Top 3 Reasons to Visit Isle of Man? Castles, Coasts & Cats (if you’re lucky!)
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to book through these links, I receive a small commission, which I will undoubtedly blow on more flights (it’s a vicious cycle). All of this internet voodoo takes place at no additional cost to you.
Inside: Home to the enchanting Manx culture, the Isle of Man is a true gem in the Irish Sea. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit.
We’ve been on the ground on the Isle of Man less than 10 minutes when I luck into my first sighting of a Manx cat.
Well, sort of a sighting.
As we exit the island’s itty-bitty airport, a furry, tail-less blur whips past my ankles. Momentarily startled, I turn to my husband. “What the heck was that?”
A few feet away, a clearly amused taxi driver provides the helpful answer.
“Welcome!” He laughs. “I see you’ve met the airport mouser.”
I knew of the island’s native, tail-less Manx cats, of course. However, I didn’t expect one to greet us just outside baggage claim. To be fair, I wouldn’t call it a warm reception. He was mostly running in the opposite direction at top speed.
But I’ll take it.
Unfortunately, it turns out to be my lone Manx cat sighting while visiting this lovely island (more on that later). If I’d known, I’d have tried much harder to snap the fireball feline’s picture.
I’ve arrived here on Isle of Man with my family for a 2-day stay between visits to Ireland and England. This delightful Manx island nation has been on my Bucket List for a while and our summer trip to Ireland and the UK seemed like the perfect time to cross it off!
Isle of Man FAQs
But before I dive into tales of tail-less cats, historic castles, and scenic coastlines, let’s cover a few frequently asked questions about the Isle of Man.
Where is the Isle of Man?
The Isle of Man (also spelled Mann) occupies a prime location in the heart of the northern Irish Sea. Situated equidistant between the emerald eastern shores of Ireland and the west coast of England, the island is easily accessible from Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.
And thanks to its diminutive size – just 33 miles long by 13 miles wide – all of the best things to see and do on the Isle of Man are within easy reach.
What is the Isle of Man famous for?
The island nation is famous for its quirky Manx culture – a mix of Gaelic, Norse, and English with a heritage and charm distinctly its own. In fact, the Isle of Man is home to the oldest continuously running parliament in the world (Tynwald) dating back to 979. (Iceland’s Althing holds the record for the oldest parliament, established in 930.)
The Isle of Man is also well known for its outstanding natural beauty. From stunning coastlines and verdant hills to sandy coves and historic castles, you’ll find it all on these rugged shores. You’ll also spot (if you’re lucky) a Manx cat or two. Known affectionately as “Manxies” to the locals, the cats are a rare, tail-less breed found only on the Isle of Man.
For international motorsports fans, the Isle of Man is perhaps best known as the site of the annual “Isle of Man TT Races.” Every summer, the world’s best road racers descend of the Isle of Man to tackle the challenging “Mountain Course” a curvy, 37-mile cross-country course showcasing the island’s scenic roads.
Is the Isle of Man its own country?
The Isle of Man is one of three self-governing British Crown Dependencies (the other two are the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey). This Celtic nation maintains its own Manx language, currency and stamps. Not to mention one pretty eye-catching flag.
While the British Crown Dependencies are not part of the United Kingdom or the European Union, they are part of the British Islands. Like Jersey and Guernsey, Isle of Man enjoys wide powers of self-government including the establishment of its own parliament and laws.
The Bottom Line: If you like to keep track of the number of countries you’ve visited, Isle of Man counts as a new one (according to the Traveler’s Century Club Country List). And that makes it country #177 for me!
What language do they speak on the Isle of Man?
The island’s native Manx language is of Gaelic descent and closely related to both Scottish and Irish Gaelic. Manx is one of two official languages on the Isle of Man. Fortunately, the other one is English.
What currency is used on the Isle of Man?
Fiercely independent, the island still maintains its own currency, the Manx Pound. Luckily, the Manx Pound is linked in value to the Pound Sterling and the two currencies are interchangeable on the Isle of Man.
However, once you’re off the island, Manx Pounds are not legal tender in the United Kingdom. So, don’t forget to exchange them before you leave or just keep a few as a souvenir (I did!).
What does the Isle of Man flag represent?
No matter where you roam on Isle of Man, it’s hard to miss the island nation’s whimsical flag.
Adopted in 1932, the bold red flag is adorned with a “triskelion” of three armored legs with golden spurs. Known as the “Three Legs of Mann,” the symbol originated as the royal coat of arms for the three kings of the Isle of Man.
