top of page

Scottish Island Getaways - A Scotland Travel Blog

Updated: Feb 9, 2022


Scotland has an incredible wealth of history, friendly people and some delicious food & drink. Exploring around the mainland is great but did you know it's easy to visit many of the 900 Scottish Islands too? With many that are easy to reach and seem like a world away. Here's what you need to know about island hopping in Scotland and some of the beautiful islands you might like to visit.

On top deck of the ferry looking back to the captains booth, beyond to the sea and mainland.
On-board Calmac Ferries ©MDHarding

Scottish Island Getaways - A Scotland Travel Blog


Island Hopping In Scotland


Getting To The Islands


Caledonian MacBrayne/Calmac Ferries are the best way to see the islands. With many ports easy to reach with public transport or by car.


Onboard there is a range of services throughout the fleet, though these can be minimal depending on which route you are taking.


The new summer timetable for Calmac Ferries has been recently launched. The best way to avoid disappointment is to book your tickets in advance especially if you are taking a car onboard. Did you know you can also pre-book an island-hopping ticket?


Cars lined up by the ferry in the early morning ready to board.
Clansman Docked At Isle of Barra ©MDHarding

Isle of Harris & Lewis

The Isle of Harris and Lewis situated on the northwest coast of Scotland is said to have been a part of the Norse kingdom of Suoreyjar. Now you can see the many monuments and relics such as the finest example of standing stones “Callanish” dating back to 2900 BC.

Harris is well known for its white sandy beaches with turquoise blue waters that you just want to jump into! However, there are quite a few other places that are well worth a visit too!

Shawbost Norse Mill and Kiln, Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Dun Carloway Broch, or take a stroll along Uig Sands beach and see where the Lewis Chessmen were discovered!
We hired a campervan and drove up from Edinburgh to Uig, Skye then took the Calmac ferry to Tarbert.

If you enjoy Gin, don't miss a visit to the home of Harris Gin. Discover more on a Journey With Gin.
Caribbean blue like waters and white sandy beach.
Beaches of Harris & Lewis ©MDHarding

Isle of Tiree

The inner Hebridian Island of Tiree is easier to visit than maybe first thought. Take the direct train from Glasgow to Oban, then the ferry the next day to the beautiful island of Tiree. The island's history dates back to Neolithic times, then from the 6th-century signs of Pictish language and culture have been found. In later years signs of the Viking and Norse settlers then finally under Scots rule and the Clans. Great for walking, water sports, and wildlife. Also don't miss the Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum and Treshnish Isle Exhibition.

A great place to be based on the Isle of Tiree is The Millhouse Hostel, located by the Old Mill not just shrouded in history but many a possibility for wildlife spotting. Keep a lookout for the otters that play in the wheel pool pond.

The green rolling grass covered in summer wild flowers, looking out to the sea.
The Summer Mahair, Tiree ©MDHarding

Isle of Coll

The other inner Hebridian Island is the Isle of Coll. Stay on the same ferry from Oban and go directly there.

The Inner Hebridean Islands are a haven for bird watchers and nature lovers. With Coll being home to Corncrake’s and I was surprised to see a large number of Geese! I believe the three to watch out for are the pink-footed, Grey, and Canadian Goose. During the summer months, you can take a guided walk with the local RSBP on Coll.

Did you know that the Isle of Coll has also been awarded the “dark skies” status? One of the best places in the U.K for stargazing.

The Coll Bunkhouse is a great place to stay with a cafe, WiFi, and good amenities. Why not stay at Coll's only hotel - Coll Hotel. The family hotel run by three generations of the Oliphant family since the 1960s has great sea views!

Looking out across the beach with its large rock formations into the sea.
Isle of Coll, Scotland ©MDHarding

Isle of Gigha

The most southerly of the Hebridean islands is the community-owned - Isle of Gigha. Only seven miles long by a mile and a half wide and only 3 hours from Glasgow. It is a walkers paradise with the Achamore Gardens, beaches, and historic sites to visit.

