Islands in Europe
While popular European holiday destinations include stunning islands like Malta, Crete, Mykonos, or Santorini, it´s Spain leads across the archipelago vacations in terms of numbers, as the 2nd most visited country in the world. When it comes to local festivities, delicious food, relaxed atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and charming small towns, Spain is really hard to compete with.
The biggest risk one might have in Spain is not wanting to leave. That’s my first-hand experience, as years ago one single trip to this country inspired me to learn Spanish in 4 months and become an expat in Spain for the following 15 years. Looking back to all of my travels across the country, I should admit that visiting the best Spanish islands was a huge part of falling in love with Spain forever.
Islands in Spain
It´s no secret that for many travelers island getaway represents the best vacation choice. Generally speaking, we could divide the best Spanish Islands according to their location – The Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and The Canary Islands in the Atlantic.
Additionally, for all the nature lovers I´ve added to this list the Cies Islands and a few other islands in Galicia, Nothern Spain. Even though the above-mentioned islands offer a completely different travel experience without summer heat, resorts, wi-fi, or nightlife – they simply belong on the list of the best Spanish islands due to their unmatched natural beauty.
The Balearic Islands
The Balearic Islands are located in the Mediterranean. The archipelago is formed by 4 main islands – Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca, and Formentera, and 3 small isles – Dragonera, Cabrera, and Espalmador. The biggest advantage of the Balearic Islands is the warm and smooth sea. Plus, in the summer months, the archipelago is full of trendy restaurants, fancy clubs, boats&yachts if you enjoy going out.
The Balearic Islands during the peak season are frequented by celebrities. The archipelago is known for some of the best beaches in Spain with white sands and warm turquoise waters. The sea temperature might reach 27C in July/August, which is quite awesome for swimming aficionados.
Personally, my favorite months for the Balearic Islands are May/June and September/October when it´s still warm, but significantly less crowded than in July/August. In recent years, I´ve also visited the Balearic Islands in winter, when most of the trendy places were closed, but I literally had beautiful natural landscapes and magical sunsets all to myself.
The Canary Islands
The Canary Islands could be found in the Atlantic. Despite an ancient local legend of the 9th island, the Canary Islands officially have 8 islands: Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, and La Graciosa.
The biggest pro in the case of the Canary Islands is their unique nature and exotic setting, as technically the archipelago is closer to Africa than to Spain and Europe. The Canary Islands are located approx. 1000 km from the Spanish Peninsula and only 150 km from the African continent. Yet, they are part of the European Union – meaning that you have all the best European features (like hospitals, roads, infrastructure, safety, currency) in a completely exotic setting.
Unlike The Balearic Islands, The Canary Islands are a popular Spanish winter sun destination all year round. Average temperatures of 20C in winter and 3000 hours of sun per year are the unmatched weather conditions for an epic getaway all year round.
If you love being in the water all day long – keep in mind that it´s not the typical attribute of the Canary Islands. The water temperature may vary from 18C to 22C depending on the island and season. El Hierro and Tenerife are known for the warmest waters, while Lanzarote and Fuerteventura for the coldest ones. Many assure that swimming in the Canary Islands is possible all year round when it is sunny. But not in my experience. The last time I visited Lanzarote in August the water was a bit cold for my taste (max 20C).
Don´t miss these Photos to Inspire You to Visit The Canary Islands to choose your perfect island.
The Best Spanish Islands
Let´s open the list of the best Spanish Islands with its biggest isle – Mallorca. Mallorca literally is a win-win and works for every type of vacation – a family trip to Spain, a getaway with friends, or solo holidays. Check the details of our last family weekend in Mallorca here.
Mallorca´s Sierra Tramuntana is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the top national landmarks in Spain. The area is full of secret Spanish villages ( like Soller, Escorca, Pollenca, Valldemossa, Deia, and Fornalutx) and the views from Cap de Formentor will reveal in front of you some of the most unforgettable cliffs in Spain.
