The World's 26 Biggest Islands, in One Handy Map

World's biggest island? Up for discussion. The next 25? See this map.

Here's a question that can turn any pub quiz into a pub brawl: Which is the world's largest island? In the left corner, those who favour Greenland. In the right, the pro-Australians. Fighting it out is as good a way to settle the dispute as any, because there is no correct answer.

Not that both places are the same size – far from it: at nearly 7.62 million km2 (2.94 million sq mi), Australia is 3.5 times as big as Greenland, which measures almost 2.17 million km2 (836,000 sq mi).

That makes Australia almost exactly as big as the contiguous U.S. (1), and Greenland a bit smaller than Algeria, Africa's largest country. If you thought Greenland was almost exactly as big as Africa, you fell for the Mercator projection, which helps sailors get from port A to port B in a straight line on the map (2), but only at the cost of increasing the distortion of the land masses towards the poles. In actual fact, Africa is 14 times the size of Greenland. Like so:

But back to the geographical fisticuffs.

The whole thing hinges on your definition of island, or more exactly, on your definition of continent. An island is any land entirely surrounded by water – just as long as it's smaller than a continent. So what's a continent? Well: a very large land mass (3). What keeps one from being the other? Nothing more than the convention that you can't be both at the same time. 

Quite arbitrary indeed, and easily brushed aside by Australia's teachers, who can't resist imparting to their students the beautiful symmetry of a questionable fact: that their country is the world's smallest continent, as well as its largest island. 

To the rest of the world, that's a clear case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. So Greenland gets the green light: most observers agree that it is the world's biggest island.

Now that that is settled, do you know which is the world's second-biggest island? If your a geo-nerd, you may know that it's New Guinea, the island split between Indonesia and the independent state of Papua New Guinea (4). Extra points if you know that numbers three and four are Borneo and Madagascar.

But that is about where our own heady mix of knowledge, luck and intuition would run out. For future reference (and highly specialised pub quizzes), memorise this roster of the world's 26 biggest islands. Peek all you want, but look away after a minute or so. Now, how many can you name?

They sure are a collection of strange bedfellows. Number five is Baffin Island, in Canada's Arctic, frozen and desolate (population: 11,000). Number six is Sumatra, another pearl in the string of tropical islands that is Indonesia (population: 50 million). Filling out the second row are Japan's main island Honshu (pop: 103 million) and another one of Canada's northern islands, Victoria (pop: 2,000). 

Great Britain, at #9, is the  first European entry. With 61 million inhabitants, it is the third most populated island in the world (Honshu is the second). At #10, Ellesmere Island is Canada's northernmost and most desolate island (population: about 100 shivering souls). It bears a strange resemblance to Westeros, the main continent in the Game of Thrones universe. Sulawesi, at #11, is another Indonesian island, and also has a shape reminiscent of elsewhere (see #675). New Zealand's South Island (#12) shares the prize for most generic name with its North Island (#14). Combined, they are home to 4.5 million kiwis (5). That is less than 1/30th of the population of Java, the island separating them in the size ranking. With 145 million inhabitants, Java is the world's most populous island (density: over 1,100 people per km2), representing almost 60% of Indonesia's total. 

Not Indonesian but from around there, Luzon (#15) is the main island of the Philippines. Newfoundland (#16) is one of five Canadian islands on this map, but could have been an independent nation of its own, had that 1948 referendum gone the other way (see also #31). Cuba (#17) and Iceland (#18) are two of the four islands on this map that are also independent nations (6). Mindanao (#19) is the other large Filipino island on the map. Its neighbour Ireland (#20) is used to having Great Britain next door, but probably won't mind the change.

Hokkaido (#21) and Sakhalin (#23) are also geographical neighbours, separated by a size sibling, Hispaniola (#22). Banks Island (#24) is probably the least familiar name of the bunch. Frozen and treeless, this Canadian island is home to no more than 112 people – all in the 'capital', Sachs Harbour – and two-thirds of the world's population of lesser snow geese. Bringing up the rear are Sri Lanka (#25) and Tasmania (#26). 

Nice about this map is not just that it's a handy cheat sheet for that island/continent-themed pub quiz that will probably never happen, but also that the islands are brought together in the same scale (eat that, Mercator!). So it's obvious at a glance how much bigger Madagascar is than Britain, for example. Or that Hispaniola and Hokkaido are virtually the same size (world maps tend to stretch the latter, making it appear much bigger).

Greenland/Africa comparison maps found here on Business Insider. Biggest islands map found here at Map Porn on Reddit. Made by I_guess_im_back (using theFuller projection, since you didn't ask). 

Strange Maps #777

Got a strange map? Let me know at

(1) from the Latin 'contiguus', meaning 'Lower Forty-Eight'.

(2) a.k.a. a rhumb line, or a loxodrome.

(3) the vagueness of that definition explains the different counts. The minimalist option is three continents (America, Afro-Eurasia, Australia). The four-continent model adds Antarctica. The five-model one counts Africa and Eurasia separately. There are two six-continent models: one separating Europe and Asia, the other splitting North from South America. Subtracting Antarctica from either leads to an alternative five-continent model. The seven-continent model includes all aforementioned parts separately.

(4) One of only four islands on this map divided between two (or more) sovereign states. The others are Borneo (Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia), Ireland (the republic of Ireland and the UK), Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

(5) Common nickname for the inhabitants of New Zealand. Not to be confused with the fruit or the various bird species of the same name. For more info, go to Kiwipedia.

(6) The other two are Madagascar and Sri Lanka.

Biohacking: Why I'll live to be 180 years old

From computer hacking to biohacking, Dave Asprey has embarked on a quest to reverse the aging process.

  • As a teenager, founder of Bulletproof, Dave Asprey, began experiencing health issues that typically plague older adults.
  • After surrounding himself with anti-aging researchers and scientists, he discovered the tools of biohacking could dramatically change his life and improve his health.
  • He's now confident he'll live to at least 180 years old. "It turns out that those tools that make older people young make younger people kick ass," he says.
Keep reading Show less

First solar roadway in France turned out to be a 'total disaster'

French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.

Image source: Charly Triballeau / AFP / Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • The French government initially invested in a rural solar roadway in 2016.
  • French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.
  • Solar panel "paved" roadways are proving to be inefficient and too expensive.
Keep reading Show less

European wind farms could meet global energy demand, researchers now say

A new study estimated the untapped potential of wind energy across Europe.

Surprising Science
  • A new report calculated how much electricity Europe could generate if it built onshore wind farms on all of its exploitable land.
  • The results indicated that European onshore wind farms could supply the whole world with electricity from now until 2050.
  • Wind farms come with a few complications, but the researchers noted that their study was meant to highlight the untapped potential of the renewable energy source in Europe.
Keep reading Show less