Ellan Vannin. A Self-governing Crown Dependency
Glad to finally manage great flight tickets to Isle of Man, long time in the bucket list of the “nearby” destinations to go. And with the ongoing shortage of new destinations across Europe still pending to go, it was once more, a perfect choice and a great weekend. Landscapes, nature, city and culture road trip through the entire island which surprisingly has a lot to see and do, and an incredible history and past behind through the millennia. An entire weekend is just perfect time, enough to enjoy every corner of the island which is really pleasant to drive all around. Easy roads and short distances, with many sights along the way: megalithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age monuments; castles, beaches, idyllic villages and impressive Victorian engineering at its purest with the largest water wheel in the world, horse trams in Douglas, a mountain railway, steam train and electric tramways from the past century, just to name a few of the places we would visit.
Starting at Castletown and Douglas, we split between north and south, one area for Saturday, the other for Sunday. Our hotel however, was in Douglas since it’s the capital and largest city in the island and with majority of facilities, entertainment and nightlife. We did not want to be “stranded” in the middle of nowhere and having to depend on the car to even go and find dinner.
The island, on the Irish Sea, is one of the self-governing Crown Dependency of the British Isles where the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, but not part of the United Kingdom. It is an independent country on it’s own, and the people of the island are happy about this. Sometimes people are mistaken in thinking they are part of the United Kingdom but is not. The other such self-governing islands are the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey in the La Mancha Canal.
While visiting most of the important sites do not really require your own transportation (rental car), it will save you loads of time and will allow you to go every corner whenever you want. On the other hand, the must-dos are very well linked by the historic steam and electric railway lines between Douglas and Ramsey, and Douglas and Port Erin where absolutely all the rolling stock is original from the Victorian era, with beautifully preserved ancient trams.
Reaching Snaefell, the highest point in the island is also a great and easy train ride, combining a ride in the Manx Electric Tramway from Douglas or Ramsey to Laxey, then changing into the ancient Snaefell Railway to the top. Then as you can see, it is entirely up to you, but if you do not drive, it is not a push back for not visiting Isle of Man. You can do almost everything on public transportation while enjoying envious views as the railways are along the coast.
With regards to food, since you are entirely surrounded by the sea, you could well guess seafood and fish are number one in their cuisine. Well, that was our idea before coming anyway, but we found a different reality. Yes, you can get that, but you will need to search for, and prices do not come any cheap. They are way higher than elsewhere in neighboring Great Britain and Ireland. But not only fish and seafood, any restaurant in general is resumed to mostly pub food. This does not mean any low quality at all, but somehow, there was a lack of restaurant in the entire island; and bear in mind they do close early, especially on a Sunday. Expect coffee/tea shops closing no later than 17.00pm, and pubs in the island around 19.00pm bearing in Douglas, Ramsey or Peel where there is a bit more live.
For more information about Isle of Man check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The currency is the Sterling Pound, you can of course use the British Pound, yet they print their own notes and coinage. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Isle of Man
Since majority of the sights are located along the coast on its perimeter, my suggested route follows an anticlockwise order, with the starting point at Castletown, our point of arrival. Also, since the cities in the island are so small, I do not go in detail on separate attractions within those cities. Simply by having a walk through the streets you will be able to easily see everything.
- Casltetown South of the island, where the airport is located, and home to the beautifully preserved medieval Castle Rushen and the House of Keys which is the government house.
- Douglas The capital of the island and largest city. Its promenade is a great Victorian era legacy, with beautiful buildings, an Opera House and some grand hotels.
-Horse Trams The last surviving horse-drawn tram line in the world, also one of the very first ones to be built back in 1876. It runs along the entire Dougla’s Promenade from north to south ends.
-Manx Electric Railway Operating since 1893 on the 17 miles stretch that links Douglas with Ramsey via Laxey where there is an interchange with the Snaefell Mountain Railway. All the rolling stock is original, with some of the cars that opened the line still in operation making it the only railway in the world unchanged since its opening. The head station is at the north end of Douglas’s Promenade, sharing it with the horse trams.
-Isle of Man Railway Operating since 1874 between Douglas and Port Erin in the south of the island with steam locomotives built between 1873 and 1926 by Beyer, Peacock and Company of Manchester. The head station is by the old town, south of the Promenade.
- Laxey Along the east coast on the Douglas-Ramsey electric railway.
-Laxey Wheel The largest water wheel in the world, absolutely restored to the most precise detail. Built in 1854 and nicknamed Lady Isabella.
-Snaefell Mountain Railway Another of the major landmarks in the island, the Victorian electric mountain railway that links Laxey with the highest peak in the island. Built in 1895, it uses the very same original cars ever since.
- Cashtal yn Ard Neolithic passage tombs dating to at least 1800BC.
- Maughold With the Viking stone Celtic crosses, suggesting that it was the site of an early Christian monastery, found at the old cemetery.
- Ballure Northern terminus of the railway line from Douglas and second largest city in the island in combination with Ramsey across the river.
- Ramsey Old Victorian beach resort, nowadays quite dilapidated and forgotten in time. The now defunct Queen Pier was a highlight in its heyday.
- Peel Famous for its beautiful castle by the shoreline and small cathedral.
- Port Erin On the southwestern tip of the island, a Victorian beach resort, terminus of the steam railway line to Douglas.
- Cregneash One of the last strongholds of the traditional customs, crafts, and skills which characterised the Manx crofter’s way of life. Minutes away from Port Erin and Port St Mary.
- Port St Mary Another small Victorian resort at the south of the island with its nice sandy beach.
The only airport in the island is located at the south east, in Castletown, just south of its capital city Douglas. Small, serving just few routes, mostly within the UK and Ireland. From the airport to Castletown or Douglas, is a short bus ride. We got our tickets with Easyjet from/to London Gatwick.
Ferry services connect Port Douglas with Heysham and Liverpool year-round, with seasonal routes to Dublin and Belfast.
Within the island, as I mentioned above, there is a great railway system linking the main cities and sites along the coastline. Taking Douglas as the head, there is a line heading north to Ballure-Ramsey, and the other westwards to Port Erin. Both lines are served by the original old rolling stock, with beautifully preserved ancient trams.
Reaching Snaefell, the highest point in the island is also a great and easy train ride, combining the ride from Douglas or Ramsey, then changing into the ancient rack-railway to the top.
Probably because we came already during season, or because there is not an overall large choice of hotels in the island, but the fares per night were quite high. Hotels do not come cheap nor at good deals around, although there are many B&B or Airb&b options which might be definitely more beneficial. As usual, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred hotel search engine websites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We found our perfect choice at the Silvercraigs Hotel, right by the beautiful Queen’s Promenade of Douglas by the sea. Although marketed as a hotel, it is in fact a B&B, yet beware when booking that the breakfast is not included in the rate per night presented, but has an additional cost of £7.5 per person. That’s in any case not of a problem, either you get it at Silvercraigs, or just by the promenade you have plenty of nice restaurants and bars to chose from offering great full English breakfast.
The staff was friendly and nice, the room was what we expected and what we precisely booked, since at the time of booking you can select the number of the room. It was clean and up to standards, comfortable bed and quiet at night; while beautiful to wake up in the morning with the sea view and the horse trams passing by the promenade. Nice choice indeed as our preferred base to explore the island.