People get pretty excited when you start talking about island holidays. It is generally accepted as the ultimate way to enjoy the beach, the weather and your fancy new swim suit. Greece, the Philippines, Indonesia - there are some incredibly beautiful island destinations out there. However, it's sometimes easy to forget that just beyond the shores of Great Britain, you'll find some pretty good ones too. This month we took the time to count down our personal favourite British islands.
Separated from Wales by the Menai Straight, the island of Anglesey is just a hop, along the A5, away. For such a short journey, it offers you the sort of experience you'd expect from an island many, many miles offshore.
The castles, viewpoints and nature walks are all lovely, but as far as watersports go, Anglesey in the summer is right up there with the best Mediterranean islands. One of the biggest pluses to an island that is centered around water sports is the options available to you. If the wind is wrong on one side of the island, it's guaranteed to be perfect on another. Even though the wind comes up from time to time, this only draws the kite and wind surfing crowds in - wind is the essential element in both.
There is a great mix of nature, history and convenience on Mull, with enough space to enjoy it all, minus the thousands of other tourists trying to cut in the line ahead of you. From the rocky balcony of Ben More's summit (a world class hike), you get a fresh look at the island's ancient hills. The landscape is lush and open, inhabited by birds of prey and stock animals that get fat from eating the healthy grass. There are caves to explore, where paintings of the scenery date back thousands of years, along with ruins in the hills from the eras that have led up to the present. Mull may not be your typical 'island' experience, but it is one of the main reasons we love it so much.
8. Isle of Man
The Isle of Man is a unique place, lying almost midway between Ireland and England. It handles a massive influx of tourists every year during the Tourist Trophy motorcycle race, but even with all the media hype that accompanies this event (which definitely is not everyone's cup of tea), there are still countless places to explore that make you feel like you are the only person there. The island is blessed with a hilly interior which makes for great hiking - choose from heritage trails (marked by castles, abbeys, churches and Celtic crosses), mountain hikes or relaxing coastal trails that take you around some gorgeous viewpoints en route to its beautiful beaches. If you are lucky enough to head out on a day's sailing trip, keep your eyes peeled for pods of dolphins cruising around.
'The Holy Island' is beautiful and strange in equal measure. The old priory ruins and the castle, which face the green North Sea, look strangely out of place with modern fishing boats in the foreground. Across the island, you'll find interesting contrasts like this. Moody landbreezes whiplash the coastline, turning the ocean into an icy landscape that looks completely inhospitable. At the same time, swans bathe in the sunny marshes that are sheltered from wind by the island's hilly interior.
Over weekends and during the summer, the tiny population swells into the thousands. You could go to Lindisfarne for a number of reasons: bird watching, quiet relaxation or trekking. Some people come specifically to photograph the ancient ruins and contemplate the great passage of time that links the island to medieval society. Just don't forget to watch the tide - the road to the 'Holy Island' also disappears - literally - as the tide rises.
6. Rathlin Island
Rathlin Island is an Irish dream, located only a short ferry ride from the docks at Ballycastle. Bright green hills and cliffs blanket this small, but marvellously picturesque island, showing off a distinctly Irish flavour that makes for great walks; below the cliffs you have a bird's eye perspective of the Atlantic Ocean (quite literally, as the biggest sea-bird population call the cliffs home), as well as a view of the other wild permanent residents.
The rugged shoreline is home to a large seal colony, making it a huge hit with nature lovers. For people wanting an actual 'getaway' in the truest sense of the word, you will be very pleased with the tranquil isolation surrounding you. The village is small and intimate, and most visitors leave with a few friends by the end of their stay.
5. Isle Of Sark
The quaint Isle of Sark is the smallest of the four main British Channel Islands. There are no cars allowed, which isn't a huge problem because the island is so small - four by one and a half miles. To make up for the lack of automobile transportation, the local authorities have built the most beautiful pedestrian and cycling roads around the island's 40 mile perimeter, overlooking its nooks, caves and headlands which is perfect for walking, cycling and taking a tour in one of the local horse drawn carts. Like the air, the water is crisp and clean, perfect for diving and cruises - you'll see everything from colourful Cuckoo Wrasse to pods of dolphins.
The clean air and remote location make Sark one of the best places to go star gazing. Without interference from street lights and car exhausts, you can see a sky decorated by more stars than you ever imagined were visible.
4. Isle of Tiree
The Isle of Tiree gets our vote as the best summer camping island in Britain. It gets plenty of sunshine, thanks to the moderating effect of the Gulf Stream, which makes the evenings warm enough to sleep under the stars from time to time. The island's flat terrain and postcard-worthy beaches also provide campers with a solid base to rest their heads at night - quite literally. It's a small island and the most westerly of the inner Hebrides, so tourism is not a massive industry that draws thousands of students in. You'll generally find a comfortable crowd of families and surfers who are there to enjoy the perfect beaches, warm weather and the bird life - another big bonus.
3. Orkney Islands
Orkney is an archipelago off the Scottish coast, boasting stunning beaches, UNESCO World Heritage sites and lively festivals. Kirkwall, the capital, gets its name from the Old Norse word for 'Church Bay', which makes sense when you see St. Magnus Cathedral - a stunning church built by the vikings during the 13th century. Ideally you should stay in or near Kirkwall - there you'll be able to speak to a host of tour operators who will help you plot your next move. With roughly seventy islands to explore, and more beaches and sites than we can list in an entire travel guide, it's always best to go exploring with the people who live there. Be sure to visit Skara Brae, the remarkably well-kept ruins of a Stone Age community.
2. St. Kilda
A day trip to St. Kilda is like visiting Jurassic Park: it's a mesmerising place that doesn't feel like part of the real world, and not just because of the enormous cliffs that tower over the jagged coastline (the highest in the British Isles), the untameable ocean currents and the isolation of this archipelago - it lies some forty miles west of Scotland's Outer Hebrides. The islands are home to some of the oldest remaining Bronze and Iron Age ruins - one of the reasons this archipelago is a UNESCO World Reserve. A walking tour of the islands is like stepping back into Ancient Times, where man's influence on the world was insignificant in relation to the will of the wild. Combined with the beautiful marine and bird life, it's an unmissable trip if you are close enough to book a day trip - the islands are uninhabited, save for a few lonely National Trust workers and military staff.
Just off the coast of Cornwall, you'll find the Isles of Scilly - an archipelago of islands that looks like something out of Homer's Oddessey. St. Mary's and St. Martin's are both, by any standards, lovely islands. But the jewel in this crown is Tresco - a private island with a past that dates back to the bronze age.
As you fly, sail or ferry your way onto the island, one of the most striking features that makes you catch your breath is the water: it's blue like the Med. This makes it hard to believe that only 30 kilometers away is England's mainland. One of Tresco's most longstanding monument's to the past is the Tresco Abbey Gardens, built by Augustus Smith, the first Lord of Tresco, after he was leased the island in 1834. He built the Abbey alongside an old priory and set up shop there. Almost two hundred years later, the garden is still exquisite.
Last Updated: September 2011