Located halfway between the Island of Great Britain and Ireland lies a small island known as the Isle of Man (sometimes spelled Mann). And while it’s technically a British Crown Dependency, it governs itself and was never a part of any of the Kingdoms of Great Britain.
The Manx are a fiercely proud people and they should be. Their island nation is beautiful and has a long and varied history. It’s been inhabited since the bronze age and was ruled by Anglo-saxons, possibly Romans, Vikings, Scots, and eventually the English. But they fought for and gained the freedom to govern themselves in 1866 and have done so ever since. In 1881 the Isle of Man was the first government in the world to give women the right to vote, nearly forty years before America gave women the same right and fifty years before women 21 and over could vote in the UK. (Women thirty and over received the right to vote in 1918 but it took ten more years before they were given the same voting rights as men).
We recently spent a long weekend on this tiny isle and absolutely fell in love. The tiny island is a world (and a 4 hour ferry ride) away from England. To get on the island you have to prove you’re vaccinated and that honestly made me feel so at ease. We felt so safe and almost back to normal out there. It was really hard to go back to England if we’re being honest.
So if you’re thinking of places to go that are a little bit out of the way, and a little bit different, look in to heading out to the Isle of Man. Just be aware, that if the Isle of Man TT Motorcycle races are on it will be extremely busy, and expensive. But any other times of the year it’s a lovely respite from a fast paced world.
Things to do on the isle of man
Drive the TT route
The Isle of Man TT is probably the thing that this little island nation is most famous for. The TT is a set of motorcycle races on a 37 mile course in the mountains of the island that have been running for over 100 years (save a few years like the last two when to keep their citizens safe they didn’t allow others onto the island). The course itself is marked out on public roads and, when the races aren’t on, you can drive the course yourself, either on your own bike or like we did, in our car. We took the mountain half of the course a few times as we drove from Douglas to Ramsey for dinner one evening and it was stunning. We decided on our last day to do the whole circuit and if we’re being honest, the half of the course we had previously driven was the most stunning part and I was a little disappointed in the other half. But if you want to claim you’ve driven the whole thing, it’s still worth it.
While you’re at it, stop at Creg-y-Ny-Baa, the famous pub on the course. They have amazing Sunday roast so make a point of checking that out if you are there over a weekend. I’d suggest calling for a reservation too. We didn’t but we got extremely lucky and snagged the last unreserved table. (We actually forgot completely about Sunday roast, as Americans are prone to do, and were pleasantly surprised).
Gin at Fynoderee
If you’re a gin lover, make sure you take the time to visit the local gin distillery in Ramsey on the North East side of the island. While Tim made us reservations for what he thought was gin tasting it turned out it was just a table reservation for the evening. While I was a little disappointed, mostly because it was a very LOUD Friday night (and if you know me you know I don’t do well in these situations as it sparks my GAD and PTSD), but we made the best of it and had a couple of drinks since we had driven all the way there. I was definitely glad we did. I love trying local gins and this was no exception. They have four different gins that represent the different seasons and I tried summer and fall. Summer was okay but a little too sweet for me (shocking, I know). But the fall gin with “Crisp Manx apple and crab apple, along with the earthiness of hand-picked rowanberry and rosehip, and the sweetness of wild-foraged plum” was absolutely delicious. I loved that it was served with a slice of apple and blackberry, something completely different from the normal citrus you get in your gin other places.
See the Horses at the Home of Rest for Old Horses
Looking for things to do near Douglas, I stumbled upon the Home of Rest for Old Horses and of course had to make time to visit. Begun in 1950 by two animal loving ladies, the Home of Rest is the perfect place for horses and donkeys that are at the end of their working life. Going to the home of rest saves them from being shipped off the island and gives them a calm, quiet, retirement in beautiful paddocks being hand fed treats by visitors. You can help support the home and their mission by purchasing food from the gift shop to feed the horses. We bought two buckets because it was just so fun. Naturally, you’re going to get pretty slobbered on while feedings these beauties, but it’s nothing a little water and soap won’t fix. This is great fun for animal lovers of all ages. We even saw a toddler feeding the horses and they were so gentle eating from his chubby little hands.
See a Show at the Villa Marina
The entire reason we booked a trip to the Isle of Man in the first place was to see Sara Millican live in concert for the first time. (If you’ve not heard about her, run, don’t walk, over to her website/youtube/social media and watch her comedy because she. is. HILARIOUS). We figured if we had a show to go to then it would make us plan the rather long journey there rather than putting it off. So if you’re like me and need that extra little push to book an extra long journey (that’s totally worth it), maybe try to see if one of your favorite comedians or musicians is playing on the island.
Walk on the beach
Our first night on the island we walked along the beach of Douglas at sunset and it was absolutely gorgeous. The tide was low and the beach stretched as far as the eye could see. We saw so many people walking their dogs and just enjoying the relatively warm evening. It reminded me so much of home.
The Manx Museum, detailing the heritage of the Isle of Man and its inhabitants is located in Douglas, the island’s capital, and was surprisingly large. The museum covers the history of the island spanning back to the vikings and as recent as the island’s involvement in WWII and its popularity as a summer holiday destination in until the 1970s. The museum also has an entire section on wildlife of the island and my favorite corner told stories about traditions and superstitions of the local people.
Though it’s located across the island in Peel, it will only take you about thirty minutes to drive here from Douglas. It was exceptionally windy the day we visited this ruined Viking Castle, but the sun was out and the views were beautiful. This castle couldn’t be located any more on the coast than it is and if the weather is right, you’re guaranteed some stunning photos. I don’t remember many signs discussing the history of the castle, so if you’re interested in it’s complete history it might be good to get a guide book or read up about it online.
Greet the Fairies at Fairy Bridge
This is somewhere we didn’t actually stop but we drove by it several times and we saw a lot of information about the location on the island. The superstition says that in order to maintain good luck you must greet the fairies as you cross the bridge. It is said that riders of the TT route tend to take this superstition seriously and make time to go to see the fairies and get their blessings before their ride around the track.
Castle Rushen is located in the original capital of the island, Castletown. We attempted to visit the castle but didn’t read the opening hours and got there only fifteen minutes before they closed and weren’t abe to get inside. We did walk the gardens outside the castle and they were lovely. I overhead a local shopkeeper telling other tourists that this castle is really well preserved and has been restored to how they would have lived so I would definitely suggest trying to see it if you get to the IoM (just check their opening hours and plan accordingly!).
Tower of Refuge and Camera Obscura
I wanted to visit these two places in Douglas but the weather just wasn’t quite agreeable when we went. The Tower of Refuge is located in the bay off Douglas and at certain times of the year, during low tide, you can walk all the way out to the tower. I find places like this that are only accessible according to the flowing of the tides (think that house in the Woman In Black) absolutely fascinating. I hope to return someday to check this place out with my own eyes.
Camera Obscura is located atop the hills outside Douglas and gives a 360 degree view of the bay and the surrounding areas. According to the official website of the Isle of Man you might spot “Dolphins and Basking sharks may be spotted within the waters, during the summer months.” The camera obscura is only open when the weather is agreeable. A flag is flies outside the building to let all prospective visitors know they are open, so make sure you look for this before you head up the hill.