There’s something very special about visiting Scotland’s islands. Maybe it’s the ‘ferry-feeling’ of adventuring over water to explore secluded places that offer room to breathe. Perhaps it’s the warmth of the island welcome or an envious wish for the slower pace of island life. Whatever it is, the draw of Scotland’s islands is quite intoxicating.
We’ve put together a list of islands you can visit for a day, though you’re very welcome to stay for longer! Just remember to plan ahead and #RespectProtectEnjoy when you’re there.
South & Central Scotland
Great Cumbrae, Ayrshire & Arran
Cumbrae is probably Scotland’s most accessible island and is ideal for a fun family day out by the sea. Millport is the only town on the island, just a 15-minute bus ride from the ferry terminal, while the kids will love Crocodile Rock and the bays of Newton and Kames too.
One of the best ways to explore Cumbrae is by bike – you can bring your own on the ferry or hire one in Millport. A 10-mile cycle around the island’s main road is ideal for families with older kids and offers great views. If you’re lucky you might spot some of the island’s wildlife too.
Places to visit include:
- Cathedral of the Isles – one of Europe’s smallest
- Museum of the Cumbraes
- Robertson Museum & Aquarium
- Isle of Cumbrae Distillers
Getting there and around
Regular Scotrail services take an hour from Glasgow Central to Largs and Largs Ferry Terminal is just a short walk from the station.
CalMac run regular 10-minute ferry crossings between Largs and Cumbrae and Millport Motors provides bus services on the island.
Isle of Bute, Argyll & The Isles
A short ferry trip across the Firth of Clyde leads to Rothesay on beautiful Bute. This pretty seaside town is steeped in Victorian heritage, and you’ll also find Rothesay Castle – an imposing 800-year-old fortress. Many of Argyll’s Taste of Place trails criss-cross the town, so you won’t be stuck for something tasty.
Don’t miss Mount Stuart, one of the finest neo-Gothic mansions in the world, and a walk along Ettrick Bay offers stunning views over to Arran and the Kintyre peninsula. If you prefer to stay for a few days, then why not walk the West Island Way?
Getting there and around
Bute is a great option for ditching the car and taking the train. Scotrail services run from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay and take about an hour.
Then it’s a 35-minute CalMac crossing from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay. West Coast Motors provide bus services on the island.
Inchcolm Island, near Edinburgh
Cared for by Historic Environment Scotland, Inchcolm is an island in the Firth of Forth with a long history dating back many centuries.
The Augustine abbey originally founded by David I as a priory in 1140, is one of Scotland’s best-preserved monastic sites, though the island’s links with Christianity go back many centuries before. Inchcolm also withstood naval raids in the 14th century and was garrisoned, along with nearby islands, during the world wars to protect Rosyth Naval Base.
Explore the abbey and climb its tower for fabulous views, relax on the two small beaches and see the fascinating wartime defences. Just remember to watch out for nesting seabirds between May and July.
Scotrail services run from Edinburgh to Dalmeny Station.
Then take the Maid of the Forth or the Forth Belle from Hawes Pier in South Queensferry, to cruise below the three Forth Bridges, before stopping at Inchcolm to explore the island.
Isle of May National Nature Reserve, Fife
If you’re interested in watching wildlife, then a must-visit day trip is the Isle of May on the outer limits of the Firth of Forth.
Up to a quarter of a million seabirds raise their young here between April and September, with seabird ‘cities’ springing up along the cliffs. Whilst out in the Forth, you might also see seals, porpoises and whales.
Like Inchcolm, this island also has long links with early Christianity. The remains of a 12th century monastery still stand here, commemorating St Adrian of May, who was martyred here by Vikings in the ninth century. You can also find the Beacon, Scotland’s oldest lighthouse, which was built in 1636.
After your trip, remember to call into the award-winning Anstruther Fish Bar for delicious fish and chips.
Anstruther Pleasure Cruises and Isle of May Boat Trips run regular 45-minute sailings from the town of Anstruther.
The Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick also runs boat trips to the island in summer.
The island is open to visitors between the beginning of April and the end of September each year.
Inchcailloch Island, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
There are a number of islands within Loch Lomond that are ideal for a day trip. Inchcailloch is a great option if you want to unwind and reconnect with nature.
Go quietly and you might see some of the island’s wonderful wildlife, and there are excellent walks to enjoy in all seasons. Take a picnic and visit in late spring, when the woodlands are awash with bluebells, or come in autumn for fantastic displays of seasonal colour.
Visit the 13th century church dedicated to St Kentigerna and an ancient burial ground, where you’ll find the grave of the Clan Chief of MacGregors. Just remember when you visit this special place to leave no trace and take all your litter home with you.
Regular waterbus services run to the island from Balmaha, Balloch and Luss or you can take a short ride on the Inchailloch Ferry from Balmaha to the North Pier on the island.
