The Isle of Man (Manx: Ellan Vannin) is an island in the British Isles, sitting in the Irish Sea midway between Cumbria in England and County Down in Northern Ireland. It's not part of the United Kingdom but is a Crown Dependency: its own elected parliament "Tynwald" governs island affairs but matters such as defence and foreign affairs are governed by the UK. In 2021 its population was 84,069.
The Isle of Man has a large summer tourist industry. Its big attraction is the TT motorbike races held in May / June.
- 1 Douglas (Doolish) is the capital and largest town on the island.
- 2 Castletown (Balley Chashtal) the former capital has a fine castle and the Old House of Keys.
- 3 Port St Mary (Purt le Moirrey) is a resort village on the south coast.
- 4 Port Erin (Purt Çhiarn) is a village on the southwest coast.
- 5 Peel (Purt ny h-Inshey) has an impressive island castle, cathedral and museums.
- 6 St John's (Balley Keeill Eoin) is tiny, yet the site of the island's first parliament.
- 7 Laxey (Laksaa) is a delightful village where a giant water wheel once pumped the lead mines.
- 8 Ramsey (Rhumsaa) has a long sandy beach.
- 9 Jurby has two transport museums.
- 1 Calf of Man (Yn Cholloo) is a small island bird sanctuary. Boat trips sail from Port Erin and Port St Mary.
- 2 Snaefell (Sniaull) is the highest point on Mann: on a clear day you can see Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland. Take the mountain railway or hike up.
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- "Manannan beg va Mac y Leirr, Shen yn chied er ec row rieau ee . . . "
- - Manannan in legend was the first ruler of Mann, Son of the Seagod Leir, and summoned the mist as a cloak of invisibility
Rising sea levels made this an island around 6500 BC, the same era that Great Britain was sundered from the continent. Stone Age settlers farmed, fished and erected megaliths. In the Iron Age around 500 BC came the Celts, who spoke a Brythonic or P-Celtic language akin to Old Welsh. The Romans probably set foot here but didn't linger. About 500 AD arrivals from Ireland brought Q-Celtic, the forerunner to the Manx, Scottish and Irish Gaelic languages. From 800 AD the Vikings raided, then settled and became christianised. Godred Crovan (King Orry of legend) was a Viking or Norse warrior who ruled from the 1070s. His realm was called Suðr-eyjar, the southern islands of Mann and the Hebrides, distinct from Norðr-eyjar the northern islands of Orkney and Shetland, hence the ecclesiastical diocese of Sodor and Mann.
Norse power was broken in the 13th century and Mann was ceded to Scotland, but became a shuttlecock in the Anglo-Scottish wars. Mainland absentee barons treated it as a chattel and ranch. High taxes in the 18th century fostered smuggling all around Britain, and in Mann this reached such a pitch that London government took over. In 1765 they bought out the feudal rights from the baron, who in that era was the Duke of Atholl. They considered merging it with the county of Cumberland, but opted to govern direct, with the title "Lord of Mann" returning to the monarch, nowadays Charles III. (It's called "revestment" - when the monarch creates a lordship he / she "invests" it, so this is the reverse, only for once not involving treason and lopped heads on pikes.) Mann was not included in those versions of the United Kingdom constituted in 1603, 1707 or 1801. In 1868 the island was granted a degree of local autonomy; it re-invented itself as a Victorian holiday resort, and also invented a thousand-year tradition of Manx parliament that in reality had enjoyed little sway on the island.
The island is 33 miles (53 km) long northeast to southwest, and 13 miles (22 km) at its widest. It's hilly, effectively an outlier of the English Lake District and the Scottish lowland hills, suitable for small scale farming. The hills draw mist and cloud (" Manannan's Cloak") and the maritime climate is mild. Summers are cool with sunshine and showers. Winters are seldom bitter, and the highest peak Snaefell at 621 m is named for being the only spot where snow might linger. The island is congested during the TT Races in June, busy through August, then quiet the rest of the year with many amenities closing down Nov to March.
