It’s surprisingly easy to do the Isle of Man by public transport – much easier than other weekend getaway destinations like the Lake District or the Highlands. As an added bonus, the Isle of Man’s public transport isn’t just boring buses. Oh no. You’ve got horse trams, the electric railway and the steam train – so the transport is as much a part of the experience as the places you’re using it to get to.
I thought I’d share my 3-day itinerary for doing the Isle of Man by public transport, which I made for a long weekend this summer (using only one day of annual leave because of desperate times).
Get the kettle on – wait no, get a G&T because you’re not driving – and read on…
Before you go to the Isle of Man
Where to stay
If you’re car-free, you’re best off staying in the centre of Douglas as a base. This’ll make it so much easier to use all the different public transport and head out for day trips to different parts of the island. Douglas also has the most going on at night too. So in the evenings, you can eat at a good choice of Douglas restaurants and then have a drink without forking out loads for a taxi ‘home’. On our last trip, we stayed at the gorgeous Raymonds B&B. The room was massive and was only £75 a night, complete with brilliant veggie breakfast.
Flights to the Isle of Man
I fly from Liverpool with EasyJet. Last time (and the trip this itinerary is based on), this meant a horribly early morning 7:30 Saturday flight to make the most of the weekend. But it worked out pretty well. It was about £40 each there and back. Obviously this will depend on the time of year and stuff, so as always you should check Skyscanner/Momondo etc.
It’s only an 18-minute flight so you’re only just in the air when you hear ‘cabin crew, prepare for landing’. Highly amusing.
Aaaaaaaand onto my actual itinerary for a long weekend in the Isle of Man by public transport…
Day 1 in the Isle of Man (Saturday): to the north
- Arrive hideously early having got the 7:30 flight from Liverpool with EasyJet. Breeze past everyone waiting for their suitcases because you’ve only got hand luggage. Exerting self-control when packing for a long weekend does have some payoff.
- Head to the airport information desk and purchase a 3-day explorer GO card, at the bargain price of £32 each. You can use it on the horse tram, buses, railways, EVERYTHING.
- Fling yourself wholeheartedly onto a bus to Douglas, assuming that’s where you’re staying. The buses have free WiFi, but I’d recommend downloading the PDF of the bus map to your phone just in case you need to look at it offline.
- Alight near wherever you’re staying to rid yourself of baggage. If you let them know ahead, I find most B&Bs/hotels are happy to hold luggage if you’re arriving before check-in time.
- Hop onto the horse tram wherever it stops near you. For us, it was outside the Gaiety Theatre (also worth seeing if you have time). As a horsey person, I’m always wary of any tourist stuff involving horses, but these chaps are definitely well looked after. They’re all Shires, Clydesdales or crosses and they have GREAT human names: Andrew, Philip, Keith, etc. Use the horse tram to get to the north end of the promenade.
- From the north end, change onto the Manx Electric Railway (usually leaving at 10 and 40 past the hour) to Ramsey. The journey is really pretty and will introduce you to the amazing Manx scenery. I don’t want to spoil it for you by describing it but it’s very good indeed.
- Ramsey is up in the north of the island. You can walk along the shore (or Mooragh Prom) and back over the bridge to explore the town a bit, probably getting windswept in the process.
- Ramsey’s centre has a handful of really nice shops to mooch round, including my favourite The Tide, where you can find all kinds of Manx-themed bits and bobs.
- Warm up with lunch at Rosa’s Pantry, a cute café that does brilliant vegan options.
- Suitably revived, head to Ramsey bus station and get the bus to Laxey. It’s the number 3 bus and leaves at 15 or 45 past the hour (on a Saturday, that is). Enjoy the scenic ride – not quite as exciting as the electric railway but as bus journeys go, it’s a good one.
- Laxey is a pretty, coastal village set into a valley, which makes for some beautiful scenery and photo opportunities. The Laxey Wheel (or Lady Isabella to her mates) is the main attraction. It’s a huge, red, working waterwheel set into the hillside above the village and you can go up it to look at the view from the top. There are some nice walks nearby if you have time.
