7 Must-Visit Islands in the UK (From Popular Spots to Hidden Gems)

Aerial view of the harbour, beach and lighthouse in Hope Town on Elbow Cay off the island of Abaco, Bahamas.
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Written by Kaleigh Moore

Updated: August 18, 2023

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The United Kingdom boasts a collection of enchanting islands that are as diverse as they are captivating. From rugged coastlines to picturesque landscapes and rich cultural heritage, these islands offer an extraordinary escape for travelers. Whether you’re seeking a tranquil retreat, an outdoor adventure, or a glimpse into history, the UK’s islands have it all. It’s hard to imagine that the United Kingdom has islands that could rival the Caribbean, but these must-visit islands show otherwise. The verdant islands of the UK offer a different kind of ethereal beauty that surpasses even the Pacific’s allure.

Infographic for the 7 Must-Visit Islands in the UK
Whether near Scotland, in the English Channel, or elsewhere in the UK, these islands draw attention.

Sixth among the countries with the most islands, England’s 6000+ islands are some of the world’s most spectacular. Join us on a journey to discover seven must-visit islands that will leave you spellbound with their beauty and charm. Get ready to embark on an unforgettable exploration of the UK’s hidden island gems.

1. Isle of Skye (Inner Hebrides)

Scotland’s Isle of Skye is the definition of fairy tale beauty. It’s the biggest island of the Inner Hebrides and arguably the most beautiful, with its breathtaking mountain peaks, stunning pools and waterfalls, and expansive glens well worth of fairies.

Skye is so otherworldly that it has been filmed repeatedly for films such as King Arthur, Transformers, The Last Knight, Legend of the Sword, Macbeth, and Stardust.

The island, measuring 639 square miles (1,656 km²), is home to about 13,000 people and populations of spectacular eagles, red deer, sea birds, seals, whales, dolphins, seals, otters, porpoises, and lots more.

If you don’t visit Skye for its captivating beauty and rich wildlife, do it for the unique Scottish history and culture. Medieval castles, steeped in legend and mythology, dot the island, with charming fishing villages boasting quaint Scottish pubs and gourmet restaurants.

Some things to do on Skye:

  • Hike to the stunning Fairy Pools near Glenbrittle and swim in the natural arch.
  • Climb the dominating Black Cuillin Mountains.
  • Take boat trips from the harbor to see the local sea life, though these are less frequent.
  • Dive into the island’s deep history at the Skye Museum of Island Life.
  • Sample delicious food and drinks at Portree (try the Three Chimneys Restaurant for gourmet food, and The Old Inn or the Carbost for traditional music and drinks)
  • Visit Talisker, the oldest whisky distillery on Skye; you can take tasting tours and observe the distilling process of single malts in person.

Of course, you must also visit the Old Man of Storr. This historic landmark is the island’s most prominent and Instagram-worthy panorama.

You can get to Skye by driving to Mallaig, where you can take a 45-minute ferry or go to Kyle of Lochalsh and take the bridge to the island. There’s also a train to Kyles of Lochalsh, where you can rent a car.

Panoramic view of the captivating Isle of Skye in Scotland, showcasing its rugged landscapes, rolling hills, and enchanting beauty

Skye’s ethereal beauty has attracted filmmakers, featuring in movies like King Arthur, Transformers, Macbeth, Stardust, and more.

2. St Martin’s (Isles of Scilly)

The exotic Isles of Scilly are easily the most popular islands in the UK. Although Tresco is more famous, you’ll find little St Martin’s island much more tantalizing, comparable to the most exotic islands in the world.

For starters, some of the finest beaches in the world are here at St Martin’s. The 100 miles of coastline are mostly pristine white sand beaches surrounded by crystal blue waters, rivaling even those of Corsica or the Caribbean. One of these, the Great Bay, is the best in the UK by popular vote. It enjoys protection as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

St Martin’s has the weather for it, too. Like the Scilly Isles, it enjoys a warm tropical microclimate thanks to the Gulf Stream. After taking in the sights, embark on an adventure on the turquoise waters by kayaking or paddleboarding, exploring the nearby beaches and coves. 

