Best Historic Sites Of The Isle Of Man

Peel Castle profile
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
Email

Disclosure: This article may contain links to products or services (including Amazon) that pay me a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you.

Few places have such a concentration of historic sites as The Isle of Man. The combination of a long and distinctive history, Celtic culture, and a geographical position in the middle of the Irish Sea have created a unique heritage and a wide variety of places to visit. The historic sites of the Isle of Man include prehistoric stone circles, the site of the world’s oldest continuous parliament, one of Europe’s best preserved medieval castles, and much more.

The Unique History Of The Isle Of Man

Although the island was settled in prehistoric times, Manx history is a fusion of Viking and Celtic tradition (unlike neighbouring Britain, neither the Romans nor the Normans were here). Christianity arrived early (around 400), and in 979 the Tynwald (the Manx Parliament) was established.

From the 9th to the 13th centuries the island was part of the Norse Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, ruled from Norway and including many of the islands around Scotland. The Isle of Man was ceded to Scotland in 1266, and control moved between Scotland and England many times.

The island’s offshore position meant that it was never fully controlled by England or Scotland and for many centuries it was ruled by the Lords of Mann, a hereditary position. It became a British crown dependency in 1765, and the British sovereign became the Lord of Mann. Today the Isle of Man has its own government but depends upon the UK for matters such as defence.

Another strand to Manx history is its maritime activities. Perhaps inevitably, as a quasi-autonomous island in the middle of the Irish sea, it became very attractive to smugglers!

Visiting Manx Heritage Sites

Many of the sites listed here are in the care of Manx National Heritage, which has reciprocal arrangements for members of heritage groups in many other countries. For UK visitors this includes The National Trust, English Heritage, CADW, and others, but members of organisations in Ireland, the Channel Islands and several other countries may also be able to gain free or reduced admission.

Large red waterwheel in a white building. Beside the wheel is a viaduct with arches.
The Great Laxey Wheel, one of Manx Heritage’s most famous sites

Ancient Sites Of The Isle Of Man

The earliest inhabitants of the Isle of Man arrived around 5000 BCE. A few prehistoric sites – both stone circles and burial chambers – remain, including one of the largest neolithic sites in the British Isles. Read more – Ancient Burial Sites On The Isle Of Man.

Even more notable are the early Christian sites. The island is richly endowed with ancient rune stones, oghams and Celtic crosses, as well as keeills (tiny chapels that are almost unique to the Isle of Man). Read more – Manx Crosses, Runes And Oghams: Discovering The Early History Of The Isle Of Man.

History And Heritage Sites In Douglas

Douglas is the capital city, with a Victorian seafront lined with hotels and guesthouses reflecting its heyday as a popular seaside resort.

Gaiety Theatre

The Gaiety Theatre was built around 1900 as an entertainment venue for the tourists who crowded into Douglas every summer. It was a very grand Victorian design that also incorporated state of the art modern features such as ventilation and electricity. After falling into disuse (and being used as an internment camp during the war) it was renovated and now once again hosts theatrical productions.

There are two remarkable aspects to the Gaiety Theatre. Firstly the very ornate interior and the painted dome. The stage has its original Victorian act drop, a rare survival in modern theatres. Then there are the underground “traps”, used to raise or lower actors to and from the stage floor. You can see demon traps and a grave trap (for use in Hamlet), as well as a Corsican trap which simulates a ghostly effect. These traps are all operated in the original way, mostly by hand, and the Corsican trap is unique in the world.

Visitors can enjoy a performance at the theatre, or explore with a guided tour.

Interior of theatre with elaborate gold carvings and a brightly lit stage.
The ornate interior of the Gaiety Theatre

Tynwald (Manx Parliament)

The Tynwald building in Douglas is the current home of the Manx Parliament. This is a tricameral system, with the House of Keys (the lower chamber), the Legislative Council (the upper chamber), and joint meetings between the two houses. Visitors may sit in the public gallery to observe meetings, or take a tour of the parliament building.

Manx Museum

The Manx Museum is a sort of one-stop shop around everything to do with the Isle of Man. It covers all aspects of the island’s history, from gravestones with runic inscriptions to the evolution of the parliament to the development of modern tourism. It also considers social history, geology and the natural environment.

The museum incorporates the National Art Gallery, with more than 6,500 works by local artists or artists inspired by the Isle of Man. And there is a TT Gallery, showcasing the famous motorcycle races.

History And Heritage Sites In Peel

Peel is a small town with a long history. It was at one time the main fishing port and home to the island’s only cathedral.

