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Here’s the general map of Scottish islands we’ll talk about in this blog post.
1. Lewis and Harris
Lewis and Harris is the largest island in the Outer Hebrides. From the magical scenery to the friendly people, this is as close as you will get to living in a Scottish fairy tale. Despite the name, Lewis and Harris are in fact one island, with the upper portions called Lewis and the bottom portion called Harris. There are many reasons why it has two names. Some believe it dates back to a split between the MacLeod clan while others claim the high mountains range separate the island into two parts.
On the Lewis part of the island, popular attractions include the Callanish Stones and Blackhouses. The Callanish Stones are standing stones much like Stonehenge, except they are smaller and you can walk up and touch them. Black houses are a traditional style of house found in the highlands and can be rented for accommodation when visiting. Made with stone and earth and covered with a thatch roof, the houses get their name from the soot-covered interior caused by a lack of ventilation from the central hearths.
Harris, on the southern side of the island, is known for producing Harris Tweed. Harris Tweed has been handwoven for generations on the island and is woven in the homes of the weavers (and not in a factory). You can find Harris Tween items sold throughout the rest of Scotland and the world.
2. The Isle of Mull
The Isle of Mull is one of the best to visit on our map of Scottish islands. Mull is the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides. The main ferry crossing to Mull is from Oban only a 2 and a half hour drive from Glasgow. While the Island is easy to access for even a weekend getaway it has the charm and solitude of the more remote Islands.
Like the rest of Scotland, the scenery here is stunning. Rolling green farmland interspersed with native forest, home to species of plants and native orchids not seen in other parts of Scotland. You can explore white sand beaches, like the one at Calgary Bay, castles, ruins, and shipwrecks.
The main town on the Island is Tobermory. Here you’ll find a small distillery, quaint stores selling handicrafts, good fish and chips and creamy ice cream. Be sure to wander around to the marina and enjoy the view across the harbor to the colorful townhouses lining the hills on the other side.
Mull is also known for its diverse and rare wildlife. Otters hunt the fertile shores. You can frequently spot Orca, Dolphin, Humpback Whales and Basking Sharks in the waters surrounding the Island. The rare white-tailed sea eagle is now known to nest on the Island and boat trips to see these, other rare birds and Puffins, the cutest of the seabirds, can be easily joined during the summer months.
3. The Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is probably the most popular of the places to visit in Scotland. And it has every right to be at the top of the Scottish islands list. Skye is all about rugged terrains and dramatic landscapes which I, personally, am a huge fan of.
Take Quiraing or the Old Mann of Storr, for example, to enjoy the vastness of Scottish landscapes, the Black Cuillin or Sgurr na Stri for the lovers of extreme hiking. For those who enjoy culture, there is a nice selection of Isle of Skye castles to explore, including the Dunvegan castle, which was the one occupied for the longest period of time in Scotland.
In the heart of the island lies Portree, a small town which is a perfect spot to base yourself on your exploration of the Isle of Skye. Though small, it has a very nice selection of restaurants that serve local seafood. Thirty minutes ride away is a Talisker Distillery, the only y distillery on the entire island.
If you are brave enough, you can attempt to circle the Isle of Skye on a bicycle, since you can camp on your way as well. But be mindful that rain might catch up with you along the way.
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4. The Isle of Arran
The Isle of Arran is often called “Scotland in Miniature,” as the beautiful island contains all of Scotland’s diverse landscapes in one accessible island. For this reason, the Isle of Arran is one of the best Scottish isles to visit, especially if you are short on time on your trip to Scotland.
If you’re interested in the island’s history and culture, stop in at the Arran Heritage Museum to learn about traditional island life, or visit Brodick Castle, which may look familiar if you’ve ever seen a 20-pound Scottish note. For a taste of village life, head to Lochranza, the northernmost village on the Isle of Arran. There, you can poke into the ruins of the 16th century Lochranza Castle or visit the Isle of Arran distillery, where you can learn and see how scotch is made first hand (and taste it of course).
