Isles of Scilly

St. Martin's Bay

The Isles of Scilly (Cornish: Ynysek Syllan) is a small archipelago of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Cornish coast in the South West part of the United Kingdom. The Isles of Scilly were designated an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1975.


There are five inhabited islands:

Map of the Isles of Scilly
St. Mary's
By far the most populated island, the commercial and tourist centre with the ship quay and airport.
The smallest of the inhabited islands is wild, windswept and quite magnificent.
St. Martin's
The most easterly of the islands and therefore the most sheltered from Atlantic storms; many small holdings growing flowers and vegetables.
St. Agnes
The southwesternmost inhabited outpost and perhaps the most charming of all the islands; the island of Gugh is joined to St Agnes at low tide and usually treated as part of it.
The 2nd largest island is very grand indeed with the Abbey Gardens and an upmarket timeshare resort.

And a large number of smaller uninhabited islands and islets:

Uninhabited islands
These include Annet, The Eastern Isles, The Norrad Rocks, Samson (formerly inhabited), St. Helen's, Tean and The Western Rocks.


St. Mary's is the largest island with a population of around 1750. Most commerce is centred here as is the vast majority of the tourism related infrastructure. Hugh Town is the main centre. Tourist numbers are naturally limited by the spaces on the boat or planes, so in Scilly you can leave Cornwall's tourist hordes behind - and arguably enjoy even finer scenery.

The other four inhabited islands, collectively known as the off islands, are home to between 80 (Bryher) to 175 (Tresco) people.

Much of the land is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, a royal estate intended to provide an income for the heir to the throne, and you'll spot the characteristic signs of estate management here and there. It also means these quiet islands are frequently used by minor royalty as a holiday home where they can lead a normal life without being besieged by crowds.


The Isles of Scilly have a temperate Oceanic climate, among the mildest climates in the United Kingdom. The average annual temperature is 11.6 °C (for comparison the average in London is 11.0°C). Winters are among the warmest in the country due to southerly latitude and moderating effects of the ocean. Summers are not as warm as on the mainland. This is perhaps the sunniest area in the UK with on average 7.6 hours per day in July. On average there are less than 2 days of air frost per year. This balmy climate has resulted in the islands developing a thriving flower industry.

Get in

By boat

The Scillonian passenger ferry runs from Penzance to Hugh Town on St Mary's and the crossing takes about two hours and 40 minutes. This service runs from the end of March to the beginning of November. It leaves Penzance in the early morning and returns late afternoon/evening. It is possible to take a day trip (with four hours onshore, longer on some days when there is a double sailing) and there is a family (2 adult/3 children) day trip ticket for £75. One way tickets start at £42 — at off peak times check for vouchers in The Cornishman newspaper. There is no car ferry to Scilly.

Hugh Town on St. Mary's, the main centre of the Isles of Scilly

By plane

Fixed wing planes operated by Skybus fly from Land's End, Newquay and Exeter to St. Mary's Airport, priced from around £140 return. Flights to and from Newquay normally connect with the Flybe and Easyjet services to and from London Gatwick, Manchester and other UK airports.

No transport of any nature is available to or from the islands on Sundays. This also means that Sunday papers arrive on Monday.

Get around

Between the islands

Each island is serviced by a network of inter-island launches that run daily from 1 April through to the end of October each year. Apart from direct trips between the islands, circular sightseeing tours are also offered giving the opportunity to look at the extensive wildlife in and around the islands, particularly the large colonies of Atlantic seal and sea bird colonies. For example, a Three Islands day tour would visit Bryher, Tresco, and St Agnes, giving an hour or two time ashore on each for walking and exploring.

One of the most popular trips is to see the puffins who arrive to nest in late April, leaving the Isles in early August.

The boat service in winter is governed more by wind and tide, but daily, direct trips still take place with the occasional circular journey when the weather is sufficiently benign. Services however are provided for the benefit of those on the off-islands to visit St Mary's, rather than vice versa.

The quay at Hugh Town on St Mary's acts as the hub for inter-island boating, and is also where the ferry to/from Penzance docks.

