Escaping to a deserted island might seem all the more tempting at the moment — but once it’s safe to travel again, you needn’t leave the UK to enjoy an island experience on one of the picturesque isles off the coast.
Simply hop on a boat and whether you’re looking for a family holiday, history and culture, old-fashioned charm or an isolated escape, there’s an island for you. Do check government guidelines and any travel restrictions before booking, as well as current reductions in ferry services.
Only travel when it is safe and permitted to do so.
Isle of Wight
Best for: family fun
With its nostalgic Blackgang Chine amusement park — the oldest in the UK, having opened in 1843 — and bucket-and-spade-style seaside towns, the Isle of Wight has long been one the UK’s most popular family holiday destinations.
Ever since Queen Victoria made Osborne House her holiday home, the island — just 45 minutes from Portsmouth to Fishbourne, 55 from Southampton to East Cowes — has attracted all ages.
For younger visitors (and natural history buffs), the island is a veritable treasure trove. Dubbed ‘Dinosaur Island’, due to its abundance of prehistoric finds, there’s the Dinosaur Isle Museum, and a range of expert tours available, during which you can go in search of dinosaur bones, footprints and fossils.
Colwell Bay, meanwhile, on the north-western coast, is a pebble beach with excellent swimming, rock-pooling and fine views across to Hurst Castle on the mainland. It is also home to The Hut, a chic, beachside diner and the perfect spot for sundowners.
The island has a huge choice of accommodation to suit every budget. At Nettlecombe Farm, for instance, you can stay in a traditional cottage on a working farm. Oozing personality, The George Hotel in Yarmouth, is a recently renovated 17th-century townhouse with quirky interiors, a private beach and Italianate garden.
Getting there: There are up to 200 Isle of Wight ferry crossings a day operating from Portsmouth, Southampton and Lymington. A reduced timetable currently applies.
Tresco, Isles of Scilly
Best for: botanical beauty
Azure seas, empty white beaches and towering palm trees give Tresco a totally tropical feel. The untouched isle, which lies 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall, has a temperate climate resulting in a fantastical landscape of exotic blooms and gloriously over-exuberant plants.
Head to the 17-acre Abbey Garden, originally founded in the 19th century, and you can wander amid crimson Flame Trees, tangerine Bird of Paradise flowers and gold and scarlet Lobster Claw plants.
The privately-owned outpost is just one of the five inhabited Isles of Scilly (there are 200 islands in total). You can stay in a choice of cottages, from the luxurious New-England-style, beachfront Flying Boat houses to a range of converted granite fisherman’s homes dotted across the countryside.
There’s also B&B accommodation at the New Inn, whose AA-rosette restaurant features seasonal produce from across the islands.
Days unfold slowly here — wandering along the quiet lanes, cycling to fort ruins or crabbing along the shore. For treasures of a different kind, the Valhalla Museum, tucked away in Abbey Garden, is home to a collection of intriguing figureheads rescued from shipwrecks in the surrounding seas.
Getting there: From spring to late autumn, The Scillonian passenger ferry sails up to seven days a week between Penzance and St Mary’s — currently booking from July 4 subject to the latest Government advice. From there, there is a short boat transfer to Tresco.
Mersea Island, Essex
Best for: old-fashioned charm
Essex has something of a bad rep when it comes to beauty spots — but the oft maligned county is awash with charming villages and historic sites. Mersea is one such place and is the UK’s most easterly inhabited island, just 20 minutes’ drive from Colchester.
Here, it’s like stepping back to an Enid Blyton-esque time with its pastel-painted beach huts, nautical-styled cottages and pretty, sandy beaches.
Most visitors are day-trippers, lunching at the famous The Company Shed, on the west of the island, or renting one of the candy-coloured beach huts on West Mersea beach for the day. Those in the know, however, opt to stay a night or two to make the most of the destination after the crowds go home.
Mersea Island Vineyard has quaint guest bedrooms, a vintage tea-room and some decent wines for sale. Waldegraves Holiday Park offers camping and holiday homes, while The Victory at Mersea is an atmospheric B&B.
A great way to see the island is to ramble around its 13-mile walking path, which takes in Roman ruins and the salt marshes — ideal for birdwatching. In August, Mersea Week includes a regatta with some 200 boats taking part and a firework display in the evening.
Getting there: You can drive across The Strood, the only road onto the island, but check the tides first as occasional high water can cover the road.
Best for: history and culture
Rugged cliffs, miles of pristine beaches and windswept dunes — in a country full of natural beauty, there’s still something special about Anglesey.
Found off the north-west coast of Wales, most of its 125 miles of coastline has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and even the route onto the island — via Thomas Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge — is impressive.
From Beaumaris Castle, built for Edward I in 1295, to the stately Plas Newydd House and Gardens, there are plenty of historic sites to visit.
With 70% of islanders speaking Welsh, the island is also a proud hub of Welsh culture. Immerse yourself at the Anglesey Food Festival in November or with a visit to Oriel Môn — a museum and arts centre championing local arts and crafts.
With the Snowdonia peaks as a backdrop, Llanddwyn beach is one of the most picturesque spots, and even has its own island with lighthouse.
A ruined chapel here is named after St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, while the surrounding nature reserve, Newborough Warren, is (aptly) utterly romantic, with wildflowers, butterflies and birdlife.
Getting there: You can drive across to Anglesey from Bangor, mainland Wales, via The Menai Suspension Bridge. All but essential travel is currently prohibited: check government advice before planning a trip.
Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Best for: windswept beauty
If you are not seduced by Luskentyre Beach — with its vast sand dunes, peppered with wild flowers, and its brilliant azure waters – then you’ll be starry-eyed at the summit of Chaipaval, which overlooks the mesmerising Scarista Beach. Put simply, Harris, in the Outer Hebrides, is utterly magical.
Your adventures start from the moment you depart on the ferry from Scotland’s west coast. You’ll pass uninhabited islands, sometimes with pods of dolphins making an appearance as you cruise through the turquoise sea. When you finally arrive, it’s like you’ve reached the end of a rainbow.
In this part of the world it is all about the great outdoors. There are endless isolated beaches, where the salty air whips around your face, and encounters with remarkable wildlife, such as golden eagles drifting above you and red deer roaming around.
Twitchers should follow the Bird of Prey trail — a self-guided trail linking 13 locations to catch sight of short-eared owls and white-tailed eagles.
In the summer, the days are long and glorious. Follow the Golden Road for some of the island’s key sights; the twisting route starts near to Tarbert, the main town, and will take you through tiny settlements along the east coast of the island, past remote lochs and breathtaking vistas.
Along the way, at Plockropool, look out for signs for Harris Tweed and Knitwear, where you can see tweed being traditionally woven. After all that, you’ll need a good night’s sleep, so head to Scarista House. The remote Georgian mansion has cosy rooms and overlooks its own sandy beach.
Getting there: Ferries by Caledonian MacBrayne frequently cross from Ullapool, mainland Scotland, to the Outer Hebrides. Travel to Scotland is not currently permitted, with bookings from June 14 onwards subject to government advice.
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