Elba Island: The Ultimate Guide

Elba Island: The Ultimate Guide

Elba Island is a precious gem in the Mediterranean – most famous for being Napoleon’s home during his first abdication in 1814. Just 10 kilometers from mainland Tuscany and easily reached by a regular ferry service, Elba is Italy’s third largest island after Sicily and Sardinia.

These days, Elba Island is more famous for being a favourite holiday destination for Italians and a smattering of foreign tourists. For this reason, Elba is a true slice of authentic Italy. Compared with its more famous island neighbours Sicily, Sardinia, and Capri, Elba can fall off the radar of visitors to Italy. However, if you miss Elba you’re missing out on a real treat! Our first trip was in 2016 and we have been in love with Elba ever since.


What to do on Elba Island

1. Head to the beach

To list Elba’s best beaches is almost impossible. Every inch of Elba’s coastline is pristine and there are some really special beaches. Here are a just a few to add to your must-visit list.

Elba Island

Beaches in the North of Elba Island

Probably our favourite is Spaiaggia della Sorgente, which is the neighbour of the more popular Spiaggia di Sansone. Both are made of almost polished white pebbles mixed with some sand and require a short walk down the cliff path. While you make your way to the beach, you will catch glimpses of the crystal-clear water as it makes appearances through the pines. This creates the perfect backdrop for a holiday photo! The colour of the water at Sorgente is quite mesmerising and the snorkeling is some of the best we’ve done in Europe. Actually, you don’t even need a snorkel. The water is so clear that you can see right to the sea bed for many metres from the shore.

Elba Island

We prefer Sorgente to Sansone because it is an entirely ‘free beach’, meaning there aren’t any arranged sunbeds that can dominate Italy’s most popular beaches. However, if you don’t fancy carrying your parasol, Sansone is a very good second choice. Here you’ll find sunbeds and parasols to rent, along with a great beach bar for refreshments. These two beaches are so close that you can swim between them (as we did) and stop to admire the magnificent rock formations that divide them. 

Beaches in the South of Elba Island

If you prefer a sandy beach, we have two recommendations. Firstly, Spiaggia di Fetovaia in the south west of the island. Be warned, in August this beach is busy! However, we still managed to enjoy ourselves. Arrive early or later in the day (this will also help with the parking!) and turn right as you enter the beach. We walked to the far side and enjoyed a wonderful few hours in the sandy shallows. Again the water was crystalline and perfect for children to play and build sandcastles. 

Elba Island

Another sandy beach option is Spiaggia di Lacona. Unlike most of Elba’s beaches, Lacona is huge! This means, it really does have something for everyone. Along the 1200 meters of golden sand, there are several serviced beach clubs, water sports and various activities for children on offer. The South-facing shores are shallow and perfect for families. Interestingly, Spiaggia di Lacona is the only beach in the Tuscan Archipelago where dunes have survived, along with the sea lily with its iconic white flower. What’s more, in summer 2023 Elba saw a record number of sea turtles being born with 89 baby turtles hatching from the nests on Spiaggia di Lacona. 

Elba Island

2. Visit Napoleon’s Homes on Elba Island

Just outside Portoferraio, you will find Villa San Martino. This was Napoleon’s summer residence and the architectural masterpiece of Count Anatolio Demidoff. The villa is now open to the public. Take time to marvel at the grand Egyptian Room in which an octagonal tank, sunk into the exquisitely preserved floor tiles, houses papyrus plants to represent the Egyptian countryside. Additionally, make sure you visit the Room of Doves to admire the ceiling art: two birds in flight are joined by a lover’s knot to demonstrate Napoleon’s love for Maria Luisa.

Once serving as a more sedate residence for the winter months, Villa Dei Mullini is in the centre of Portoferraio and is now also a museum. Visitors can admire the carefully preserved rooms and imagine how the emperor lived. What’s more, the library still, houses the original books which Napoleon brought with him from the libraries of Fontainebleau.

