Until about five years ago I wasn’t aware of the existence of the Scilly Isles, but after they were brought to my attention they immediately joined the Travel Wishlist. Prepare to fall in love–and prepare for a big post (you might want to pop the kettle on for this one).
This British archipelago lies in the Atlantic ocean, 45km off the Cornish peninsula, and is the most southern and most western location in England. The Isles are made up of 140 islands but only five are inhabited (2011 population: 2,203). The main one is St Mary’s–that’s where you’ll arrive as a visitor (info on how to get here, and my other tips, summarised below!).
How to travel to the Isles of Scilly
First thing’s first: getting to the Scilly Isles is fairly tricky (though the silver lining is that it’s pretty un-touristy).
You can fly or get the boat but all options only depart from south-west England: the Skybus flies out of Newquay, Land’s End, Exeter and Penzance, while the Scillionian III ferry only goes from/to Penzance. You can also get a fly and sail combo ticket or go on a day trip, but that only gets you 4½ hours on the islands.
As a plane-hater, I opted for the boat (from £90pp return). Turns out I’m not great on boats in rough waters either, and 2.5 hours stuck on the sea can be really not fun. (I apparently missed dolphins *cries forever*)
Things to see & do
- Take an inter-island day trip with the St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association (post up next)
- Walk around the Garrison (city walls), then treat yourself to a drink at the Star Castle Hotel
- Explore the Bronze Age burial chambers and ruins of Innisidgen, Bant’s Carn and Halangy Down
- See the official tourism website for lots more!
One of the things I struggled to get my head around while on the Isles of Scilly was the fact that it’s technically England. There’s a Co-Op and you’ll find Lloyds and Barclays banks on the high street. You pay in GBP, there are Union Jacks, everyone speaks English (and is super friendly)…but the weather is generally great and the sea SO blue. It messes with the mind.
Clearly, it’s beautiful here. The Isles of Scilly have been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 1975 and there’s an amazing variety of wildlife with puffins, seals, the (unique) Scilly shrew, and hundreds of sea birds–even dolphins and whales! Besides all the fauna, flora is a big part of the local economy and Scilly is famous for trading cut flowers.
Where to stay
As we booked our trip only a few weeks before we went, there was just one hotel on St. Mary’s with availability. It was well-rated and we could redeem our Hotels.com Rewards but it was honestly not good–and still overpriced even considering one night was free.
Places to eat & drink
It almost goes without saying that there’s good seafood to be had. It was a happy accident that we visited during the annual Taste of Scilly Festival, so we also visited the market for some local produce to bring home. We enjoyed some good grub at these places, too:
- The Mermaid Inn, Hugh Town (St. Mary’s)
- Juliet’s Garden, Seaways Farm, Porthloo (St. Mary’s)
- Kavorna Café, Hugh Street (St. Mary’s)
- The Galley, Hugh Street (St. Mary’s)
- The New Inn, New Grimsby (Tresco)
Read my other posts about the Isles of Scilly.
The Isles of Scilly are amazing and you should book your next holiday there right now.