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Interested to visit the Isle of Man? Then read on about the island history and some of its many attractions.
I first travelled to the Isle of Man due to my fascination with the famous motorcycle racing festival known as the TT. During TT week the island is jammed with thousands of racing fans, many arriving on their motorcycles.
It seems every vacant space on the island is filled with camper’s tents and vehicles. All non-camping accommodation on the island is generally booked out for TT, sometimes a year in advance. The normally quiet harbour area in Douglas becomes jammed with promotional tents and beer and food outlets. A quiet holiday it is not in TT week, but that excitement and semi-chaos is what the fans come for.
Do not be put off on a visit to the Isle of Man by my description of the destination at its busiest. Go visit out of the racing period. The Isle of Man is much more than a venue for a thrilling series of motorcycle races. It is a historic and beautiful island with many historic and natural attractions. All of this can be enjoyed at your own pace and in relative peace.
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About the Isle of Man
The Isle of Man has a long, ancient and turbulent history. The Vikings occupied the island for more than a hundred years starting in 1100 through to the late 1200s. Evidence of this occupation can still be seen today.
The unique flag of the Isle of Man is recognised around the world. The three-legged man is known as a triskelion. Origins of the flag are based on the 13th century Manx coat of arms.
National Flag of the Isle of Man
Present day Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown colony located in the Irish Sea midway between Ireland and the UK. There is a population of around 85,000 and the island capital is Douglas. The currency is the Manx pound or UK sterling pound. At 30 miles (48 km) long and 10 (16 km) miles wide, all the attractions on the island are close by.
The climate of the Isle of Man is considered temperate with mild winter and cool summer temperatures. April through August is the best time to visit.
Getting there and getting about
Coming from the UK, a regular car and passenger ferry operates every day to Douglas from Heysham in Lancashire or Liverpool. The trip takes between 2 hours and 3 hours. The ferry from Dublin to Douglas operates weekly and takes around 3 hours. Air services are also available from regional airports in the UK and Dublin.
The ferry service gives you the opportunity to take your vehicle (or bicycle) across to the Isle of Man. Driving is on the right-hand side as per the remainder of the UK.
Once on the island, there are rental car agencies aplenty if you want independent travel. A good way to get about is the regular bus network which covers the whole island. In places, there is also the Victorian rail network to supplement the bus travel. A lot of the distances are short so a taxi can often be a good alternative for door to door delivery. A good tip is to invest in a Go Explore Card which gives unlimited travel on all Isle of Man Transport scheduled bus and rail services.
The full range of accommodation is available from a selection of hotels, B&B, self-catering, cottages and camping. There is something there in a price range and location to suit. You can check out the accommodation options on the website visittheisleofman.com .
As you would expect from an island, fresh seafood is a speciality in a lot of the restaurants. The most famous of the island’s seafood products is the Manx kipper. Produced on the island since the late 1800s, they are salted then smoked with oak chips to give them a unique flavour.
Beyond the famous Manx kipper, the island has a wide variety of dining experiences and cuisines to offer. There are high range restaurants for a fine dining experience or family friendly venues, the choice is plentiful. There are also several local cask breweries where you can sample beers and ales.
Things to do and see
Out and about in Douglas
Victorian facades on Douglas Promenade
The influence of the Victorians is immediately obvious as you approach Douglas on the ferry or stroll along Central Promenade. The architecture of the hotels and buildings facing the harbour is typical of the period. There is an old-world charm as you stroll beside these buildings that I always enjoy. It’s a long walk along the promenade. Alternatively, try the charming horse drawn trams that run along the promenade. You can hop on and off if you want to stop.
Prominent in the harbour is St Mary’s Isle (also known as Conister Rock). The Isle has a curious small tower constructed upon it. Built in 1832, the tower served as a refuge in case of shipwreck.
St. Mary’s Isle or Conister Rock
The main shopping area in Douglas is adjacent to the ferry port. When you feel hungry, there is also a good concentration of restaurants in this area. As you move inland from the harbour, Douglas gets quite hilly.
The Manx Museum is walking distance (uphill) from the town centre. The museum is accessible by taking the lift to level 8 of Chester Street Car Park and walking across the adjacent footbridge. This is the national museum of the Isle of Man and has a wide range of exhibits from natural history, to Viking era relics and modern motorcycle racing.
Further along the Promenade, there is a Victorian variety theatre complex at Villa Marina. The Edwardian Concert Hall inside the complex is well worth a look.