Now that we’ve covered some of the most common questions about the Isle of Man, let’s move on to the fun part. Planning your visit!
When is the best time to visit the Isle of Man?
The best time of year to visit the Isle of Man is during the summer months of June to August when the weather is sunny and warm. There are also a number of events and festivals that take place during this time, including the Isle of Man TT motorcycle race and the Douglas Carnival.
September is also a terrific time to go with fewer crowds, lower hotel rates and mild temperatures.
Tip: If you’re not a motorsports fan, be sure to give a wide berth to the annual TT race with your travel plans. The island is typically fully booked and hotel rates are at their peak during the race weeks. Check the dates of both events through the links above.
What’s the best way to get to the Isle of Man?
The island is easy to reach by flight or ferry. Ferries arrive at the Sea Terminal in Douglas, the capital city. Flights arrive at Isle of Man Airport near Castletown (about a 20-minute drive from Douglas).
On our visit, we arrived by flight from Dublin and departed by ferry to Liverpool. We found both methods of travel to be both efficient and affordable.
Flights to the Isle of Man
Three airlines service the island – Easy Jet, Aer Lingus (from Dublin only), and Loganair (Scotland’s national carrier). Flights are available from a number of regional destinations including Belfast, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and London.
The IOM Steam Packet Ferry
The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company operates the island’s primary ferry service from Dublin, Belfast, Liverpool, Heysham and Birkenhead. They utilize two ferry vessels, the high-speed catamaran “Manannan” and the larger, conventional ferry “Ben-my-Chree” (which offers en-suite cabins for longer journeys).
Dublin to Isle of Man
Aer Lingus operates a quick and easy direct flight from Dublin to the Isle of Man. Flight time is just 50 minutes and fares are often very affordable when booked well in advance. IOM Steam Packet also runs seasonal high-speed ferry service from Dublin and Belfast on Manannan. The journey takes about 3 hours.
Liverpool to Isle of Man
The best way to get from Liverpool to the Isle of Man is by ferry. The IOM Steam Packet vessel Manannan makes the crossing in just 2 hours and 45 minutes. It’s an easy and comfortable way to travel between the two. During the summer months, there are several crossings each day.
Flights from Liverpool are also available via Easy Jet or Loganair.
Do I need a rental car on the Isle of Man?
If your time is limited (as ours is on this trip) it’s best to have a rental car. The island does have plenty of public transportation options, including the historic train system (more on that in a moment). But to explore the island on your own schedule, you’ll want to have a car.
We booked ours with Athol Car Hire through RentalCars.com – my favorite site for booking rental cars anywhere in the world.
There are some great hikes and walks on Isle of Man and having our own car gave us the freedom to stop whenever we wanted to explore. We found driving on the island to be fairly easy, especially compared to our driving tour of Ireland a few years ago!
Read More: How to Survive Driving in Ireland (and Actually Enjoy It!)
Yes, the roads are certainly narrow in some areas and it can be a challenge to see around the stone walls at times. But the roads are in good condition and parking is plentiful just about everywhere.
Of course, driving on the left is always a challenge for those of us accustomed to driving on the right! But if you’re comfortable with that, you should be fine driving on the Isle of Man.
If driving on the left just isn’t for you, many of the best attractions are conveniently located near railway stations. So Isle of Man’s historic railways are a good option for getting around, too.
Best hotels on the Isle of Man
The best hotels on the Isle of Man are largely concentrated in the Douglas area, especially along the seaside Loch Promenade, known locally as the “Prom.”
Luckily, Douglas is centrally-located on the eastern coast so it makes a good home base for exploring.
My favorite hotel choices in Douglas are:
The Town House – This waterfront apart-hotel is where we stayed on this trip and it was terrific. Located on Loch Promenade in the heart of the city, the lovingly restored Victorian town house features 15 unique apartments with kitchen facilities and a separate bedroom and living area. It’s the perfect choice if you’re traveling with the whole family (as we are) or if you just like a little extra space. It’s also super close to the ferry terminal.
Halvard Hotel – Also located on Loch Promenade, this modern, stylish hotel is ideal for a romantic getaway. Featuring both a full-service restaurant and room service, rooms here are luxurious and chic. Tip: For a real splurge, book the fantastic Sea View Superior Suite.
Edelweiss Guest House – Located just a bit outside the heart of town on the seaside Queens Promenade, this quiet guest house is a great budget option. It’s also a solid choice for solo travelers looking for a single room with a sea view. But whether you’re traveling solo or not, the upgraded sea view rooms are well worth the slight additional cost.
