From clusters of islands in Europe and Asia all the way to the Caribbean, these islands were voted the most picturesque on the planet by Condé Nast Traveller in this year’s Readers’ Travel Awards. Here’s a little more about each island as well as why we think they deserved to be included on the list:
20. Hvar & Dalmatian Islands, Croatia
Hvar & Dalmatian Islands, Croatia | Overall Rating: 80.264
One of the most glamorous islands in the Adriatic Sea, Hvar plays host to the see-and-be-seen scene of the Dalmatian Islands. The island’s main city, Hvar Town, exudes beauty, too, with 13th-century walls surrounding delicate Venetian architecture and pedestrian-only marble streets.
Pro tip: Join the new Riviera’s most fashionable at the Top, Adriana Hvar Marina Hotel & Spa’s chic rooftop bar, overlooking the yacht-filled marina. The hotel also offers incredible spa services, including a rooftop lounge with cabanas for massages and an indoor-outdoor seawater pool.
19. Cebu, Philippines
Cebu, Philippines | Overall Rating: 80.404
The most densely populated island in the Philippines, Cebu is famous for its beaches, on the mainland as well as around many of the surrounding islands. Not as wild as Phuket in Thailand, Cebu City is more personal, with plenty of up-and-coming restaurants and shopping.
Pro tip: To get a true taste of island life, head off the grid on the Camotes Islands, two hours east of Cebu. Bring cash because there are no ATMs.
18. St Lucia
St. Lucia | Overall Rating: 80.569:
Nature doesn’t get more photogenic than St. Lucia’s Pitons, two mountainous volcano spires on the southern end of the island. Covered in lush rainforest and luxurious resorts, the Caribbean country is a popular honeymoon spot.
Pro tip: Check out Anse Cochon (“Bay of Pigs”), accessible only by boat, to swim, dive, or snorkel over an unspoiled reef and a shipwreck.
17. Orkney Islands, Scotland
Orkney Islands, Scotland | Overall Rating: 80.603
Find Viking influences alive and well on the archipelago off the northeastern coast of Scotland. With neolithic UNESCO sites alongside beaches with bright blue water, the islands are dominated by the Mainland, a central island full of lush farmland. The varied landscape across the nearly 70 islands makes it a perfect spot to go to the beach, discover archeological sites, and explore Scottish moorland.
Pro tip: Stay with Alan and Joyce Craigie at the Creel Restaurant With Rooms in one of the three open rooms above their restaurant. Don’t forget to try their fresh seafood.
Maldives | Overall Rating: 80.833
There’s more ocean than land in the Maldives, a chain of tiny islands and coral atolls far out in the Indian Ocean. Most of the accommodations are on stilts over the water, in high-end luxury resorts (many eco-friendly) that cater to honeymooners and serious divers alike.
Pro tip: The Maldives are full of coral reefs that formed around volcanoes in prehistoric times, now sunken to form atolls. The reefs shelter thousands of species of fish, turtles, whales, and dolphins. Many resorts on the islands offer snorkeling excursions for guests looking to explore the underwater landscape.
15. Boracay, Philippines
Boracay, Philippines | Overall Rating: 80.856
This itty-bitty island (just under 4 square miles) in the Western Philippines is as close to the tropical idyll as you’ll find in Southeast Asia, with gentle coastlines and transporting sunsets. Add in a thriving nightlife scene, and you have one of the top tourist spots in the region.
Pro tip: The aptly named White Beach is Boracay’s main draw, with powdery white sand and shallow azure water ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
14. Mykonos, Greece
Mykonos, Greece | Overall Rating: 80.938
Said to have been where Hercules killed the invincible giants, Mykonos is steeped in mythological history. A popular cruise ship stop, the island is more recently known for its raucous party reputation that would impress even Dionysus.
Pro tip: Avoid July and August to miss the major crowds and get a better sense of local life. Head to Little Venice, an uncrowded neighborhood full of tavernas. While in the area, stop by Kounelas, close to the harbor, to eat what locals say is the best fish.
13. St. John, US Virgin Islands
St. John, USVI | Overall Rating: 80.939
This small isle in the Caribbean Sea hasn’t been overrun by development, thanks to the fact that two-thirds of the landmass is national parkland. It makes an ideal getaway for hikers seeking out jungle trails and snorkelers who’ll nose down over the surrounding reefs.
Pro tip: With its shallow, turquoise water and soft sand, St. John’s Trunk Bay is often counted among the finest beaches in the world. Explore the diverse marine life with a snorkeling expedition along the Underwater Trail through a coral reef.
12. British Virgin Islands
British Virgin Islands | Overall Rating: 80.960
The eastern chunk of the Virgin Islands archipelago is a laid-back, less developed alternative to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Made up of about 60 islands—many uninhabited—the beaches, rum bars, and shipwreck sites of the BVI are best explored by boat.
Pro tip: Swim among towering boulders at the Baths, a national park on the shoreline of Virgin Gorda. Giant rocks deposited by ancient volcanoes shelter sea pools and grottos teeming with marine life.
11. Cook Islands
Cook Islands | Overall Rating: 81.326
Ever dreamed of escaping to a remote island? Only a short flight away, the Cook Islands, nestled between New Zealand and Hawaii, are a true paradise, with coral lagoons, limestone caves, and pearl fields.
Pro tip: Surf-minded travelers should head to the northern side of Rarotonga to find the more intense waves.
