Escape to the islands

For the avid explorer, there is little more thrilling than going venturing beyond solid land. The 50 islands of Wales tempt the traveller to discover unique scenery, wildlife and heritage. Put some distance between yourself and life as you know it and delight in these offshore havens.

The Pembrokeshire islands, South West Wales

Priory Bay on Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire

Priory Bay on Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire

 by Paula J James
Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm are a trio of neighbouring islands named by ancient Viking visitors. They are located off the coast of southern Pembrokeshire, and are celebrated for their exceptional wildlife. The islands are grouped together as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and are included within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in West Wales.

Skomer, the larger island, has a thriving puffin colony and these quirky birds with their iconic black and orange beaks are the big draw for visitors. A circuit walk of the high plateau of the island will lead you to its abandoned farm, views of its towering cliffs and seas busy with seabirds. You can stay overnight on Skomer in self-catering accommodation – a treat when the Manx shearwaters are around, as the birds return from hunting at night amid a cacophony of eerie sounds.

Nearby Skokholm is more rugged. Its cliffs slant into the Irish Sea, which crashes around its edges, creating a wild and dramatic landscape for photographers. Skokholm is famous for its bird watching observatory and attracts wildlife enthusiasts from around the world. 

Tiny, isolated Grassholm is the westernmost point of Wales, situated 11 miles from the Pembrokeshire mainland. An open sea adventure cruise will give you the opportunity to view the island’s famous gannet colony and also spy dolphins, porpoise and grey seals. 

For a completely contrasting experience, try the charms of Caldey, just off the coast from the seaside resort of Tenby. Tour its Cistercian Monastery and laze on its pristine beach, and don’t leave without a trip to the gift shop and Post Office: the monks make and sell their own lavender perfume and shortbread, issue their own postage stamps, and have their own currency. 

Search for Pembrokeshire boat trip operators

Bardsey, North Wales

Sunset and Bardsey Island courtesy of Bardsey Island Trust

Bardsey Island, North Wales

 by Bardsey Island Trust
Bardsey is reached by travelling to the very end of the Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales and taking a boat, getting close to puffins on the water as you do so (in the right season). Watch the mist fall away from the sea from Mynydd Enlli, its highest point, and look down on the working farm, abbey ruins, and the seals resting on rocks. 

Getting there: Book a boat trip from Aberdaron with Bardsey Boat Trips in order to visit the island. 

Anglesey, North Wales

Brynsiencyn, Anglesey

Brynsiencyn, Anglesey
The largest of Wales’s islands and a county in itself, Anglesey in North Wales offers the visitor a range of experiences. The north of the island is all dramatic cliffs and industrial history, while from the flatter southwestern part, you can marvel at the silhouettes of Snowdonia mountains across the narrow Menai Strait that separates the island from the mainland. 

Anglesey Adventures offers a wide range of activities for the adventurous, including full and half day courses in coasteering, sea kayaking, gorge scrambling, rock climbing, raft building and abseiling. Alternatively, make your way across the causeway to romantic Llanddwyn Island, separated from Anglesey at high tide, or venture out by boat to nearby Puffin Island or cross the bridge to explore Holy Island. 

On Holy Island, bask in the sun at popular beaches at Rhoscolyn and Trearddur and climb the lighthouse at South Stack with a guided tour. Puffin Island is at the end of the Menai Strait, which divides Anglesey from North Wales. It’s worth a day trip from Beaumaris to see the wildlife, the views of the strait, and to fish in the rich waters surrounding the island. 

Getting There: Anglesey (along with Holy Island and Llanddwyn Island) can be reached by road from Bangor, 3 miles (5 km) away over the Menai Bridge; or Anglesey has a rail station, Holyhead.

Worm’s Head, South Wales

Sunset on wormshead

Worm's Head, Gower Peninsular
Worm’s Head is a picture postcard icon, its island jutting out from the headland at Rhossili at the very end of the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. For a six hour window when the tide is out, you can scramble across the rocks before climbing its ridge and – if you’re lucky – spotting seals lolling about in the waters below. It’s a great vantage point to look back and admire the long beach at Rhossili, a favourite with surfers, family day trippers and courting couples alike. Visit the National Trust Visitor Centre at Rhossili for crossing times, or check ahead online.

Getting There: Worm’s Head can be visited as a day trip from Swansea, 20 miles (32 km) away. 

Flat Holm, South Wales

Flat Holm island which can be seen from Lavernock Point

Flat Holm island seen from Lavernock Point, South Wales
From the Cardiff Bay barrage in South Wales, Flat Holm can be seen in the middle distance, seemingly at the centre of the Bristol Channel. The cliffs of English-owned Steep Holm tower over the lower level plateau of Welsh-owned Flat Holm at its side. Join a guided tour of the island and learn about its smuggling past and working lighthouse. It was from here that, in 1897, the first wireless signals were transmitted across open sea by Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi. As Marconi’s first message asked: “Are you ready?”

Getting There: Flat Holm can be visited as a day trip from Cardiff as part of a 5 mile (8 km) boat trip. Search for boat operators in Cardiff