Family holiday guide Isles of Scilly: travel, accommodation advice & best days out!

Guide to family holidays in the Isles of Scilly, featuring Isles of Scilly travel (three ways to get there & top tips for island hopping), family accommodation advice and unmissable days out.

I’m always a little sceptical by the gushing marketing spiel on tourist boards websites, they exist to persuade people to visit their region so they’re bound to exaggerate the beauty of a place aren’t they?  After spending five incredible days in the Scillies however I genuinely and wholeheartedly agree with the opening statement on the Isles of Scilly website – “Outstandingly beautiful, uncrowded and unspoilt… From the minute you arrive, you’ll fall in love with the islands and you’ll leave yearning to return”.
Isles of Scilly travel

No filter needed! Our stunning view over the turquoise blue clear water from the colourful gardens of Karma St Martin’s.

If you’ve read my first and lasting impressions of the Isles of Scilly you’ll know that my family and I certainly did fall head over heels in love with the islands and we’ve seriously considered moving there because they are truly beautiful, uncrowded and unspoilt.  So what can you expect from a family holiday in this remote and charming part of England?  This family holiday guide covers Isles of Scilly travel (the different ways to get there and the island hopping opportunities whilst there), the range of family friendly accommodation available and of course the best days out for families.

Grab a cuppa, put your feet up and get ready to plan your Isles of Scilly family holiday!


Where are the Isles of Scilly?

Let’s start with the basics!  When I shared some photos on social media whilst in the Scillies I had lots of people commenting that they had idea where they were.  Many admitting that they went on Goggle maps to find out.  You may be surprised to hear that the Isles of Scilly are located just 28 miles from the coast of Cornwall, it honestly feels like you are on the other side of the world though in a subtropical paradise.

Where are the isles of scilly?

The entire Isles of Scilly have been very deservedly recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which just 2,200 people are fortunate to call home. (Believe me I would be increasing it to 2,204 if hubby and I could get jobs out there!)  The Scillies are made up of 140 uninhabited and 5 inhabited islands – St Mary’s the largest at just 2 1/2 square miles with a population of 1,800 (the islanders affectionately refer to her as the ‘Big City’), Tresco the second largest and only one privately owned, St Martin’s the first island you spot on the ferry ride from the mainland, rugged Bryher with just 80 locals and secluded St Agnes which is only a mile wide.
Scilly isles holidays St Marys

Quayside of St Mary’s the largest island in the Scillies

How do you get to the Isles of Scilly? 

Isles of Scilly travel options: Scillonian ferry, Skybus and Island helicopters

There are three ways to get to the Isles of Scilly, all three offer the chance of a unique adventure, particularly when travelling with kids and all three can be booked via Isle of Scilly Travel. We travelled across on the Scillonian III, a passenger ferry service which has been the islands lifeline since 1977.

Ferry – What to expect onboard the Scillonian III ferry

My boys were literally bouncing up and down with excitement whilst we were waiting to board the ferry in Penzance.  The first thing they did was run around the decks checking out all the indoor and outdoor seating areas before investigating the snacks on offer in the café bars.  The 2 hour 45-minute journey from Penzance across to St Mary’s harbour flew by.  They kept themselves quite happily entertained looking for dolphins. (They didn’t find any but apparently friendly pods are quite frequently seen and it was great to have some peace for a while whilst they concentrated on the waves!) We took our own picnic onboard which we started off eating on deck and then moved indoors to the comfy reclining chairs when the coast line of Cornwall was far in the distance and it became a little chillier.

Isles of scilly travel - Scilly isles ferry

Arriving into St Mary’s onboard the Scillonian III

When the Scillies came into view we went back outside to experience our arrival into the bustling St Mary’s harbour where we were welcomed by fisherman and boaters waving.

Adult fares from £90 for a return crossing, available from mid-March to October. 

