Remote UK islands worth making the journey for

Lauren Hill

Senior Contributor

There are said to be thousands of islands off the UK’s mainland shores. Several archipelagos draw particular attention for their distinct heritage, artisan distilleries, freshly caught seafood and dramatic landscape promising wildlife sightings. Venture off the coastlines of Scotland, England and Wales to find this pick of remote UK islands.

Isles of Scilly

Found 28 miles off Land’s End in Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly feel a world away from the rest of England. This idyllic archipelago of 140 tiny islands is distinguished by its outstanding natural beauty and sense of seclusion, heathland, cliffs, subtropical plant-life and white sand beaches. Either bathed in warm sun or battered by Atlantic storms, the islands are compelling in all elements year-round. Five inhabited islands—St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martin’s, Bryher and St Agnes—lie among the archipelago’s many wild islets, with boats ferrying islanders between them throughout the day. Fly out to St Mary’s or Tresco on the new helicopter service from Penzance then base yourself at one of the beach houses or small locally run hotels tucked into these islands’ coastlines. Stay on Tresco to cycle between its harbour, empty beaches and verdant subtropical gardens then explore the neighbouring island Bryher’s cliff-top walks, windswept shores and outlets of local producers. And spend a day wandering between St Martin’s artisanal shops, vineyard, new state-of-the-art observatory and recently launched distillery celebrating centuries of island life, SD Dogs. The islands’ food festival Taste of Scilly takes place each September and 2021 will see the first ever Scilly Isles Dark Skies Week.

Pembrokeshire Islands

These tiny islands off the mainland coast of Wales offer a combination of abundant wildlife, rugged scenery and Welsh heritage. The Pembrokeshire Islands lie off the southern Pembrokeshire coast of South West Wales and are a part of the region’s wild Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The group is made up of three islands: Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm, which were originally named by the Vikings. The largest island, Skomer, is best known for its thriving puffin colony but it also attracts visitors for its dramatic landscape and towering cliffs, which you can walk on a circular island route while looking out for the island’s famous birdlife as well as seals basking on offshore rocks. Skolkholm also draws visitors for its rugged landscape, cliff-side walks and wildlife, while the smallest island, Grassholm, which is the westernmost point of Wales, offers open sea cruises to see its gannet colony and marine life such as porpoise, dolphins and grey seals. Several operators offer boat trips, including private charter and sea safaris, to and around the islands from points on Pembrokeshire’s Milford Haven Waterway.


One of the UK’s most beguiling archipelagos, Orkney has an unmistakeable identity that distinguishes it from anywhere else in the world to the point the islanders, or Orcadians, have their own dialect. This group of islands off the north-eastern coast of Scotland tells a story going back 5,000 years with Neolithic sites set within its wild landscape of sandstone cliffs, sandy beaches and rough sea home to marine life including seal colonies. Orkney consists of 70 islands, 20 of which are inhabited, including the archipelago’s main island, Orkney Mainland. People from far and wide make the journey here for isolated coastal exploration, to catch sight of the islands’ wildlife and to see sites such as the UNESCO Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a group of monuments including ceremonial stone circles, a chambered tomb and Skara Brae settlement. A highlight for many is discovering the local food, drink and crafts, whether picking up the islands’ award-winning whiskies and gins, trying the sustainably caught seafood or indulging in locally made ice cream and cheese. Small hotels are scattered across the islands.

Inner Hebrides

The two Inner and Outer Hebrides island chains come together off the west coast of mainland Scotland to form the historically significant and environmentally impressive Hebrides. The Inner Hebrides consists of 35 inhabited islands and 44 uninhabited islands, with most of the activity happening on Skye, Islay and Mull, from tourism to whisky distilling and fishing. Having been settled in the Mesolithic era, these islands have a number of prehistoric sites and the breath-taking landscape is home to abundant wildlife, from puffins and sea eagles to otters, seals and red deer. You can travel between the islands to see the mountains and lochs of Jura, stopping by sites such as Isle of Jura Distillery, and to visit the nine working distilleries and sandy shores of Islay, as well as to hike through the famously dramatic landscape home to sites such as Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye — with unforgettable landscapes like the Waternish peninsula, Skye is the setting for some of Scotland’s most recognisable scenery. Each of these islands has a wide variety of accommodation, with a culinary offering highlighting the local game and seafood.

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