The 10 Best Urban Islands

Looking for an escape from the turmoil of urban existence? Many waterfront cities have island havens where nature beckons, just a quick step across a bridge or a short ferry ride away.

Here are ten worth seeing:

> Île aux Cygnes (Paris, France)

For a quiet stroll in Paris, head for the artificial yet lovely Île aux Cygnes (Isle of the Swans). This narrow, tree-lined strip, half a mile long and barely wider than its central path, is in the middle of the Seine near the Eiffel Tower. Facing New York like a ships’s figurehead is a Statue of Liberty, a quarter the size of the original and a gift from the French community in the United States.

> Georges and Spectacle Islands (Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

Fort Warren, built in 1847 as part of Boston’s defenses, is the landmark on Georges Island in Massachusetts Bay. A Frisbee is not essential, but a lot of them get thrown in the fields here. Currents are too strong to swim, but you can have a dip on Spectacle Island, which has five miles of trails, fine views over Boston Harbor, and free jazz concerts in the summer.

> Ilha de Paquetá (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

In the middle of Rio’s Baia da Guanabara, this romantic tropical island is a local favorite that fills up on weekends. On weekdays, though, it can seem a long way from the clamor of the city. Its colonial buildings are part of the well-worn charm, while the absence of cars ensures a leisurely pace: Horse-drawn carts and bikes are the way to get about.

> Matiu/Somes Island (Wellington, New Zealand)

Set at a strategic point in Wellington Harbour, Matiu Somes Island has been a Maori fortified settlement, the site of New Zealand’s first lighthouse, and a military fortification. Now, under the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the island has returned to nature. Bird life includes the cute Little Blue Penguin.

> Kampa Island (Prague, Czech Republic)

By day or night, this is a delightfully tranquil corner of the Czech capital. Slip down the double steps from the Charles Bridge, and you will find yourself on an island on the River Vltava where “the Devil’s Stream” once powered flour mills. Sova’s Mill is now a museum of modern Czech art. Mellow Renaissance and baroque houses surround a central square of cafes and restaurants.

> City Island (New York City, New York, USA)

A touch of New England in New York City, this 1.5-mile-long island in the Bronx has a nautical air, with marinas and seafood restaurants. Yachts competing in the Americas Cup have been built here, and you can hire sailboats or set out on a fishing trip. The small lanes of late 19th-century wooden mansions have made City Island a backdrop for many films.

> Pulau Ubin (Singapore)

The last rural refuge in this modern city-state, Pulau Ubin is home to fishermen and prawn farmers. The 5-mile-long granite island has areas of jungle and mangrove swamps with abundant wildlife, and mudflats where endangered flora and fauna flourish. There are mountain bikes for hire.

> Bowen Island (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)

A 20-minute ferry ride from West Vancouver brings you to this wooded island where life is friendly and unhurried. There are no hotels or

campsites, so a bed-and-breakfast will bring you into contact with locals. You can enjoy the beaches, lakes, and Bridal Veils Falls, or rent a bike, kayak, or sailboat.

> Margaret Island (Budapest, Hungary)

When the mighty Danube reaches Hungary’s capital, it is divided in two by Margaret Island (Margitsziget), named for a 13th-century princess. Caught between the two halves of the ancient city, the island provides escape and recreation, with a jogging path, restaurants, theater, and thermal springs. Ruined monasteries add to the romantic air that has inspired writers.

> Cockatoo Island (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia)

Where else can you pitch a tent by the water in the heart of a city and watch the sun rise and set over its skyline? As a former penal colony and the largest shipyard in Australia, Cockatoo Island has a legacy of dry docks, industrial buildings, and warehouses that provide ideal venues for art and performance.

For more hidden travel gems, pick up a copy of the National Geographic book, Secret Journeys of a Lifetime.

Do you know of a travel-worthy urban island? Share it with the Intelligent Travel by leaving a comment:


  1. Nicola Hilditch-Short
    July 27, 2014, 9:20 am

    Margret’s island is a wonderful little piece of nature in the middle of the beautiful Budapest, you can hire bikes out and explore the whole island and it’s hidden features.

  2. Anna Espinola
    June 9, 2014, 1:51 pm

    Sorry, but I live in Rio de Janeiro and PAQUETA ISLAND is horrible, the beaches are not clean, is a declining place. Used to be nice about 50 years ago, not now. Don´t waste your time going there.

  3. Traven
    Toronto, Canada
    May 22, 2014, 4:17 pm

    Toronto Island has a very interesting residential situation, both contemporarily and historically. Check it out!

  4. Adam @ Round the World we go
    May 20, 2014, 4:56 am

    I absolutely love Île aux Cygnes, it’s a nice break away from the busy Parisian life in the City at times. I also can’t believe the Eiffel Tower is now 125 years old!