- If the weather is clear, now’s your chance to ride the Snaefell Mountain Railway from Laxey up over 2,000 feet to the top of the Isle of Man’s only official mountain, Snaefell. The views are beyond anything and it’s the only place in the British Isles where you can see the ‘seven kingdoms’ of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Heaven, Mann and the Sea from one vantage point.
- Round off your trip to Laxey by visiting the lovely bunting-strewn café The Shed on the promenade for tea and cake or heading to the Shore pub for a pint of the local Bosun’s Bitter.
- Get the bus back to Douglas from King Orrie’s Grave, Minorca Hill.
- You must go to The Little Fish Café on the North Quay for your evening meal (I keep typing ‘evening meal’ in my blog posts because American readers are confused by the word ‘tea’ and I refuse to go southern and say ‘dinner’.) Make sure you book ahead, especially on a weekend because it gets busy, but it’s very much worth it. Manx queenies (a type of tiny-but-delicious scallop) are a big deal round these parts and you can get some amazing ones there. It’s also really pretty inside and one of those places that I’m confident recommending to my friends/family when they visit because everyone will love it. Also, it was the first place I ever got recognised in real life by a reader of the blog, which blew my mind. This obviously cemented it as my favourite restaurant of all time…
- After eating your own bodyweight in queenies, head for a gin & tonic or three just across the road at the Seven Kingdoms Distillery. They do their own excellent rhubarb gin.
- End the night at Bath & Bottle for craft beer and cocktails. It’s a bar you can happily go to in a dress and heels at the weekend without feeling overdressed. I like this very much. Enjoy the cocktails and craft beer.
- Walk ‘home’ or get a taxi if you’re in the aforementioned heels. Sorry, that goes against the public transport theme but sometimes it’s needed.
Day 2 in the Isle of Man (Sunday): west coast is the best coast
- After eating a full breakfast at the B&B because you’re definitely not hungover, head to the Manx Museum (easily walkable from most places in Douglas). This is a really good way to get to grips with Manx history and also to see a giant elk and a pufferfish with an hilarious facial expression. It’s free to get in and is open 10:00 – 17:00. It should take a couple of hours and is a good one for if it’s raining.
- Have a mooch round Douglas because you won’t really have seen it in daylight yet. This is the bit where I insist on going into TK Maxx because I really know how to experience the culture of a place.
- Look out for the Tower of Refuge in Douglas bay, an iconic part of the Manx coastline, while walking through the seafront gardens – which are really pretty in summer. Douglas also has some really nice colourful Victorian buildings if you want to get some Instagram photos… Just saying.
- Have lunch at the very trendy Noa Bakehouse. You will not regret it. It does the best pancakes and ‘squassants’ (squashed croissants).
- Pop over the road to Lord Street bus stop and get the bus to Peel.
- Peel is a lovely seaside town to explore. It’s home to the House of Manannan, a museum all about the Isle of Man’s Celtic and Viking history, including a replica of a Viking longboat. This is a brilliant shout if you’re caught in the rain but if you’ve just done the Manx Museum you might be a bit museumed out.
- Another option is going to Peel Castle. It’s a beautiful ruin and you can do a lap of it if it’s not too windy, and then walk down the beach to the other end of the town. Or you can go inside it, which is worth doing because the views are great and you might see the ghostly black dog who haunts it… Moddey Dhoo. What a name. It’s £6 to get into the castle.
- Then head to the local ice cream parlour, Davisons right on the front, to get an ice cream before wandering down the beach (vegan ice cream available too!).
- Before you leave the delights of Peel, pop into Two Fellas, which is new micropub. It’s a simple no-frills setup, with a brilliant range of craft beer (the proper hoppy kind). Also call in at the famous kipper factory to stock up on all your kippery needs.
- Get the bus from Peel Town Hall back to Douglas. It’s at 23 or 53 past the hour.
