15th February 2018
Compare the Isles of Scilly to the Caribbean within earshot of a Scillonian, and there’s a good chance you’ll get the response, ‘lucky old Caribbean’.
Even the UK summer seems to like the Isles of Scilly better, since it arrives here first and stays longest. Families come on holiday, year after year; locals wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else, and merry seal colonies and pods of dolphin are delighted to call the coast home.
So what is it that is so appealing about this collection of little islands, just off the south coast of Cornwall?
There’s a big hint in the location. Scilly’s Atlantic beaches and tropical gardens might resemble the Caribbean, but in terms of travel time, there’s no comparison.
Flights out of Newquay take 30 minutes; and an hour’s flying time from Exeter is as close as it gets to long-haul.
Sailing from Penzance to St. Mary’s is great fun for younger kids, and the crossing takes less than three hours on the Scillonian ferry. Just long enough to admire the spectacular Cornish coast; explore the boat; possibly spot some dolphins, and definitely build a bit of holiday excitement.
With five inhabited Isles to stay on, even more uninhabited ones to explore, and plenty of boats to catch; hopping around Scilly is easy.
St. Mary’s is the largest island, home to cheerful Hugh Town. It has gorgeous, shimmering white beaches within minutes of the ferry port, and mile after mile of open space for wandering.
Slightly smaller St. Martin’s lays claim to several of the UK’s loveliest coves, and everything from flower farms to silversmiths flourish here. The local dive school is excellent for seal snorkelling expeditions, and it’s a great island for camping.
The Atlantic goes wild round Bryher, but sweet and sandy shores on the leeward side, balance the likes of infamous Hell Bay – a legend for waves in winter. This is also the island for stellar local cooking, charming hotels, and the smallest bar in England.
Give kids total licence to roam on freedom-rich St. Agnes, where they can walk to other islands, clamber awesome rocks round the coast, and thrill to the idea of being on the UK’s most south westerly point.
If you know any island by reputation, it will be Tresco. Lush, sub-tropical, and brilliantly beachy, it’s world famous for Tresco Abbey Gardens: a magnet for plant lovers and a fantastic family day out.
With no less than 35 beaches tucked round the Isles of Scilly there’s no shortage of sandy places to play.
You can pick award winners like Great Bay on St. Martin’s: voted best in the UK for swimming. Choose by activity; St. Mary’s Port Loo Beach is a rock-pooling hotspot; and The Bar separating St. Agnes from Gugh is perfect for young sailors to safely pick up dinghy basics. And there isn’t a single stretch of stunning, white sand, that doesn’t catch the sun at some point in the day.
Island Fetes are a summer speciality in July and August, and all-welcome is always the rule. Head over in April for Scilly Walks when families can hike all over the Isles with brilliant local guides. Or try Art Scilly and the Scilly Folk Festival in May; both have fantastic workshops and events for older kids and teens.
The Isles of Scilly are perfect for family holidays or even for easy day trips. They’re so close to England’s south coast, you can pop over from either Cornwall or Devon.
Every island is ideal for half-term breaks: spring, autumn and winter. It’s a wonderfully festive and welcoming place for Christmas or New Year, and summer holidays are simply iconic.
Scilly’s great for camping (or glamping) holidays, and you don’t have to bring your own stuff, unless you want to. Most islands have campsites with ready-pitched family tents, excellent facilities, and spectacular locations. You can even take a pick of prize winners: Bryher was voted The Telegraph’s Top Coastal Campsite, again, in 2017.
Head indoors and take full advantage of the local talent for self-catering. There are hundreds of family-friendly places to stay from cute beach houses to waterfront apartments, shepherd’s huts to eco-homes. And Scilly is all-round gorgeous, so amazing views come as standard, everywhere.
Skybus flies from Lands End, Newquay and Exeter Airports to St. Mary’s, year round; with up to 23 flights a day during summer, and flying time between 20 minutes and one hour.
Scillonian passenger ferries sail from Penzance to St. Mary’s between mid-March and October; crossings take just under three hours.