You might not be able to jump on a plane to a far flung destination right now, but there are plenty of crystal clear waters and white sands to dream about visiting right here in the UK.
Dreaming of jetting off on a far-flung island holiday? Well, you might be surprised to learn that there are many islands right here in the UK, many of which could give the Caribbean a run for its money.
Of course, we already knew that England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales offer incredible staycation options. Indeed, the UK is full of getaway locations for any kind of break away, whether you’re looking for cosy hotels, romantic castles, country spas, treehouses, beautiful country walk routes, or even open water swimming spots.
What we don’t often hear our friends shouting about, though, is the impressive amount of islands sprinkled around UK shores. Whether you’re looking for R&R, hiking or adventuring is your passion, these quiet UK island destinations – dotted around the English Channel, Scotland’s Inner and Outer Hebrides and the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall – all deserve your attention.
From the white-sand beaches of the Scilly Isles to the relaxation and tranquility of Shetland and beyond, here is our pick of the top islands to visit in the UK.
It’s worth noting that, due to Covid-19, there are travel restrictions across the UK (and the globe). You should always check local restrictions both at home and where you’re travelling to to make sure you’re staying within the law.
St Agnes, Isles of Scilly
It’s hard to pick just one good thing to say about the gorgeous St. Agnes in the Isles of Scilly. From secluded beaches and rocky coves, to the quaint village cottages and unspoilt wildlife, St. Agnes’ landscape is as beautiful as it is diverse.
Images: John Peacock
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland
This Northumbrian coastal jewel has been a site of religious interest since Saint Aiden founded a monastery here in 635AD. Be sure to soak up the picturesque views and tranquil atmosphere as you visit Lindisfarne’s 11th-century Benedictine priory and 16th-century castle.
Brownsea Island, Dorset
A haven for native wildlife, including Britain’s threatened red squirrel species, Brownsea Island is packed full of pretty woodland and coastal walks, with spectacular views across to the Purbeck Hills. Follow in the footsteps of the first Scout and Girl Guide groups by camping on the island’s 50-acre site, or wake up to the natural beauty of Brownsea in The National Trust’s three-bedroomed holiday cottage.
Isle of Portland, Dorset
Located on the World Heritage Coast five miles south of Weymouth, this striking limestone ‘isle’ (it’s joined to the mainland by Chesil Beach) was put on the map by its famous Portland Bill lighthouse – though hosting sailing events during the 2012 Olympics probably helped too.
Isle of Wight
The largest island in the English Channel, the Isle of Wight is best known for playing host to not one, but two, massive music festivals each year. Add this to its numerous beaches and Gulf-Stream-warmed waters, and England’s smallest county a definite must-visit.
With five beautiful beaches to choose from (Stravannan Bay is particularly peaceful), it wouldn’t be hard to spend all your time by the sea when visiting Bute. However, accommodating more than 8,000 years of civilisation has brought plenty of man-made sights too: from the gothic splendor of Mount Stuart House to the pretty Ascog Hall Gardens.
Lundy Island, Devon
Situated off the coast of North Devon, a visit to Lundy is all about enjoying life’s simple pleasures - think: snorkelling safaris in the clear waters that surround the island, seabird spotting around Jenny’s Cove or taking childish delight in discovering rockpool creatures at Devil’s Kitchen. Plus, take your pick from stays in a 13th-century castle, fisherman’s chalet or a late-Georgian villa and lighthouse.
Lucky Anglesey boasts an island within an island; if the scenic winding lanes or spectacular coastline of the main island are not enough for you, at high tide Holy Island is revealed, featuring 12-square miles of prehistoric landmarks, dramatic scenery and ‘secret’ beaches and coves.
Found off the west coast of Scotland, Jura is one of Scotland’s last unspoilt wilderness islands: more than 5000 deer outnumber its teeny 200 inhabitants. Visit Jura’s ancient landmarks or take a walking tour of the Paps of Jura. Or, why not just enjoy all that peace and quiet with a wee dram of single malt whisky from the local distillery?
Rathlin, Northern Ireland
Rathlin may be the most northerly point of Northern Ireland (it’s located off the north-east coast), however it’s actually relatively easy to access – just take the ferry from Ballycastle, County Antrim. Once there, book a walking tour or hire bicycles and explore the island’s pretty landscape – birds of prey, seals and the rare Rathlin golden hare are worth looking out for.
Isle of Coll, Scotland
While the Isle of Coll has plenty to attract – including a surprising number of virtually untouched beaches – the island certainly doesn’t pander to tourists: there are no information points, few road signs and very little mobile phone coverage here. However, if you really want to ‘get away from it all’, Coll is the place for you. Just watch out for the ever-changing weather.
Isle of Tiree, Scotland
The Isle of Tiree is postively balmy (well, for the Hebrides!) at most times during the year. In fact, it has some of the highest levels of sunshine recorded anywhere in the British Isles, making its fine white-sand beaches a must-visit. Thrill-seekers should take advantage of its consistent Atlantic winds and try surfing, body-boarding or windsurfing.
