The Ultimate Tropical Day Trip in the UK! The Isles of Scilly
February 20, 2021
The Isles of Scilly is the ultimate tropical day trip in the UK. Yep, you heard that right! A tropical day trip IN the UK.
Just 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall in the South West of England is the tropical archipelago known as the Scilly Isles. Sitting in the gulf stream enduring a warm temperate climate providing the perfect environment for tropical plants. The flora and fauna on the islands are just one of the many reasons why you will want to visit.
Imagine roads with no cars or street lights and endless white sugary sand beaches. A brilliantly clear, turquoise but chilly ocean with a quiet island atmosphere.
Friendly locals who smile and say hello, many of whom offer their own local produce, crafts or products. A sense of peace overcomes you as soon as you arrive and all of your mainland worries wash away with the tide.
What are the Isles of Scilly?
The Isles of Scilly consist of over 140 islands of which just 5 are inhabited. They are St Marys, Tresco, St Martins, Bryher and St Agnes.
I have visited The Isles of Scilly more than 15 times, spanning childhood family holidays to visiting as an adult and introducing the islands to my husband. It is one of those places that you visit once and holds a very special place in your heart for the rest of your life. There is a reason that generations come to visit, on the same week, year after year.
Holiday cottages and campsites often sell out a year in advance making it a sought after location. With accommodation only available for a certain amount of people, it ensures that the beaches are quiet and tranquil.
If you are unable to secure accommodation for a holiday, the next best thing is a day trip to these Cornish isles.
Getting to the Isles of Scilly
A day trip to the Isles of Scilly is like landing in a paradise and the islands are accessible in just minutes. You can travel to the isles of Scilly via the Scillonian, a helicopter or via Skybus.
Modes of Transport
The Scillonian ferry departs from Penzance and takes 2hrs 45mins to reach St Marys, the largest of the 5 inhabited islands. It is the cheapest of the three transport options but also the longest in duration.
The helicopter also departs from Penzance and takes only 15 minutes for you to arrive on either St Marys or Tresco. This option is the most expensive option but is the only option that takes you directly to Tresco island.
The Skybus departs from Lands End, Newquay or Exeter airport and takes between 20 minutes and 1 hour dependant on your departure location. The Skybus lands on St Marys. Travelling via Skybus price wise is the middle ground. The views of the Scilly Isles from above make this a fantastic option- trust me!
The Best Day Trip Transport
For a day trip to the Isles of Scilly you can travel by any of these. The Helicopter and Skybus will give you the most amount of time to explore but the Scillonian will offer you the cheapest option.
For the sake of this article I am going to describe how to best travel to the Isles of Scilly for the day by Scillonian. Since this is the option that I most recently did, it is also the option that has the least amount of time on the islands. I want to show you how much you can do during your day trip.
The Scillonian departs from Penzance at 9.15am and arrives into St Marys at midday. The excitement begins as soon as you spot the archipelago in the distance. Everyone jumps up from their seats to admire the tranquil islands that dot the horizon. We came on a calm Septembers day and the weather was gloriously warm. Keep an eye out on the ocean for dolphins that roam around the islands along with seals and the odd whale.
The ferry meanders through the bay between the islands and you catch your first glimpse of the stunning white sand beaches and rugged coastline.
How to Spend a Day on the Isles of Scilly
Upon arrival to St Marys you have several options for your day trip.
a) Spend the day exploring St Marys, which ultimately gives you more time on “land”.
b) Hop on a day boat and visit one of the off islands.
This will be a personal preference on how you like to spend your days – relaxed or filled with adventure and activities.
Since I have been to the Isles of Scilly before I opted to visit an off island because I wanted to visit certain beaches, my favourite on all of the islands in fact.
A Day Trip on St Martins, Isles of Scilly
St Martins has the most gloriously soft white sand beaches on both sides of the island and is the epitome of island paradise. Once you arrive in St Marys on the Scillonian, there are day tripper boats ready to meet you and take you to your designated islands.
Getting to St Martins
A ticket from St Marys to St Martins costs just £5 one way and departs at 12.30pm, times may vary so check these before making plans. Look out for the boat named Sapphire.
If you want to visit a different island, this ultimately depends on what time the boats depart from St Marys. Sometimes the boat depart at 2pm which would be too late to consider a day trip including an off island.
The crossing to St Martins takes about 25 minutes and is a wonderful way to see the other islands up close. Keep an eye out for seals as they are commonly seen in this area. As you cross the bay past Tresco and St Marys you will be dropped off at either Hightown Quay or Lowertown Quay. This depends on the tides and you will be informed on the day that you travel.
