The best Atlantic islands to visit

The best Atlantic islands to visit

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Looking to take an island break in 2023? These are Kiwi.com’s seven best islands to visit in the North and South Atlantic, including some sunny favorites, some icy idyll, and one of the hardest islands in the world to travel to

Okay — summer’s just around the corner, and you need some inspiration for your next island vacation. Done the Mediterranean? Done the Caribbean? The Atlantic Ocean might seem comparatively vast, storm-tossed and daunting, but the adventures to be had on its islands have the potential to be all the more epic. These are our seven picks for the best Atlantic islands and archipelagos to visit — in the North, in the South, warm and tropical, cool and spectacular, popular with tourists, and one which is… well, almost unreachable. (But we know you like a challenge!)

Azores

Person bathing in natural spring pool — Getty ImagesThe Azores is a place where you can fully release your mind and body from the stresses of life back home — Getty Images

Let’s start with the Azores, situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Politically, this archipelago is a Portuguese autonomous region, but it certainly has a character of its own that allures hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. The Azores is a relaxing destination and wellness is at the core of the way of life here; hot springs and natural spas are in abundance, people saunter along peaceful walking trails, and much of the food and drink on offer is fresh, locally sourced, and of excellent quality.

Above all, the Azores can offer you something that won’t cost you a penny extra: some of the best sunny scenery of any Atlantic island or archipelago. Lush, rolling hills, volcanoes, and crystal-clear lakes are just some of the natural features that’ll surround you, and beyond this, down by the ocean, things aren’t half bad, either. The Azores isn’t a noisy, overcrowded, tropical beach destination, which is a big part of why it’s so idyllic. But even if the water is on the cooler side, the beaches are clean, and you’ll have the chance to go dolphin or whale watching — an experience that’ll stay with you forever.

Fly to Ponta Delgada, the administrative center of the archipelago and a kind-of miniature Lisbon, and soak up some culture in the form of churches, museums, and local markets. From there, venture into the wonderful wilderness of São Miguel Island, and to explore further, make use of the regular flights to the other islands.

Canary Islands

Woman looking at sunset over jagged hills in Tenerife — Getty ImagesThe Canary Islands is a popular destination all year round — Getty Images

The Canaries — particularly Tenerife, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria — have long been a popular choice with year-round sunseekers. Located around 1,000 kilometers southeast of the Azores and just several tens of kilometers off the Moroccan coast, this Spanish archipelago is warm, picturesque and affordable. It’s also pretty easy to get to, with lots of regular flights operating from and to a huge selection of cities in mainland Europe. Could this be the Atlantic island group with the full package?…

If you like a dazzling white-sand beach, the Canary Islands are definitely for you. (Okay, some of them are more golden, but we’re guessing you’d settle.) Opportunities to surf, windsurf and dive are aplenty, for those who’re looking for a bit more dynamic an activity, there are also several national parks on the islands, offering rocky and forested landscapes for you to roam to your heart’s content. It’s especially breathtaking when the sun sets over these parks, so it’s worth timing your hike for the late afternoon.

One more thing that this part of the world is known for is its enthusiastic celebration of traditional festivals. Head to the Canaries around Shrove Tuesday (for Carnival) or in early May (for Cinco de Mayo) to witness the liveliest song and dance, the most joyous crowds, and the most elaborate costumes descend on the streets of the islands.

Tristan da Cunha

Large signpost reading 'Welcome to the remotest Island, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic" — Getty ImagesYou’d want to go just to be able to say you’ve been — Getty Images

From the most-visited group of islands on this list to the least-visited, this is definitely the wild card, but stay with us — especially if you’re the more off-grid type of traveler. Tristan da Cunha is the most remote inhabited archipelago on the planet, inconspicuously located bang in the center of the South Atlantic. It was first discovered by a Portuguese explorer in the 16th century — hence the name — but today, it’s part of a British Overseas Territory.

After the 2016 census, Tristan da Cunha’s population came to a grand total of 293, and there’s only one settlement (officially called Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, but imaginatively nicknamed “The Settlement”) on the main island. Because it’s so small and remote, coming to stay here will mean lodging with the locals and learning about their ways of life. You might be taken on a hike up a (well, the) volcano, on a walk along the rocky coastline to spot endemic wildlife, on a fishing trip with the reward of a very fresh meal, or to the island’s only pub: Albatross Bar.

You need to be pretty dedicated to visit this curious place, as the only way to get there is on a boat from South Africa… which takes six days and goes eight times a year. The technology that many of us enjoy on a daily basis — read: mobile phone signal and WiFi — also isn’t really a thing on Tristan da Cunha (though there is an internet café). If this place isn’t off-grid enough for you, we don’t know what will be.

Iceland

 

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Iceland has become really popular with tourists over the last decade or so — nowadays, there are lots of low-cost flight options to Reykjavík. And although it’s cold, it’s easy to see why people keep coming.