Flights to the Isles of Scilly

If sailing is not your thing or you wish to reduce the travelling time and experience great birds eye views, Skybus is the fastest way to and from the Isles of Scilly. The journey is just 15 minutes from Land’s End to St. Mary’s, (30 mins from Newquay and an hour from Exeter).  We’ve already said for our next visit, (as there most certainly will be another visit!) we will sail one way and fly the other to get the best of both view points.

Adult fares from £140 return, available year round. 

Helicopter to the Isles of Scilly

For adventurous families the newly reinstated travel option, a brand new 10-seater AW169 helicopter, is surely an experience to add to a travel wish list.  The chopper ride takes just 20-minute from Lands End Airport and will provide unbeatable playground bragging power!

Fares with Island Helicopters start from £215 for a return ticket, available year round. 

Family friendly Isles of Scilly accommodation

One of the many reasons my family and I fell in love with the Isles of Scilly and can imagine returning year after year is the range of accommodation available which suits all budgets from luxury hotels to self catering cottages, B&B’s, a family friendly hostel and campsites with literally the most incredible views you’ve ever seen!  (Pooch owners will be happy to hear that many of the places welcome dogs).

Isles of Scilly hotels

We were fortunate to stay at Karma St Martin’s a luxury 30 bed resort located on a stunning white sandy beach.

Scilly isles holidays Karma St Martin's

Our view as we arrived by boat to Karma St Martin’s

We stayed in two interconnecting family ocean view rooms (shown in the video below) which worked perfectly for the four of us as we were able to pop our boys to bed and sit out and enjoy the sunsets followed by the darkest most star studded skies I’ve ever seen in England!  Prices for St Karma range from £135 – £575 pppn.  

Karma St Martins Isles of Scilly

The sunsets in the Isles of Scilly are INCREDIBLE!

For other family friendly hotel options check out Tregarthen’s Hotel & Star Castle Hotel in St Mary’s, The New Inn in Tresco and a few more options including self catering and B&B’s here. 

Isles of Scilly camping

We met several families during our stay who were camping and I have to say they completely convinced us to pack our camping gear for our next visit.  Jumping from one island to the next and pitching a tent at one of the five family friendly campsites sounds like something straight from the pages of an Enid Blyton book.  The campsite located next door to our hotel  was highly recommended to us – St Martins Campsite. (Pitches available for a bargain price of just £10.50 pp a night and if you fancy splashing out on a meal Karma St Martin’s welcomes non residents).  Pre erected and full equipped Bell tents are also available if the idea of lugging your camping equipment on the ferry doesn’t appeal.  Check out Isles of Scilly camping options here for more info.

Family friendly days out in the Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly are truly one big adventure playground in paradise for families.  With 5 inhabited and 140 uninhabited islands to explore, playful seals and puffins to spot, crabs to catch and exotic gardens to discover your kids will never be bored.  We were due to stay for three nights and extended our stay for an extra night as there was just so much we wanted to see and experience.  For our next visit we will stay for at least a week, ideally two.

Island hopping

We spent our first full day island hopping on a Sealegs Amphibious Rib and Powercat organised through Isles of Scilly Boat Hire. Richard, the owner picked us up from the beach outside our hotel.  I missed the Sealegs coming out of the water and onto the sand as I was too busy rolling up my jeans to wade into the water.  You can imagine my surprise when I looked up and saw this towering in front of me!  (It was literally the only time during our five days that I saw a crowd on a beach as we normally had the beaches to ourselves).

Isles of scilly travel - Isles of scilly boat hire

I can highly recommend hiring a boat for the day, it was so much fun and a great way to get to familiarise ourselves with the islands and get a better idea of where we wanted to spend the rest of our time in the Scillies. We spent the first hour whizzing around with Richard as our skipper, learning about the various islands and getting close to a group of friendly seals much to the delight of my boys who immediately started asking if they could have a baby seal as a pet!  We then transferred onto a Powercat which we took out on our own.

Isles of scilly travel - Isles of scilly boat hire

Scilly isles holidays Tresco

Ruin Beach Cafe, Tresco

We spent 7 hours calling into secluded beaches, fishing, crabbing, playing around on the tender boat and dining on delicious fresh seafood at the Ruin Beach Cafe on Tresco beach.

