Whether you’ve only got a couple of days or a couple of weeks, experience the best of the Scottish islands on an island-hopping holiday.
Your ticket to the islands has arrived, what a moment! What will you discover across the water – history, wildlife, food and drink? Hopefully all these things and more.
Here are five amazing holiday ideas to whet your appetite for the isles.
Have you always wanted to visit Orkney? Now is the time to pack a suitcase and make your dream come true. Orkney is a wonderful place to explore by car or bicycle. Getting there is an adventure by itself as you travel through Scotland to beautiful Aberdeen or picturesque Caithness before embarking on a short ferry over the sea.
Orkney is made up of around 70 islands, only a third of which are inhabited – so, what can you see?
Marvel at 5,000 year old sites in the UNESCO Heart of Neolithic Orkney world heritage site including the mysterious stone circle, The Ring of Brodgar, or the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae, which was uncovered by a storm in 1850. Or take a stroll in the charming towns of Stromness and Kirkwall, exploring independent boutique shops and arts and crafts makers. Don’t miss the impressive St Magnus Cathedral.
Reconnect with nature on a pilgrimage walk along the St Magnus Way, celebrating the life of the patron saint of Orkney, or visit the Brough of Birsay and discover the remains of a Viking monastery on a stunning headland.
Or you could escape from it all and travel to the nearby Isle of Hoy. Here bracing coastal walks await, such as the approach to The Old Man of Hoy via Rackwick Bay or St John’s Head, the highest vertical sea cliff in the UK. Further south, you’ll find the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum, where you can gain an insight into Orkney’s strategic importance during the wars of the twentieth century.
At 60 degrees North, Shetland is an archipelago of extremes which stretches across many islands. Shetland has been inhabited since ancient times, and over the centuries has seen much Scandinavian influence which is still visible today.
If you like the ocean, you are in for a treat. Nowhere in Shetland is more than 5km from the sea! Try a hands-on sailing adventures on The Swan, a beautiful traditional wooden Sail Fifie or go on a wildlife excursion all the way to the remote island of Foula with Shetland Sea Adventures. You could also experience the spectacular seacliffs and seabirds of the Noss National Nature Reserve, on a boat trip with Seabirds and seals. What an adventure!
Back on land, you could hook up with Go Shetland Tours or Shetland with Laurie and see the islands through the eyes of an experienced local tour guide. From dramatic coastal landscapes like Eshaness and Culswick, to archaeological sites like Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement, you’ll see some of Shetland’s best sights on guided walks.
If you’re really wanting to get away from it all, you should visit the Hermaness National Nature Reserve on the most northerly inhabited UK island, Unst, or the beautiful Isle of Fetlar, also called the Garden of Shetland.
Plan a dream trip to Shetland by visiting Shetland.org.
The Outer Hebrides
Beautiful beaches, hiking trails, standing stones, a taste of the wild and remote – you’ll find all this and more in the Outer Hebrides. You might be on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean but it’s easy to hop around the islands in this part Scotland. There are 12 inhabited islands to explore, from Vatersay and Barra in the south, to Harris and Lewis in the north. This is perfect way to spend a few weeks travelling.
Everything in these islands is interconnected. Vatersay is joined to Barra by causeway. From Barra, you can take the 40-minute ferry journey to Eriskay. The islands in Uist are connected by causeways and from Berneray, there is an hour-long ferry journey to Harris. Harris and Lewis are connected by road and Great Bernera is connected to Lewis by bridge. You could get about by car, bike or on foot – or a combination of all three!
There are also mysterious uninhabited islands to explore by boat. St Kilda, The Shiants, The Monachs, and Mingulay are all fantastic places to observe birdlife and marine life. Check out this blog on Outer Hebrides wellness experiences.
One thing you won’t want to miss are the twin islands of Lewis and Harris. Home to the largest town in the Outer Hebrides, Stornoway, this place has some special attractions. Lovers of ancient stone will definitely want to see the Calanais Standing Stones, located on the west coast of Lewis. Curious about where you might stay? Take look at these accommodation options on Lewis and Harris.
Don’t miss out on North Uist, South Uist and Benbecula either. These places are less visited and may provide the peace and quiet you’re looking for.
Find out more at visitouterhebrides.co.uk.
Skye and Raasay
Discover the Isle of Skye on an island-hopping voyage of discovery.
Get onboard a CalMac ferry or cross the Skye Bridge by car and hop around the islands.
The largest of the Inner Hebrides, Skye really needs no introduction. Dramatic landscapes such as such as Sleat Peninsula and Waternish will leave you feeling inspired, while the island’s towns and villages offer places to stay, eat and play.
Just a 25-minute ferry ride away, don’t miss the stunning Isle of Raasay. For the most stupendous views, take a walk up the island’s highest point, the distinctive flat-topped volcanic summit Dùn Caan. Try kayaking, coasteering or archery at Raasay House or visit the amazing Isle of Raasay Distillery. Or just relax and marvel at the breath-taking backdrop of the Cuillins to the West and Torridon to the East.
Islay, Jura and Colonsay
If you love the smoky, peaty whiskies created on the Isle of Islay, these islands are for you. Islay is not only a whisky hotspot, but the perfect place for a Scottish island hopscotch. From Islay, you can easily visit both Jura and Colonsay with CalMac ferry, giving you a flavour of the area surrounding Scotland’s ‘whisky island’.
Islay has spectacular scenery and wildlife. Go on a sea adventure with Islay Sea Adventures, who offer boat tours around the island. From seabird spotting to sailing by the Gulf of Corryvreckan, the third largest whirlpool in the world, you’ll enjoy some totally unique experiences.
From Islay, it is a short trip to Jura, one of the wildest places in Scotland. This long and narrow island is known for its soaring mountains, delicious whisky, and a tiny local population who are outnumbered by over 5,000 wild deer. George Orwell famously travelled here to find the peace and quiet he needed to complete his most famous work, 1984.
You could also visit Colonsay, sometimes called the jewel of the Hebrides. This is probably because of the outstanding natural scenery. Hire a bike and cycle around this beautiful island, take a relaxing walk along the golden sands of Kiloran Bay, or visit the spectacular 14th-century Augustinian Oronsay Priory on the tidal island of Oronsay.
Shop and eat local while you’re there, with everything from award-winning oysters and island honey to gin and beer, and unique arts and crafts.
Check out accommodation on Islay.