The TT motorbike races, commenced in 1907, are the Isle of Man's top tourist draw. It was illegal to race motor vehicles on the mainland so racing began here, as it did in Ireland. "TT" stands for Tourist Trophy but could equally stand for time trials, as bikes depart at ten second intervals and aren't racing head-to-head. The course is on-road, a triangular lap of 37.730 miles / 60.721 km from Douglas to Peel then Ramsey then back to Douglas, with a series of races in different categories. Roads are closed to the public during races and official practice - sounds obvious, but it took them twenty years to think of it. The course is dangerous and in the 1970s riders boycotted it, so the TT lost its Grand Prix status, with the premier races moving to Silverstone off-road circuit in England. And the grim statistics only include those killed during the official event - they omit the wannabee visitors who blat around the course outside race days, and those caught in their path.
English is spoken by all. Manx is no longer a living language - there isn't a Gaeltacht as in Ireland or Scotland - though the government is trying to promote it, and in one primary school Manx is the language of instruction. You'll see many street signs in Manx.
British and Irish citizens may enter and live in the Isle of Man without a visa or clearance from the Immigration Office. However, they may only work if they have a work permit.
The Isle of Man forms a "Common Travel Area" with the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and the Channel Isles. If you're eligible to enter any one of them without a visa, then you may enter them all, and if you're granted a visa for one then it covers them all. Often the ferries don't ask to see your passport.
The Isle of Man is not part of the EU Schengen travel zone and those visas are not valid for the Common Travel Area.
Many countries' citizens may enter for tourism and similar purposes without a visa: see United Kingdom#Get in. These include EU / EEA countries, USA and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but not South Africa or India. Entry is for up to six months. If you do need a visa, the normal application process is via the UK immigration website. An Irish visa is also valid but that is an unusual way for a non-European to enter the Isle of Man, so expect some questioning on arrival lest you're scheming something cute. Visas are multi-entry and briefly leaving the island and returning (say for a weekend in Amsterdam) does not re-start the clock on your six months.
1 Isle of Man Airport (IOM IATA) is at Ronaldsway, just outside Castletown in the south of the island. It has flights year-round from London (Gatwick and City), Liverpool, Manchester and Dublin, and others seasonally. Airlines include BA, Easyjet, Loganair and Aer Lingus.
The airport has car hire and the usual facilities, and has its own station a short walk away on the Isle of Man Steam Railway, which runs from March to October. However buses from the airport serve the same destinations, are quicker, more frequent and closer to the terminal building so take the bus unless you are a die hard rail enthusiast. See Castletown for the aviation and military museum just south of the terminal.
Douglas is the port for all ferries. These are operated by the Steam Packet Company, carry vehicles, and sail from:
- Liverpool Apr-Oct, one or two sailings daily by fast cat, 2 hr 45 min. Nov-March they sail instead from Birkenhead on the opposite bank of the Mersey, Sa Su only by conventional boat, 4 hr 15 min.
- Heysham in Lancashire year round, one daytime and one overnight sailing by conventional boat, 3 hr 30 min.
- Belfast May-Aug, one per week (days vary) by fast cat (2 hr 45) or conventional boat (4 hr 30 min). Plus a couple of Christmas / New Year extras.
- Dublin June-Aug, one per week (days vary) by fast cat, 3 hr.
Sailing times vary with the tides. Camper vans up to 7.5 m length can be booked online, but for anything larger (such as caravans) you need to call reservations (+44 1624 661661). Bicycles and dogs go free.
|Currency||pound sterling (GBP)|
|Population||83.3 thousand (2016)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (BS 1363)|
|Time zone||UTC±00:00, Europe/Isle_of_Man|
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Bus routes radiate from Douglas Lord Street Interchange near the ferry terminal. They run south every 20 min to the airport, Castletown, Port St Mary and Port Erin, and north hourly to Laxey and Ramsey. They run west every 30 min or so to St John's and Peel, and an hourly bus continues northeast from Peel to Kirk Michael and Ramsey. There is no service down the west coast between Peel and Port Erin, and only an occasional school bus to Jurby.
Buses within Douglas in 2023 have single adult fares of £1.30-£2. To the airport or Castletown is £3.10, to Port St Mary or Port Erin is £3.40, to Ramsey is £3.10 and to Peel £2.70. Children 5-15 pay half fare and under-5s are free.
The Isle of Man has narrow-gauge heritage railways the way tropical islands have mosquitoes. Three of them can be regarded as practical transport, the rest are simply tourist- and kiddy-rides. All three run mid-March to end of October and are operated by IOM Bus and Rail.
