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WHICH SCOTTISH ISLAND TO VISIT – EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

Home > Blog > Which Scottish Island to Visit – Everything You Need to Know

Nothing beats an island-hopping experience when you’re enjoying a vacation in Scotland. The awe-inspiring Highlands, glorious lochs and cosmopolitan cities are the main draws for many tourists. But to really get away from it all, take yourself off to secret isles just moments from the mainland. It’s here that you’ll be able to view Scottish culture from a whole different perspective.

From towns where time stood still to areas with skies so clear that you can see the Northern Lights, there are so many reasons to check out Scotland’s soulful island worlds. Here’s everything you need to know about which ones to visit, and what to do when you arrive.

ISLE OF SKYE

Connected to Scotland’s northwest coast by bridge, Skye is one of the most accessible isles to visit. It’s also one of the country’s most well-known, and is popular with tourists from around the world. It has a large main town, making it a convenient destination and the food scene here is impressive. Whether it’s fine dining in top hotels or a tray of fish and chips, you’ll eat well here.

Where to stay:

Head to the town of Portree, the island’s capital and its largest town. This makes a great base for exploring the rest of Skye, and features a beautiful harbor as well as a pier designed by Scottish engineer, Thomas Telford. The harbor area is lined with pubs and quirky gift shops, and there are plenty of leisure facilities suitable for families – including a campsite, swimming pool and the award-winning Aros Centre for theatre shows and concerts.

Things to do:

If you visit in the summer, be sure to hit the magical Fairy Pools. This natural attraction consists of a series of waterfalls and swimmable pools that are impossibly blue in color. Hiking enthusiasts will also want to walk to The Storr, or the picturesque Quiraing Loop Trail. Or for a more laid-back day in the great outdoors, plan a visit to the Dunvegan Castle and Gardens.

ISLE OF MULL

It’s the fourth largest island in the country, and is home to some of the most amazing wildlife. The verdant isle is an excellent place for birdwatching, and is also a great destination for spotting otters as well as seabirds and ducks. Located in the Inner Hebrides south of Skye, it can be accessed by ferry from the port town of Oban.

Where to stay:

Tobermory is the main town on Mull, and it’s instantly recognized for its pretty colored buildings along the seafront. The Mull Museum is not to be missed, and whisky fans will be able to learn more about the area’s single malt production at the Tobermory Distillery. There’s a good choice of restaurants and cafes here too, plus lovely boutique shops to pick up some locally made items and souvenirs.

Things to do:

The waters around Mull make it one of the best locations for spotting marine wildlife. Amongst the rich wildlife here are dolphins, which can be seen on a number of boat tours. These tours also take you to see Minke whales, Orcas, basking sharks, seals and more.

Other attractions on Mull are the 13th Century Duart Castle, the stunning Lochbuie Stone Circle (which can be combined with a wildlife tour), and the thrilling Tobermory Golf Course (perfect for golfers who want a challenge).

ISLE OF ARRAN

A stunning island destination, with the most arresting views wherever you turn – and a heaven for walking, cycling and wildlife. Arran is the largest isle in the Firth of Clyde, and has been dubbed as Scotland in miniature. So if you only have time for one island whilst you’re here on vacation, Arran is a good one to tick off the bucket list. For those staying in or around Glasgow, it’s easy enough to access from the coast, and it has two ports (Brodick on the East coast and Lochranza in the North). With a great mix of rolling valleys, beautiful meadows and prehistoric ruins, it’s the perfect place to be outdoors.

Where to stay:

Both Brodick and Lochranza, home to the island’s ports, are great places to eat, drink and stay. Brodick is the main town, and is a bustling hotspot during the hot summer months. You’ll have great views of the ocean and the towering mountains, including Goatfell Peak. For food and drink, you won’t be disappointed either. Walk along Main Street and you will be spoilt for choice with cafes and restaurants, many of which offer fantastic seafood.

Things to do:

This is a walker’s paradise, so pack those walking boots and make the most of this natural playground. The Goatfell trail from Brodick Castle is a favorite for locals and tourists, and there’s a rewarding view when you reach the top. For a walk that’s easy enough for beginners and children, try the Glen Cloy and the Fairy Glen trail. Or for some world-famous whisky tasting, book a tour of the Arran Distillery.

ORKNEY

If you’re looking for somewhere to see the beautiful Northern Lights, go north to the archipelago of Orkney, one of the most picturesque and peaceful areas in Scotland. Located off the country’s northeastern coast, this island group is home to multiple Neolithic ruins, including a collection of 5,000 year old sites on Orkney Mainland. For families or couples looking to get away from it all, this is the perfect destination. But despite being worlds away from the rest of the UK, Orkney is easily accessible seven days a week, via ferry from John O’ Groats.

In the summer, the islands are jam-packed with festivals. But the most spectacular event takes place in autumn and winter time. This is when the natural phenomenon of Aurora Borealis occurs. As long as you have clear atmosphere, a good view to the north and no moon, you should be in for a chance of seeing the lights!

