10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions on the Isle of Man
The Isle of Man, some 33 mi long and 12 mi wide, is ideally situated in the Irish Sea - roughly midway between England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Boasting a mild climate, this popular holiday island has more than 100 mi of beautiful coastline, consisting largely of sweeping sandy beaches and steep rugged cliffs. Most of the island is undulating and hilly with a pretty mix of moorland and heath, gentle uplands, narrow glens with waterfalls, and areas of woodland.
Although the Isle of Man doesn't belong to the UK, it's a crown dependency. The isle has its own parliament, the Court of Tynwald, the oldest in the world (the Queen is Sovereign and Lord Proprietor of the island and is represented by a Lieutenant Governor). The island - known the world over for its famous TT (Tourist Trophy) motorcycle race - is easily accessible by ferry from Liverpool. And it even has its own airline, Manx Air, providing flights to and from most of the larger English, Scottish and Irish airports.
See also: Where to Stay on the Isle of Man
1 The Town of Douglas
Douglas, the pretty little capital of this tiny island country, edges a beautiful bay into which the River Douglas flows. Visitors appreciate strolling the 2 mi Promenade with its excellent views across the large bay, taking in such landmarks as the harbor and the Tower of Refuge, a small castle-like structure built to house sailors shipwrecked on St Mary's Isle. The town offers a variety of accommodation types, from luxury hotels to modest guesthouses. A wide range of tourist attractions includes horse-drawn trams, swimming pools and golf. Handsome buildings line the streets, such as the Legislative Building (home of the Manx parliament) and the refurbished Villa Marina and Gardens, which hosts regular outdoor concerts. The Royal Hall and the excellent Gaiety Theatre are venues for a variety of cultural events.
2 Douglas Head
Some of the very best views on the Isle of Man can be had from Douglas Head, a rocky outcrop overlooking Douglas harbor and accessible along historic Marine Drive. (Be sure to stop for a photo as you enter the drive's ornate gate.) In addition to its views, it's here you'll find the famous Grand Union Camera Obscura. Perched on the hillside, this unique renovated 19th century attraction uses natural light and a series of mirrors to project images of the surrounding area onto the darkened building's walls to stunning effect. Another relic of the island's popularity amongst Victorian tourists is the old amphitheater, the concrete steps and stage of still sit in place. Another landmark is the William Hillary Statue, a tribute to the founder of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and a long-time resident of the island.
3 Tynwald Day
No visitor to the Isle of Man in early July should miss the excellent Tynwald Day ceremony, part of the Manx National Week celebrations. Held each July 5 since 1417 on Tynwald Hill at St John's, an ancient Bronze Age burial mound, the event sees the proclamation of all laws passed by the island's parliament over the course of the previous year in both Manx and English.
Thousands of spectators travel to St John's to watch the ceremony and its lengthy procession, as well as to participate in the accompanying fair and market, free concerts, and a superb fireworks display. Even if you can't be there for Tynwald Day, be sure to visit the historic site and its Millennium Stone, erected from stones collected from each of the island's parish to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of Parliament in 1979.
4 Manx Museum
The excellent Manx Museum deals with the more than 10,000 years of island history. Displays include reproductions of rooms and domestic equipment of the past, as well as artworks by Manx artists and other British painters in the museum's National Art Gallery. Of particular note is an important collection of material from the Celtic and Viking periods, including a collection of Manx crosses. Other highlights include displays and artifacts related to the island's famous TT Races, as well as life during two world wars. The museum is also home to the National Library, as well as a tearoom and gift shop.
Hours: Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm
Address: Kingswood Grove, Douglas, Isle of Man, Douglas
5 Castletown and Castle Rushen
Castletown, for many centuries the capital of the island, is where you'll find Castle Rushen. This former royal residence was built on the site of an earlier 13th century Viking stronghold. And despite its age, the Castle is extremely well preserved and stands in a prominent location at the center of town.
Highlights include the clock in the south tower (presented by Elizabeth I in 1597), a unique sundial with 13 dials, and one of the island's greatest treasures: a Celtic crucifix brought from the little offshore islet, the Calf of Man. The castle today serves as a museum showcasing the lives of the island's former kings. Guides in period costumes add an air of authenticity. Also of note in Castletown is the Old Grammar School, set up in St Mary's Chapel in 1702 and now a museum documenting education in the Victorian period, along with the Nautical Museum with its fascinating collection of historic model ships.
Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm (Mar-Nov)
Admission: Adults, £6; Children, £3
Address: Arbory Rd, Castletown, Isle of Man
6 The Isle of St Patrick and Peel Castle
Outside the harbor in the small community of Peel and linked by a causeway is the rocky Isle of St Patrick on which sits Peel Castle, an impressive red sandstone structure surrounded by an imposing old stone wall. Peel Castle was originally a place of worship before becoming the fort of Magnus Barefoot, the 11th century Viking King of Mann. Highlights include St Patrick's Church and the Round Tower, which date back to 11th century, as well as the Gatehouse Tower with its panoramic views and the 16th century Great Garrison Hall. It's within the castle walls that you'll find the 9th century Cathedral of St Germanus, with its superb 13th century choir and crypt. Afterwards, be sure to visit the nearby House of Manannan with its replica Celtic roundhouse and a Viking longhouse.
Hours: Daily 10am-5pm (Mar-Nov)
Admission: Adults, £5; Children, £2.50
Address: W Quay, Peel, Isle of Man
7 The Isle of Man TT
Thanks to a lack of speed restrictions on many of its rural roads, the Isle of Man has long been famous as a competition ground for motorcycle racing. The Tourist Trophy - now often known simply as the TT - was one of the first formal races here, tracing its roots back to its inaugural race in 1907. The circuit used for the event, which runs from late May to early June, is in the north of the island. It begins and ends in Douglas, taking in Crosby, St John's, Kirk Michael, Ramsey and the highest point on the island, Snaefell (2,036 ft) for a total distance of 37 mi. At an average speed of 115 mph, these heavy "touring" machines thunder along narrow country lanes, steep downward plunges and sharp curves for a chance at the trophy, often completing the route in less than 18 minutes.
8 Editor's Pick The Laxey Wheel and Island Railways
Located between Ramsey and Douglas is the little resort town of Laxey, a must-visit destination for its scenic beauty and wonderful historic attractions. A fun way to get to Laxey is via the Manx Electric Railway, which links the town to both Ramsey and Douglas. This scenic narrow gauge railway stretches some 17 mi across the island, and numerous scheduled stops allow the journey to be broken up.
It's in Laxey you'll find the equally entertaining Snaefell Mountain Railway, linking the village via its 5 mi long line to the top of the island's highest point (2,036 ft). There, the four countries of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales can be seen on a clear day. But the town's most famous tourist attraction is Lady Isabella, a huge 72 ft waterwheel built in 1854 to pump water out of the lead mines of the (once) Great Laxey Mining Company. A second waterwheel, the Snaefell Wheel (Lady Evelyn) is located in Laxey Glen Gardens just a few minutes away on foot.
9 Port Erin
The picturesque resort of Port Erin lies at the head of a deep bay sheltered by 400 ft tall Bradda Head. It's the terminal point of a small old-time steam railway from Douglas, the 15 mi Isle of Man Railway. This small community is also a great place to begin a hiking tour of the island. For some of the island's wildest and most beautiful scenery, a walk along the cliffs to Fleshwick Bay and then continuing a mile inland to Niarbyl and Dalby is highly recommended. In places, the cliffs plunge dramatically straight down to the sea, offering numerous excellent views and picnic spots.
Tourists in fact travel to Port Erin from across the island for its sandy beach in the enclosed harbor, its lovely gardens, cafés and memorable sunsets over Port Erin Bay. Be sure to look for the commemorative plaque to a famous Manxman who came from Port Erin: Fletcher Christian. He instigated the famous mutiny on the Bounty; his adversary, Captain Bligh, is said to have married on the island.
10 Cregneash Folk Village
Located on remote Mull Hill (430 ft) and the most southerly town on the island, Cregneash is where you'll find a group of six chamber tombs known as the Mull Circle, or Meayll Circle. The village itself is famous for its role as a "living museum" that preserves the traditional Manx way of life. Dotted around the village are well preserved 19th century farm buildings and cottages, many of them thatched. Farm animals include plough horses, Loghtan sheep and shorthorn cows (and, of course, those Manx cats). Demonstrations of crafts and old farming techniques are available, as is a first rate tearoom. Another "living museum" to check out is the wonderful Grove Museum of Victorian Life, located in the former summer house of Duncan Gibb. The Liverpool merchant faithfully documented country life in the Victorian era.
Hours: Daily 10am-4pm (Mar-Nov)
Admission: Adults, £5; Children (under 18), £2.50
Where to Stay on the Isle of Man for Sightseeing
We recommend these delightful hotels in Douglas, near the town center and the sea, on the beautiful Isle of Man:
- Regency Hotel: luxury seafront hotel, north end of Douglas Promenade, fantastic service, spacious rooms, wood-paneled restaurant.
- The Claremont Hotel: mid-range pricing, seafront location, contemporary style, memory foam mattresses, turndown service.
- The Empress Hotel: 3-star seafront hotel, Victorian townhouse, marble bathrooms, complimentary English breakfast.
- Adelphi Hotel: budget hotel, walk to Douglas town, great value, complimentary cooked breakfast.