Although it’s not well known by US visitors, Elba Island is truly a delightful destination in Italy. It’s the largest of the seven main islands that make up the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. Following Sicily and Sardinia, Elba is the third biggest island in Italy.
Elba has a rich history. It was inhabited by the Etruscans and the Romans, and it harbored the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814. Museums, residences, and architecture on the island highlight its past for visitors. However, Elba is most enjoyed for its tropical-like landscapes and outdoor activities. The white sand beaches and turquoise water will make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean, so it’s the perfect destination if you want a change from Tuscany’s vineyards.
However, there’s a lot you should know about Elba Island before heading there. Let’s dive into how to get there, where to stay, what to do, and more.
Where is Elba Island?
Elba is located off the western shore of Italy, nestled in between Tuscany and the French island of Corsica.
It’s only 10 km west of the mainland city of Piombino, and 50 km east of Corsica. Elba Island is situated in the Tyrrhenian Sea, part of the larger Mediterranean.
10 Places to See on the Elba Island
Dozens of towns, hundreds of shops, and endless winding cobbled streets await you. Museums guard intriguing history from the ancient to the Victorian era. Historical centers, parks, and a spa are just some of the many places that call out to visitors.
The main town of Elba is Portoferraio, which is situated on a harbor on the north side of the island.
Architectural beauty and ancient history shine through museums, fortresses, and churches. Villa delle Grotte and Villa della Linguella offer glimpses into ancient Roman life, while the Medici fortresses offer more recent history.
The town, with its colorful buildings and lively ambiance, leaves visitors enamored. Here, there is no shortage of shops or restaurants. You’ll find everything from seafood restaurants to lounge bars to local boutiques.
2. Residence of Napoleon Bonaparte
When Napoleon was exiled to Elba in 1814, he had two residences in Portoferraio. One residence, Villa di San Martino, was reserved for his private life.
Palazzina dei Mulini, on the other hand, was Napoleon’s residence with respect to his public life and representation in exile.
Still today, visitors can tour the extravagant rooms of the two-storied building.
Capoliveri is a charming comune on the southeastern part of Elba Island.
From the top of the hill, you can see a stunning Mediterranean landscape. Like Portoferraio, the rustic buildings feature bright orange terracotta roofs, adding to the beauty of Capoliveri.
Explore nearby coves, hike along green trails, and enjoy beach activities. Check out the squares of the old village, the shops and bistros, and the medieval streets.
4. Mineral Park
Elba Island has almost 3,000 years of mining culture characterized by iron extraction. The Mineral Park of Elba Island preserves this aspect of the area’s heritage.
Visitors can observe mineral displays in the science museum and tour the 3 mines.
The tour covers the main iron mining sites, each of which is marked by a specific color. You can hike between the key tour points or take a small red train.
Either way, you’ll come across unreal views of otherworldly landscapes painted red and orange. Don’t forget to check out the unique red pond in the Cantiere Conche.
5. Sant’Ilario al Campo
Sant’Ilario al Campo is a humble village located just west of Elba’s center. With less than 200 inhabitants, it offers an opportunity to experience welcoming Italian culture.
The hamlet’s parish church is one of its architectural stars. Beyond the Chiesa di Sant’Ilario in the center, the village is surrounded by stone remnants of medieval life.
Sant’Ilario al Campo is rich in splendid beryl ore and tourmaline, so keep your eyes peeled for green crystals in the natural surroundings.
6. Terme San Giovanni
This luxurious spa is located conveniently in the capital of Portoferraio, just near the shore.
Terme San Giovanni offers a plethora of relaxing services, including body massages, facial masks, manicures, and more.
There are also saunas and pools, making the spa a great option if you want to get in the water when the sea is cold.
7. Porto Azzurro
After Portoferraio, Porto Azzurro is one of the most well-known communes on Elba Island. The fishing town is bordered by deep blue Mediterranean water on one side and lush greenery on the other.
Porto Azzurro, which translates to blue port, features a fascinating historical and artistic heritage.
The churches of San Giacomo Maggiore and Madonna del Carmine radiate elegance. The Madonna di Monserrato Sanctuary, just 600 meters from Porto Azzurro, was built in the seventeenth century by Spaniards that were occupying the area.
8. Marina di Campo
Marina di Campo is the town nearest to La Pila Airport, so it’s especially appealing to those who arrive on the island by plane.
Like many of the other towns of Elba, Marina di Campo has no shortage of places and monuments of interest.
The San Mamiliano and San Gaetano churches are small but wonderful slices of culture. There are examples of military and civil architecture as well, such as the Torre di Marina di Campo.
9. Acquario dell’Elba
Not far from Marina di Campo is the Elba Aquarium. The private organization is considered to be one of the most complete existing Mediterranean aquariums.