Where to stay:

Kirkwall is the capital, and is nothing like the Scotland you’ve seen so far. When you arrive, you may notice the Scandinavian vibes of the town. This ancient Norse settlement has so much unique history. And what was once just a few houses and a tiny harbor, is now a bustling destination filled with museums, shops, pubs and restaurants. Fall in love with the interesting architecture, enjoy great food and drink, and take in the ancient sites of Earl’s Palace and Bishop’s Palace.

Things to do:

Go Aurora chasing by night, and hiking by day. There are some magnificent walks on Mainland, and other islands in the archipelago. The Hill of White Hamars route in South Walls features a striking coastal landscape, including cliffs and caves, sea stacks, geos, and natural arches. Whilst the island of Brough of Birsay will take you completely off the beaten track.

Beach lovers will also find so many places to call paradise, including Newark Beach in Deerness, Aikerness Bay in Evie, The Bay of Pierowall in Westray, and the incredible white sand beach of Sty Wick on the southern coast of Sanday.

LEWIS AND HARRIS

This is an island in the Outer Hebrides, made up of Lewis in the north and Harris in the south. It is the largest island in Scotland, with a total area of 683 square miles. You may recognize the name from the world renowned ‘Harris tweed’, a fabric that is so quintessentially British. The virgin wool cloth was first spun here on the island in the 18th Century, and is now used in the fashion industry across the globe.

As well as the textile history, this is the place to come for the prettiest beaches in the country, for the best food and drink, and for its many historical sites. Guests will also get a true sense of traditional Scottish culture here, and the Gaelic language remains the mother tongue for over half of its residents.

Where to stay:

Stornoway on the east coast is the largest town. As well as being a bustling port, it’s also home to the island chain’s airport. This is a very convenient place to stay, and makes an ideal base for those wishing to explore Lewis and Harris. The harbor boasts a fleet of traditional fishing boats, and the industry is still very much alive today. Come early to watch the fishermen sell their goods, and be sure to enjoy the fresh, local seafood. The town offers a great selection of cafes and restaurants – and you’ll find the tastiest fish and chips around.

For those who love to shop for souvenirs, you’ll find plenty of boutiques and independent shops selling gorgeous local crafts.

Things to do:

Lews Castle and the adjoining museum is not to be missed when you’re in Stornoway, and just over 20 minutes away is the must-see Neolithic and Bronze Age site of the Calanais Standing Stones. Most people will have heard of Stone Henge in England, but these stones are just as breathtaking, and you can get up close without any ropes or barriers. The broch of Dun Carloway is a top destination for walkers, as is the Lewis West Side Coastal Path and the area by Port of Ness.

JURA

Known by some for its Jura whisky, and a favorite place for many literary masterminds (such as George Orwell), this beautiful island is one of Scotland’s best kept secrets. It’s considered to be a bit of a hidden gem when compared to the more popular isles. Gorgeously untamed, the beaches of Jura still retain their original rugged charm, and tourists who are in the know often come here to escape modern life.

Where to stay:

With a tiny population of just 200 people, this island is as quiet as they come. There are a number of different B&Bs and hotels where you can stay, and many people like to make Craighouse their base. This is the largest village on the island’s east coast, and gives convenient access to the nearby Loch na Mile Beach.

Things to do:

Don’t miss the Jura whisky distillery if you’re looking for somewhere to quench your thirst. Tours and tastings are available throughout the week, but book in advance to make sure you get a place. For those who are looking to stretch their legs, The Paps of Jura offers a choice of walking trails and some of the best views around.

Plus, available to rent is Barnhill, the property where George Orwell lived intermittently, and where he wrote his famous novel, ‘1984’.

TIREE

Scotland’s ‘sunshine island’ is a sanctuary for sun worshippers. As the most westerly island on the Inner Hebrides, Tiree boasts the most sunshine hours in the whole of the UK. It also has the most pristine beaches and an abundance of wildlife. There’s a small population of around 650 people, and tourism and fishing are the island’s main sources of income.

The island stretches around 12 miles long and three miles wide, and has a very flat terrain (great for easy hikes). Summer is Tiree’s busiest period, but it never feels overcrowded.

Where to stay:

The ferry port is located by Scarinish, the main village on the Isle of Tiree, which is set between two beautiful bays, Hynish Bay and Gott Bay. The harbor area was built in the 18th Century, and there’s a hotel and pub as well as a few shops in the village.

Another nice place to go to is the coastal hamlet of Mannal on the southwest corner. There isn’t much here for facilities, but you’ll have easy access to the beach at Balemartine.

Things to do:

You won’t find much here in terms of amenities, as you’ll be on a path less travelled on Tiree Island.  Bring your walking shoes and binoculars though, as this is a heaven for hikers and wildlife lovers.

When it comes to eating out, expect something of a rustic experience. There are just a handful of fish and chip takeaways, and a few pubs. But the island itself is not overly developed. You’ll mainly just have unspoiled views, and lots of peace and quiet. The locals are always friendly however, so if you do find a pub to settle into for the night, you’ll be well looked after.

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