9 Largest Islands in the World

By: Dave Roos  | 
World Data Locator Map, Madagascar World Data Locator Map, Madagascar.
Madagascar is an island off the coast of Africa and is well-known for wildlife found nowhere else in the world. Encyclopaedia Britannica/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

An island, simply defined, is a piece of land surrounded by water. By that definition, entire continents might qualify as islands (see the sidebar below on Australia). But if we disqualify continents from the competition, there are still some crazy big islands out there ranging from vast frozen wastelands to tropical paradises. Here are the nine largest. All area sizes are taken from Brittanica.com.


1. Greenland

Colorful houses dot the small town of Upernavik, Greenland
Colorful houses dot the small town of Upernavik, located in north-west Greenland, the largest island in the world. Christophe Boisvieux/Getty Islands
  • Area: 836,330 square miles (2,166,086 square kilometers)
  • Part of: Denmark (it's an autonomous territory)
  • Ocean: Atlantic
  • Population: 57,777

Greenland, the world's largest island, is also one of the most sparsely populated. More than 80 percent of Greenland is covered in a white sheet of ice, so why is it called Greenland? When the Viking Erik the Red was exiled to Greenland for murder, he gave the desolate island a more colorful name to attract settlers. It didn't work. Greenland's name in the Greenlandic Inuit tongue is Kalaallit Nunaat.

Just how big is Greenland? It's three times the size of Texas and almost three times bigger than New Guinea, the second-biggest island on our list. In fact, Greenland is larger than all of these countries combined: France, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom, Italy, Greece, Switzerland and Belgium. Greenland is considered an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark and has had home rule since 1979.


2. New Guinea

  • Area: 317,150 square miles (821,400 square kilometers)
  • Part of: Indonesia and Papua New Guinea
  • Ocean: Pacific
  • Population: 14,800,000 (estimated)

New Guinea is the largest tropical island in the world and its highland rainforests are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet.

There are more than 13,500 different species of plant life on New Guinea and two-thirds of those species are endemic, meaning they don't grow anywhere else in the world. New Guinea has the greatest plant diversity of any island in the world — including 2,800 species of orchids. Among New Guinea's 800 native bird species are the extraordinary, shape-shifting birds of paradise.


The eastern half of the island comprises the independent country of Papua New Guinea, while the western half (called Western New Guinea) is part of Indonesia.


3. Borneo

Borneo orangutans
Borneo is well-known for its bright orange orangutans. Anup Shah/Getty Images
  • Area: 288,869 square miles (748,168 square kilometers)
  • Part of: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia
  • Ocean: Pacific
  • Population: 23,720,000 (estimated)

Like New Guinea, Borneo is one of the largest islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Covered in dense rainforests, it's also rich in biodiversity.

The Bornean orangutan of Borneo's ancient rainforests is unmistakable with its broad fleshy face and bright orange fur. Orangutan means "man of the forest" in the Malay language, which is appropriate — humans and great apes like the orangutan share 97 percent of their DNA.


Indonesia controls 73 percent of Borneo and the country recently announced plans to move its capital from the overcrowded and polluted megacity of Jakarta to a "sustainable forest city" in Borneo by 2045. Another 26 percent of Borneo is controlled by Malaysia and just 1 percent by Brunei.


4. Madagascar

  • Area: 226,756 square miles (587,295 square kilometers)
  • Ocean: Indian
  • Population: 28,812,195

Roughly the size of Texas, Madagascar sits 250 miles (402 kilometers) off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Because Madagascar splintered off the African continent about 160 million years ago, its abundant plant and animal life have evolved in nearly total isolation. As a result, more than 90 percent of Madagascar's wildlife is found nowhere else on the planet.

Lemurs are the most famous of Madagascar's exclusive animal life and there are at least 80 different species of the raccoon-like primates on the island, including the classic ring-tailed lemur and the giant indri, a child-sized lemur known for its leaping ability and shrill calls. This island nation has been independent from France since 1960.