You can visit the Isle of Arran as a day trip to the Isle of Arran from Glasgow, or visit the island as part of a longer Scottish road trip. While the most flexible way to visit is by car, you can also take a public transportation to the island, where you can take local buses or bike around the island (as long as you don’t mind some hills).
6. Isle of Bute
The Isle of Staffa is a popular day trip destination on the west coast of Scotland – all because of a geological feature, called Fingal’s Cave. Staffa rests on a bizarre formation of basalt rock columns, that stick out of the sea in different heights, like organ pipes. Across the sea, in Northern Ireland, there is a similar place to this, called the Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it that these formed the two ends of a bridge built by the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, so he could make his way to Scotland.
Staffa can be visited by boat tour only (for example from Oban), and on a sunny day it’s worth climbing from the cave to the top and walking across the flat land, looking for giant foot prints, but mainly enjoying views across to the isles of Mull, Iona and the Treshnish Isles. During the summer months, puffins nest on the cliffs of the isle, although it is easier to spot them on one of the surrounding isles with less visitors (you can reach Lunga for example on a combined Staffa wildlife tour).
The Isle of Staffa is a paradise for nature-lovers, geologists and wildlife photographers, but even just the boat ride is an adventure for all travellers who want to experience the magic of island hopping in Scotland on a small scale.
Many travelers looking to visit Scotland islands tend to set their sites on the Hebrides or the Isle of Skye on the west coast of the country. There are, however, many more islands worth visiting off of the British mainland, including my personal favorite, the Orkney archipelago.
The southernmost island – out of nearly 70 – in Orkney is located only fifteen kilometers off the north coast of mainland Britain. Multiple ferry connections per day make the biggest island of Mainland Orkney easily accessible for tourists. While many people opt to visit as an organized day trip, traveling there independently can be much more kind for your overall Scotland travel budget.
Despite its diminutive size, there are a number of interesting things to see and do in Orkney. There are countless neolithic archaeological sites to see including the Ring of Brodgar — the third-largest standing stone ring in Britain – and the smaller Standing Stones of Stenness. The perfectly preserved Neolithic village of Skara Brae, which is older than the pyramids of Giza, dates back to 3180 BCE and the nearby Maeshowe Chambered Cairn is nearly 5,000 years old.
If you enjoy craft beer, the Orkney Brewery is also located on the mainland island and it is well worth the £8 for a brewery tour and tasting flight. The main towns of both Stromness and Kirkwall also offer a number of cute shops, cafes, and convivial pubs that are a great place to seek respite from the inevitable rainy weather. Combine all of these things with absolutely stunning pastoral beauty and Orkney is the perfect Scottish island to add to your itinerary.
9. The Isle of May
For many visitors to Scotland, an island getaway is a perfect addition to a longer itinerary but many forget that not all Scottish islands are far-flung isolated spots away from the mainland. For those looking for somewhere a bit more accessible, Inchcailloch Island is a perfect spot for a day trip and only 45 minutes from Glasgow.
Loch Lomond has a number of stunning islands but Inchcailloch is one of the most popular and certainly most well connected in the National Park. From Glasgow, visitors can head to Balmaha where the first part of the adventure begins with the beautiful historic ferry boats which take people the short hop from Balmaha to Inchcailloch’s North Pier.
Once on site, there are three walking trails which follow the edge of the island and also take walkers up to the summit point. From there you get fantastic views over Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Along the way there are lots of other points of interest including an ancient chapel and burial ground, wildflower forest paths and even a beach or two! Inchcailloch is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon at any time of year. But for those that want to enjoy a little more time in this secluded spot, there’s even the option to camp on site during summer months.
11. The Isle of Canna
Hope you enjoy the selection of best places for a perfect Scottish islands holiday recommended by experienced travel bloggers. Which one is your favorite?
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