Scilly isles holidays

Cost – You can hire a self drive boat for the day from just £100 which is exceptionally good value for money.  My husband is a keen boater and found the navigation system onboard very easy to use with a clear path to follow to avoid shallow waters etc.  As an alternative they offer skippered boat trip such as a two-hour skippered ride on a Powercat (£40 pp) which is an absolute must do for any boating fans.  We couldn’t wipe the smiles of our faces it was such a brilliant experience and one we found ourselves still talking about days later as other visitors recognised us from arriving in style up onto the beach!

St Martin’s

We spent a full day exploring our base, St Martin’s.  At just two miles long it is very walkable even with young children. We admired the incredible views, rare birds and flowers along the coastal path, checked out the village stores and art gallery before popping in for a chat with the local jewellery maker. St Martin’s is known for having some of the best beaches in the British Isles and we were fortunate to have a couple to ourselves all afternoon…

Isles of Scilly St Martins Beaches

Even though St Martin’s only has 120 full time residents you are spoilt for choice with places to eat.  We enjoyed the catch of the day at the local pub Seven Stones Inn (where we actually met the fisherman who had caught our fish!), a fabulous meal with sunset views at Karma St Martin’s and delicious fish and chips (with freshly caught island fish and home-grown potatoes) from Adams fish and chips…

Scilly isles holidays

Tresco and Abbey Gardens

When researching the Scillies the attraction that kept popping up was Tresco Abbey Garden.  We visited Tresco on a rather overcast day so didn’t get the full colourful experience of the famous attraction however the lack of blue skies didn’t put my boys off exploring.  They loved meeting the resident golden pheasants and red squirrels who live among the 20,000 exotic plants from around the world.  The attraction is a must for any garden and maritime enthusiasts.

Entry – Adults £15, kids 5 – 15 £5.

Tresco Abbey Garden Isles of Scilly

Water sports & bike hire

The Scillies are the perfect family holiday destination for water sports fans, walkers and bikers.  On the ferry we noticed that many visitors had packed inflatable kayaks, you can also hire kayaks, windsurfs and sailing boats from places such as The Sailing Centre.  Many were also travelling with their bikes but again you can hire them from places such as Tresco Bike Hire.  A couple of experiences firmly at the top of our wish list for when we return to the Scillies are snorkelling with the seals which just looks like an incredible experience (minimum age 8) and hiring an electric cart. Whizzing along on the coastal paths sounds like a pretty perfect way to spend the day!

Cost of a family holiday in the Isles of Scilly?

An important consideration when booking a family holiday is of course the cost.  Some accommodation options are expensive however, with campsites from as little as £10.50 pp a night, eating out costing roughly what you would spend on the mainland and the budget friendly option of getting there on the Scillonian ferry I would say that a family holiday in the Scillies can accommodate ALL budgets.  One thing to keep in mind when planning your holiday budget is that the main attractions – the incredible views, beaches, wildlife and coastal walks – are of course free!  You do need to factor in the cost of boat trips if you wish to explore more than one island, but I promise this is money very well spent.  The cheapest way to travel is with St Mary’s boatmen’s association, (you can buy books of ten tickets for a discounted price which we didn’t know about until the day we left!).  However with return tickets costing £9.50 per adult and £4.75 for a child it is definitely worth considering hiring a self drive boat with Isles of Scilly Boat Hire (as discussed above) as up to 7 people can explore for a full day from just £100 and visit numerous islands without the restriction of ferry times.

I hope you have found this family holiday guide to the Isles of Scilly helpful.  If you have any questions please do pop them below, I’m happy to help.  More details can also be found at – Visit Isles of Scilly.

Pin for later – Family holiday guide Isles of Scilly: travel, accommodation advice & best days out!

Top tips for visiting the Isles of Scilly Isles of Scilly travel, accommodation and best days out advice

For further reading check out our first impressions of Isles of Scilly written shortly after we returned home.