You can also fill your time with seal snorkeling, visit the SC Dogs distillery, or take tours on a glass-bottomed boat. St Martin is the UK’s most south-westerly spot, an accomplished solar and night viewing observatory. The island is a Dark Sky Discovery Zone, ideal for touring the dark skies in one of the two community observation domes.

Four other Scilly Islands are close, so you get maximum value for your money. Tresco, St Mary’s, Bryher, and the postcard-perfect St Agnes are all easily reachable by boat. When you finish touring, you’ll discover that the island’s fresh meats, fruits, and seafood delight your palate.

Scenic pathway leading to Great Bay on St Martin's Island, showcasing the natural beauty and coastal charm of the Isles of Scilly, England

With 100 miles of pristine white sand beaches and crystal blue waters, Skye’s coastline rivals the beauty of Corsica or the Caribbean.

3. Sark and Little Sark (Crown Dependencies)

Sark is another hidden gem that outshines its more prominent and famous Channel Island sisters like Guernsey, Alderney, and Jersey. When you set foot on this rugged island, you feel like you have been transported to another time altogether.

No cars are allowed on Sark due to its size. No streetlights or airports are available. This is one small island tucked away from the commotion of city life. People get by on horse-drawn carriages or, more commonly, bicycles or electric cycles. The 18th-century houses where Sark residents have lived for generations are straight out of a medieval film, but all that pales in comparison to the raw, natural beauty of the island and the surrounding sea.

This jewel of the Channel Islands is two islands joined by an incredibly narrow peninsula (La Coupée) built by German prisoners of war. La Coupée affords spell-binding views of Sark and Little Sark and the ocean beyond. As the world’s first Dark Sky island, Sark is a dream destination for stargazers. 

More activities you can enjoy on Sark include:

  • Visit the historic La Seigneurie, the traditional home of the island’s Seigneur (head), with its gorgeous flower gardens
  • Explore more island history at the Sark Museum
  • Find peace at the sandy Dixcart Bay, surrounded only by gentle waves crashing onto the beach and cackling sea birds
  • Swim in the crisp Channel water at the Venus Pool on the south of the island
  • Take trips by horse-drawn carriage or boat to explore the island
  • Pick stunning wildflowers such as Red Campion, Honeysuckle, Foxgloves, Rock Samphire, and Wild Garlic

Although Sark is only 2.10 square miles and has a population of about 600, it has surprisingly modern accommodation facilities, restaurants, and guest houses. It’s one of the must-visit islands in the UK and the world.

Idyllic summer view of Sark Island, showcasing its serene atmosphere, lush greenery, and picturesque coastal surroundings

The charming 18th-century houses add to the medieval-like atmosphere, but it’s the island’s natural beauty that truly captivates, with its stunning sea and landscapes.

4. The Shetland Islands (Northernmost Islands)

The Shetland Islands is an archipelago of over 100 islands at Britain’s northernmost point. Only 15 of them are inhabited and have mostly been known only by bird enthusiasts, but they’re one of the most beautiful and unspoiled islands in the UK.

Why visit the Shetlands? You may see the Northern Lights in winter, which the locals call the Mirrie Dancers. The isolated islands are home to some of the largest seabird colonies in the world. Norse history permeates the islands. But the biggest reason why everyone should visit Shetland is because of its dramatic coastlines.

The Shetland Islands are spell-binding, to put it lightly. From crescents of white sands at Quendale, St Ninian’s tombolo, and Meal near Scalloway to the wild bays of Lang Ayre with their crashing waves, the Shetlands is a land of contrasts.

Northernmost Tip of England

When you visit the Shetlands, make sure you take the ferry to Unst, the most northern tip. This particular point is also home to Muness Castle, which is free, and you can go in and wander around.

The Hermaness Hike will get you to Unst, and past that is the Hermaness Headland, with its little stack rising from the waves onto which stands the Muckle Flugga lighthouse. Muckle Flugga is so northern that from there, it’s all sea right up to the North Pole.

