March 13 , 2022

8 Italian Islands You Can Visit by Ferry

Many travelers look to Italy for its food and culture, but save their Mediterranean island goals for Greece. With the exception of Capri, and of course Sicily and Sardinia, most visitors are unaware of the country’s smaller gems scattered all around the coast.

8 Italian Islands You Can Visit by Ferry

With some easy ferry connections, there’s no reason you can’t add a day trip or a longer Italian islands stay to your vacation. It’s best if you can make your plans for June or September for a less crowded trip, as Italians typically take their summer vacation in August.


1. Salina, the greenest Aeolian island


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Among the 7 islands of Sicily’s volcanic Aeolian archipelago, Salina offers an excellent mix of activities and beautiful scenery. Visit the vineyards that produce Zibibbo and Malvasia wines, go on a caper-tasting experience, and definitely book a boat tour to reach some hidden coves. Like the rest of the Aeolians, the beaches are mostly pebbly and rocky. Don’t miss the unique Pollara Beach, made famous by the ‘90s cinema classic Il Postino. Salina has three main towns – Santa Marina, Malfa, and Leni – so it’s a great place to rent a motorbike and explore on your own. If you’re staying longer, you can make sure to hop over to other islands like Panarea, the most exclusive island for parties and fancy yachts, and Stromboli to watch the active volcano light up at night.


Getting there: From Milazzo in Sicily’s northeast, roughly an hour’s drive from Taormina, take the high-speed 1.5-hour ferry to Salina.


2. Favignana, the blue diamond of Sicily


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If the famous town of Taormina is the ‘pearl of Sicily’, then the island of Favignana would be its diamond. The largest of the three Egadi islands, this butterfly-shaped piece off rock features some of Italy’s most gorgeous beaches along its jagged coastline. Cala Rossa and Cala Azzura are the best spots for white sand and azure waters. Cala Rotonda has a more pebbly beach, and Bue Marino is an idyllic spot for shaking out your towel on the sun-bleached ledge of an old rock quarry. This is a wonderful place for diving and snorkeling in underwater caves and taking day trips by boat across the impossibly blue Tyrrhenian Sea. The best part is, if you’re short on time, you can quickly and easily reach Favignana for the perfect day trip from Trapani or Marsala.


Getting there: Take the high-speed ferry from Trapani or Marsala to reach Favignana in just 30 minutes.


3. Maddalena archipelago, of the heavenly beaches


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Now we move from Sicily to Sardinia, where we find the next group of 7 main islands plus plenty of other islets scattered around for good measure. La Maddalena, which gives its name to the entire archipelago, is the largest island, the main port of call and gateway to the rest of these islands. Have a stroll through its colorful seaside town, the only one on the island, then head out for the beaches. It’s best to rent a car (which you can bring over on the car ferry) to really get the full impact of La Maddalena’s dozens of spectacular coves and stretches of sand, reminiscent of the Caribbean’s pure whites and turquoise blues. This would make an easy day trip if you’re staying on the Costa Smeralda, one of Sardinia’s most-visited regions.


Getting there: The main island of La Maddalena is just a 20-minute ferry crossing from Palau, about 30 minutes away from Porto Cervo on Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda.


4. Elba, a lovely place for an exile


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Italian archipelagos seem to come in groups of 7, with another case being the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. This island chain between Corsica and the coast of Tuscany includes well-known Elba Island, where Napoleon was exiled for a short period in the 1800s. Elba is not the kind of place where a mere day trip will suffice. Besides the popular summer beaches, there’s history, hiking, cycling, shipwreck diving, and culture. Discover the remains of an ancient Roman villa at Punta delle Grotte, then visit both of the villas where Napoleon spent his 9-month exile. For incredible views, take the cable car from Marciana Alta to the top of Monte Capanne, or hike the national park’s trails to reach the top on foot. Explore the old town of Portoferraio, the pink limestone city, and other centers like Marciana Marina and Capoliveri. If you can, visit in the spring or autumn to really have your pick of the sand.


