The Best Things to do on the Isle of Man

The 15 Best Things to do on the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man is unlike anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and that’s because this small island in the middle of the Irish Sea is not technically part of the UK. At just 33 miles long and 13 miles wide, the Isle of Man is a semi-independent “Crown Dependency,” where they make their own laws, print their own currency, and speak their own language.

Set foot on the Isle of Man, and you’ll realize that this is a place apart from the rest of the United Kingdom. Since the Tynwald, one of the oldest continuously functioning parliaments in the world, was first founded by Vikings over a thousand years ago, the Isle of Man has steadfastly held onto its autonomy. Locals still speak with a twang of the Gaelic Manx language, there’s no speed limit on the roads, and Mann (as the locals call their island home) lives by its own rules.

You can learn all about this unique history by visiting the Manx Museum, exploring the ancient Manx capital of Castletown, and by searching out the many ancient burial mounds and Viking sights across the island. But the Isle of Man is also home to stunning nature, scenic coastal walks, mountain tramways, and the infamous Isle of Man TT motorcycle race. 

With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to start. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do on the Isle of Man for you. Keep to these fun and unique Isle of Man bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’re going to have an incredible time exploring this gorgeous island!

15 Fun and Unique Things to do in the Isle of Man

1. Uncover the island’s history and culture at the Manx Museum

Best Things to do in Isle of Man: Manx Museum
Image courtesy of Visit Isle of Man

At the Manx Museum in Douglas, you can uncover over 10,000 years of island history. This fantastic local museum is run by Manx National Heritage and is a fascinating opportunity to learn all about the Isle of Man’s history and culture at the start of your island journey.

The Manx Museum (known in the Manx language as Thie Tashtee Vannin) starts by taking you back in time to the Stone Age. You’ll learn all about the first Neolithic settlements to be built across the island by its first human inhabitants before stepping forward a few centuries as you delve into the pivotal Viking era. 

The Vikings founded the Tynwald, which claims to be one of the oldest (if not the oldest) continually run parliaments in the world. Their legacy is still apparent in the government and language of the Isle of Man (the Tynwald still governs today!), while the museum houses Viking treasures and riches unearthed across the island. 

The museum is also home to an excellent natural history collection, which takes you even further back in time than the human history of the Isle of Man. 

But ancient history isn’t all you’ll see at the Manx Museum. There’s also a permanent gallery exploring the role of the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom’s wars and conflicts since the 18th century (the exhibition is named Mann at War). Every summer, there’s also an excellent exhibition covering the perils and pitfalls of the Isle of Man TT, the iconic motorcycle racing event that’s held here annually.

2. Take a stroll along Douglas Promenade

Cool Things to do in Isle of Man: Douglas Promenade

Since the Isle of Man’s tourism boom began in earnest with the Victorians, Douglas Promenade has been one of the island’s major tourist destinations.

Although the promenade itself has admittedly seen better days (it’s scheduled for a massive refurbishment project), there’s no denying that this seafront esplanade offers a unique insight into the capital’s history and heritage. 

Douglas Promenade is lined with Victorian-built townhouses, many of which are now hotels and guesthouses. The promenade itself is home to a heritage walk linking major sights like the Douglas Promenade Gardens and the old Victorian theater. 

We recommend starting your walk by the gardens. From here, you can look out across Douglas Bay toward the striking sight of the Tower of Refuge, a small sanctuary built on an islet that was designed to help shipwreck survivors. Stroll north along Douglas Promenade, and you can stop off at the Sunken Gardens as you make your way toward Douglas Broadway Beach. 

3. Explore Castletown, the ancient Manx capital

Isle of Man Bucket List: Castletown

A trip to Castletown is one of the must-do things on Isle of Man. Located a 30-minute drive south of the modern capital of Douglas, Castletown is better known as the ancient Manx capital. 

