Escape to the Fertile Island of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

Blue waters? Mountains? A volcano? This settlement has it all.Read More

Though small, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas has a deep history. (Source: Shutterstock / maloff)

Sometimes, you just want to get away from it all. Unfortunately, though, your top destinations are already swarming with adventurers. Don’t worry; we’ve got a secret spot for you we guarantee most travelers have never even heard of: Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.

History of Edinburgh of the Seas

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas is situated on a small island named Tristan de Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean. The island was discovered by a Portuguese naval admiral in 1506 as he wended his way to the Cape of Good Hope. While it was not originally deemed worthy of significant investment, it wasn’t long before the island became the center of the Maritime Motorway that crossed from the Cape to South America. Indeed, between the 17th and 19th centuries, Tristan de Cunha saw significant seafaring traffic, first from the Dutch (thanks to the Dutch East India Trading Company), then from American whalers.

Fast-forward to the second half of the 19th century, and Tristan de Cunha saw the arrival of the British who claimed the island for King George III. While the island was ultimately deemed of little military value, it did become the home of a communal settlement begun by William Glass. This continued until Glass died, at which point 25 families left the island community. The few families that remained endured increasing isolation from countries in both hemispheres, leaving them to hone their self-sufficiency.

Dutch East India Trading Company ships like this one traveled past Tristan de Cunha frequently in the 18th century. (Source: Wikipedia)
Dutch East India Trading Company ships like this one traveled past Tristan de Cunha frequently in the 18th century. (Source: Wikipedia)

WWII brought Tristan de Cunha into the spotlight again as the British navy used the isle to setup a top-secret naval station. It was during this time that the island enjoyed some measure of growth, with a school and hospital, and islanders paid good wages for staffing each. When the war ended, the island turned its economy to commercial fishery and cannery, creating a brief boom. Tristan de Cunha also enjoyed visits from the British navy and exploratory scientists keen on studying the island’s weather. To top it all off, it was during this period that the British built Prince Philip Hall, a soon-beloved pub and gathering space.

Unfortunately, this growth was disrupted when the island’s volcano erupted in 1961, forcing the evacuation of all islanders. Determined to return and rebuild, however, they came back in 1962 and successfully restored their settlement as Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.

How to get to (and get around) Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas does not have an airport and therefore is only accessible by ships departing from Cape Town. There are a handful of passenger-and-cargo vessels that dock in the city’s port, but visit only a few times a year. For updated schedules and prices, visit the island’s online shipping portal.

It should also be noted that all visitors must submit an application to the island administrator’s office and receive approval to visit from the island’s council before coming ashore. The review process can take up to two months, so be sure to submit your application early.

Once on the island, you’ll get around the settlement by walking; it’s not big, so this shouldn’t be a problem. If you need special accommodation, be sure to bring this with you or request assistance from the island council.

Where to stay in Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

Guest houses like this one, the Rockhopper Cottage, are available to island visitors. (Source: tristandc.com)
Guest houses like this one, the Rockhopper Cottage, are available to island visitors. (Source: tristandc.com)

Due to its size, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas does not have any hotels. Instead, guests may either choose to stay with islanders or in dedicated guest houses jointly run by homeowners and the government. While accommodations are generally modest, some provide full dining rooms, kitchens, and laundry facilities. Also, the cost is very affordable; full board accommodations (including three meals a day) run about 50 British pounds (about $65 USD) per day. Visit the island’s website for more details on available rooms.

Where to eat/drink in Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

There are very few restaurants on Tristan de Cunha, but they offer sufficient fare for a short stay. The former Prince Phillip Hall (now known as Albatross Bar) serves up beer and other alcoholic beverages alongside light snacks. (Bonus: The Hall hosts a lively dance party every September, so plan accordingly.)

Additionally, Café de Cunha, located in the post office/tourism center, provides light lunches every Wednesday. For more selection, you can also purchase food at the island store. Otherwise, simply enjoy the food provided as part of full board at your guest house.

What to do in Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

While the settlement doesn’t offer many hotspots, there are a few attractions worth checking out. First, make sure you visit the Thatched House Museum, built with volcanic stone formed after the eruption in 1961 and lined with wood salvaged from shipwrecks. Docents even dress in traditional island garb as they show you around, pointing out the various elements of the building that represent one or more periods in the island’s history.

The Thatched House Museum brilliantly showcases the island's history utilizing building materials from its past and present. (Source: tristandc.com)
The Thatched House Museum brilliantly showcases the island’s history utilizing building materials from its past and present. (Source: tristandc.com)

When you’re ready to venture out and about, head to Volcanic Park where you can see the destruction of the eruption firsthand. There is even a plaque that details the history of the island and the catastrophic event that forced its evacuation. After a sobering tour, head to the more idyllic Queen Mary’s Peak, known to be a draw for lovers given its breathtaking view. What’s more, you can see the volcano’s crater — a glistening lake in the summer and serene, frozen expanse in the winter. (This is the best spot on the island if you ask us, largely because you can see the snow whip across the surface of the crater as the sun shines down and clouds envelop you. Magical.)

Looking down on Edinburgh of the Seven Seas from the side of the island's mountain. (Source: Shutterstuck / maloff)
Looking down on Edinburgh of the Seven Seas from the side of the island’s mountain. (Source: Shutterstuck / maloff)

For even more adventure, consider taking the Geo Trail, which circles the island, stopping at key natural and historic sites along the way, including shipwreck points, beautiful cliffs, landing points of British naval ships, and beaches that were once used as the basecamp for fishermen. All of it is surrounded by the blissful blue of the ocean and the lush green that blankets the island (in the summer, that is).

Tristan de Cunha and its anchoring settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, is a fascinating find for adventurers looking for a destination off the beaten path, and there’s more on offer we didn’t cover here. Explore everything the island has to offer and plan your trip by visiting tristandc.com.