The World's Most Beautiful Islands

by Suzanne Topham ; Updated September 12, 2017


"You can fall in love at first sight with a place as well as a person," the British novelist Alec Waugh famously said. Prepare yourselves for doing just this: The most beautiful islands in the world seduce many a traveler with their spectacular looks and sensuous attributes. Your stay on these islands might be fleeting, but is guaranteed to be unforgettable.

Santorini, Greece

Santorini's signature whitewashed buildings sparkle on this sun-drenched, rocky island 120 miles southwest of Greece in the deep blue Aegean Sea. BBC Travel, which calls it one of the world's best islands, says "it feels like no other place on earth." The island survived what's been called the greatest volcanic eruption ever recorded and is just as famous for its not-to-be-missed sunsets, making a colorful nightly backdrop to the island's blue-and-white palette.

Maui, Hawaii

Maui holds the No. 1 spot on "Conde Nast Traveler's" Reader's Choice Awards list of top islands in the world for 2012, and it is easy to see why. Maui has exotic tropical beaches, but that's not all. Away from the beaches you'll discover waterfalls, lush growth, the Haleakala volcano -- and whales, from December to May. All this and your American money still spends, and you speak the language, well, like a native.

Madeira Island, Portugal

Say the word "Madeira," and most people think of the wine the islands are known for. For those who are a bit more in the know, it might lead to thoughts of upper-crust Brits on holiday in rather staid, if posh, surroundings. But this is not your grandfather's Madeira. Smart boutique hotels, nightclubs, casinos and upscale cuisine make the place hop 'round midnight. A stay on this island of red tile roofs and lush scenery rising up from the Atlantic doles out excitement, glamour and startling beauty for all who venture to this oft-ignored paradise.

Boracay, Philippines

Boracay, Philippines, tops "Travel + Leisure's" list of the world's best islands for 2012. Sarah Storms, writing for "Travel +Leisure" in August 2011, says it might be one of the world's last undiscovered islands. With soft sand, wide beaches, luxe service and dive opportunities, Boracay is all about the experience. And even though Shangri-La is an imaginary place, you might think you have found it here -- especially if you stay in the island resort that has stolen that legendary name for its own.

Capri, Italy

From songs like Sinatra's "Isle of Capri" to Capri pants and the movies "It Started in Naples" and "September Affair," Capri is the epitome of romance and legend. Crags looming up from the sparkling Mediterranean set the scene -- at once exotic and spectacular. Charming architecture, ubiquitous outside dining where Italian cuisine is de rigueur, rooms with a view, and weather that's good for the soul make Capri a permanent resident on "best islands" lists.


Fiji's expected luscious sand, enticing clear waters of the South Pacific and many pampering palaces might make you think it has nothing special to boast about. But picture all this 1,300 miles away from the nearest land -- New Zealand -- and you begin to the get the idea of why Fiji lands on "best islands" lists, like the ranking by "U.S. News and World Report." Oh and yes, Fiji lives up to expectations in the tropical sunset department.

San Juan Islands, Washington

You might be thinking that you have to deal with jet lag and long and expensive plane rides to reach paradise. If you'd rather stay stateside, the San Juan Islands, just 100 miles from Seattle, might just be your version of it. You take a car ferry to get to either San Juan or Orcas Island, where you'll find lush deciduous trees and plants as a backdrop for the laid-back, artistic sensibility of nearby Seattle; original restaurants; whale watching; kayaking; and hiking -- and lots of stars at night.

Isles of Scilly, U.K.

Say you're taking a trip to the U.K., and people will wonder if you're going to London, maybe the Cotswolds or Scotland. Of course, the U.K. is itself an island, but its charms are of an entirely different nature. Relatively little known on the U.S. side of the Atlantic, the Isles of Scilly, just off Cornwall in the Atlantic, score a place on "National Geographic's" list of top 10 islands. These isles have the required sea, sand and waves -- and quintessential English architecture and gardens when you are not on the shore.

About the Author

Suzanne Topham got her first newsroom job as an editor in the '70s. She spent most of her career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a copy desk chief for the features and national/foreign desks and a travel and style reporter. She also pioneered the position of A1 editor at the Post-Dispatch. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.