While diving may seem like a hobby reserved for exotic islands and far-flung destinations, you may be surprised to learn that Europe has its fair share of excellent diving spots. Europe is home to everything from world-class wreck dives (we're looking at you, Gozo) to unusual underwater landscapes and once-in-a-lifetime encounters with pelagics. We're big fans of a European diving holiday and love that you can find some spectacular locations just a short plane ride away. Here is where we think has the best diving in Europe…
Xatt l’Ahmar, Gozo
Gozo, the second-largest island in the Maltese archipelago, has beautiful diving conditions throughout the year. But, if you're a sun-seeker (like us) who shudders at the thought of cooler waters, the warmest months to dive in Gozo are between June and November (with temperatures ranging between 20°C and 26°C). However, even in the depths of the Maltese winter, the water remains at a manageable 16°C.
When it comes to the best diving in Europe, Xatt l'Ahmar off Gozo's south-east coast is high up on our list. The site is home to not one, but three deep wrecks (MV Karwela, MV Xlendi and Cominoland) that are mere metres apart. Sadly, only MV Karwela and Cominoland are safe to explore, but MV Xlendi still has its charm, even from the outside. Sunk in 2006, MV Karwela is one of Gozo's top wrecks, with divers flocking to explore its three decks and eerie staircase.
In addition to wreck diving, Gozo is known for its striking underwater topography. Beneath the surface, you'll find deep caverns, steep drop-offs and numerous tunnels and arches. The waters are crystal clear and abundant in marine life such as barracudas, amberjacks and groupers.
Pico Island, Azores
Sticking with the theme of archipelagos, next up on our list we have the Azores, and more specifically, Pico Island. The waters off Pico Island rise to a pleasant 25°C in the summer, with lows of 16°C in the winter. The visibility is great, ranging between 15 and 30 metres.
Our favourite dive site off Pico Island is the Princess Alice Seamount, which we'd say has the best diving in Europe for pelagics. 58 miles south-west of Pico, the seamount rises up approximately 2,500 metres from the Atlantic Ocean floor, stopping 32 metres shy of the surface. The best time to dive here is from July to mid-October, when large groups of curious mobulas (also known as devil rays) gather to feed. Aside from mobulas, you might encounter swordfish, bonitos and more, as well as the occasional whale shark and manta ray if you're particularly lucky.
The Azores is such a popular diving destination thanks to its abundance of pelagics, marine mammals and interesting underwater rock formations. Aside from Pico Island, there is also fantastic diving in Santa Maria and the Formigas Islets.
Silfra Fissure, Iceland
Diving in Iceland? Surely not, we hear you say. But, don't be so quick to discount Iceland's cold waters, as they are home to probably the most unique dive site in the world. With waters that range between 2°C and 4°C throughout the year, you'll need to be dry suit certified to dive in Iceland, but don't worry, it's worth it.
The Silfra Fissure, in Thingvellir National Park, is a particularly special site with incredible visibility that has been known to exceed 100 metres. The fissure was formed in 1789 when an earthquake caused by the movement of two tectonic plates (the North American and the Eurasian) left a rift in the Earth's surface that was filled with glacial meltwater (the water is so pure, you can drink it).
Divers are drawn to the Silfra Fissure not for the fish, although you may see brown trout or two in the shallows, but for the unique experience of diving between two continents that are still shifting to this day. It's definitely worth adding to your diving bucket list (our top tip is to turn on your back when it's sunny for a mirror image of the fissure reflected back to you on the water's surface).
If you're thinking about experiencing some of the best diving in Europe on your next holiday, get in contact with a member of our team who can help you plan the perfect itinerary.