TT Start / Finish
TT Start / Finish complex
The annual TT races start and finish in Douglas. You can walk from the Promenade up to the start and finish line on Quarterbridge Road. My preference would be to take a taxi as this is quite a hill to climb. The main infrastructure of the timing tower and officials’ areas remain all year. During the TT races (over May and June), the area is expanded with temporary pits and other buildings.
Electric Manx Railway
Manx Electric Railway in Douglas
At the opposite end of the harbour from the ferry terminal, you will find The Electric Manx Railway. The Victorian vintage railway runs from the Douglas terminal to Laxey and Ramsay. The service connects with the Snaefell Mountain Railway at Laxey so you can enjoy the tramway ride to Laxey then go up Snaefell for the views from the top. There is also a Manx Railway Museum nearby to the railway terminus in Douglas. It is open seasonally from March to October.
A circuit of the TT course
As a sightseeing route, a trip around the 32 mile TT course will show you a good potion of the north of the island. The TT course is entirely on public roads. Start the drive at the Quarterbridge Road start and finish area and head down the hill to Ballacraine. Marvel at the twists and turns and try to imagine how the motorcycles can reach speeds of 190 miles per hour and beyond. Enjoy the drive, you will pass through picturesque villages and get great views on the climb up to Snaefell and on the way down.
The township of Peel is on the west coast almost midway along the length of the island. It’s an attractive seaside town and a fishing port. Hard to miss along the shoreline is the 11th century Peel Castle situated atop St. Patricks Isle. The “Isle” is easy to access via a thin strip of land . You can linger in the Castle grounds and enjoy the views or a picnic.
Castleton and Castle Rushen
Rushen Castle dominates the harbour of Castleton
Castleton is the historic capital of the Isle of Man and located in the south of the island. At the centre of the town is the towering Castle Rushen. The castle ranks amongst the best preserved medieval castles in the world. This castle was once the home to the Kings and Lords of Man. Make sure to climb up to the castle roof for the magnificent views across the town and harbour.
Tynwald Hill on a grey day
Meeting regularly through the year in Douglas, the Tynwald is the parliament of the Isle of Man. Its roots are in its Norse history and claims to be over 1000 years old. This makes it the oldest continuous parliament in the world.
Once a year on the 5th of July, the parliament meets at its traditional location to proclaim new laws. Tynwald Hill at St John’s is the traditional meeting place of the Tynwald. This is a 1000 year old tradition. The monument itself is not striking physically. It is essentially a tiered grass mound mound with its flagpole at its the centre. The visit is more about the history of the site and knowing you are standing where someone stood over 1000 years ago.
On the slopes of Snaefell
We touched briefly on Snaefell (pronounced snow fell) on our drive around the TT course and in the short mention of the Mountain Railway. At just over 2000 feet, Snaefell is the highest point on the island. From the summit, the fabled 7 kingdoms are visible. You may be able to see some, or all, of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the kingdoms of heaven and the sea.
Aside from driving up the mountain, you can catch the Mountain Railway from Laxey to the summit. This is the only electric mountain railway in the UK. On arrival at the summit, you can enjoy the views and refreshments at the cafe before your return journey.
The Laxey Wheel
This is truly a spectacular sight and the islands most visited attraction. Located on the side of a hill above Laxey, the wheel is the largest working waterwheel in the world. The dimensions are 72 foot in diameter and 6 foot across. This massive structure turns a 3 full revolutions every minute. An impressive fortress-like structure dominates the hillside and contains the wheel and its workings. The wheel has been in operation since 1854, its purpose to remove water from a nearby mining complex. You can climb to the top of the structure for spectacular views of the wheel itself and across the surrounding countryside.
Adjacent to the Laxey Wheel is the Laxey mine and railway. In the late 1800s, Laxey mine produced silver, lead and zinc. By the early 1900s the yield dropped and it eventually closed in 1929. There is a train ride available along the surface section of the old mine line. Terminating at the Mines Yard, a series of boards explain the surviving mine features.
Calf of Man
For a great wildlife experience, head to the Port St. Mary village on the southern tip of the island. Your destination is The Sound, located near to the village. Aside from the outstanding scenic beauty of the location, there is abundant bird and sealife. You will see seals basking in the sun on a small offshore island.
The large island offshore is the Calf of Man, a nature reserve and bird observatory. Boat trips are available to circle the island. In addition to the birds and seals, you may be lucky enough to see dolphins and basking sharks.
When you visit the isle of Man, it has something for everyone. There is a lot more than I have written about. The locals are very friendly and the Isle of Man is different enough to feel you are on a holiday. I rate the Isle of Man as one of my favourite destinations.
If you would like more information on the Isle of Man and its many attractions, take a look at the official tourist site visitisleofman.com
For another short break you may enjoy, check out our Jersey article.
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