Wondering what the largest island in the world is? You might be surprised.
And no, it’s not Australia. Finding the largest islands in the world is not as easy as it might sound. For one, it’s not overly clear what exactly constitutes an island as opposed to a continent. How is Australia classified as a continent yet Greenland an island? Read to the end of the article to find out.
Our list of the largest islands in the world is based on the total land area. From Great Britain to Papua New Guinea and everything in between, let’s find out.
Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a peaceful island nation in the Indian Ocean made up of the main island and a scattering of offshore satellite isles.
This tea-making tropical island is well-loved for many things. Its sheer size lends favor to everything from excellent albeit rough ocean beaches to rolling tea plantations and everything in between. Outside of the annual monsoon season, Sri Lanka is perfect for outdoorsy travelers, with opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and surfing.
Banks Island can be found in the Northwest Territories of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Being the 24th largest by area size is not its only claim to fame though; it’s also the fifth-largest island in Canada.
Located northwest of Victoria Island, it is separated from the mainland by the Amundsen Gulf. Measuring about 250 miles long and over 100 miles wide, Banks Island has a unique ecology and interestingly, is an island that doesn’t have any trees.
Sakhalin island, also known as Sachalin island is the largest island in Russia. It stretches for over 600 miles in a long, narrow strip that is seemingly in the shape of a standing woman.
To get an idea of its size, it’s about a fifth of the size of Japan, and was at some stage, actually owned by Japan. However, in the 1870s, Japan conceded control of the island to Russia in exchange for the southern Kuril Islands. Today, approximately half a million people call Sakhalin island home.
One of the very first European colonies of the New World descended on the island of Hispaniola in the 1400s. It is also one of the most populated islands in the Americas – and indeed the world.
Forming part of the Greater Antilles archipelago within the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, of which it is the second-largest (after Cuba), Hispaniola is an island of many names: Hispaniola is its Spanish colonial name, Saint-Domingue is its French colonial name, and it’s called Taino Amerindian by the original indigenous people. Interestingly, Hispaniola is also split by two different countries: the majority of the island is owned by the Dominican Republic and the rest by Haiti.
Debatably a similar size to Hispaniola, maps have made Hokkaido appear much larger, giving it claim as the 21st largest island in the world. Formerly known as Ezo, Hokkaido is the second-largest island in Japan.
It is one of the most popular retreats during the Japanese summer, and there are many reasons to head there. Due to its island climate, it’s a lot cooler than the mainland during the height of summer, and its six national parks and varied wildlife make for an interesting trip out of the city. Sapporo, Hokkaido’s largest city, is also famous for the celebrated Japanese beer that is brewed here.
The aptly-named Ireland is the third-largest island in Europe. Made up of around 80 different islands – only 20 of which are permanently inhabited – Ireland is something special.
While Great Britain comes in at number nine on this list, Ireland is not included as part of it – at least, not geographically speaking. Separated from the UK by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St. George’s Channel, it is the second largest of the British Isles.
Ireland itself is split politically into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The latter takes up just a sixth of the island’s entire landmass and is part of the United Kingdom. Without taking these political differences into account, geographically, the island itself measures over 300 miles long.
Mindanao – also known as Southern Philippines – is the second-largest island in the Philippines (after Luzon). Made up of a same-named main island and a collection of surrounding islands, Mindanao provides a home for over 20 million people.
It is lovingly referred to as the ‘Philippines’ Land of Promise’ due to the rich biodiversity found as a result of its glorious mountains, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and plains. It is also home to many still-active volcanoes and is a popular adventure destination for hiking and bird watching.
Iceland is the second-largest island in Europe after Great Britain. But this popular tourist destination likely needs no introduction. With over 3,000 miles of dramatic and mountainous coastline, Iceland is only slightly smaller than the state of Kentucky.
Despite its sheer size, Iceland is one of the most sparsely populated islands in the world. With a population of 360,000, there are just ten people per square mile. Contrary to popular belief, only 10% of Iceland is actually covered in icy glaciers; the rest is made up of lava fields, national parks, and glorious hot springs.
Cuba is home to a collection of islands in the northern Caribbean Sea, where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Its largest island – the main one – is the one featured on this list.
Measuring over 780 miles long, the main island of Cuba has a pleasant mixture of Spanish colonial architecture, beautiful beaches, and – of course – tobacco fields used to create the country’s famed Cuban cigars.
Located off the east coast of Canada, Newfoundland is the fourth largest island in Canada. As Canada’s easternmost province, it is also the largest Canadian island outside of the North, and a popular spot to see the Northern Lights.
The Strait of Belle Isle divides the island province into two – Newfoundland and Labrador, the latter forming part of mainland Canada. Newfoundland got its name after King Henry VII of England called the island “New Found Land,” following its discovery by John Cabot in the 1490s.
As the economic and political hub, Luzon is the most populated island in the Philippines, and one of the most densely populated islands in the world – home to more than half of the Philippines’ population. The capital city of Manila, as well as Quezon City, can be found on the island of Luzon.
Located at the northernmost point of the Philippines archipelago at the border of the South China Sea, the Philippine Sea and the Luzon Strait, Luzon is known for its beautiful beaches, rolling mountains, dramatic volcanoes, and scenic rice paddies.
New Zealand’s glorious North Island – also known as Te Ika-a-Maui – is separated from its larger southern counterpart by the Cook Strait, and is a kaleidoscope of geothermal wonders, multicolored beaches, and national parks.
Stretching for 1,000 miles at its longest and 280 miles at its widest point, the North Island makes for some interesting exploring. Both the capital city of Wellington and Auckland, known as the City of Sails, can be found on New Zealand’s scenic North Island.
