Discover Scottish Islands
The Right Island Escape For You
With just under 800 islands off the Scottish mainland it could be difficult to choose the island experience. Although only 90 of those are inhabited you may still be struggling to choose, so we have put together a brief round-up to help you along.
Best for ...
For experienced hikers seeking adventure and a more off-the-beaten path experience our trips on Skye taking in the best of the Skye Trail are a great choice. Alternatively, walk the Arran Coastal Path another less-traveled route, that encircles the entire island.
- Island Hopping
If you're looking for the flexibility of a drive & hike trip, and to squeeze in as much as you can, then an island hopping experience is the one for you. Check out our Outer Hebrides Island Hopscotch trip and explore the length of the Outer Hebridean archipelago or the and Highlands & Islands Discovery trip which combines Scotland's Highland highlights with the isles of Skye, Harris and Lewis.
Orkney is an island shrouded in legends, and peppered with enough archaeological sites and historical points of interest to keep any history-buff interested. Not only does the island abound with cultural highlights, but the back-drop of breathtaking clifftops and beaches combined with easy-going walking should keep everyone happy. Our driving-free Walking on Orkney trip includes hand-picked walks to archaeological sites and included transfers, and being twin-centre it means less unpacking and re-packing along the way.
The Outer Hebrides, in their far-flung location off Scotland's north west, are the perfect place to step-back from your daily commitments, relax and adjust to the leisurely pace of island life. Lose yourself in the wild island landscape, and stroll along stretches of white-sand beaches bordered by flower-strewn dunes.
The Scottish islands are blessed with great wildlife watching opportunities, so depending on your interests we recommend a little prior research. You can take boat tours from most of the islands that will take you out to sea in the hope of spotting whales, dolphins, basking sharks, and seals. The islands themselves are also a haven for nesting sea bird colonies so keep a look out, and bring your binoculars to make the most of any clifftop walks in case you spot any diving gannets, nesting puffins, or razorbills bobbing on the waves. Check out our Walking & Wildife on Mull & Iona self-guided walking holiday with included boat trip to Staffa island.
Facts About The Scottish Islands
To help you get inspired here are some things you might not know about Scotland's storied isles ...
- Home to the oldest inhabited castle - Dunvegan Castle has been occupied by the MacLeod clan for over 800 years. The castle itself has sections dating from as early as the 1200s, but it's most recent reincarnation is the result of restoration in the mid 1800s.
- You can find dinosaur footprints on the island's north east coastline at Staffin.
- The Cuillin Ridge on Skye has the greatest number of island Munro's (Scottish mountains over 3000 ft).
- Ian Fleming created the character of James Bond on the island, which also featured in the Skyfall film.
- Islay has more whisky distilleries than all the other Scottish islands combined!
- This remote island, neighbour to Islay, is home to more red deer (5000) than people (200)!
- George Orwell traveled here for solitude so he could complete his world-famous novel 1984.
Lewis (Outer Hebrides)
- Home to the Callanish Standing Stone Circle, even older than England's Stonehenge, at 5000 years old. Why it was constructed remains a mystery.
- Arran is often referred to as 'Scotland in miniature', and with two castles, a distillery and mini mountain range who could disagree?
- A couple of small islands near Orkney are linked by the shortest commercial flight in the world, normally it takes 1.5 minutes, but the record is set at 50 seconds!
- Home to a tiny Italian chapel built by Italian POWs, turned allies, from WWII in 1943. Of course the island is also home to the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae and is dripping in Norse legends.
- The colourful village of Tobermory on Mull's east coast was the inspiration behind the popular children's TV show Balamory.
- The little tidal island of Erraid off Mull's coast is said to be Robert Louis Stevenson's inspiration for his renowned novel Kidnapped.
- The site of the Iona Abbey is where St Columba arrived in Scotland 563 AD, and has been a site of religious importance since.
Foodie Highlights of the Scottish Islands
No holiday would be complete without experiencing the best local cuisine. Historically the UK (and least of all the Scottish Highlands) hasn't exactly been renowned for fine dining. However, things have certainly changed in the past couple of decades as tourism has increased in the Highlands and islands and locals have risen to the challenge, keen to show-case their local larders. From local venison and salmon on the menus of Michelin Guide listed restaurants, to small-batch coffee roasters, a smattering of gin producers, decadent afternoon teas, freshly caught fish and chips, local breweries and of course many whisky distilleries. There is plenty on offer, so treat your taste buds and sample some of best food on the Scottish islands. Here are our recommendations; from fine dining experiences to local delicacies, and indulgent offerings.
Whisky, Islay & Jura
World-famous as the whisky isles with 9 distilleries (and counting!), Islay and Jura are home to more whisky distilleries than all of the other Scottish islands combined. On our Islay & Jura Whisky Trails trip you'll discover the water sources and processes involved in producing famous brands like Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Bruichladdich. From rich peaty flavours and smoky undertones whisky is the heart and soul of these laid-back islands in the Inner Hebrides.
Arran Cheese, Isle of Arran
For any cheese-lovers the Isle of Arran Cheese Shop is a must on a visit to Arran on either our Arran Coastal Way walking holiday or Scottish Island Hopscotch cycling holiday. The southerly location of Arran, and the lush surrounding pastures of Ayrshire are unrivaled elsewhere in Scotland giving Arran cheese a special edge. Located near Brodick, the island's capital, the shop sells many great variations on the classic cheddar from chili, oak-smoked, and chive to the more unusual ginger or raspberry infused wax-coated blocks. Why not pop in a buy a block for your picnic lunch? Delicious!
Gin, Isle of Harris (Outer Hebrides)
The Isle of Harris Distillery greets you as you arrive off the ferry in Tarbert. And what a welcome to the island! Take a tour of this community-focused distillery and buy a bottle of their unique gin. With an interesting botanical blend the gin is infused with sugar kelp, and comes in a beautiful bottle that will double as a great keepsake from your trip. The perfect serve is tonic water and red grapefruit, but why not try it in a martini for a Hedridean twist on a classic?
Fine Dining, Isle of Skye
The Kinloch Lodge hotel is one of the best fine dining experiences on the Isle of Skye. The hotel features on our Luxury Highlands & Isle of Skye Rail & Hike and Best of Skye In Style trips, but if you're a foodie it's worth visiting even if you aren't overnighting to sample the mouth-watering cuisine on offer. Make sure to call well in advance to book though! They also offer a sumptuous afternoon tea and a foraging experience for something that's a little bit different.
Stornoway Black Pudding, Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides)
The town of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis is renowned for it's "black pudding". Admittedly, when you list out the key ingredients of Stornoway Black Pudding as beef suet, oatmeal, onion and blood (the source of its dark colour) it is likely to sound unappealing to most. However, this well-seasoned, rich, moist sausage-shaped pudding is a local delicacy, not just on the isles but across the country. Normally served in a slice with a cooked breakfast or alongside meat cuts such as chicken or with burgers for extra flavour.