Islands by countryWhen we hear the word 'island,' we think of azure waters and shallow, sandy beaches. But by no means is every island is really inviting for a swim. The northernmost countries, Norway, Sweden, Canada and Finland, captivate with a uniquely rugged landscape and have the most islands worldwide — by far. The dreamy island worlds of Southeast Asia come only in the second line.
Here you will find a ranking of the 50 countries with the most islands in the open sea (without inland islands). Wherever possible, official figures were used. However, please note the explanations below.
|United States||18,617||19,924 km|
|South Korea||4,400||2,413 km|
|North Korea||3,579||2,495 km|
|Papua New Guinea||1,400||5,152 km|
|Saudi Arabia||1,285||2,640 km|
|Marshall Islands||1,156||370 km|
|United Kingdom||1,000||12,429 km|
|Solomon Islands||900||5,313 km|
|Greenland *||800||44,087 km|
|Falkland Islands *||778||1,288 km|
|United Arab Emirates||700||1,318 km|
|New Zealand||600||15,134 km|
|Svalbard *||400||124 km|
|Turks and Caicos Islands *||307||389 km|
|Hong Kong *||263||733 km|
|Bermuda *||181||103 km|
What is an island?An island is a land mass permanently above sea level either in an inland waterway or in the open sea. It is completely surrounded by water, but must not be a continent. Therefore, Australia is not considered an island, while Greenland is the largest island in the world.
There is no binding and globally valid definition of the word "island." Many countries interpret the term slightly differently. In general, we speak of an island when it is big enough that it can develop its own vegetation. For example, a tree or a bush. The bare, towering rocks in Scandinavia are also considered islands.
Whether an island is really inhabited or at least habitable is irrelevant for the definition. Nor whether the island was created naturally or by man. The conspicuously high number of islands in the United Arab Emirates is due, for example, to the construction of countless artificial islands. The most famous of these island worlds are "The Palm" and "The World."
Official numbers and counting methodsWhere possible, this table is based on official figures from government agencies for geography and tourism. However, in many countries there are only estimates or vague data.
While the Swedish government officially lists 221,831 islands, taking into account all the smaller island forms, the census in neighboring Norway is already slightly different. There, 239,057 islands are named, but without the 81,192 rock islets. Canada goes one step further and does not count any islets or cays. With the Scandinavian counting method, the official number of 52,455 islands would easily be three times higher.
Constant changesWith a worldwide network of satellites, countless shipping routes and radar stations, one would think that the number of islands would not change significantly anymore. If a new volcano erupts, perhaps one or two new islands will emerge. But this is actually the exception. In 2011, Norway increased the number of its own islands by an unbelievable 240,000 because satellite photos have now discovered exactly this number and they did not even know it before. The Philippines, which proudly reported 7,107 islands in every (outdated) travel guide, is also constantly increasing the number. In 2016, this number was officially raised to 7,641 islands.
* The marked countries are not independent and sovereign states, but dependent territories of other states. Cf. also our article What is a country?