The 32 dramatic islands of Brittany lie off its rugged shoreline which with its hundreds of little inlets is an extraordinary 2720 kms/1700 miles long. Some islands are uninhabited, feeling as if they are on the edge of the world. Some are private islands with one grand house. Many offer a wonderful change of scene, with chic little towns and old fishermen’s cottages to stay in. Others give you a real get-away-from-it-all vacation, particularly in the off season. Here are a few of the great and dramatic islands of Brittany.

Port Tudy on Ile de Groix Brittany islands from port looking out with small boat beside jetty with small red and white lighthouse looking at headland sweeping round in background
Port Tudy, Ile de Groix © D Mendler/CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Gulf Stream sweeps in from the west, warming this part of France. A fertile land first brought people who built those extaordinary megalith structures. Then came the Celts, many fleeing from Cornwall, Devon and Wales after the collapse of the Roman Empire. The links still exist.  

Lighthouses dot the islands, grim reminders of the dangers to sailors around these shores. Small churches are full of models of ships and plaques to the drowned…an eternal memorial to those who did not survive.

Here are 13 top islands of Brittany for a great vacation.

Islands of Brittany – Start with Île de Bréhat

View from high up over small houses of stone, fields and trees and sea in background in bay
Ile de Bréhat © Michel Nono/CC-BY-SA4.0

A 10-minute boat ride from Pointe de l’Arcouest takes you to Île de Bréhat where exotic flowers and eucalyptus flourish in the Mediterranean-style climate of the warm Gulf Stream. Pretty stone cottages dot the countryside; the only town Le Bourg is full of hotels, cafés and restaurants. The old fort has been converted into a glassblowing business where you can see the artisans at work, and give it a try yourself. There’s a tidal mill that grinds corn twice a day as the tide goes out. And great beaches to chill out on. It’s a good idea to rent a bike to see more of the traffic-free island.

Ile de Brehat, Brittany island with two lighthouses on big rock on left, sea to right with sails of yachts in background
Ile de Bréhat Lighthouse © Rüdiger Wölk/CC-BY-SA 2.5

Île de Bréhat is the centre of a small group of islets; you get to the second accessible island to the north by a bridge. Here it’s wilder, a great place for bracing walks and for those wonderful sea views you get from the two lighthouses: Paon in the north east and Rosédo in the north west.

Les Sept-Îles

White gannets cover the Sept-Iles island a back rock with sea in front and birds in gloomy sky in Brittany islands
Gannets cover Les Sept-Îles © Mario Modesto Mata/CC-BY-SA 3.0

The archipelago of Les Sept-Îles has seven uninhabited islands. They make up the largest natural reserve of marine birds in France with rare species nesting here. But it’s the puffins who are the star attraction. The threat of them being hunted to near extinction was the spur for the creation of the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (the LPO or French Protection of Birds Society) in 1912.  

Take a boat trip around the uninhabited islands to get a good sailor’s eye view of the extraordinary bird life.

Île Grande

Sunset on Ile Grande Pointe de Toual with red sky, blue sea and rocks with lone small fisherman
Île Grande Pointe de Toual © Pierre Andre Leclercq/CC-BY-SA 4.0

Cross the bridge from Penvern to Île Grande whose granite was used for buildings in London. A megalithic passage tomb is a reminder of ancient civilisation. The Station Ornithologique shows the different bird species here and on the nearby Sept-Îles. There’s also another excellent sailing school.

Joseph Conrad stayed on the island from April to August 1896 on his honeymoon, writing his novel The Rescue and a short story, The Idiots. His wife wrote “much of our Île-Grande life is in that short story…. The stone-cutters are in it, our landlady is in it, and the feeling of our surroundings, perhaps a little more sombrely than the reality”.

