To see the best (and worst) times to visit, please read our reviews of our recommended places to stay
Note: flight, boat, train and bus timetables change constantly, and airlines come and go, so please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning. Check with relevant companies, or a flight search engine like Skyscanner, first.
The nearest airports are Palermo and Catania on Sicily. You'll then need to take a ferry, hydrofoil, hydroplane or helicopter to the islands.
There are 3 hydrofoil / ferry companies operating in the Aeolian Islands (navi means ferries, aliscafi are hydrofoils): Ustica Lines, Siremar and SNAV (Naples-Salina).
It's easiest (especially outside midsummer) to fly to Catania and then take a taxi / bus / hire car to the Sicilian city of Milazzo (2 hours away). From here there are 5-10 daily hydrofoils crossing to the Aeolian Islands (journey time approx 90mins), as well as a slow ferry which takes 3-4 hours.
Another option is to take the hydrofoil from Messina on Sicily. There are fewer sailings and a longer journey time, but it's closer to Catania (and the Italian mainland, should you be coming from there).
From Palermo, Naples and other ports:
In summer (July to September) you can take the hydrofoil straight from Sicily's capital Palermo (half a day's journey) or from Naples (a day) - both cities have regular flights from around Europe. Or, throughout the year, there is an overnight ferry once a week from Naples. But bear in mind that both of these are more susceptible to bad weather. There are also sporadic sailings from Cefalù and Santa Agata Militello on Sicily, and from Reggio di Calabria on the mainland.
BY HYDROPLANE OR HELICOPTER
There is a hydroplane service from Palermo and Catania several times a week - see EOLNET. Alternatively, you can charter a private helicopter to any of the islands with Air Panarea, or join a scheduled flight from Reggio di Calabria (mainland Italy) on certain days of the week.
On Lipari and Salina, there are reliable bus services and scooters for hire, whilst all the other islands (except Alicudi) have taxi firms. Your hotel will be able to assist with arranging boats to explore the coastline. Hydrafoils depart daily from Salina to various neighbouring islands and Bluestone Sicily offers mini-cruises around the archipelago.
Summer is extremely busy - in July and August you'll be lucky to find a room on any island as they get booked up months in advance. It's also very hot. Much better to come in spring (April to early June) or autumn (September and October) if you can: temperatures are balmy (both swimming and hiking are comfortable), and prices are much more reasonable. You'll also have the islands almost to yourself. Bear in mind that October can bring storms and suspended boat services, so allow extra time for sea crossings or avoid this month if your sea legs aren’t well established.