The archipelago of the British and Irish Isles, on the Atlantic fringe of Europe, is home to a wealth of vibrant communities, historic landmarks, and inspiring locations. Not to mention the breath-taking views and the incredible diversity of landscapes over such a small geographical area. There really is just so much to see in and around these islands.
From stark mountain summits and bleakly beautiful moors, to sweeping silver sand beaches and spectacular rocky coasts, from cityscapes that blend the futuristic and the historic, to picturesque villages and towns that tell our industrial story; I’m sharing this list of my 30 favourite places to visit in Britain, Ireland, and the Isle of Man.
As with all lists of favourite places, it’s highly subjective, influenced by the places I’ve visited over the years, often again and again, and the memories I’ve made there. It’s very also much a list of current favourites, as there are so many places around these islands that I have yet to visit. But I hope you enjoy my choices, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to visit some for yourselves. Who’s for a road trip? Or a sailing voyage?
1. Stromness, Orkney. I have a thing for small coastal towns with lots of old boats and rusty, rotted fishing gear. And I’m fascinated by the local connection to exploring the Arctic and the discovery of the Northwest Passage.
2. Ben Loyal, Caithness. Its distinctive profile dominated landward views from our family favourite holiday destinations of Talmine and Scullomie, on the coast at the mouth of the Kyle of Tongue.
3. Oldshoremore, Sutherland. A few miles further on the dead-end road from the fishing port of Kinlochbervie, a sweeping curve of pink-gold sand that collects Atlantic rollers.
4. An Sgùrr, Isle of Eigg. A striking fin of basalt rock that rises from the island, making it seem like a rolling whaleback from the shore around Arisaig.
5. Rannoch Moor and the Black Mount. I’m sure a couple of hundred years ago, I’d be one of those “grand tour” travellers that became mesmerised by the mountains and have to be committed, insensible, to an Alpine sanitorium. I just can’t not look at the Black Mount. Which is awkward if you’re walking in the opposite direction.
6. Glen Tanar, Royal Deeside. The Cairngorms hold, in my opinion, some of the most stunning landscapes in the whole of the UK, and in late autumn are the place I want to be. Gold, scarlet, bronze and deep green gloss the trees, and the light is magical.
7. Haughs of Benholm, Aberdeenshire. Home.
8. Oban, Argyll. Most visitors will pass straight through, getting off the train and onto one of the ferries. But the town has plenty of character, and entertaining characters. And plenty of old boats and rusty fishing gear.
9. Isle of Coll. I only spent a few days here last summer, but this was one of those places that stole a little bit of my heart. I want to live here one day.
10. Schiehallion, Perthshire. The fairy hill has such a perfect pyramid profile from the west.
11. Corrie Fee, Angus. A steep-sided bowl of rock at the head of Glen Clova in the Angus Glens, just below Mayar and Driesh, two of my first munros.
12. RRS Discovery, Dundee. The place to where I can trace both my love of tall ship sailing and the history of polar exploration. A favourite school trip destination.
13. Tentsmuir, Fife. A deep, dark pine forest, opening out onto a vast bright expanse of beach. I’ve seen grey seals and red squirrels, vast white-tailed eagles and tiny coal tits, and one day, one of the 30,000 or so eider ducks I look at each winter will be a king eider.
14. Rathlin Island, Country Antrim. Allegedly, the home of wise spiders that can give you advice for success in your endeavours.
15. Peel, Isle of Man. A favourite port of the Viking longship Draken Harald Hårfagre.
16. Tynemouth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The North Sea is “my” sea, and just as beautiful on a slaty-grey winter day as in the height of summer. Plus Super Gran’s house is here.
17. Tryfan, Snowdonia. A great snaggletooth of rock sticking out into the Ogwen Valley.
18. Barmouth / Abermaw, Snowdonia. As a teenager, we’d travel all the way from northeast Scotland to Snowdonia for an Air Cadet adventure training camp, making Barmouth seem extremely exotic and exciting.
19. Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford. A collection of ethnographical treasures collected from around the globe; a fascinating introduction to world cultures. I was a volunteer here when I first moved to England.
20. Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge. A fascinating place, telling the story of polar exploration from the early days, through to cutting edge research in glaciology and climate science. I’ve been lucky to spend a few days working here before deploying to Antarctica.
21. Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire. Practically on my doorstep for a while, this is a favourite location for woodland walks, trail runs, and wild camps.
22. Maritime Greenwich. My favourite part of London, and the place that I think tells most about the history of Britain and its place in the world.
23. Stackpole and Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire. A beautiful corner of West Wales.
24. Lundy, Bristol Channel. Just one night on anchor, surrounded by swirling clouds of thousands of Manx shearwaters looking for an overnight roost.
25. Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth. I’m a bit too young to remember the raising of Mary Rose, but I think the restoration featured often on Blue Peter. Watching it led me to the realisation that we can read the stories of people who have gone before us through the traces they leave behind, and it was exciting to finally visit.
26. Lymington, Hampshire. The walk along the old sea walls between Lymington and Keyhaven is an old favourite.
27. Newtown Creek, Isle of Wight. Watching the sunrise on frosty winter mornings with a coffee, listening to the contented purring of brent geese.
28. Swanage pier, Dorset. More accurately, the underside of Swanage pier; one of my favourite coastal dives in the UK, and where I saw a John Dory swimming for the first time.
29. Helford River, Cornwall. I’ve only arrived in the river by night while under sail. Living my best Poldark smuggler life.
30. Newlyn, Cornwall. While not as picturesque as nearby villages like Mousehole or Porthleven, as a working fishing port, Newlyn is full of characters and there’s always a story to listen to in the Swordfish pub.
Are any of these places in your British and Irish Isles top 10?
Tell me what makes your list in the comments below.