Just 28 miles off the Cornish coast, this beautiful archipelago is a natural playground for young explorers. The Isles of Scilly – or the Scilly, as they’re also known – offer beaches perfect for paddling, glorious food and family-friendly experiences a-plenty. Of the 140 or so islands, only five are inhabited – St Mary’s, St Martin’s, Tresco, Bryher and St Agnes.
Here are 10 reasons why a trip to explore one, or all of them, should be at the top of your holiday hit list:
1. Getting there – and around – is easy and fun
You can reach the archipelago by Skybus airplane or ferry. We chose the Skybus, which is fun and fast, taking 15 minutes (from Land’s End), 30 minutes (from Newquay) or an hour (from Exeter). Our three-year-old son Harvey loved the tiny 19-seater plane and kept an entranced watch over the pilot at work, while we soaked up the gorgeous views. All arrivals come into St Mary’s, the largest island. While there are some cars here, the main forms of transport across the rest of the islands are by foot, bike, or the occasional golf buggy, quad or tractor. This makes the islands super safe for kids of all ages. Island-hopping is an essential part of the fun and it’s easy thanks to ‘tripper’ boats which link them, no matter which one you’re staying on. Visit: Isles of Scilly Travel
St. Mary’s-Nornour gig on the beach at Porthmellon (photograph by Adj Brown/Visit Isles of Scilly)
2. A landscape on a child’s scale
The scale of the Scillies make them a magical place for children: little legs can circumnavigate an island in a day, which gave our pint-sized explorer a true sense of achievement. Likewise, the distance between the islands is small enough for the boat trips to be short and thrilling, avoiding boredom. With such great transport links, you can pack in a lot of experiences into the time you have. And even if you miss that last boat home – as we did on Tresco – another adventure awaits in the form of rescue thanks to a private speed boat bouncing over the water’s surface at dusk, a thrill ride for children big and small.
3. Sea and sand
Blessed with dozens of clean, beautiful beaches, the Scillies are ideal for everyone from water babies and tentative toddlers to hard-to-please teens. We spent a leisurely day beachcombing on St Martin’s, working round from The Flats beside the Karma Hotel, across Lawrences and Old Quay and over to Par Beach. Or head to the northern beaches and follow the sandy path down to Great Bay to jump waves or catch crabs in the rock pools.
If watersports are your thing, these islands have plenty to keep you occupied. At the Sailing Centre on Tresco you can try SUP (stand-up paddleboarding), sailing, windsurfing or kayaking, whatever your age or ability. The Splash Squad is a special two-hour session of water activities and beach games for 7-15-year-olds. Hire dinghies, day boats and motor boats for anything from an hour to six days. Visit Sailing Scilly
4. An excellent choice of stylish accommodation
Known as a rather high-end destination, the Scillies offers many options for families, from camping to hostels. Newly opened in 2018, Longstone Lodge is a stylish hostel in the centre of St Mary’s, with a mix of en-suite bedrooms, including two family rooms. The smart decor, well-equipped communal kitchen, comfortable lounge, toy boxes on arrival and cots by request make this a great option for families. For a sensational and stress-free lunch, settle down in the adjacent cafe for local lobster and crab sandwiches, salads and soups, as well as an irresistible selection of homemade cakes. There’s a separate kids menu and a small play area in the corner of the cafe to keep them occupied until food arrives, or they can expend spare energy on the football pitch and playground. Visit Longstone Lodge and Cafe
For something more luxurious, check into the four-star Karma St Martin’s. Its location on one of the finest beaches in the Scillies, spacious interconnecting rooms (Harvey loved his huge double bed!) and friendly staff, see families returning year after year. Serving up the finest local fish, organic vegetables and meat, its Cloudesley Shovell restaurant offers relaxed fine dining with panoramic sea views. If you’d rather enjoy those views (and the Wine Lounge) alone, there’s a kids’ early tea at 5:30pm and the hotel can arrange babysitting in advance. Visit: Karma Group
5. Food – catering for all tastes (fussy eaters included)
A food-lover’s haven, the islands are awash with great eateries, most of which are very family friendly. Well worth a visit is St Martin’s only pub, The Seven Stones Inn, which has one of the finest views of any drinking hole. We sank a bottle of wine, dined on lobster and watched the sun set over the horizon. If the kids get restless, the small wooded play area with nets and buoys should keep them occupied until their food arrives.
