Over a thousand small islands belong to the UK, so finding the best ones can be a tall order. If you’re thinking of planning a UK trip forget coach holidays and drive yourself independently. From isolated islands with wild, dramatic landscapes to holiday favourites with spectacular sandy beaches, here is our choice for the UK’s most beautiful islands…
Orkney Islands – beautiful UK islands forged by 5000 years of unique history
This collection of islands have a unique feel – they belong to Scotland but in many ways they are closer in culture to the Scandinavia. Their isolated location means that it has become a byword for remoteness in the UK making them a perfect choice for a truly isolated island retreat. With a great variety of abundant wildlife (including a puffin population) archaeological sites and coastal walks, Orkney offers some unforgettable experiences.
Isle of Skye – often mentioned as being one of the most stunning islands in the UK
Recently voted the fourth best island in the world by National Geographic magazine, the Isle of Skye – located just off the coast of Scotland – is a particularly beguiling island destination. It’s blessed with incredible landscapes, wild pristine vistas and a tranquil atmosphere. People come for the wildlife, the immaculate windswept beaches and the tiny villages. It’s a place where time means nothing, and beneath every footstep lies 500 million years of history.
Anglesey – a lovely UK island known for its beaches and ancient sites
This island (located off the north-west coast of Wales) is a place to relax, enjoy the friendly local hospitality or lose yourself in the island’s winding lanes or on its spectacular coastline. It’s home to a coastal path which has 125 miles of stunning scenery to explore, on foot or by kayak. There’s also plenty to do for all the family with events, attractions and outdoor activities on offer, all set in beautiful untouched scenery.
Holy Island – a striking and important tidal island
A tidal island which holds an important place in religious history – it was where the Christian message was first honed and spread amongst a mostly pagan area. Standing on a dramatic rocky outcrop overlooking the island is the iconic and much-photographed Lindisfarne Castle, a small fortress dating from 1550. Lying just off the coast of Lindisfarne, Northumberland (the most unspoilt county in England) the often bleak weather adds to the island’s intrigue.
Isle of Man – a picturesque and rugged island in the British Isles
Famous for its annual Tourist Trophy (TT) Motorcycle race, with rugged unspoilt landscapes and sometimes unforgiving weather, this self-governing island can be found nestling between Ireland and England. Island highlights include wooded glens running down to the sea, the beguiling and occasionally snow-topped Snaefell mountain, diverse coastal landscapes and time-warp villages.
St. Michael’s Mount – a famous Cornwall island and beauty spot
This a small tidal island located 366 metres off the Mount’s Bay coast of Cornwall. It’s a rocky island crowned by a medieval church and castle and is also home to a small community. You can reach the island by boat or by foot (when the tide is out). It’s a photogenic place surrounded by myth and legend.
Isle of Wight – the famously pretty island and holiday favourite
Arguably the most famous of Great Britain’s beautiful islands and certainly one of the most visited – its fine summer weather, wide range of accommodation and old fashioned seaside fun has ensured its status as a popular holiday destination since the Victorian times. It’s simple to get to the Isle of Wight (via ferry), and once you are here, it is even easier to get around. The Island has 15 main towns, all offering a range of attractions and facilities. Visit in summer for the legendary Isle of Wight Music Festival.
Guernsey – one of the very charming Channel Islands
This is a British Crown dependency island which can be found in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy. It’s known for its heady mix of stunning scenery, contemporary living and milder weather (especially during the summer). Head there for inspiring walks along the cliff paths, rambles through the rural interior or lazy days on the island’s beautiful beaches. Guernsey is unique – British but somewhere completely different.
Isle of Mull – known for its wildlife including whales, dolphins and sea eagles.
This is the second-largest island of the Inner Hebrides located just off the west coast of bonny Scotland. A traditional and quiet island, it’s known for its bewitching landscapes, white-tailed eagles, whales, majestic mountains and pristine white sandy beaches – although just don’t expect too much sun, this is Scotland after all.
Jersey – the beautiful island and holiday destination
The largest of the Channel Islands and another British Crown Dependency just off the coast of Normandy, France. Jersey is known to be a summer’s paradise just an hour away from London – its fine weather and milder climate make it a holiday favourite. Described as “pieces of France fallen into the sea and picked up by England” and although only nine miles by five, the island has plenty to entertain – in particular, superb sandy beaches swept clean by the tides. Go cycling, abseiling or sky diving. Play golf or try ‘blokarting’ on its large beaches – it’s an island speciality.
Isle of Harris – rugged mountains and sandy beaches
This area is actually the southern and more mountainous part of Lewis and Harris, the largest island in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Harris is often cited as one of the most beautiful island’s in the United Kingdom and is also home to one of the UK’s best sandy beaches. Head to Huisinis for an almost deserted beach which has a pristine cuticle of white sand at the end of a 15-mile, single-track road.
St Mary’s, Scilly Isles – an island to visit for a tranquil and laid back life
The largest of the Scilly Isles (an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain) St Mary’s is nevertheless only three miles wide. Although it has some of the best links with the mainland, thanks to a good ferry service and its own airport. Tranquil sandy beaches and a village community atmosphere makes this island a popular choice with visitors.
Shetland – a unique place of peace, pure air and wide-open spaces
Voted one of the world’s top ten tourist sites by Lonely Planet, Shetland (a subarctic archipelago of Scotland) offers an exciting variety of wildlife and culture. It has a beautiful coastline, with its striking white sandy beaches. Spot whales, otters, seals and puffins, before visiting museums and galleries that proudly showcase a vibrant arts scene.
Islay – an island famous for wildlife, golf and whisky
Untouristy and traditionally Scottish, Isaly is known as the Queen of the Hebrides. It’s stunningly beautiful with epic, dramatic scenery -mountains, an endless white sandy beach and incredible birdlife. With eight distilleries and a golf course there’s also plenty to do. The big problem in Scotland is rain, so you have to go with the attitude that it will rain 24 hours a day and then each hour that it doesn’t is a bonus!
Isle of Arran – gorgeous coastline, dramatic mountain peaks and sheltered beaches
The Isle of Arran is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland. The island is often referred to as a ‘miniature Scotland’ because it includes a sample of everything Scotland has to offer – both sand and pebble beaches, outstanding mountain scenery, rugged landscapes, thick woodlands and an abundance of wildlife. Arran has also been described as a ‘geologist’s paradise’ as it’s been continuously inhabited since the early Neolithic period, and numerous important prehistoric remains have been found.