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UK holidays have never been more popular, but if you feel like you’ve done the ‘biggies’ - Cornwall, Lake District, English Riviera, Gower Peninsula and the Lochs and the like, maybe think about some of the islands off our own small islands.
A UK island holiday has all the benefits of any UK staycation - no airport queues, baggage limits etc, and yet you still feel like you’ve left the country. Getting on a ferry or an aeroplane or even a tiny boat out to an island, feels way more exciting than just jumping in the car for kids, and for adults, you get a sense of leaving your cares behind.
Plus some of the UK’s most beautiful scenery, wildlife and coastline is to be found on these small islands. There are more than 6,000 islands off the coast of the UK, and fewer than 200 are fully inhabited. The nature of island life means visiting one can feel like stepping back in time. It also means you’re able to encounter wildlife you don’t see elsewhere in the UK, with seals, puffins, red squirrels just waiting to be discovered.
They range from the jolly seaside vibe such as the Isle of Wight, with loads to see and do, to the rugged and windswept like the island of Sark.
We’ve put together a list of the best UK islands for family holidays with something for all families, from nature-hunters to keen walkers to beach babies. Have fun as you sail away!
1. Best UK island for a family holiday: Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight | Find a hotel in the Isle of Wight
“I love the IOW. If you have children then Blackgang Chine and Robins Hill are a must. The tickets normally last all week and you can go to both places. Monkey World, the Needles, Osbourne House. Lots to explore and some gorgeous beaches.” DivineSwirls
The Isle of Wight really has it all. Fabulous beaches, bucolic countryside, stately homes and castles and even its own theme park. It all makes for a great family holiday, whether you’re with toddlers or teens, and there’s lots of family-friendly accommodation, too, from campsites and self-catered cottages through to upmarket boutique hotels designed to make life easier for parents.
The traditional route is by car ferry, but you can also go by train or coach as a foot passenger, or even fly! Ferries cross daily from Lymington, Portsmouth and Southampton. You can find more information on the IOW’s official tourism website.
There’s so much to do on the IOW but if you don’t want to miss a thing, this self-guided tour and treasure hunt costs just £25 per group and is designed to show you the best of the island, as well as lots of things you won’t have thought of.
An app takes you on a tour of more than 100 activities and attractions over seven days so you can set your own pace and do as much or as little as you like, stopping to take photos and indulge in some of the local produce the island is known for.
2. Best Scottish island for holidays: Isle of Mull
Isle of Mull | Find a hotel in the Isle of Mull
“Isle of Mull, definitely. (I am biassed though as we have family that live there). Catching the ferry over is part of the adventure for the kids. You can go whale watching, take a trip to Staffa or to Iona. Tobermory (aka Balamory) has quaint coloured houses, plenty of places to eat and several shops. The best beach is Calgary beach. It's literally just a beach on the west side of the island. I've seen people wild camping there.” MrsMoastyToasty
If your kids ever watched Balamory - no matter how old they are now - then obviously a trip to the colourful houses of Tobermory is a must if you decide to visit the Isle of Mull. This Scottish island is a great place to visit for a UK getaway, and who knows - you might even spot Miss Hoolie or Archie the Inventor!
The most common way to arrive at the Isle of Mull is by ferry from Oban, but there are other crossings available that are shared on Mull’s tourism site. You can get there on foot, too, via train or coach from Glasgow to Oban and on from there.
Besides Tobermory, you should visit the stunning Duart castle, build your own castle on Calgary Bay, watch eagles, enjoy the excellent seafood and perhaps do a bit of island hopping out to Iona, Staff, Muck and other tiny islands dotted about. You can even go island hopping if you fancy it.
3. Best UK island for nature spotting: Lundy Island
Lundy Island | Find a hotel on Lundy Island
“Lundy island was pretty special - we had a short break there and was very relaxing. Beautiful walking and great for the kids.” ChorusLine79
Nature-lovers, young and old, will love Lundy. As well as the acclaimed puffins, you can also spot Sika deer, hairy coos, wild rabbits and see basking sharks in the surrounding waters. There’s also a castle and a lighthouse to explore. To get there, take the Lundy ferry from Bideford or Ilfracombe.
4. Best UK island holiday for wildlife: Shetland Islands
Shetland Islands | Find a hotel on Shetland Islands
“Another place to consider is Orkney or Shetland. Orkney has some wonderful history (prehistoric and WWII) and a stunning cathedral. Shetland is completely stunning. Both Orkney and Shetland have good roads and are easy to get about if that matters to you. Harris and Lewis and the Uists have a lot of single track road with passing places.” Deplorabelle
Whether you’re going for the food, nature or the history, Shetland is a quietly spectacular place for a family holiday.
