On the very southern edge of the UK, just off the coast of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly are easily one of my favourite parts of one of my favourite counties.
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A collection of small islands – even the largest is less than 6 square miles – a visit to the Isles of Scilly with kids is like stepping back to a more relaxed time for a proper old-fashioned family holiday, in the best sense.
This is somewhere to get outdoors, to discover countless golden beaches, to take boat trips from one island to another, to take a deep breath and enjoy just being together. So if you’re planning a holiday to the Isles of Scilly with kids, here’s my guide with what you need to know.
Check out some of my photos of the Isles of Scilly if you need more tempting!
Isles of Scilly travel
There are five inhabited islands – St Mary’s, the biggest and the one most visitors will arrive at, as well as St Agnes, Bryher, Tresco and St Martin’s.
You can reach the islands by ferry, small planes or there’s also a helicopter service from March 2020.
There are also rail and sail options, teaming the ferry and a sleeper train if you don’t want to drive to Cornwall, as well as fly and sail options so you can combine different alternatives.
The Scilly Isles ferry, the Scillonian III, is the cheapest option and you’re less restricted in how much you can take on board. It sails from Penzance to St Mary’s, and takes around 2 hours 45 minutes, operating from March to November (weather permitting).
It’s a passenger ferry only: there’s no car ferry to the Isles of Scilly, so it’s not possible to bring your own car – realistically you don’t need it at the other end anyway.
If you prefer to fly, the small planes of the Skybus service hop from Land’s End and Newquay to St Mary’s year-round in 20 to 30 minutes, as well as flights to Isles of Scilly from Exeter between March and October.
We chose this option on our own family holiday to the Isles of Scilly, taking a train direct from London to Exeter and then a short taxi ride to the airport for the hour-long flight.
Even though you spend more time in the air, it cuts the journey to the station so was ideal with a three-year-old, to save a long train journey.
Read my full review of our Isles of Scilly flights and what you can expect as you travel to the Isles of Scilly
The new helicopter service runs from Penzance to St Mary’s and Tresco, so saves you a boat journey if Tresco is your final destination. It takes just 15 minutes, with flights six days a week.
From St Mary’s, boats run regularly to all the other islands – none are more than around 15 to 25 minutes from each other – so you can easily get to your accommodation (and explore the other islands during your stay).
Each island operates its own boat service as well as regular water taxis: there’s no fixed schedule, thanks to the tides, so you need to check the blackboards or the Facebook and Twitter pages for the different boat companies – Visit Isles of Scilly has links.
Things to do on the Isles of Scilly with kids
One of the biggest joys about the Isles of Scilly is the freedom – although there are cars, none of the islands are particularly busy and it’s easy to walk or cycle around to explore – you can hire bikes if you don’t have your own.
There are also golf buggies to hire on St Mary’s plus boats running between the islands so you can pop over to the others on a day trip, as well as heading out to see to spot seals, puffins and dolphins, depending on the time of year.
If you’re visiting on a short break, or you want to get an idea of each of the different islands, the Calypso Boat tours are a great option – visiting three islands in one day, you get a taste of what there is to see, including some of the highlights such as the Abbey gardens on Tresco.
But there are plenty of other reasons to visit the Isles of Scilly: things to do to entertain toddlers and teens…
For more ideas of the best things to do in Isles of Scilly with kids, check out my top 16
The biggest of the islands, you could set yourself the challenge of walking the whole way around the coast – not necessarily in one go, but even with younger kids, you can see a fair amount in a few days.
Along the way, there are ancient burial sites to discover, the island’s vineyard at Holy Vale wines and beaches galore plus some great views and kite-flying from the cliff path.
With its subtropical climate, check out the beautiful plants in Carreg Dhu Gardens – the sunken gardens are set in an old quarry. There are also buggy-friendly nature trails to wander.
