8 Dreamy Islands in Italy You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Italy has more than 400 islands sprinkled through the waters just off its coast. Some are tiny, seagull-inhabited rocky outcrops and some—like Sicily and Venice—sat at the crossroads of Mediterranean culture and commerce for much of history. Most Italian islands, however, lie somewhere between these two extremes. Home to picturesque fishing villages, pristine coastlines, and crystal-clear waters, these underrated gems have been largely untouched by modern development and offer a calmer way to experience La Bella Italia.
The smallest of the three main islands in the Bay of Naples, Procida has long played second fiddle to its A-list neighbors, Capri and Ischia. Being named Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2022 has brought this southern island a bit of fame, although its sleepy pace and timeless atmosphere remain unchanged. Hop on a boat tour from Naples (or a mini cruise from Sorrento), get lost among the colorful houses in Corricella and Chiaiolella, indulge in a leisurely lunch overlooking the bobbing fishing boats in the harbor, or unwind on the sandy expanses of the Chiaiolella or Pozzo Vecchio beaches.
The urban frenzy of Rome seems worlds away, but the pocket-sized island of Ponza is close enough to make for an easy day trip from Italy’s capital city. Known for its towering white coastal cliffs, technicolor main port town, and mild temperatures (even in the dog days of summer), this island sits off the coast somewhere between Rome and Naples and is a refreshing escape from either of the two teeming cities. Admire Chiaia di Luna and other beaches only accessible by sea with a boat tour around Ponza and the neighboring island of Palmarola, learn to fish with a local, poke around the shops and restaurants in the main village, and taste wine made in the island’s vineyards.
When people think of Tuscany, the Renaissance capital of Florence and the rolling hills of Chianti first come to mind. But the region is also home to a delightful archipelago of seven islands, the largest of which is Elba. Napoleon spent nine months in exile here in 1814, but today this island is known primarily for its stunning seascapes, scalloped coastline of tiny coves and bays, panoramic hiking and biking trails, and unbeatable food and wine. Explore the historic town of Portoferraio, skirt the coastline with a boat tour or kayak adventure, or head to the coastal cliffs by Jeep for sweeping views.
Elba may be the largest and most famous island in the Tuscan Archipelago, but those in the know head straight to Giglio. This modest outpost on the southern end of the 7–island national park is beloved for its end-of-the-line appeal, miniature fishing villages frozen in time, and transparent waters perfect for diving and snorkeling. Join a boat excursion to explore the underwater worlds along the Giglio Campese coastline, visit the walled hilltop village of Giglio Castello, and tuck into a slice of panficato (a traditional fig and walnut cake) and local Ansonaco wine while you soak in the island’s spectacular sunset.
Almost all of Italy’s islands sit off its west coast in the Tyrrhenian Sea. San Domino is one of the few exceptions, the largest of the gem-like Tremiti Islands in the Adriatic Sea to the east. This miniature archipelago (including San Domino, San Nicola, Capraia, Cretaccio, and Pianosa) was once a penal colony but today is the crown jewel of the ]Gargano National Park, one of the dreamiest spots in the southern region of Puglia. Translucent waters and limestone grottoes rich in marine flora and fauna make San Domino a mecca for divers and snorkelers—there are dozens of underwater trails—and pristine beaches, panoramic walking trails, and traditional eateries in the island’s village are enough to fill your day on land.
The largest island in Sardinia’s spectacular Maddalena Archipelago, La Maddalena is home to the main port for setting off to explore the seven islands (and dozens of islets) by sea. Join a boat tour from here to venture into the kaleidoscope waters and deserted beaches of the archipelago—today a national park—but don’t skip exploring this island and its lively main town, crowded with shops, cafés, and restaurants overlooking the sea. Trails wind along the coastline and through the Mediterranean scrub inland to the impressive abandoned granite quarry in Cala dei Francesi and sweeping dunes on the northern coastline.
One of the seven Aeolian Islands off the northern coast of Sicily, Stromboli wows with its volcanic peak that juts out of the sea and treats visitors to frequent, showstopping eruptions. Even on its calm days, the volcano spews clouds of dark ash that can be seen from miles away. Hiking enthusiasts climb its dramatic lunar-like slopes while others take in the volcano from afar at the Punta Labronzo observatory; the Sciara del Fuoco lava flow that runs down the crater to the sea is a popular destination for boat tours around the island. Once you’ve explored Stromboli’s headliner, take time to visit the villages of San Vincenzo and Ginostra and marvel at the massive Strombolicchio boulder—dislodged by a past eruption—topped by the island’s lighthouse.
Wild and remote, the Aegadian Islands (or Egadi in Italian) are about as far as you get from mainland Italy without leaving the country. Set off the western coast of Sicily, this archipelago is made up of three main islands: Favignana (the largest), Levanzo, and Marettimo. Favignana was once Europe’s busy tuna capital, but today the island is a slow-paced holiday destination with sun-bleached coastal villages, colorful fishing boats, dramatic abandoned quarries, and stunning cobalt waters. Most visitors explore the island by sea, either by joining a fishing excursion or with a mini cruise from Trapani that also stops at nearby Levanzo.