What you need to know about the largest islands in the Mediterranean
There are three major islands in the western Mediterranean Sea – Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily. Other notable islands include Malta and the Spanish Balearic Islands. In the eastern Mediterranean, notable islands include Crete, Cyprus (the third largest island in the Mediterranean) and many Greek islands. These three islands are the largest in the Mediterranean and each has its own history and culture.
This article will only deal with the three largest islands in the western Mediterranean. Each of these islands is very particular and very different from each other. If you have the chance, you should visit all three – one of the fun ways to do this is to take ferries between them.
Corsica – The Distinctive French Island
Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean and one of the 18 regions of France. It is famous for being the birthplace of Napoleon. Today, his ancestral home (called Maison Bonaparte) is a tourist attraction and a museum.
It is one of the least populated major islands in the region which will only have around a third of a million inhabitants.
- Capital: Ajaccio
- Population: 350,000
- Napoleon Bonaparte: A native of Corsica
- Country: France
Corsica has a significant degree of autonomy within France and a distinct regional identity. Corsica was a border region that could have become part of Italy, but eventually it was annexed to France in 1769. The island retains many Italian cultural elements with historical ties to the Italian region of Tuscany .
Corsica offers superb seaside landscapes, snow-capped mountains, virgin forests and picturesque villages. It’s been labeled “the island of beauty” but it’s a place few tourists outside of France bother to see.
- Known: Like the island of beauty
Corsica is an outdoor paradise with many hiking trails and idyllic beaches. It has 1,000 kilometers of coastline offering some of the best beauty in the Mediterranean (they are also ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling).
To visit Corsica is also to discover its own culture. Listen to its unique music, taste its distinctive cuisine (including strong spicy cheeses) and much more. Plan your trip with Visit Corsica.
Sardinia – The island lost in time
Sardinia is one of the two large islands of Italy and the second largest island in the Mediterranean. Officially the island is bilingual with Italian and Sardinian.
Sardinia is a breathtaking island with mountains, plains, rocky coasts, forests and long sandy beaches. Sardinia’s white sand beaches are world famous and protected – no one is allowed to remove the sand from its beaches. The sand of these beaches is truly white-white while the sea is the bluest blue. Explore the coasts and discover scalloped bays and emerald waters. Pass from nearby alpine forests to snow-white beaches.
- Capital and largest city: Cagliari
- Population: 1.6 million
- Country: Italy
Many of its landscapes remain intact and the island still retains some remnants of the ancient Nuragic civilization – a civilization that lasted until the Roman period. The island remains scattered with approximately 7,000 nuraghi – a tower-fortress type construction by the ancient Sardinians, the oldest dating back nearly 4,000 years.
- Nuraghi Towers: 7,000 Bronze Age towers dot the island
Sardinia is an island of idiosyncrasies; Sardinia is very different. It is a place where some four million sheep rule the roads. Learn about the island’s distinct culture and languages that set it apart from the rest of Italy. Plan your trip to Sardinia on its official tourism website.
Sicily – The largest and most popular island in the Mediterranean
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and has been a popular destination since Roman times. While Corsica and Sardinia are relatively isolated, Sicily has long sat at the crossroads of the Mediterranean. It’s a rich blend of Arabic, Norman, Roman, Greek, Spanish and other influences – and these influences can be seen and felt in today’s architecture and cuisine.
- Capital: Palermo
- Population: 5000000
- The biggest: The largest (and most populated) island in the Mediterranean
- Country: Italy
Sicily is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region and attracts cruise ships. Its most important landmark is Mount Etna, while its Valley of Temples preserves the best ancient Greek ruins outside of Greece today.
- Mount Etna: 3,357 meters or 11,014 feet
In Sicily, we feel the weight of history. There is archaeological evidence of humans existing there as early as 12,000 BC, and whatever happened in the Mediterranean over the years, Sicily was probably in the middle of it. Plan your trip to Sicily on Visit Sicily.