Picture of the Fair Isle, Scotland

The coast of Fair Isle, Scotland

Photograph by blickwinkel/Alamy

By Leslie Thomas

From the National Geographic book The 10 Best of Everything

Leslie Thomas is a successful writer in England who's been in the business for more than 40 years. He has written more than 30 novels and several travel books, such as Some Lovely Islands, My World of Islands, and The Hidden Places of Britain. Given his interest in islands, we thought he was the natural source for naming the ten best islands.

  1. Nantucket, Massachusetts

    Nantucket was once one of the richest places in America, built on the profits of the whale oil industry. Even today in the delectable old town there are fine brick houses with silver mailboxes.

    Old-time sailors used to call Nantucket “The Little Grey Lady of the Sea.” On the misty morning I first arrived there, I could understand why. A woman was riding a horse along the beach to the utter delight of her family aboard my ferry, and she bore a banner that said “Crazy Aunt Rides Again.” It is a unique place.

  2. Isles of Scilly, England

    These are the outriders of England, a clutch of tiny islands off Land's End, Cornwall, awash in the Atlantic and in a world of their own. Five are sparsely inhabited, and hundreds more islets, skerries, and rocks stretch out to the Bishop Rock Lighthouse. The next stop is America.

    Balmy Atlantic air supports the spring flower industry. Part of the Duchy of Cornwall, the isles are owned by Prince Charles.

  3. Saba, Netherlands West Indies

    During my years of island finding, I have been to most places in the CaribbeanBarbados, Antigua, Jamaica, and many islands much smaller. But the most unusual is Saba, east of the U.S. Virgin Islands, rising almost 873 meters (2,864 feet) above the sea. It is home to 1,500 inhabitants, many of whom have the same family name: Hassell.

  4. Canary Islands, Spain

    Europeans flock to the Canary Islands in winter in search of a little sun. Temperatures range between 70°F and 75°F through January and February.

    On Tenerife stands one of Europe’s loftiest peaks, Mount Teide, snowcapped in winter against a deep blue sky. You can watch whales or sail over to Gomera, which was the final stop Columbus made before he set out and discovered America.

  5. Fair Isle, Scotland

    Fair Isle is the most isolated inhabited island in Britain. It is home to only about 70 people, but hundreds of thousands of birds reside here as well. Most of the visitors to this wild and wonderful place are bird-watchers. Sheep placidly graze on the steeply angled meadows.

  1. Lord Howe Islands, Australia

    Lord Howe is way out in the middle of the Tasman Sea, a two-and-a-half-hour plane ride from Sydney. It takes days by boat. However you get there, the journey is worth it.

    Named after a British admiral, Lord Howe is the world’s most southerly coral island. About 350 people call it home, many descended from families who settled there in the 18th century.

  2. Capri, Italy

    Capri is the only island I have ever visited that is just as I imagined it would be. The lyrical songs are only too true. The town square itself takes some believing. It’s like a stage, and not much bigger either. There are colored balconies all around and a lovely campanile, where the clock divertingly chimes not to mark the time but whenever it feels like it. From the highest point on the island, you can look across to the volcano of Vesuvius with the Italian coast stretched out over a shining sea.

  3. Channel Islands, United States

    People rarely venture out to the Channel Islands from the California mainland, although it seems just a stone’s throw away. The most accessible, and famous, is Santa Catalina, which I reached in two hours by ferry from the port of Los Angeles. There I found a placid village called Avalon, a calm bay, and a famous prewar dance hall—round like a fortress—where the big bands once played.

  4. Tahiti, French Polynesia

    These days, travelers will tell you that Tahiti is no longer a dream. True, it has an international airport, and smart hotels rise within sight of the coral reef. I have seen the changes over the years, yet the island is still beautiful and still rises suddenly green to the cloud-touched mountaintops. At least from the sea, before you come too close, you can still see Tahiti as Paul Gauguin saw it— in all its extravagance and romance—when he voyaged there from France to paint.

  5. Islands of the Andaman Sea, Thailand

    The joy is to watch how these islands are transformed by changing distances, by sunlight, by clouds. On some, there is a sliver of beach, just enough from which to swim; others are edged with little villages built on boards, the houses tied together. All are tropical paradises: Koh Phi Phi, Koh He, Koh Racha, Koh Surin, Koh Dok Mai, to name some of the favorites. Koh Phuket serves as a good jumping-off point. After being devastated by the 2004 tsunami, these islands have made a comeback.

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