When the days are short, dark and cold, an island getaway is the best possible escape. Sandy beaches, ocean breezes, easy living, rum-based cocktails… what’s not to love? But not all islands are created equal, and some call to us more than others. Whatever your dream escape may be, there’s an island for you. Here are 10 of our favorites.
So many Americans and Canadians alike vacation in Maui, it’s practically a suburb of any big city on the west coast — only one with 30 miles of beaches, reliably warm weather, and the Pacific Ocean surrounding it. On a perfect day, visitors can watch the sun rise from the peak of Haleakala volcano, sunbathe all afternoon, and dine in a great restaurant at night. Less populous than Oahu but livelier than the other Hawaiian Islands, Maui is the perfect balance of chill and thrill.
Barbados, famously, is the official birthplace of rum, the “hellish liquor” that was a byproduct of the sugar cane planted here in the 16th and 17th centuries. Colonial plantation houses and old country traditions still linger in a Commonwealth nation where cricket is a beloved sport and afternoon tea is a must. Visitors can also enjoy the island’s secluded beaches, botanical gardens, Harrison’s Cave, and the traditional sipper at the annual Barbados Food and Rum Festival.
Grand Cayman in the western Caribbean is known for its high-living and low taxes, which also happen to make it a fine place to dine. Michelin stars and AAA diamonds glitter brilliantly here, and wine lists flow with Grand and Premier Cru vintages. Perhaps the biggest draw, though, is the annual Cayman Cookout where some of the world’s greatest chefs gather at the Ritz-Carlton to cook gourmet meals for attendees.
Day trippers might pop over from Naples to Capri for a dip in the storied Blue Grotto, but the best reason to visit this shockingly beautiful rocky Italian island might actually be the shopping. Luxury retailers like Fendi and Prada abound in the pretty towns of Capri and Anacapri, but shoppers can also pick up handcrafted, custom-designed sandals, perfumes, and capri pants (just like Jackie O did), then relax over caprese salad and limoncello in La Piazzetta afterward.
Just a short flight from Glasgow lies the isle of Islay, a windswept paradise for all who love charming villages, empty beaches and, above all, whisky, the water of life. The southernmost of the Inner Hebrides Islands is home to — count ’em — nine distilleries, including Laphraoig, Bowmore and Ardbeg, with the legendary Port Ellen set to reopen soon. Note that Islay whiskies are known for their smoky, peated flavour, best enjoyed fireside in a cozy pub.
Just across the bridge from the former pirate republic of Nassau, Paradise Island in the Bahamas offers more fun than you can shake a Jolly Roger at. Surrounded by white-sand beaches, it’s home to numerous resorts including the sprawling Atlantis, with its Dolphin Cay marine habitat and Aquaventure, a 141-acre waterscape with 11 swimming pools, several water slides (including the six-story Mayan Temple), and a lazy river that rolls through the tropical landscape.
What could be more idyllic than cruising through the Greek Islands, sailing serenely across the azure-blue waters of the Aegean Sea, past whitewashed villages tumbling down rocky cliffs? As your ship passes Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes and Crete, you can sip crisp white wine, dine on fresh-caught fish, soak in the sunshine and pause every once in a while to take a dip in a secluded cove or explore ancient ruins on your once-in-a-lifetime journey.
With more than 300 islands, the archipelago of Fiji is the perfect place to get beautifully lost, especially beneath the serenely aqua-blue-indigo surface of the ocean. There, divers can explore endless underwater caverns, canyons, and reefs of soft corals — more than 390 species of them — as well as some 1,200 species of fish, including sharks and barracudas. And from beachside resorts or live-aboard boats, divers of every skill level can enjoy scuba or snorkelling experiences.
When it’s winter here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, making it the perfect time to lace up your hiking books and head to the trails of New Zealand. There are thousands of miles of tracks to explore on the nation’s North and South Island, ranging from short, easy strolls to rugged, multi-day Great Walks that travel through a breathtaking variety of landscapes, ranging from rainforests to sandy beaches to active volcanoes and glaciers.
In Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Christmas is a season of pure magic. The historic buildings surrounding the Inner Harbour sparkle with millions of twinkling lights, and the famous Butchart Gardens celebrate nightly with ice skating, carousel rides, carollers, and themed light displays. There is a Victorian Christmas Craft Fair, holiday parade, gingerbread house showcase and plenty of festive teas and treats. Best of all: spring’s cherry blossoms are just a few short weeks away.