5. Baffin Island

Inuit mother and her daughter wear traditional amouti, Baffin Island
An Inuit mother and her daughter wear traditional amouti (parkas) on the remote tundra of Baffin Island in late spring. RyersonClark/Getty Images
  • Area: 195,928 square miles (507,451 square kilometers)
  • Part of: Canada
  • Ocean: Atlantic
  • Population: 13,000 (estimated)

There are more than 52,000 islands in Canada, but Baffin Island is by far the biggest. The rocky island in the central Canadian territory of Nunavut was named after William Baffin, a 17th-century British explorer, and has been inhabited by Innuit and other ancient Indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

Baffin Island claims to be the very first place in North America where a European set foot. Around 1,000 C.E. — nearly 500 years before Columbus — the Viking explorer Leif Erikson struck out for unknown waters west of Greenland. The first place that Erikson landed he named Helluland or "Flat Rock Land," which is an apt description of Baffin Island.


Nearly all Baffin Island's residents live in the small coastal city of Iqaluit, and the surrounding wildlands are inhabited by polar bears, caribou, Arctic foxes and Arctic wolves.


6. Sumatra

  • Area: 171,069 square miles (443,066 square kilometers)
  • Part of: Indonesia
  • Ocean: Indian Ocean
  • Population: 60,000,000 (approx.)

Sumatra is the largest island located entirely within Indonesia and it's home to three majestic national parks — Mount Leuser, Kerinci Seblat and Bukit Barisan Selatan — that have collectively been named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Like its sister islands in the Indonesian archipelago, Sumatra boasts some remarkable native wildlife including the Sumatran elephant (the smallest of all Asia elephants), Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran rhinos and Sumatran tigers. In fact, the island of Sumatra is the only place in the world where tigers, rhinos, elephants and orangutans live together.


7. Honshu

Tokyo (with Mount Fuji in the background)
Tokyo (with Mount Fuji in the background) is located on the Japanese island of Honshu. Jackyenjoyphotography/Getty Images
  • Area: 87,992 square miles (227,898 square kilometers)
  • Part of: Japan
  • Ocean: Pacific
  • Population: 104,000,000

Honshu is the largest of Japan's five primary islands — there are more than 14,000 total — and home to some of the biggest and best-known cities in Japan, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. More than 80 percent of Japan's total population is on the island of Honshu.

Mount Fuji, the iconic, nearly 13,000-foot (3,776-meter) peak is also located on Honshu. Japan's other principal islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa. Of the thousands of tiny islands ringing Japan — known as rito — only 421 are inhabited.


8. Victoria Island

  • Area: 83,896 square miles (217,291 square kilometers)
  • Part of: Canada
  • Ocean: Arctic
  • Population: 2,100 people (estimated)

Don't confuse Canada's Victoria Island with the lovely Canadian city of Victoria, located on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Victoria Island is in the frozen north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and very few people are hardy enough to withstand the nearly year-round cold and snow.

Victoria Island is most famous for a geographical curiosity known as a third-order island. In 2007, a man surveying Victoria Island on Google Maps found a small lake with an island in the middle of it. That alone isn't something to write home about. But that lake was also on an island inside of another lake. Yes, it's an island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island.


9. Great Britain

Old Harry Rocks, Dorset, England
The view from Old Harry Rocks in Dorset, England is spectacular. Andrea Comi/Getty Images
  • Area: 80,823 square miles (209,331 square kilometers)
  • Countries: England, Scotland and Wales
  • Ocean: Atlantic
  • Population: 65,000,000

Let's clear up some confusion. Great Britain is an island composed of three countries: England, Scotland and Wales. The United Kingdom is composed of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland is located on the neighboring island of Ireland, a short trip across the Irish Sea.

Great Britain is the largest island in Europe and the third most populous island in the world. Great Britain is also the largest of the British Isles, a geographical term that includes Ireland, the Isle of Man and 5,000 smaller islands.