3. Take in the Sunset

Elba’s sunsets are the stuff of dreams. For this reason we would almost insist that you take time out to admire the magical amalgamation of colours as the sun goes down. While you can of course do this from pretty much anywhere on the island, we would also recommend enjoying a sunset-based activity to make some memories and make sure you get to share the view on your Instagram too! Our top suggestions are to take to the sea and join an evening kayak tour. Or, if you fancy something really special, splash out on a private sunset boat tour. With aperitif and fresh sushi on board, this is a truly decadent way to watch the sun go down on this island paradise.

Elba Island

4. Enjoy the Local Cuisine

Like most of Italy’s islands, seafood and fish dominate most restaurant menus. That said, Elba’s oldest culinary traditions actually have their origins in agriculture and you can still find some delicious meat based dishes – especially if you head inland to smaller towns and villages. 

While you can of course find all the Italian staples such as pasta and pizza on many menus, we would advise that you take advantage of your time on Elba to try some local specalities. Palamita, a fish from the same family as Tuna, is traditionally preserved in olive oil and bay leaves and can be found in both shops and restaurants across the island. Squid and octopus are both very popular too. We loved the black risotto – both coloured and flavoured with squid ink – but definitely not a dish to eat in a white shirt!


5. Take a Kayak Tour

Elba’s coastline is punctuated with stunning beaches. Without a doubt, the best way to experience these hidden gems is by joining a kayak tour. This way, not only will you get to enjoy these secret spots but also learn about the bio-diversity and history of the island from your expert guide. There is something quite special about paddling your way around an island. Just you enjoying the tranquility of the ocean. This, coupled with the immense sense of satisfaction you will feel when your guide tells you just how far you’ve paddled, will certainly make you feel like you’ve earned your evening apertivo! Book your kayak tour here.

6. Rent E-Bikes

Forming part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, Elba’s unspoiled natural beauty is quite breathtaking. Jagged rock formations jut out amongst lush green trees and all with the backdrop of the dazzling azzure-blue waters. However, one thing we haven’t mentioned yet is that Elba is hilly! Away from the coastal towns and beaches, much of the centre of the island is formed around large hills and mountains. These make for the most spectacular viewpoints but are certainly hard work if you plan to explore by bike.

Unless you’re a super-fit cyclist, this will be another time when we celebrate the invention of the E-Bike! While you can explore the island independently by E-Bike, there are also many guided tours on offer. If you’re a keen historian, you can tour the bunkers of Monte Enfola. Fans of beer and wine can take tasting tours and for the thrill seekers, there’s even a trail bike tour – taking in some of the finest views on the island while also getting a good dose of adrenaline. All of these E-Bike tours can be booked with our partner Viator here.

7. Soak up the History in Portoferraio

Almost every visitor to Elba will enter at the Port of Portofarraio and will be immediately struck by the beauty of this fortress town. Rich in mineral ores, it was conquered several times but has still managed to maintain much of its Renaissance charm. Above the town, you will spot Forte Stella, named so after its star-shaped walls. Its lighthouse, erected by the Grand Duke Leopoldo di Lorena in 1788, is believed to be one of the oldest in Europe.

Elba Island

Like so many of Italy’s island capitals, Portofarraio is steeped in history. Certainly, the best way to delve into this treasure trove stretching from the Romans to Medici and Napoleon’s time in residence on the island, is to enjoy an oraginsed walking tour. We would recommend booking in advance with either Viator or Get Your Guide. Both offer excellent experiences with engaging and well-learned guides.

8. Explore the Ginevro Mines

Once the largest and most productive magnetite mines in Europe and the flagship of Italian iron and steel production. The Ginevro mines are a fascinating journey underground. Certainly, this guided tour is especially adventurous, as it’s all taken by E-Bike! This is ideal if you’re looking for something a bit different to do during your holiday on Elba Island. To book this tour through our trusted partner Viator click here.