- Eat at the new(ish) Just Pizza and Pasta, which does brilliant pizza and unexpectedly inside has the kind of style of somewhere you’d expect to find in the Northern Quarter in Manchester or Bold Street in Liverpool.
- Post-pizza drinking options include The Railway Inn or the Thirsty Pigeon. The latter is closed on Sundays though I think.
- We needed to pack for the morning so for this particular long weekend that this itinerary is based on, we only stayed out for one before walking back to the B&B. The woes of a very short break.
Day 3 in the Isle of Man (Monday): down south
- Today is your last day and time is of the essence, so get that breakfast down you, pack the suitcases (ahem) and get waddling.
- Head to Douglas’s Steam Railway. Make a quick stop by the platforms for a photo with the 9 3/4 sign if you’re a Harry Potter fan (and if you’re not, please get off my blog).
- Take the 09:50 steam train to Port Erin. All aboard, toot toot, etc. The journey is frankly incredible, passing through loads of gorgeous scenery. More importantly, it’s an excellent opportunity to lean out the window and wave manically at EVERYONE you pass. If they don’t wave back, you can swear at them. It’s all in the unwritten rules of steam trains. I checked.
- The train should arrive at Port Erin about 10:50. You have a brief chance to run down to the beach or just look at it from afar if the train got in late, before catching the number 28 bus from Port Erin train station at 11:30. This takes you to the Calf of Man (The Sound) for 11:50.
- The Sound is right down in the south of the Isle of Man and it’s full of seals. Dolphins and basking sharks sometimes call in and there are loads of seabirds. But your best bet is spotting some seals playing and being super cute. If you walk to the left of the café, you can find some little steps that go down the rocks to a small seating area. Try not to fall in the sea and die.
- Have lunch at the Sound Cafe. It’s designed so that most tables have a panoramic view, which is very impressive. If it’s summer, a weekend day, or any kind of busy time, you’ll need to secure a table ASAP because it gets full and can take a while.
- Hoover that lunch up and get the number 28 bus to Port St Mary at 13:55. You won’t get to see much of Port St Mary other than a bus stop, sorry. One to save for next time. Change onto the number 2 bus to Castletown.
- Castletown is a town in the south of the island, where you can find lots of tiny doors built into the sides of buildings. They belong to the town of Balley Cashtal Beg, which is Manx Gaelic for ‘Little Castletown’. A town within the town! You can do a whole walk/trail looking for them if you have time. It may be aimed at children but I bet I appreciated it a lot more.
- The main thing to do in Castletown is Castle Rushen. It’s £8 and worth it. It’s pretty much in full working order rather than being a ruin. Most of it is indoors too so it’s a good one for a rainy day. It features those standard-issue historical dummies where you’re not quite sure if they’ll suddenly start moving and make you jump and then die of shame.
- After castling, get the bus to Ronaldsway Airport from outside Castletown’s Co-Op (you’re getting to see so many cultural landmarks!) at 16:06, arriving at the airport in time for your flight home (hopefully).
- The airport last time we were there was chokka. I don’t know if it’s always like that but be prepared. Our flight was at about 17:30, so we were back in Liverpool quite early, which gave us plenty of time to get our train off to Cheshire lands.
- And that’s the end of the Isle of Man itinerary (almost).
For next time…
Obviously, this 3-day itinerary for doing the Isle of Man by public transport isn’t the only way you could organise your trip. It might not even be the best way – we did Saturday to Monday because of when we could take annual leave, but Friday to Sunday would have been slightly better transport-wise.
Also, there’s loads of stuff I’ve not included that’s 100% accessible by public transport – not least my FAVOURITE place on the island, Niarbyl.
Have a look at my other Isle of Man posts if you want to find out more about things to do/see/eat:
- an Isle of Man travel guide: the hidden gem of the British Isles
- 20 of the best Isle of Man restaurants and places to eat and drink
- 60 things to do in the Isle of Man.
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