10. Tasmania, Australia
Tasmania, Australia | Overall Rating: 81.810
Thrill seekers and nature-lovers alike flock to Tasmania, off the south coast of mainland Australia, for its challenging hikes (and breath-taking views).
Pro tip: Check into the Saffire Freycinet. “There’s no point in trying to compete with a setting as majestic as the Freycinet Peninsula, with its powder-white beaches and iridescent-blue bays,” says a reader.
9. Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece | Overall Rating: 81.947
No island group is so shrouded in myth as this chain in the Aegean Sea. Santorini, on the southernmost end of the Cyclades, is a volcanically formed island with dramatic cliffs, ancient ruins, and picturesque towns that’s said to be the inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis.
Pro tip: Watch the sun set from Oia, a small village on the southwestern coast made up of whitewashed structures and cave houses built into the cliff side.
8. Bali, Indonesia
Bali, Indonesia | Overall Rating: 82.330
There’s nothing quite like Bali. It’s the kind of place where you’ll eat the best fresh fish of your life on the beach with your feet in the sand. You’ll watch whole families zoom by on motorbikes, or maybe a monkey will steal your glasses at Uluwatu temple. Every experience on this beautiful island is memorable.
Pro tip: Avoid Denpasar, where you fly in, and Kuta, a tourist trap; visit culturally rich Ubud instead, or take a few days to venture north to Munduk in the mountains.
7. Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Vancouver Island, BC, Canada | Overall Rating: 82.495
Vancouver Island is consistently voted as one of the top islands in Canada; a place where you need to stay as long as possible, since there is simply “so much to see and do.” Pick from salmon fishing, wine tasting, sailing, strolling along beaches and nature trails, or learning about glassblowing.
Pro tip: Check into Wickaninnish Inn, “a paradise at the end of the world,” says our readers. This cedar-plank inn is at the gateway to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. After a walk on “one of the most beautiful beaches,” enjoy a hot soak in an oversized tub with aromatherapy bath salts.
6. Great Barrier Reef & Whitsunday Islands, Australia
Great Barrier Reef & Whitsunday Islands, Australia | Overall Rating: 83.420
The Great Barrier Reef consists of more than 3,000 individual reef systems and hundreds of islands, a living structure so vast that it’s visible from outer space. The 74 islands of the Whitsundays offer some of the best snorkeling and sailing in the world. Lucky country indeed.
Pro tip: The waters of Whitehaven Beach are renowned for their swirling bands of colors, a mix of blues, greens, and whites created by changing tides mixing the silica sand and sea.
Bermuda | Overall Rating: 84.245
Though this small island sits in the North Atlantic, its climate is decidedly subtropical. A British Overseas Territory, Bermuda is a melting pot of British, American, and Caribbean cultures, and offers tons of things to do: snorkeling near pink-sand beaches, golfing, shopping, museum hopping, and more.
Pro tip: Bermuda is riddled with watery underground caverns, its most famous being the Crystal and Fantasy Caves. Tours take you on a walkway over eerily clear water, with pale stalactites hanging overhead. One of the site’s first visitors? Mark Twain.
4. Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Waiheke Island, New Zealand | Overall Rating: 84.447
A mix of Nantucket and Sonoma, with a dash of Kiwi charm thrown in for good measure, the jewel of the Hauraki Gulf is a wine-lover’s nirvana and only 30 minutes from Auckland by boat. The island hosts a manageable number of vineyards and great restaurants, perfect for a day escape from the mainland. With beaches on the north side of the island and WWII tunnels to explore, there is no lack of excitement on Waiheke.
Pro tip: Rent a car, or better yet a driver, and go on a day trip through the Waiheke vineyards.
3. Moorea, French Polynesia
Moorea, French Polynesia | Overall Rating: 84.656
Due northwest of Tahiti and surrounded by a bright blue lagoon, this volcanically formed island is comprised of verdant mountains jutting up behind white-sand beaches. In the interior, you can explore the ruins of marae—crumbling temples built by the islands inhabitants.
Pro tip: Snorkel to your heart’s content at the Lagoonarium de Moorea, a protected part of the lagoon where you can explore a coral reef teeming with sharks, rays, and thousands of fish.
2. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Bora Bora, French Polynesia | Overall Rating: 84.756
This island was voted the most photogenic place on Earth in 2014, and it’s no wonder. Shielded by a protective barrier reef, Bora Bora’s famous lagoon is all the colors of the rainbow, crisscrossed by (friendly) manta rays and sharks.
Pro tip: Bora Bora’s luxe accommodations are mostly in thatched-roof bungalows extending over the lagoon. The swankiest of all is the St. Regis, complete with a spa that has its very own island.
1. Palawan, Philippines
Palawan, Philippines | Overall Rating: 85.937
This small island—one of the Philippines’ 7,107—shot to the top of our list again this year with a recent claim to fame: It’s now home to one of the new seven natural wonders of the world, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River.
Pro tip: Palawan’s natural wonder is one of the longest underground rivers in the world, traveling five miles through a subterranean cave system. Guided boat tours take visitors down a portion of the waterway, where karsts, natural rock formations created by dissolving limestone, loom in every direction.
Well there you have it, the twenty most beautiful islands in the world. Makes me want to book a flight and start exploring.
Do you agree with the list? Were you happy to see Waiheke represented? Do you think they missed something? Let us know in the comments section or on social media.
All images provided by Getty.