How (And Why) To Visit The Isle Of Man

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Where can you find a country that is both British and not-British? That boasts a unique culture, stunning countryside, and a remarkable number and variety of historical sites? That is close enough for a weekend away, but has enough to keep visitors entertained for a much longer trip? The answer is to be found in the middle of the Irish Sea, in the often underrated Isle of Man.

Why Visit The Isle Of Man?

The Isle of Man is an ancient Celtic nation with a unique history and culture. Islanders will be proud to tell you of its distinctions: this self-governing British Crown dependency has the longest continuous parliament in the world; it was the first country to give women the vote; and it is the only nation to be wholly located within a UNESCO biosphere. Then there is the quirky Manx folklore, the world famous TT races, and cats without tails.

All of this means that the Isle of Man has something to offer for every type of visitor. The combination of Viking and Celtic culture ensures that this small island is full of history and heritage sites, museums and other cultural attractions. You can enjoy the countryside and the beaches, or ride on one of the island’s heritage railways. And sample some excellent fresh, local cuisine, perhaps washed down with some island whiskey.

The Manx Countryside… And A UNESCO Biosphere

It is hard to overstate the natural beauty of the Isle of Man. Rolling hills lead to the central mountain of Snaefell, and the island is surrounded by 160 km of rugged coastline. Meadows and grassland are carpeted with flowers in spring and summer, and there are woodlands, wetlands and numerous waterfalls. A combination of varied habitats and the absence of some common animals (there are no foxes or badgers here) has created a unique ecosystem, which has resulted in the whole island being designated a UNESCO biosphere.

Clifftop covered with yellow and purple flowers, looking out towards the sea and an offshore island
Looking out to the Calf of Man

Visitors can walk along hundreds of miles of footpaths, both local paths and longer routes such as Bayr Ny Skeddan, the old “Herring Trail” that follows an old packhorse trail from Castletown to Peel. The 160 km Coastal Path takes in a variety of landscapes, and can be tackled in small sections if you don’t want to hike the whole route.

Fun fact: if you stand on the top of Snaefell on a clear day you may be able to see the “7 Kingdoms” – Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Heaven and The Sea!

Wildlife Spotting

With 300 recorded species (both native and visitors) the Isle of Man is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Local birds include the Manx shearwater, eagles, ravens and choughs, as well as sea birds such as puffins. The Calf of Man, a small offshore island in the south, is particularly important for bird conservation, and can be accessed by boat trip from Port St Mary or Port Erin.

As you might expect there is an abundant marine life. Seals, whales and dolphins frequent the coast, as do numerous fish including basking sharks. Inland you will find hares, rabbits and small mammals. But one animal may come as a surprise: the Isle of Man is home to the world’s third largest colony of wallabies! Descended from a group of escapees from a wildlife park in the 1960s, they now number more than 500, and can mostly be seen in the Ballaugh Curraghs area.

Dark Skies

The Isle of Man has 26 official dark sky sites. These are all “Milky Way” sites, where the constellation is visible to the naked eye. If you are very lucky, you may also spot the Northern Lights from the northeast coast.

What To See And Do On The Isle Of Man

These are just a few of the highlights for visitors:

Historic Sites

There are numerous historical sites on the Isle of Man, some from the earliest times and others more recent. The Great Laxey Wheel is one of the best known, but there are also prehistoric sites, early Christian history, and one of Europe’s finest preserved medieval castles.

Read more here – Best Historic Sites Of The Isle Of Man.

Heritage Railways

The Isle of Man is the only place in the world with four heritage railways. Two of these use electric trams, beautifully constructed replicas of the Victorian originals. The Manx Electric Railway, built in the 1890s, goes from Douglas to Ramsey via the village of Laxey, passing through an ever-changing landscape of hills, glens and coastline. And the Snaefell Mountain Railway runs from Laxey to the summit of Snaefell.

The Isle of Man Steam Railway runs old fashioned steam trains from Douglas to the Steam Railway Museum at Port Erin. There are several stops along the way, including Castletown and Port Erin. And the final heritage railway is the Bay Horse Tramway, the horse-drawn tram that carries its passengers along the Douglas Promenade.

Steam train letting off steam. It is standing in front of old fashioned station buildings
The steam train prepares to leave Castletown

Note that the heritage railways do not run in the winter months – check the websites for timetables.

Motorcycle Racing

If you know just one thing about the Isle of Man it is likely to be the annual TT (“tourist trophy”) races that take over the island every year in May and June. This has been running since 1907 and is regarded as one of the most dangerous (and therefore adrenalin-filled) racing events in the world.