Also, Mallorca ranks globally for its capital Palma de Mallorca with one of the most beautiful Spanish cathedrals, Palma Aquarium (with the largest collection of live coral in Europe), Cuevas del Drach, and some of Spain´s best beaches.
You can read more in this post – Our Weekend in Mallorca with Kids.
Quite often world travel destinations are divided into an adventurous trip and a family-friendly vacation. The best thing about Tenerife is that you can have both at the same time. There are so many things to see and do on the island that you´ll be spoilt for choices.
The Island of Tenerife is full of mysterious legends and otherworldly beautiful landscapes, like the magical forests of Anaga, beautiful cliffs of Los Gigantes, and the lunar landscapes of Teide (Spain´s highest peak). It´s on Tenerife, where you will find some of the most epic hiking trails in Spain.
The island is known for some of the most unique Spanish beaches like Playa de las Teresitas, Playa del Socorro, Playa de la Nea, Playa de Almaciga (near Playa Benijo), Playa de la Tejita, Playa Jardin, and Playa de las Vistas.
The small town of Orotava belongs to the list of the most colorful villages in Spain and Palmetrum of Santa Cruz de Tenerife together with the Botanical Garden in Puerto de la Cruz – is on the list of the most beautiful Spanish gardens.
While in Tenerife, kids will particularly love the famous Loro Parque and Siam Park.
One of the best Spanish islands, Lanzarote, was the first one in the Canary Islands, colonized by the Europeans. Nevertheless, it´s still significantly less touristic than Tenerife or Gran Canaria.
During my week on Lanzarote, I felt like the island was a perfect combination of safety, relaxation, and adventure. While visiting it in August (which is always a peak season everywhere ), on Lanzarote even driving was chill, with great roads (almost empty) and zero parking problems.
Also, Lanzarote has lots of unique sights, like the lunar landscapes of the Timanfaya Natural Park or the stunning art of Cesar Manrique.
By and large, the island of Lanzarote felt significantly less green and mountainous, compared to Tenerife, but not any less beautiful.
Although Ibiza is mainly famous for its clubbing scene during the summer months, the island is a natural paradise all year round. Since the 60s-70s, it has been a trendy hippie destination (you can still check local hippie markets – Las Dalias and Punta Arabi).
Ibiza´s luxurious hotels and retreats need no introduction. Clubs, parties, and trendy restaurants are often frequented by celebrities. Moreover, Ibiza is known for some of the most beautiful sunsets around the world.
For more things to do in Ibiza, check this Ibiza Bucket List.
Menorca is a great lesser-known alternative to the crowded Ibiza and touristy Mallorca. It is one of the best Spanish islands for a quiet family-friendly vacation. Menorca is full of whitewashed houses and paradise beaches. Not to mention its beautiful Ciudadella old town and Mahon, the biggest natural harbor of the Mediterranean.
Once in Mahon, you can book a yellow catamaran tour where you’ll be able to explore the coast on a boat with a glass bottom. In fact, Menorca is perfect for all quiet water activities, like kayaking, snorkeling, or sailing. Kids will enjoy a local waterpark Splash Sur Menorca.
The panoramic views of Menorca can be admired from its highest peak Monte Toro.
For those of you dying for the Caribbean vibes every once in a while – Formentera is the answer. If there’s one place in Spain made for romance, it´s this tiny quiet Balearic Island, not surprisingly so loved by international celebrities and soccer stars.
Formentera is a lot like the magical blue lagoon in Cyprus, but much more private. An island has quite a limited number of hotels and less than 10 000 residents. Due to this exclusiveness, everything on Formentera is overpriced.
Formentera has no airport. The island can be reached by ferry from Ibiza (also Valencia/Denia in the summer months).
7. Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria often appears on the lists of Europe’s most underrated islands. Even though it is a popular cruise ship port.
Gran Canaria is often referred to as a “continent in miniature“, due to its particular variety of microclimates, landscapes, and activities.
