European islands without a lot of tourists: 10 of the best underrated islands

If the likes of Capri, Skye and Rhodes sound like they're going to be a little too crowded for your tastes, then Europe has plenty more island options …

1. Mljet, Croatia

Some of the Croatian islands have attained a cool, chic status that Mljet will never get to. Brac and Korcula have been hip for quite some time now. But Mljet stays in the shadows, visited by a few people on the ferry from Dubrovnik. It stays under the radar largely because it doesn't have an obvious must-see attraction. It's just a few villages, a couple of pretty churches, some blissful forest walking trails, and a lake in the middle where the moochers can cool off.  It's pretty much the dictionary definition of idyllic. See mljet.hr.

See also: Croatia's Naked Island reveals some sobering truths

2. Alonnisos, Greece

The Greek islands that tend to get the attention are those in the south of the country, but head a bit further up and the Sporades group is largely forgotten. Of these, Alonnisos is the nature lover's dream. Astonishingly, it's home to Greece's only National Marine Park, and the wetlands provide a haven for bird life. Boat tours head out to find dolphins, rare monk seals and gliding falcons. See visitgreece.gr.

3. Andros, Greece

Even the better known Greek Island chains have islands that don't get the attention they deserve. The Cyclades are an easy ferry hop from Athens, and the party crowds head to Mykonos and Ios, while Santorini pulls in the more romantically inclined. But then there's Andros, second largest of the Cyclades and one of the closest to Athens. It is riven with valleys and ancient footpaths, making it prime territory for walkers. The main town, Hora, is full of handsome ship-owners' mansions, but the charm comes from camping among the olive trees. See Andros.gr.

See also: How to escape the crowds on Greece's largest island

4. Aland, Finland

Part of Finland, but Swedish-speaking, the Aland archipelago lies adrift in the Baltic Sea, left to do pretty much its own thing. Main island Aland is deliciously flat, and thus perfect for pootling around on a bike. There are a few museums that dip into the islands' history and maritime traditions, but mainly the pleasure comes from the tranquil meandering around the cute wooden houses and linden trees. See visitaland.com.

5. Mainland, Scotland

Scotland's Western Isles have the attention-grabbing scenery, but the Orkney Islands off the north-eastern tip have the heritage sites. Over the years, several Neolithic settlements have been uncovered on the largest island, known as Mainland. Maes Howe is a 5000-year-old stone age tomb, while Skara Brae is the best-preserved prehistoric village in northern Europe. It's not all old stuff, though – there's also the Highland Park whisky distillery and some of the world's best coldwater diving to check out. Scapa Flow, one of the world's largest natural harbours, is where seven German World War I ships were sunk – and divers can swim around them. See visitorkney.com.

See also: Scotland - a beginner's guide

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6. Ilha de Tavira, Portugal

Part of southern Portugal's Parque Natural de Ria Formosa, Ilha De Tavira turns the stock images of an Algarve beach on their heads. Usually it's quaint coves with multi-coloured cliffs, or pounding Atlantic surf.

Ilha de Tavira is none of that – just a vast 11km stretch of near white sand, with usually duckpond-esque waters gently lapping away at it. The sunbeds and bars are near where the ferry docks, but you really don't have to walk far to get a vast swath of beach to yourself. See visitalgarve.pt.

See also: Twenty reasons to visit Lisbon

7. Formentera, Spain

Of Spain's Balearic Islands, Menorca is the traditionalist one, Mallorca the great all-rounder and Ibiza the party island. And poor Formentera gets forgotten about, unless considered as a day trip from Ibiza.

Well, if it's a proper chill out you're after Formentera is the spot. There's very little to do there, and that's why it's ace. It's the Balearic white sand and blue seas that attracted the masses in the first place, with none of the resulting baggage. See Formentera.es.

See also: Twenty things that will shock first-time visitors to Spain

8. Elba, Italy

Known largely as the island Napoleon was banished to, Elba still celebrates that heritage. The Villa dei Mulini was Napoleon's rather lavish home. But the rest of the island is studded with cove beaches that are usually accessible only by clambering down steep stairs from the road. It also does a nice line in olive and wine production. Tenuta La Chiusa is the oldest wine estate, and offers simple self-catering accommodation too. See tenutalachiusa.it

See also: Italy's beautiful hidden beaches

9. The Lofoten Islands, Norway

Usually skipped by cruise ships heading north, the Lofoten Islands make an unforgettable first impression, with their craggy jagged peaks rising out of the sea. The four main islands are connected by road, and offer some serious hiking up the steep peaks. They're also a good bet for high speed boat tours through spectacular narrow channels. Quirky museums include Magic Ice – which tries to tell the islands' story through ice sculptures. See visitnorway.com.

10. Gozo, Malta

Malta's little cousin has some magical coves and coastal caves, plus top snorkelling and diving spots.  But it also throws in a fair bit of heritage too. Main town Victoria throws in a handsome cathedral and castle combo, while the megalithic Ggantija temples are at least 5000 years old. The extra effort required to get there means it's much quieter than its bigger neighbour. See visitgozo.com.

See also: Summer is coming: Australia's best beach towns

See also: A crazy place to go swimming

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