Île de Batz

Georges Delasalle garden on Ile de Batz Brittany islands showing tropical trees on high green ledge with sea in background
© Georges Delasalle garden on Ile de Batz

15 minutes by boat from Roscoff and you’re on the (almost) traffic-free Île de Batz where the coastal path and the 20 or so beaches beckon. A Welsh monk, Paul Aurélien, founded a monastic community here in the 6th century but the island remained poor despite growing and harvesting the widely used flax, hemp and later seaweed.

Real prosperity came in the 19th century with the arrival of ships’ captains who made their fortunes on the oceans and built solid stone houses.

Georges Delasalle garden on Ile de Batz Brittany island showing sea in far distance and huge mediterranean style trees with long path
© Georges Delasalle garden on Ile de Batz

There’s a lighthouse to climb for its views, white sandy beaches for sandy beach-type fun, and the Georges Delasalle tropical garden to visit for its 2,000 different plants. Even if tropical plants are not your thing, do go; this is one of the best islands of Brittany to see them. You feel as if you’re half way around the world in Tahiti or some such exotic destination rather than an island in Brittany.

Ushant (Ouessant)

L'Ile de Ouessant Brittany island in autumn wind with waves on left crashing against rocks in semi circle and sea and grey clouds in background
Ile d’Ouessant in autumn wind © Remi Turban/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Ushant marks the entrance to the English Channel where countless ships have passed over the centuries. Countless ships have also come to grief here in the treacherous seas, including the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz in 1978 which was one of the world’s largest oil spills.

Six lighthouses on the island protect the coast. The light from Créac’h reaches for 32 nautical miles making it one of the two most powerful beams in the world. Discover more at the Musée des phares et balises which explains the history of lighthouses and how they work. I am no tech fan but it was a fascinating visit and gave me even more respect for lighthouses and their keepers.

La Ponte de Pern Ouessant Brittany islands showing sunset/sunrise over sea to left, beach and rocks
La Pointe de Pern on Ouessant © Ouessant TO

The Pointe de Pern is mainland France’s most westerly site, and now a protected site. Even the rocks are protected, with one painted white to help sailors get their bearings. From 1885 to 1900 a steam-powered foghorn was housed in the Villa des Tempêtes, its booming melancholy sound orientating ships lost in the mists.

Ignore Ushat’s somewhat gloomy history; it’s a beautiful place. Enjoy the beaches where rockpools give children endless fun, and visit the church at Lampaul where unknown sailors lie in their graves.

Île de Sein

Rough seas on Ile de Sein Brittany islands crashing over rocks in sea with lighhouse on rock in distance
Pointe de Raz Île de Sein © Jean-Pierre Hussin/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Dangerous seas swirl around the Point de Raz on the Île de Sein just 8 kms/5 miles off Finistère. A vast stretch of 30 miles of reefs runs in the Chaussée de Sein that surrounds the island. Vital lighthouses illuminate the path of ships on the southern English Channel route. The Phare d’Ar, essential to warn shipping of the hidden dangers, took 14 years to build and opened in 1881.

It’s a strange island, treeless and bleakly flat. Low lying, it has twice been submerged beneath the sea – but that was in 1868 and 1896 so don’t worry about that.

As with many remote places where myths and legends are so easily born, it had a murky reputation. The women of the island in their black headdresses were accused of enticing sailors onto the rocks by witchcraft. Perhaps it was just a convenient fiction; in reality there were plenty of ship wreckers and looters living on the island.

During World War II Île de Sein was occupied by the Germans who found only women, children, old men, the mayor and the priest living there. All the able-bodied men had answered General de Gaulle’s appeal for Free French Forces on June 18, 1940 and embarked for England. In 1946 de Gaulle came to bestow the Liberation Cross to the island. Follow the heroic story in the Musée de la Liberation.

Port at Ile de Sein Brittany islands with view from end of stone quay looking towards tranquil port with boats bobbing and white houses in background
Île de Sein Port © Havang/CC-BY-SA 1.0

A small port shelters small sailing boats and pleasure craft. Whitewashed cottages line the streets; there’s a small church, two menhirs and a dolmen.

