The 10 Largest Islands in the World

January 10, 2024

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The largest islands in the world

When you visualize an island, you might think of a small tropical piece of land with palm trees. However, some of the largest islands in the world are bigger than a lot of countries. Many islands have arctic landscapes that are mostly uninhabitable. Others are home to great tropical rainforests and diverse wildlife.

An island is classed as a piece of land surrounded by water. They are smaller than a continent, although there’s no standard size. An island could be a few thousand square feet (around 300 square miles) or several hundred thousand square feet.

We’ve compiled a list of the ten largest islands in the world. Some of the islands are comprised of several countries, whilst others only have a few thousand inhabitants. We’ll look at their climate, wildlife, and the history of each island. Let’s jump straight into it!

RankIslandContinentArea (km²)Area (sq mi)
1GreenlandNorth America2,130,800822,700
2New GuineaOceania785,753303,381
5Baffin IslandNorth America507,451195,928
8Victoria IslandNorth America217,29183,897
9Great BritainEurope209,33180,823
10Ellesmere IslandNorth America196,23675,767

1. Greenland

Houses on Kulusuk, Greenland
Kulusuk, Greenland
Area: 2,130,800 km² (822,700 sq mi)
Continent: North America
Population: 56,653

The world’s largest island is Greenland, which has an area of 2,130,800 km² (822,700 square miles). Despite its size, this island nation has a population of around 57,000 people. The island is located between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, around 26 km (16 mi) from Ellesmere Island. Its nearest European neighbor is Iceland, which lies 321 km (200 mi) away.

Although Greenland is part of North America, it has long been associated with European culture and politics. The island lies on the North American Tectonic plate but is politically linked to Denmark. It was a Danish colony until 1953 and still uses the Danish krone as its currency. Greenland also has two representatives (known as Folketing) in the Danish Parliament.

Despite the name, this island is mainly covered in snow and ice. Greenland’s population mainly live on the small portion of land that isn’t frozen, largely on the south and west side. Only around 10% of the population live in the east and west areas.

The island’s climate and landscape make farming nearly impossible, so fishing and hunting is the key source of food. Sheep farming is the one exception, popular in the far south of the island.

Greenland is home to the world’s largest national park: Northeast Greenland National Park. Only nine land mammals live on the island, including polar bears, Arctic foxes, and reindeer. However, there are 16 species of whales, such as narwhales, blue whales, and humpback whales. Over 230 bird species have also been observed on the island, and over 250 fish species.

2. New Guinea

Eastern Highlands Province mountain range on Papa new Guinea
Eastern Highlands Province, Papa New Guinea
Area: 785,753 km² (303,381 sq mi)
Continent: Oceania
Population: 10 million

The island of New Guinea is the second-largest in the world. The island’s eastern half is run by the independent state of Papua New Guinea, while the western half is part of Indonesia and consists of six provinces. The current population is estimated to be around 10 million, although some reports state that the true figure could be over 15 million.

New Guinea lies around 150 km (93 mi) from the north of Australia’s mainland. The shape of the island is often compared to a bird-of-paradise, which is endemic to New Guinea. The shape inspired the name Bird’s Head Peninsula, which refers to the northwest of the island, and Bird’s Tail Peninsula, which refers to the island’s southeast end.

This island nation is the most linguistically diverse area in the world. Over 1,000 different tribes occupy the island and speak a near-equivalent number of languages. It’s estimated 44 tribes Indonesian province of West Papua are uncontacted and live in voluntary isolation.

There are over 280 mammal species in New Guinea, of which 195 are endemic. One thousand two hundred fish species have been found in the region and 578 species of breeding birds. The waters of New Guinea also have 600 species of reef-building coral in the Coral Triangle of the Western Pacific Ocean.

3. Borneo

Mount Kinabalu on the island of Borneo
Mount Kinabalu, Borneo
Area: 748,168 km² (288,869 sq mi)
Continent: Asia
Population: 23 million

Borneo covers an area of 748,168 km² (288,869 square miles), making it the world’s third-largest island. It’s home to 23 million people, divided into three different countries: Malaysia and Brunei in the north and Indonesia in the southern region.

The island boasts one of the oldest rainforests in the world. The Borneo Lowland Rainforest is estimated to be around 140 million years old and home to over 15,000 flowering plants. Bornean Orangutans, one of only two remaining species of orangutans worldwide, are also endemic to the rainforest.

The world’s oldest known figurative painting was found in Borneo in 2018. The painting of a bull was found in the Lubang Jeriji Saléh cave and is estimated to be over 40,000 years old. It’s estimated that humans first lived on the island approximately 46,000 years ago.

4. Madagascar

Nosy Iranja, an island in Madagascar
Nosy Iranja, Madagascar
Area: 587,041 km² (226,658 sq mi)
Continent: Africa
Population: 29 million

Perhaps most famous for its amazing wildlife, Madagascar also holds the title of the world’s fourth-largest island.

Approximately 95% of reptiles, 89% of plant life, and 92% of mammal species in Madagascar are endemic. The island has many endangered species, including the silky sifaka lemur, which is estimated to have only 250 individuals left in the wild.

Over 20 ethnic groups live in Madagascar, many of which are descendants of settlers from East Africa and Borneo. There are over 29 million Malagasy people, of which 80% are estimated to live below the poverty line.