Castletown was the island’s capital until 1869, and even today, it’s still home to the historic Tynwald. The Tynwald is the Isle of Man’s High Court, where laws and legislation continue to be passed over a thousand years after the Vikings established it. While the local government does most of its work in Douglas, they still hold a ceremonial sitting of the Tynwald, always on Tynwald Day. 

Castletown is home to winding streets and a traditional fishing harbor, while the formidable Castle Rushen still dominates the town. The castle is one of the best places to visit if you’d like to understand more about the Isle of Man’s unique sense of independence from the United Kingdom. 

The castle was originally built by a medieval Norse king, and it was the home of the independent Kings of Mann for many generations. In 1521, the King of Mann became the Lord of Mann, but the island still held onto its Manx identity. 

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4. Ride the steam railway from Douglas to Port Erin

What to do in Isle of Man: Steam Railway from Douglas to Port Erin

A ride on the steam railway is one of the top things to do on the Isle of Man. Dating back to the 1870s, this old Victorian railway route is very much still in business today. 

The steam railway is part of the Isle of Man’s wider rail network, but it still makes use of historic steam engines and carriages. Rail aficionados will love the traditional Pullman-style carriages and the fact that they’ll be riding on the longest narrow-gauge steam railway anywhere in the United Kingdom.

You can start your journey at the train station in Douglas, from where the steam railway traverses the coastline for 15.5 miles to its terminus in Port Erin. Along the way, you can hop on and off at major tourist sights like Castletown and Port St Mary before enjoying the seaside delights of Port Erin’s popular beach. 

5. Brave a boat ride to the Calf of Man

Isle of Man Things to do: Calf of Man

Just off the most southerly tip of the Isle of Man, you’ll find an even smaller island known as the Calf of Man. A day trip to the Calf of Man is one of the most unique things to do in the Isle of Man, but only if you can brave the boat ride out there.

The Calf of Sound, which separates the Calf of Man from the Isle of Man, is less than a mile at its widest extent, but it’s known for being a particularly bumpy passage. You’ll need to catch a boat from Port Erin and then brave the Irish Sea as you traverse the coastline south to the Calf of Man. 

Best Things to do in Isle of Man: Calf of Man

The boat ride itself is beautiful, and you’ll pass striking natural sights like the Drinking Dragon rocks and Chicken Rock Lighthouse before crossing the Calf of Sound and making landfall. You might see dolphins, seals, and porpoises on the journey, and then once you’re on the island, you’ll spot bird species like puffins and the Manx shearwater. 

6. Cross the causeway to explore Peel Castle

Unique Things to do in Isle of Man: Peel Castle

Peel Castle is one of the best sights on the Isle of Man, but you have to cross an epic causeway from the mainland to reach it. 

You’ll find Peel Castle on St Patrick’s Isle, a small islet connected to the town of Peel by a narrow causeway surrounded by water. It’s a short but beautiful walk from Peel, and you’ll be met by the sight of crumbling ruins framed by the Irish Sea.

St Patrick’s Isle was once home to Irish monks, but a Viking king decided it was the perfect place to build a castle. Since the 11th century AD, Peel Castle has dominated the west coast of the Isle of Man, and much of the impressive walls and medieval towers remain ripe for exploration to this day. 

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7. Learn about the sea gods at the House of Manannan

Fun Things to do in Isle of Man: House of Manannan

Some say the Isle of Man is named after the sea god Manannan; others say that the sea god is named after the Isle of Man. Whichever might be true, you can learn more about the island’s Celtic and Viking past with a trip to the House of Manannan.

This quirky museum is located in Peel, and it’s devoted to telling the tale of the Isle of Man’s seafaring past. The museum itself is located within a reconstruction of a Celtic roundhouse, where you’ll learn all about sea gods like Manannan that have played mythological roles in the local culture for centuries. 

You can then see a reconstruction of a Viking longship and learn how the Norse raiders that arrived on the Isle of Man changed its history forever. The House of Manannan then steps forward in time to explore the island’s various fishing and maritime industries, showing how the sea continues to shape the lives of those who live here today. 