Give Gigha a go!

The vast sea with the long almost flat Isle of Gigha.
Isle of Gigha ©MDHarding

Mull, Staffa & Iona


Staying in Oban on the west coast of Scotland? Did you know you can take the Three Isles tour with West Coast Tours? This is a fab tour if you have little time but would like to see some of the smaller islands.


You are taken by bus from Oban across on the ferry to Mull, the crossing doesn't take long but it can be an early start. Mull is famous for its cheddar, colourful houses in Tobermory (you may have also read the story of The Tobermory Cat?) there is also a distillery, incredible local boat trips to view basking sharks, and White Tailed Sea Eagles.


The harbour of Tobermory.
Colourful houses of Tobermory, Isle of Mull ©MDHarding

From Mull, it is a small boat trip to the Isle of Staffa, one of only two locations in the UK made of Basalt, volcanic rock! Don't miss going all the way into Fingal's Cave. It is an incredible experience. Also if you are a singer, great for acoustics. On top of the small isle, look out for puffins.


Close up of the basalt rock island.
The Isle of Staffa ©MDHarding

The third and final stop on the tour is Iona, famous for the iconic and historic Iona Abbey, one of the oldest Christian religious centres in Western Europe. The Benedictine Abbey is standing on the site of a monastery that was founded by St Columba around AD 563. Said to be the birthplace of Christianity. The entrance to the Abbey is not included in the tour but it is possible to purchase a ticket to Iona Abbey and Nunnery via Historic Environment Scotland.


If you are planning on visiting more Historic Environment Scotland sites, it may save you money by buying the Historic Environment Scotland membership.


Iona Abbey with grass and flower gardens.
Iona Abbey ©MDHarding

Barra


The Isle of Barra is located in the Outer Hebrides, famous for its beach airport runway. It truly is spectacular and a wonderful experience flying into and landing on the beach! The direct short flight to Barra is available from Glasgow Airport. We flew in and departed by ferry stopping off in Oban. The return ferry is a long one (4 hours) but there is plenty of facilities on-board and the scenery en-route is beautiful.


I can highly recommend a stay at the Castlebay Hotel. It is a brilliant location to enjoy a trip to medieval Kisimul Castle, known as castle in the sea. The restaurant serves fresh scallops and is very accommodating with a continental breakfast if departing on the early ferry.


We took the shuttle bus from the main road by the airport to Castlebay, it arrives in time with the flight schedule.

The Calmac Ferry departs a short walk away from the Castlebay Hotel.


Castlebay with lifeboat and castle in the middle.
Castle In The Sea, Castlebay, Barra ©MDHarding

Arran


The Isle of Arran is also known as Scotland in miniature, with its beautiful scenery. You can easily reach Arran via public transport from Glasgow to the ferry terminal at Ardrossan (train takes 45 minutes).

On arrival in Brodick, Arran you can take a taxi, the local bus, or perhaps walk to your accommodation. If you have decided to take the car, it gives you so much more flexibility and easier if staying on the other side of the island at Lochranza.


The island's must-see and do's include Isle of Arran cheese (one of my favourites is the Arran herb cheese), Arran Aromatics, and Lochranza Distillery (don't miss the Arran Gold or should I say liquid gold, as It is so good! The cream whisky liqueur goes down way too well). If you enjoy walking you might like to climb up Goat Fell. Watch out for deers and other local wildlife. It really is beautiful!


I stayed at the Auchrannie Resort. It is a little bit of heaven with a spa, great dining experience, and lovely location.


There are a variety of accommodation options suitable for all budgets including Lochranza Youth Hostel (surrounded by beautiful views), guest houses, and boutique hotels, such as The Douglas Hotel (located across from the ferry terminal).


Beautiful autumn scenery with trees and body of water.
Isle of Arran - Scotland in Miniature ©MDHarding

Orkney


Orkney seems much further away and less accessible than many of the islands but did you know you can take a