Get here from Audierne, Brest or Camaret.

Îles de Glénan

Glenan Brittany islands view from sea blue at front then turquoise then lapping at white sandy beach with small dunes behind covered in grass
Glenans Islands © Obecny P/CC-BY-SA 4.0

Just 16 kms/10 miles off the south coast of Finistère, the Îles de Glénan is an archipelago of nine islands and islets.

Arrive at the main island of Saint Nicolas from Loctudy, Bénodet, Concarneau and Beg-Meil for the day. If you come here in April make your way to France’s smallest nature reserve. It was founded in 1974 to protect the Glenan Narcissus which flowers so valiantly, and so briefly, in Spring.

Sailing in the Glenan islands Brittany with yacht with sails out to right on very calm water and low island and buildings at background
Sailing in the Glenan islands © Obecny P/CC-BY-SA 2.0

The islands are known for the international sailing school which operates on four of the islands (lessons are in French and English). Les Glénans is a charity founded by former Resistance fighters after World War II. Now the biggest sailing school in Europe, it takes around 13,000 trainees a year teaching them sailing and navigating – from small dingies in the bay to trans-Atlantic sailing.

Aerial view of Fort Cigogne in the Glenan islands Brittany islands. around
Fort Cigogne in the Glenan islands © Frederic Almaviva/CC-BY-SA 4.0

At low tide, thin paths of white sand appear so you can walk from Saint-Nicolas to Bananec island. Penfret has a lighthouse; Île Cigogne’s fort was built in 1756 to stop English pirates entering the lagoon. Both islands are rented by the sailing school. Halfway between the archipelago and the coast, the Île aux Moutons has an automated lighthouse and is a known nesting ground for two types of sterns.

Like many of the islands of Brittany, power is supplied by wind turbines and solar panels.

Île de Groix

View on Ile de Groix Brittany islands of beach from dune with grasses and gorse showing huge long white sandy beach in arc shape with blue sea beyond
Ile de Groix © chisloup/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Île de Groix is Brittany’s second largest island. It’s known for its beautiful beaches; don’t miss the Plage des Grandes Sables with its garnet and white sand in the east. Once a significant tuna fishing centre, today the island is full of visitors hiring bicycles for its 40 kms/25 miles of cycle paths and walking in the nature reserve.

View from high above Port Tudy, Ile de Groix Brittany islands with many yachts tied up in marina protected from sea by big sea walls
Port Tudy, Ile de Groix © Serged/ CC-BY-SA 4.0

You get to the Island, a mass of schist rock, on a 45-minute ferry crossing from Lorient. Arrive at Port Tudy where the Ecomusée de l’Ile de Groix will fill you in on the island’s story. Learn about the island and if you’re lucky, take part in one of the events they organise. You might end up digging for shellfish or learning how sailing boats work from the experts. 


View from headland of the peaceful Port Boulphar on Belle-Ile. Small bay with headlands on both sides looking like Corwall
Port Goulphar on Belle-Île © Patrice/CC-BY-SA 4.0

The largest of the islands of Brittany, Belle-Île (Beautiful Island) doesn’t disappoint. Arrive by ferry from Quiberon, Vannes or La Turballe to a place with a great history and an enticing landscape.

The main town of Le Palais is dominated by the imposing star-shaped citadel designed by Louis XIV’s military architect, Vauban. But it didn’t stop the island from being occupied by British soldiers from 1761 to 1763. The French only got the Brittany island back by exchanging it for Menorca.

Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt by Felix Nadar in 1864. Black and white with her leanging against a small pillar with long black hair, fabulous slowing dress off one shoulder and smouldering lookh
Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Félix Nadar in 1864

Make for Pointes des Poulains for its lighthouse and a more unusual attraction. In 1894 the actress Sarah Bernhardt bought the old fort to live in. Follow the life of the most famous actress of her day in the small museum here.