The island of Gran Canaria is full of unique exotic landscapes like Maspalomas dunes or Roque Nublo, unique landmarks like Pueblo Canario, and Christopher Columbus heritage sights like Casa de Colon.
Gran Canaria´s Jardin Botanico Viera y Clavijo is one of the most beautiful gardens in Spain.
Fuerteventura is considered the warmest in the Canary Islands due to its proximity to Africa, and one of the best winter sun destinations in Spain. It is extremely popular among surf enthusiasts due to the strong winds.
The island will surprise you with its natural wonders like sand dunes, sleeping volcanoes, emerald-blue waters, and secret villages. Let me warn you though – Fuerteventura is not about sightseeing in Spain, but rather about channeling some chilly island vibes and enjoying the stunning landscapes. In other words, it is your place to completely disappear and disconnect from the outside world.
As much as I love Tarifa, Fuerteventura doesn’t stay behind when it comes to stunning beaches in Spain. You must see with your own eyes those unimaginable sand dunes of Parque Natural de las Dunas de Corralejo. Despite a popular belief that all this sand was blown from the Sahara desert, Fuerteventura sand dunes were actually composed of local shells.
Fuerteventura has over 150 amazing white-sand beaches. So, you can find smth for every taste with this number: Corralejo, Caleta de Fuste, Sotavento, Cofete, Aljibe de la Cueva, or La Concha.
Playa de Aguila looks absolutely stunning, although with the waves it seems a better match for surfers.
9. La Palma
While you can´t see lava fields in action, like on the Big Island of Hawaii, and the last eruption on La Palma happened in 1971, the island is still the most volcanic active place in the Canary Islands.
The top popular activities on the island of La Palma are hiking, whale watching, diving, stargazing, and visiting the volcanic black-sand beaches and numerous otherworldly beautiful landscapes.
La Palma is globally known for its clear sky and stargazing. Scientists from around the world head to La Palma´s Astronomical Observatory, the largest one in the Northern Hemisphere.
The other lesser-visited island alternatives in the Canary archipelago are La Gomera and El Hierro. The first one, La Gomera, is known for an old romantic legend connecting it to Tenerife.
10. The Islands in Galicia
Northern Spain ranks globally for its giant cliffs and dramatic coastline with wild beaches. Let me warn you: all the islands in the North of Spain belong to the rainy region of Galicia – so, in this case, we are not talking about warm sunny vacations.
Galicia and the whole of Northern Spain don´t share the traditional Spanish heat of Andalusia, which makes it a great summer destination and an epic road trip idea in Spain. Nevertheless, it rains way too often. Galicia´s capital city of Vigo gets at least 130 rainy days per year. Plus, the average yearly temperature is 14C and only 22C in summer.
On the other hand, if you´re looking for an exclusive and unspoiled natural setting it´s hard to beat the islands of Galicia. Many international travel editions call the beaches of the Cies Islands the most beautiful ones in the world.
The most impressive Islands of Galicia are the Cies Islands, Ons Island, Salvora, Cortegada, and Isla de Arosa.
During the Roman times in Spain, the Cies Islands were called “the islands of Gods”. This small and exclusive archipelago can be visited by ferry from Vigo. You need to book in advance, as the maximum number of tourists is limited to 2000 per day. There are no cars, hotels, or Wi-Fi, and even the camping spots are limited. But the natural setting is honestly to die for. There are 7 wild beaches around the Cies islands, plus 4 hiking routes, many bird-watching spots, and lots of rare marine species to spot while snorkeling or kayaking.
For visiting the Cies Islands and the Ons Island you need to file for authorization online.
Isla de Arosa is another natural paradise of Galicia. It´s an island with 5,000 inhabitants, full of unique natural landscapes and beaches, as well as a protected bird area. Isla de Arosa is connected with the mainland via a bridge.
Which of the best Spanish islands is your favorite? or which one would you like to visit the most?