Other reasons to visit Shetland include:

  • Birdwatcher’s paradise: The islands are home to great colonies of gannets, puffins, red-necked phalaropes, great skuas (bonxies), and even thick-billed warblers from Siberia and surf scoters from North America.
  • Norse heritage: Shetland has been occupied since 3000 BC and has a rich history to boot, with prehistoric settlements such as Jarlshof and annual Viking festivals.
  • Attend musical events, such as fiddle playing and the Shetland Folk Festival.
  • Wild adventures: The seas around the islands are rich with mystery, including untamed coastlines with sea cliffs and isolated bays; they’re a kayaker’s dream destination.

To experience the beauty and rich history of the Shetlands, you can fly in from any major city or take a 12-hour Ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick.

Spectacular landscape of the remote and scenic Shetland Islands

The islands are a haven for diverse bird species, including gannets, puffins, red-necked phalaropes, great skuas,

Siberian

thick-billed warblers, and North American surf scoters.

5. Isle of Wight (Channel Island)

The Isle of Wight should have a better spot on this list, but then it’s hard to rank such unspotted beauty as is found on these must-visit islands. The Isle of Wight on the English Channel is the largest and most populated Channel island, with an area of 148 square miles (384 km2) and a population of about 140,000.

The island has been a top destination for holidaymakers since Victorian times, mainly for its extensive sandy beaches. Today, it’s one of the top attractions in the UK, thanks to its scenery, rich history, and the boatload of captivating activities you can enjoy here.

The Isle of Wight is one of those places where you have a lot of exciting things you can do. There’s so much to do: hot air balloon rides, epic music festivals, steam train rides, zoos and adventure parks, castles, lighthouses, museums, Roman villas, and more. You can visit rocket testing sites on this quirky island, go fossil hunting, and tour the famous Blackgang Chine theme park.

There’s enough excitement to keep the adrenaline going for at least a fortnight, lots of top-rated restaurants and hotels, sandy beaches as far as the eye can see, and everything else that makes for a world-class tourist destination. Thanks to its warm climate, the Isle of Wight is one of the top tourist destinations in England.

It might sound as if the island is crawling with tourists, but the best places usually aren’t. Like most popular destinations, tourists don’t know where to find beauty and serenity on the Isle of Wight. 

Here are a few pointers for the discerning tourist:

  • The Caves at Freshwater Bay, which are only available at low tide and hide secret beaches and smuggler’s tunnels on the western side, just don’t get caught by the tide.
  • Bembridge Fort at Culver Down, which only has weekly tours given by volunteers
  • St Catherine’s Oratory (the Pepper Pot), a medieval lighthouse built in 1328, offers 3600 views of the island and the Channel.
  • Firestone Copse, a verdant slice of woodland where you can even enjoy teacake and coffee in the carpark
  • Gurnard’s hidden beach, another slice of paradise near Gurnard Sailing Club along Shore Path (also best visited at low tide)

Visit the Isle of Wight if you’re down for sailing, world-famous music fests, stunning coastal landscapes, stargazing, or simple holidaymaking with great food and company. It’s simply incredible.

The Needles Lighthouse, a prominent landmark on the Isle of Wight's coast, standing tall against a picturesque backdrop

As the largest and most populated Channel Island, it spans 148 square miles (384 km2) and is home to approximately 140,000 people.

6. Isles of Rum (Inner Hebrides)

There’s much to be said about the Scottish Hebrides, but worlds fail when you start to describe the Isles of Rum’s sheer beauty. This small archipelago consists of the Rum, Muck, Eigg, and Canna Islands. And, despite being 182 square miles, Rum is only inhabited by 40 people.

The island is carpeted with heather moorland, dominated by green mountains, and surrounded by lonely rocky shores. This natural paradise is so beautiful it could move you to tears, yet so few know about it. Perhaps it’s eclipsed by the more famous Isles of Skye and Mull, or the lack of tourist infrastructure keeps people away.

Whatever the case, it’s worth taking every trouble to see the Isles of Rum and take time to explore, camp, and shake off the stress of everyday life. At least, it’s not as inaccessible as these islands.

You’ll only get to the island by boat since there’s no airport, bridge, or tunnel. The CalMac ferry docks at Rum thrice a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and there are also guided tours. Once you get there, there are several accommodation options, including camping out in the open.