For something a little different, try the Crab Shack on Bryher. The menu here may be simple but this will be one of your most memorable meals, guaranteed. Located in the grounds of the Hell Bay Hotel, this seafood shack serves just three dishes: mussels, scallops and Bryher crab. Get your hands messy with claw-crackers for the crabs and dig deep into bowls of fries, salad and bread. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal and you can even see the crabs being prepared before they join you for dinner… Visit: Hell Bay for more information
The Beach, which opened in spring 2018 as St Mary’s only beachside BBQ restaurant. A former boatshed has been transformed into a cosy and casual diner, with shabby chic interiors and views out to Porthmellon Beach. On a fine night, go for the sought-after balcony seats. The fish-focused menu also features rare-breed meats and plenty of sharer options. Another new addition to St Mary’s food scene is On The Quay, a restaurant, bar, cafe and bike-hire situated on the island’s quay. Meanwhile on Bryher, Island Fish has opened up, offering local shellfish, fresh fish and take-away options such as seafood paella and grilled hot lobster. Visit: Scilly Beach
6. Flora and fauna to please the soul
The archipelago is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and each of the five inhabited islands has its own natural adventures to offer. Regular wildlife walks and boating trips are organised by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and during summer months, weekly wildlife safaris take in seals and seabirds. To get even closer, Scilly Seal Snorkelling provides a wonderful opportunity to meet Atlantic grey seals in the clear-blue waters off St. Martin’s. Visit: Scilly Seal Snorkelling
Some of the finest flora to be seen on the islands is all in one place. Perfect for restless little legs in need of some exercise, Tresco Abbey Garden is one of Scilly’s most popular – and most beautiful – sites. Built in the 19th century around the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey, the seven hectares of gardens are home to over 20,000 exotic species from around the world. While away a pleasant afternoon and let the kids explore its sunny terraces, measure up against tall palms and marvel at crimson flame trees. It’s also one of the best places to try and spot a red squirrel – we spotted at least five loitering by the feeding spots close to the entrance to the park. Hidden among the garden’s treasures is the Valhalla Collection, comprised of figureheads rescued from shipwrecks in the surrounding sea. The garden is brimming with beauty year-round, so there’s never a bad time to visit. Visit: Tresco/AbbeyGarden
7. Meeting the locals – and trying their produce – is all part of the adventure
Any visit to the Scillies will undoubtedly be coloured by the characters you meet – and the locals extend a warm and friendly welcome. Self-sufficiency abounds and there’s plenty of homemade produce thanks to a growing array of foodie entrepreneurs. On St Agnes, Westward Farm has been in the Hicks family for generations, developing from a flower farm to essential oils, to more recent diversifications including gin, apple juice and wildflower honey. Now headed up by Aiden and his father, Westward Farm Gin rolled out its first bottles in May 2017 and produce a range of straight and flavoured gins including elderberry, rose geranium and chamomile. Visit: Westward Farm
Nearby, Aiden’s uncle runs Troytown Farm, where you can bank a few brownie points by whisking the kids off to try the ice cream. Made with fresh whole milk and cream from the farm’s own nine cows, the thick and indulgent ice cream is made in small batches on site. Choose from over 30 flavours and buy everyone their own pot. This ice cream is not for sharing. The farm produce, which includes sorbets, clotted cream and yoghurts can be consumed across the islands, but nothing beats sitting on their sea-view picnic benches with a large waffle cone and dollop of cream on top. Visit: Troytown Farm
On the same island, the Coastguards Cafe has been transformed from an old workshop with sensational sea views by Tristan Hick. It is now the perfect spot for a local crab sandwich on homemade bread or hot chocolate made with stirrers from the Little Island Chocolate Company. On St Martin’s we also did a little circuit to visit all the Independent suppliers and producers, including a flower farm, vineyard and bakery. Look out for honesty stalls along the road where you can pick up freshly picked fruit and veg.
8. Festivals year-round
The Isles of Scilly boast a colourful calendar of events and festivals throughout the year. In April and October, a range of guided walks in the Walk Scilly Festival bring the islands’ heritage and scenery to life. May 2019 saw the inaugural Creative Scilly, a new cultural festival incorporating visual art, literature and comedy, featuring workshops, demonstrations, public art displays and performances. Taking place each September, the Taste of Scilly Festival is a mouth-watering month of beach barbeques, island-hopping supper safaris, farm tours and local produce markets. We visited during the Low Tide Event (in April and September) when the channel between Tresco and Bryher is dry enough to cross between the islands on foot. Halfway is a sandbar that hosts a pop-up festival with food stalls, benches, bar and firepits. There’s also a Folk Festival, Swim Challenge and the World Pilot Gig Championships, as well as traditional island fetes throughout the summer. For up-to-date listings visit: Visit Isles of Scilly
9. Get hands on with the animals
Animal lovers and wannabee farmers need look no further than the new Peninnis Farm Lodges on St Mary’s. Young guests are invited to join farmer Dan on his morning animal round to collect the eggs and feed the hens and pigs. The 50-acre farm is run with love and efficiency by Zenna and Dan, and their two young children. It is home to chickens, Ruby Red Devon cattle and Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, with occasional piglets and calves making an appearance. It is also home to seven new scandi-style wooden lodges. The bespoke, two-bedroom wooden lodges can sleep up to five, making them a great option for families. Wood-burning stoves will keep you warm in winter, while in summer make the most of your lodge’s private decking with its BBQ and fire pit. The farm communal field with picnic tables is the ideal spot to enjoy a sundowner while the kids burn off excess energy. Visit: Peninnis Farm Lodges
10. Magical dark skies
Is there anything better than a clear night sky, free from light pollution? The Scillies enjoy some of the darkest skies in England, making them the perfect place to marvel at the stars. To make the most of them, a brand new observatory is in the final stages of construction on St Martin’s. Thanks to a £59,000 government grant and additional fundraising by the group Community Observatory St Martin’s On Scilly (Cosmos), the observatory officially opened on 1 April 2019, and will host twice weekly sessions for the public. There will be two observation domes – one offering deep-sky viewing and the other solar viewing (which can be used during the day). Visit: Cosmos Scilly
- To discover more about the Isles of Scilly, go to Visit Isles of Scilly
- You can ﬂy with Isles of Scilly Travel from Exeter, Newquay and Land’s End Airports. Flights from Land’s End and Newquay operate all year round from Monday to Saturday. There are scheduled ﬂights from Exeter Airport between March and October six days a week which reach Scilly in under an hour.
- Prices start from £140 return from Land’s End Airport.
- From spring through to late autumn, the Scillonian lll passenger ferry sails up to seven days a week between Penzance and St. Mary’s. Prices start from £90 return. To book, phone 01736 334220 or visit Isles of Scilly-Travel And, St. Mary’s Boatmen’s Association – Scilly Boating and Tresco Boats – Tresco Boats