Isles of Scilly things to do with kids

Grand Bay St Martins Isles of Scilly

Tempted by the thought of empty beaches and a slower pace of life, this summer I dragged my extended family to one of Britain’s most remote but alluring destinations: the Isles of Scilly. We stayed on the main Scilly Isle of St Mary’s on the edge of its “capital” Hugh Town (population 1,000). We rented a house just a stone’s throw (literally) from lovely Porthcressa Beach. So, do the islands live up to their reputation as a holiday destination of yesteryear, where the pleasures are simple, crime is non-existent and the beaches are of Caribbean quality? Should you visit the Isles of Scilly with kids? Read on to find out about Isles of Scilly things to do.

Porthcressa beach, visit the isles of scilly with kids

Visit the Isles of Scilly with kids: beachcombing at Porthcressa, St Mary’s

Visit the Isles of Scilly for quiet beaches even in peak season
There are 35 beaches across the Isles of Scilly so visitors are pretty thinly spread out. When we visited Great Bay on St Martin’s, the real poster boy for the Scillies, we shared it with just three or four other people. My brother reported similar findings on St Agnes, where at low tide the island is connected to its uninhabited neighbour Gugh (pronouced “goo”), by a narrow stretch of sand. Back on St Mary’s, we visited several empty beaches on the island’s less populated east coast. Most of the beaches were great for young children: plenty of sheltered bays, huge stretches of sand and lots of rock pools.

Visit the Isles of Scilly: ideal for multi-generational holidays
We visited the islands with my parents and my brother’s family. My parents enjoyed the slow pace of the islands, visiting Tresco Abbey Gardens and exploring St Mary’s on a golf buggy. The kids loved playing at the beaches every day. The middle aged parents enjoyed properly relaxing at the numerous beach-side cafes where beers and gins could be sipped within view of the children.

My boys, aged six and four, are keen cyclists so the quiet roads, once you leave St Mary’s main hub, Hugh Town, were perfect. Tourists cannot bring cars to the islands. St Mary’s is a bit hilly in places but the promise of an ice cream or cream tea was sufficient incentive to power the kids up the steeper stretches. On such a small island (less than 2.5 square miles) you’re never far from a cafe to refuel in or a beach to cool off at. We brought our boys’ bikes over on the ferry from Penzance but hired bikes for the grown ups from St Mary’s Bike Hire which has a good range of cycles to choose from along with child seats, trailers and tag-ons. If you’d rather have four wheels than two, hiring a golf buggy is great fun, these can seat from two to eight people.

bikes and golf buggies, visit the isles of scilly with kids

Isles of Scilly with kids: bikes and golf buggies are the best modes of transport on the Scillies.

Visit the Isles of Scilly for great bars and restaurants for grown ups and kids
We enjoyed exceptionally good food at the Beach cafe overlooking Porthmellon Beach. We spent around three hours eating (I had delicious monkfish kebabs) and drinking at the cafe while the kids played contentedly on the beach. Our other favourite cafe was Dibble and Grub, a converted fire station (love the connection in the name) on the promenade above Porthcressa Beach (handily just 10 seconds from our house), where the grown ups enjoyed an evening drink while the kids (see a theme developing here?) messed around in the sand. Although much of the food has to be imported, we enjoyed Scilly gin, Scilly ice cream and of course lots of local fish. Throughout the islands, we found honesty stalls selling fudge, eggs, chillies and potatoes, plus of course plant bulbs as flower farms are an important part of the islands’ economy.

scilly chillies isles of scilly

Scilly chillies for sale in Hugh Town, visit the isles of scilly with kids

Visit the Isles of Scilly for perfect play areas
Fancy a playground with a view? We found the one overlooking Porthcressa Beach hard to beat. And if your kids fancy a game of footie while the grown ups indulge in a cream tea, Longstone Lodge and Cafe can cater for all the family: there’s a football pitch and a small play area plus distant sea views to admire from the terrace.

Porthcressa playground, visit the isles of scilly with kids

Visit the Isles of Scilly with kids: Porthcressa playground

Visit the Isles of Scilly for open air history lessons
Despite their remoteness, the Isles of Scilly have been inhabited for over 3,000 years. Our boys enjoyed exploring the scenic Iron Age settlement at Halangy Down in the north west of St Mary’s and particularly liked the Garrison above Hugh Town. The Garrison, complete with castle (now a hotel) and clifftop cannons, was originally constructed to defend against a possible second Spanish Armada and was later used during the English Civil War. We only explored the history on St Mary’s but there’s plenty to learn on the other islands too from early Christian chapels on St Martin’s to castle ruins on Tresco.