Start off on the main island in Shetland’s largest town, Lerwick, with a visit to the Shetlands museum and archives to get your bearings. Then maybe enjoy some island hopping around Fair Isle for shipwreck-spotting, Noss for whale-watching and Whalsay for the best fishing any angler will have experienced. History buffs will enjoy croft houses, castles and Bobby’s Bus Shelter on the Isle of Unst. And if you’re there October to mid-March you might even see the Northern Lights.
To get there, you can fly from most of Scotland’s major cities or get the 12-hour overnight ferry from Aberdeen.
5. Best UK island for beaches: Isle of Tiree
Isle of Tiree | Find a hotel on the Isle of Tiree
“Tiree is amazing. Beautiful beaches, huge sense of space, very quiet. Sunny too, supposedly one of the sunniest places in Scotland.” JillCrewesPny
Whether you’re staying on Tiree itself or on one of the other beautiful islands nearby, such as Coll or Iona, there’s lots to do in a day trip or a longer break.
The Ringing Stone of Tiree is a must for its sheer weirdness. Kids might well enjoy surfing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and other watersports through either Wild Diamond or Blackhouse Watersports. In fact, Tiree is fondly known as the Hawaii of the North! You can also take boat tours or hire e-bikes to explore the island in all its fabulous, craggy historical glory.
The island has its own tiny airport, which you can fly to from Oban, Glasgow and Coll. There’s also a regular ferry service from Oban.
6. Best Scottish island for kids: Isle of Arran
Isle of Arran | Find a hotel on the Isle of Arran
“We have had some nice times on Arran. Seal watching at Kildonan. Pony trekking. Some fantastic beaches that we had virtually to ourselves. Loads of walks. We particularly enjoyed hiring bikes at Lochranza the taking the ferry to the Kintyre peninsula and cycling to Skipness for lunch at Seafood Cabin. Oh and the boat to Holy Island to walk there was fun.” 5foot5
Arran offers a bit of something for everyone. There are bike trails, beaches to explore and coastal walks for outdoorsy types; a distillery, a cheesemakers and plenty of oat cakes, chocolates and more for foodies to delight in; and amazing wildlife to spot including basking sharks, otters, seals, deer, red squirrels and golden eagles.
A trip to Brodrick Castle is a must with kids to try out the Victorian arcade, use the Isle Be Wild adventure play park and wander among gardens, woodlands and waterfalls. And if you need a little more adventure, you could climb Goatfell, one of the Corbetts at 2,866 feet above sea level.
To get there, there are two ferry services: Ardrossan to Brodick and Claonaig to Lochranza. The island has a good bus service, once you’re there to get you about.
7. Best UK island in the south: Isles of Scilly
Isles of Scilly | Find a hotel on the Isles of Scilly
With five inhabited islands (of which St Marys is the largest) and many smaller ones, too, there’s plenty to occupy you for a week or two on the Isles of Scilly. Most people stay on the bigger and busier St Mary’s and hop over to St Agnes, Bryher, Tresco and St Martins to enjoy the best of each of these small but different communities.
There are beautiful beaches, fabulous bird watching for any tiny twitchers in your party, and it’s definitely worth taking a wildlife cruise on the water to see if you can spot pumissed ffins, seal pups and dolphins. Tresco’s tropical Abbey Gardens are not to be missed either. For something a little off the beaten track, head to one of the smaller deserted islands for a Robinson Crusoe experience, or tuck into lunch at the Turk’s Head, the UK’s most south-westerly pub and one of the best beer gardens we’ve ever seen.
To get to the Isles of Scilly, take the ferry from Penzance to Hugh Town on St Mary’s or there are small aircraft flights from airports including Exeter, Bristol, Land’s End and Southampton.
8. Best UK island for walks: Sark
Sark | Find a hotel in Sark
“Sark, Sark, Sark! Sark is like experiencing another time - and it's not a theme park, this is daily life there.” SteveArnott
Sark is mostly about walking and wildlife, but it’s a really quirky little island with fabulous cafes and restaurants to drop in on as well as a chocolate kitchen, pottery studio and a hive where you can buy Sark honey. Take a horse and carriage ride around the island, or hire a bike if you prefer to go a bit faster… Or maybe go coasteering and see it all from a sea kayak.