Bryher, Isles of Scilly
The smallest of the inhabited Scilly Isles, Bryher may be small but it’s perfectly formed with a good range of accomodation; a rugged coastline fringed by golden sand (Rushy Bay is ideal for sunbathing); plenty of family-run cafés and food stalls, plus the island’s famous Fraggle Rock Bar & Café – even Jamie Oliver has popped in.
A 30-minute hop, skip and a ferry ride from Glasgow, Inchmurrin is the largest of Loch Lomond’s islands and offers plenty of water-based activities: from Loch cruises and canoeing, to windsurfing or fishing. Plus, the nearby Inchcallioch Nature Reserve and Balmaha Forest mean there’s stuff to keep landlubbers busy too.
Isle of Gigha, Scotland
Known as ‘The Good Isle’ (could that be because it gets higher than average sunshine hours?), Gigha is one of the most beautiful islands in the Hebrides with stunning views, breathtaking sunsets, and a host of birds and wildlife. The flat landscape makes it ideal for walkers and cyclists too.
Isle of Iona, Scotland
Like so many of the islands in the Hebrides, peaceful Iona is no different in offering a welcome break from the stresses and strains of modern life. It’s steeped in history – Iona is seen as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland – great for walking, and is home to a collection of handsome and quiet white-sand beaches.
North Uist, Scotland
You’re certain to become a bird-spotting expert after a visit to North Uist: the RSPB Balranald nature reserve on the West Coast of the island is bursting with coastal wading and diving birds, while the beautiful small Isle of Vallay on the same coast is a must-visit at low-tide. Otherwise, follow in Prince Charles’ footsteps and explore North Uist’s stunning blend of beaches, scenic landscape and freshwater lochs.
South Uist, Scotland
With fjordic inlets and bays on the east coast and over 20 miles of beautiful white shell beaches running down the west coast, South Uist is a truly special place. Even on a crisp winter’s day, the Loch Druidibeg Nature reserve is recommended.
St Mary's, Isles of Scilly
While it’d be easy to only make a flying visit to St Mary’s on your way to one of the smaller islands – it is the largest and most popular of the Scilly isles, after all – there’s lots there to make you want to take your time. Go snorkelling off Porthcressa Beach, learn to sail at Porthmellon, or just contemplate the sea at Pelistry Bay.
Isle of Arran, Scotland
Sandwiched between Aryshire and Kintyre and located in the Firth of Clyde, the Isle of Arran has often been called Scotland in miniature because of its diverse landscape which takes in rugged rocky mountains, pretty villages, a beautiful coastline and rolling greenery and woodland. Perfect for both relaxed and action-packed breaks.
Isle of Mull, Scotland
Boasting more than 300 miles of incredible coastline, it’s best to view the Isle of Mull from up on high. Luckily the 966-metre-high Ben More mountain (the highest on the island) offers a spectacular panorama: on a clear day every island in the southern Hebrides is visble. Both Duart Castle and Torosay castle also offer amazing, yet slightly less vertigo-inducing, scenes too.
The Isle of Luing has barely changed over the past two hundred years, so you can expect to find a charming Scottish paradise – weather permitting – complete with white-washed quarriers cottages and an abundance of floral and fauna when you exit the ferry from Oban.
Isle of Islay, Scotland
Whisky lovers should certainly add a trip to the Isle of Islay (pronounced Eye-La) to their list of must-visit destinations: the nicknamed ‘Queen of the Hebrides’ has eight distilleries from which to try the local tipple. But with a mild climate, beautiful scenery and wildlife and a number of quiet, sandy beaches on offer, you won’t want to be inside for long.
Isle of Eriska, Scotland
Not to be confused with the western Hebrides island, Eriskay, the Isle of Eriska is a private island located two hours north of Glasgow. Accommodating the five-star Isle of Eriska Hotel & Spa (think plush suites and award-winning food), the 300-acre island sits at the mouth of Loch Creran and nestles into the eastern side of one of the world’s most celebrated rift valleys.
It may take just over two hours from Oban in North Argyll to get to the island of Colonsay, but the ferry trip is definitely one worth making, not least for the beautiful views along the way. Packed with natural beauty – from unspoilt sandy beaches to seal colonies and wooded areas teeming with wildlife – Colonsay is the place to go for rest, relaxation and tranquillity.
Orkney Islands, Scotland
Made up of around 70 small islands off the coast of northern Scotland, the Orkney Islands are a delightful place to visit, not least because of the gently rolling landscape of green fields, heather moorlands and lakes. Highlights include the Neolithic heartland in the West Mainland, Kirkwall Cathedral and the Old Man of Hoy, Britain’s tallest sea stack.
Birdsong, clean air and stunning mountain views: no, you’re not in the Alps, you’re in Lismore. The Argyll island’s natural beauty (it’s surrounded on all sides by mountains, including Ben Neavis and the Glencoe hills), is enough to have you bursting into song.
