Isle of Man review: activity highlights and adventure tips for the tiny British island

The top activities for adventurous families to get outdoors on the Isle of Man, plus where to stay and how to get there

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In a nutshell

The Isle of Man is often described as ‘Britain in miniature’. Measuring 32 miles end to end – there are wild heathery uplands and hills reminiscent of the English moorland, while the rocky cliffs will remind you of Cornwall, and the Glens and tartans feel Scottish.

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The weather, which is notoriously unpredictable, as we experienced, apparently mirrors that of Ireland. The island is a great place to explore nature but with the comfort of knowing that you’re never too far away from a shop or a restaurant. A great holiday for outdoorsy, adventurous types and animal lovers, but there’s plenty for those who enjoy their home comforts too.

Where is it?

Situated between the coastlines of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, in the middle of the Irish Sea.

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What age/who is it best for?

Everyone, but those who like to explore won’t be disappointed.

When to go:

Year round, but be prepared for varied weather. We got sunshine and heavy showers in August.

The journey:

The journey was super easy. We got a flight from London City airport, which took one hour and 10 minutes. Then we hired a car. Flights also depart from Gatwick, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester or Blackpool, among others.

You can also take a boat from Belfast, Birkenhead, Dublin, Heysham and Liverpool.

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Where to stay/accommodation:

We stayed at Groudle Glen Cottages, in Onchan – about a 10 minute drive from the main town of Douglas. The cottages have everything you need for self-catering including a microwave, washing maching and fully equipped kitchen.

A nice touch was also the Isle of Man Creamery Milk in the fridge – which promised to have travelled no more than 7 miles and also the Roots Proper Lemonade and Real Ginger Juice – both produced on the island and guaranteed to offer a kick!

The cottages are happy to provide a cot and highchair if needed. Bedding and towels were provided, and there is wifi and a TV with DVD player. The apartments are set on a slope above the beautiful Groudle Glen, with walks leading to a pebble beach.

We rented a two-bedroom cottage, which was spacious and clean. There are a few steps up to the entrance but some of the cottages have ramps if needed. Parking was right out the front – which was handy. They welcome both children and pets.

Also, check out the Isle of Man visitor website, for tons of options from B&Bs to glamping and hotels.

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Where to eat?

The nearest supermarket is about a 10 minute drive to the Co-op on the Highroad in Onchan. There are numerous shops and restaurants in Douglas including a Tesco superstore.

We ate at Jaks restaurant, a sports bar and steak house on the main promenade. The menu pretty much caters for everyone – everything from sandwiches, salads and wraps to burgers, fish, steak and even curry.

There is also a kids menu and best of all an ice cream machine where children can serve themselves and add as many different toppings as they like.

Our picnic lunch on the first day was provided by Patchwork Café, based in Bay View Rd, Port St Mary. It was beautifully presented in a traditional basket. Very posh!

We also had dinner at the Barbary Coast bar and grill on North Quay in Douglas. A similar menu to Jaks –  and all the chicken and meat is supplied by a local butcher on the Island. There is a kids menu, whippy machine and lots of flat screen TVs on the walls. This keeps the kids entertained but the downside is that it also distracts them from actually eating their food.

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What’s on offer in the area?

The Isle of Man is best known throughout the world for its Tourist Trophy, or TT races, held during the first weeks in June when hordes of bikers descend on the Island to watch their heroes race. Many of the roads have no speed limits so be warned. My partner loved to test how far he could push the accelerator of our hire care.

The Isle of Man is the only place in the UK that you can see wallabies in the wild. The animals, native to Australia and Tasmania, escaped from a wildlife park in the 1970s and have since settled happily in the north-west of the island. There are believed to be around 100 living there now.

We were lucky enough during our trip to have the TV explorer Ray Mears on hand to hunt them down. Armed with our expedition pack which included a map, whistle, binoculars, compass, first aid kid, headtorch, first aid kit and hexamine stove we set off to the Curraghs to track them down.

Despite the torrential downpour my daughter Tilly was excited to spot two wallabies, and cameras left overnight by Ray showed more activity when nobody was around.

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We had also planned to travel by boat to the Calf of Man, a tiny island (almost one square mile) off the southwest coast of the Island.

The Calf of Man is the perfect place for birdwatchers with around 33 species breeding annually including Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Razorbill and Shag. There are wardens that live on the island and accommodation for eight people from around £30 per night – but due to limited space this needs to be booked a year in advance.

Unfortunately because the weather had been terrible the day before the water was way too choppy for the children so instead we took a 40-minute drive to the Sound in Port St Mary’s where we could indulge in the stunning view of the Calf and even managed to spot some seals and hen harriers, while we enjoyed our picnic. There is also a café to buy food and drink.

Douglas is the capital of the island with lots of shops and restaurants. I’m also reliably informed (by the waitress at the Barbary Coast) that for anyone still playing Pokemon Go, there is a Pikachu lurking somewhere along the promenade.

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Highlights:

The Manx Electric railway was a treat. Especially with conductor Simon giving us the history of the train and filling us in on local gossip. The Electric Railway was built between 1893 and 1899 and connects the Island’s capital, Douglas, with Laxey in the east and Ramsey in the north. There are both open and closed carriages which rattle noisily along and the speed rarely exceeds 20 mph – but this is just part of the charm and means you have the time to take in the stunning views. We got off at Laxey to look at what Simon described as the ‘largest working water wheel in the world”.

The ‘Go Explore’ Ticket or Card allows for unlimited travel on Manx Electric Railway, Snaefell Mountain Railway, Bus Vannin Bus Services (Excluding Manx Express), Isle of Man Steam Railway and Douglas Corporation Horse Tram Services for the day.

It costs £16.00 per adult, £8.00 for children (aged 5-15), or £39.00 per family (for two adults and up to three children aged 5 to 15 years. Children under 5 travel free).

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MFM tips:

Bring waterproofs and plenty of spare clothes because you can expect to get wet or grubby while exploring. Plastic bags are free in shops on the Isle of Man.

Essential info:

We flew with BA Flights from London City airport. Flights start from £59 per person each way.

We stayed at Groudle Glenn cottages.

Planning a weekend away?

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