The cliff-fringed Isle of Man is one of the most beautiful spots for nature in Britain, with coastal footpaths, pebbly coves and picturesque glens to explore. Despite its position in the Irish Sea – almost equidistant between England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland – it’s not technically part of Britain, but a Crown dependency, with its own government and Gaelic-based language. A visit to the Isle of Man is great for an adventure a little closer to home.
We’ve selected some of the best outdoor experiences you can enjoy on the Isle of Man, from abseiling down cliffs to gazing up at the stars and hunkering down for the night in a yurt in between. Rediscover, recharge and reconnect with the following range of activities and experiences, all while taking in a scenic natural environment.
One of the most unique experiences on the Isle of Man also perfectly sums up why it’s an ideal outdoors destination. There are 26 official dark sky sites on the Isle of Man; while some of these stargazing spots are better viewed with the help of a telescope or binoculars, there are still plenty that you can seek out with the naked eye.
Take the Orion Nebula, for instance, which is 1500 light years away, or the Great Andromeda Galaxy. If you’re really lucky, you might even be able to catch a glimpse of the majestic Northern Lights. The best time to see the brightest stars is between December and February, but there are still opportunities in spring, autumn and even summer too.
Another historic sight of interest is Meayll Circle, situated close to the summit of Meayll Hill on the south of the island. Dating back to Neolithic times, this archaeological monument is home to legends and Viking burial chambers. It’s named Rhullick-y-lag-shliggagh in Manx Gaelic, which roughly translates to the ‘graveyard of the valley of broken slates’.
Once you’ve taken in the 18ft-ring of stones and admired the surrounding views of the rolling hills, venture to the Manx Museum. Here on display you’ll find artefacts from the site, including shards of pottery, flint tools and white quartz pebbles.
In search of more interesting island info? Check out these fun facts about the Channel Island’s Jersey.
Whether you want a gentle stroll or an invigorating hike, booking onto a guided walk is one of the best outdoor things to do on the Isle of Man. There are heritage tours where historians offer bespoke tours of the island; guided walks focused on lesser-frequented walkways; and family-friendly Geocaching adventures where you can have fun while exploring historic sites.
Those who are looking for longer routes can book onto multi-day routes; there are two-day navigation courses for beginners, the End to End Walk which spans the island’s most northerly to southerly points, and the 5-day Walk the Isle of Man event. Fancy something a little quirkier? There are also ‘ghost walks’ whose routes focus on the mythological, spookier side of the Isle of Man. All in all, there’s loads to choose from!
One of the most charming (and relaxing) ways to see the outdoors on the Isle of Man is by going on one of their heritage railway lines. There are steam and electric options – including original rolling stock – and provide ample opportunity to take in the great sites, both natural and man-made. Uncover ancient monuments and heritage sites all from the comfort of your own seat, while taking in the rolling countryside and rugged coastline.
The Isle of Man Steam Railway starts at Douglas, the island’s capital, trundles along to Castletown, the former capital. Here you can see the likes of Castle Rushen or carry on towards Port Erin, whose fascinating Railway Museum is well worth a visit. Head onwards to Ballasalla to see Rushen Abbey, a religious building of significance. Alternatively, the Manx Electric Railway takes you from Douglas to Laxey, where you can find out more about the island’s mining history; here you’ll see the largest working waterwheel in the world, the Great Laxey Wheel.
Lastly, there’s the Snaefell Mountain Railway, which makes for a unique experience. From Laxey, you'll venture 621m above sea level up the island’s only mountain, Snaefell. From the top, you can savour the panoramic views and feel truly in awe of nature as you overlook the rest of the island. On a clear day, you can see England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – and not forgetting the great blue sea.
Make the most of your stay on the Isle of Man by going glamping. This self-catering-meets-camping option combines natural scenery with a spot of luxury. Better still, the ‘glampsites’ are situated in picturesque surroundings, so as soon as you leave your solar-powered yurt, farmyard cabin or cosy pod (with your very own hot tub, no less), you’ll find yourself in the very heart of the great Manx outdoors.
The Isle of Man’s glamping options range from en-suite wigwams to custom pods at the foothills of glens, farmyards and riversides. They’re a perfect place to snuggle up around a campfire and rest your head after a day of exploring from coast to country.
Stretching 33 miles by 13, the Isle of Man has plenty of beaches to discover. The Island’s capital, Douglas, offers two miles of sandy beaches, meaning that this east coast beauty provides ample chance to sink your feet into the sand.
