Scottish islands are places grown ups go to for rest, relaxation, seafood, whisky, and outdoor excitement. They are also the perfect destination to take the kids for quality family time. Here are some ideas for attractions and activities you can enjoy on Scotland’s islands throughout the year.
All the islands featured can be reached by ferry services, although some may require onward travel.
Firth of Clyde
Arran Heritage Museum
Arran Heritage Museum is brimming with engaging and hands-on exhibits. The breath-taking scale of Arran’s past is on display, with real Early Bronze Age graves to a model replica of the kind of Viking Ship which fought at the infamous Battle of Largs, among the highlights.
Based in Lamlash, Mogabout Safaris takes you off the beaten track to some of the less explored places on Arran in a comfortable 16-seater vehicle. Expect stunning views and appearances from all kinds of native species along the way.
The Robertson Museum and Aquarium
You don’t have to dive under the waves to enjoy the wonders of the ocean. The Robertson Museum and Aquarium in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae is home to prawns, crabs, urchins and an array of other creatures, all cared for by endlessly informative staff. Each week the sustainable facility welcomes new underwater visitors, so there’s always something new to see.
Bute is heaven for cyclists. Famed for its 23-mile circuit around the whole island, there are plenty of shorter family-friendly options to explore. Such as the three-mile route from the park at Port Bannatyne to the stunning beach at Ettrick Bay. Take the effort out of peddling with Bike Bute, the island’s community e-bike schemes where you can hire e-bikes, trailers, and e-trikes.
Isle of Skye Dinosaur Track
Dinosaurs once roamed Skye 170 million years ago, leaving behind their footprints. On An Corran, you can see prints on rocks not far from the ramp which belonged to a family of ornithopods. You can also spot them at Score Bay. These ones belonged to sauropods, relatives of the brontosaurus and diplodocus. Find details of more locations on the UK Fossil Network website.
In a safe and supervised environment, treat the kids to an afternoon of axe throwing and archery target practice at Armadale Activities where you can let them embrace their inner Highland games champion. There’s clay pigeon shooting on offer for the adults too if you don’t want to miss out on the fun.
Can you believe it? It’s been 20 years since the hit children’s tv show Balamory debuted on BBC Scotland. Embrace the nostalgia while taking in the brightly painted backdrop of Mull’s main village, Tobermory. The series is no longer in production but lives on in the imaginations of young fans through BBC iPlayer.
Quest on Mull
Keep the kids mentally stimulated with The Quest which brings together different treasure hunt trails around the island. There’s a range of themes, level of difficulty and styles of challenges to choose from, which should stop boredom setting in. Pick up details at Craignure Tourist Information Centre.
Jura Boat Tours
Few things beat the excitement of gliding over the water in a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) with Jura Boat Tours. See the Corrywreckan Whirpool, the third largest in the world, the spectacular sloping beaches off the west coast of Jura, and catch sightings of dolphins, porpoises, seals, otters and – if your’re lucky, maybe minke whales.
Kayak Wild Islay
Kayaking is a great family activity. It’s also one of the best ways to get up close to wildlife. Move silently throughout the water without disturbing local species with Kayak Wild Islay. Choose from three-hour or full-day guided trips, taking in hidden coves, sandy beaches, and hidden ancient sites.
Earth Connections Eco Centre
You’re never too young to start learning about sustainability and mindfulness. Earth Connections Eco Centre on the community-owned island of Eigg specialises in eco courses and holidays for the whole family. Get to grips with bushcraft, beekeeping, yoga, wildlife watching and much more.
Located to the south of the islands, Crossapol is an almost mile-long stretch of gleaming white sand and one of the most accessible beaches on Tiree. The bay is wide and shallow, making it perfect for splashing about. Another bonus – while popular by Tiree standards, it never gets too crowded, so you can fly a kite in Tiree’s famously windy skies in peace.
The crystal-clear waters around Barra and Vatersay make for lasting family memories. Offering more than just kayaking, Clearwater Paddling can tailor the perfect action-packed itinerary for you and your older kids. Surfing, snorkelling, body boarding, and guided walks can all be incorporated into your trips.
It might not seem like an obvious family-friendly attraction, but Harris Distillery has something to offer visitors of all ages. Learning about whisky is a truly immersive experience which is filled with fascinating facts about science and local history. And while they can’t taste the whisky, there’s still plenty to see, smell and touch. Not permitted for children under five.
Eorpie Dunes Park
The every-growing Europie Dunes Park is unlike any community park you’ve seen. Set among the natural playground of dunes that fringe the northern point of Lewis, the park has a slide, zip wire, climbing frame, adventure and nature trails, skateboard area, basketball and football zone, maze, tipi playhouse and tunnels, and more.
Orkney & Shetland
Skara Brae is one of the best-preserved Neolithic sites in the world. Bring along your budding young archaeologists and you’ll discover a prehistoric village with circular houses made of slabs of stone and connected by a network of passages. Even beds, shelves, fireplaces, and other furniture; all made from the same sturdy stone, remain intact today.
Get creative at Allfiredup, a ceramic studio in Kirkwall with pottery painting, teddy bear building, delicious hot chocolate, and homemade fudge. Everyone from older folk to peedie bairns – that’s Orcadian for ‘little ones’, will enjoy the relaxing, fun atmosphere.
Shetland Pony Experience
No visit to Shetland is complete without meeting the world-famous diminutive Shetland ponies. The Shetland Pony Experience at Burra offers the chance to walk the ponies on a pristine beach, groom them and – if you’re a small enough sized child, ride them. There might even be foals!
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