The Nine Most Beautiful Island Escapes in the UK

Windswept and sandy-toed, we’ve toured Britain to bring you our pick of the most beautiful islands in the archipelago. From Arran to Lindisfarne, these are the isles to escape to this summer.

Sometimes, we forget that the United Kingdom is an archipelago, but this rambunctious puzzle of rocky isles adds up to a mind-boggling 6,000 splinters of land scattered across our seas. We've circumnavigated the country to explore the trove of hard-to-reach fragments spread throughout brilliant Blighty. From the white-sand shores of the Scilies to the rugged clifftops of the Hebrides, here's our pick of the country's most beautiful islands.

Island living: the nine loveliest isles in the UK

Isle of Arran

Isle of Arran

Scotland

Arran's topographical beauty is its main draw: cast off from Scotland's west coast, this diminutive isle holds all the geological interest of the mainland, but in miniature, complete with moss-green lowlands, rocky rising crags, heather-blanketed hills and heavily forested glens. Climb up to Coire Fhionn Lochan for a waterside picnic beside looking-glass waters, then clamber into a canoe to explore the deserted coves along the island's shoreline. Adventurous sightseeing done, head to the small town of Corrie, on Arran's north-east coast, for a dinner of island langoustines in a Café de Paris butter from fancy takeaway spot Mara Fish Bar & Deli.

Where to stay: Banlicken Arran Farmhouse

Alderney Guernsey Channel Islands

Alderney

Bailiwick of Guernsey, Channel Islands

We know, we know - it's not technically the UK, but we hope you'll forgive us for including Alderney in our list. The northernmost of the inhabited Channel Islands sits 19km from the Normandy coast, lending a distinctively French je ne sais quoi to island life. The 2,000-odd inhabitants are known colloquially as "lapins" (rabbits), and the main town of Saint Anne has the Gallic nickname "La Ville". Blustery and beautiful, Alderney remains an under-the-radar destination - you'll have to board a 10-seater plane to reach its white-gold sandy curves and sweeping dunes. Spend sunny afternoons kayaking around the island in Breton stripes, then crowd around the barbie for a beach feast (barbecuing is legal before 8pm). Keep your eyes peeled for the ghostly wobble of the island's famed hedgehogs: the entirely blonde species is unique to Alderney. Wild and wacky wildlife is rife: alongside the native blondes, you'll find bioluminescent plankton dancing in the sea and exotic seashells washing up on the shores, a joyful consequence of the island sitting at the tail end of the Gulf Stream, bringing balmy waters all the way from the Caribbean.

Where to stay: The Blonde Hedgehog

Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight

Hampshire

Don't dismiss old IOW as being just for yachties - this chip of Hampshire chalk might host the Cowes Regatta, but, on terra firma, it offers much more than boat shoes and Bollinger. Catch a ferry across the Solent for a weekend of gallivanting between gussied-up Victorian seaside resorts, rustic fishing villages and rolling hills. The best way to get around is by bike. Saddle up in Ryde and peddle between the pastel-painted terraces of the seaside settlement towards St Helens Duver Nature Reserve. Just 8km down the coast, this is the best spot for rock-pooling. Check blennies and gobies off your seaside safari list, then turn your wheels inland to hit the Red Squirrel Trail. A leisurely afternoon ride west encompasses the rolling pastoral interior - and its tufted-ear inhabitants (the squirrels, not the locals). Set off at lunchtime and you'll arrive in time for a sunset seafood dinner at al fresco Colwell Bay eatery The Hut.

Where to stay: The George

Isle of Eigg

Isle of Eigg

Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Adrift in the turbulent waters of the Minch Strait, which sweeps past Scotland's west coast, Eigg is an isle of majesty. Golden eagles breed on its windswept hilltops, swooping beneath grumbling crowds (the weather… well, just be sure to pack a rain mac) to glide over the distinctive An Sgùrr ridge that scars the island horizon. Hillocked plains fold into deep, dramatic lochs and a boulder-strewn coastline. Bought out by island residents in 1997, this forward-thinking isle - nicknamed "the People's Republic of Eigg" - offers a summer escape to a utopian ideal. The entire island is run on renewables, and many of the business premises are owned by a trust that rents the properties to residents (we love Eigg Organics for groceries). This offbeat community even has its own music label, Lost Map Records. Spend an evening sipping hair-raisingly strong pints from the Laig Bay Brewing Company and listening to Pictish Trail's lo-fi folk-pop, then head out into the darkness for a celestial night show. The lack of streetlights makes stargazing simple - and spectacular.