A steep path takes you down to Plage de Donnant where the dramatic horseshoe-shaped beach is surrounded by rocks and the pounding surf.

Sauzon Port on Belle-Ile Brittany islands with small boats in port and pretty coloured houses behind
Port de Sauzon on Belle-Ile © Pline/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Sauzon, the second largest town, is a pretty fishing village where the ferries arrive from Lorient. Fishing boats that specialise in catching lobster and langoustines bob up and down beside the yachts and pleasure boats in the marina.

Keen walkers make for the Côte Sauvage (wild coast) in the south. And if you’re an opera fan book for the festival Lyrique en Mer, taking place from July 20 to August 12, 2021.

Islands around Belle-Île

NASA shot of Belle-Ile, Houat and Hoedic in blue sea
Belle-Ile, Houat and Hoedic from NASA shot

Two little islands lie to the east of Belle-Île. You can get to Houat and Hoëdic from Quiberon.

View of Ile de Houat from shore with rocks in front of large bay with yachts and boats and rocky headland curling round it
Ile de Houat © Pline/CC-BY-SA 3.0

On Houat, lovely beaches, the fishing harbor of St-Gildas (called after the British monk who lived in Brittany in the 6th century), and spectacular hikes attract visitors.

Hoedic Brittany islands interior of church of seamen with boats hanging up and on sides of church
Ile de Houat church © Nefrene Boulay/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Go south east from Houat and you arrive at Hoëdic which is even smaller. It offers a fort, guided tours and two Neolithic sites which date back to 5000 BC. The small church of Notre Dame La Blanche is a typical sailors’ church where memorials and models of ships are reminders of the perils of the sea.

Islands of Brittany – In the Gulf of Morbihan

Aerial view of Golfe de Morbihan Brittany islands showing many little islands in deep blue sea
Golfe de Morbihan © Alexandre Lamoureux/CC-BY-SA 4.0

The Gulf of Morbihan is beautiful, a glorious stretch of water dotted with 42 islands, many of which are private and which you can only glimpse on a boat trip. But you can visit the main islands of Île-aux-Moines and Île d’Arz.


Ile aux Moines with end of little house on left, tree on right and pathwat between them leading to blue sea and rocky landscape opposite
Ile aux Moines © France Jebulon/CC-BY-SA 1.0

Once home to the monks of Redon Abbey, you get to this 6-km long, 5km wide island from Port-Blanc. The largest island in the Golfe, Île-aux-Moines is a plant lovers’ paradise with over 350 different species from mimosas to orange trees. Hire a bike at the jetty when you arrive and cycle from the old village of fishermens’ houses past megalithic dolmens to the edge of the island.

Île d’Arz

Little street in Ile d'Art Brittany islands with one side of street with small white two storey cottage and plants outside
Ile d’Arz © Rueji Elle/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Take the 20-minute crossing from Conleau Point out to the archipelago of nine islands making up Île d’Arz. Come out of season if you can (there are only 260 permanent residents living here but it rises to as many as 2,500 during the summer season). The walk around the island along the coastal paths is spectacular. when you’ve done with walking, visit the 16th-century Berno tidal mill, still in working order. One last treat is in the centre of the village where the Musée Marins et Capitaines (Sailors and Captains Museum) fills in the story of those who went to sea.

If I haven’t managed to convince you to visit some of the glorious islands of Brittany, I don’t know what will!

Getting to Brittany

The best way to get to Brittany from the UK is by Brittany Ferries who operate from Portsmouth to St Malo and from Plymouth to Roscoff as well as to nearby Normandy. Check out the ferry routes.

More about the Coast of France

The glorious Islands of France from Normandy to the Mediterranean

French Atlantic Coast

Discover chic Ile de Ré

Explore the glorious Vendée department

The Iles de Lérin off Cannes on the Côte d’Azur

Privacy Preference Center