This island nation between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans is full of breathtaking mountains and volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, and black-sand beaches. Keen cyclists bike the Ring Road right around the island to take it all in, but if you’d rather just kick back and relax, head to the Blue Lagoon — the spa with the bright cyan geothermal pool that everyone shouts about on Instagram. And of course, if you visit Iceland in the winter, you can’t pass up the opportunity to hunt for the northern lights. Thingvellir National Park is the place to be for this, just a little way outside of the capital, where dedicated night buses run at the aurora-hunting time of year.

Once you’ve booked your flight to Reykjavík, be sure to check out our article on what to do in the surrounding area.

Greenland

Person on boat taking photograph of iceberg near Ilulissat — Getty ImagesWith its immense icebergs, Ilulissat attracts more tourists than anywhere else in Greenland — Getty Images

Like Iceland, Greenland lies between the far North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean. Unlike Iceland, it’s part of North America. But like Iceland (again), it’s politically Europen, being a constituent country of the Danish Realm. And it’s the biggest island not just in the Atlantic, but in the whole world. How can you not be intrigued by Greenland?

It’s an unusual destination, for sure, but it’s the perfect place for a proper adventure. Around 75% of the island is covered by a permanent ice sheet, meaning that it’s home to some of the largest and most impressive glaciers and icebergs on the planet. Greenland’s third-largest “city”, Ilulissat, is a translation of the Greenlandic word for ‘icebergs’, and its spectacular namesake has earned it Unesco World Heritage status, as well as the title of most popular tourist destination on the island. It’s certainly worth bearing in mind, though, that these special landscapes may not be around forever, with climate change causing the ice to melt. Basically, if you’ve ever even just thought about going to Greenland, this is your sign to do it sooner rather than later.

Once you make it here, you can take a boat tour to see the incredible frosty features up close, and you might even have a shot of hiking on a glacier. Get a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of some polar wildlife, too: polar bears, Arctic foxes, musk oxen, and whales are just some of the creatures that call this corner of the world home. And as for the people, you’ll get ample opportunity to learn about Greenland’s rich Inuit cultural heritage — unique traditions and customs that date back thousands of years, and some practices that are still usual today, like dog sledding and kayaking.

Bermuda

 

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Another British Overseas Territory and longtime popular tourist destination, Bermuda is a small island in the North Atlantic, situated around 1,000 kilometers from the east coast of the US. People visit Bermuda mostly for its pink-sand beaches — the subtle color coming from crushed coral and shells — and its clear, invitingly temperate waters. There are loads of good coastal spots in Bermuda, but the most famous (and probably the best) is Horseshoe Bay Beach. It’s a lively place that holds volleyball matches, has a great little café and bar, and there’s a cute cove on its western end where sea stacks create a calm, more secluded pool.

With it boasting such clear waters and diverse marine life, snorkeling is the outdoor activity that you must do in Bermuda, if you could only choose one. But you’ll find that opportunities to hike, bike, dive, kayak and fish are also abundant, if you really want to make the best of such a warm climate. For culture, check out the town of St. George’s on the northernmost tip of the island — the first permanent British settlement in Bermuda and a Unesco World Heritage Site today. Other highlights include the Royal Naval Dockyard and the National Museum of Bermuda (annoyingly, on the opposite end of the island from St. George’s, but you could have these spots bookend your itinerary).

If you’re thinking of booking a beach vacation this year, Bermuda’s somewhere a little different, with a unique and interesting history. But it’s still got what you’ll be looking for primarily: fantastic weather, friendly locals, and all-around good vibes.

Newfoundland

Last but by no means least on our list of the best Atlantic islands to visit, Newfoundland is a stunning Canadian island off the east coast of the mainland. Canada is a vast, safe country that welcomes millions of tourists every year. Each part of it has something different to offer, and this little patch has a certain Nordic charm to it, with rugged coastlines, towering cliffs, pristine fjords, and colorful paneled houses. Indeed, Norse explorers were the first settlers in Newfoundland, arriving in the 11th century, and Newfoundlanders (or endearingly, “Newfies”) are pretty proud of their European heritage.

For a serene escape, Newfoundland has two national parks on offer: pick Gros Morne National Park for the fjords and tablelands, Terra Nova National Park for boreal forests, or both, of course, if you have the time. Coming back into civilization, St. John’s is the largest town on the island and a surprisingly vibrant one at that, with a population of around 200,000. St John’s is where you can learn more about Newfie heritage at museums and information centers, walk up Signal Hill to get to Cabot Tower, and feast on the incredible seafood dishes that Newfoundland is famous for. Also, be sure to check out Quidi Vidi, a picture-perfect little fishing village separated from the city center by Quidi Vidi Lake.

Overall, Newfoundland is a great Atlantic island to visit for its captivating landscapes, fascinating history, and really friendly locals. If you’re planning a trip to Canada, especially for the summer months, stick it on your itinerary.

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