- IOM Steam Railway runs south from Douglas station (near the bus station and ferry terminal) to Castletown, Port St Mary and Port Erin, with four trains a day.
- Manx Electric Railway runs north hourly from Douglas Derby Castle (north end of the promenade) to Laxey (for Snaefell) and Ramsey.
- Snaefell Mountain Railway connects at Laxey with the Electric Railway and ascends to the summit of Snaefell.
In 2023 the adult return fare from Douglas is £13 to Castletown, £17 to Port St Mary or Port Erin, £13 to Laxey and £17 to Ramsey. From Douglas or Ramsey via Laxey to Snaefell summit and return is £18, and buying the Laxey-Snaefell portion separately is £16. Child fares are half the adult on the same basis as the buses.
Go Explore is a smart card for unlimited travel by all modes. You will struggle to break even on this: a one-day ticket is £19, so it would take an excursion on the railway plus connecting bus trips to maybe save £1. A three-day ticket is £39. These cards don't get you into any attractions, but the Go Explore Heritage does so - dubious value at £67 for five days. Other cards are designed for frequent travel such as commuting.
Most visitors bring their own vehicle on the ferry. Cars can be hired at the airport and ferry terminal.
Drive on the left, same as in Britain and Ireland. The roads are reasonably well-maintained. Traffic rules are much the same as on the mainland, except that there is no general speed limit. Once clear of town, you can open the throttle and blur along at Mach speeds with your hair on fire, and lots of bikers do so. That doesn't make it a smart thing to do, and those village corners flashing past are often named for the racer who totalled in there.
Throughout the TT fortnight, the mountain section A18 is one-way southbound from Ramsey to Creg-ny-Baa near Douglas, and cyclists are prohibited. This is apart from the complete closures during races and practice. Go north on the coast road A2 via Laxey.
Taxis are available at the airport, at Douglas ferry terminal and in Ramsey, see individual towns.
- Laxey Wheel is the giant waterwheel symbolic of the island. This and its smaller sisters pumped the lead mines carved into the hillside.
- Castle Rushen is an impressive fortress in Castletown.
- Peel Castle is on an islet reached by road, with its curtain wall encompassing a ruined cathedral.
- House of Manannan also in Peel is an excellent museum of the island's story from Celtic times through the Viking period to the Victorian holiday resorts.
- Prehistoric sites of burial and ritual are found near Port St Mary and near Laxey.
- Cregneash near Port St Mary is a restored Manx crofting village.
- Calf of Man off the southwest tip is a birdlife reserve.
- Hike – the longest trail is Raad ny Foillan, The Way of the Gull, a 95-mile (150-km) footpath around the coast of the island.
- Fish – There are numerous places to fish from piers and in lakes. Permits may be required in some.
- Cycle – You'll need to be fit, the roads are hilly.
- TT Races are held over a fortnight in June. The island is chock-a-block then, and accommodation and ferries / flights must be booked well in advance. The next races are 1-8 June 2024, with practice and qualifying laps over the preceding week.
- See also: United Kingdom#Money
Exchange rates for British pounds
As of Jan 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from xe.com
The Manx pound (£) is equal in value to the British pound sterling (ISO code: GBP). Manx coins are of the same shape and denominations as UK ones, plus a £5 coin. Manx notes have distinct designs and are issued as £1 (depicting Tynwald Hill), £5 (Castle Rushen), £10 (Peel Castle), £20 (Laxey Wheel), and £50 (Douglas Bay). UK Sterling is also legal tender, and Scottish, Northern Irish, and English notes and coins freely circulate. However Manx notes are not legal tender in the UK, and may attract poor exchange rates beyond, so trade them before leaving at any branch of the Isle of Man Bank.
Retailers may accept euros but are under no obligation to do so, and may offer sub-par rates.
Shopping: Many UK chain stores are represented in the island, mainly in Douglas. The local supermarket chain is Shoprite, with outlets in Douglas, Peel, Ramsey, Castletown and Port Erin.
Manx specialities include smoked kippers and Manx Tartan.
The Isle of Man serves trad fare to a budget audience. Indian, Chinese and Italian places are uncommon.
Fish is a major component but may have travelled many miles to get here. Offerings include takeaway fish and chips, smoked kipper, crab baps and queen scallops - and these last are often locally-sourced.
