more than 70 beautiful beaches along the coast, good places for hiking and trekking, picturesque villages, boat excursions in the archipelago, and lots of activities and events during summer. Ferries run between Piombino on the mainland and Elba's port towns of Portoferraio, Rio Marina, and Cavo.