Peel Castle

The magnificent Peel Castle dominates the waterfront. Standing on St Patrick’s Isle at the entrance to the harbour, this massive fortress was built by the Vikings in the 11th century. Although it is now ruined, there is lots to explore inside the castle, including the remains of a cathedral and a couple of chapels. You’ll also enjoy panoramic views across the town and the Irish Sea.

Ruins of a medieval castle with sea and hills in the background.
Inside the ruins of Peel Castle

Peel Cathedral

Until the church of St Mary of the Isle in Douglas became a Roman Catholic cathedral in 2023 Peel had the only cathedral on the island. Also known as St German’s, or Cathedral Isle of Man, Peel Cathedral was built in the 19th century and dedicated to a 5th century Celtic missionary. It replaced the earlier cathedral which was inside Peel Castle.

The cathedral is full of treasures, including a large collection of silver. And it has extensive gardens showcasing the history of Christianity on the island, with Manx crosses, a replica keeill, and a modern labyrinth.

House Of Manannan

The House of Manannan is not just a museum. It bills itself as a “social history experience”, offering a voyage through the whole of the island’s past. From Celtic heritage to Viking settlers to maritime history it explores every aspect of Manx life. You’ll see reconstructed houses and streets, a replica of a Viking ship, and much more.

Historic Sites In Castletown

Castletown is the historic capital of the Isle of Man. It originally only existed to serve Rushen Castle, the seat of the Lords of Mann, but later became a town in its own right.

Castle Rushen

Castle Rushen is known as one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe. It was built by the Vikings in 1090 but rebuilt and amended at later periods. Constructed from very strong stone, it was thought to be impregnable. The castle is still almost intact and visitors can explore the three main stages of its history: medieval, 17th century, and its use as a prison. There are good views across the sea and to the Calf of Man from the top.

Medieval castle built from stone with towers and battlements.
The strong fortifications of Castle Rushen

Old House Of Keys

The Old House of Keys was the former home of the Manx parliament, used between 1821 and 1874. Visitors can tour the building and watch a simulated debate in the old government chamber.

Great Laxey Wheel

The Great Laxey Wheel is perhaps one of the best known historic sites on the Isle of Man. Known locally as the Lady Isabella, this is the largest working waterwheel in the world, once used to pump water out of the local lead and silver mines, and to power the mining machinery.

The wheel itself is an imposing red-painted structure, and it is possible to climb up to a viewing platform at the top. Beside the wheel is a long viaduct which was part of the machinery, and it is surrounded by streams and small waterfalls. There is lots of see and do here, including walks and a Mines Trail.

The nearby village of Laxey has miner’s cottages and a pub. The road leading away from the wheel is known as Ham and Egg Terrace, as it was once the custom to sell refreshments to visitors from these houses. You can reach Laxey on the Manx Electric Railway from Douglas or Ramsey.

Tynwald Hill

If you’ve been round the Tynwald in Douglas and the Old House of Keys in Peel, you will also want to see Tynwald Hill, the original site of the Manx parliament. The holding of outdoor assemblies was a Viking tradition, and similar sites can be found across Scandinavia. Þingvellir in Iceland claims to be the oldest parliament in the world, but the Tynwald is the oldest to have run continuously without a break.

The tradition of public outdoor assembly is still upheld today, with an open meeting held on Tynwald Hill once a year on 5 July. On Tynwald Day the members of parliament make a procession to the hill for an outdoor ceremony in which all bills that have been passed in the previous year are proclaimed. During this day any citizen can lodge a petition to Parliament.

The man made hill, with four concentric rings, is said to have been built from earth from every part of the island. Ancient graves have been found nearby, and you can see the Ballaharra Stones, neolithic stones that were found locally and moved to this site.

Hill formed from four concentric grass rings with steps leading to the top. There is a flagpole at the top of the hill, and a line of flagpoles along the path leading towards it.
The historic Tynwald Hill

Knockaloe Internment Camp

A more recent episode of Manx history is the use of the island as an internment centre for foreign nationals during both world wars. The largest British camp of the First World War was at Knockaloe, near the village of Patrick, and an old school house in the village has now been turned into a visitor centre telling the story of the camp.

This is a small museum but packed full of information about the people who were held here. One notable internee was Joseph Pilates, a German boxer who developed much of his famous fitness regime while detained in Knockaloe.

Milntown House

Milntown is the only stately home on the Isle of Man that is open to the public. It was once home to the Christian family, one of whose members, Fletcher Christian, became notorious for his role in the Mutiny on the Bounty. Visitors can tour the Gothic style mansion and the extensive gardens with woodland walks, walled garden and a working water wheel.

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About WorldWideWriter

Picture of the author

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

FOLLOW ME

Want a regular dose of inspiration and information from WorldWideWriter?

Sign up to our mailing list now!

Buy Me A Coffee