A thrilling island break awaits you – and it's much closer than you think.

Placed in the heart of the Irish Sea, the charming Isle of Man was a popular holiday haven for Victorian families, and now attracts foodies, history buffs and droves of racing fans.

Although sharing much with its larger Irish and British neighbours, the self-governing crown dependency, with a population of just 84,000, has gems you simply won't find anywhere else.

A perfect spot for weekend getaways, my partner and I flew from Bristol to the compact land and headed straight for the capital, Douglas.

At the 14 North restaurant we got a taste for the island with Manx delicacy Loaghtan lamb, washed down with the locally-brewed Hooded Ram ale. Delicious.

The town's Manx Museum is a fitting start point to explore the Isle of Man's past and the next morning began with a trip there.

Vintage adverts for the resort show it was a holiday hot spot throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Louisa Moore, head of site officer for the museum, told me that the Isle of Man offers a fascinating glimpse into leisure breaks of days gone by. Tourists can roll back the years in Victorian horse trams along Douglas Promenade or hop aboard one of the many beautiful vintage steam trains that cover the island.

“Some people do come over just for the transport,” Louisa said. “It has the 'oldy worldy' feel. You can ride on a proper old steam train with proper carriages.

“Every inch of the island is somewhere to explore and there are secrets everywhere. We've got the countryside, we've got the seaside, everything on an island.

“And everywhere you go you will always see our flag with the three legs. It is actually an ancient sun-worshipping symbol. We reckon the Vikings maybe brought it to us, but there is no hard evidence.”

The island was a centre of a Viking kingdom and it's now jumping into the future with adventure experiences. So after brushing up on our Manx history, we drove west where a day of thrilling encounters awaited.

The extreme sport of coasteering combines rock climbing, swimming, scrambling and cliff jumping, and can be enjoyed on Isle of Man's rugged shores.

But first we sampled the less-daring pursuit of Segway riding in glorious sunshine.

The company Segway Isle of Man, outside the village of Foxdale, provides off-road experiences on the futuristic two-wheeled devices for groups. Having always struggled with skateboards, the intuitive Segways were something of a revelation when I joined a group ride.

After a five-minute introductory lesson we were soon zooming through forest paths, leaning forward to accelerate a tilting to steer. Seemingly impossible to tip over, the craft – reminiscent of a Back to the Future hoverboard – let me glide past dense woodland, spotting wildlife.

Next, the Adventurous Experiences company provided our coasteering on the rough seaside terrain. Kitted out in a wetsuit and helmet – with a buoyancy vest for good measure – I approached the rocky edge.

After a brief paddle and some much-needed words of encouragement from our guide, I slowly stumbled, then purposefully scrambled, up the angular rocks. Trained guide Keirron Tastagh helped me put my best foot forward safely and I was soon at my summit and ready to take the plunge. Gulp.

I have never been more happy to be wearing a wetsuit than when I splashed into the chilly Irish Sea from that height. The adrenaline rush made it all worthwhile though and I left the water with my heart pounding, converted to this crazy sport.

Now well acquainted with the Manx waters, what better time to sample its culinary assets?

Great seafood is always on the menu for any small island worth its salt, so it's no surprise the Isle of Man is renowned for its host of fish eateries. We dined at Tanroagan restaurant in Douglas where I had another first, fresh lobster served whole. The crustacean was flanked by Queenies, a specialist shellfish of the region.

We retired to the town’s Sefton Hotel, our lodgings for the weekend. The smart beachfront hotel boasts a heated pool, spa, stellar sea views and great breakfasts to set you up for exploring.

The following morning we drove to Curraghs Wildlife Park, the perfect family attraction in the north of the isle. The beautiful drive over twisting narrow roads through plunging sunshine valleys provided picture-postcard views. At the park, peacocks, lemurs and spider monkeys vied for the attention of children in attendance. Yet many guests were more eager to feed the lively penguins, who waddled closely for their lunch.

Another picturesque drive brought us south to Peel. Known for its landmark castle and rich fishing heritage, the town was abuzz with families soaking up the sun. The shipbuilding town was known as 'a forest of masts' and countless fishing vessels filled the harbour as we pulled in.

The scenic island has an extensive cycling heritage and will this year host the British Road Cycling Championships. Normally better known for motorbikes, with the annual Manx TT, the homeland of cycle star Mark Cavendish will fully embrace pedal power with the June race.

Back on two wheels once more, we hit much higher speeds than the previous day.

We injected a modern twist into the cycle tradition with the help of Green Wheelers Electric Bike Company.

Instructor Richard Cuthbert led us on a hilly countryside ride for about 10 miles and our power-backed electric bikes helped us handle the steep inclines with ease.

He said: “I think the Isle of Man has this cycling heritage because of the hills and countryside. It's a pretty good training ground. You've always got a wind.

“Electric bikes just make it a lot easier for visitors. With the electric bikes you have the assistance, it gives you a bit more confidence once you start off. It's a good way to get back into cycling.

“It's also a really good way to see the Manx countryside. You can do a tour or we rent them out as well, so people can just go off and explore.”

The island’s 688 miles of rollercoaster road through epic scenery has been called paradise for cyclists. And another bonus, the low population means few cars, letting riders relax and take in the views without worry.

When struggling with a climb we simply cranked up the electronic power and cruised to the top. Cheating? Well we didn’t all grow up training here.

The fascinating Peel castle stands on its very own St Patrick’s Isle, which is connected to the town by a causeway. Built in the 11th century by Vikings, it now welcomes hordes of tourists out to sample history in the fresh air.

The House of Manannan museum in Peel is definitely worth a visit for history and mythology fans. Manannan Mac Lir, or Son of the Sea, is a pre-Christian deity said to protect the island. He acts as a guide through the story of Man in the modern museum, appearing on large video screens in each room.

Steve Jackson, heritage site expert at House of Manannan said: “The museum gives you a flavour of the Pagan and Viking past as well as the maritime history.

“Peel castle was the seat of Viking kings so it would have been a very important seat of power. We have special Viking events with people in costumes coming in.”

The hi-tech site features interactive displays over several floors, which make learning fun for all ages. As well as sights and sounds, smells (including wood fires and kippers) are pumped into rooms to retell the island’s turbulent history in a multi-sensory way.

Steve said: “Rival kings would raise armies and fight over the island and being a very small land it was quite devastating when these conflicts took place. You learn about all these stories here. There were periods of peace followed by periods of great turmoil.”

Legend has it that Manannan could turn the island invisible by conjuring up thick fog to hide it from invaders. But with so many exciting tourist activities and a high-profile bike race on the horizon, it's now more visible than ever.

Many nations can overlook a great resort that is right next door. Make sure you don't miss out.

Visit the site visitisleofman.com for more.