Day trip from Cardiff to Flat Holm Island
Day trip from Cardiff to Flat Holm Island

Day trip from Cardiff to Flat Holm Island

Flat Holm Island is one of the two quaint specks on land roughly 9.5 km off the coast of Cardiff in the Bristol Channel. It’s just over half a kilometre at its widest point and only 32 m tall at its highest.

Along with its sister island, Steep Holm, Flat Holm is visible from Cardiff Bay. Whenever I’ve been at Cardiff Bay, these islands have always intrigued me, making me want to explore them. The good news is that you can easily get to both.

A trip to Flat Holm is an off the beaten path mini adventure that’s definitely worth doing if you’re visiting Cardiff. And in this quick guide, I’ll explain the trip so that you can explore the island too.

Table of contents

First things to know about going to Flat Holm Island

Although visiting Flat Home is a hassle-free trip, there are a few things you need to know.

Yellow plants in the foreground, garden walls in the mid ground and a lighthouse in the background.

Firstly, the trip costs £32 and is only 5 hours in total including an hour each way on the boat. This means that you do only get roughly 2.5 hours on the island. Luckily, this is just enough time to properly see the whole place without rushing, although another 30 minutes would be ideal.

Secondly, there is only one return boat journey from Cardiff Bay per day in the summer (less frequent in the winter), so you’ll definitely want to be back at the boat on time. Although I didn’t get the impression that the captain would leave without first trying to find out where you were.

Thirdly, you have to pay a £5 landing fee per adult in cash to visit the island. This is on top of the £32 you pay for the return boat ride and you pay it on arrival.

Alan arriving at Flat Holm walking up a ramp from the sea . here is a red and white boat on the eft.
Our boat to Flat Holm, the Lewis Alexandre.

How do you get to Flat Holm Island?

The only way to get to Flat Holm is by boat and only one company runs a return boat trip from Cardiff Bay once a day. The company that runs the boat is Cardiff Cruises and you can find the annual schedule for Flat Holm trips on their site.

But before you head off to look at dates, read on so you know what’s in store on Flat Holm and how to get to the trip start point in Cardiff Bay.

The journey to Flat Holm starts on the Penarth side of the Cardiff Bay Barrage. If coming from the direction of Cardiff, then you simply need to walk all the way along the Barrage from Mermaid Quay—the main part of Cardiff Bay where all the bars and restaurants are. If you’re coming down to the bay through Penarth, then Paget Road is the most direct route.

At the Penarth end, the barrage has a bridge. And at the end of the bridge next to the roundabout there is a flight of stairs taking you down beside the barrage to a pontoon. This is where the boat to Flat Holm leaves from.

The hour-long journey starts by heading through the barrage. The boat leaves the pontoon for the bridge. The bridge is part of a lock system allowing boats to pass through and it opens upwards. You move into the lock and wait a few minutes for the water to lower to sea level.

Once you’re out of the lock you move out into the open water and begin to chug along. Flat Holm Island is straight ahead. On the way you might pass bigger commercial boats and be passed by faster fishermen’s boats too.

A large boat in the sea coming towards the photographer's boat.

As you get closer to the island, you’ll see the small landing cove and a narrow ramp leading from the water up to the shore. As the boat arrives, the captain steers it up onto the beach. The boat is designed for the hull to run over the shoreline and come to a stop. You’ll be greeted by the island’s residential warden at the ramp.

Things to do on the island

Upon arrival, the warden gives your group (we were ten people in total) a quick orientation talk about the island. Then you walk to the other side of the island to the main building next to the lighthouse to pay your landing fee. The walk takes about five minutes.

Flat Holm Island lighthouse. There is a seagull stood on a post in the foreground.

After this, you’re good to start exploring. Despite the small size of the island, it’s a good idea to take a picture of the map offered to you when you pay the landing fee. Taking a picture is smarter as that way you don’t have to go back to the building to return the map before leaving the island.

The main things to do on Flat Holm are explore the old artillery batteries dotted around the island, spot the different species of birds and check out the lighthouse. You can’t go in the lighthouse, but you do get some good views onto Steep Holm from where it stands.

Steep Holm island as seen from Flat Holm. There is a large boat passing in front of Steep Holm.

On the west side of the island, you’ll find a farmhouse where the warden lives. Opposite this are the ruins of an old building. This is the abandoned cholera hospital—the remote Flat Holm was once used to isolate people with the illness. Just down from these buildings is a small, rocky beach.

Head back in the direction of the boat and you’ll see a couple of the old artillery batteries. You can walk in and around some of them, but the entrances to others are bricked up. The batteries were originally built a few centuries ago, later rearmed during WW2 and then properly decommissioned.

Aside from the museum in the main building, that’s about everything to see on Flat Holm Island. One of the nicest things about this place is that aside from the warden and a couple of volunteers, it’s practically uninhabited.

Sheep in a field of yellow plants. There is a large fog horn in the background.
There are also sheep on Flat Holm.

There is, however, an important thing to know about timing your trip to Flat Holm which I’ll explain next.

What is the best time to go to Flat Holm?

We went in the summer when the days were long and the weather was warm and sunny, which is definitely the best time to go weather wise. You’ll get the best views to the coast of England and also to Cardiff. You’ll also be able to explore the whole island without getting drenched.

The boat runs during the winter, but I don’t think the trip would be that fun if you had to cross the Bristol channel in choppy waters and got caught on the island in heavy rain.

Lily stood on cliffs overlooking Flat Home Island landing cove. A red and white boat is in the sea close to the shore.

There is a drawback to going when we did (early July), though. From early May to August, Flat Holm is a breeding colony for Lesser Black-backed Gulls and there were literally thousands of them on the island. Imagine that many gulls squawking all at once. Not exactly the serenity you were expecting from an isolated little island…

As they’re breeding, the gulls get defensive if you walk anywhere close to where their chicks are. And it can be tricky to avoid the chicks because they’re usually hidden in and amongst the ferns just off the trials. The adults will swoop on you and sometimes more than one will attack you at once. As another defence mechanism, the gulls will try to poo on you. The warden warned us all to keep our jackets on and his was covered in seagull poo. Luckily, we managed to dodge any gull poo bombs.

A lighthouse. There are purple plants in the foreground.

However, the clouds of gulls formed by the sheer numbers of them circling in the sky above is a cool sight and so going during the breeding season didn’t lessen the trip for me.

FAQs

Who owns Flat Holm?

Flat Holm belongs to Cardiff Council.

How many people live on Flat Holm Island?

The warden lives on Flat Holm permanently and is accompanied by a small number of volunteers at any one time.

Flat Holm Island. There are water trails from a boat in the foreground.

Can you stay on Flat Holm?

There is dormitory accommodation available for a limited number of people along with camping. Cardiff Harbour Authority have the latest information including prices and how to book on their website.

Are there toilets on Flat Holm?

There are toilets behind the main building where you pay the landing fee.

More adventure travel inspiration

So that’s the Flat Holm Island experience. Let me know in the comments if you found this guide useful. If you’re after more travel inspiration, then head to the A World Over blog. Otherwise, these next articles might be just what you’re looking for.

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