In the waters between Sicily and the Italian peninsula are the Aeolian Islands, an archipelago comprised of seven volcanic islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea. A favorite destination for vacationing Italians, the islands are diverse, dreamy, and sometimes even explosive. They’re also well worth the extra effort required to visit. Many travelers arrive by boat to the shores of Stromboli, where they can see the eponymous hyperactive volcano that spews lava and gas regularly. Others take a ferry to the island of Vulcano to climb up to the crater of its namesake natural wonder — though active, the volcano hasn’t had a major eruption since the late 19th century.
The Ancient Greeks believed these islands were home to Aeolus, the God of the Winds, who was visited by Odysseus in Homer’s epic poem. With so many different islands to explore and crystal-clear waters to swim in, you can plan your own odyssey through the Aeolians Islands, one filled with sweeping vistas, bombastic geology, and all the charms and flavors of an Italian holiday by the sea.
Below, we’ve broken down everything you need to know to start planning your trip to the Aeolian Islands, including the best hotels, restaurants, and things to do, plus practical advice for how to get there and what you can expect from each island. We also tapped Sicilian travel guide Ciro Grillo of Sicily Routes to weigh in on the archipelago’s must-do experiences.
Best Hotels & Resorts in the the Aeolian Islands
The islands have long been a resort destination for Mediterranean vacationers, and there’s a wide variety of hotels to suit different budgets. Here are a few stand-outs that capitalize on the picturesque sea views and volcanic silhouettes of the islands.
Set in the town of Malfa on the island of Salina, this hotel was once a family home. Today, it’s one of the Aeolians’ coziest boutique hotels, with just 14 rooms and epic views of Stromboli and Panarea — especially if you book the honeymoon suite, which has a private corner balcony.
Another fixture of the boutique hotel scene in Malfa, this high-end hotel with vintage touches is a choice stay for anyone looking for a serene spa with geothermal treatments and an open-air steam bath.
Raya Hotel & Resort
This Panarea resort is a luxury accommodation option with a bohemian design scheme, plus panoramic views from the pool deck, open-air restaurant, and music club. It’s arguably the most fashionable hotel in the destination, set on the Aeolians’ most fashionable island.
Capofaro Locando & Malvasia
This Relais & Chateau property is both a vineyard and a seaside retreat. Located in a quiet corner of verdant Salina, the standalone rooms are set up like a small private village, so guests have their own private abode among the vines.
B&B Al Salvatore di Lipari
Lipari is the busiest of the islands, but you can get still feel a sense of peace by staying in this cozy bed-and-breakfast run by artists. The villa is located on the top of a hillside off a country road, so you will have plenty of quiet and all the views you need.
Best Things to Do in the Aeolian Islands
There are so many hidden corners and coves on these islands that it would be impossible to run out of wonderful things to do and see. You could spend your time ferrying across the sea, checking every island of the archipelago off your list, or you could rent a scooter and explore some of the larger islands like Lipari and Salina at your leisure. Here are other top sights and activities to consider.
Most would agree that the star of the show here is Stromboli, sometimes called the “lighthouse of the Mediterranean.” Known to blow off steam often, your odds of catching some activity are rather good. Naturally, with minor eruptions occurring frequently, climbing up to the crater is prohibited, but you can hike to the highest viewpoint at about 1,300 feet. Or, if you prefer to keep your distance, observe the eruptions via a boat tour, which can be an especially memorable experience at night if you’re lucky enough to visit when the lava is flowing.
Looking at the eruptions from the water is just what Ciro Grillo recommends, telling Travel + Leisure, “Just under the Sciarraa de Fuoco — this is the side of the volcano where the lava, ash, and sand go out from the crater and arrive at the water, and it’s really spectacular.” Note that all of these islands are volcanic, so if a crater hike is your aim, you might consider climbing up to Gran Cratere on Vulcano.
Boats and Beaches
You will see plenty of water while you’re on the ferry to the islands, but a boat tour is also a good plan, and preferably one that includes a bit of swimming and some snorkel gear. A smaller boat is the best way to get to the destination’s more remote coves, where you’ll find rocky outcrops for swimming and far fewer crowds. For scuba divers who prefer to spend their time under the sea, there are plenty of tour operators to take you diving among the reefs and to see bubbling fumaroles.
If you prefer a lounge chair and a beach club, head to some of the most popular beaches, including Spiaggia Bianca on Lipari or Pollara Beach on Salina. Vulcano is the only island where you will find black-sand beaches like Spiaggia Sabbie Nere.
Don’t forget that you’re still in Italy, which means that the nearest vineyard probably isn’t as far away as you’d think. Oenophiles in the Aeolian Islands should go wine tasting at a local vineyard and sample local dessert wine. According to Grillo, “Malvasia is one of the most famous sweet dessert wines in Sicily, made with the grape called Malvasia. It’s a grape that they dry in the sun until the end of the summer, so they can get very little wine because there are small vineyards and the process is long. That’s why it’s good, and expensive.”