No trip to the Hebrides would be complete without a trip to Eriskay, now made more accessible by the opening of the causeway from South Uist in 2000. Climb up into the hills for amazing panoramic views of the island (look out for the native Eriskay ponies) and across to Barra, or go for a dip down at Prince’s Beach, where Bonnie Prince Charlie came ashore in Scotland for the first time in 1745.
It’s a shame that the Isle of Kerrera is so often overlooked: the island is just a short ferry ride from the mainland of Oban and its scenic, low-lying landscape makes it perfect for hiking and exploring on foot (plus, cars are banned for non-residents).
Isle of Raasay, Scotland
Another one of Scotland’s pretty inner Hebridean islands, the Isle of Raasay is characterised by the unique flat-topped peak known as Dun Caan. It may take all day to leisurely walk the 1,456 feet up and down Dun Caan, but the views make it worth it. For less active visitors, a beach or lakeside stroll, a spot of fresh-water trout fishing or bird-spotting should satisfy.
Isle of Barra, Scotland
White sandy beaches and beautiful scenery typify the Isles of Barra and Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides. On a lovely sunny day there are few better places to be, and a hike up Heaval hill will be rewarded with unbeatable views of the island’s amazing stretches of wildflower-backed beaches. The picturesque Kisimul Castle, located just offshore at Castlebay, is worth a look, too.
Lewis and Harris, Scotland
Say hello to the largest island in Scotland. While Harris is famous for its tweed, Lewis is also steeped in history and Gaelic culture – from Lews Castle to the Carloway Broch, which dates back to the Iron Age. There are also plenty of secluded beaches to discover, too.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye has a little something for everyone, from the imposing Cuillin ridge mountain, to white-sand beaches, and pretty bays and inlets. Plus, like so many places in Scotland, there’s an abundance of history: head to Eilean Donan castle on its rocky promontory in Lochalsh, or Armadale or Dunvegan Castle to discover more.
Burgh Island, Devon
Made famous by its distinguished guests, including Noel Coward and Agatha Christie, who set her novel And Then There Were None there, the tidal island of Burgh is dominated by the Thirties splendor of the Burgh Island Hotel, complete with its own pub, the Pilchard Inn, which dates back to the 14th century.
Isle of Rum, Scotland
Shaped like a rough diamond, the Isle of Rum is a real jewel in the Inner Hebrides crown. It’s got it all: think stunning mountain and coastal scenery, wonderful beaches and the imposing Kinloch Castle. Plus, Rum is famous for its Manx Shearwater bird colony, as well as Golden Eagles, so it’s great for bird-spotting too.
As featured in the BBC reality TV series Castaway, Taransay is one of the most beautiful and least spoilt islands in the Hebrides. It is so beautiful, in fact, that Castaway Ben Fogle even tried to buy it when Taransay was put up for sale a couple of years ago. After getting the ferry from Harris, be sure to explore the island and its idyllic beaches on foot.
With the six-bedroomed Torsa House being the only property on the island to rent out, if you’ve ever dreamed about owning your own private idyll then Torsa Island could be for place for you. There’s little to do beyond explore neighbouring bays and islands by motor boat (lessons provided), discover some amazing wildlife or go for long walks in the hills, but if you want a real break, that’s all you’ll want to do.
Isle of Eigg, Scotland
With a thriving eco-conscious community (the locals clubbed together and bought the island), you can certainly expect something a little different on the Isle of Eigg. Orchid-rich grasslands, lush meadows and loch-studded moors are a haven for a variety of wildlife, while dolphins and Minke whales frequent its surrounding sparkling waters.
Fair Isle, Scotland
Last winter you couldn’t move without seeing Fair Isle jumpers everywhere, so what better time to discover the origins of the distinctive knit than now? Beyond woollens, there’s the Fair Isle Bird Observatory where you can watch out for native puffins, razorbills and guillemots, while whales, dolphins and grey seals are regularly spotted close to shore.
St Kilda, Scotland
Its last inhabitants may have left back in the Thirties, but the spectacular archipelago of St Kilda, the remotest part of the British Isles, is worth a visit if you can get there. It’s not easy to get to the World Heritage Site, and you can only camp there, so contact National Trust for Scotland for details.
Isle of Canna, Scotland
With only 12 permanent inhabitants, the Isle of Canna is small to say the least. However, the entire island (except farmland) has been designated a Site of Specific Interest, so there’s stunning views of the countryside, beautiful sandy beaches and rare wildlife a-plenty. And, most importantly, it’s oh-so quiet. Shh!
Hayling Island, Hampshire
Touted as the birthplace of windsurfing, Hampshire’s Hayling Island is a great spot for sailing and watersports enthusiasts: sea-swimming at low-tide at West beach is recommended. For those less active holidaymakers, Hayling’s long shingle beaches offer views right across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.
Tanera Mór, Scotland
Tanera Mór is the largest and only inhabited island of Scotland’s collection of Summer Isles. This rugged beauty has a wealth of wildlife and history, which stretches back to the Viking times, and is best explored on foot, by boat or by kayak. Breathe in the fresh sea air and enjoy one of the most relaxing places in the UK.