St Mary’s is the largest island, with a population of 1,800, and many consider it the gateway to the rest of the Scilly Isles. Across an area of little more than six square miles, Hugh Town is the central hub with a range of shops, cafés, galleries, restaurants and pubs. There are also three beaches in very close proximity: Porthcressa with a children’s play area; Town Beach, a perfect spot to watch the comings and goings on the quay; and Porthmellon which is where you’ll find the sailing centre. The quay is where the passenger ferry docks every day and where you'll travel to and from if you choose to stay on another island or take a day trip to explore the area. Meanwhile, Old Town is the other ‘major’ settlement, albeit closer to the airport and with its own beautiful beach and nature reserve – don’t forget to pay a visit to Old Town Church, where former British PM Sir Harold Wilson is buried.
WHERE TO EAT...
BEST FOR: Spectacular views
The Beach is part of the St Mary’s Hall hotel and set in a converted boat shed overlooking the harbour. From its decked area outside, you can watch incredible sunsets or the sail boats crossing over to Samson, Bryher and Tresco. The menu is broad – ideal if you’re feeding a family of picky eaters – including local seafood and slow-reared, rare-breed meats. The bar specialises in local gins.
On The Quay
BEST FOR: A family occasion
With outstanding views across St Mary’s harbour, this is the perfect spot to sit with a glass of something chilled. The kitchen uses fresh, local ingredients – enjoy them in its harbour-view dining room, on the al fresco balcony (which is heated) or in the gastro area with views into the kitchen. There’s also a kids’ menu.
BEST FOR: Pub lunches
The Atlantic is another eatery set in a stunning location. Look out over pristine sandy beaches and expansive waters while tucking into some of the best pub grub on the island. Take your pick from the indoor restaurant or terrace – dogs are allowed to join in too. Plus, if you’re looking for a last-minute place to stay, the pub comes with comfortable rooms above, some of which are also pet friendly.
WHERE TO STAY...
St Mary’s Hall Hotel
BEST FOR: Couples
Two minutes from Porthcressa beach and a five-minute walk from the quay, St Mary’s Hall reflects the relaxed lifestyle of the island. Occupying an elegant townhouse built by Count Leon de Ferrari, it is surrounded by beautiful Mediterranean-style gardens. If you don’t want to venture far, eat at one of its two restaurants. Its bar extends onto a decked area outside. Specialist and local beers feature, alongside a comprehensive stock of wines and spirits.
From £287 per night
Peninnis Farm Lodges
BEST FOR: Families & children
If glamping is more your style, these lodges come highly recommended. On a 50-acre farm, the owners have developed a range of custom-designed huts, all of which are fully furnished with modern kitchens, comfortable bedrooms and shower rooms. The site enjoys a spectacular coastal backdrop and is ideally located for you to explore the local area. Hugh Town, the harbour and many of the island’s best beaches are 10-minute walks away, while children are welcome to collect their own eggs for breakfast with farmer Dan and meet the animals.
From £476 for three nights
BEST FOR: Solo travellers
For a more off-the-beaten-track experience, this cosy shepherd’s hut might be just the ticket – it’s also one of the most affordable accommodation options on the island. Complete with mod cons including a shower, gas hob and fridge, the hut’s owner Aisling knows the Isles of Scilly like the back of her hand – past guests have even said she leaves delicious items from Scilly Food Boxes to greet you on arrival.
From £105 for two nights
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Sophisticated yet relaxed, Tresco is a subtropical gem that’s best known for its world-famous Tresco Abbey Garden. Spend time exploring the wonderful terraces and admiring the 20,000 species of plants and flowers that have been imported from all over the world. Take a stroll along the island’s sugar-fine white-sand beaches, climb the castle ruins, head to its rugged north, or watch for birds in the freshwater pools. You can also hire bikes, borrow a boat, kayak or windsurf from the island’s sailing club. When you’re done, Tresco’s even got a luxury spa.
WHERE TO EAT...
The Ruin Café
BEST FOR: A touch of the Mediterranean
The Ruin Café takes its name from the ruined smuggler’s cottage that forms part of its terrace, which overlooks the Raven’s Porth. With two AA Rosettes and named by Condé Nast Traveller as one of its favourite beach clubs and bars in the world, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a relaxed meal, afternoon tea or evening sundowner. At the heart of the restaurant – and menu – is the wood-fired oven that produces delicious pizzas and roasts fresh fish, chicken and vegetables. Famed for its sharing boards and salads, there really is something to suit every taste.
