Table of Contents
(CNN) — From legendary nightlife hotspots to volcanic outposts far off the continent’s mainland, Europe has islands in spades. But for every Mykonos, Ibiza or Santorini, there’s someplace lesser known and equally lovely to escape to where you can ditch the crowds and get closer to nature.
Here are some of the best islands in Europe for getting away from almost everyone:
Schiermonnikoog, the Netherlands
Home to just 950 people and a lone town, Schier, as locals call their island, is primarily national parkland, covered in dunes and forests and with some of Europe’s most pristine beaches.
“Besides the beautiful nature and the vastness of it, there is not much to do on the island. And that is precisely the charm,” says Annemarieke Romeijn, who has a holiday home on Schiermonnikoog and has been visiting all her life.
Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland
There are more puffins than people here, but human visitors are richly rewarded.
A cataclysmic volcanic eruption on Heimaey in 1973 covered the area in 200 millions tons of ash and lava but miraculously just one death was reported. Today, utter peace reigns, with lonely hiking trails to explore and vast ocean views.
Only about 4,500 people share Vestmannaeyjar with nearly a million puffin pairs that make up the largest Atlantic puffin colony on the planet. The breeding season, between April and late summer, sees birds careening from the cliffs and carrying fish to their young in cliffside burrows.
Flores Island, Azores, Portugal
Waterfalls trickle down an imposing rock face on the island Flores in the Azores.
One of the most remote islands in an already remote archipelago, Flores Island in the westernmost stretches of the Azores is a nature lover’s dream.
Deep blue crater lakes, vivid green slopes, plunging valleys, waterfalls and boiling hot springs are among the otherworldly sights on the 55-square-mile volcanic island home to roughly 3,400 people, where you can arrive via flights from other Azorean islands
With just 26 rooms, Hotel das Flores is Flores’ largest hotel, located in the island’s main harbor town, Santa Cruz das Flores. Vacation rentals are scattered throughout the island.
Visitors must fly into Bodø in Northern Norway then continue north by boat to reach this private island owned by Norwegian adventurer Randi Skaug, the first Norwegian woman to scale Mount Everest.
Isle of Tiree, Scotland
This turquoise paradise is off the western coast of Scotland.
Richard Kellett/Adobe Stock
One look at the turquoise and deep sapphire waters and perfect surf waves rolling onto its shores and it’s clear why the Isle of Tiree is sometimes referred to as the Hawaii of the North.
The most westerly island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago, off mainland Scotland’s west coast, 12-mile-long Tiree is known for its mild climate, clean air and beautiful white sand beaches that could easily be mistaken for the Caribbean in photos if not in person (August water temperatures are in the brisk upper 50s Fahrenheit, or about 14 Celsius).
Berlengas archipelago, Portugal
About six miles off the coast from Peniche, the Berlengas archipelago is an excellent scuba diving destination.
Luis Fonseca/iStockphoto/Getty Images
Berlengas Grande has campsites open during the summer where visitors can sleep overnight and feel all alone under the Milky Way.
Mola mola (ocean sunfish) can sometimes be seen in the waters, and the islands are one of the most important places along mainland Portugal’s coast for breeding seabirds.
Alicudi, Sicily, Italy
Wild and rugged, Aliduci is the least inhabited of the seven islands in the chain off Sicily’s northern coast that include Stromboli and Lipari, among others.
Alicudi’s distinctive volcanic cone rises from the Tyrrhenian Sea to dramatic effect, with colorful fishing boats bobbing along the shoreline completing the postcard look. Buying fish straight from the fishermen in Alicudi is not to be missed.
There are no cars here and only around 100 residents, so finding a quiet spot all to yourself is never an issue. The higher you walk along lava stone steps leading up the volcanic slopes, the deeper the silence and escapism.
Skyros is one of two dozen islands in Greece’s Sporades chain.
Greek islands like Santorini and Mykonos in the Cyclades can get so sardined with tourists during the summer months that you might be left wondering what all the hype is about. For a more isolated experience in the Greek islands, set your sights instead north in the Aegean Sea to the island of Skyros.
One of 24 islands in the largely uninhabited Sporades chain in the northwest Aegean Sea, Skyros is reached via flights from mainland Greece as well as by ferry from the mainland and other nearby Greek islands.
Once there, there are secluded beaches to explore, a Byzantine castle towering over the main town and sea and even an ancient breed of miniature horse, the Skyrian horse, that lives in the wild only on this island.
With the exception of the lead up to Lent — when Skyros’ famous carnival puts the island into nonstop party mode with parades and costumed revelry and an inundation of Athenians — it’s a supremely peaceful place.
Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland
Stretching six emerald-hued miles long and just one mile wide, Rathlin Island off the coast of Northern Ireland is home to only about 150 permanent residents.
Visitors who arrive via a quick ferry crossing from Ballycastle on the mainland are transported to a wilderness of dramatic sea cliffs home to thousands of nesting birds that include puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes and razorbills. Colonies of harbor seals and grey seals line Rathlin’s remote inlets.
Hiking trails crisscross the ruggedly scenic island and experienced scuba divers are drawn underwater to explore the scores of shipwrecks just offshore that include the HMS Drake, torpedoed by a German U-boat during World War I.
Fasta Åland, Finland
In the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland, the Åland archipelago has more than 6,500 islands, of which only about 60 are inhabited. To say there’s room to stretch out and breathe on these Baltic Sea islands is an understatement.
An autonomous region, the islands belong to Finland but are only 25 miles from Sweden, with Swedish as the official language.
Fasta Åland is the largest island in the archipelago and a good base for explorations. Tour by bike to nearby islands linked by ferries and bridges or just settle into a vacation rental or hotel with a sauna and sea views for a relaxing reset.