Visiting the Isles of Scilly

View of Scillonian Ferryin Penzance Harbour on a sunny day, with St Michaels Mount in the background

There are few places in the UK as inspirational as the Isles of Scilly. This cluster of five inhabited islands (and many more uninhabited) has a total population of just over 2,000, and is the most southerly location in Britain. Here, turquoise water and white-sand beaches combine with rare and unusual wildlife to create an environment that’s distinctly exotic. The islands are easily reached from Penzance so why not take a day trip or round off your holiday with a few days ‘overseas’?

Getting there

Climb aboard the Scillonian III from Penzance Harbour. Sailing daily from Easter to November, the passenger ferry takes around 2 hours and 45 minutes to reach the largest island of St Mary’s. Check-in is an hour before departure, giving you plenty of time to settle into your seats and look forward to the journey. Dogs are welcome too – and with so much space to enjoy when you get there, you’ll be glad you brought them along.

You can visit the islands for several nights, or simply on a day trip – the ferry returns to Penzance in the late afternoon.   

If you’d rather fly, travel from Land’s End Airport. The Skybus operates from Monday to Saturday, all year (with the exception of Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day). The trip takes just 15 minutes, with check-in an hour before departure. Isles of Scilly Travel offers a dedicated bus transfer service from Penzance station to Land’s End, which can be booked alongside flights.

Getting around

The islands are largely car-free, with just a small number of vehicles on St Mary’s. Taxis are available if needed, but with the largest island covering less than 2.5 square miles, walking is the most common (and most pleasant) form of transport. If you have reduced mobility, you might like to hire an electric cart from The Scilly Cart Co

Cycling is also a popular way to get around – you’ll find bike hire companies on St Mary’s and Tresco.

From St Mary’s, you can venture out by boat to the other inhabited islands of St Agnes, Tresco, Bryher and St Martins. Hop on the water with one of the local boat companies – daily trips are listed on chalkboards around the island and on the quay. 

Top things to do

Let your surroundings soak in and enjoy the islands at a peaceful pace. Go wildlife watching, play on the water, or just sit back with a leisurely lunch. 

  • Walking: learn more on a guided nature tour, or follow the footpath signs around the islands. 
  • Beaches: with over 35 beaches to choose from, the Isles of Scilly includes plenty of secluded spots to sit and relax. 
  • Horse riding: St Mary’s has a BHS-approved riding centre, with horses suitable for both adults and children. 
  • Wildlife watching: in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you can spot a number of unusual birds and wildlife species.
  • Castles: get a glimpse of the islands’ history by visiting the Garrison on St Mary’s and King Charles’ Castle at New Grimsby on Tresco.
  • Boat tours: go on a scenic marine excursion to look for wildlife, find shipwrecks or see the impressive Bishop Rock lighthouse.
  • Gardens: sail to Tresco and visit the sub-tropical Abbey Garden, described as ‘Kew without the glass’. 
  • Art: dip into the islands’ rich artistic community by stopping at one of their many galleries and workshops. 
  • Water sports: learn to wind surf, sail or kayak, or go on a coasteering or sea swimming adventure.
  • Eating and drinking: sample island produce, including local seafood and ice cream, at a wealth of restaurants, cafés, pubs and food shops.

To find out more about, head over to the Isles of Scilly website.

Staying in Penzance first? Take a look at local accommodation.