Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
Best Islands in France
There are many beautiful French Islands to explore for all kinds of travelers. The islands in France (Métropole) are perfect for a day trip or a relaxing weekend getaway, while French-speaking islands at the ends of the world are ideal for an exotic holiday.
For this piece, we asked some travel bloggers and friends to help us find the very best French Islands to visit. From lovely French islands in the Mediterranean to exotic French Caribbean islands, here’s the list of the best islands in France.
French Islands Map
Pack your bags and get ready for a wonderful island vacation! Here’s the French Islands map with our favorite islands pinpointed.
Best French Islands in the Mediterranean
The list of best French Islands in the Mediterranean includes islands in the regions of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and the island of Corsica. These French Mediterranean islands are for all holiday types, from day tours to relaxing beach holidays or more adventurous road trips.
1. Corse (Corsica Island)
The Island of Corsica, in the Mediterranean sea, lies 200 kilometers off the French Riviera. Napoleon Bonaparte’s homeland is like a small continent: its rugged landscapes, beautiful beaches, picturesque villages, and walking trails make this French Mediterranean island an ideal destination for everybody.
Corsica is one of the 13 French regions located in metropolitan France. It has only one department, and the capital is the city of Ajaccio, the starting point of most Corsica road trips.
Corsica is one of the most popular summer destinations for the French, eager to discover this island’s extraordinary landscapes. Visit Corsica for sightseeing, a relaxing beach holiday, hiking, and great food and wine.
Corsica is best explored by car, and you can transport your car by ferry or rent one on-site. Don’t underestimate The Island of Beauty as Corsica is commonly referred to: there are many things to see and do to keep you busy for one week or more!
2. Ile d’If
Ile d’If is a small island south of France, part of the Frioul Archipelago. Located off Marseille’s coast, this island fortress-prison became world-famous thanks to the novel Le Comte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Here, the hero Edmond Dantès was imprisoned for 14 years.
The island is occupied by the Château d’If, built by King François I in 1524. During its 400 years of activity, the imposing Château d’If was used primarily as a state prison. On the ground floor, the cells only allowed a life expectancy of 9 months due to imprisonment’s deplorable conditions. Upstairs, more spacious cells were reserved for wealthy or prestigious prisoners.
Until 1950, Ile d’If was inhabited by the lighthouse’s guardian and his family. Today, this small island in France is a tourist sight and one of the most popular day trips from Marseille. Numerous shuttle boats link Marseille’s Old Port to Ile d’If hourly, and the guided visit of the island and the château is fascinating. Finally, enjoy one of the best views of Marseille from the summit of the fortress.
3. Iles d’Hyères
The Iles d’Hyères, also known as the Golden Islands, is an archipelago of three main islands: Porquerolles, Port-Cros, and Le Levant. These French Mediterranean islands are off the city of Hyères at the extreme south of Provence in southern France.
This vast territory is famous for its varied land, marine & submarine landscapes, and mild climate. The three main islands are different and unique, and they fit all the ideas of a holiday.
Porquerolles is the biggest of the Hyères Islands. The north coast is made up of sandy beaches covered with pine trees, heather, and fragrant myrtles, while the south coast is steep. Porquerolles is great for hiking, beach days, biking, and snorkeling.
Port-Cros is the wildest and best-preserved of the Hyères Islands (no cars or bikes here) and the heart of Port-Cros National Park. People visit Port-Cros for the day to enjoy one of its numerous marked hiking trails.
Le Levant is a naturist paradise, home to the famous Naturist Domain of Heliopolis. On this French island, you have a magnificent beach, a cute village, and shops. Everyone is allowed to walk naked everywhere except for a few public spaces.
4. Iles Lavezzi
Suggested by Claudia | Strictly Sardinia
The islands of the Lavezzi Archipelago are among the most unique islands in France. They are right off the southern coast of Corsica, in the Strait of Bonifacio, and just a few kilometers from Sardinia.
The Lavezzi Archipelago comprises the islands of Piana, Ratino, Porraggia and Sperduto, and Cavallo. It is blessed with unique rock formations, thick Mediterranean vegetation, pristine beaches, and incredibly clear (and mostly shallow) waters that are just perfect for a summer day out.
In Lavezzi, you will find a (not accessible) lighthouse and two small cemeteries where the victims of the 1855 shipwreck of the French frigate Sémillante are buried. A couple of trails go around the island, connect the main beaches, and have a couple of viewpoints to admire the sea.
Piana island is just 300 meters from mainland Corsica, and since the water is incredibly shallow, you can literally walk there. The tiny island is characterized by dunes, thick vegetation, and a small beach with white sand.
These French islands in the Mediterranean can be visited on day trips departing from mainland Corsica or Santa Teresa di Gallura in Sardinia. Keep in mind that there is no service of sorts on the islands, so you will need to bring whatever you may need for the day.
