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Isles of Scilly Travel Guide (By a Local)

As a local Scillonian (that’s what we call ourselves) I am here to show you the places to visit in the Isles of Scilly and plenty of practical advice, along with a few “insider tips.”

The Isles of Scilly has white sand beaches, a subtropical climate, a peaceful atmosphere, and surprisingly all this is just off the coast of Southwest England.

If you get to the Isles of Scilly during good weather then it’s the perfect escape from mainland U.K.

Most of my family is from the Isles of Scilly so I have a good understanding of life on the islands having visited and stayed on since a child.

It’s such a photogenic destination that the best way for you to get a feel for the islands is through photography.

You can get between the islands by small passenger boats that run trips between them (average cost £10 a return trip and 15 minutes average journey time one way).

However special trips, like a few hours to the Bishop Rock and Western Rocks, will cost more (say around £20 return) and are weather dependant.

You can buy your tickets at the small ticket office at the start of the main pier on St Mary’s.


To start a shameless plug: 🙂 Our family has a bed & breakfast on St Mary’s Island overlooking the harbour. Its name is Mincarlo (named after one of the rocks in The Northern Rocks) and has been in the family for three generations now.

You can take a look at Mincarlo Bed & Breakfast here.


Visiting The Isles of Scilly

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Isles of Scilly Map

ISLES OF SCILLY MAP
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Getting to The Isles of Scilly

The best way of getting to the Isles of Scilly for a bit of adventure on the sea is to take the Scillonian ferry from Penzance, which takes around 3 hours. There are plenty of things to do in Penzance itself before or after a visit to the Isles of Scilly.

The other option is to take small propellor planes from Lands End, Newquay, or Exeter, which is the faster way and gives great views of the islands from above when landing.


St Marys Island Isles of Scilly

There are five main inhabited islands on the Isles of Scilly and St Mary’s is the largest, with most of the population and the main harbour where the Scillonian ferry from the mainland docks.

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Sunset across St Mary’s harbour with the lifeboat house seen just below.
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A cannon looks onto the water between St Mary’s and Tresco Island.
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Sailing boats on the beach are seen from the quay in Hugh Town, the main town in the Isles of Scilly.
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Part of the garrison wall that was built for defence for some of St Mary’s.
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Cannons at a battery on the garrison wall with St Agnes Island in the background.

The Isles of Scilly has evidence of ancient life such as this very old village remains.

Burial chambers are also nearby and can be seen in other parts of St Mary’s.

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Burial chamber.

The Isles of Scilly has a lot of great cafes with delicious meals and tasty desserts.

Many of them come with views like this which is perfect for sitting outside during a dry warm day.

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Looking across Hugh Town at twilight.
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Old fishermen’s boxes look onto the harbour.

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Tresco Island Isles of Scilly

Tresco is the second biggest island after St Mary’s and is very popular with tourists due to its Tresco Abbey Gardens and the beautiful beaches.

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One of the best beaches on the Isles of Scilly with St Martins across the water.
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Cromwells castle on Tresco with part of Bryher on the right side of the photo.

Another view across to Cromwells Castle and the straight between Tresco and Bryher.

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The two hills of Samson Island are seen here from Tresco during low tide. Samson used to be populated but they moved off.

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The old blockhouse on a hill commands great views of the beach.

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Beach seen from the blockhouse. It’s views like this that make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean.

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Tresco Abbey Gardens

With the Isles of Scilly having a subtropical climate, it’s possible to grow plants and flowers that would not grow on the mainland of the U.K., and Tresco Abbey Gardens has some great examples.

It’s a very relaxed place to roam around for a few hours.

Tresco Abbey.

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The gardens.

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A colourful pheasant in the gardens.

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St Martins Island Isles of Scilly

The third-largest island and it has some of the best beaches.

There’s also a selection of good cafes and a pub called the Seven Stones that has an excellent view for a few drinks on a sunny day.

One of the more atmospheric beaches on the Isles of Scilly.

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A view onto the Eastern Isles from a flowery garden.

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A passenger boat arriving at Higher Town quay to take people back to St Mary’s.

There are a dozen or so similar boats that are used during the tourist season to transport people between the islands.

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During low tide.

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A rocky maze is good for young children to walk around.

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Looking out onto the Eastern Isles in the distance.

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The marker is used by boats to help in navigation.