Disclosure – We were very fortunate to be guests of Karma St Martins, Isles of Scilly Travel, Isles of Scilly Boat Hire and Tresco Gardens during our time in Scilly.  The gushy words and opinions are 100% my own.  All images copyright Travel Loving Family. 

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19 Comments

  1. cebu safari
    29th November 2018 / 6:55 am

    Interestingly good post to read. There are so many beautiful places in the UK some of it almost feels like it isn’t even in the U.K. and that’s the same vibes I’m getting from your picture of Scilly isles! I have been to Cornwall so o can only imagine how beautiful it really is! Thanks for this amazing write up!

    Regards,
    Kai

  2. 16th November 2018 / 10:08 pm

    We have always wanted to go, thanks for all the helpful info in this great post.

  3. 23rd July 2018 / 3:12 pm

    I have wanted to visit the Isles of Scilly for so long and this post has bumped it up the list even higher. Sounds amaing! x

    • Lisa
      Author
      25th July 2018 / 8:40 am

      It’s an incredible place Louise! Hope you get to visit one day, you certainly will not be disappointed x

  4. 16th July 2018 / 10:02 am

    The Isles of Scilly seems like a wonderful destination for family vacations! It has so many beautiful spots to check out.:)

  5. 12th July 2018 / 9:09 am

    So lovely to find out more about Scilly, and I definitely will be referring to this guide when we hopefully go!

  6. 12th July 2018 / 7:07 am

    I absolutely loved following your trip! This is such a useful resource for any families visiting the Scilly Isles, you’ve covered everything!

  7. 11th July 2018 / 6:36 pm

    I am desperate to go here after reading this. It sounds perfectly idyllic! I love the idea of camping there too. So when’s the move happening then? 😉

  8. 11th July 2018 / 5:10 pm

    There are so many beautiful places in the UK some of it almost feels like it isn’t even in the U.K. and that’s the same vibes I’m getting from your picture of Scilly isles! I have been to Cornwall so o can only imagine how beautiful it really is!

  9. 11th July 2018 / 10:33 am

    We went a few years back and like you, we fell in love with the islands straight away – they really are stunning, those curving bays and the turquoise seas. Loved spotting the seals too (although I let someone else do the sailing). We flew from Exeter in one of the tiny planes and I think it was one of the highlights of the trip!

  10. 10th July 2018 / 10:00 pm

    Camping on the Isles of Scilly and opening your door to those views sounds like heaven. I’d definitely like to give that a go in the summer months!

  11. 10th July 2018 / 8:24 am

    I have never heard of this place before but it looks absolutely stunning, and like there is a lot to do, too!
    Stelle Xx

  12. 9th July 2018 / 8:21 pm

    The Isles of Scilly may just be my next holiday destination. It looks like a beautiful place to be in, and the activities look awesome too xx

  13. Wendy
    9th July 2018 / 8:05 pm

    Wow! This place looks absolutely stunning and I had no idea these islands were so close to the uk! I love the thought of sailing around the islands in a boat, what an adventure that would be xx

  14. 9th July 2018 / 8:15 am

    What a fabulous place to visit! I’ve never been here before but I’ve heard really good things about it. I’d love to go one day.

  15. 8th July 2018 / 6:20 pm

    I had no idea so few people lived there! What a comprehensive post, Lisa. A beautiful place indeed, and I really want to go now!

  16. Joanne
    7th July 2018 / 8:43 pm

    Looks and sounds amazing! A very detailed guide to holidaying on Isles it Scilly, I might just have to go visit!

  17. Alan Port
    7th July 2018 / 6:55 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your review of the Scilly Isles. I visited many years ago and this has definitely prompted a return visit.

  18. 7th July 2018 / 6:28 pm

    To be horny I’ve never thought of going to the scilly isles on holiday with family however you’ve provided so many helpful hints and tips and there looks plenty to do. I love the idea of travelling there by helicopter, very glamorous

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