Great British Islands to explore this Summer

Why go abroad when we’re lucky to have so many beautiful islands of our own?

There are thousands of islands off the coast of Britain. Some are little more than giant rocks – home to a wide variety of seabirds – but there are more than a hundred inhabited islands hugging our shores that are just waiting to be explored.

The Isles of Scilly 

Blessed with a subtropical climate, the Isles of Scilly are the closest we have to the Caribbean. Of its 140 islands, just five are inhabited. St Mary’s is the largest, busiest island. Explore its beaches, take a boat trip to spot puffins and island hop to Tresco (for the beautiful Abbey Garden), St Martin’s (pictured above), St Agnes or tiny Bryher. 

Don’t miss low-tide events when a sandbar appears between Tresco and Bryher for just a few hours, allowing pop-up food stalls, digging for razor clams, games and music. This summer’s low-tide spectacular is on 25 June.

Prestige Holidays offers a three-night break at St Mary’s Hall Hotel (above) from £598 B&B, with return ferry from Penzance and transfers. Or stay at Star Castle Hotel and savour wine from the hotel vineyard; doubles from £291 per night B&B. Return Skybus flights from Cornwall from £140.

The Channel Islands 

These self-governing Crown Dependencies lie closer to the coast of France than mainland Britain so a stay really does feel like you’re abroad. Jersey is the largest island, followed by Guernsey, traffic-free Sark (the world’s first dark-sky island, pictured below), Alderney and tiny Herm, with its stunning Shell Beach. All offer amazing food, flowers and scenery – and don’t miss the poignant reminders of the Nazi occupation.

Base yourself at The Apollo Hotel in the centre of Jersey’s capital St Helier; three nights’ B&B from £277, including return flights with Fly Jersey. Or explore the beaches and gardens of Guernsey and Victor Hugo’s former home, Hauteville House. Prestige Holidays offers three nights’ B&B at St Peter Port’s Old Government House (below), with its amazing gin bar, from £553 including flights.

Nature lovers can spot Alderney’s famous ‘blonde’ hedgehogs, raptors and seabirds and try moth-trapping and bat-detecting with an expert naturalist on a five-day Nature Trek break. Stay at Braye Beach Hotel, from £725 B&B, including flights with Nature Trek. Or tour the private gardens of Guernsey and Sark with the RHS – from £1,195, including flights, return ferry to Sark and four nights’ B&B with dinner.

The Scottish Islands 

From the Inner Hebrides, bathed by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, to the atmospheric wild landscapes of Shetland and Orkney, you could island hop for a month and never tire of the awesome vistas, sandy beaches, wildlife, whisky and fine food.

The largest island, Skye (pictured below) boasts beautiful lochs and jagged mountains. Enjoy a three-night gourmet getaway at Kinloch Lodge with a self-guided tour of foodie hotspots, such as Talisker Distillery. Join workshops with Michelin-starred chef Marcello Tully, before tucking into a seven-course tasting menu. From £819, with dinners and B&B.

Explore the enchanting island of Eigg, off the western coast, on a Wilderness Scotland Discovery Journeys break. Stay at Fort William and go for a guided hike in the western Highlands, then look out for porpoises on the ferry to Eigg. Explore the island, staying at the Kildonan Farm House, before heading back to Arisaig for a half-day sea-kayaking trip in the Sound. From £1,315, including six nights’ B&B, one dinner, return ferry and two days’ guiding.

Ideal for discovering on foot, the Mainland island of Orkney has a wealth of prehistoric remains, including Skara Brae village and the Ring of Brodgar standing stones. Based in the village of Stromness, enjoy coastal walks and trips to the islands of Hoy, Burray and South Ronaldsay on a seven-night break with the Ramblers. From £999 half-board, including flights from Edinburgh, transfers and local transport.

The Isle of Wight

This large island has a culture all of its own, from bucket-and-spade holidays echoing a bygone era, pretty cottages and dinosaur fossils to full-on music festivals and the famous Cowes Week sailing event. The ferry from Portsmouth Harbour can take as little as 22 minutes with Wightlink.

Self-catering is a good option. Lawn End at Seaview, a lovely property overlooking the Solent, is just a few minutes’ walk from the beach, sleeps six plus a cot. From £444 per week with Classic Cottages.

Or stay at the boutique Villa Rothsay Hotel in Cowes, the heart of the yachting mecca. Doubles from £135 per night B&B.

For something a bit more unusual, stay in a vintage Airstream (below). Vintage Vacations has 13 of these gleaming silver caravans in a field near Ryde. From £155 for a two-night stay for two.

Cruise around Britain...

...and spot many more islands en route with a Fred Olsen cruise. The Historic Castles and Highland Games cruise, departing Southampton on 29 August, is an amazing 10-night circumnavigation around Britain, taking in royal sites in Edinburgh and the Castle of Mey, as well as the Braemar Highland Games and a trip to Belfast. Clock the Isle of Man and many Scottish islands as you cruise. From £1,299 including all meals; excursions are extra.

Unless otherwise stated, prices are per person, based on two sharing, and are subject to availability.

Words: Jean Elgie. Photos: 4 Corners Images, Awl Images, iStock.