The island becomes very busy during the TT event, but many islanders rent out their homes to visitors and temporary camping sites are also created. It is free to watch the race: just find a space to sit or stand in one of the non-restricted zones beside the track (but remember to claim your spot early in the day because there will be crowds…)

Motor Vehicle History

If you have an interest in motorcycles and other motor vehicles you will enjoy the two museums on the former air field in Jurby. The Isle of Man Motor Museum is a remarkable private collection of hundreds of different motorcycles, vintage cars, commercial vehicles and much more (there is so much to see that they recommend setting aside at least three hours to tour the museum…) Whereas the nearby Jurby Transport Museum is a smaller collection of local vehicles, including buses, cars and wagons.

On the other side of the island is the Manx Transport Heritage Museum in Peel. And, if your interest is specifically in TT bikes, have a look at the TT Gallery in the Manx Museum in Douglas. You will also find lots of TT memorabilia in the Victory Café located by the 31st Milestone of the race course on Snaefell.

Douglas

Douglas is the main city of the Isle of Man. It was a popular destination in the Victorian era and still retains the air of an old-fashioned resort, with numerous hotels and guesthouses along the extensive seafront promenade.

Douglas is where you will find most of the shops and restaurants. It is also home to the Manx Museum, the Villa Marina and Gaiety Theatre historic entertainment venues, and a Camera Obscura.

Grand villa type building with columns and arches. The outside is painted in yellow and white and it is surrounded by trees and a green fence
The Villa Marina in Douglas

Ramsey

Ramsey is the second town of the Isle of Man, situated on the north coast. It is a quiet seaside resort, mostly visited for its harbour, beach, restaurants and cafés. You can reach Ramsey from Douglas via the Manx Electric Railway.

Peel

Peel, on the west coast, might be a small town but it regards itself as a rival to Douglas. It certainly punches above its weight, with a historic castle, a cathedral, and the excellent House of Manannan “social history experience”. You’ll also find a harbour full of boats, fishermen’s cottages, and restaurants serving freshly landed fish.

Street with small shops and cafes, all painted in different colours
Peel is full of small shops and cafés

Towns And Villages Of The South Coast

The main town on the south coast is Castletown, which grew up around the 11th century Castle Rushen. Nearby are the picturesque coastal villages of Port Erin and Port St Mary.

Food And Drink Of The Isle Of Man

Traditionally Isle of Man cuisine has been mostly associated with kippers and queenies (small scallops). But in recent years there has been a vibrant food scene, with an emphasis upon locally sourced ingredients. Of course the sea continues to provide food, but there is also organically reared lamb and a whole range of dairy products.

You will find excellent restaurants and cafés all around the island. And a recent innovation is the establishment of supper clubs where local food is served in an informal setting. The cuisine is mostly based on meat and fish, but there are always vegetarian alternatives.

The Isle of Man has a wide choice of traditional pubs, as well as wine and cocktail bars. And there are a few craft distilleries: I can recommend a visit to the innovative Fynoderee Distillery, conveniently situated at the end of the railway line in Ramsey. Here you can taste their ranges of gin, rum and vodka (with whiskey coming soon), take a tour or a cocktail making class, or enjoy a meal at one of their special events.

Shelves with bottles of gin and vodka, jars of honey, and copies of a book called The Island Kitchen
A display of Manx food and drink at the Fynoderee Distillery

Practicalities For Your Visit To The Isle Of Man

  • Steampacket Ferries run all year round from Heysham to Douglas, and it is possible to travel either as a foot passenger or with a car. There is a car park at the terminal, and a train runs to Heysham Terminal once a day from Lancaster and Morecambe.
  • Ferry services also run from Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin, but are not available in the winter months.
  • You can fly to the Isle of Man from a number of cities in the UK and Ireland. The airport is in the south of the island, 12 km from Douglas. Regular buses run to Douglas from the airport.
  • There is a wide range of accommodation on the island, and the major towns have many hotels along their seafronts: I stayed in the Mannin in Douglas, imaginatively adapted from a row of Victorian guesthouses. Check out Island Escapes for a choice of self catering accommodation, or go for a rural retreat at the lovely Knockaloe Beg Farm.
  • The Isle of Man is a year round destination, but you need to be aware that some places may be closed in winter. If you are not planning to watch the TT Races, it is advisable to avoid the race weeks in May and June when the island becomes very crowded. Also to be avoided is the Grand Prix week in August.

Thanks to Visit Isle of Man for their hospitality during my recent visit to the island as part of a group trip with the British Guild of Travel Writers.

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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…

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