Considering the volcanic terroir and the ancient tradition of viniculture in the islands, it’s an experience not to be missed. You’ll find vineyards on different islands, but some of the most prominent are Carlo Hauner Azienda Agricola on Salina and Tenuta di Castellaro on Lipari. Ciro recommends Capofaro especially, a resort on Salina with its own sprawling vineyards.
When it comes to shopping in the Aeolian Islands, you’ll have the best luck in larger towns like Lipari. Here, you can walk along Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, perusing clothing boutiques and souvenir shops. You’ll find all the typical items you’d see in the rest of Sicily, like spices and ceramics, but also volcanic rocks (which would be a unique souvenir to take home). Panarea is where you will find more upmarket boutiques.
While the islands can be quiet, you will still have no problem finding a charming outdoor table from which to enjoy live music or an aperitivo. On Lipari, try restaurant Il Giardino di Lipari, and on Salina, there’s the bar at Hotel Ravesi in Malfa. For another spot on Salina, head to the Hotel Signum.
But if you really want a big night out, it’s best to stay in Lipari, where you will find a more active evening scene and plenty of bars. Alternatively, Raya on Panarea is known for its open-air disco that attracts international DJ talent.
You will eat well throughout all of Sicily and especially on the Aeolian Islands, where the seafood is fresh and the granita and gelato flow as freely as the sweet Malvasia wine. Here are some of the top restaurants for views and traditional Sicilian bites.
Ristorante da Filippino a Lipari
This rustic restaurant is one of the most famous in Lipari and has been serving up dressed-up Sicilian classics since 1910. Expect regional specialties, plenty of seafood, and a lengthy wine list.
When visiting Vulcano, head to this iconic wine bar near the harbor to try its famous pane cunzatu, an open-faced sandwich that can be stacked with a variety of fresh ingredients.
Visitors to Sicily must try granita, a shaved ice treat that is a lighter alternative to gelato (but still served with an optional brioche bun). This shop on Salina is considered one of the best spots in all of Sicily.
Trattoria da Paolina
It doesn’t get more classic than this trattoria, which serves island specialties on a lovely terrace. It’s easily reached by a short walk from the harbor on Panarea.
How to Get to the Aeolian Islands
The fastest way to get to the islands is to fly into Sicily’s Catania Airport, then hop on the shuttle bus to the seaside town of Milazzo. Daily ferries depart from here to all the islands.
If you are considering visiting the islands only as a day trip, there are boat tours that can take you to Stromboli and back to Milazzo. Many even run at night, giving you a chance to see the volcano light up. Grillo says you can also charter a boat with a company like Sicily Sea Charter for a tour on traditional sailboats.
What Islands to Visit
Formed by the volcanic fissures at the bottom of the Tyrrhenian Sea, there are seven islands in the Aeolian Islands archipelago — including the actively volcanic and inhabited Stromboli — and each one offers something different. You would need weeks to thoroughly explore each island, but if you’re short on time, we’ve broken down the vibe of each.
The largest island in the destination, Lipari is the center of life here, and while it can be a smart choice for those on a budget, it does tend to be more crowded with tourists. From the port, you can connect to any of the islands, or you can stay a while and drive around the island to scenic points like Belvedere Quattrocchi or visit the Archeological Museum and wineries.
The greenest of the islands, many people prefer to spend their time here and to explore the vineyards. The volcano on Salina is extinct, so if you’re wary of eruptions but like nature you will likely enjoy the hike up to Fossa della Felci, where you’ll also find great views of the other islands. Accommodations tend to be more upscale, especially around Malfa. You can also visit the Malvasia vineyards and taste test the sweet dessert wine that is produced here.
For volcano enthusiasts, Stromboli is the perfect destination because it erupts like clockwork. There is a small town with just a few dozen residents, no cars, and minimal accommodation options, but typically visitors enjoy the best views from the water, especially since hiking to the summit isn’t allowed. Check out Stromboli’s beautiful black-rock beaches, or pay a visit to the workshop of Salvatore Russo, who creates sculptures from hardened lava.
Located right next to Stromboli, Panarea is the smallest and poshest of all the islands, often drawing the celebrity crowd. Like any destination that identifies with exclusivity, things tend to be quieter and pricier, and you will find many luxury beach clubs in addition to nice natural spots like the stony Cala Junco. You can walk to a prehistoric village at Punta Milazzese, where you will also find a lovely view of rocky bays and other islands in the distance.
The original “volcano,” this island is where we get the word from, named by the Romans after the God of Fire, Vulcan. Although less active than Stromboli, the fuming crater still erupts from time to time. Hiking to Gran Cratere is allowed, and from there you can wind down to Asino Beach. Soaking in one of the islands’ mud baths is not to be missed, either.
One of the more remote islands, Filicudi is frequently visited alongside Alicudi. It has some of the clearest waters and is less developed than the other islands, so it’s perfect for travelers who want to enjoy a peaceful swim. You will find fewer accommodations to choose from, though.
When you get to Alicudi, you will have arrived at the farthest reaches of the Aeolian Islands. It’s on the extreme end of quietude and remoteness, so don’t expect many restaurants or attractions. You will find quiet beaches, fewer people, and a car-free experience.