Visit the Isles of Scilly for water sports
We took the kids kayaking and paddle boarding at Porthmellon beach on St Mary’s. There’s also sailing and windsurfing available along with wetsuits for hire. Visitors can try snorkelling with seals off St Martin’s (book weeks in advance in high season as this activity is very popular) as well as diving. Back on St Mary’s coasteering is also on offer.

Porthcressa beach, visit the isles of scilly with kids

Isles of Scilly with kids: Porthcressa on St Mary’s is perfectly sheltered for kayaking

Safe for children to have some independence
One of the locals I chatted to explained that young people who grow up on the Isles of Scilly are able to have a very independent childhood. Kids can walk or cycle in relative safety and children living on the four off-islands board on St Mary’s for their secondary school education. Crime seems to be restricted to the odd local “borrowing” your bike to get home after a heavy night at one of Hugh Town’s pubs, we were told evenings were the only time we needed to lock our bikes up.

Arriving in the isles of scilly, visit the isles of scilly with kids

Visit the Isles of Scilly with kids: ready to explore…

Range of accommodation
You can camp, glamp, stay in a hostel, a hotel, or self cater as we did. Prices are higher than the mainland but if you book early there are some relatively affordable options (Longstone Lodge is particularly good value). This isn’t the place for a last minute holiday: many of the holiday properties are block booked by returning guests who are given first refusal before the accommodation is released to the general market. The ferry and aeroplanes our family took to reach the Isles were fully booked for many of the days we were there.

Hugh Town isles of scilly with kids

If you’re after a room with a view, book early

The islands aren’t packed with other people’s children
Don’t get me wrong, I do like other people’s children, in moderation. After a week in mainland Cornwall where the beaches were packed with kids, it was a pleasant change to find a really good mix of generations on the Scillies. There were families of course but also plenty of couples and older folk enjoying the tranquillity.

Great Bay, St Martin's isles of scilly with kids

Great Bay, St Martin’s

Boat trip adventures
We stayed on the main island, St Mary’s, and visited St Martin’s and Tresco. Ferry boats run throughout the day between the islands and some trips allow you to take in three islands in one day. Typically, visitors take a boat out to a neighbouring island in the morning and return mid-afternoon, most inter-island journeys take 10 to 20 minutes and cost £9.50 per adult return, £4.75 per child. Extra boats are laid on if they fill up so you aren’t left stranded with nowhere to stay if the boat you planned to catch is full. There are also wildlife trips, glass bottom boats and dive boats. Note, the boats are very popular so there isn’t space to take an adult cycle on them although kids’ bikes are permitted.

Boat travel isles of scilly with kids

Inter-island travel

Great for walking
Nothing is ever very far away when you stay on the Isles of Scilly but heading inland and exploring the nature trails and walking along some of the coastal paths, the islands did feel wild and remote. I loved the rewarding Holy Vale walk on St Mary’s which culminated in an isolated arc of sand with the Atlantic stretching off into the distance. On St Martin’s, it’s quite a walk from the harbour (via a well placed bakery for provisions) across the island to Great Bay but the wild flowers, sea views and gently rolling heathland make it an enjoyable ramble. There are also themed guided walks available covering the history, flora and fauna of the islands.

Isles of scilly with kids: wet weather attractions
There’s no doubting that going to the Isles of Scilly with kids during bad weather wouldn’t be ideal, the Scillies are very much a beach holiday destination. We had a few wet and windy days at the start but we used these to explore and get our bearings. My parents hired a golf buggy which was an excellent mode of transport for the kids on rainy days. There’s an impressive museum on St Mary’s full of tales of ship wrecks and World War heroics with plenty of model ships and lighthouses to engage little visitors. We also enjoyed exploring the windswept Garrison which seemed all the more atmospheric for the inclement weather.

Scilly sky

Scilly skies are always changing.

So, would we visited the Isles of Scilly again? Absolutely.

More on the Isles of Scilly:

Isles of Scilly Family Holiday Guide

Longstone Lodge, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly

Have you visited the Isles of Scilly with kids? Let me know in the comments below.



  1. 13th September 2018 / 12:05 pm

    I’ve unfortunately never been, but this is giving me serious wanderlust! The beaches look gorgeous, and it’s nice that they’re not super crowded with tourists. Maybe I’ll try to go next year! Thanks for sharing 🙂 #farawayfiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      13th September 2018 / 12:29 pm

      It’s heavenly, definitely give it a try!