Here’s what we found following a treasure trail around St Mary’s and on our walks around the island
Or you can simply settle in at one of the beaches – lovely Porthcressa is good for finding shells and also has a play area nearby, Porthmellon is another good spot for beachcombing plus it also has a Sailing Centre.
For more wide open sands, Pelistry is a definite contender for one of the loveliest beaches on the island too.
If you’re looking for things to do in the Isles of Scilly in the rain, St Mary’s also has the Isles of Scilly museum – it’s free for under-fives, and has collections from Roman times, as well as later shipwrecks, plus information about local history and some artworks.
St Mary’s is also the point from which many of the boats depart to explore the other island. The Boatmen’s Association boats run every day from to St Martins, St Agnes, Bryher, Tresco and uninhabited Sampson.
Times vary depending on the weather and tides, although there are usually two or three departures every day. Make sure you find out where the boat picks up though, as it won’t necessarily be the same spot that you were dropped off at!
We also headed out to spot seals on a glass bottomed boat trip from St Mary’s, adding a stop at St Martin’s along the way – read my full review of our Seaquest Scilly boat tour here.
The most south-westerly edge of the Isles of Scilly, little St Agnes is joined to neighbouring Gugh by a sand bar – you can walk across at low tide and the beach here was a great spot for finding sea glass and shells (or making sandcastles).
Further south, Wingletang Bay is home to Beady Pool, so named as you could find beads among the treasures from shipwrecks there, although you’ll be lucky to be able to today.
One of the most intriguing things to see on St Agnes is the stone maze, a circular pattern made using round stones. Thought to date as far back as Viking times, there are plenty of tales and legends associated with it – the pattern is believed to send sailors a fair wind.
You can also visit Troytown Farm whose cows produce some very good homemade ice cream, as well as finding flowers galore, while the Turks Head is the heart of the island – a pub and shop.
Home to the islands’ best-known ‘attraction’, Tresco is also the only island to be privately owned – perhaps as a result, it has a slightly more chic feel. Laidback, but we’re talking barefoot luxury.
The Tresco Stores & Deli is also the place to pick up a few treats if you’re visiting. But the best-known thing to do on Tresco (deservedly) are the magnificent Tresco Abbey Gardens.
Created in the grounds of a 12th century priory in 1834, you can still spy parts of the old buildings as you wander round 17 acres with gardens themed on different parts of the world.
One of the quirkiest areas has to be Valhalla, the National Maritime Collection of Ship’s Figureheads, but one of my daughter’s favourites was the shell grotto.
And of course there are yet more beaches, as well as freshwater pools in the centre of the island which are perfect for bird watching.
Rushy Porth Beach and Appletree Bay both have glorious white sand while Pentle Bay is renowned for being particularly safe.
Tresco is also home to the Isles of Scilly’s castles – Cromwell’s Castle, which sits on a rocky promontory between the island and Bryher. You can walk to it, including a climb down the stone steps and it’s free to visit.
Wonderfully wild, Bryher is made for walking and wandering – stop and gaze out across Hell Bay as you look to the empty Atlantic beyond.
If you’d prefer a bit of paddling, head to the other side of the island and the beach at Church Quay.
Fuel up with some fudge from Veronica Farm, which also has wood-fired pizzas.
The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust also runs events from time to time, including rockpool rambles (with a bit of beach cleaning along the way) and insect safaris. Check their website for the latest information on what’s running.
One of my own favourites, the beaches here have to be seen to be believed – the curving bays and endless blues of the water could be straight from the Caribbean (although the temperatures are definitely pure Cornwall).
Start by Lower Town Bay – Lawrence’s Bay is simply gorgeous – while Par Beach at Higher Town Bay is another lovely option, and a little quieter when we visited.
As the island is two miles long, you can saunter around checking out your favourite cove though: there’s also a vineyard on St Martin’s – named The Vineyard, it’s open Tuesdays to Thursdays during the summer for tours and tastings.
Or for a glass of wine with a view, head to the Sevenstones Inn which looks down onto the bay.