The New Inn
BEST FOR: A relaxed atmosphere
Hailed as a traditional island inn, The New Inn rustles up pub favourites with a delicious Tresco twist. Adorned with wreck wood and marine relics, it’s filled with visitors and locals throughout the year. The menu focuses on traditional fare, using as much locally grown, reared and landed produce as possible. Expect dishes such as Bryher crab mac and cheddar; Cornish catch of the day; the classic New Inn burger and its speciality Caesar salad – all complemented by daily specials and seasonal ingredients. There are also comfortable rooms here, if you’re looking for simple accommodation.
WHERE TO STAY...
Sea Garden Apartments
BEST FOR: Couples & families
A property spanning nine split-level cottages, there’s something to suit most here. For couples, we like the look of the one-bedroom cottages, while Lobster, Oyster, Samphire, Seapink and Starfish have three bedrooms apiece for larger groups. Screened by foliage for maximum privacy, most cottages come with sweeping sea views, and all are sold on a self-catering basis. That said, breakfast and dinner can be booked at the Ruin Café close by. Inside, expect to find solid oak flooring and white walls brought to life with soft prints, colourful wicker and hand-painted tiles. Bedspreads and blinds are made exclusively by a friend of the owner – who also designs fabrics for Liberty.
From £340 for a double room
Clear waters, idyllic beaches and utter calm make St Martin’s special. With its iconic red and white Daymark – similar to a lighthouse – erected in 1683 by Thomas Ekins, it’s the first island you spot as you cross from the mainland. At just two miles long, it has some of the finest beaches in the British Isles: search the rock pools in Lawrence’s Bay; take a dip in the water off the sweeping Par Beach; or simply chill on Bread & Cheese Cove, Great Bay or Little Bay. Expect to find spectacular plant life, rare birds and scenic sea views along the cliff path walks. If you explore the islets of Nornour, Ganilly and Menawethan from St Martin’s, there’s a chance you’ll see colonies of seals not far offshore.
WHERE TO EAT...
The Island Bakery
BEST FOR: Breakfast & lunch
Run by Barney and Ella McLachlan, the Island Bakery is open between Easter and October. If you visit in winter, Barney bakes to order once a week. All produce is handmade using the finest local and Cornish ingredients, including a selection of hot pastries and a variety of tarts, pies, pizzas and filled sandwiches.
Adam’s Fish & Chips
BEST FOR: A quick & easy supper
This might not look like much from the outside but locals – and tourists for that matter – swear you won’t find better fish and chips anywhere else in the UK. A family run restaurant situated at Higher Town, it uses island-caught fish and makes its chips from potatoes grown on a family farm. There’s inside seating for 40-50 people, with picnic tables under the canopy for a further 40-50. Tables get booked out well in advance, so it’s worth making a reservation.
WHERE TO STAY...
Karma St Martin’s
BEST FOR: Blow the budget
A luxury hotel with a prime beachfront location, the Karma St Martin’s is only a stone’s throw from the beach. It’s also pet friendly. All 30 rooms come with double or twin beds and feature classic English interiors with contemporary touches – every space has been designed by notable German interior designer Tina Kirschner. If you do choose to stay here, make sure to get a reservation at the AA-acclaimed Cloudesley Shovell restaurant.
From £419 for a deluxe room for two nights
St Martin’s Campsite
BEST FOR: Families
Much of the accommodation on St Martin’s is either self-catering or camping, and the main campsite is a lovely spot. Protected from the Atlantic winds by sturdy hedges, facilities here are kept to an impeccable standard and, because numbers are limited, there’s always plenty of room and privacy. Best of all, you can just pop through the marram grass to reach the sandy beach. If tents just aren’t your thing, the owners have a small, timber chalet situated closer to Middle Town for hire.
From £13 per night
On the south-westerly edge of the Isles of Scilly, St Agnes is totally unspoilt. Measuring just a mile or so across, its closest neighbour is Gugh, to which it is joined by a sand bar at low tide. St Agnes is full of wonderful contrasts, from rocky outcrops on its exposed west side to paradise beaches in its more sheltered coves. Inland you’ll find quaint cottages and flower fields, while a lighthouse stands at the island’s highest point. Head off in search of the circular maze of rounded beach stones; marvel at the stone stacks and cairns that dot Wingletang Down; or comb the beaches for shipwrecked treasures at Beady Pool. Periglis Beach is a fine spot for a picnic and a shell collector’s paradise. It looks across to the Annet bird sanctuary, the Western Rocks and out to Bishop Rock. Then there’s the Old Man of Gugh, which stands 3m tall and is believed to be associated with Bronze Age rituals.
WHERE TO EAT...
