Looking for the best things to do on St Mary’s in the Scilly Isles? Let me help you plan your Isles of Scilly trip, you need to know what you’re doing!
St Mary’s is the biggest of the 5 inhabited islands in the Scilly Isles, and where you’ll come into if you get to the Scilly Isles by ferry or plane. It’s also where Ben and I stayed on our recent Scilly Isles trip. We managed to have a good look around during our time on the island, and a good look at everything you can do off the island too.
When we were on St Mary’s we stayed at the Longstone Lodge, mainly because we found it was the only reasonably priced place in May 2021, but also because it was in a good location just a 20-minute walk from all the excitement of Hugh Town. There are more great options for Isles of Scilly accommodation on eBooking.
Hugh Town is the ‘big city’ on St Marys, and all of the Scilly Isles, but when I say ‘big city’ it’s actually only home to about 1097 residents. That’s 1097 of the 2,203 that live in the Scilly Isles though, so a sizeable amount.
Longstone Lodge was also perfectly walkable from the airport, meaning that extra hassle was taken out. I’ll cover more of how to get to the Scilly Isles below, but for now, let’s get onto the best things to do on St Mary’s.
1. Boat trips to the other islands
It seems a bit off to have ‘get off the island’ as the first point on a list of the best things to do on St Mary’s, but, it is.
St Mary’s is the hub of the Scilly Isles. You can get a boat from here to any of the four other inhabited islands – Bryher, St Agnes, Tresco and St Martins. You can book your own private RIB ride, or go with St Mary’s Boatman Association for £12 return. You don’t need to prebook and can buy your tickets from the souvenir shop in Hugh Town, or at the St Mary’s Boatman Association shack on the pier.
You’ll see the boat times posted on black boards around Hugh Town, and also on the St Mary’s Boatman Facebook page. There’s usually a morning and an afternoon departure, but you can’t count on it and it depends on the weather and winds.
Boat trip to Tresco from St Mary’s
Tresco is the second largest island, and the most popular day trip from St Mary’s. Pop on over and you can visit the stunning Tresco Abbey Garden, visit new Grimsby, or eat at the Flying Boat Cafe or The New Inn. I’d recommend the Ruin Beach Cafe for the pizzas out of the wood-fired oven.
Your ferry from St Mary’s to Tresco will take about 30 minutes.
TOP TIP: Check the weather before you leave. Ben and I had seen that the weather was going to be bad, but as we left our accommodation in the morning it was positively sunny. Pretty much as soon as we got to Tresco, and at the time the weather said it would, it started raining. The rain got progressively worse over the 5ish hours we were on the island until we left at 2pm. My overarching memory of Tresco will be us stood on the pier to leave, with rain seemingly coming from every direction, soaked through and questioning my life choices.
The boat ride back was rough.
If the weather is showing as rough, all the will in the world won’t change it. You’ll be better off staying on St Mary’s.
Boat trip to Bryher from St Mary’s
Visit Bryher from St Mary’s and you’ll find a rugged island with Atlantic waves on one side and lovely calming sandy beaches on the other. It’s a small island with only about 80 residents, making it the perfect spot for a socially isolated walk.
The popular things to do on Bryher include visiting or staying at the Hell Bay Hotel, scrambling the rocks at Shipman Head and / or hiring boats or kayaks at Bennett’s Boatyard and Bryher Boatyard. The most unique place to eat is at one of Britain’s smallest bars, Fraggle Rock, and you can pick up some local treats from the Bryher Shop.
Boat trip to St Agnes from St Mary’s
St Agnes island is only a mile across – you can definitely see all of this island on a day trip from St Mary’s!
At low tide St Agnes is joined to the uninhabited island of Gugh by a sand bar, making it easy to walk across but check the tides and don’t get stranded!
People visit St Agnes for the day for the paradise beaches, the flower fields, the quaint cottages and to see the lighthouse. Periglis Beach is a highlight, thanks to the views across to the bird sanctuary. The Turk’s Head pub on St Agnes is the UK’s most south westerly facing pub – you need to go and try a burger just for that!
Boat trip to St Martin’s from St Mary’s
“St. Martin’s, an island in the Isles of Scilly, is a hidden gem full of contrasts – long sweeping beaches, rocky coves, dramatic coastline and cosy granite cottages; there is something for the adventurous – from seal snorkelling and diving to taking a dip in the refreshing, clear sea and something for those just happy to amble – you can while away the hours collecting shells, exploring the beautiful coastline or simply staring out to sea. “– STMARTINSSCILLY.CO.UK
You can see the departure and return times from St Mary’s on boards like this around the island. They’ll also give details of any special trips you can go on, too. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t very good while we were there so there weren’t many options – it’ll be better for you (I hope!).
2. The beaches on St Mary’s
It’s an island so there are plenty of beautiful beaches on St Mary’s to choose from. The most popular St Mary’s beaches include Bar Point about a mile from Hugh Town, the beautiful Porthcressa Beach, Pelistry Beach or Portloo Beach.
Admittedly the Town Beach on the picture above doesn’t look the best on the day we were there, but there are plenty of dreamy shots of the impressive St Mary’s beaches all over the internet!
3. Walk the Garrison Walls
One of the best things to do on St Mary’s is to walk. The island is very safe and traffic is slow.
Our favourite walk was the walk around Garrison Walls. It takes about two hours to walk the length of the 18th century walks, longer if you keep stopping for photos like we did.