You can also take boat trips out from St Martin’s to discover some of the uninhabited islands and their wildlife – we started our trip on the Seaquest glass bottomed boat from St Mary’s but there are itineraries running from this island too.
Check out my review of the Seaquest boat tour here…
You can even snorkel with seals if you’re travelling with kids aged eight or above – and Scilly Seal Snorkelling provides wetsuits too.
Where to stay on the Isles of Scilly with kids
Although the islands are small, there’s still a string of different types of family-friendly accommoation to stay in.
Several of the islands have hotels, including several in St Mary’s and on Bryher. There are also B&Bs and guesthouses to stay in, self-catering cottages as well as campsites and glamping.
It’s worth doublechecking as not all the accommodation – from hotels, including Hell Bay Hotel, down to glamping options – accept children.
If you’re travelling with younger kids, a stay in or around Hugh Town in St Mary’s is one of the easiest options – most transport arrives here, and some of the bigger hotels are very nearby.
We stayed at Tregarthen’s hotel which has some family-friendly options including early tea for younger kids, a play room and various pieces of kit to borrow if you’re visiting with babies and toddlers especially.
Check out my review of Tregarthen’s Hotel with kids following our stay
Star Castle Hotel has its own boatman to help you plan your beach hopping – plus some of the 38 rooms are in the old castle itself, although for most families, you’ll need the space of one of the garden rooms and suites.
Bell Rock Hotel also accepts families and has its own indoor heated swimming pool.
Peninnis Farm Luxury Camping has wooden lodges and is also dog friendly (outside peak times) – they sleep up to five, while kids can start the day by joining Farmer Dan to collect eggs and feed the animals in the morning
There are some great self-catering options on Tresco. If you’re splashing out, it’s hard to beat the Flying Boat Cottages on Tresco – the 12 five-star beachside cottages are built on the site of a First World War flying boat station (hence the name) and each sleep between six and 10 people.
Stays include entry to the Abbey Gardens and if you’re visiting out of peak season, you can get find deals.
Or check out Sea Garden Cottages on the east side of Tresco, which sleep four to 10, while the collection of Tresco Holiday Cottages also have options which also sleep up to 10 and are scattered across the island.
Self-catering is another great option on Bryher, although you’ll also find classic campsites on the island too – you can’t stay at the award-winning Hell Bay Hotel with kids alas.
But there are a couple of four-star cottage options with room for families, including Glenhope High and Atlanta, along with the chance to stay in a bell tent.
The only hotel on St Martin’s, Karma St Martin’s is set right on the beach, and children of any age are accepted too. There’s also a kids’ menu in the award-winning hotel Cloudesley Shovell restaurant – commemorating a rather fabulously named British Admiral.
For a review of a stay at Karma St Martin’s with kids, check out this post from blogger Katy at Otis and Us
And the island is also home to the only campsite in the Isles of Scilly to be awarded four stars by Visit England.
You’ll also find various options for self-catering cottages, including old farmhouses and converted stables to sleep in.
When you set foot on St Agnes, you feel even further away from the rest of the world than the other Scilly Isles – and so it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s also no hotel or guesthouse on the island.
There is a campsite at Troytown Farm, as well as a couple of self-catering options big enough for families, including The Croft and The Cottage.
Plan your trip to the Isles of Scilly
There’s no dedicated guide to the Isles of Scilly from Lonely Planet, but the islands are covered in their Devon and Cornwall guide.
Bradt also has a Slow Travel guide to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and there is a dedicated guide to the Isles of Scilly from Friendly Guides.
And while you don’t need to read fiction to know what to do on the Isles of Scilly, I’m a big fan of the Hell Bay series by Kate Rhodes.
There are currently four books in the series, and it’s perfect to pack for your trip (or to get a feel of the island atmosphere before you go… although with rather fewer murders in real life!)
PIN FOR LATER: GUIDE TO THE ISLES OF SCILLY WITH KIDS
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