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9 unique, off-the-beaten-track destinations to visit in the British Isles

British Isles cruises very much came to the fore post-pandemic as Britons discovered the beauty of their own country – here are some destinations you might not have explored yet.

Getting away from the oft-trodden, tourist-riddled route is highly appealing to travelers with adventurous spirits (you know who you are!).

The good news is you don’t need to travel far to discover remote islands and unexplored lands – the British Isles has unique destinations in spades.

As they said in hit Pixar film, Up, “Adventure is out there!” – but you don’t need to tie balloons to your house to find it. Expedition operator Aurora Expeditions has various thrilling itineraries to help you navigate these lesser-known spots as you sail in comfort on small ship cruises around the British Isles.

Not only will you be able to discover off-the-beaten-track places on these intimate voyages alongside an expert team of guides to help you make the most of your getaway, but you’ll also be able to participate in unique activities as Aurora Expeditions commits to genuine adventure.

Here are nine destinations in the British Isles to unearth on British Isles cruises 2023 – as well as several further afield should you seek foreign shores.

Lundy Island

Little-known Lundy Island is located off the coast of North Devon in the Bristol Channel, with nothing at all between it and America. Peaceful and unspoiled (there are no roads, cars or pollution!) the National Trust-owned granite outcrop benefits from milder climates than the mainland. Expect high and rugged cliffs on the west side, grassy slopes and wildflowers on the east, and 4,000 years of human history.

Lundy Island is a delightful spot for walking, climbing and diving thanks to its richly diverse flora and fauna – it has a population of approximately 200 Atlantic grey seals while basking sharks, the world’s second-largest fish, often come here to feed on plankton-rich waters. Important seabird colonies also reside here, including puffins and Manx shearwaters. Better pack those binoculars!

Set Sail: Jewels of Coastal UK

Douglas, Isle of Man

The Isle of Man has an idyllic charm that makes you feel like you might have hopped back in time a few decades. Situated between England and Ireland in the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man’s charming coastline features cliffs, stacks, islets and long beaches.

Calling at Douglas, Aurora Expeditions offers a variety of shore excursions here to help you make the most of the port. You can follow a section of the Way of the Gull, the island’s long-distance coastal footpath around Scarlett Head, taking in seabirds, volcanic rocks, ancient forts, chapels, a WWII radar station, a Viking ship burial site and more. Yup, this small islands packs a punch!

Alternatively, travel via the scenic Plains of Heaven and the Southern Hills to visit Cregneash, one of the most picturesque villages in the Isle of Man, and The Sound, the most southerly point on the Isle of Man and one of the most scenic places in the British Isles; look out for seals, dolphins and basking sharks!

Another option is a drive through Castletown (home to Castle Rushen, one of the best examples of a medieval castle in the British Isles), the quaint fish port of Peel, and Tynwald Hill (established by Norse Viking settlers over a thousand years ago).

Meanwhile, ornithologists might like the Birdwatching Expedition; spectacular bird species here include hen harrier, red-billed chough, peregrine, black guillemot, Manx shearwater, puffin and arctic tern.

Set Sail: Jewels of Coastal UK

St Kilda

If you want a super remote Scottish island to get away from it all, St Kilda really delivers. The isolated volcanic archipelago (and World Heritage Site) lies more than 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides off Scotland’s northwest coast.

It may be small but it is mighty. St Kilda lays claim to the highest sea cliffs in Britain, the largest colony of guillemots in the world, the oldest and largest colony of fulmars, the biggest colony of puffins in Britain and over one million birds in total. Wowza.

Set Sail: Jewels of Coastal UK

Fair Isle

Fair Isle, found midway between Orkney and Shetland, is another paradise for birds. Surrounded by dramatic cliffs, the island is famous for three things: its major European ornithological research station, knitwear and historical shipwrecks. Talk about casting your net wide!

Bird-wise, you can spot breeding fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots, gannets, shags and puffins as well as seabirds, especially puffins, at close range. Other fauna include grey and common seals, harbour porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, orcas and minke whales.

There’s flora aplenty, too – the island has over 250 species of flowering plants, including wetland flowers, rare orchids, alpine species and common wildflowers.