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Bryher Island Isles of Scilly

Bryher is one of the smaller islands and has very beautiful bays.

Small enough to easily walk around and with hills for some of the best views on the Isles of Scilly.

A bay on Bryher with Hells Bay Hotel in the distance.

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A view from a hill on Bryher looking across to Tresco.

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At the back of Bryher by Hells Bay.

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A wave crashes over the rocks in Hell’s Bay.

It’s beautiful on a day like this, but during rough seas, it lives up to its name.

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Looking out onto the Northern Rocks.

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Hoodoos are built on a rocky beach.

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St Agnes Island Isles of Scilly

This feels the most remote of all the islands and looks out onto the rough Western Rocks.

It has some of the best food on Scilly in the pubs and cafes there, with the Turks Head being a favourite.

Looking up to the Turks Head pub.

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The Turks Head pub ranks as one of the best in the Isles of Scilly with delicious food and a great outdoor seating area for sunny days.

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St Agnes harbour.

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The Coastguard Cafe has great views from the centre of the island out onto the Western Rocks.

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The western side of St Agnes looks out onto the bleak Western Rocks.

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Rocky beach.

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Sunset with Annet Island in the far distance. Annet is protected due to the birds that breed there during the mating season.

The Isles of Scilly hosts many migrating birds and makes it popular with bird watchers, especially in October.

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Samson Island Isles of Scilly

Samson is a small(ish) uninhabited island nearby Bryher Island.

It used to be inhabited but was abandoned due to the hard living conditions.

Now it is protected and there are no buildings on the island except for the crumbling remains of a few cottages from when people did live there.

Remains of a cottage on Samson.

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Samson is perfect for a few hours of walking around to see the cottages and enjoy the peace of the place.

Or just pitch yourself down on the lovely sandy beach there and relax!

Walking on Samson.

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Samson can be a little tricky to get to because unlike the main islands there is no daily service by the passenger boats to visit.

It has to be good weather as you get to Samson by rubber dingy that they drag behind whichever passenger boat drops you off.

There also has to be enough demand for the trip. Sometimes in good weather, they combine a visit to Samson for a few hours with a trip to Bryher as well.

Getting to Samson by dingy from the Kingfisher passenger boat.

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Gig Boat Racing On The Isles of Scilly

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Gig boat racing is an integral part of life on Scilly. Each island has their own set of boats and heads out every week in summer to race one another.

The women’s race is on Wednesday and the men’s on Friday.

During the first weekend in May, the Isles of Scilly hosts the World Pilot Gig Championships, where over a hundred different teams from mainly the U.K. and a few other countries such as the Netherlands, gather for an epic weekend of racing and drinking.

The women’s teams get ready for the Wednesday race. These are all local islanders.

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Women’s teams racing alongside Tresco island.

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A gig team finish their race.

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Dozens of pilot gigs during the race between St Agnes and St Mary’s harbour during the World Pilot Gig Championships.

This was the mens race. You can see the lifeboat (in orange) and passenger boats full of supporters in the distance.

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This women’s team show up dressed in Superwoman costumes for fun.

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The Smallest Island in the World (Bishop Rock) and The Western Rocks

These are the last remaining bits of land between the U.K. and America.

There have been many shipwrecks over the years on the Western Rocks and the Bishop Rock Lighthouse was built to warn ships of the dangers ahead.

Trips to this part of the Isles of Scilly are very weather dependent due to The Atlantic Ocean conditions there.

If you love watching wildlife in nature, and enjoy being out on the sea, a visit to the Bishop Rock is the perfect destination in order to do just that.

Seals can be seen in most parts of the Isles of Scilly, but the Western Rocks is the best place to see them.

Seals on the Western Rocks of Scilly.

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You are taken first to Annet Island when doing boat trips out to Bishop Rock. Annet is famous for its bird population, where at certain times of year you can spot the little puffins, as well as other aviary species.

The Isles of Scilly are well known for the birds that migrate through here, leading to groups of people coming in to watch them, particularly around October, which is fondly known as twitchers.

Puffins are a common sight in the early months of summer with their colourful beaks.

Leaving Annet behind you venture into the Western Rocks, wild, remote, spread around in clusters, and somewhat foreboding, especially knowing all the maritime shipping disasters that happened.

The most famous shipwrecks come from a British armada sailing back from Spain in the 18th century, where amongst the rocks many ships were lost, taking the lives of 2000 seamen and a fortune in treasure.