8. Unravel the mysteries of King Orry’s Grave

One of the oldest Isle of Man attractions is King Orry’s Grave, a Neolithic burial chamber thought to be at least 4,000 years old. King Orrey’s Grave is the largest megalithic tomb on the island, and it’s thought to have been the lavish burial site, complete with standing stones and menhirs, of an early Manx king.

Except, the mysteries of King Orry’s Grave have yet to be fully unraveled. Delve deeper into the story, and you’ll realize that “King Orry” has long been part of local lore and legend. But the character of King Orry is just that, a character, and his exploits are, in fact, based on an 11th-century Viking king named King Godred Crovan, who did really exist. 

This puts the story at odds with archaeology. While the grave has been attributed to be that of the legendary King Orry, the identity of the person actually buried here may remain a mystery forever. You can visit King Orry’s Grave yourself, as it’s located less than a mile from the center of Laxey. 

9. Be awed by the views from the summit of Snaefell

Isle of Man Bucket List: Snaefell

At 621 meters in height, the summit of Snaefell is the highest point on the Isle of Man. The mountain peak is located halfway between Douglas and Ramsey, and you can bet that the views from the top are incredible. 

Snaefell has long been a tourist attraction, and you’ll find that there are several routes to the summit. If you love a bit of hillwalking, then you can hike to the top from Laxey. It’s a tough, uphill climb that will take you most of the day there and back. 

In summer, you can save your feet and take the electric Snaefell Mountain Railway to the summit. This marvelous work of Victorian engineering first opened in 1895 and takes tourists along a 5-mile rail route from Laxey. 

The third option is to drive the Snaefell Mountain Road (A18), a winding highway that’s notorious as one of the most dangerous sections of the Isle of Man TT motorcycle racing event. If you take the road, remember there’s no national speed limit on the Isle of Man!

In fact, the Isle of Man is the only place in the United Kingdom where it’s possible to see England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. From the top of Snaefell, you’ll see Wales to the south, to the east is England, to the north is Scotland, and to the northwest, you’ll be able to see Northern Ireland.

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10. Hike an entire nation on The Way of the Gull Walk

Isle of Man Bucket List: The Gull Walk
Image courtesy of Visit Isle of Man

If you’ve ever wanted to hike around an entire nation, then you have the chance to do so on the Isle of Man (if you consider the Isle of Man a country, that is, which the locals do!). The Way of the Gull Walk (or in local Manx: Raad ny Foillan) is a 100-mile-long hiking route that traverses the entire island’s coastline, and it’s a beautiful way to explore the Isle of Man.

For outdoor lovers, this is one of the ultimate things to do on the Isle of Man. Have no doubt, the coastal paths you’ll be following are tough in places, flat in few areas, but stunning to behold. Trudge your way to the top of windswept cliffs, and you’ll be awed by views across the Irish Sea before the path drops down to sandy beaches, where in summer, you might even be tempted by a swim. 

The fastest walkers might manage The Way of the Gull Walk in just four days if they’re traveling light. To really enjoy the scenery, the beaches, the cliffs, and the historical sights along the way, though, we’d recommend taking at least a week, perhaps even longer. You can plan your trek in advance by booking guesthouses and bed and breakfasts in fishing villages, or you can bring your own tent and camp out under the stars. 

11. Feel the need for speed at the Isle of Man TT

Must do things in Isle of Man: Isle of Man TT

For two weeks in summer, the winding coastal roads of the Isle of Man are devoted to one thing: motorcycle racing. The Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) has taken place almost every year since the first race was held in 1907, and since then, it’s cemented itself on the racing scene as one of the most formidable events on the calendar. 

In May and June, the island is quite literally taken over by motorcycle racers and motor enthusiasts. The main roads are closed to the public, and the island becomes one enormous racing circuit. It’s quite a sight to see, even if you’re not normally into motorcycle racing. Although, be warned, accommodation sells out very quickly.

