Discover the Isles of Scilly

Discover the Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly, nestling just 35 miles off the coast of Cornwall, are like nowhere else in England. Outstandingly beautiful, uncrowded and unspoilt, they seem like a world apart from everyday life. Everything looks and feels quite different here, and life moves at an easier pace.

The adventure begins when you arrive by small plane from Exeter, Newquay or Land’s End or by boat – the passenger ferry Scillonian lll - from Penzance. It couldn’t be easier but you immediately sense that you have discovered something very special as you glimpse this cluster of low-lying islands amid a turquoise lagoon, some fringed by rocks, others by white sandy beaches, and all bathed in a light of wonderful intensity. It feels otherworldly – a simpler, kinder and more innocent way to be.

The Scilly adventure continues as you hop from island to island by small boat, experiencing many natural wonders – occasional basking sharks, seals, dolphins and regular visiting rare birds. Some visitors crave the deep sense of tradition here, immersing themselves in history and myth; others come to walk, to cycle, to sail or to enjoy the heightened creativity of island life through painting, photography or crafts; many love to immerse themselves in the sights and scents of the sub-tropical plants and flowers that give Scilly its distinctive landscape; and everyone can savour fresh seafood in beachside cafes or local ale at a traditional pub. All this plus life’s simplest pleasures, from beachcombing on deserted beaches and picnicking on the sand, to watching the sunset and gazing at the stars. A world of unique experiences.

Life on the islands moves at a different pace but everything is centred around the sea which holds them together and keeps them apart. There are five inhabited islands, each with its own unique charm and character and hopping between them is central to any Scilly holiday. There are a variety of boats and boat trips to be chartered and throughout the day fleets of colourful launches busily ferry people about the place. The boatmen take great pride in their knowledge and experience and may well put in an appearance over breakfast in your hotel or B&B to let you in on what they’re going to be up to that day – where to be picked up and when to arrive on the quay.

Each of the of islands – St Agnes, Bryher, St Martin’s and Tresco all have a distinct identity and special character. Unspoilt views of the sea, rugged coasts and sweeping beaches and a unique mix of exotic plants and wildlife. Internationally important archaeological and historical sites are all easily explored and artists’ studios and a tea room or restaurant is never more than a short walk away. And there are countless uninhabited islands too with their raw rugged edges and fascinating flora and fauna; check out the Western Rocks or Bishop Rock lighthouse or the Eastern Isles are a favourite haunt for seals and local divers take groups to swim with these playful marine mammals. Or take an evening trip to a sunset drink at an off island pub or restaurant.

A quick hop around the Isles of Scilly…
St. Mary’s – is the largest island though still only covering an area less than 2.5 square miles. As the central hub for the islands it offers a number of excellent pubs and a cluster of shops as well as the health centre, two banks, the Post Office and a remarkable museum of island life. There are only 6 miles of roads but over 30 miles of paths and nature trails.
Hugh Town – the capital – lies on a sandy isthmus between two beaches. On one side Town beach plays host to the daily bustle of colourful boating activity and is a photographer’s heaven as the sun sets in the distance between the twin peaks of the island of Samson. Whilst on the southern side is the lovely Porthcressa beach – a wonderfully sheltered sandy bay just two minutes from the centre of town and just ideal for families. The Tourist Information Centre also has its new home at the top of the beach as does the beachside eaterie of Dibble and Grub housed (you guessed it) in the old Fire Station.

Hugh Town is protected both geographically and historically by the Garrison - a promontory packed with massive granite 17th century fortifications and the famous 16th century star shaped castle now a hotel aptly named Star Castle. The popular walk out around all these ancient defences gives panoramic views of all the islands.
Venturing out of town to the east there are the wondrous and massive granite stones of Porth Hellick Bay and the beautiful Pelistry bay with Toll’s island which you can walk across to at low tide. It falls neatly in the middle of a “round the island” walk. Or take a 10 minute stroll out to the artists’ community at Phoenix Craft Workshops and a little further along is Juliet’s Garden restaurant and bar – a place eat in or out whilst enjoying spectacular harbour views; it’s been here for over 30 years; walking back into town at the water’s edge at Porthmellon is relative newcomer to fine eating on St Mary’s – Spero’s. St. Mary’s is just the place to make your base on Scilly from which to strike out for the other islands or to explore and treasure as a magical and unique place in its own right.

