Located just off the coast of Pembrokeshire, Caldey Island is a popular place for tourists to visit when holidaying in this part of Wales. Open to the public from Easter to October, the beautiful island is a prime location to spend a day exploring.
Being a holy island, a trip here is one of the most unusual things to do in Pembrokeshire, but there are plenty of things to see other than the monastery that is the standout feature of the island.
A quick guide to Caldey Island
Caldey is famously known for the Cistercian monks who have inhabited the impressive monastery at the centre of the island since the early 20th century. They manage the land and are largely self-sufficient, farming and creating their own produce, some of which is sold to visiting tourists.
The religious history of the island dates back to the 5th century when a Celtic monastery was built there. It is now one of the most well-known holy islands of the UK.
In addition to the monks, there is a small community that lives on the island, including around 40 permanent residences. It even has its own post office.
Visitors are welcome during the spring and summer months and are able to explore freely. Interested in what to do on Caldey Island? Find out in this blog!
1. See the monastery
The focal point of Caldey Island is the monastery at its heart. With a distinctly Italianate architectural style, this spectacular white building looks dazzling in the sun and appears almost out of place in the UK.
While the public can’t enter Caldey monastery, you can still get quite close and take pictures. You may even catch a glimpse of the monks going about their day-to-day business.
With a cafe, museum, and post office nearby, the area around the monastery is very much the main hub of Caldey from which you can walk out and explore what else the island has to offer.
2. Visit St David’s Church
Close by to the monastery is St David’s church, which you can enter and have a look around inside at its beautiful architecture and features, including the stained glass windows made by one of the monks in the 1920s.
The existing building is Norman, although parts of it are thought to have originally been part of a 6th-century Celtic chapel.
St David’s also has a quiet graveyard in which islanders and monks are buried.
3. Walk up to the lighthouse
Heading south from the monastery, you can follow a path up a gentle slope that takes you to the lighthouse at the summit of the island.
Constructed in 1829 and automated since 1927, the lighthouse has long helped ships navigate past the St Gowan Shoals and the Helwick Sands.
Being at the highest point of Caldey Island, it’s well worth the short walk up to the island as you’ll be met with stunning views of the coast and sea. It’s also a good point from where you can go on a bigger hike
4. Take a hike around the island
There are a few trails you can follow of varying lengths, depending on how much time you have to dedicate. They will lead you around the perimeter of the island for spectacular coastal views, as well as cutting across it.
From the lighthouse, you can do a circular coastal walk heading west before looping back towards the centre. There’s also a woodland walk for an easy stroll through different scenery.
5. Look out for red squirrels
Along with the monks, Caldey Island is also one of the few places in the UK with a red squirrel population. Being cut off from the mainland, they are well protected and, because they’re allowed to thrive, it’s surprisingly easy to spot them!
Take the path heading east from the monastery and it will take you past St David’s Church, after which there will be signs directing you to the woodland walk where there’ll be plenty of opportunities to spot the cute critters running around the trees.
Heading to Caldey Island and following this trail is one of the best things to do in Tenby for families, as little kids will love being able to spot the rare red squirrels!
6. Learn more about the island in the video hall
Close by to St David’s Church is a video hall which is open to the public during the day. Inside, you can take a pew and watch the 15 minute video that plays on loop, explaining more about the island and the way of life for the monks who live on it.
On a hot summers day, the video hall is a great way to get out of the sun and into the shade, as well as allowing you a moment to rest your legs.
7. Try some Caldey chocolate
Along with perfume, something the monks of Caldey are famous for producing is chocolate. Drop by the chocolate-making room (known on the island as the chocolate factory) located by St Illtyd’s Church, and you can try out free samples and see the sweet treat being made.
You can also buy a bar of Caldey chocolate there or at the shop near the post office. They make for perfect souvenirs!
8. Explore St Illtyd’s Church
Another church you can visit on the island is St Illtyd’s. Also known as the Old Priory, this beautiful building is now largely empty, but was once the home of Benedictine monks who lived there in the medieval era.
As the oldest buildings on Caldey Island, the Old Priory and St Illtyd’s Church are worth seeing. The stone structures are beautiful and atmospheric to explore.
9. Relax on the beach
When arriving on the island, the boat will drop you off on a landing stage by Priory Bay, sandy beach which is a great place to stop by, relax, and have a dip in the sea.
While the beaches of Tenby can get crowded in the summer, Caldey Island offers a more serene experience if you’re looking to chill out on the sand.
Priory Bay is award-winning, having won the Green Coast Award, and provides a serene setting for avid beachgoers.
10. Visit the Calvary and The Watchtower
As you head up away from the beach after landing on the island, you can take a detour to see Caldey Calvary and the Watchtower Chapel.
These are often overlooked by visitors to the island, so make sure not to miss them!
The Calvary is a life-sized crucifix carved from wood, while the circular stone watchtower dates back to at least the 15th century and is now used as a chapel.
11. Get refreshments at the cafe
Offering outdoor seating with great views of Caldey monastery, a cafe at the centre of the island has all the refreshments you could need to keep you replenished during your visit to the island.
With chilled drinks, hot drinks, and sandwiches, you can stay hydrated and rest up. They also served ice cream which is much appreciated if visiting on a hot day!
How to get to Caldey Island
One of the best things to do in Tenby is take a boat from the harbour across to Caldey Island. The boat ride only takes 20 minutes, during which you’ll get great views of Tenby and the Pembrokeshire coastline.
Visit Caldey Island Kiosk in Tenby Harbour and you can buy tickets for the boats that launch every 20 to 30 minutes from Castle Beach. The tickets automatically include returns, so you don’t have to worry about buying another ticket once you want to leave the island.
FAQs about Caldey Island
Can you stay on Caldey Island?
You can stay overnight on Caldey Island, but only at St Philomena’s. However, you’ll have to organise accommodation at this retreat house ahead of arriving at the island and there are a lot of restrictions around when it’s available to guests.
Can you walk to Caldey Island?
Caldey Island can only be accessed by passenger boats, which can be booked from Tenby harbour. The island is less than 1 mile from the coast and the crossing from Tenby takes approximately 20 minutes.
How big is Caldey Island?
Caldey Island is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long and, at its widest, 1 mile (1.6 km) across. For walkers, there is a circular trail around the island that is approximately 3.5 miles long and takes roughly 1 and a half hours to walk.