You probably know about island destinations in the United Kingdom like Scotland’s Isle of Skye, but what the about the islands you don’t know about? There are over 4,000 islands off the British coast, over 230 of which are inhabited. Among them, there are some true gems that most people don’t ever make it too. These “secret” British Isles, in particular, are places you’ve just got to visit.
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Herm Island, Channel Islands (Nearby Hotels)
Just three miles from Guernsey Islands in the Channel Islands, accessed by ferry, Herm Island is absolutely magical, with every inch steeped in mystery and history. Woolly mammoth onced roamed in the vast grassy common here millions of years ago, while multiple Neolithic settlements have been discovered, including recent excavation that uncovered a prehistoric beach. The north end is home to some especially picturesque beaches, but this one is where smugglers landed with their wares centuries ago and where pirates were hung to warn others. The soft white sands sit against brilliant blue waters in a myriad of shades, while beach cafes sell famous Herm ice cream.
Isle of Harris, Scotland (Nearby Hotels)
If you want to visit an island in Scotland with beaches that look as if they were stolen from the Caribbean, head to the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. It’s home to one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Luskentyre, which boasts soft, powdery white sands that are framed by stunning turquoise waters. You can also drive the Golden Road through picturesque bays for a tour of the rich history that shaped Harris’ identity over the centuries, with evidence of both Gaelic and Norse influences evident. Take home a slice of Hebridean heritage at the Harris Tweed Shop in Tarbert and be sure to visit the Isle of Harris Distillery.
Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland (Prices & Photos)
Located off the northeast coast of Northern Ireland in County Antrim, Rathlin Island was one of the first inhabited islands in the region. Today, it has a population of less than 150, along with resident puffins and seals that can be seen during the months of April, May, June and July. Visitors can learn about the island’s interesting history at the Boathouse Visitor Centre and view artifacts from shipwrecks that occurred off its coast. Other highlights include the opportunity to wander through a working lighthouse, explore an Iron Age fort, tour Robert the Bruce’s castle, and more.
Inner Farne, Northumberland, England (Nearby Hotels)
Around 6,000 of playful seals live around the Farne islands, forming one of most important colonies in Europe, but it’s not these fun animals that draw visitors, it’s the birds. Inner Farne especially, is home to thousands of them, making it a bird lover’s paradise. There are puffins, cormorants, guillemots, razorbills, shags, eiders, Sandwich, common and roseate terns. You won’t want to forget your hat, otherwise you’ll be covering your head as you walk to St. Mary’s chapel, the little shelter that serves as a visitor center today. Along the way, you’ll pass through a busy Arctic tern nesting area. To protect their young, the birds often dive bomb the heads of anyone who passes by.
Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland (Nearby Hotels)
Barra is the most southerly of the inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides. It offers one of the world’s most unique landings to experience, if you arrive by plane. Traigh Mhor is a one-mile stretch of sand that serves as the only beach airport on the planet. At high tide, it disappears beneath the waves. But you’ll find other beaches to enjoy like Tangasdale Beach, renowned for its breathtaking sunsets as well as its powder sugar-like sands and deep azure waters edged by low emerald headlands and midnight black rocks. It offers lots of outdoor activities, like biking and walking around the island, or paddling from Castleby with Clearwater Paddling which offers guided sea kayaking tours.
Bardsey Island, Wales (Nearby Hotels)
Bardsey lies just a 20-minute boat ride from the tip of the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales. It has the atmosphere of an ancient, tranquil place. Rich in history, it was a place of pilgrimage until the Reformation, and is still an important part of cultural life in this Welsh-speaking region. There are several resident islanders, while a trust manages the island and holiday homes that are rented to the public. Take walk on the mountain that runs along the eastern shore for impressive views of the mainland.
Lundy Island, Devon (Nearby Hotels)
There is nothing between this three-mile-long, half-mile-wide island that lies off the coast of Devon, England and America in the Bristol Channel. A truly unspoiled isle, Lundy is home to less than 20 inhabitants, but offers incredibly dramatic scenery and a fascinating array of wildlife. It’s also rich in history, with a number of interesting places to visit. Lundy’s lighthouse is the highest in England, and though it was decommissioned, it is open to visitors who can climb the steep and precarious spiral staircase to the top, from which the entire island, and possibly puffins, seals, dolphins, and occasionally, a basking shark, can be viewed. It’s undisturbed by vehicle traffic, phone reception is sketchy, and the only pub on the island, Marisco Tavern, bans laptops and smartphones, making it an ideal place to truly escape the hustle and bustle.
St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly, England (Nearby Hotels)
St Agnes in the Scillys is truly one of the United Kingdom’s prettiest islands. The small island has a population of only about 70 and can be reached via boat from the main island of St Mary’s. Everything about this place seems romantic, even its names, like Wingletang and Barnaby Lane. An island of contrasts, from tranquil beaches that lie in sheltered coves to rocky outcrops. Inland you’ll discover charming cottages and a patchwork of flowers, while the highest point is home to a lighthouse. It also offers gorgeous views across to the bird sanctuary that is Annet, the Western Rocks and out to Bishop Rock. Be sure to visit the Old Man of Gugh, which stands nearly 10-feet-tall and is believed to be associated with Bronze Age rituals.