  2. 13th September 2018 / 1:52 pm

    I like the sound of 35 beaches and still no crowds even during peak season! That’s definitely a great reason to go! #FarawayFiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      13th September 2018 / 2:53 pm

      You must go Lorelei, combine it with Cornwall like we did!

  3. Mama Travels Earth
    13th September 2018 / 2:26 pm

    Wow, this sounds so perfect for a getaway with a family of all ages. The beaches are so beautiful and LOVE the sound of monkfish kebabs and getting around by golf buggy!

    • smudgedpostcard
      13th September 2018 / 2:53 pm

      The kebabs were amazing, I’ve been cooking them every week since we got home!

  4. Allison
    13th September 2018 / 4:45 pm

    I’ve heard of the Isles of Scilly but I have never been there. But I love the idea of beaches that aren’t crowded. That’s reason enough for me to visit, though it seems they have a lot more to offer than that. #farawayfiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      13th September 2018 / 7:26 pm

      It was so peaceful. I was really surprised that it was so quiet in our school holidays.

  5. 13th September 2018 / 7:48 pm

    I’ve never been, yet I always hear amazing things. There is something really magical about them. Watersports, beaches, restaurants, parks … it’s got it all going on! #farawayfiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      13th September 2018 / 8:25 pm

      It’s such a relaxing holiday, I enjoyed it so much!

  6. 14th September 2018 / 12:31 pm

    We visited pre-kids and I loved the Scilly Isles. Would love to take the boys. Remember cycling around to empty beaches! #FarawayFiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      14th September 2018 / 2:23 pm

      The empty beaches really surprised me, I knew it would be quiet but not quite that empty! So peaceful.

  7. 14th September 2018 / 4:42 pm

    I’ve never heard of this part of the world. That’s what I love about this travel community, always something new. The Tresco Gardens look wonderful, as does that lovely blue water. We also love a good deserted beach! #farawayfiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      14th September 2018 / 7:21 pm

      I’ll be writing a post on how to get there in the next few weeks l!

      • Gail Taylor
        5th July 2020 / 6:13 pm

        I live in Yorkshire
        How would I get there and how long would it take
        Thank you.

        • 5th July 2020 / 6:41 pm

          There’s no easy way to get there from Yorkshire unfortunately. You’d need to drive to Exeter and fly from there or drive to Penzance and take the ferry. If you did a two centre with a week in Devon and a week in the Scillies that might make the journey less arduous.

    • smudgedpostcard
      14th September 2018 / 7:20 pm

      I look forward to hearing your review of it!

  8. Clare Thomson
    14th September 2018 / 7:05 pm

    I have wanted to visit the Isles of Scilly for SO long for all the reasons you’ve written about here. This is exactly the kind of laid-back, unhurried, nostalgic destination we love. Thanks for sharing it with us on #FarawayFiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      14th September 2018 / 7:22 pm

      A bit like your trip to the Greek islands but with colder water!

  9. pigeonpairandme
    18th September 2018 / 12:44 pm

    The islands sound as though they have a good mix of wilderness and cosy seaside hospitality. I didn’t realise you couldn’t take cars across. That must make it very safe. Scilly has been on my hitlist for a while now – I really must try and get there soon. #FarawayFiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      18th September 2018 / 8:54 pm

      It was so lovely, I feel rather wistful thinking about it!

  10. 19th September 2018 / 9:53 pm

    I so want to visit the Scilly Isles, those beaches look stunning #FarawayFiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      19th September 2018 / 10:04 pm

      They are magical!

  11. 21st September 2018 / 5:23 pm

    I would love to visit the Isles of Scilly! The beaches and the Tresco Abbey Gardens look absolutely stunning. Bookmarking this for later! #farawayfiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      21st September 2018 / 6:03 pm

      It’s a really magical place.

  12. 21st September 2018 / 10:42 pm

    Looks gorgeous! I’ve never been, but it sounds like a place I’d enjoy… gorgeous beaches and no crowds of tourists is a good reason to go. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

  13. 21st September 2018 / 11:26 pm

    I can’t believe I’ve still not been to the Scilly Isles. I always wanted to go by helicopter, but I’ve missed my chance with that. Did you try the Scilly chillies? I’d have to buy a bag of them. And some Scilly gin. And some Scilly ice cream …

    • 5th October 2018 / 9:02 pm

      Just noticed I hadn’t replied to you, apologies! You can indeed fly by helicopter to the Isles of Scilly. I believe there’s a year-round service. We didn’t buy the chillis but we did buy the gin!