How to Spend Your Day on St Martins
We got dropped off at Highertown quay and immediately felt like we had landed on a tropical paradise. The water was calm as silk, a dreamy crystal clear turquoise. Stand up paddle boarders were cruising past the beach and kayakers were gearing up to take to the water.
Par Beach at Higher Town quay is one fit for a postcard. We stopped to admire the view, soak our toes in the ocean and take some photos to remember our trip. It is here that you can rent water sports craft at St Martins Water Sports. This is a great option if you are going to be picked up from Higher Town quay at the end of the day.
We next wandered up the main road, the only main road on the island. There are only a handful of cars on the island so you don’t need to worry about them passing you on the one lane road.
How you spend your day on St Martins when visiting on a day trip will require some planning to ensure you make the most of it. We decided to visit as many beaches as possible so we headed to the North side of the island to Great Bay.
Getting to Great Bay
Great bay overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, is a rugged beauty and rarely busy. We made our way from Higher Town to Middle town, admiring the stunning views that you witness of the rest of the island, overlooking the bay and the other islands in the distance. You can follow the public footpaths by turning right at the island hall or from Middle Town, just take a right at the red phone box. Walk past hundreds of gorse bushes and you will arrive at one of the best beaches on the island.
We hopped into our swim suits and ran into the ocean. The weather was balmy and even though the sea here is always on the chilly side it was refreshing. We passed a group of wetsuit clad snorkelers on their way to investigate the great bay.
On a day trip you are always short on time so there’s no time to sunbathe and fall asleep under the sun (sigh). So after we had taken a few photos, we walked back to Middle Town to meet our boat at Lower Town Quay.
Discovering the Best Beer Garden in the UK
On the way to Lower Town Quay you pass St Martins Campsite, a fabulous place to stay if you like to camp. The campsite is located just a stones throw from the beach with only a sand dune in between you and the ocean. It is truly magical and my family and I have spent many years holidaying here.
At Lower Town quay you reach quite possibly one of the best beer gardens in the country. Located at the 4* hotel Karma St Martins, the alfresco garden overlooks the uninhabited island of Tean and Tresco in the distance.
It is from this quay that the day tripper boat was departing from which we could have caught back to St Marys, if it was departing a little earlier than planned for the day. As I said before the tide times dictate when and where the day tripper boats depart and so on this occasion we decided to book a private transfer.
Travelling in Style
In order for us to enjoy our day fully on St Martins, we pre booked a private transfer with The Sailing Centre on Endeavour, their rib. They picked us up from Lower Town quay 1 hour before the Scillonian departs on St Marys. This was absolutely the highlight of our trip. The trip to St Marys on the rib takes just 10 minutes and speeding past the other islands, watching the glassy ocean glide by is a truly magical feeling.
The check in for the Scillonian closes 30 minutes before departure generally at 4pm for a 4.30pm departure. To give you an idea for our itinerary I have included it below.
Isles of Scilly Day Trip Itinerary
Depart Penzance 9.15am on Scillonian
Arrive St Marys 11.30am
Depart St Marys 12pm for St Martins on Sapphire (schedule varies, check on day)
Arrive St Martins approx 1pm.
To walk from Higher Town Quay to Lower Town Quay it takes around 30 minutes.
The round trip walk from Middle Town to Great Bay is about 20 Minutes.
That leaves you around 1hour 40 minutes free time (not walking) to relax on the island.
Depart Lower Town Quay 3.30pm on Endeavour Rib
Arrive St Marys 3.40 – 3.50pm and check in for Scillonian
Depart St Marys on Scillonian 4.30pm
Arrive Penzance 7.15pm
This may seem like a very tight schedule because it is. Having prior knowledge of the islands helps when planning a day trip. As mentioned prior, if you want more time you can fly or stay on St Marys.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit the Isles of Scilly on a Day Trip?
We visited whilst there was a sale on day trip tickets on the Scillonian and it only cost us £25 each return.
This allowed us to spend more on the private water taxi – Endeavour. This was £55 for the boat – split between a family this is really good value. For 2 people it was a luxury but money well spent.
A full price day trip ticket on the Scillionian normally costs approx £59. Prices for 2021 are TBC.
A day trip ticket on the Skybus or Helicopter varies by location but you are looking at well over £100 per person return. Prices for 2021 TBC.
The Day Tripper boat tickets cost us £5 each one way. A direct return is £12 (not sure why a single was only £5).
Do you want to visit the Isles of Scilly now? Or do you have any tips you would like to add to this post?