5. Iles de Lérins
Located off the city of Cannes, the Lérins Islands are just a short boat ride away. Of the four islands that compose the Lérins, only two are inhabited: Île Sainte-Marguerite and Île Saint-Honorat.
Île de Saint-Honorat is better known for the monastery of Lérins, which was founded in 410. The monastery is still active, with the monks taking care of the complex and gardens.
Île Sainte-Marguerite is renowned for one of its past ‘residents’ – the Man in the Iron Mask, who was imprisoned on the island fortress. The man’s identity remains a secret to this day, and the story was made famous by Alexander Dumas in his D’Artagnan books – Click here for a round-trip ferry ticket to Sainte Marguerite island
While it is possible to visit both islands within a couple of hours (this Lérins Islands sunset cruise from Cannes is fabulous!), a full day is recommended for a more leisurely pace.
Best French Islands in the Atlantic
The list of best French islands in the Atlantic Ocean includes islands in the regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Normandie, Bretagne, and Pays de la Loire. Most of these islands in France are great holiday destinations for themselves, or you can combine them with other beautiful places in the region.
Lying off La Rochelle’s coast, Ile-de-Ré is an attractive and popular summer destination amongst the French, with pretty coastal towns and a lively atmosphere, especially around the port. Located between Nantes and Bordeaux, in the French region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Ile-de-Ré is linked to the mainland by a bridge allowing easy access from La Rochelle.
With more than 100 km of good cycle paths, this French island is an excellent destination to explore on two wheels to the point that many residents rarely use cars or other means of transportation.
The island has a good choice of camping grounds, hotels, bars, and restaurants. Apart from the beaches and the bike rides, the Phare des Baleine, the Fort la Prée, and the ruins of Abbaye des Châteliers are worth visiting.
On Ile-de-Ré, the oysters and fresh fish are excellent, and the fishermen have the habit of selling a small portion of their catch directly on the quays enabling them to buy a drink before going to the market.
ILE DE RE TRAVEL
7. Ile d’Oléron
Suggested by Nadine | Le Long Weekend
La Lumineuse, as Oléron is commonly referred to, is one of the best French islands in the Atlantic. Known for its agreeable climate, chocolate-box towns, notable historical attractions, beautiful beaches, and foodie delicacies (including the famed Oleron oysters), it’s a popular destination for French people and visitors alike.
Reached via a 3km toll-free bridge that spans the Atlantic Ocean between the coastal towns of Royan and La Rochelle, it makes an easy day trip from the mainland. Take the car or your bike to explore, as the island is large, but riding along the salt marshes and between the vineyards is a delightful way to experience the island.
Key things to do on Oleron Island include popping into the Citadell du Château d’Oléron to appreciate the island’s history, discovering the colorful fishermen’s huts turned art studios, and browsing the creations on display.
Take a drive out to the Chassiron lighthouse and admire the gardens and museum on site. Swim and sunbathe on one of the island’s expansive beaches, and ride Le P’tit Train de Saint-Trojan for a unique and fun way to explore the coast and pine forests of the island.
ILE D’OLERON TRAVEL
8. Mont St Michel
Suggested by Norbert | World in Paris
Mont Saint Michel is one of the most famous islands in France to visit. This tiny French island off the coast of Normandy is home to a medieval abbey dedicated to Saint-Michel, and it was an important pilgrimage center for Christians during medieval times. Mont Saint-Michel is listed UNESCO Heritage Site for its history, beautiful setting, and religious importance.
A pedestrian path links Mont Saint-Michel to the French coast during the day, but the island is cut off from the rest of the world with the highest tides. This area is known for having the highest tides in Europe, so you must be careful and leave the island well before the first waves arrive.
The island has some medieval streets with beautiful stone architecture. Some houses host small restaurants, and there are a couple of accommodation options too. Then, there’s the medieval abbey, built in the Gothic style. The construction of this abbey is very particular and had to adapt the different spaces to the island’s geography. The sanctuary’s top is crowned by a golden statue of Saint Michel, the saint patron of the abbey.
Mont Saint Michel is one of the best day trips from Paris, or you can also combine it with other stops on a Normandy road trip. We recommend staying at least one night on-site in one of the hotels in Mont Saint-Michel to enjoy the site without the crowds. If you want to visit Mont Saint Michel for the day, a guided tour with transportation is the best option.
Ile-aux-Moines is a small island in France, on the Atlantic coast in Brittany. It is nestled in the Gulf of Morbihan, which protects it from the strongest winds and waves, creating a particular microclimate. Therefore, the weather in the Gulf of Morbihan and Ile-aux-Moines is always good!
Ile-aux-Moines is an excellent day trip from Vannes, perfect for a beach day or a bike ride to explore the island. Ferry boats leave from Vannes hourly, and you can carry your bike or rent one on-site.