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9. Go Diving or Snorkeling

If you think you’ll be stunned by Elba’s landscape, then we can guarantee that you will be just as wowed by what you’ll find in the sea. Elba’s waters are calm and exquisitely clear making snorkeling a real pleasure. Every beach offers the opportunity for you to explore what’s underwater. However, it can also be well worth investing in a guide, who will not only help you find the best spots but also share their knowledge of the local marine life.

For those who fancy a more adventurous experience, why not take the plunge and learn to dive? Elba’s waters are a kaleidoscope of colour just waiting to be discovered and our partners at Get Your Guide offer courses for beginners along with guided dives for more experienced divers. Click here to find out more.


10. Visit a Local Vineyard

A trip to Elba Island would not be complete without a visit to one of its vineyards. While Tuscany’s wines are savoured all over the world, not many people have had the chance to taste Elba’s offering and we can assure you that you will not be disappointed! Elba’s wine production took a significant fall as a result of the influx of tourism last century. Thankfully, it is now protected by a union formed by local wine producers and is going from strength to strength.

Elba Island

Fans of red wine mustn’t miss the full-bodied Aleatico and the golden Elba Muscato is one of the finest white wines we’ve ever tasted. By booking a tour of a vineyard, not only will you get to taste many delicious local wines, but you will also have the opportunity to learn about the history of wine production on the island along with learning about traditional and more modern methods in winemaking. Book your wine tour here.

Where to Stay on Elba Island

All of Elba’s towns and villages are wonderful. However, we would recommend that you base yourself in the east of the island for ease of getting to the port at Portofarraio and this is where you will find most of the island’s best beaches and activities. 

Villa Elba

Elba Island

Overlooking the crystal clear sea above the Gulf of Mola and the renowned Porto Azzuro, this Villa Elba is located in the middle of a private forest. A pathway and staircase lead guests down to the sea where there is a platform for sunbathing. With a very flexible living space, arranged within four separate buildings, it’s perfect for families, friends, or groups of any kind.

Villa Elba consists of a main villa and three separate annexes. In the main villa, guests will find a kitchen, living room, three bedrooms and three bathrooms. There is a wonderful terrace leading from the villa which overlooks the gulf. It’s the perfect spot to admire some incredible sunsets.

A private staircase leads from the main villa to the three annexes below. All are independent from the main villa, ensuring absolute peace and tranquility and are perfect for a multigeneration holiday. 

To discover more about Villa Elba click here

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How to get to Elba Island

The easiest way to get to Elba is by ferry from Piombino. Regular ferries run from the port offering the option of travelling as a foot passenger or bringing your car on board.

How long is the ferry journey to Elba Island?

The duration of the ferry trip from Piombino to Elba varies between 15 minuntes and 1 hr, depending on the port you’re travelling to:

  • Portoferraio approximately 40 min to 1 hr.
  • Rio Marina approximately 45 min.
  • Cavo  approximately 15 minutes by hydrofoil

For a fully comprehensive guide to ferries to Elba Island click here to visit Ferry Hopper, where you can also book your tickets. If you’re travelling in the summer months, we would highly recommend reserving your tickets in advance.

By Air

Although there is an airport on Elba, it’s not our recommended way to travel to the island. Flights are few and far between, with most air traffic coming from private jets. In fact, there aren’t even any direct flights from Rome to Elba. Our advice is to enjoy the ferry. It’s a wonderful way to admire the island as you approach and allows you to sit back and relax on deck before your onward journey.

Tips for your trip to Elba Island

  • Rent a car here.
  • Bring your beach shoes.
  • Book tours and activities in advance here.
  • Pack your snorkel.
  • Learn some basic Italian words and phrases.
  • Get an e-Sim for your phone here.
  • Book your ferry tickets in advance here.

We hope you have found this guide to Elba Island useful. Remember to visit for more travel guides and to discover our villas and apartments for holidays across Italy and its islands.