Best things to do on Isle of Man
There are plenty of terrific places to visit on the island and we had a ball exploring over our 2-day visit.
To keep it simple, I’ll break them down into the 3 categories I listed above – castles, coastline, and (of course), cats!
First up, castles…
1. Isle of Man’s Best Castles
Douglas & the Tower of Refuge
If you arrive on the Isle of Man by ferry, the port town of Douglas will be your introduction to the island. And this capital city has plenty to see and do. Tip: Don’t miss a stop at the Manx Museum for a glimpse into the island’s Viking and Celtic history.
Visitors arriving by ferry will spot their first castle as the ship docks in Douglas Bay. Located in the center of the bay on St. Mary’s Isle, the tiny Tower of Refuge was built in 1832 to provide shelter for shipwrecked sailors.
Throughout history, the rocky outcrop where the tower sits created a notorious hazard to shipping. In its hey-day, the 13th-century style structure stocked basic provisions like bread and water and even a bell for summoning help. Thankfully, these days it doesn’t get much use other than as a colorful addition to the view from the Prom.
The castle isn’t open to visitors so you’ll have to settle for appreciating its fairytale charm from either shore or ship.
Castletown & Castle Rushen
Located right next to the airport, Castletown is the perfect first stop if you arrive by plane on the Isle of Man. The town itself is the island’s ancient capital city and delivers plenty of seaside charm.
The “castle” of Castletown is Castle Rushen, a 13th-century medieval castle that dominates the town’s shoreline. Once home to the Kings and Lords of Mann, today it’s run as a museum by Manx National Heritage. It’s one of the world’s best preserved medieval castles and a great place to learn about the history of the Isle of Man.
Tip: Don’t miss a climb up the spiral stone staircase to the ramparts for one of the island’s best panoramic views.
The island’s main fishing port, Peel is the 3rd largest town after Douglas and Ramsey. Located on the island’s western coast, Peel’s most striking feature (aside from incredible sunsets) is the magnificent Peel Castle.
Situated on St. Patrick’s Isle on a cliff overlooking the sea, this impressive fortress boasts some of the island’s most spectacular views.
An audio guide is included with the entry ticket and you’ll need it to properly appreciate the complex history of the various castle structures. Don’t miss St. Patrick’s Church, the Round Tower, St. German’s Cathedral and crypt, and the 16th-century Great Garrison Hall.
We spent hours happily exploring here on our first day and it was the highlight of our visit.
2. Isle of Man’s Best Coastal Views
The Calf of Man
This tiny island off the southern coast of the Isle of Man is home to a variety of wildlife. Boat tours ferry visitors across Calf Sound to spot seals, dolphins, and birds. Boats operate from both Port Erin and Port St. Mary but trips are always weather-dependent.
Whether you do a boat trip or not, don’t miss a stop at The Sound Cafe on the southernmost tip of the island. There’s no better place to get a birds eye view of the Calf of Man and appreciate all the beauty of the island’s stunning coastline.
Cregneash (Traditional Manx Community)
If you’re driving to the south end of the island, you’ll pass right through one of Isle of Man’s most historic towns. Cregneash is one of the last traditional Manx farming communities. Visitors can step back in history with a look inside the original cottages to learn about the customs and farming practices.
Don’t miss a stop for afternoon tea at the Cregneash Cafe where you can sit outdoors on a sunny day and enjoy spectacular views of the countryside. Note that tickets are required for the self-guided tour. You can find more information on visiting Cregneash here.
For seaside views and beachfront fun it’s hard to top Port Erin.
A popular destination for families, Port Erin Beach is a wide swath of golden-white sand with plenty of facilities for active beachgoers. From ice cream stands to kayak rentals, the Port Erin promenade is the perfect destination for a relaxing day on the island.
To the north, the sheltered bay is bordered by the rugged cliffs of Bradda Head. From Port Erin, hike north across the trails of Bradda Glen to Fleshwick Bay and Milner’s Tower. Along the way, you’ll enjoy some of the best coastline views on the island.
Hit the rails!
Isle of Man’s many railways are perhaps one of the most distinctive parts of the island’s heritage. There are several different lines and all have been in operation since the late 1800’s.
For complete information on routes, timetables and fares for the trains listed below, check the handy Isle of Man Transport website.
The Isle of Man Steam Railway
If you prefer your coastal views with a side of nostalgia, take a step back in time with a ride on the Isle of Man Steam Railway.
In operation since 1874, this historic rail line links Douglas with the island’s best towns and villages. Along the way, you’ll enjoy 15 miles of gorgeous coastal views and lush farmlands.