Where to stay: Sweeney's Bothy

Mersea Island

Mersea Island

Essex

Situated across a narrow channel from Essex's southern coast, this sandy speck of land is only accessible by tidal causeway the Strood, which becomes impassable at high tide. Just 18sq km in size, this is a day-tripper's destination, with mainlanders flocking to picnic beside sherbert-coloured huts and clinking fishing fleets. Stay the night, though, and you'll be waving goodbye to the crowds. The west of the island is the buzziest: amble along beaches, passing huts, tiny creeks, and dunes, towards The Company Shed, to enjoy a show-stopping seafood platter of crab, lobster and fresh scallops. Most menus on the island will include native oysters. Oenophiles should head east to sip Essex bins at the Mersea Island Vineyard - the dry Mersea Mehalah is a local favourite.

Where to stay: Monkey Beach Cottage

St Michael’s Mount Cornwall

St Michael’s Mount

Cornwall

One thing you should know about St Michael's Mount is that there's no visiting on Sundays. At the end of the week, the 30 residents who call this small Cornish enclave home lock up shop. Visit any other time, though, and you'll be able to wander through the Victorian terraces, medieval pathways and bosky slopes of this diminutive isle. Inhabited as early as 4000 BCE, it's home to a small hamlet and a centuries-old castle that's actually a melange of monastic buildings, residential additions and castle architecture. Beneath the stone walls, you'll find blousy terraced flowerbeds resplendent in summer with rosemary, lavender and Lampranthus. Scoff homemade cakes at the island's Sail Loft Café, then return to the mainland for dinner at Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar in Newlyn, 15 minutes along the coast.

Where to stay: There's no accommodation on the island. Try The Herringbone in Mousehole.

Anglesey Wales

Anglesey (Ynys Môn)

Wales

Anglesey, the largest Welsh island, is great for gourmands. Accessible by two bridges across the Menai Strait, the island is crisscrossed with mossy trails that take in smart seaside towns and poetic, mystical landscapes, explorable in a weekend, but you'll need a week or more to sample the assembly of excellent island eateries. Between meals, we'd recommend a paddle on LLanddwyn Beach, a trip to the isolated South Stack Lighthouse and twitching sessions on Puffin Island (Ynys Seiriol). But, let's be honest, you're here for the food. Swing by the farmers' market for Welsh Black beef cuts, bara brith (tea bread) and freshly caught crab - or try your luck at catching the critters off the pier in candy-coloured Beaumaris. Rather eat out? Head to Dylan's for seafood tacos, The Oyster Catcher for Menai Strait shellfish, and the on-site café at sea salt producer Halen Môn for perfectly seasoned cawl. All eyes are on Michelin-nodded Sosban & The Old Butchers this year, too. At the intimate - and unshowy - restaurant, former plumber Stephen Stevens mans the pass, sending out delicious plates from the ever-changing tasting menu.

Where to stay: Blacksmith's Cottage

Bryher Isles of Scilly

Bryher

Isles of Scilly

This long, narrow isle - just across the water from the tropical garden-covered Tresco - is the wildest of the inhabited Scillies, with just 80 residents calling these sandy sweeps and gorse-trimmed hills home. A lazy island circumnavigation on foot takes only a few hours, giving you plenty of time to browse the studio of seascape painter Richard Pearce en route, and picking up local produce from roadside honesty stalls along the way. Don't miss Veronica Farm, for its famous small-batch farmhouse fudge. The rich, crumbly confectionery is legendary in these parts. Visiting during crab season? Get yourself down to The Crab Shack. Housed in a converted cattle shed, this low-key, high-jinks spot is open just three nights a week for coral claw cracking (with starters of sweet local scallops and a superb Eton mess dessert). Tie on your apron, prepare your shell breakers and get messy.

Where to stay: Hell Bay Hotel

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