“With a history spanning 350 years, the defences of the Garrison on St Mary’s form one of the most remarkable and impressive coastal defence systems in England.”– ENGLISH HERITAGE
There were information boards along the route, but I just enjoyed the views over Hugh Town, and out to the other islands too. We stopped walking once we got the Star Castle and just settled in for a gin and tonic there.
4. Hire a ‘Scilly Cart’
We were at a bit of a loss at what to do on our last day on the Scilly Isles as we had our bags with us, and had walked miles the past few days so were feeling a bit worn out. So, we decided to hire Scilly Carts and explore the island from a golf cart.
It turned out to be a great idea. Despite being there a few days there was the whole north east of the island that we hadn’t explored yet and this was a great way to get us there, so we could look around.
We paid the day hire price of £40 for just three hours before our ferry, but we agreed it was worth it. There was space for our bags and it was fun driving around meeting the other Scilly Carts as we went.
5. Holy Vale Vineyard
Holy Vale Vineyard is the biggest vineyard on the Scilly Isles, dating back pretty recently to 2009. Here they bottle up the wines made at four different sites on the Isles of Scilly and can serve a diverse range thanks to the gorgeous weather and uniquely located vines.
Normally you can visit and do a tasting and have a look around the vineyard, but of course, in 2021 when we visited, it was all off limits.
6. Check out the galleries at Porthloo Studios
Just by Porthloo Beach on the Isles of Scilly, you’ll find Porthloo Studios. Here you can look round the studios and get a taste of the local art and creativity the Scilly Isles are so popular for.
7. St Mary’s Open Air Cinema
St Mary’s Open Air Cinema operates throughout the summer. I didn’t actually get to go this, given the state of the world in 2021 but I didn’t want to write a things to do on St Mary’s list without including it in.
Buy some tickets to the cinema and a you can enjoy a classic film with some popcorn out in the glorious Isles of Scilly night time sky.
8. St Mary’s Bike Hire
Hiring a bike to get around St Mary’s is a great way to explore the island. St Mary’s Bike Hire is the perfect way to explore the hidden beaches and country lanes of the island. It’s also a great way to go that little bit further than the walkers and enjoy more of the island to yourself.
Restaurants on St Mary’s
1. Mermaid Inn
Mermaid Inn is the most iconic pub on St Mary’s. Go inside and you’ll find a traditional pub complete with antiques of days gone by.
This isn’t some hipster replica of an old sailor pub, this is THE old sailor pub. We sat at the bar chatting to the staff with a few drinks – loved it. There’s also an upstairs for dining and they serve traditional pub grub, at a decent price (for the island).
2. On the Quay
The steaks at On the Quay on St Mary’s were incredible. On the Quay is a beautiful restaurant, surprisingly, on the quay. It’s a little pricey but you can tell why with the warming and designer interior and great quality food. We had a seafood platter and some arancini on the side – delicious.
They also have a great gin menu, and you can order all kinds of fabulous sides. In fact, you could order a £64 Tomahawk steak for two, and then order a platter de la mer on the side for a mere £100+. Gotta be hungry and rich for that kinda splashout!
3. Dibble and Grub
On a sunny day, Dibble and Grub is in a fantastic location. Overlooking Portcressa Beach, with a souvlaki and a cider and it kinda feels like you’re abroad. The charcuterie boards looked incredible if you want a menu tip.
My meal at Dibble and Grub was my favourite from all our meals on St Mary’s.
4. Old Town Cafe
Hmmm, bit disappointed here, but still makes the list thanks to the tasty mackerel pate and location.
We were drawn in by the big sign outside advertising homemade pasties, we sat down on the benches outside overlooking the sea, all smug with ourselves and were told that the ‘pasties had just come out of the oven’. YUM. Half an hour later he comes back to tell us there are none left. Gutted. Ben ended up with some greasy spooner sausages, chips and beans and I had mackerel pate with 3 quarters of toast. I’ll always wonder what happened to that fourth one.
5. Juliet’s Garden
Another slight disappointment but we went for breakfast when it’s definitely more of a lunch and dinner restaurant. We ended up with one rasher of bacon in half a baguette for breakfast.
If you’re looking for breakfast on St Mary’s I’d actually recommend the Old Town Cafe – their brunch menu looked sweet.
Juliet’s Garden was a lovely location with amazing views (up a hill) and is highly rated for its dinner and lunch menu. I’d still recommend you go, just not for a bacon sandwich.
READ MORE: Best Beaches in Guernsey
Want to know more about the great islands in England and Wales?
Check out this Island Bagging book from Lisa Drew and Vertebrate Publishing. It’s ideal for swimmers, kayakers, wildlife spotters and paddleboarders too. You can learn about Scilly, of course, and my favourite the Isle of Wight, and Lundy in Devon too. Featuring almost 300 island around England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, you can find out about the hidden coves, tastiest food, best wildlife and the most unique sights.
Makes for a great present for the travel lover in your life!
Where to stay on St Mary’s
I spent a lot of time researching where to stay in the Scilly Isles, as it’s not quite as straight forward as you may be used to booking. A lot of places require individual phone calls or emails.
As I said before, mainly thanks to price, but also thanks to availability, we ended up at the Langstone Cafe. We paid £160 for two nights (+£2 each for a stiff towel!) in a twin room which came with a microwave, kettle, fridge and picnic bench in a private outdoor space. We also had a private bathroom.
The hostel was really nice, fresh and clean, the staff were lovely and I’d recommend it for anyone looking for a budget place to stay on the Scilly Isles. Just make sure to bring your own towel!