Getting there: Take the ferry from Piombino to reach one of Elba’s ports in 30 minutes to an hour. The drive to Piombino is less than 2 hours from Siena or Pisa.


5. Ponza, the real Roman holiday


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Tiny Ponza, the largest of the 6 Pontine Islands, is where Romans go in the summer. Because of its miniscule size, it can be crowded in the summertime, but you won’t find many tourists of the non-Italian variety here. The island still has a quiet, authentic, and low-key appeal. A boat tour is highly recommended, as many beaches must be accessed from the coast. It’s easy to rent a small boat or book a day tour of Ponza and some neighboring islands like Zannone, Palmarola and Santo Stefano. Some literary scholars relate Ponza to the island of Circe in Homer’s Odyssey, so you can find mythical grottoes with names like the Cave of Ulysses and Cave of the Sorceress Circe. The rock-strewn curve of ‘Moon Gravel Beach’ is laid out in front of a sheer cliff just minutes from the colorful historic center and the port.


Getting there: Travel by car or train from Rome to the port at Anzio and take the 1.5-hour ferry to Ponza. From Naples, there is also a less frequent ferry trip that takes about 3 hours. 


6. Procida, a charming alternative to Capri


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Under two square miles, the pocket-sized island of Procida is an easy day trip from Naples for a more peaceful, authentic vibe than its flashy neighbor Capri. The pastel-hued fishing villages and sandy beaches have featured in two film classics – The Talented Mr. Ripley and Il Postino. It’s possible to visit many places on foot from the port, but it’s even better if you rent a bike to see more, particularly Chiaia and Chiaiolella beaches. Climb up to Terra Murata, the fortified historic citadel at the highest point of the island, which comes with exceptional panoramic views – an absolute must for those Instagram photos! Once here, you can also visit the medieval Palazzo d'Avalos and the Abbey of San Michele. Go back down to wander the colorful alleyways of Casale Vascello and spend time in the charming fishing village of Corricella, over a dish of spaghetti with sea urchin.


Getting there: Frequent ferries go from Naples to Procida in about 40 minutes.


7. Ischia, the green goddess in the Bay of Naples


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Just beyond Procida lies a serene natural paradise, a volcanic island home to legendary hot springs and thermal pools. Ischia was frequented by the ancient Greeks and Romans for the healing powers of its natural thermal waters. Try one of the dozens of natural springs on the island, or you can book a stay at an excellent spa hotel. Explore the lush emerald landscapes and manicured tropical gardens like Giardini la Mortella. From the main town of Ischia, you can visit the island’s primary landmark, the medieval Aragonese Castle that sits perched on a rocky islet reached by crossing over a scenic causeway. With more time, make sure you take in other picturesque locations like coastal Forio and the fishing village of Sant’Angelo in the west. And yes, there’s even wine! Thanks to fertile volcanic soil and ideal ocean breezes sweeping the slopes of Mount Epomeo, the ancient Romans realized this island had a way with grapes. You could take a wine tasting tour and also trek to the top of the dormant volcano.


Getting there: High-speed ferries travel from Naples to Ischia in 1 hour. In the high season, you can also take a 1-hour ferry from Sorrento or Capri.


8. Palmaria, a quiet slice of Cinque Terre


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Like the Cinque Terre, Portovenere and the three small islands just off its coast are listed by UNESCO as a ‘landscape of great scenic and cultural value’. Palmaria is the largest island, just a breath away from Portovenere. It’s easy to reach using the boats that cross back and forth regularly. Here’s the main reason to visit: if you want scenic hiking trails like Cinque Terre, but without the crowds. There’s a marked trail that takes you up high on the cliffs and down to some beaches. Hikers generally report that the path is easy, but it does have a few steep sections. The walk takes from 2 to 2.5 hours depending on how much time you leave yourself to stop and take in the scenery – this is the ‘Gulf of Poets’ after all.


Getting there: Cross over in a boat from Portovenere in just 5 minutes.