Your weekend island-hopping guide to Scilly

St Mary's aerial view

Looking for a weekend escape? Somewhere not far to travel, but a world apart? Then look no further than the Isles of Scilly, an island-hopping sub-tropical paradise just 28 miles from Cornwall! Here are your top tips for a perfect long weekend on the islands.Here are your top tips for a perfect long weekend on the islands.

Your weekend starts here: Penzance, Friday morning
Step on to the Scillonian III passenger ferry in Penzance for a 9.15am cruise to St. Mary’s. Enjoy Cornwall’s delightful coastal scenery and spectacular seabirds and wildlife on route. You’ll arrive in Scilly by 12 noon - perfectly timed for lunch at a beachside café. We recommend Dibble & Grub on Porthcressa.

Take a stroll around the coastline to St. Mary’s most southerly peninsula at Peninnis Head and on to Old Town Bay, via the medieval candle-lit church, where you will find the Old Town Café, bathed in warm sunshine.

Head down to St. Mary’s Quay early evening, and hop on to a tripper boat to watch some pilot gig racing.  The historic gigs are beautiful, and Scillonian crews (comprising six oarsmen and a cox) from each island race every week in the season. It’s competitive stuff – and a perfect appetiser before your evening meal.

Saturday’s islands adventure

Time to explore! Island hopping is the thing do on Scilly. Every morning at around 10am, Scilly’s colourful tripper boats line up along St. Mary’s Quay waiting to take you to whichever island you wish to go. Sometimes there are “three islands in one day” tours too.  So take your pick, and step aboard.

Bryher is Michael Morpurgo’s favourite – small and beautifully formed, with a bit of everything – a rugged northern coastline which is regularly beasted by the Atlantic Ocean yet stunning sheltered beaches such as Rushy Bay in the south.

St. Agnes is alive with birdlife, an artistic ‘outpost’ and England’s smallest dairy farm (with delicious ice-cream), while St. Martin’s is famed for its incredibly long, white-sand beaches, beautiful ridge walk, boutique vineyard and striking red and white Daymark.

Tresco is a must, simply for Tresco Abbey Garden – a celebration of 20,000 sub-tropical plants and flowers from across the world, as well as red squirrels, roaming golden pheasants and the Valhalla Collection.  Walk the rugged north of the island too, to check out the ruins of King Charles’ and Cromwell’s Castles.

So step out and find your favourite!

And in the evening, why not hop on to a supper boat to Bryher, and head for the Crab Shack? (Booking ahead essential.) Tuck into freshly caught crab and lobster served simply yet beautifully by the island’s multi-award-winning hotel, Hell Bay. There are often supper boat options to St. Agnes and St. Martin’s too – where you’ll find a number of foodie options, all with spectacular island views.  

Sunday – uninhabited island discoveries

Time to take a sea safari to the uninhabited Eastern Isles or Western Rocks to see the seals, puffins, gannets, cormorants, shags, shearwaters and more. Sometimes there are options to stop off on St. Martin’s or St. Agnes for lunch or a cream tea, and a short island wander. Or take a guided walk to St. Helen’s, Samson or Teän – all uninhabited islands now, but each with an amazing history of home hardships and mariners’ tales to tell. Be prepared for beach landings!

Back on St. Mary’s in the late afternoon, you can head for the historic Garrison, steeped in English civil history.  Located just up the hill from Hugh Town, through the arch, it’s the perfect spot for a panoramic view of the archipelago before an early evening sun-downer at the Star Castle whilst watching the sun dip behind Bishop Rock.

Monday – beat those blues!

Why not head to the north of St. Mary’s – a coastal walk or bike ride away up to Bant’s Carn and Halangy Village which both date from the Bronze Age? Imagine yourself living back in the day when the islands were joined as one.  

Then wander down to Bar Point for one last feel of the soft white sand over your toes before heading to Juliet’s Garden or Holy Vale Winery for lunch. Either is a stunning spot to end your long weekend, before collecting your bags and taking the five-minute shuttle to St. Mary’s airport for a spectacular flight back to Cornwall.