Scotland’s not the first place that springs to mind when we think of island hopping, but with nearly 100 inhabited islands scattered around its coastline, it’s a destination that will surprise you. Discover Gaelic culture, historic ruins, wildlife, sandy beaches and endless outdoor activities. Each area and each island within it has its own characteristic landscapes, sights and activities on offer.
If you like the idea of island hopping in Scotland, you will be pleased to know there are regular ferry connections from the mainland and between islands, while some islands even have their own local airport. To help you decide which Scottish islands to visit, here are some of our favourites spread across the three main island groups: Inner Hebrides, Outer Hebrides and Northern Isles.
The Inner Hebrides are nearest to the mainland off the western coast of Scotland. They are made up of 35 inhabited islands and 44 uninhabited so planning a trip here can be a little daunting. These are our top recommendations for this region:
Skye is the largest island so there’s plenty to keep you busy from old castles to quirky coastal towns. Skye is also famous for its jaw-dropping dramatic scenery, so always have your camera handy.
Explore the historic Eilean Donan Castle
Visit Ardbeg Distillery, one of the region’s famous whisky distilleries
Island of Islay & Jura
These two adjacent islands are the best choice for whisky lovers, with nine whisky distilleries to visit. Before you head to the distilleries, you might want to hike the impressive Paps of Jura, rising tall at 2500 feet.
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Mull is surrounded by lots of little islands for day trips including Staffa, home to Gingal’s Cave – a true geological wonder. If you’re a foodie you will love the coastal town of Oban, known for its fabulous seafood.
The beautiful coastal town of Oban is famous for its seafood
Is one of the smaller islands and it’s a wonderful island to visit if you would like to get off the beaten track. It was also designated a ‘dark sky island’ and the stargazing is spectacular.
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As the name implies, the Outer Hebrides are set a bit further from the coast and north of the Inner Islands. Ancient ruins, mysteriously abandoned villages and thrilling wildlife are just some of the reasons to explore this beautiful group of islands.
Isle of Lewis and Harris
Visit the mysterious standing stones of Callanish on Lewis and hike the impressive mountains on Harris.
Barra & Vatersay
Fabulous island for lovers of the outdoors with a wide range of activities on offer including cycling, horse-riding, kayaking and snorkelling. You will also find stunning sandy beaches.
Why not try a new watersport during your trip?
A unique cluster of smaller islands mostly connected by causeways. Discover intriguing stone circles as well as a variety of landscapes including moorland, meadows and beaches.
The island of St Kilda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit the ghostly village abandoned in 1930 and the tallest sea cliffs in the UK, inhabited by thousands of seabirds.
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The Northern Isles sit off the northern tip of mainland Scotland and comprises two large archipelagos Orkney and Shetland.
Orkney is made up of 70 islands of which 10 are inhabited. Rich in history and wonder, you will find the remnants of ancient civilizations including the standing stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar stone circle and the Neolithic village of Skara Brae.
See if you can spot the wonderful puffins
Step back in time at Skara Brae Neolithic Village
The Shetland Islands are as far out as you can go in Scotland, sitting 130 miles from the mainland. If you venture out here you will be rewarded with awe-inspiring coastal scenery, wildlife (including puffins, otters and orcas) and long stretches of sandy beaches. Don’t miss the fascinating Viking longhouses and the replica of a Viking longboat.
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