It can be an eerie place to be.

Amongst all that remote rock are the puppy faced seals, adding some life to the otherwise barren place. There are hundreds of them, bathing around on rocks and swimming in the sea.

They always give you a somewhat quizzical look, as if to wonder who on earth are all these silly, (or Scilly!) creatures looking upon them.

The expert boatmen take you as close to the rocks as they dare, to give you as close a look as possible.

Puffins.

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The Bishop Rock Lighthouse is very remote and is the last piece of land between the U.K. and America.

It’s run by electronics these days and no lighthouse keeper stays on it.

During the old days, the keepers had to be hoisted onto the Bishop by rope. My father, David, used to work on one of the boats that used to take supplies to the lighthouse back in the 1950s-60s.

The Bishop Rock is also the first place that trans-Atlantic rowers would reach from America, having completed their journey. It must be a relief to finally see land after such a feat of endurance.

You have a spin around the lighthouse, and maybe some humour from the boatmen, for example, that if the brakes on the boat were to fail, the next stop is America!

Fun fact – Bishop Rock is the smallest island in the world!

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Bishop Rock Lighthouse

The Eastern Isles

The Eastern Isles are a small cluster of uninhabited islands close to St Martin’s Island.

Although closest to St Martin’s Island the best and mostly only way to have a trip around them is by passenger boat from St Mary’s harbour.

Having said that the Eastern Isles on Scilly have their fair share of seals (not as much as the Western Rocks) and a company on St Martin’s Island runs trips from there to go snorkelling with seals.

It’s one of the best wildlife experiences and is highly recommended.

Video of my wife and I snorkelling with seals at the Eastern Isles. Yes, we were excited as you can hear!


Isles of Scilly Sunsets

The Isles of Scilly has some of the best sunsets in the world. With the backdrop of islands, rocks, and the Atlantic Oceans weather pattern, it’s the perfect storm for magical sunsets.

From Star Castle on St Mary’s with Samson Island and the Northern Rocks in the distance.

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From St Mary’s harbour.

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If you happen to be out on a boat you can catch great sunsets from sea level.

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Getting Married On The Isles of Scilly

With my wife, Sidra, at the wedding on The Isles of Scilly.

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This is a personal update to this post.

I married the love of my life Sidra on The Isles of Scilly on 28th May 2019.

It was a Victorian-themed wedding at Star Castle on St Mary’s with all my local family attending.

Here you can see loads of photos from our Victorian themed wedding on The Isles of Scilly.


Visit the Isles of Scilly

You can take the Isles of Scilly ferry, the Scillonian to reach the islands. It runs generally from the end of March until early November. At other times you will have to fly.

You can book the ferry and flights at the official Isles of Scilly booking website.

Bear in mind that the Isles of Scilly weather can be rough at times and ferries, and especially flights can be cancelled last minute.

I’ve gotten stuck a day or two waiting before so be sure to keep an eye on the weather.

FIND PLACES TO STAY ON THE ISLES OF SCILLY HERE

The Isles of Scilly is easily one of the best places to visit in the UK.

I hope these photos give you an idea of the beauty of the Isles of Scilly. Maybe they will inspire you to visit if you are looking for somewhere quiet and remote to relax.

Just make sure to check the weather before going to make sure you have some sunny days!

This is an excellent guide for the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall:

Cornwall & The Isles of Scilly: Local, characterful guides to Britain’s special places (Bradt Slow Travel)

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Here are some more images of the Isles of Scilly in spring.

I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.


If you liked this article about things to do in Scilly a share would be appreciated! – 

ISLES OF SCILLY SAMSON
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10 thoughts on “Isles of Scilly Travel Guide (By a Local)”

  1. Fantastic blog post. I have been to the islands back in 2003 but only visited Hugh Town for a day. I really want to explore these islands fully but I would love to check out Bishop’s Rock. Did you get a boat to it? Is there tours?

  2. Hey Danik, just updated the article to include how to do the trips. It’s by small passenger boats that run daily between the islands during the tourist season, and the Bishop Rock is weather dependant.

  3. I saw the palm trees & read about the location… palm trees & that warm looking water in England? I had to see where this was.

    https://goo.gl/maps/stxjSGyp4yK2

    Wow! That’s way up in the latitudes! So is most of Europe…

    Thanks for sharing, I was not aware that those islands existed!

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