Forming part of Indonesia, Java is a massive volcanic island. Despite only being the fourth largest island in Indonesia, it is home to more than half the country’s population and is the most populated island in the world.
There are many reasons to visit Java, and it has become popular on the tourist radar in recent years. The island offers a mixture of everything, with gorgeous terrain ranging from active volcanoes to rolling tea plantations. It is also home to the celebrated Borobudur Temple and Ujong Kulon National Park.
The South Island of New Zealand – also known as Te Waipounamu – is the biggest of the country’s two main islands. Split by the Southern Alps, with Mount Cook forming its highest point, it is also the ninth-highest island in the world.
There is plenty to see on the South Island. Stretching for over 500 miles, it is home to wineries, national parks, and the fjords of the astonishing Milford Sound. The beauty of the South Island is in its slow pace of life and unassuming nature.
The mountainous and volcanic island of Sulawesi, once known as Celebes, forms part of Indonesia. This unusually-shaped island is home to no less than four distinctive peninsulas.
Tucked between the continents of Australia and Asia, Sulawesi is located on numerous seas, including the Celebes Sea, Banda Sea, Java Sea, Flores Sea, and the Molucca Sea. It is not surprising then that it is a popular diving destination with a plethora of underwater coral reefs to explore.
Ellesmere Island is the third largest island in Canada. It is the largest island of the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Nunavut province and characterized by undulating mountains and spectacular icefields.
Located between Baffin Bay and the Arctic Ocean, the Canadian island of Ellesmere is full of history, home to geographical elements that date as far back as the last Ice Age. These include a series of sedimentary rocks and the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf that dates back thousands of years.
The largest of the British Isles, Great Britain is an island located within the North Atlantic Ocean and separated from the European continent by the English Channel and the North Sea. It is the largest island in Europe – despite its dramatic and well-publicized exit from the European Union.
Combining the nations of England, Scotland, and Wales, Great Britain is also part of the United Kingdom. Humans have lived in Great Britain for well over 500,000 years, and London, its largest city, continues to draw tourists from all over the globe in search of their share of history and culture.
Measuring over 320 miles long, Victoria Island is the second-largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Discovered by Arctic explorer Thomas Simpson back in the early 1830s, the island was christened after Queen Victoria.
Despite having been around for centuries, the island is still sparsely populated – little more than 2,000 people call the island home. The most famous sight on the island is the Tunnunik impact crater, caused by the impact of a meteorite that landed here around 350 million years ago.
Honshu is the largest of Japan’s four major islands. Despite being located between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, it is actually considered part of the Japanese mainland. Measuring over 800 miles long, it’s more than half the size of Japan!
The island of Honshu is home to some of Japan’s most iconic cities, such as Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Osaka. It is also home to Mount Fuji – the highest mountain in Japan – and Lake Biwa, the country’s largest lake.
6. Sumatra (443,065 km2)
Sumatra is the sixth-largest island in the world and the second-largest island in Indonesia. Located on the subduction zone of the Indo-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates, it often experiences earthquakes and tsunamis.
Encompassed by gorgeous tropical rainforest, much of the appeal of the island is its relatively untouched nature and wildlife. Some of its critically endangered species include the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran orangutan, and the Sumatran rhino.
Baffin Island is the largest island in Canada. Despite its fantastic scenery of fjords, freshwater lakes, and glacier-filled national parks, it is one of the most inhospitable islands on Earth, with an average annual temperature of minus eight degrees Celsius.
Named after the British explorer William Baffin, the island is located close to the Arctic Circle. For this reason, it is mostly visited for its amazing views of the Northern Lights, or to catch a rare sight of the Arctic wolves, polar bears, and lemmings that call the island home.
Madagascar is located on the East Coast of Africa in the middle of the Indian Ocean. This island is celebrated for its amazing wildlife, with around 250,000 species of animals, including the famous stripy-tailed lemurs. Interestingly, two-thirds of its wildlife cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
Dating back over 100 million years, Madagascar is also home to the third-largest coral system in the world, making for some excellent diving opportunities in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
3. Borneo (748,168 km2)
Borneo is a huge island that’s measured at nearly twice the size of Germany. It is also the only island to be governed by a trio of countries – Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia, but the majority of the island is Indonesian territory.
Borneo is home to the oldest rainforest on Earth, dating back over 100 million years. Within the lush green foliage, there is some fascinating wildlife to be found, such as the Bornean orangutan and Dayak fruit bats – two endangered species that are found nowhere else on Earth.
New Guinea is an enormous island, measuring over 1,500 miles long. Like Borneo, it is run by more than one country – Indonesia and Papua New Guinea rule here. With its first human residents having settled on the island more than 40,000 years ago, it has been sought-after for its vast reserves of copper and gold for centuries.
The island of New Guinea is separated from Australia by the Torres Strait, with the Coral Sea on one side and the Arafura Sea on the other. Interestingly, New Guinea is also the largest island found within both the southern hemisphere and Oceania.
Greenland is the largest island in the world and only misses out on continent status likely because of its population size. Located between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, it is an independent territory of Denmark, and despite its size, it is mostly uninhabited.
Home to a little over 50,000 people, most of its terrain is made up of inhospitable glaciers – the largest found outside of the polar region – and the second-largest ice sheets on the planet. There are no roads connecting the island’s main towns, and Greenland’s population relies on fishing, sealing, and whaling to survive. Many people visit Greenland to explore the Northeast Greenland National Park, the world’s largest national park.
While there are no official rules that set out the differences between an island and a continent to rule out Greenland as a potential continent, Greenlanders are adamant – they consider themselves islanders.