Cornwall might be renowned for its stunning sandy beaches, charming coastal villages and world-class surfing spots, but did you know that there are a collection of simply stunning islands off Cornwall’s coast too?
While some are small in size and are prohibited to the public, there are plenty of breathtaking islands that you can visit as part of boat trips and day trips from the mainland.
The best thing about the stunning islands off Cornwall though, is that due to their location and often protected status, there are a plethora of all kinds of fascinating marine and birdlife. Venture away from the mainland, and discover what else is on offer…
St Michael’s Mount
Probably one of the better-known islands off Cornwall, the imposing St Michael’s Mount sits just 500 metres from Marazion on the south coast of Cornwall. Although under the care and preservation of the National Trust, there are still around 30 residents who call the island their home, each playing their part in the community as the local boatman, gardener, fire officer etc. While it might be a unique home for this close-knit community, it’s also a huge tourist attraction with a wealth of fascinating history for visitors to explore. There’s much to see, from the stunning gardens with their own unique micro-climate, to the tales of the imposing medieval castle.
Getting there: You can walk out across the cobbled causeway from Marazion at low tide or hop aboard a boat. Check the causeway and boat times to plan your trip.
Also known as St George’s Island, Looe Island is a marine nature reserve just a mile off the Cornish coast within the Whitsand Bay Marine Conservation Zone. Home to an incredible variety of species from a range of wildlife habits, it’s a haven for wildlife lovers. Bird watchers in particular will be drawn to the many nesting birds such as cormorants, shags and oystercatchers, as well as the largest breeding colony of black-backed gull! It’s not just birdlife you’ll find on this magical island off of Cornwall though; the island is also home to grey seals, an incredible array of flora and fauna, and a flock of sheep to help to graze the land. For the best way to explore the island, and be in with the best possible chance to spot wildlife, book a Looe Island guided tour with the warden.
Getting there: Access is permitted only as part of organised day trips from the floating pontoon, near the RNLI lifeboat station slipway in East Looe. The passenger boat crossing takes 20 minutes. Take a look at the booking information to organise your visit.
The Isles of Scilly
Well-known for being breathtaking, uncrowded and unspoilt, the archipelago sits 28 miles off the Cornish coast, offering a slower pace of life, unforgettable scenery, and fascinating wildlife. Aside from the visitors, five of the 200 islands that make up the group have a combined population of around 2,200 people, with St Mary’s being the most popular and most inhabited of them all. The slightly less-inhabited islands of Tresco, St Martin’s, St Agnes or Bryher are well worth a visit too! Day trips to the Isle of Scilly give you a chance to enjoy stunning coffee and lunch stop-offs; discover the Abbey Garden on Tresco or explore the many delights on St Mary’s including Hugh Town, Porthcressa Beach, the Camera Obscura at Buzza Tower and the Museum of Curiosities.
Getting there: You can get to the Isles of Scilly by air or boat, but if you’re organising a day trip, the best way to travel is via the Scillonian Ferry from Penzance Harbour to St Mary’s – the 2-hour 45-minute journey is as much of the experience as the time spent on these islands off Cornwall.
Made famous by writer Virginia Woolf, it is said that that Godrevy Lighthouse was the inspiration behind her novel, To the Lighthouse. Located at the far end of St Ives Bay, you can’t miss the imposing white lighthouse which sits at the very heart of the pretty island and is one of the most prominent landmarks on this stretch of Cornwall’s coast. Just 12 acres in size, Godrevy Island is home to a variety of seabirds such as oystercatchers and pipits, and a colony of grey seals!
Getting there: Book a historical boat trip with St Ives Boats to the Godrevy Island for a close-up view of the 26-metre-high lighthouse.
Owned by the National Trust, Mullion Island lies approximately half a mile off the Cornish coast from Mullion Cove on the Lizard Peninsula. Its dark rock contrasts beautifully against the clear turquoise water that surrounds it. Small in size, and completely uninhabited, the island is another example of Cornwall’s wildlife-rich locations. Part of a Site of Specific Scientific Interest, several breeding seabirds make the island their homes such as guillemots, shags, cormorants, and black-backed gulls.
Getting there: Due to the prominent bird life on the island, public access is prohibited. For the best view of the island, head to the Mullion Cliffs National Nature Reserve.
The largest in a group of small islands known as ‘The Carracks', Seal Island is a rocky inshore island 3.5 miles off the coast of St Ives towards Zennor. And, you guessed it: as the name suggests, it’s home to a colony of grey seals, as well as other stunning marine life such as anglerfish, anemones, and dogfish. That’s not the only draw to this tiny island, though; extra intrigue comes from the century-old shipwreck from 1916 when the Erico Parodi, a 103m-long vessel, hit fog and sank just off the Carracks, making it a popular place to go diving in Cornwall.
Getting there: There are a variety of boat trips to Seal Island that are available to book through Bluefin Charters and St Ives Boats that leave from the harbour in St Ives.
Image credit: Padstow Sea Life Safaris
One of the world’s favourite birds, it can be quite a spectacular sight to see puffins here in Britain, and in Cornwall, we have our own breeding colony. Just off the coast from Padstow, you’ll find the affectionately known Puffin Island where you can see the creatures when they return to breed in March and April and remain until late July. During the winter, they head off in search of slightly warmer climes in the Bay of Biscay.
Getting there: The best way to see these incredible seabirds is by boat! While there is no access to the island, Padstow Sea Life Safaris offer a magical experience to get close to the birds from the water and enjoy the breathtaking scenery at the same time.
Named after the rare wild asparagus that can be found there, this unique tidal island lies within Kynance Cove on the Lizard Peninsula. Like all of the stunning islands off Cornwall, it is home to an array of fascinating seabirds and flora and fauna. The island itself is a real gem; grass-clad, it contrasts beautifully with the crystal-clear blue waters of Kynance Cove, which is considered as one of Cornwall’s most beautiful hidden spots.
Getting there: At low tide, it is possible to wade across and scramble up on the rocks to experience the magic of the island for yourself.
St Clements Isle
This tiny islet sits approximately 350 metres offshore from Mousehole Harbour, where a hermit is said to have once tended a guiding light. Just far enough away from the mainland, you’ll sometimes spot grey seals basking in the summer sun upon the rocks.
Getting there: A popular wild swimming spot in Cornwall, you’ll often see confident swimmers in the water around the rocks, but apart from that, there is no real access to the island.
Blown away by the opportunities to spot fascinating wildlife in Cornwall? It doesn’t stop there; take a look at our wildlife watching guide. For a taste of the rest of Cornwall's coast, take a look at our beach guide.
Book a holiday in Cornwall
If these magical islands off Cornwall have inspired your next break, book a cottage in some of the key locations for joining boat tours such as Penzance, Looe, St Ives and Mousehole. There’s a whole wealth of incredible scenery and fascinating wildlife to be discovered from the comfort of one of our cottages in Cornwall.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.