On Ile-aux-Moines, there is a small village with a hostel, a couple of bars and restaurants, and a food store. This island is a quiet place and a popular family destination, and renting a house for a week or a full month is very common.
Despite its small size, there are many exciting things to see and do on the island to keep you busy for the day. Ile-aux-Moines is totally flat, and there are different signposted bike paths to explore the island on two wheels. Some of these paths explore the coast, and there are some cool spots for a bath. There are also some prehistoric stone alignments free to visit, or you can decide to do a picnic on the beach.
10. Ile de Noirmoutier
The island of Noirmoutier is one of the loveliest French islands in the Atlantic. It is located in the region of Pays de la Loire and, more particularly, in the Bay of Biscay. With its dunes, pine forest, salt marshes, and peaceful life, Noirmoutier is a beach destination where life is good and time seems to slip over you.
Don’t miss Plage des Dames and its beautiful promenade, wooden pier, and pretty beach huts. For a bit of sightseeing, visit the 15th-century Château de Noirmoutier, while the rampart walk provides pleasant views of the town, the salt marshes, and the ocean. The Romanesque Saint Philbert Church and the Sealand Aquarium are also interesting to visit.
Noirmoutier is very flat, so it is perfect for exploring by bike. We particularly recommend the ride through the Bois de la Chaize, a shady forest of oak, pine, and eucalyptus trees. For lunch or dinner, you have many restaurants in the port offering great fish and seafood for all budgets.
ILE DE NOIRMOUTIER TRAVEL
Best French Caribbean Islands
The list of best French islands in the Caribbean includes four entries in the French Antilles. While Martinique and Guadeloupe are two Department-regions of France Overseas (DROM), Saint Barthélemy has had the status of Collectivité d’Outre Mer (PTOM) since 2012, and it does not belong to the European Union.
Martinique is a kind of postcard island, a tropical paradise with beautiful beaches of all kinds, sun & blue sky, and Rum everywhere. The Ile aux Fleurs (Flower Island) is one of the French region-islands in the Caribbean, very appreciated by the French when it is too cold in Europe.
The beaches in Martinique are world-famous, but this French Caribbean island also has excellent hikes, exuberant gardens, and colorful villages.
One of the best French tropical islands, Martinique also has an interesting heritage influenced by various cultures. Many museums, distilleries, gardens, and Creole houses are fun to visit, and they are a good way to learn more about the island’s fascinating history.
This island in France Overseas is perfect for a romantic holiday or honeymoon, but ecotourism is also gaining ground thanks to the island’s numerous water activities, jungle hikes, and waterfalls.
The best way to explore Martinique is with a car, as public transportation is scarce, and some of the best excursions are off the beaten path.
Guadeloupe is another of the best French Caribbean islands to visit. The island of Guadeloupe is part of an archipelago made up of five islands: Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante, La Désirade, and Îles des Saintes, as well as many uninhabited islands and outcroppings.
Guadeloupe is a postcard island with the shape of a butterfly. The island’s left side (Basse-Terre) is mountainous, wild, and with lush forests, while the right side of the island (Grande-Terre) is the beachy side of Guadeloupe.
Guadeloupe is the best French Caribbean island for nature lovers. The perfect Guadeloupe itinerary combines time spent on both sides of the main island plus a day trip or a short stay on one of the other islands. Dream landscapes, great hikes, good living, and the pleasure of the senses under the gaze of the volcano La Soufrière, Guadeloupe is all this and more.
Like neighbor Martinique, Guadeloupe is very popular amongst the French, especially during the coldest months in Mainland France. The best way to explore this French island is by car so you can enjoy the main attractions and the island’s numerous hidden gems.
13. Saint-Barthélemy (St. Bart’s)
Suggested by Isabella | Boundless Roads
Saint-Barthélemy (St Barts) is another of the French-speaking Caribbean islands worth exploring, with the perfect mix between the tropical Caribbean vibe and the European feel. Very much French in many ways, this unique tiny island is the quintessence of elegance and glamour with its world-class luxury hotels and fancy restaurants, but also packed with beautiful beaches and hiking trails.
There is an impressive amount of things to do in St Barth for such a tiny territory. The excitement starts from the very beginning of your trip when your small plane needs to make a very precise U-turn to make a perfect landing on the runaway tucked between stretches of rocks.
The best way to enjoy this French Caribbean island is to rent a car right at the airport and drive around. Impossible to get lost. If you turn right, you end up at the elegant Gustavia, the main town; if you take the street on the left, you will reach small hidden bays, where the most beautiful hotels hide for their VIP guests’ privacy. In this essential guide to St Bart’s, you will find the most amazing things to do even in a short time.
14. Les Saintes
Les Saintes is the place in the Caribbean where the sweetness of doing nothing is not a luxury but an acquired right. Here, you will find the typical French sophistication meets the laid-back and colorful Caribbean lifestyle.