More than 150 types of marine organisms can be found here, including species of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and more.
10. Santuario della Madonna del Monte
Sitting on the slopes of Mount Giove is the Santuario della Madonna del Monte. Encompassed by nature, the sanctuary is truly a getaway from the bustling port towns.
It is thought to be one of the oldest sanctuaries on Elba, dating back to the 12th century Romanesque period. The work was commissioned by Grimaldi, a government official of the area.
After it was constructed, it was embellished and enlarged in the following centuries.
Today, visitors can still check out the sanctuary’s two elevated areas, unique windows ad bell tower.
What to Do on Elba Island – 5 Activities
There are almost infinite activities that you can partake in on Elba. Let’s dive into the 5 best activities, which all happen to involve the outdoors and fresh air.
1. Canoe Excursion
Heading into the sea on a canoe is a unique way to remember your vacation. Paddle around the island’s coastline, taking in hidden views of the island.
This activity is open to people of all ages and is available no matter your experience with canoeing.
2. Scuba Diving
Scuba diving is an unforgettable experience, especially for first-timers. Absorb panoramas of colorful backdrops brought to life by fish and other marine creatures.
This 2.5-hour tour includes the use of proper scuba equipment and vehicle transportation.
However, you should remember that scuba diving can be dangerous for those without the proper training.
If you’re interested in scuba diving but don’t have the expertise, try snorkeling instead!
It’s still a fantastic way to get in the water and observe sea life from a safe distance.
This half-day snorkeling and swimming tour takes visitors to 5 different attractions throughout the day. Swim and snorkel at the enchanted small bays of Cala dei Frati, Cala dell’Inferno, the tip of Capannelle, Punta del Cotoncello, and Cala dell’Alga.
If you need a break from getting in the water, a bike-nic may be just the solution. With 8 stops during this E-bike tour, you’ll have the chance to learn about Elba beyond its beaches.
Although some of the stops are at beaches, many are at architectural or cultural points.
E-biking is a wonderful way to take in the island views and feel the Mediterranean breeze.
5. Wine Tasting
No trip to Tuscany would be complete without a wine tour, even if you’re on an island.
This wine tasting tour guides visitors on a journey through complex wine flavors and smells.
Stroll through vineyards while you listen to Elba’s history and legends of wine-making. Taste different wines that are produced locally, including Aleatico Passito dell’Elba, Bianco Vermentino, and Brut Spumante.
The tour lasts roughly 2 hours.
Elba Island Wine Tasting Tours
Best Places to Stay
Fortunately, Elba has no shortage of places to stay during your trip. Here are some of the best accommodations on the island:
Just 400 meters from Procchio Beach, this homey and sustainable property offers a garden and terrace.
This vibrant hotel, located in the island’s capital city, features terracotta roofs and offers stunning views of the Gulf of Padulella.
Perched on a seaside cliff in Porto Azzurro, this hotel includes a sun terrace, a restaurant, and a relaxing spa.
Best 5 Beaches on Elba Island, Tuscany
It’s difficult to narrow it down to the best beaches on the island, which is packed with pristine sand and calm Mediterranean waters. However, it’s not impossible. Here are the best 5 beaches in Elba.
1. Procchio Beach
Procchio is the northern seaside town closest to La Pila Airport. The town features a lengthy beach that stretches further than many other beaches on the island.
The clear blue water contrasts with the simple white sand. It’s a spectacular place to watch the sunset with a nice bottle of wine.
You can stay in certain areas for free, or pay a fee to stay in certain places.
2. Samson Beach
Samson Beach (Spiaggia di Sansone in Italian) is an intimate beach with spectacular swimming waters.
The beach is surrounded by rocky cliffs dotted with green shrubbery. The tropical-like setting is reminiscent of one of the famous Sardinian calas.
It’s located close to Acquaviva, on the coast of central northern Elba Island.
3. Cavoli Beach
The delightful Cavoli Beach is one of the most crowded shores on Elba during the summer months. It’s loved for its transparent waters and unique grainy sand, which doesn’t stick to the skin.
The beach takes its name from the word “cavili”, which refers to the once-extracted square granite slabs.
Cavoli Beach is popular from March until November. It’s located just off of Strada Provinciale 25.
4. Fetovaia Beach
Fetovaia Beach sits along the shore of the southwestern part of Elba Island. It’s protected from harsh western winds by the homonymous peninsula. So, the weather at Fetovaia is better than at many other beaches.
This makes the untouched beach even more special and pristine. Due to the calm waves, Fetovaia is perfect for families with small children.
The colors of the water shift from light emerald to rich dark blue. The ombre waters and granite cliffs combine to make a magical environment.
Parking is limited, so arrive early if you hope to find a space for your car.