For a unique fine dining experience, don’t miss the steam railway’s plush pullman-style Dining Car. Built in 1905, it was lovingly restored in 2013 and is one of world’s only remaining narrow gauge fine dining cars.
Snaefell Mountain Railway
For the highest views on the Isle of Man, head straight for the Snaefell Mountain Railway. The 4 1/2 mile journey winds high up the Manx Hills to the island’s highest point, Snaefell Mountain, more than 2000ft above sea level.
From the summit, you’ll enjoy unsurpassed views of the northern plains and Sulby Valley. On a clear day, it’s worth the extra walk to the peak for a view of the “Seven Kingdoms” – Mann, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Heaven, and Sea (Neptune).
Manx Electric Railway
The Manx Electric Railway is a uniquely Manx experience and a throwback to Victorian times.
Running along the island’s eastern coastline from Douglas to Ramsey, this historic Tramway still utilizes original Victorian and Edwardian era rolling stock that’s been in service for more than 125 years.
From the Derby Castle Station in Douglas, the journey north to Ramsey Station is 1 hour and 15 minutes of scenic views and fascinating history. It also makes a stop at the Great Laxey Wheel which brings me to…
The Great Laxey Wheel
Located on a hillside above the village of Laxey, the Great Laxey Wheel was built in 1854 to pump water out of the Laxey mines. Today, it’s the largest working waterwheel remaining in the world and a prime tourist attraction.
A climb to the top is rewarded with sweeping views across Laxey Valley. The Great Laxey Wheel is one of the best places to dive into Isle of Man’s fascinating heritage. To get here, take the Manx Electric Railway or just drive, there’s plenty of parking.
3. Where to find the elusive Manx Cats
Cat lovers, I know what you’re thinking. “Enough of castles and trains, already, when is she going to get to the cats??” I hear you. Let’s talk about the cats.
After our effortless airport sighting of a Manx cat, I half expected to see the tail-less felines roaming everywhere on the island.
But after two days of exploring I haven’t spotted any more “Manxies.” So, on the ride back to Douglas after returning our car to the airport, I mercilously quiz our taxi driver on Manx cat hot spots.
He solves the mystery by explaining that most Manxies are kept in private homes rather than roaming freely on the island. He also adds that the Manx people are very protective of the furry natives and some worry that tourists give them a little “too much” attention.
I get that. Had I spotted a Manxie willing to give me the time of day, the urge to cuddle it may very well have been irresistible.
So, you may get lucky and spot a few in the wild as you explore the island. But if you do, don’t pursue them. Like most cats, they generally operate under the “don’t call me, I’ll call you” philosophy.
Don’t take it personally.
But fear not! You can increase your odds of an encounter by visiting a few well-known Manxie hangouts:
My stepson and daughter spotted two Manx cats strolling the Market Square when we visited Castletown and reported that they were very friendly and approachable. Unfortunately, my husband and I were in a café grabbing a coffee at the time and missed them entirely. Darn the luck.
The Cregneash Café is often visited by neighborhood Manxies including a long-haired beauty called Arry. The town’s resident Manx cat is also often spotted keeping warm by the fire in Church Farm.
The Manx Cat Café
Of course, if you’re looking for a sure thing, the Manx Cat Café in Douglas is the best place to spend some quality time with the cats.
The café is only open Friday – Sunday and (sadly) our visit did not fall over those days so we missed them, too. If you do find yourself in town on the right days, be sure to book your reservation in advance on their website. They’re often fully booked on summer weekends.
And if all else fails, there’s always the airport mouser.
Wrapping up a brilliant visit to the Isle of Man
We thoroughly enjoyed our 2-day visit to the Isle of Man. In fact, I wish we had a third day to see more.
From cats to castles, if you’re looking for a unique and unforgettable travel experience, the Isle of Man is definitely worth a visit. Especially, if you’re planning a trip to Ireland or, say, a fabulous road trip around the UK.
Read More: The Great UK Road Trip! Scotland, England & Wales in 5 Days
It’s all the beauty of the British Isles enhanced by the inherent friendliness of the Manx people. And that’s a winning combination for sure.
Looking for more awesome destinations in this part of the world? Start here:
15 Wild & Wonderful Things to Do in the Faroe Islands (Don’t Miss #6!)
Epic Edinburgh: 16 Can’t-Miss Things to Do in Scotland’s Sensational Capital City
Isle of Skye: 10 Irresistible Things to Do on Scotland’s BEST Island
The Bucket List Scotland Road Trip Itinerary in 7 Amazing Days