The Top 5 Dive Destinations in Europe

4th August 2016   |   Sandro Lonardi

When thinking about scuba diving, most of us imagine tropical waters bordered by white sand beaches. Europe certainly isn’t the first destination that springs to mind yet a large percentage of scuba divers live on the continent. Luckily, some of the best dive sites in the world can be found in Europe. From plentiful wrecks to shark encounters and coral-lined walls, this vast continent has the perfect dive destination for every interest and ability.

Diving in Europe does have a slightly shorter season than tropical destinations. The Mediterranean tends to be best from April to November while the Atlantic, Arctic and the North Sea have even shorter seasons.

Ready to dive into Europe? Check out our picks for the top dive destinations on the continent.

1. Italy

Jutting its fashionable boot into the Mediterranean Sea, Italy lures scuba divers to its long coastline and sun-filled islands. Warm, clear water along with colorful underwater scenes make the Roman homeland a natural choice for a list of best scuba diving destinations in Europe. But two Italian locales, in particular, rise above the rest, namely Portofino and Sardinia.

Portofino Marine Park

Scuba diving in Portofino Marine Park is wrought with all manner of dive sites and suitable for all ability levels. Walls, underwater sculptures and swim-through caverns at advanced depths combined with wrecks from World War II make Portofino a popular destination for Italian divers. This northern location is currently a protected marine park resulting in an abundance of colorful landscapes and unique marine life.

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The Christ of Abyss Cristo degli Abissi) in Portofino

Photo credit: vgm8383

Sardinia

Sardinia is sometimes described as having the best scuba diving in the Mediterranean. History-lovers are fascinated by the area’s wrecks, beginners can utilize the area’s shore dives, and tec divers love the caves found along the island’s cliffs. The majority of the diving takes place on the east coast as the west coast is exposed to prevailing south westerly winds. Furthermore, the marine protected areas in the Archipelago of the Maddalena and the Lavezzi Marine Park offer a wide array of marine life.

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The Ghost Cave in Sardinia

Photo credit: Sandro Lonardi

2. The Maltese Islands

Defined by reefs, caves, wrecks and warm waters, the three Maltese Islands (Malta, Gozo and Comino) lineup like forgotten jewels in the Mediterranean. This historically fascinating destination boasts some of the most unique dives in Europe. In particular, the Blue Hole, which is located off Gozo, begins in a pool of 40 feet (12 meters). Jumping into the pool, divers press through a submerged crevice, the window to the ocean’s clear blue water and the shy octopus that live among the rock formations on the other side. The Blue Hole among World War II wrecks, arches and sculptures give Malta underwater attractions unlike any other in Europe.

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The Azure Window in Gozo, Malta

Photo credit: Sandro Lonardi

3. The Azores

The Last Hidden Treasure of Europe” - a fitting nickname for this largely overlooked yet fascinating diving destination. Traversing both the European and North American plates, these 9 Portuguese islands sit at a crossroad of currents, drawing in plentiful pelagic species. Manta rays, mobulas, blue sharks, tope sharks, thornback rays and squid glide around deepsea pinnacles. Sperm whales feed in the open blue ocean. Most dive operators operate from the spread-out islands, but some liveaboards are starting to travel these seas. Certainly, if you’re a lover of sharks, the Azores is the European destination best suited to you.

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A Blue Shark in the Azores

4. Iceland

Albeit cold, Iceland deserves a spot among the best dive destinations in Europe. The majority of Iceland’s diving is centered around Silfra in Thingvellir National Park. Here divers can descend into the Big Crack, a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Ultimately, scuba divers have the opportunity to reach across and touch both tectonic plates at once. Silfra is the only place in the world where this is possible. The dive finishes in Silfra Lagoon where visibility in excess of 360 feet (100 meters) creates otherworldly scenes. Extensive dry suit training is required but most dive operators offer an introductory session to novice divers who wish to take advantage of scuba diving in Iceland.

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Diving the Big Crack, Silfra, Iceland

Photo credit: Shriram Rajagopalan

5. Croatia

At the bottom of the Alps and bordering the Adriatic Sea, Croatia's rocky shoreline boasts warm waters, wall dives and stunning reefs. Hidden coves and caves dot the hundreds of islands off the Croatian coast. There are plenty of wrecks, too. World War I and World War II wrecks lie at the bottom of the Adriatic including a B-17 bomber within recreational limits. Summer is the best time to visit when visibility is simply endless. Between the Istrian Peninsula, Kornati, Korcula and Kvarner Bay, there is a dive site for every interest in Croatia.

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Wreck diving in Croatia

If you’re an avid European diver, we’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite dive destination? And if we’ve inspired you to explore a new diving destination in Europe, be sure to let us know in the comments below!

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