5. Capo Bianco Beach
Meaning the “white cape beach”, Spiaggia di Capo Bianco is one of the several appreciated attractions in Portoferraio.
In contrast to the many sandy beaches, this one consists of both grainy sand and tiny white pebbles. Spiaggia di Capo Bianco is sheltered by steep white cliffs that add to the exquisite nature.
As always on Elba Island, the water here is crystal clear and vibrant.
It’s only a 5-minute drive from Portoferraio’s historical center to Spiaggia di Capo Bianco. Alternatively, you can walk half an hour and take in the scenery on your stroll.
Best 3 Restaurants on Elba Island
Since Elba Island includes so many towns, it’s no surprise that it also features dozens of delicious dining locations.
1. Osteria di Mare Lacona
The highly-rated seafood restaurant Osteria di Mare Lacona is located in the southern central town of Lacona. The osteria boasts high-quality eats that can be served on the lovely open terrace.
2. Ristorante Retrogusto
Ristorante Retrogusto is nestled in the countryside, just a 7-minute drive away from Portoferraio. Guests can eat from a terrace that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.
The restaurant’s chef, Carlo, has been cooking since he was just 15.
The menu features Tuscan specialties and normally has options for vegetarians and gluten-free guests.
3. Molo G Osteria Portuale
Molo G Osteria Portuale is closer to the heart of Portoferraio.
Dishes include fried anchovies, pasta with clams, and octopus with potatoes. Enjoy your meal on the rustic wooden deck with maritime decor and direct sea access.
Like Ristorante Retrogusto, this tasty osteria is said to have vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Is It Worth It to Visit Elba Island, Italy?
Elba Island is absolutely worth a visit. It offers a change in scenery from the rest of the Tuscan region. So, if you’re staying in Tuscany but want a taste of the Mediterranean, Elba is a wonderful destination.
In addition, it’s a less expensive alternative to the popular islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Elba also has fewer swarms of tourists than the other two islands, so it’s particularly ideal for relaxation.
How to Get to the Elba Island
There are two main ways to get to Elba Island: by plane and by ferry.
La Pila Airport, also known as Marina di Campo Airport, is located between Procchio and Marina di Campo. Airlines that fly directly to this airport are Silver Air, Air-Glaciers, and SkyWork.
If you arrive to the island by plane, you’ll be easily able to get to your exact destination by bus or by taxi. Since the island is quite small, you can get around by car in no time.
Your other option to reach the island is by ferry. All ferries depart from Piombino, but there are multiple destinations on the island where you can depart. Most arrive at Portoferraio, but you can also ferry to Cavo or Rio Marina.
If you want to avoid lines and compare ticket prices, it’s a good idea to book your ferry in advance.
FAQs for Travelers Visiting Elba Island, Tuscany
Is It Worth It to Rent a Car?
Elba is quite small, and it only takes around an hour to drive across the length of the island. So, renting a car might be a convenient and efficient way to get around. If you’re coming to the island by ferry, you can rent a car from the mainland.
Your other option for getting around Elba Island is by bus. The quickest time from one side of the island to the other is approximately 3 hours by bus, but keep in mind that this time can vary depending on many factors.
When Is the Best Time to Go?
For the best weather and temperatures, visit between May and September. Some attractions, like the aquarium, are closed until April or May. However, if you want to avoid the most summer crowds of tourists, try to go in May, September, or even October.
How Many Days Should I Stay on Elba Island?
If you want to experience everything that Elba has to offer, it’s ideal to stay at least 3 to 4 days. That way, you’ll have time to travel around, explore various towns, and participate in plenty of activities.
Tuscan Archipelago National Park – 6 Outstanding Islands
Elba Island is just one of the islands that make up the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. The park includes the islands of:
They are all must-see destinations, each one with a different character.
Capraia Island is rugged and wild, with breathtaking cliffs and coves perfect for snorkeling and diving. Giannutri Island, on the other hand, is a peaceful oasis with crystal-clear waters, abundant marine life, a charming lighthouse and ancient Roman ruins.
Giglio Island is famous for its colorful houses and charming villages (Giglio Castello and Giglio Porto) and for its white wine known as Ansonaco. Gorgona Island, the smallest of the group, is home to a penitentiary but also boasts pristine beaches and fascinating history.
Montecristo Island is a nature lover’s paradise, with a stunning nature reserve and an impressive array of flora and fauna. However, access to the island is heavily regulated and visitor numbers are limited. Finally, Pianosa, belongs to the Municipality of Campo nell’Elba, and is the Tuscan Archipelago island that is the nearest to the Isle of Elba. Its name, Pianosa, comes from the feature that sets it out the most: its nearly entirely flat terrain. It is merely 29 meters above sea level at its maximum elevation.