Pubs are often a good bet for food. Douglas, Ramsey and Peel have the most dining choice, while Port St Mary and Port Erin have few options. Many places are closed on Monday.
The minimum age to purchase alcohol is 18. Unlike in the United Kingdom, 16-year-olds may not consume alcohol with a meal on licensed premises.
All the towns have bars, and these are often a good choice for food. There are pop-up bars during the TT.
Breweries: Douglas has Okells, Bushy's, Radical Brewing and Kaneen's. The Isle of Man does not have a vineyard.
Distilleries: Fynoderee in Ramsey makes whisky, Seven Kingdom in Douglas makes gin and vodka.
There are camping and caravan sites around Douglas, Peel, Ramsey and Port St Mary, and pop-ups during the TT. Camping is not permitted on the Calf of Man.
Most hotels and B&Bs are in Douglas, trad seafront places, but many are frankly tired and overdue for refurbishment. The Premier Inn is a rare example of a mainland chain. Many B&Bs folded during covid and have not re-opened.
The island is lacking an upscale destination hotel - where's that fellow Trump when he's wanted? It's not known what will become of the former Castle Mona. Top scores for comfort and service are awarded to the Comis, a golf hotel on the road from Douglas to Castletown.
University College Isle of Man (Colleish-Olloscoill Ellan Vannin) is in Douglas and offers degree-level courses accredited by the University of Chester.
There is seasonal work in the tourism / hospitality industry, but visitors need a Work Permit from the Isle of Man Government.
There are small offshore-finance, gaming and IT sectors, but miniscule compared to the Channel Islands.
Care of valuables, beware traffic especially during the TT, and safety at sea, are your main concerns on this very safe island.
The emergency number for police, fire and ambulance is 999, call free.
The emergency number is 999, same as in the UK.
For anything less, call the MEDS service on +44 1624 650355. They can advise (for instance on late-night pharmacies) and may direct you to the out-of-hours doctor based in Noble's Hospital at the northwest edge of Douglas. This is not a drop-in service, you must have an appointment, and your own transport unless it's a 999-grade ambulance emergency.
You must have adequate travel insurance. The Isle of Man has a reciprocal health care agreement with the United Kingdom, so British visitors here receive urgent care free, as do Manx visitors to the UK. It does not cover the cost of repatriation. Noble's Hospital is modern and well-equipped, but something complicated (say, a bypass operation following a heart attack) would necessitate an air ambulance to the mainland costing £20,000.
The agreement does not cover any other country, such as the EU, Republic of Ireland or Channel Islands, and the EHIC card is not valid here. So if you were uninsured, you'd have to meet the full cost of your heart attack, then the air ambulance all the way home to Brussels.
People from the Isle of Man are called "Manx". Don't call them British, and never ever English.
The Isle of Man is fairly socially conservative, has attracted like-mind settlers, and lacks the ethnic diversity of the UK. Its more repressive legislation has been repealed, but social attitudes linger. However, businesses welcome the raucous motley crowds that follow the TT, and anyone that doesn't like them stays home, twitching the net curtains.
There is a mythology that the word "rat" is unlucky here, say "longtail" or some such euphemism. This is a modern meme, with a bogus legend of a rat spoiling a medieval event. Do not hesitate to name the beast if it scurries across your accommodation or shows its fuzzy face on the Calf of Man, where an eradication programme is under way.
The dialling code for the Isle of Man is +44, same as for mainland Britain, so to call between them you don't dial +44. It's as if IOM was a mainland city with dialling code 01624 and domestic call charges.
However, UK mobile networks don't cover IOM so your phone will be in roaming mode. Consider buying a local SIM card if you expect to make a lot of calls. The local networks are Manx Telecom and Sure, with 4G coverage throughout the island; 5G has not yet rolled out. Manx mobile numbers have the dialling code of 07624.
Omit the dialling code if calling between Manx numbers, thus for 01624 111111, you just dial 111111.
- Liverpool needs a few days to explore, then head south for Chester, the Welsh borderlands around Chirk and Llangollen, and the coast towards Conwy.
- Heysham is within easy reach of the English Lake District. A scenic road threads southeast through the Yorkshire Dales.
- Dublin and Belfast are both must-see destinations in Ireland.
- Silverstone in the English Midlands is now the venue for Grand Prix racing, with the motorbike event held in August.