The racing starts with qualifying rounds before moving to the main time trial events toward the end of the two weeks. Because of the high speeds and dangerous layout of the course, the Isle of Man TT has also cemented itself as the most deadly motorcycle race in the world. 

Since 1907, there have been 265 fatalities resulting from the racing. In 2022, a total of five people were killed at the Isle of Man TT, but still, the death toll doesn’t stop people from racing.

12. Take the electric Railway from Douglas to Laxey

What to do in Isle of Man: Electric Railway from Douglas to Laxey

The Isle of Man’s vintage Victorian-era electric railway system is very much still an integral part of the island’s transport network, and one of the best sightseeing routes is from Douglas to Laxey.

The first electric trains started rolling along this narrow gauge line in 1899, and many of the original cars and carriages are still in use well over a century later. The route from Douglas to Laxey is also the longest electric narrow gauge railway in the world, with a stunning 17 miles of coastal scenery for you to enjoy along the way.

Isle of Man Things to do: Electric Railway from Douglas to Laxey

You can visit the Manx Electric Railway Museum if you’d like to learn more about the history and heritage of the island’s rail network, or you can just sit back, relax, and take in the views from your vintage carriage.

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13. Climb to the top of The Great Laxey Wheel

Cool Things to do in Isle of Man: The Great Laxey Wheel

The Great Laxey Wheel is one of the best things to see on the Isle of Man. Found outside the village of Laxey (the terminus of the Manx Electric Railway), you’ll be awed by the staggering height of the world’s largest working water wheel. 

The Great Laxey Wheel has a diameter of 22 meters, and it was originally built to supply water to nearby mines. There’s even a small viewing platform at the top of the old service tower that you can climb up for fantastic views of the surrounding Glen Mooar Valley. 

Best Things to do in Isle of Man: The Great Laxey Wheel

From here, you can then explore the mining heritage of Laxey. You can visit the old mines themselves, see how the island’s miners used to live and work, and then ride the Great Laxey Mines Steam Railway.

14. Embrace the Isle of Man’s unique identity on Tynwald Day

Best Things to do in Isle of Man: Tynwald Day
Image courtesy of Visit Isle of Man

July 5 is Tynwald Day on the Isle of Man, when islanders come together to celebrate their unique history, culture, and identity. Taking part in the celebrations is one of the coolest things to do on the Isle of Man, and you can join the traditions that take place at Tynwald Hill.

Tynwald Hill is a symbol of the Isle of Man’s independence, and you’ll find this conical hill partway between Peel and Douglas. The four-tiered hill is the site of an open-air ceremony on Tynwald Day that’s said to have first been held by the Vikings a millennium ago. The elaborate ceremony involves a procession, followed by a series of traditions that “officially” bring any new laws passed by the Isle of Man’s government that year into force. 

Tynwald Day also sees many festivities across the island, and you’ll find markets, events, and plenty of parties taking place across the Isle of Man!

15. Explore the Isle of Man’s Dark Sky Discovery Sites

Cool Things to do in Isle of Man: Dark Sky Discovery Sites
Images courtesy of Visit Isle of Man

The Isle of Man’s remote location amid the Irish Sea means that the island is ripe for stargazing. In isolated spots across the island, you’ll find a unique network of “Dark Sky Discovery Sites,” which are perfect locations for exploring the night sky above.

There are 26 official Dark Sky Discovery Sites and many more unlisted stargazing locations that you’ll simply stumble across during your stay. These Dark Sky Discovery Sites are set well away from light pollution, and on a clear, dark night, you’ll be able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye. 

The Smeale Coastal Area, Cregnesh, Port Soderick, Fort Island, and The Sound are renowned stargazing spots, while you can always pay a visit to the Isle of Man Observatory, too. 

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There you have it! The 15 best things to do on the Isle of Man. What’s your favorite thing to do on the Isle of Man?

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About the Author:

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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