Transport on St. Mary's

Scilly is made for walking, and the relative lack of cars and other motorised transportation creates an atmosphere that is a luxury few can enjoy in their home towns. St Mary's is larger than the other islands, but a walk to furthest reaches and back to Hugh Town is easily manageable for most people.

An infrequent bus service operates around the island, though check first if it is actually running.

There are a few local taxi operators and these are best looked for in the centre of Hugh Town. Like everything else on Scilly, these are rather laid back and seem to be not working more often than not!

Bicycle hire is widely available and if you are not up for walking everywhere, are the best way to see the islands. There is also electric cart hire available on St Mary's - these are road-legal carts (and you will be on the public highway) and so you will need a driving licence.

Transport on the off islands

There is no public transport available for day visitors. However, transport is normally provided to and from the quay or heliport (on Tresco) to your accommodation. This ranges from old land rovers to golf carts. On Tresco there are tractors with trailers, and it is often said you won't ever find as many millionaires riding on the back of a tractor as you do on Tresco!

Bike hire is available on all the islands, but again walking is easy and very pleasant.


Palms and pandanus in England! The Tresco Abbey Gardens



On the water

Exploring the islands on foot


Keen birders will need no introduction to the Isles of Scilly. This is the Mecca of birding in Great Britain and probably the whole of Europe. The islands are ideally positioned to be the point of landfall for many scarce migrant species in spring and especially in autumn. Each October, many hundreds of expert birders from Britain and further afield converge on the islands.

The slightly less keen will still find plenty to interest them in the summer months as the islands host several important seabird colonies.


Lots of locally produced food and gifts are available. Beef, pork, lamb, duck, fresh fish and shellfish, wildflower honey, fudge, ice cream, paintings, pottery, glassware, jewellery and even soap, the list is endless. Each island has at least one stall selling locally produced fruit and veg together with fresh free range eggs. Scilly is famous for its flowers, and a wide variety of bulbs are available to take home.

There is a Co-op food store on St. Mary's and each off island has a well stocked shop.

There are two banks in Scilly, both are in Hugh Town on St. Mary's - Lloyds and Barclays - though only Lloyds has an ATM. Many shops, pubs and post offices will do cash back.






Looking northeast from Bryher above Fraggle Rock, across New Grimsby Sound towards Cromwell's Castle on Tresco

Each of the inhabited islands has its own pub, and St. Mary's manages to support five. The opening hours of all Scilly pubs vary greatly according to season. In the low season (November to April), many do not open at lunchtimes.

St. Mary's

Off islands


Most accommodation is on the largest and most populated island, St. Mary's, which has plenty of accommodation of all kinds. The other islands have more limited accommodation. Demand for accommodation exceeds supply, so prices are high, even by English standards, and early booking is advisable.


With the mild climate, camping is a great option on Scilly and of the inhabited islands, only Tresco does not have a camp site. During the height of summer (June to August) booking is a must.

St Mary's


Cheapest B&B starts around £32 per person



Off islands


St. Agnes

St. Agnes is the only inhabited island without a hotel, and is therefore the quietest, with just a handful of few bed and breaksfast and holiday cottages.


Tresco is a private estate which runs an upmarket timeshare resort, and has a hotel and a pub.


Local people do not use - and do not like - the expression "Scilly Isles" or worse "Scillies" (which is just plain wrong). Local usage is to refer to the "Isles of Scilly" or simply "Scilly".

Stay safe

The islands are nearly crime-free. The biggest dangers are probably from bicycle theft or from the odd rowdy group of drunken pub-goers in the evening. Don't leave your bike unlocked outside a pub on a Friday or Saturday night... if it does go missing though you'll probably find it returned nearby the next morning.

If walking along the more rugged coastal paths, or exploring remote parts, especially the smaller uninhabited islands, take with you a charged mobile phone or other means of communication. There is generally good mobile coverage.

As with the rest of the UK, in any emergency call 999 or 112 and ask for Ambulance, Fire or Police when connected.


The landline area code for the Isles is 01720. There is mobile coverage by all UK networks. The islands are connected to the internet by a high-capacity ocean cable, so there is good internet access available. Royal Mail deliver and collect as on the British mainland, Mondays to Saturdays.

Go next

You won't want to leave! Only way out by public transport is back to Cornwall on the mainland. It'll feel strange when you return.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 26, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.