Lundy Island is a little secret that we discovered during the staycation summer of 2020. It somehow isn’t that famous outside of the region, despite it being one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever seen in the UK, if not the whole of Europe.
Sitting at the meeting point of the Bristol Channel and the Atlantic Ocean, Lundy Island has a unique array of wildlife, including a seal colony and puffins, which have become a Lundy island symbol. The cliffs of the island offer epic views at every angle, and the pathways on the top of the island give an impression of a rugged moor, despite the entire island only being 5 kilometres in length.
Then there’s its history. It turns out, a solitary island in such a strategic place (on the way to Bristol, which is a city with a lot of naval history) can be immensely rich in history. It’s been home to a hotbed of smugglers, an outpost for King Charles I, the home of a lawbreaking family and was even occupied by a group of Moroccan pirates for five years!
Don’t worry – since Victorian times, it has enjoyed a much more serene lifestyle as a nature reserve and holiday destination. You can stay overnight on Lundy Island, but it’s also feasible to visit on a day trip from Ilfracombe. Just a word of warning though – you’ll leave wishing you had more time!
How to get to Lundy Island
In the summer months, a ferry leaves Ilfracombe to Lundy Island three times a week at 10am. Occasionally it will also leave from the town of Bideford. It takes two hours to reach the island, and returns at 4pm. That does mean that you spend the same amount of time on the ferry as on the island. It’s not enough time to see the island in all its glory, but it is worth it.
Ilfracombe is a two hour drive from Plymouth, an hour and a half drive from Exeter and a two hour 15 minute drive from Bristol. If you’re driving from London, expect to be in the car for at least 4 hours and 15 minutes.
Wherever you are coming from, a large part of your journey will be on country roads. If you are travelling to Ilfracombe in the morning, allow extra time for hold ups on these roads – it’s not unusual at all to get stuck behind tractors or other slow moving vehicles.
What is the Lundy Island ferry like?
The Lundy Island ferry is large, with inside and outside seating areas. There is a small bar, where you can purchase drinks and snacks. There is also a male and female toilet. These seas can be quite rough, but the ferry is sturdy enough to make it a smooth crossing.
Tours to Lundy Island
You can take part in a few Lundy Island tours that include some time on the island. On our second trip to the island, we did a snorkelling with seals tour, which included some time in the water and about an hour and a half on the island.
This boat was a lot smaller, and the crossing wasn’t as pleasant (definitely take some sea sickness tablets if you’re at all prone to motion sickness), but the experience of snorkelling with the playful seals was extraordinary.
Helicopter to Lundy Island
In the winter, Lundy Island day trips are still possible. You can take a helicopter to the island, which takes a mere 15 minutes! From this vantage point, you’ll be able to get some of the most exemplary views of this unique place.
Is it worth staying overnight on Lundy Island?
The day trip to Lundy is quite short, and there is a lot to explore on this island, especially if you get a fine day. Bearing that in mind, I would recommend staying on Lundy Island, if you have time and your finances allow. However, there is only limited accommodation on the island and it sells out quickly.
If you can’t stay for any reason, or if there is no accommodation available, then I would say it is still worth doing the Lundy Island day trip. Most people do actually end up visiting just for the day, because there is boat capacity but not accommodation capacity!
If you do want to look at staying on Lundy Island, check out the accommodation availability here.
Things to do on Lundy Island
To learn about Lundy’s unique history, fauna and geology, do a free ranger walk. Your informative guide will tell you everything they know about the island (and it’s a lot), while walking from the pier to the village, around the southern side of the cliff. Rangers meet each boat as they come in, usually with a tour sign. The tours are completely free.
Hiking around the island
The ranger walk will only take you around the bottom of the island, so be sure to spend some time walking around the rest of it too! Look out for watch huts, cannons, and other mementos of its history, as well as plenty of wildlife. On a clear day, you can see all the way back to North Devon’s coastline.
There is a small museum with more information about Lundy Island’s history opposite the shop in the village.
Boat trip around the island
You probably won’t be able to do this during a Lundy Island day trip, but if this guide has persuaded you to spend more time there, boat trips around the island run, which discuss its unique position and why each side has a different story.
If the weather is warm, you might be tempted to take to the water. British seas aren’t the most welcoming in the world, but with a diverse range of fish and other sea life, plus the potential opportunity to sea a seal (don’t swim too far out if you don’t have a boat though) makes it much more tempting!
Lundy Island was made for sunbathing – with virtually no shade, there are plenty of places to stretch out and catch some rays, both on the beaches and at the top of the cliffs! Make sure you whack on your SPF though – this is England, but sunburn is still a danger.
The Old Light is a famous Lundy Island lighthouse with two deckchairs where the light was once located; so you can sit up here and enjoy the views for a while! As you’d expect, you must tackle a steep winding staircase to get to this point.
St Helen’s Church
Even on an island as small as Lundy, there is still a church. This is what the small community of Lundy Island opted to spend 400 on in 1897! The church has some interesting exhibitions of life on Lundy, and the outside makes for some good photos.
There are 27 points around Lundy Island, and each has a stamp that you can add to your letterboxing book (purchasable at the shop). If you get all 27 stamps, you’ll earn a certificate. This might be a bit challenging to complete on a Lundy Island day trip, but if you end up staying longer, it may be a challenge worth accepting!
Send a post card
Lundy Island has its very own private postal system (the oldest one in the world!), and its stamps have forfeited the queens portrait for a very cute puffin photo. The island also has its own postmark, so do send yourself or a loved one a postcard while you’re here. It may take a few days to reach the mainland (more if there are storms), but it’s a great memento of your trip! Postcards and stamps can be purchased from the shop.
Eating on Lundy Island
There’s only one option: the Marisco Tavern, Lundy Island’s only pub. You can sit inside or in the beer garden, and order from their fairly diverse menu, which includes some vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
You can also purchase food from their surprisingly well stocked shop, or of course bring your own food with you.
When to visit Lundy Island
As it is such an outdoorsy place, it makes sense to do Lundy Island when the weather should be warm and sunny. Generally, it is best from May to September. But this is England, and storms can still rage in the summer!
Lundy Island is unfortunately prone to bad storms, so your day trip may be cancelled if there is one that will make the sea crossing dangerous (you should hear about this the night before).
The winter has a higher chance of storms, but Lundy is still open for tourism, as long as you are prepared to get a helicopter over rather than the boat.
Where to stay in Ilfracombe
After your Lundy Island day trip, you might be looking for somewhere to spend the night nearby. Here are some places to stay in Ilfracombe:
Budget Hotel: The Avoncourt Lodge is an Ilfracombe-based B&B. Each room has an en-suite and other mod cons. You’ll be able to enjoy a delicious breakfast each day, and there are beautiful grounds to stroll around. Click here for more information and to reserve your spot.
Mid Range Hotel: Rocky Cove Bed and Breakfast is a cosy guesthouse with bright, sunny rooms and spacious en-suites. A flat screen TV is installed in all rooms. Click here for rates and to reserve.
Luxury Hotel: Carlton Hotel has huge rooms with super comfy beds, plush carpets and plenty of space. A full English breakfast is available each morning, and there is a bar, restaurant and fitness centre on site. Click here for more information and to book your stay!
Where to go next
Heading east, Exmoor is an expansive national park with plenty to offer. Lynmouth has been dubbed ‘Little Switzerland’ due to its charming mountain views, and the Valley of Rocks is an excellent hike near its nearby village, Lynton. These two villages are connected by the country’s last water-powered funicular.
On the moors, there are plenty of hikes. Try trekking up to Dunkery Beacon, or hiking from the picturesque village of Porlock to Porlock Weir.