Portnellan Organic Farm also offer luxury speedboat tours of various points of interest in and along the loch, before stopping at Inchailloch to explore the church and burial ground.
The Inner Hebrides
Iona and Staffa National Nature Reserve, Argyll & The Isles
With some careful planning, here are two Scottish islands you can visit on the same day from a holiday base on the Isle of Mull.
On Iona, the 13th century Benedictine abbey and nunnery is a must-see attraction. In Baile Mòr you’ll find the Iona Heritage Centre, the Aosdana Gallery, and a great selection of places to eat. Alternatively, enjoy a lovely walk to White Beach in the north of Iona.
The approach to Staffa, with its impressive volcanic basalt columns and Fingal’s Cave, is quite spectacular. Alongside the cave, popularised by Mendelsohn’s Hebrides Overture, Staffa is renowned for puffins and seabirds that visit during the summer months. Look out for dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks and minke whales on your boat trip too.
The Staffa boat trip provides around an hour on the island (weather permitting) and can return you to Fionnphort, where there are great places to eat, including The Ninth Wave, The Creel Seafood Bar and The Keel Row.
From an overnight stay on Mull, take an early 10-minute CalMac sailing from Fionnphort to Iona (or you can stay on Iona if you prefer). This gives around 3 hours to explore the island, before catching the 12.15pm Staffa boat tour.
Isle of Kerrera, Oban
Lying in Oban Bay, you’ll find lovely Kerrera – an oasis of tranquillity and a great place for watching wildlife. There are no roads on the island and visiting motor vehicles are not permitted, so it’s a walkers’ paradise.
A rewarding walk explores the south of the island from Kerrera’s ferry jetty and takes in Kerrera Tea Garden & Bunkhouse, which offers home baking, soups and sandwiches. Further on, explore Gylen Castle perched spectacularly above cliffs. The castle dates back to 1582 and was originally a stronghold of the Clan MacDougall.
On your walk you might see the island’s feral goats and sika deer. Off the coast, look out for seals, dolphins, whales and basking sharks and if you’re lucky, a glance skywards might offer a sighting of a massive white-tailed sea eagle.
CalMac operates the Kerrera Ferry, which runs from the small hamlet of Gallanach, about 2 miles south of Oban.
Isle of Lismore, Appin
The Isle of Lismore in Loch Linnhe, offers dramatic views towards Morvern, Mull and Appin. At 10 miles long and 1 mile wide, the best way to explore the island is by bike – either bring your own or hire one from Lismore Bike Hire. Or join an Explore Lismore Land Rover tour. Single-track roads on the island are quiet and there are great places to explore along the way.
The Dutch Bakery offers tempting home-baking in the Telephone Box by the Point ferry slipway. Visit the Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre & Museum (the Isle of Lismore Café offers treats and meals here too) about 4 miles south of Point. Then take a short detour off the main road to the ominously named Castle Coeffin. Or a 9-mile walk from Point takes in both Castle Coeffin and Tirefour Castle, an ancient Iron Age broch. Accommodation is available on the island for longer stays too.
Two ferry services connect Lismore with the mainland. In the north, there’s a foot passenger ferry service from Port Appin to Point that takes just 10 minutes. Further south, CalMac operate services between Achnacroish and Oban.
Isle of Raasay, Highlands
Set between the Isle of Skye and the Scottish mainland, you may have seen Raasay in Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins. But don’t worry, there are no interrogations or gruelling challenges to undergo when you visit this beautiful island.
At 14 miles long by 3 miles wide, it’s useful to bring a bike if you want to explore Calum’s Road or Brochel Castle in the north of the island, though much of the island is accessible by car.
Don’t miss the Isle of Raasay Distillery in Inverarish for a tour and a dram. They also offer accommodation for overnight stays. At Raasay House Hotel, enjoy lots of outdoor activities, delicious meals, and one of their 21 beautifully appointed rooms if you want to stay longer. And browse The Raasay Gallery and Taigh nan Cearcan for gifts and mementos of your trip.
Raasay is also a wonderful island to explore on foot. For experienced walkers, a walk to the island’s highest point, Dùn Caan, rewards with 360-degree views of some of Scotland’s finest scenery.
Regular CalMac ferries cross to and from Sconser on Skye and Clachan on Raasay, and the crossing takes 25 minutes.
There are over 900 islands in Scotland with 118 inhabited. So, if the above whets your appetite for more island experiences, take a look at islands and island hopping holidays and get planning. This might well be the start of your Scottish Island Bagging journey!
Other things you might like:
- Best Time of Year to Visit Islands in Scotland
- 5 Amazing Island-Hopping Holidays in Scotland
- 5 Stunning Cycle Routes on Scotland’s Islands
- West Coast of Scotland Island-Hopping Itinerary
- Best Places for a Cycling Holiday in Scotland