Written by Freddy Sherman
Updated Jan 3, 2022
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In addition to the beauty, culture, and history of Spain's continental area, its many islands offer a completely different vacation experience. Filled with their own unique attractions and appeal, Spain's Canary, Balearic, and Atlantic islands are wonderfully diverse destinations.
Spain's islands are primarily in two areas: The Balearic Islands are in the Mediterranean Sea, and the main islands include the well-known Ibiza and Mallorca (also called Majorca), as well as Menorca and Formentera. The Canary Islands are out in the Atlantic Ocean, closest to the African coast of Morocco. The main Canary Islands are Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro.
When you visit any of Spain's islands, make sure you venture off the beach, outside the resort area, and into the island's real local culture and natural beauty. For sightseeing ideas, use our list of the best Spanish islands.
The smallest of Spain's inhabited Balearic islands is Formentera, only a short ferry ride away from its loud neighbor Ibiza. Once a popular hippy destination, the Manhattan-sized island retains that laid-back vibe and is mainly a getaway spot from Ibiza or a destination for yachts. There are beautiful beaches, much less people than the other islands, yet a good tourism infrastructure that caters to the visiting yacht people.
For a bit of a luxury experience on Formentera, try the Es Mares Hotel & Spa. It's the island's only four-star accommodation and is in the village of Sant Francesc. Bicycles and beach umbrellas are free for guests, and there are many things to do. The hotel's restaurant is known for great Mediterranean cuisine and also for the famous hamburgers they serve on weekends (and during big football matches).
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Balearic Islands
Also called Mallorca, this is the largest of the Spanish Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. The island's capital is Palma, and it's where the millions of tourists who visit each year start their adventure. There are many resorts on the Palma coast that offer affordable, all-inclusive package vacations to the millions of European tourists who visit each summer.
Skip the package vacation beach resort areas like Palma Nova and visit the Posada Terra Santa, a glorious, 26-room boutique hotel in the heart of old Palma. It's in a restored palace with Gothic vibes, located a short stroll from the city's incredible 13th-century cathedral. There's a small spa, a heated pool, and it's home to one of the best restaurants in Palma, La Despensa Del Baron. The restaurant is famous for its family-style meals and its tapas.
The building dates from the 16th century, but the couple who own and run the hotel totally refurbished it with all the modern luxe amenities (like super fast Wi-Fi and a wellness program). A stay here (compared to a beach resort) allows you to explore the rich history of this Spanish island.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Majorca (Mallorca)
The largest and most populated island of the Canary Islands, Tenerife is a very popular vacation destination. It's in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of West Africa, and has beautiful beaches and striking natural scenery including a dormant volcano (Spain's highest peak).
A good adults-only beachfront resort option on Tenerife is the Royal Hideaway Corales Beach. It's in the village of La Caleta on the Costa Adeje, in the southwest part of the island. The resort has a full spa with a hydrotherapy circuit pool and a large fitness center (open 24 hours).
The luxury resort focuses a lot of attention on the rooms, creating more than a place to sleep and rest – most offer large terraces and sweeping ocean views, along with spa-like bathrooms.
Golfers (and golf widows and children) will love the Abama Golf resort. The championship course is on the west face of the Tiede Volcano, and the elevated position gives almost every hole spectacular ocean views.
- Read More: Best Places to Visit in the Canary Islands
The most famous of the Balearic Islands is more than the EDM (electronic dance music) dance clubs it's mainly known for. Venture a bit outside Ibiza Town to discover deserted beaches, rugged sand dunes, and pine forests, as well as history dating back 3,000 years to the time of the Phoenicians.
The island's main little town and its beachfront areas are dotted with restaurants, cafés, and some huge dance clubs. Every place you go, from hotels to stores to restaurants, seems to have their own DJ.
A great beach resort option in the more peaceful town of Santa Eulalia is the Iberostar Selection Santa Eulalia Ibiza. This adults-only, all-inclusive resort delivers on the ultimate Ibiza vacation experience with a private area on s'Argamassa Beach, endless activities and entertainment, and excellent food. Ibiza Town is just a short drive away if you are looking for more nightlife options.
5. Gran Canaria
One of the few places in the Spanish islands to find black-sand beaches, Gran Canaria is a popular Canary Island resort (and cruise ship port) destination. Drive a few minutes outside the city, and you'll be rewarded with a raw, mountainous landscape that is just waiting for adventure tourism.
Playa de la Garita is one of the island's black-sand beaches. You can go mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, and more, then spend the afternoon enjoying some of the world's most beautiful beaches.
Combine a beach vacation with a stay in a historic boutique hotel in the Vegueta neighborhood of the island's capital of Las Palmas. The Veintiuno is a very popular, highly rated hotel in the shadow of the cathedral. Housed in an 18th-century mansion, the hotel offers luxe rooms; warm, personal service; and excellent food. The hotel is near CAAM, the Atlantic Center for Modern Art, the island's world-class modern art museum. Escape the heat and enjoy works from modern masters like Dali, Kandinsky, and Klee after a morning on the beach.
The Balearic Island of Menorca can almost serve as an antidote to the constant electronic beats of Ibiza or the crowded, touristy streets of Mallorca. It retains a lot of its rural history, with whitewashed villages and a much slower pace than its neighboring islands.