Set Sail: Jewels of Coastal UK

Set Sail

Jewels of Coastal UK with Aurora Expeditions

Duration: 14 days
Where: London | Portsmouth | Fowey, Cornwall | Penzance, Cornwall | Tresco, Isle of Scilly | Lundy Island, England | Pemborkeshire Islands, Wales | Holyhead, Wales | Douglas, Isle of Man, England | Islay, Scotland | Iona and Staffa, Scotland | St Kilda, Scotland | Fair Isle and Papa Westerly, Scotland | Aberdeen
Ship: Greg Mortimer

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Argyll Coast and Islands

Argyll & the Isles is situated on the west coast of Scotland, in a region well-known as Scotland’s adventure coast (see, we said it was out there!). Boasting endless miles of spectacular coastline, the Argyll Coast and Islands feature rolling green hills, shipwreck-strewn waters and stone castles. In short, dead romantic.

The first recognized Mission Blue Hope Spot in the UK, the sea here is home to an abundance of marine biodiversity as well as dolphins, whales, seals, otters and birds.

Set Sail: Ireland and Scotland Discovery

Mullaghmore

This small peninsula juts out of the northern edge of County Sligo in Ireland into the North Atlantic. Majestic jagged peaks abound – Nobel-winning poet William Butler Yeats was inspired by this stunning landscape – with Ireland’s most iconic mountain, Benbulben, towering above. The village of Mullaghmore features Classiebawn Castle and a magnificent stone harbour.

With Aurora Expeditions you can set out on two walks. One takes in secluded forests and stunning views of Benbulben head, Donegal Bay, Slieve League Cliffs, Mullaghmore and Classiebawn Castle and the other is along the beautiful coastline. After a morning of hiking and post-lunch, guests will also enjoy a walk in a magical setting near Sligo town.

Set Sail: Ireland and Scotland Discovery

Innishmore

Innishmore is the largest of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland and is very rich in history indeed. Late Bronze Age objects such as rings, tools, beads and foodstuffs have been dug up here and there are more than 50 different monuments of Christian, pre-Christian and Celtic mythological heritage.

Most famous is Dún Aonghusa – a fort with three terraced walls around an inner enclosure containing a platform (which may have had ritual significance) perched on the edge of a 300ft-high cliff. The spot dates back to 1100 BC when the first walls and dwelling houses were built – and the views from here are incredible.

Set Sail: Ireland and Scotland Discovery

Set Sail

Ireland and Scotland Discovery with Aurora Expeditions

Duration: 17 days
Where: Dublin | Skellig Islands | Inishmore | Connemara | Mullaghmore | Malin Head and Giant’s Causeway | Argyll Coast and Islands | Iona and Staff | St Kilda | Papa Westerly, Fair Isle | Isle of Noms, Lerwick, Mousa | Kirkwall | Bass Rock | Aberdeen
Ship: Sylvia Earle

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Glen Muick

Glen Muick, in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, is encircled by some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery. It also has royal connections as its part of the Balmoral Estate. On the western side of freshwater Loch Muick, is Glas-allt Shield – a hunting lodge built for Queen Victoria in 1868 to which she retreated after the death of her husband Prince Albert.

Glen Muick is at the foot of Lochnagar, one of Scotland’s finest mountains and has some very fine walking indeed. On Aurora Expeditions’ hiking vacations to Scotland, you’ll embark on a superb circular hike beneath soaring cliffs, through ancient pine forest and past Queen Victoria’s lodge. Keep your eyes peeled for red deer and golden eagles, too! Fingers crossed for no royal ghosts…

Set Sail: Cairngorms National Park Explorer

Abernethy Forest

Abernethy Forest is considered by many to be the most beautiful forest in Scotland. The national nature reserve encompasses one of the largest remnants of Caledonian pinewood, as well as moorland, wetlands, mountains and pretty lochs – so prepare for some delightful vistas!

On Aurora Expeditions’ circular walk, you’ll hike part of the Speyside Way long-distance trail and finish at a wildlife reserve. If you’re lucky you’ll spy red squirrels as well as various bird species, including the osprey in the early part of the summer.

Set Sail: Cairngorms National Park Explorer

Set Sail

Cairngorms National Park Explorer with Aurora Expeditions

Duration: 8 days
Where: Aberdeen | Glen Muick | Balmoral | Glen Feshie | Abernethy Forest | Ben Rinnes | Aberdeen

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Published 30.07.22