Top 10 Largest Islands in the World

Islands are defined by sub-continental land mass that is entirely surrounded by water. Islands come in different shapes, sizes and locations. The most common type of islands are the continental islands, which lie on the continental shelf and therefore represent just above water parts of the continent itself. Oceanic islands, on the other hand, do not lie on the continental shelf and are usually volcanic in origin. Lastly there are also the tropical islands, which form from coral reefs. The following ranks the 10 largest islands in the world by size of the land area. Note that only islands are included in the ranking, continents such as Australia are not.

largest islands in the world
Palau archipelago islands, Credit: LuxTonnerre / CC BY 2.0

The 10 Largest Islands in the World

2,130,800 km² / 822,700 sq mi
785,753 km² / 303,381 sq mi
748,168 km² / 288,869 sq mi
587,041 km² / 226,658 sq mi
507,451 km² / 195,928 sq mi
443,066 km² / 182,812 sq mi
225,800 km² / 87,200 sq mi
217,291 km² / 83,897 sq mi
209,331 km² / 80,823 sq mi
196,236 km² / 75,767 sq mi

1. Greenland

greenland - largest island in the world

Location: Between Arctic Ocean and Atlantic Ocean / North America
Belongs to: Denmark

Greenland is the largest island in the world. With a land mass area of 2,130,800 km² (822,700 square miles), Greenland spans across both the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean. While located in North America and largely autonomous, Greenland officially belongs to the Kingdom of Denmark. Despite its huge size, only around 55,000 people live on the entire island. Around 80% of the island is covered with the world’s only permanent ice sheet outside of Antarctica. Why it is called Greenland then? That’s how the Vikings named the island after discovering it in the 10th Century. Since the settlements began in summer and Greenland used to be a lot greener back then. The name may have also be chosen by the Norwegian-born Viking Erik the Red to attract more settlers to the island.

2. New Guinea

new guinea - second largest island in the world

Location: Pacific Ocean / Oceania
Belongs to: Papua New Guinea & Indonesia

Just north of the country of Australia lies the world’s second largest island. New Guinea. Part of the Australian continent, New Guinea has a total area size of 785,753 km² (303,381 square miles). The name of the island was given by the Spanish explorers who arrived on the island in the 16th Century. They saw big similarities between the island’s black skinned native population and the people of Guinea in Africa, hence called the island Nueva Guinea aka New Guinea. Today, New Guinea is politically divided almost exactly down the middle: The Western half belongs to Indonesia, the Eastern half to the independent country of Papua New Guinea. More than 11 million people live on the island in total.

3. Borneo

borneo island

Location: Pacific Ocean / Southeast Asia
Belongs to: Indonesia & Malaysia & Brunei

Borneo is third among the largest islands in the world. The island has a area size of 748,168 km² (288,869 square miles) and lies in the Southeast Asian part of the Pacific Ocean. The island today is home to over 21 million people. It is politically split between three countries: The biggest part, around 73%, belongs to Indonesia. Malaysia owns 26% and the rest 1% comprises the entire territory of the independent state of Brunei, which the island is named after.

4. Madagascar

madagascar largest island in africa

Location: Indian Ocean / East Africa
Belongs to: Madagascar

With an area size of 587,041 km² (226,658 square miles), Madagascar is the largest island in Africa, the largest island in the Indian Ocean as well as the 4th largest island in the world. Madagascar got its name through a mistake in the 13th Century: Italian explorer Marco Polo mistook the island coast for Mogadishu (the capital of modern-day Somalia on the East African mainland, known as “Magadazo” back then) and wrongly transliterated it as “Madageiscar” which eventually turned into the current official name. The entire island of Madagascar today belongs to the country of the same name, making Madagascar the second largest island state in the world (after Indonesia, which territory consists of several islands however). Around 25 million people live in and on Madagascar.

5. Baffin Island

Location: Arctic Ocean / North America
Belongs to: Canada

Just north of Canada’s mainland lies Baffin Island, the world’s 5th largest island. It has a land area size of 507,451 km² (195,928 sq miles). The island is named after British explorer William Baffin, who discovered the island in the 17th Century (although the Vikings likely had already discovered the island in the 10th Century). Today, Baffin Island is part of Canada and as such, the country’s largest island. Only a bit more than 13,000 people live within the huge area, however

6. Sumatra

Location: Pacific Ocean / Southeast Asia
Belongs to: Indonesia

7. Honshu

Location: Pacific Ocean / East Asia
Belongs to: Japan

8. Victoria Island

Location: Arctic Ocean / North America
Belongs to: Canada

9. Great Britain

Location: Atlantic Ocean / Europe
Belongs to: United Kingdom

10. Ellesmere Island

Location: Arctic Ocean / North America
Belongs to: Canada

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