St. Agnes – is the last bit of England before you reach America and probably a separate island for over 1000 years; the water which separates it from the other islands is much deeper than that which laps their beaches so it’s always been out on its own and has probably seen more shipwrecks too. Everyone has their favourite beaches on Scilly but Periglis, Cove Vean and The Bar take some beating. And talking of bars, St. Agnes boasts England’s most westerly pub in the atmospheric Turks Head. Grab a bite here or stroll to Coastguards Café for a warm welcome in a joyous setting. And Scilly’s only dairy farm – Troytown – is to be found here too, walk through the farm before sampling the most delicious homemade ice cream
Bryher – is the setting for Michael Morpurgo’s book “Why the whales came” and the location for the subsequent film. On some days Bryher can be almost frighteningly bleak as waves, having gathered momentum for 2000 miles, smash into Hell Bay, now home to one of the UKs finest hotels; and then the next day it can be almost achingly beautiful and calm. There is a stark contrast between the west side and the much softer east side which faces across the sheltered Channel to neighbouring Tresco. Sometimes you can even walk between the two islands on very low tides. Great food and a drink can be found at Fraggle Rock and Hell Bay and while you’re there why not pop virtually next door into artist Richard Pearce’s wonderful studio on the beach almost lapped by the waves on some days..

Tresco – is one of the unique places of the world and recently placed amongst the Top Ten Islands in the world by National Geographic Magazine – eat your heart out Tahiti ! It owes this status to its quite remarkable flora to be found in every hedgerow but which is all brought together in the vibrant pizazz of the world famous Abbey Garden and because it is effectively the almost secret world of one family and has been for nearly 200 years; the Dorrien Smith family lease the whole lot from the Duchy of Cornwall and so have put their classy stamp on it for decades.

There are plenty of places to eat and drink, none better than the New Inn – the island’s pub for 200 years - and the Flying Boat Club just down the road . And the newly opened Ruin Bar and restaurant at Old Grimsby. Nearly 200 people live here and run the place – dedicated to offering the very best in hospitality and the housing stock is now littered with some wonderfully designed and renovated timeshares. There are no cars.
St Martin’s – is arguably the most picturesque of all the islands with its glorious sweeping beaches – endless and uncrowded - adorning the edges of its crescent shape . A little like Bryher it, too, has a rugged weather beaten side to the north east and a much gentler, sheltered side to the south and west. In the distance the Eastern Isles sit like a shimmering necklace low in the water – a favourite haunt of seals which you can swim and snorkel amongst. Wild agapanthus, lily and Hottentot Figs grow wild everywhere adorning every rocky dry stone wall.

Unique to this wonderful island are the St Martin’s Vineyard, winery, visitor centre and shop. Fay Page’s dazzling contemporary jewellery at the Open Studio and the island’s very own dive school which offers snorkelling with those friendly seals and a wide range of diving opportunities for all levels of experience.
Whichever island you choose, Scilly is stylish enough to be special; chilled enough to go barefoot.
Above all, these unique islands give you the space and freedom to do everything – or next to nothing – in a breath-taking location that basks in the mildest climate in the UK. Magical, peaceful and unforgettable, Scilly makes you long to return. Again and again.

Things to do on the Isles of Scilly
There are more than 35 sandy beaches spread across the islands. Whether you are after a refreshing swim, serious sand-castle building, rockpooling, shell-seeking or the perfect picnic spot, the beaches around Scilly will delight. For the full low-down, click here.

Get up close and personal with seals on a snorkelling trip. It’s a real thrill to watch these elegant and graceful creatures in their natural habitat. Suitable from age eight. 

If you are looking for a real buzz on the water, try a host of watersports, from sailing and kayaking to windsurfing and kite-surfing. Centres on two islands cater for all ages and abilities, and equipment can be hired from both. 

Hire a small motor craft, sailing boat or kayak and explore the magical coves and tranquil beaches at your own pace. 

Regular boat trips and RIB Sea Safaris visit the uninhabited islands to watch marine life and tour famous landmarks. You can even see underwater life through a glass-bottomed boat. 

Hire a bike. From easy lanes to more testing trails, bikes are a brilliant way to explore both St Mary’s and Tresco.

Watch gig rowing. These six-oared wooden boats race in the waters off Scilly. Training takes place on Wednesday and Friday evenings throughout the summer months and spectator boats follow the action.

Enjoy the beauty of St Mary’s on horseback, riding along sandy beaches and though the shallows on the way.

Delve into Scilly’s past on boat trips and guided walks that give you the low-down on the fascinating history and archaeology of the islands.

And don’t forget the fabulous Isles of Scilly Museum on St Mary’s, where tales of shipwreck and piracy will grip the imagination. 

Isles of Scilly links
Isles of Scilly tourism website
Isles of Scilly weather

What’s nearby

Map of Cornwall © OpenStreetMap contributors, CC BY-SA