Isles of Scilly Travel Guide | Updated for 2020

There is so much to love about the Isles of Scilly at all times of year and no matter whether you are thinking of travelling with your partner, family, friends or on your own.

Even in peak holiday season you can still find beaches to yourself on the Scilly Islands as there are so many beautiful ones to find.

From visiting a flower farm to watching the World Pilot Gig Championships or from enjoying a rambling holiday to swimming with seals, then there is a wealth of ways to immerse yourselves in your Scilly experience.

The sense of island, community life feels a million miles away from the ‘rat race’ and can be just what makes your holiday extra special.

The islands are a delight for photographers, writers, wildlife-lovers and artists as the landscapes and natural beauty, coupled with the sense of being ‘away from it all’ mean you can lose yourself in your passions or simply relax and just take it all in.

So Why Visit the Isles of Scilly?

Unspoilt, sandy beaches, beautiful heathland, subtropical plants, shipwrecks, serenity, wildlife and sunshine are just some of the things which make the Isles of Scilly an attractive, British destination to visit, explore and unwind at.

St Mary’s; Tresco; St Martin’s; Bryher; and St Agnes are the five inhabited islands that make up The Isles of Scilly, but there are many smaller and uninhabited islands.

The much-loved archipelago lies southwest of the Cornish coast and enjoys a milder climate than mainland England and has a unique feel. Approximately 2,300 people inhabit the islands but the resident population fluctuates with seasonal work and tourism.

Location and Getting There

Located 28 miles southwest of the coast of Cornwall, the islands claim the most southernmost point of England and have their own separate local authority.

The ferry crossing from Penzance takes about 45 minutes and is a great way to approach and arrive for those who like boats. It can be a wavy ride so sea-sickness precautions are often taken by passengers who don’t fully entrust their sea-legs.

A passport is not required to visit the Isles of Scilly but some identification will be required at the airport or ferry port.

If flying on the Skybus from Land’s End or Newquay. Check-in for flights is one hour before departure and you are allowed to take 15 kilos of luggage each.

If driving to Penzance to take the ferry then you can arrange to leave your vehicle there and you and your luggage will be transferred to the ferry and collected when you get back to the mainland. Indeed part of the appeal of a holiday or visit to the islands is that you can get about without needing to drive and park everywhere.

Board the Scillonian an hour before departing Penzance, or St Mary’s when returning and be there to check-in no later than 30 minutes before departure. There are no refunds available if you are late and miss the boat!

Give yourself time to arrive as the traffic in and around Penzance inevitably gets busier during school holidays, for example.

If only taking a day trip to the Isles then there is a council car park at Penzance harbour (about half a mile walk to the quay), you can use but if you are staying over then there are bespoke parking services which you can book in advance and are designed for people leaving their vehicle in Penzance while ferrying to and holidaying on the islands.

You can book a spot for your vehicle with IOS Parking (Tel: 01736 332727), or with Scilly Parking (Tel: 01736 740277).

For a full in-depth guide on travelling to the Isles of Scilly you can find much more info here, including details on the ferry, train and flights.

Practicalities and Getting Around

You will arrive on the largest of the islands, with the biggest population; St. Mary’s. Less than 2,000 people live on St. Mary’s and it is less than 2.5 square miles in size.

If cycling or bringing a bicycle with you then you can take it on the Scillonian ferry if you book in advance to do so. Failing that you can always hire one from St Mary’s Bike Hire. (please book in advance). If you prefer, you can hire one from St Mary’s Bike Hire.

You can take your dogs on the Scillonian ferry at a cost of £7.50 each way (max two dogs per adult), provided that you keep them on a lead, or else the Skybus allows one dog per flight in an RSPCA approved animal, travel box. Either way, you must prebook for your dogs.

Getting Between the Islands

Assuming you have arrived on the Isles of Scilly by ferry landing at St Mary’s harbour then you will have seen that there are plenty of local boats along the quayside to take visitors to Bryher, St Agnes and St Martin’s islands.

Times are displayed on blackboards and can also be found outside Steamship House on Hugh Street. The St Mary’s ticket kiosk opens between 9.30 and 10.15 am, and 1.30 and 2 pm.

The tourist information centre at Porthcressa beach also sells tickets for boats between the islands, as do many of the local shops, hotels and guesthouses. Alternatively, you can pay upon launch.

There is usually a boat to Tresco at 12:15 pm and one that returns to St Mary’s at 3.45 pm but depending on the tide the departure point from Tresco can change so make sure you check where you need to get back on board.

Attractions and Activities

The Great Bay on St Martins is a fine example of the fantastic, sandy beaches that can be found on the Scillies.

Tresco Abbey and Gardens is home to a beautiful array of plants and a Valhalla Museum housing stunning figureheads which have been retreaded from shipwrecks. As you wander around taking it all in then you might find yourself crossing paths with fantastic Golden Pheasants or cute, little rabbits.

Standing watch over the north end of Tresco sits Cromwell’s Castle. The landmark looks great in such a wonderfully scenic setting and it dates back to the 16 hundreds. The view from the cannons at its base is special enough but for an even more spectacular vista then climb to the top of the tower.

Take a look at some of the activities to do.

Flora and Fauna

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust maintains The Western Rocks as a site of special scientific interest and grey seals can sometimes be found on the crags if you decide to take a boat trip out to view them.

Myth and Legend

The legends of King Arthur feature a country by the name of Lyonesse which, so it is told, shares a border with Cornwall. The hero, Prince Tristan was said to hail from there before the country was eventually swallowed up by the sea.

Could it be that the Isles of Scilly once formed part of a landmass referenced in Arthurian and Celtic folklore before sea levels rose to the levels we see today?

History and Language

Kernewek is the name given to the language of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It was in common usage until the end of the 17th century.