5. Baffin Island

Storm clouds obscuring the view of Baffin Island
Storm clouds over Baffin Island
Area: 507,451 km² (195,928 sq mi)
Continent: North America
Population: 13,000

Canada’s largest island, Baffin Island, has an area of 507,451 km² (195,928 square miles). However, the island has a population of just 13,000, of which 7,000 live in Iqaluit, the island’s capital.

Fittingly, the Inuktitut name for the island is ‘Qikiqtaaluk’ translates to ‘very big island’. The English name for it comes from the English explorer William Baffin, who discovered the island in 1616. over the years, the island has had many names, such as Baffin Land and James Island.

Humans have lived on the island for over 3,000 years. The island’s wildlife includes polar bears, Arctic foxes and Arctic wolves. Several whale species also live around the waters of Baffin Island, such as orca, beluga and bowhead. Baffin Island is also home to the world’s largest goose colony.

Baffin Island is extremely cold and has an average temperature of around −8°C to -9°C (17.6°F to 15.8°F). It’s harsh climate is one of the main reasons the island’s population is so small, despite its size,.

6. Sumatra

Lake Toba and mountains in the background on Summatra
Lake Toba, North Sumatra
Area: 443,065 km² (171,068 sq mi)
Continent: Asia
Population: 60 million

This is the largest island fully contained within Indonesian territory and the sixth-largest in the world. The Indian Ocean borders Sumatra to the northwest, west, and southwest, and the island chain of Simeulue, Nias, Mentawai, and Enggano are off the island’s west coasts.

Sumatra’s tropical rainforest became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The rainforest is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, over 200 mammal species, and around 580 bird species (of which 21 are endemic). The Sumatran orangutan, one of only two orangutan species, is also endemic to the rainforest. The island is also the only place in the world where tigers, rhinos, orangutans, and elephants live together.

Over 50 languages are spoken on the island, the majority of which belong to the Malayo-Polynesian group of Austronesian languages. The largest indigenous ethnic groups on the island include Malays, Minangkabaus, and Bataks.

7. Honshu

Mount Fuji on the island of Honshu
Mount Fuji on the island of Honshu
Area: 225,800 km² (87,200 sq mi)
Continent: Asia
Population: 104 million

Honshu is Japan’s largest island, referred to as Japan’s mainland. The Japanese name translates to ‘main province’ in English. Some of Japan’s major cities, such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Yokohama, as well as Mount Fuji (the tallest mountain in Japan), are found on the island.

People have lived on Honshu for over 60,000 years. In 2023, it’s estimated the island has over 104 million people, around 81% of Japan’s population. It is the most populated island on this list. Tokyo is the most populated city on Honshu, with around 14 million people.

Honshu is home to the Asian black bear, which lives in the mountainous regions of the island. The Japanese macaque also lives on the island. It’s the world’s most northerly monkey and is often called the ‘snow monkey’ as it lives in areas frequently covered in snow.

8. Victoria Island

Victoria Island in British Columbia, Canada
Victoria Island, Canada
Area: 217,291 km² (83,897 sq mi)
Continent: North America
Population: 2,100

Victoria Island is located in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It measures 217,291 km² (83,897 square miles), making it the world’s eighth-largest island. The island was named after Queen Victoria, who was the queen of Britain when Scottish explorer Thomas Simpson discovered the island in the 1830s.

The largest settlement on the island is Cambridge Bay on the south-east coast. In 2021, it had a population of around 1,700 people. The hamlet was named after Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, while the Inuinnaqtun name is Ikaluktutiak. This translates to ‘good fishing place’ in English.

One of the most famous sights on the island is the Tunnunik impact crater, which was caused by a meteorite. It was discovered in 2010 but is thought to have been made between 130 and 350 million years ago.

9. Great Britain

View of the white cliffs of Dover
The white cliffs of Dover
Area: 209,331 km² (80,823 sq mi)
Continent: Europe
Population: 68 million

Great Britain is the largest island in the British Isles (of which there are over 6,000). The island is located in the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s separated from mainland Europe by the English Channel and North Sea.

The island was connected to mainland Europe until around 9,000 years ago. Great Britain was first inhabited by people who crossed the land bridge from Europe. There’s evidence of humans on the island from over 800,000 years ago and modern humans from 30,000 years ago.

Politically, the name ‘Great Britain’ refers to the countries of England, Scotland, and Wales, but not Northern Ireland. The name also encompasses smaller islands such as the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, and the Isles of Scilly.

Great Britain has a relatively small percentage of the world’s wildlife. Humans have hunted dangerous animals (such as wolves, brown bears, and wild boar) to extinction. The European adder is the only venomous snake on the island. The largest native mammal in Great Britain is the red deer.

10. Ellesmere Island

Ellesmere Island
Ellesmere Island, part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region in the Canadian territory of Nunavut
Area: 196,236 km² (75,767 sq mi)
Continent: North America
Population: 144

The tenth-largest island in the world is Ellesmere Island, which is part of the Queen Elizabeth Islands. It lies within the Arctic Archipelago. Ellesmere Island is virtually uninhabited land, with a population of less than 150.  The largest settlement is an Inuit hamlet called Grise Fiord in the south of the island.

Ellesmere Island is a polar desert. A large portion of the island gets less than 70 mm of precipitation each year. Some of the wildlife on the island include polar bears, walruses, and wolves. Arctic hares, muskox, and seals are also common on the island.

In 2015, the Earth’s geomagnetic North Pole was recorded on Ellesmere Island. This fixed point marks the northern tip of the axis the Earth is rotating around. The island is the most northerly point of land in Canada and one of the world’s most northern points of land.

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