Over on the west coast, meanwhile, the golden sands of Peel Beach is overlooked by the ancient Peel Castle, while Kirk Michael Beach is a dog-friendly spot all year round with an ideal watersports scene; the same goes for Castletown Beach on the south of the island. Do you fancy going for a splash in the sea? Head straight to Port Erin Beach. Whatever activity you choose, round it all off at an ice cream parlour and you’ll have made the most of island life!
With its vast landscape, the Isle of Man is home to a diverse range of wildlife, from wild flowers to marine life. Dotted around the island are prime wildlife-spotting vantage points; think wild wallabies, dolphins and seals.
In terms of actual wildlife attractions, these range from Curraghs Wildlife Park, which is home to monkeys, meerkats and more, to the Home of Rest for Old Horses, where these ageing creatures have 92 acres of countryside to enjoy their final years. A great way to get up close and personal with marine life is by booking onto a boat trip around the coastline.
Enjoying the outdoors doesn’t have to be all about exhilarating yourself. It can focus on the simpler things, like enjoying good food and drink in iconic surroundings. The Famous Creg-Ny-Baa is a top restaurant to visit for its delicious pub classics, including plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Using fresh produce, the dishes are all home-cooked and the restaurant itself is famed for its excellent viewpoint towards the world-famous motorcycle road-racing circuit, the TT Course. Likewise, if you have been outside all day, walkers and cyclists can take a well-earned respite here.
For a crash-course into the Isle of Man’s mythological side along with a healthy dose of fresh air, pay a visit to Cashtal yn Ard, or the Castle of the Heights. Dating back to 2000BC, this chambered tomb is a well-preserved – albeit slightly strange – collection of stone slabs.
Much mystery surrounds the conical heap; we know it was built as a landmark and is generally believed to have been a burial site for Neolithic chieftains and their families. Positioned on raised land overlooking the parish of Maughold, the impressive views stretch as far across the sea to the Lake District on the English mainland.
The Isle of Man’s glens and forests embrace peace and tranquility in picturesque settings – think tumbling waterfalls, winding paths and even meditative spots. To make the most of this outdoor scenery, there are 18 mountain and coastal National glens on the island, all of which are open to the public and accessible via car, heritage railway stations and bus routes.
Bishopscourt Glen in Kirk Michael is one of the island’s highlights – there’s a small cave with a carved stone seat inside, once used for meditation and which can still be enjoyed today as a quiet, calming spot to switch off from the outside world. There’s also plenty of forests to get lost in, too, with purpose-built tracks, cycle routes and horse-riding trails to choose from.
With its jagged cliffs and numerous specialised centres, going climbing is one of the best things to do on the Isle of Man. Beginners and pros alike can test themselves and learn new skills from various climbing and abseiling challenges; those with fears of heights might want to look away now…
Go rock climbing around the coastline where you’ll pass deep chasms; or how about tackling a 110ft cliff abseil? Similarly, the Ape Mann Adventure Park sees you navigate through the trees – don’t worry, you’re connected to ropes and wires – with high rope courses and zip wires to try out too. The park also has one of the highest sets of Monkey tree climbing hardware in the UK, so you can really push yourself!
There’s plenty of rainy day options, too, with indoor climbing centres offering numerous walls for you to take on – think vertical wells, bouldering caves and more.
Did you know that the Isle of Man bears the prestigious status as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve? This means that the island’s population doesn’t affect the vast range of natural habitats; and with 40 percent of the island left uncultivated, it’s clear to see why this island of natural, wild landscapes has been recognised by such a prestigious institution.
So while you’re here, be sure to visit Cooill y Ree Gardens in St John’s. There’s an abundance of wildlife here, ranging from butterflies and birds to lizards and bats, with scenic walks and views looking across Tynwald Hill to boot. Alternatively, head to Milntown’s maintained gardens and estates for another example of where green environments reign supreme.
If you’re looking for somewhere to mentally recharge yourself, treat yourself to a spot of luxury on the Isle of Man. Their top-rated accommodation retreats offer the perfect balance of escapism, natural scenery and home comforts, all of which will leave you feeling blissfully rebalanced.
Choose to stay in a refurbished listed building in a historic neighbourhood, or opt for a purpose-built pad by the sea where you might catch a glimpse of a dolphin. The Isle of Man doesn’t have to be all play and no rest; with a range of options, including five-star establishments, you can round off days of adventure with a blissful night’s kip.
Top image: Guided Walk in Isle of Man © Visit Isle of Man
This article was written in partnership with Visit Isle of Man.
Aimee is an in-house Senior Travel Editor at Rough Guides and is the podcast host of The Rough Guide to Everywhere. She is also a freelance travel writer and has written for various online and print publications, including a guidebook to the Isle of Wight. Follow her on Twitter at