The island doesn’t have its own airport so you’ll need to get a ferry from Jersey or Guernsey. You can fly to the Channel Islands from London Gatwick and several regional airports and there are also ferry crossings to Jersey and Guernsey from Poole and Portsmouth.
9. Best island holiday in Wales: Anglesey
Anglesey | Find a hotel in Anglesey
“My sister lives on Anglesey and I get so jealous every time I visit! Pili palas is good if you have little ones. And the sea zoo. Tbh I've not come across a bit I haven't liked!” WhoamI24601
If it’s good enough for Wills’ and Kate’s first marital home, we think there must be enough to keep any of us occupied for a week. You can walk the Anglesey coastal path, which has stunning views and goes all the way around the island; explore beautiful beaches - Lligwy Beach and Benllech are a couple of our favourites; and immerse yourself in history wandering around the 13th Century Beaumarais Castle.
If you fancy an island adventure within an island adventure, climb to South Stack, the little lighthouse on its own island just off Anglesey, reached via 400 cliffside steps and a bridge over the sea. Once you’ve made your way back from there it’s surely time for a trip to the farmer’s market for some amazing local produce for lunch. Crab sarnie, anyone?
Anglesey is linked to the mainland by suspension bridge so it’s a particularly easy island to get to. There are also train services from Crewe.
10. Best little-known island in the UK: Rathlin Island
Rathlin Island | Find a hotel on Rathlin Island
The only inhabited island of Northern Island, Rathlin is a bit special. You can tour it by foot, bike or bus to get a good feel for the whole island, and then spend time at the places you like the look of the most.
The RSPB Seabird Centre is fascinating and sure to be a hit with kids, as is the ‘upside down lighthouse’. Although famous for its birdlife, Mill Bay is worth a visit to see its resident (and very cute) seals, and it’s also worth finding the Boathouse Visitor Centre to learn all about the island’s fascinating history of vikings, violence and shipwreck. All pretty horrifying but bound to interest bloodthirsty school-aged kids.
Mostly though, this is a place to slow down, look a little more closely, listen a little harder and just appreciate the peace and the beauty of this little island.
To get here, travel via ferry from Ballycastle.
What is the best British island to visit?
The best British island for a holiday is the one that gives you everything you’re looking for from a trip away. If nature and long walks are your family’s thing, Lundy or one of the Scottish islands will give you what you need.
For an island holiday that will please everyone, however, we think you can’t go wrong with the Isle of Wight. Its size means there’s lots to do from theme parks to castles, donkey sanctuaries to garlic farms, as well as endless beaches, festivals, countryside to explore and much more.
What islands are close to the UK?
We’re lucky that there are a plethora of islands off the UK’s coastline to explore - between six and seven thousand, in fact, though many of those are far too tiny to visit, let alone stay on. Some of the most famous are off Scotland, including the Hebridies, the Shetland Islands and more, while further south you have unspoilt natural habitats such as Lundy and islands known more for traditional holidaymaking fun, like the Isle of Wight.
What is the prettiest island?
Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder! The clear waters of the Scilly Isles make them a pretty idyllic spot, but if you like your landscape a bit more rugged, you’ll want to head further north to Lindisfarne or the Hebrides. And even among the wild Scottish islands you’ll find picture-postcard views such as the little colourful houses of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull (which many parents will recognise as the backdrop to Balamory).
What country in the UK has the most islands?
It depends on what you count as an island. According to the Ordnance Survey, there are 82 English, Welsh and Scottish islands larger than 5km square. Of those, 71 are in Scotland so we think Scotland wins.
Which British island is the largest?
The Isle of Wight is the largest and also most populous island off Britain.
Which island in the UK is the most family-friendly?
Again, it depends what you want to do, but the Isle of Wight probably offers most for kids of all ages, with plenty to do on rainy days, and lots of family friendly attractions, activities and accommodation.
How we chose our recommendations
As always, the first thing we did was head straight for the Mumsnet Talk boards, where you are always certain to find honest reviews on products and services. Mumsnetters give reliably good information about holidays of all sorts, but especially breaks in the UK, and we also knew we would pick up useful information for potential holidaymakers from Mumsnet users who live all round in the holiday destinations and would be able to provide in-depth insider knowledge.
We then scoured the internet for holiday reviews of British islands to see what the experts were saying and using all that information we drew up a shortlist.
Finally, we looked for customer reviews to check that they backed up the recommendations we’d found, looking at TripAdvisor among others to be sure that the trips we were recommending would make for happy holidays.
Why should you trust us?
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