The archipelago of Les Saintes belongs to Guadeloupe. It’s located 15 km from the southern coast of Guadeloupe and is made of nine islands: Terre-de-Haut, Terre-de-Bas, Grand-Îlet, Les Roches Percées, Îlet-à-Cabrit, La Redonde, La Coche, Les Augustins, and Le Pâté. Only Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas are inhabited.
In these French islands in the Caribbean, you will find pristine natural landscapes but with the necessary comforts such as hotels and restaurants. The Bay of Les Saintes is listed as one of the most beautiful bays in the world but remains largely unblemished by tourism.
If you are looking for a vacation full of secluded bays, beautiful beaches, dive sites, historical landmarks, and delicious food, then a trip to Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, is the right choice.
LES SAINTES TRAVEL
Best French Islands in the Pacific
The French islands in the Pacific are represented by French Polynesia (a COM or Overseas Collectivity) and Nouvelle Calédonie, which has a status sui generis.
15. Nouvelle Calédonie (New Caledonia)
Suggested by Christina | Travel2Next
New Caledonia (Nouvelle-Calédonie) is a French Overseas Territory in the South Pacific that consists of several islands. The main island, Grand Terre, is home to the territory’s capital of Nouméa and is surrounded by a reef. One of the main attractions of Grand Terre is its massive UNESCO World Heritage-listed lagoon, which is one of the world’s largest lagoons and home to an assortment of marine life.
Snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, and boating in the lagoon are must-do water activities to experience. On land, hiking, and golf are top attractions.
Nouméa has a relaxed vibe, and everywhere you go, you will see a unique fusion of Melanesian and French cultures. The best place to learn about this fascinating cultural diversity is the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, which is an impressive contemporary architectural structure that houses displays of Kanak culture. Other museums to tick off your to-visit list are the Museum of New Caledonia and the Maritime Museum of New Caledonia.
Nouméa also has boutiques with fashion from Paris, French-influenced restaurants, and cafés where you can drink excellent coffee and eat croissants. With spectacular white-sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and a string of remote islands, New Caledonia is one of the best French-speaking islands at the end of the world.
With a relaxed atmosphere and overwater bungalows, Tahiti is one of the most romantic honeymoon destinations in the world. It’s also where you’ll arrive when you fly into French Polynesia. However, there’s more to Tahiti than an airport and romance.
Tahiti is also one of the best islands in French Polynesia for surfing, with locations for all levels ranging from beginners to advanced. Surfing in Tahiti is so good that Tahiti was chosen to host the surfing events of the Paris 2024 Olympics from mid-July to early August. This is where you’ll find Teahupoo, considered the most challenging break in the world because of its sheer power and the deadly reef below.
Suggested by Daniel and Ilona | Top Travel Sights
One of the best French islands to visit overseas is Moorea in French Polynesia. Here, you can discover white beaches, coral reefs, migrating humpback whales, and jungle-covered mountains.
You will find many beaches along the coast where you can spend your holidays relaxing and doing nothing. When the sun gets too hot, jump into the water for a swim.
You can also rent a car and explore the island’s interior. Even though Moorea is not large, you can find lots of hiking trails in the jungle. One of the best ones takes you to 3 Cocotiers, a viewpoint from where you can see almost the whole island.
The main highlight of a trip to Moorea, though, are the humpback whales. From July to November, they migrate to the waters around the island. Moorea is one of the few places in the world where you have the chance to snorkel with them. Imagine swimming next to one of those gentle giants – it’s an experience you will remember forever!
If you arrive outside whale watching season, go snorkeling in the lagoon. Here, you can spot manta rays, sharks, and hundreds of colorful fish.
Best French Islands in the Indian Ocean
In this article, the French islands in the Indian Ocean are represented by Réunion, but there are many more!
18. Réunion (Reunion Island)
Ile de la Réunion is one of the best French islands in the Indian Ocean, and it is located between the islands of Madagascar and Mauritius. Nicknamed Île Intense (Intense Island), Ile de la Réunion is a land of contrasts and a concentration of adventure, exotism, and different flavors waiting to be explored.
Réunion is a paradise for hikers. With 40% of the territory listed as UNESCO World Heritage, this wonderful island is well-known for its volcanic, rainforested interior, coral reefs, and beaches.
The Piton de la Fournaise is Réunion’s most iconic site, and it is one of the world’s most active volcanoes today. The list of other natural wonders in Réunion includes more volcanoes, three calderas, and many fairytale waterfalls.
If you want to combine natural wonders with sightseeing, Réunion has an important number of colonial buildings from the 18th century and various museums. Also, the colorful Marché de Saint-Paul, in Saint-Paul, is worth exploring.
And there you have it, the best French islands to visit. Which islands in France – or French-speaking islands – would you like to explore right now?