The travel is becoming a thing again. And with it, some of us will look for bargains. Today I am covering my top 5 affordable island holiday destinations in Europe. All are within easy reach and offer their own airports with direct flights from most large European air travel hubs.
Located off the north-eastern coast of Greece and sitting in the Ionian sea, Corfu offers it’s own airport, Mediterranean climate and a diversity in the landscape and available attractions.
The island offers great beaches (think Moratika & Messongi for families, Kavos for ravers and Issos for a mix of both), a decent number of historical sites and reasonable prices on car hire if you’d like to tour the island on your own (I’d recommend car over scooter which is safer AND will work better on hills). The locals are pleasant to the point of making you part of the family and the food, for the most part, is good. Avoid the very touristy cafes right on the beach (mainly catering to British children’s taste for chips and slightly stale cod) if you’d want a more authentic Greek cuisine. Most hotel restaurants are also good and if you’d like to feel like a greek god/goddess, rent yourself a traditional villa or a flat overlooking the sea.
With a fantastic, rugged shoreline spend some time on a boat – whether it’s for the Blue Caves, beach hopping or one of the popular ‘full day cruise with a BBQ’ offerings, it’s worth getting around. If you’d also like to clock off another country, Albania is next door with day trips from Corfu available.
Malta is an island and it’s own country, which also incorporates the island of Gozo. Although in theory this is not one of the cheapest destinations in Europe, in practice you can do it really inexpensively. To travel around the island, use the Malta buses until you get bored of them – there is a fairly decent network of moderately uncomfortable yet charming public transport buses which crisscross the island between major cities and key places of interest. Car rental is also affordable.
Snorkelling day trips are great and inexpensive – one word of advice, use regular tourist cruiser instead of speed boats if you suffer from motion sickness or have not been on the water much before. They’re also cheaper – pick something which goes around Comino (Blue Lagoon is a must) and/or Gozo for a spot of really clear water. The island’s geography is diverse, so if you get bored of the water and the interesting architecture, hiking is good.
Off water, make sure to spend an afternoon in the capital, Valletta. It’s beautiful with it’s elegant architecture and cosy restaurants. The island has the sort of history which is easy to romanticise and get lost in, so use your time there to learn about the Order of the Knights and Malta’s history. If you have time, also drop by to Mdina for another dose of history and architecture.
This is by far my favourite old people’s destination and I still wonder how younger people have not yet caught on. Why do I say that? Madeira is crawling with retirees but it really has all the facilities for an outdoorsy millennial too. This presence of older people does have a benefit of making everything solid and of good quality but also just a little slower and a little less spicy – you’ll still get a hangover from the wine, but you’ll be unlikely to get into a brawl and I like that.
The coastline is rugged and exciting with a fair chunk of the coastal road being cut directly in the mountainside (with crazy stone tunnels, it’s an experience!). It’s a dream to drive around and the views are great where the old road is still available. If you are in a rush, the island also offers a proper motorway and modern versions of the tunnels which lack in charm but compensate in convenience. Food wise, everything is affordable and fresh but a bit less exciting than on the Portugal’s mainland. Many restaurants recommend green wine with their seafood platters, but honestly only try it once, it’s a bit rank and very sour. Switch to Madeira wine instead with your dessert and you’re sorted – the Madeira wine in Madeira is like drinking Port in Porto – a delicious experience.
While the island is easy enough to drive around, Funchal city is a little challenging and very hilly – use that hand brake liberally. It offers excellent architecture and also beautiful botanical garden with an elevated view of the city and coast,which is perfect for a relaxing family afternoon.
The island is good for on-water activities and for hiking (try walks along the levadas in the mountains) making it the best of both worlds.
The little sister of Mallorca, Minorca is less expensive and less popular with the British drunks who plague Spanish islands most summers. The island offers just as fun of a shoreline and boating activities as the other Balearic Islands but is a little more peaceful (not to say more civilised).
The highlights include picturesque architecture (be sure to stroll through Binibeca and visit the neolitic tombs Naveta d’es Tundons), traditional vineyards and Monte Toro viewpoint. Ciutadella, the capital of the island, also offers peculiar charm so spend some time there.
Water activities include tours around the island for snorkelling and diving, sailing lessons, kayaking and fishing.
There is also a large natural park which is perfect for hiking.
For more of an urban entertainment, find the bar hidden in the caves on the cliffside. Enjoy!
Keeping up with the theme of Spanish islands, Tenerife closes my list. A volcanic island with numerous black sand beaches amongst others in a more familiar colours, Tenerife is large enough to call for two airports – be mindful of that when booking flights and hotels.
Tenerife’s offering is not dissimilar to the other islands within the Canaries and it is in fact the biggest one in the archipelago. In addition to water activities it also offers excellent hiking trails and quad biking around Mount (volcano) Teide.
The food was not my favourite, but there are some very good restaurants around the island too, including some at the beach front that are not entirely touristy.
The highlights, aside from the beaches include whale and dolphin watching boat tours (very fun), really good snorkelling options (the marine life in surrounding waters is diverse) and kayaking tours if you’d rather take things slow.
If you are in the UK, our government is really making an effort to keep us spending in the country and not abroad. However, this article includes a list of budget-friendly European islands and Great Britain or in fact any of the British Isles just doesn’t make the top 5. If you are able to travel abroad this summer, where to?