Flowers and blue sky on the Isles of Scilly, UK

A mini guide to the Isles of Scilly

Travel Guide

The Isles of Scilly are a small archipelago of five inhabited islands just a three-hour ferry ride from mainland U.K. What makes them unique for the region is that the Gulf Stream flows through them that brings warmer waters allowing for a sub-tropical climate. This allows plants to be grown that you won’t see elsewhere in Britain.

If you're into scuba diving then the Isles of Scilly are a shipwreck divers paradise with one of the highest concentrations of shipwrecks in the U.K. There's also stunning white-sand beaches and lots of history to explore, especially the castles.

The Isles of Scilly should be high on your list of places to visit in the U.K. especially if you are heading to Cornwall. Here's a short overview of what you need to know before you visit.

Cromwell's Castle in the Isles of Scilly

How to get to the Isles of Scilly

There are two ways to get to the islands, by ferry, or flying. Both are fun and offer great views of the Cornish coastline on the way but flying in on a small 15-seater propeller plane is the best to get views across the islands from above.

Where to stay on the Isles of Scilly

Although the Isles of Scilly doesn’t have a “city” it does have its main settlement of Hugh Town on the largest island, St Mary’s. This makes an excellent place to base yourself for exploring the rest of the area and taking small open-air passenger boats to visit the other islands.

While you can stay on any of the five islands, St Mary's has more facilities and is where all the transport options to the archipelago arrive.

Sunset from St Mary's Island

St Mary's

On St Mary's you will find the Star Castle and the massive garrison walls that stretch away from it around a headland that makes for one of the best walks on the islands. Grab a bite to eat at the Strudel Cafe in town before heading up there.

It takes several hours to walk around St Mary's at a leisurely pace where you can see ancient ruins of villages and a wine vineyard. Have lunch or dinner at Juliets Garden which overlooks the islands and has an excellent seafood platter.

The garrison walls on St Mary's, Scilly

Tresco

The next best island to visit is Tresco where you must go and see the famed Tresco Abbey Gardens with their sub-tropical plants' collection. Wander further around the island to the Ruin Beach Cafe for some of the best food on Scilly with an excellent view out onto white-sand beaches.

Tresco Abbey Gardens

St Martin's Island

St Martin's Island is another island highly recommended and is quieter than the previously mentioned islands. It also has stunning beaches and you can go out with Scilly Seal Snorkelling to get in the water with seals when there. Grab lunch at the Polreath Tea Room nearby (try the homemade soup).

Higher Town Quay on the Isle of St Martin's, Scilly, Cornwall UK

St Agnes Island

St Agnes Island is the best one to experience raw nature as it's more rugged and overlooks the Western Rocks and deep into the Atlantic Ocean. The Coastguard Cafe is great for a toasted sandwich and a coffee with some of the best views. Have a beer at the old Turks Head Inn while waiting for a boat back to St Mary's.

Small passenger boat on St Agnes Island

Bryher Island

Lastly, there is Bryher Island with its quiet relaxed atmosphere. The Hells Bay Hotel has the best burger on the islands and the Fraggle Rock Bar is great for a drink after a walk around the island.

White sandy beach at Bryher, Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, England.

Final thoughts

The Isles of Scilly are a wonderful place to stop and relax for a few days. While they're just off the coast of Cornwall and easily accessible from the mainland, visiting there feels like you've gone somewhere else entirely.

If you're travelling around the UK, the Isles of Scilly makes a great addition to your itinerary. During your stay there, you'll also experience a completely different side to the country.

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Jonny Duncan

Author - Jonny Duncan

Jonny Duncan has visited the Isles of Scilly many times and has family from there. He writes about castles all over the world on his website, Guide to Castles.

Last Updated October 18, 2021

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