The Best European Island To Visit According To Rick Steves

Malta, Ibiza, Mykonos, Madeira ... there's no shortage of picturesque European islands to choose from. But if you prefer an island getaway off the beaten path with a small-town charm not often found in the tourist hotspots of Spain and Greece, Rick Steves has you covered. Rick Steves is known for his rich insights on European travel, most notably as the host of the long-running TV series, "Rick Steves' Europe." So, while some would suggest an island vacation in the predictable spots of Southern Europe, Steves knows that the best scenery and calmest surroundings require a bit more work. 

Case in point: Denmark's Ærø Island, a tiny sliver of land that the travel guru lists on his website as one of his favorite island getaways. Sure, the Danish destination lacks palm trees and warm temperatures year-round. But it makes up for it with peaceful beaches, colorful Instagram-worthy huts, and cobblestone streets that look plucked from a storybook. Steves shared his impression of the Scandinavian island in a clip from his TV show, noting how safe and sleepy it is. Based on the honor system, bikes are kept unlocked, and farm-fresh goods are left in roadside stalls. However, travelers should know that Ærø is anything but boring. 

What to do on Ærø Island

Ærø Island is an L-shaped land mass with a road straight down the middle, dotted with multiple villages. Between each village are stunning countryside views, where you'll find fields of flowers and rolling hills of green. Steves suggests hopping on a bike to explore the sights, taking in the fresh air, and stopping at the windmills, churches, and breweries along the way. In particular, he recommends taking a detour off the main central strip and heading to the town of Ærøskøbing. 

There, walk through the roads lined with gelato-colored cottages, then slip past the houses to the coast for a relaxing walk along the water. You'll also find delicious meals in Ærøskøbing, such as luxurious charcuterie boards at Bang's Mad & VinBar and organic fare at Restaurant Mumm. During his trip to the island, Steves also made sure to fit in some historical sightseeing. The globetrotter visited Rise Kirke, a 12th-century church, and Tingstedet Langdysse, a prehistoric burial site next to the church. 

Ærø is best enjoyed at a slow pace. It's the kind of destination where you go to unwind and take a break from the hustle and bustle to be mindful and appreciative of the little things. Still, if you're looking for adventure, you'll find it on Steves' favorite island. Hike the Archipelago Trail to explore the isle on foot (download a map from VisitÆrø) or rent a kayak or SUP board and cruise the waters.

How to reach the island and where to stay

Ærø Island isn't as easy to reach as some other beach destinations, but that's part of how it retains its authentic charm. You won't find large commercial flights landing on the isle, so it's best to travel from a nearby seaport. Rick Steves notes in a blog post that many Danes travel from the mainland and neighboring islands to the Ærøskøbing port via ferry, though this isn't the only path. Travel between Svendborg and Ærøskøbing, Faaborg and Søby, Rudkøbing and Marstal, or Fynshav and Søby. All routes allow cars, but it's a good idea to check that your vehicle adheres to any restrictions before booking your tickets. Depending on your chosen route, Ærø can make for a perfect side trip from Copenhagen or nearby Germany.

The island doesn't have the chain hotels and large resorts of some other islands, so expect to stay in a quaint B&B or homey getaway instead. You'll also find campsites, such as Ærøskøbing Camping, conveniently located near the town, and Ærø Teltplads og Shelter in Marstal.