I was beyond excited to be visiting the Isles of Scilly for the first time again since I was about 12 years old.
I’m lucky enough to have been three times before when I was a child; once on a primary school trip where we camped in a field by the cliffs for a week and did lots of water sports in the summer, and twice with my family, staying in holiday cottages on St. Mary’s.
When Frankie and I were invited along on a press trip, I was excited to see how well I’d remember the island! St. Mary’s is the largest island of the archipelago (in total there are over 100 islands, with just 5 of them being inhabited), with around 1,800 inhabitants. That’s pretty much the size of a large village when you think about it! This is the island where the Scillonian ferry comes into the harbour in Hugh Town, and also where the tiny airport is situated at the peak of the island.
On previous trips I have also visited the other islands, such as Tresco, Bryher and St. Martin. All breathtakingly beautiful, but for this trip we were staying for just a night, so wanted to get the most out of the island of St. Mary’s while we were there.
You can visit just for a day, and take dogs too!
For those who don’t know, the Isles of Scilly is located just 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall, and travel options include flying by Skybus (departing from Exeter, Newquay, and Land’s End airports – with travel times between 60 to 20 minutes depending on where you’re flying from), helicopter (from Penzance, which only takes 15 minutes!), or by the Scillonian ferry departing from Penzance harbour.
The Scillonian takes 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to St. Mary’s, but it’s usually the cheapest and most convenient way to travel if you’re taking any camping or sports equipment – or if you want to take your furry friend! The Scillonian also does day trips with an early departure from Penzance and leaving later from St. Mary’s.
White sand beaches & turquoise waters
People sometimes ask how the beaches on the Isles of Scilly are different to the beaches in Cornwall, and I think the key thing is the colour of the sand! It is unbelievably soft and white in the Isles of Scilly; and yes we have some lovely near-white and soft yellow sand beaches in Cornwall, but it looks very different on these islands. This combined with the crystal clear water makes for some stunning turquoise colours that you’d usually only see in the Caribbean!
The prettiest ‘hostel’ you’ve ever seen
We stayed at Longstone Lodge when we visited, a brand new hostel-style accommodation just 15 minutes outside of Hugh Town. It’s self catered accommodation with shared living areas and kitchen, but many of the bedrooms are private (although you can choose a dormitory too) and it’s by far the most beautiful, relaxing ‘hostel’ I’ve ever stayed in!
The lodge is fantastic value and many of the rooms even have their own private outdoor decked area, and are all immaculately clean and nicely decorated. I’d definitely recommend this option for staying on St. Mary’s!
Clear starry night skies with no light pollution
With no factories and a relatively small amount of cars on the islands, the skies are unpolluted and totally clear above the Isles of Scilly. Add to this that at night there are only a few street lamps in the main towns (and none around the rest of the countryside) and you can see an amazing sparkling sky or stars incredibly clearly on most nights.
Travel by bike on safe roads
One of the main ways to get around St. Mary’s is by bike. We hired bikes from St. Mary’s Bike Hire and spent a few hours exploring the island by cycling through country lanes and along cycle paths, all the while feeling incredibly safe due to the very small amount of cars. There’s basically no traffic and we only came across a few cars for the whole morning!
Amazing seafood and the best cocktails at The Beach
If you try one restaurant while you’re visiting St. Mary’s, it has to be The Beach! It’s set in a converted boat shed overlooking Porthmellon beach on the edge of Hugh Town, and serves the most delicious seafood. You can get a very generous size lobster here for pretty incredible prices too! But one of the main draws is the restaurant’s quirky and fun cocktail menu. I went for the banoffee pie cocktail and it was one of the best I’ve ever had.
Nature trails through ancient elm trees
Dotted around the island of St. Mary’s you can find lots of different nature trails to explore. These are protected reserves and are really popular for bird watching, with a mix of marshlands and elm forests, with ancient trees and pretty boardwalks that cut you through to the different towns and villages.
Incredible sunsets across the ocean
Islands always have the best sunsets, don’t they? Well St. Mary’s is no exception. Even on a relatively cloudy evening we witnessed an amazing sunset with bright pinks and purples streaming through the sky! Definitely worth catching over the harbour so you can see the reflection in the water.
So many quaint seaside pubs to try (bar crawl anyone?)
As we walked through Hugh Town we counted at least six or seven pubs dotted around by the waterside, with a very Cornish/Scillonian feel. Perfect for cosy pub grub or if you’re fancying a pub crawl through the town!
Have a picnic while seal-spotting
We cycled our bikes up to the other side of the island by Porth Hellick, and walked along the coast to find the best picnic spot. We’d brought a backpack with lunch with us, and sat with a blanket looking out to see at the little fishing boats, trying with all our might to spot a friendly seal! We didn’t see any, but it’s usually quite common to find them lounging on the rocks in these little coves.
No big chains, resorts or corporations – just independent cafes and boutiques
The only supermarket on St. Mary’s is a small Co-op in Hugh Town, and the rest of the islands seem to be serviced by markets, village stores and independent cafes and boutiques. It’s quite amazing not to see a high street filled with familiar retail brands, even from someone who lives in Cornwall!
You can kayak around the island and explore hidden coves
On our first day we hired a pair of kayaks from The Sailing Centre at Porthmellon beach, and paddled around to a neighbouring cove to take pictures and enjoy the last of the day’s sunshine. We heard from a couple that they’d kayaked around the whole island while they were there, which must be an amazing way to explore St. Mary’s too!
Explore beautiful gardens with exotic plants, thanks to the micro-climate
The Isles of Scilly is well known for its sub-tropical gardens around Tresco Abbey, but St. Mary’s also has some beautiful exotic gardens to explore too. We stumbled up by some that you can wander through nearby Longstone Lodge which were filled with beautiful plants. It’s easier for these gardens to grow with all this lushness due to the micro-climate around the islands, which are apparently warmed by the Gulf stream.
Where else can you have a whole beach to yourself?!
As we cycled around the islands, we stumbled across a hidden beach called Watermill Cove. Once we’d gone down the little dirt track and climbed over some rocks, we discovered that we literally had the whole beach to ourselves. On a sunnier day the water would have been an unbelievable colour (you can already see how blue it was even with the grey sky!).
Have you ever been to the Isles of Scilly or stayed on St. Mary’s? Is it on your bucket list?
* We visited as part of a press trip with the Isles of Scilly Partnership, but all opinions are my own. I love the Isles of Scilly and visited a lot as a child, and want everyone to see how stunning it is!