Troytown Farm Ice Cream & Produce Shop
BEST FOR: Quick bites & supplies
At Troytown Farm you’ll find a produce shop and ice cream shop to treat yourself at during your visit. Troytown ice cream is made in small batches and comes in more than 30 flavours. Buy a cone, small tub or a family tub to share –if you can’t make it to the island, keep an eye out for the brand, as it’s often sold in some of the best restaurants, cafés and shops across the isles.
WHERE TO STAY...
BEST FOR: A wilderness experience
Being so small, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend the island for an extended stay, but Troytown Campsite is right by the beach and enjoys incredible panoramic views across the Atlantic. At peak times, it’s great for families, given the safe, traffic-free, natural environment. Outside the school summer holidays, it’s better for couples chasing some peace and quiet. Facilities are good and there’s plenty of food to be found nearby – just bear in mind accommodation on St Agnes is largely rustic.
From £10.50 per night
Pounded by Atlantic waves on one side, but with calm sandy beaches on the other, Bryher is home to around 80 lucky people. Whether you’re exploring rocky coves, lazing on white sandy beaches or hiking up one of its small granite hills, it offers a wonderful sense of freedom. Admire the granite stacks on Shipman Head and get up close at low tide if you're happy to scramble the rocks; or watch the Atlantic rollers thunder into Hell Bay (spectacular in winter) before enjoying the calm of Rushy Bay. Bennett’s Boatyard and Isles of Scilly Boat Hireoffer boats and kayaks, while you can get supplies from the island chandlery. Film buffs should know the little island is also the setting of When the Whales Came, based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel.
WHERE TO EAT...
The Crab Shack
BEST FOR: Casual dining
Due to reopen on 21st June, this rustic eatery has three simple seafood dishes on the menu: Bryher crab, mussels and scallops. The only additions are wine, coffee, bread, chips, mixed salad, a cheese board and Eton mess. Served informally, it’s the sort of meal for which you need to be prepared to get messy.
BEST FOR: A sundowner
Billed as one of the smallest bars in the world, you can also order food at Fraggle Rock, which is open between March and October. Inside an old granite cottage, you’ll find a cosy bar, while upstairs is a more spacious and contemporary café area. It's family run and friendly, with as many ingredients as possible plucked from local waters and farms on the islands. The double-decker crab sandwich comes highly recommended.
WHERE TO STAY...
The Hell Bay Hotel
BEST FOR: Families & couples
Overlooking the ocean on Bryher’s rugged west coast, Hell Bay is the highest-rated hotel and restaurant on the Isles of Scilly and has been recognised with the AA Inspectors’ Choice award. The ultimate backdrop for a coastal break, romantic getaway or island adventure, it’s a haven of tranquillity set yards from the beach. Unwind with yoga in the garden studio, a therapy in the treatment shed, or simply enjoy those remarkable ocean views from your room.
From £145 per night
Chafford Holiday Homes
BEST FOR: Couples & groups
A holiday home owned by a family who have been visiting Bryher for many years, Chafford sits in half an acre of private garden with panoramic views across Tresco Channel. Recently refurbished to a high standard, the property sleeps up to eight people and is just metres from the white, sandy beach. Close to the island's quays and local boat services, it’s ideally located for island-hopping.
From £1,200 per week
THE UNINHABITED ISLANDS
Around and about its five inhabited islands, the Scilly Isles encompass 140 or so more that provide a safe haven for wildlife and seabirds. Some are frequented by day boats; others aren’t visited at all. They remain steeped in myth and many have fascinating names to reflect this: Great Arthur, Hangman’s Island, Old Man, Hunter’s Lump, Seal Rock and Great Cheese Rock.
History does say some of the uninhabited islands once supported small communities and, if you visit Tean or St. Helen’s, you’ll see the remains of early Christian chapels. The island of Samson, next to Bryher, was home to farmers and fishermen until the mid-1800s. Many of Scilly’s uninhabited islands pay tribute to the ships that have been wrecked around them over the centuries. The Western Rocks are a permanent memorial to the countless seamen lost on Bishop Rock – a 50m rock column that is totally covered at spring high tides and on which the UK's most south-westerly lighthouse now stands. Today, you can take a boat trip to look at these rugged and wild outcrops.
Current Travel Info: Hotels, B&Bs, self-catering accommodation and restaurants are now mostly open, in line with government’s roadmap out of lockdown. However, rules and regulations are changing all the time, so keep an eye out for developments which might affect your trip.
When To Go: In line with typical British weather, summer is the ideal time to visit. For those wanting a winter holiday, bear in mind that some accommodation and restaurants close their doors during the off-season, although there are also some special deals to take advantage of.
Average Temperature: With an average annual temperature close to 12°C (53°F), the Scilly Isles are among the mildest places in the UK, with particularly high temperatures in winter, relatively speaking.
*DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice before you book anything. Visit Gov.uk for more information.