Spend some time walking or riding along the Cami de Cavalls, the 185-kilometer-long (115-mile) trail that goes all around the island's coastline. The ancient trail, first created in 1330 to allow settlers to defend the island on horseback, is divided into 20 well-signposted segments. You can hike them individually (each segment takes between 90 minutes and four hours) or do them all for the ultimate Menorcan adventure. There are various types of accommodations, from campsites to boutique hotels, located along the trail.
Stay overlooking the harbor of Mahon in the Artiem Carlos boutique hotel. This adults-only hotel is close to Es Castell shopping and a 10-minute drive from popular beaches like Punta Prima or Cala Mesquida. It's also only about 15 minutes from the airport, making your transfers quick and easy.
Any mention of Spanish islands needs to include Lanzarote. The home of affordable package vacations, the island still manages to impress visitors every time, thanks to miles of picture-perfect beaches lapped by warm, blue water. These beautiful beaches are combined with some striking natural beauty, much of which was created by volcanic eruptions as recently as the 18th century. You can climb mountains or explore caves created by rivers of lava.
Accommodations are all in white, green, or blue and for the most part, the island has been spared any kind of high-rise development. Skip the Playa Blanca area and head for the family- and dive-friendly area of Puerto del Carmen.
The all-suite Aqua Suites in Puerto del Carmen is a great hotel for families. The rooms are half-board, which means breakfast and dinner are included in the rate. The units are large, each with a private, furnished terrace. The bright white resort is about 10 minutes from the beach and 10 minutes from Old Town downtown area.
8. La Palma
La Palma the island, not to be confused with Las Palmas the capital city of Gran Canaria, is another Canary Island. It's the most northern and the most western of the Canary Islands, making it the most remote. It's a popular destination for stargazers, and there are many observatories here, along with strict light laws.
The landscape of the island is beautiful, with mountains and forests, along with spectacular beaches. Most of the land is protected from development, and the whole island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The Hotel Hacienda de Abajo is a luxurious boutique hotel decorated in the style of the 17th-century sugar plantation it once was. It's the historic Tazacorte quarter, and the hotel makes a great base from which to explore the island. There are 32 rooms and suites, and each is uniquely designed. The walled compound consists of four buildings surrounding an inner garden courtyard. Now filled with tropical plants and wildlife, it was formerly the estate's orchard.
This Canary Island is the second largest (and probably the windiest) in the archipelago and is popular for water sports like surfing, jet skiing, waterskiing, and especially windsurfing. It's surrounded by white-sand beaches with brilliant turquoise water.
If you want some excitement with your visit, stay in Corralejo, which has restaurants and a bit of a nightlife scene. Morro Jable is another beach resort area.
The Barcelo Castillo Beach Resort is a value-oriented, all-inclusive, family-friendly beach resort right on the sand in Caleta de Fuste. If you love water sports, this is the place for you. Guests can enjoy unlimited non-powered water sports, and the windy beach means you can have fun for hours in the water. There's also a large scuba center and the area is great for diving.
10. Ons Island
This virtually uninhabited island is a protected national park but can be visited by private boat or ferry. You can even camp (or glamp) overnight, rent a minimalist cabin, or stay in the sole guesthouse. Ons Island is in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Pontevedra in Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain.
There are marked trails on the island where you can walk, run, bike, and bird-watch. There are multiple virgin beaches where you will probably find yourself completely alone. The island has one restaurant and guesthouse located near the ferry port called Casa Acuna.
Ferry boats run from Bueu from June 1 through September 30, and private boats are available at other times.
11. Cies Islands
Also part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, the Cies Islands are a popular destination. Most people take a ferry from Vigo, and only a limited number of people are allowed to visit each day to preserve the pristine environment. The main season is June through September, although the ferries start running on May weekends and keep going into October if the weather is nice.
It should really be called the Cies Archipelago, as there are three separate islands. Two are connected by a thin strip of sand, previously named the best beach in the world as it has water on both sides.
You can camp here with a permit, but space is limited. There are a few small restaurants on the island and a small market near the campground.
12. La Gomera
The second smallest of the inhabited Canary Islands is only a 40-minute ferry ride from Tenerife. Once on the island, you'll find some amazing, volcanic landscapes, along with beaches and a lot of areas to explore. There are mountains and a lot of valleys, all of which can be explored on foot, mountain bike, or horseback.
The inhabitants of La Gomera use a special whistling language to communicate in the forest-they can be heard up to two miles away. The island has some fascinating ancient history and is well-known as the departure point for Christopher Columbus and his three famous ships.
Paradors are Spanish luxury hotels constructed in buildings of historic or architectural significance. The Parador de la Gomera is a boutique hotel on a hill overlooking the sea (all the rooms have private balconies) and the town of San Sebastian de La Gomera. The excellent restaurant focuses on regional cuisine, with most products directly sourced from the local area. In town and along the seafront, there are many small resort hotels and vacation apartments.
13. El Hierro
This remote Canary Island is the smallest of the island chain yet still draws a large number of tourists each year. Like the other Canary Islands, El Hierro is volcanic in origin and has steep mountains rising quickly from the beautiful beach areas. There's a small airport and a ferry terminal-most people fly here or take the ferry from Tenerife.
For centuries, the island was classified as the prime meridian, where longitude was measured from. It's the perfect place to visit to escape from everything and enjoy some unspoiled natural beauty and great Spanish food.
Most of the island's accommodations are in small, family-run guesthouses. The best accommodation is the island's Parador de El Hierro. This luxury boutique hotel is housed in a historic building at the base of a dormant volcano on a pebble beach. There's a saltwater pool, a small restaurant, and rooms that overlook the postcard-like beach and water.