Worth the Effort and Time

The logistics of getting to the island may be a headache, but the payoff is out of this world. Rum is stunning—there are no other words for it. For such a large island with so few people, the scenery is so breathtaking it’s emotional. It’s quiet, the air is crisp, and the mountains touch the clouds.

Red deer graze in the moors, and sea eagles soar in the skies above. As for the sights, you’ll be spoiled for choice:

  • Visit Kinloch Castle, a Victorian mansion built by Lancashire textile tycoon Sir George Bullough
  • Bring your mountain bike or hire one and go biking from Kinloch, through Kilmory to Harris Bay
  • Bring your binoculars and camera and enjoy the local wildlife
  • Take guided tours or go kayaking along the 30 miles of wild, rocky coastline
  • Go hiking and bouldering (make sure you bring the right equipment and that you know what you’re doing)

The Isles of Rum starkly contrasts the more developed Isle of Wight, but it’s no less spectacular and visit-worthy. If you want to escape the crowds and noise, Rum is the best place to visit in the UK.

Aerial view of Isle of Rum, Scotland

With a total area of 182 square miles, Rum stands out as it is home to only 40 inhabitants.

7. Isles of Lewis and Harris (Outer Hebrides)

Of the Outer Hebrides, the Isles of Lewis and Harris are easily the most breathtaking and magical. The isles are one landmass making up the third-largest island in the UK after Great Britain and Ireland. As such, it’s one of the largest islands in the world.

The Isles of Harris and Lewis covered 810 square miles and were once part of two local governments (Ross and Inverness). Now, they are entirely under the Western Isles Council. Still, they’re considered two different islands, probably because they have such diverse landscapes.

The Isle of Harris boasts one of the world’s best beaches and no kidding. Look at Luskentyre Beach, and you’ll see that it gives even these Pacific Ocean islands a run for their money. The smaller island of Taransay, where BBC’s Castaway was filmed, is a short distance across the water from the beach.

Staggeringly Beautiful Landscapes

Away from the white sands of the beaches, the moorlands pitted with rocky terrain impose a different kind of beauty on the island. In particular, the Lewis part of the island is miles of flat peaty moorland with rocky headlands at the coasts.

On your way through Harris, you’re treated to expansive lochs and coastal inlets. The changing landscapes and panoramic views instill such a sense of tranquility that it’s a wonder more people haven’t found this island paradise. It’s not the beauty of these beautiful tropical paradise islands, but Harris can hold its own when it comes to raw natural beauty.

In addition to its natural beauty, visit the Isles of Lewis and Harris for its:

  • Wildlife, especially dolphins, whales, otters, eagles, Highland Coos, and deer.
  • Rich Gaelic culture and history, including historical houses and the Callanish Stones.
  • Mouthwatering seafood, especially cold smoked salmon, scallops, and Stornoway black pudding.
  • Harris Gin distilled at Tarbert, as well as the exceptional single malt whisky from the Abhainn Dearg Distillery.
  • Friendly people you’ll never want to leave once you start talking.

If you don’t go anywhere else on these must-visit islands of the UK, take a tour of Lewis and Harris.

Sunny morning view of sandy beaches and Luskentyre from Seilebost, Isle of Harris, Scotland

Beyond the picturesque white sands of the beaches, the rugged moorlands with their rocky terrain present a distinct and captivating beauty on the island.

Discover More Magical Places

The United Kingdom is home to stunning islands that offer vacationers one-of-a-kind experiences. These seven must-see islands offer a glimpse into UK’s rich cultural past and natural resources.  

These islands outlined in this article provide something for everyone, whether looking for beautiful vistas, historic ruins, or thriving coastal settlements. Explore the hidden treasures that make the UK’s islands truly amazing locations on an island-hopping trip.

Summary of the 7 Must-Visit Islands in the UK

Name of IslandLocationSize in Square MilesPopulation
Isle of SkyeInner Hebrides63913,000
St. Martin’sCoast of Cornwall0.922,693
Sark and Little SarkEnglish Channel2.10600
ShetlandsNorthermost Point of Britain100 islands22,940
Isle of WightEnglish Channel148140,000
Isle of RumInner Hebrides18240
Isles of Lewis & HarrisOuter Hebrides81021,031


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