  14. Anisa
    22nd September 2018 / 9:19 am

    Looks like a beautiful place. You had me at beautiful beaches that are not crowded during the peak season. I guess the thing that is holding me back is how far it is. Hopefully one day. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • smudgedpostcard
      22nd September 2018 / 11:35 pm

      Well, the harder it is to get there, the better it is!

  15. 22nd September 2018 / 10:56 pm

    The skies are so blue! The uncrowded beaches sound like heaven. I’d especially enjoy the walks and the Iron Age settlement. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • smudgedpostcard
      22nd September 2018 / 11:35 pm

      The walks were lovely. I can’t wait to return one day and spend more time exploring!

  16. 24th September 2018 / 9:33 am

    Lovely post and you make the Scilly Isles sound like the exactly the sort of place I need to visit. More and more, great views, walks and afternoon teas are what I want to do. To be honest a few days of bad weather is not the end of the world either, that is what board games are for! Thanks for sharing on #the weeklypostcard

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th September 2018 / 11:30 am

      I’m trying to get my boys into board games, a project for this winter!

  17. 27th September 2018 / 9:38 pm

    We’re in the group that’s only vaguely heard of the Scilly Islands, and wow – we’re convinced! Those beaches look very inviting, and we love the idea of a relaxing, not-so-crowded beach town to visit. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    • smudgedpostcard
      28th September 2018 / 7:42 am

      You must visit!

  18. 1st October 2018 / 2:53 pm

    The Iles of Scilly are now firmly on my radar – now to try and work them into our travel plans. We’d love those empty beaches! I’m guessing as well as kayaking and paddle boarding there’s good beaches for bodyboarding too? #fearlessfamtrav

    • smudgedpostcard
      1st October 2018 / 5:43 pm

      The beaches we visited were pretty calm but I expect the ones facing the full force of the Atlantic should be good for bodyboarding.

  19. 3rd October 2018 / 6:29 pm

    Every time I read a post about the Scilly Isles I think they sound amazing! The beaches look beautiful and uncrowded in your pictures. And some great tips on the best playgrounds and cycling with kids. #fearlessfamtrav

    • smudgedpostcard
      3rd October 2018 / 6:46 pm

      It really is a brilliant place, I couldn’t get over how quiet it was!

  20. 3rd October 2018 / 8:43 pm

    I’m totally sold and the Isles of Scilly are so close to us in Devon. We’ve really got no excuse but to go and see it for ourselves! #FearlessFamTrav

    • smudgedpostcard
      3rd October 2018 / 9:29 pm

      I visited a friend in Devon this summer, during the amazing weather, and I was so envious of everything you have on your doorstep!

  21. 3rd October 2018 / 9:16 pm

    The Scilly Isles are high up on my travel bucket list. I imagine them to be a little bit like Jersey (which we visited a couple of years ago) but smaller and quieter. They look and sound utterly beautiful. Fab tips for travelling there with kids- I’ve bookmarked your post to refer back to when we eventually make it over there #fearlessfamtrav

    • smudgedpostcard
      3rd October 2018 / 9:31 pm

      Yes, you’re right they are a bit similar to Jersey but more low key. I prefer the Scillies but am tempted to visit one of the smaller Channel Islands.

  22. 3rd October 2018 / 10:25 pm

    How did you find the ferry? I’ve heard it gets quite bumpy #fearlessfamtrav

    • smudgedpostcard
      4th October 2018 / 8:22 am

      It was bumpy on the way out, both kids vomited! But recovered quickly and we were all laughing about it in the pub an hour later! Crossing was smooth on the return so they were fine. I’ll be writing a post about the travel aspect of the Scillies in the next week or so!

  23. 8th October 2018 / 10:28 am

    Those beaches are just utterly charming! I’m hearing such amazing things about this corner of the UK and really must visit soon! I wonder what it’s like in winter?

    Thanks for linking up to #fearlessfamtrav

    • smudgedpostcard
      8th October 2018 / 12:34 pm

      Well, I’ve seen a few hotels I wouldn’t mind staying in during wintertime, I bet it would be great fun!

  24. 10th October 2018 / 9:03 pm

    I love this post. We loved Isles of Scilly when we visited! We stayed on St Martins and I loved everything about it – the beaches, the water sports and the slow pace of life. I have to go back one day!!!!

    • smudgedpostcard
      11th October 2018 / 11:27 am

      I remember reading your review. We visited Karma for a cuppa and ice cream. St Martins is fantastic, my brother is already planning a return trip so he can stay on that island.

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