Continental Europe is not short of appeal, but there’s something about an island getaway that’s rejuvenating. There are more than 100 European islands that you can visit, and each of them offer something unique and enticing. If you're planning on exploring Europe by rail, consider including at least one of these idyllic destinations. After all, they're usually just a short scenic ferry ride away from the mainland:
1. Corfu, Greece
Corfu is a beautiful and popular island off the northwest coast of Greece, located in the idyllic Ionian Sea, and it’s famous for its beautiful jagged mountains and high-end resorts along its shores. There is also a wide range of beaches with perfect swimming and watersports opportunities. And when the sun sets, many of the villages come to life with famous late-night parties.
Insider tip: Don’t spend all your time on the beach. This beautiful island is full of quaint villages and panoramic views that you can easily reach on a relaxing day trip.
How to get there: There are regular ferries to Corfu from both Italy and Greece. Eurail Pass holders with passes valid in Italy and Greece are also entitled to free deck passage.
2. Santorini, Greece
Santorini is another popular and easy to reach Greek island. It has iconic architecture, breathtaking views, and a spectacular landscape. This volcanic island has a beautiful rugged coastline, several small villages, and a perfect location in the Aegean. The sunsets from Santorini are also legendary, particularly from the town of Oia.
Insider tip: The island sees its peak tourist traffic in the summer. From December to March many stores, hotels, and guesthouses close. But if you plan a trip from April to June, or September to October, you’ll miss the crowds and score some good deals.
How to get there: There are regular ferries to Santorini from Piraeus. Eurail Pass holders get 30% off if they have already crossed the Adriatic Sea with Superfast Ferries.
3. Sicily, Italy
The island of Sicily lies on the southern tip of Italy. Although it’s separated from the mainland by just a few miles, there’s an infectious island spirit throughout. Sicily’s long history of foreign domination has left an intriguing mix of culture on this island. It’s not uncommon to hear several dialects and find a wide range of delicacies in stores and restaurants.
Insider tip: Summers in Sicily can get pretty warm, so plan your visit during spring and autumn to avoid the heat.
How to get there: There are ferries to Sicily from Livorno and Salerno. Eurail Italy Pass holders receive a 20% discount on official fares (port taxes and fixed dues excluded).
4. Capri, Italy
Capri is one of the most famous European islands and it lies in the Bay of Naples. It’s been a popular coastal resort since the time of the Romans. This small outcrop is a short ferry ride away from the shore, and yet it feels like another world altogether. Hand-painted streets signs lead you up to the village on the hill where panoramic views across the bay await. The island can be costly and overcrowded in the warmer summer months. However, spring, autumn, and even winter are often mild and show this iconic Italian island in a whole new light.
Insider tip: Combine fascinating Roman history with stunning views back towards the mainland from the ruins of the Villas of Tiberius. It’s a pleasant 40-minute walk from the town center.
How to get there: There are regular ferries to Capri from Naples and Sorrento. Eurail Pass holders don’t receive a discount on this route.
5. Ischia, Italy
If you’re looking to shy away from the famous island of Capri, then head to the less known, though significantly larger, island of Ischia. This island in the Bay of Naples often sails below the main tourism radar, particularly outside of peak seasons. But it’s a beautiful and fascinating alternative. There are several small towns along the coastline, a wide selection of fauna and flora, and the famous Ischia mud, which many allege has therapeutic powers.
Insider tip: Don’t miss the island’s natural hot springs, courtesy of its volcanic past. You’ll find them at at Sorgeto, Nitrodi, and Cavascura.
How to get there: There are regular ferries and a hydrofoil to Ischia from the city of Naples.
6. Mallorca, Spain
Mallorca is one of several famous islands in the Balearic Sea, along with Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera. It’s packed full of gorgeous beaches, diverse landscapes, and even some impressive mountains. The island sees millions of tourists in the summer months, but with its infrastructure and careful planning, it can still be a pleasant experience. Like many European islands, the shoulder seasons often mean better prices and fewer crowds.
Insider tip: Don’t miss Mallorca’s inland. The prices are lower than at the coast and offer a different viewpoint on this famous destination.
How to get there: There are regular ferries to Mallorca from Barcelona, Ibiza, and Valencia. Eurail Pass holders get a 20% discount on crossings and accommodation.
7. Hvar, Croatia
Croatia is not short of idyllic island destinations. There are a few dozen dotted throughout the Dalmatian Coast, and several hundred smaller islets you can visit. Picking just one or two to visit can be a complex task, and as such many opt for lengthy sailing trips along the coastline. But if you're travelling by train along the country's main railway line between Zagreb and Split, your most convenient option is most likely that of Hvar. During summer months the island heaves with revellers looking to soak up the island life; in the fringe seasons it all but shuts down, allowing you to soak up sublime sunsets in peace.
Insider tip: Time your trip carefully. Much of the island's tourism infrastructure shuts down when the cooler months arrive; during peak season it's a chaotic party zone with inflated prices. Aim for the beginning and end of summer for the best of both worlds.
How to get there: There are regular trains between the capital and Split. From Split, there are daily ferries to Hvar and some surrounding islands.