The changing season brings beautiful autumn colours to the landscapes and darker night skies glitter with thousands of bright stars, and – if you’re lucky – the Northern Lights. Autumn’s the perfect time to soak up the beauty that summer visitors won’t get to experience.
Scotland is now operating a 5-level Covid-19 system on a local basis. This means different areas of Scotland will have different restrictions.
Find out what level each area is under and read more about the 5-level Covid-19 restrictions to plan and book ahead when considering your trip. You can search for businesses that are open , and Good to Go, where they have a Covid-19 risk assessment.
Autumn is also a quieter time of year. If you want to have paradise beaches and stunning viewpoints all to yourself – this is the season to visit.
On a practical side, ferry and flight services continue to operate all year round, and restaurants, accommodation and many attractions also remain open for business.
Ready to start planning your autumn island holiday? Check out these five ideas for an enchanting island break:
1. Stargazing on the Isle of Coll
Stargazing, coastal walks and photography
Things to do
- Stargazing – the Isle of Coll is a designated Dark Sky Island and, with little to no light pollution, is one of the best places in the UK to view the inky black night sky. Autumn is the perfect time to experience this beautiful natural phenomenon. With sunset taking place much earlier than in the summer months, you’ll have plenty of time to absorb the crystal clear skies around you.
- Walking – the Isle of Coll is a relatively flat island, with plenty of beautiful beaches to explore, alongside stunning views across the sea to its neighbouring islands. Much of the island is an RSPB reserve and there are plenty of lovely walks that will allow you to explore this beautiful place.
- Photography – if you have a love of photography, book a workshop with Isle of Coll Photography Workshops or Isle of Coll Photographics. They’ll help you discover the best places to go on the island and will advise on top techniques for achieving stunning snaps to take home.
- Events – check out the gallery at An Cridhe community centre. Look out for events returning in the future.
- Shopping – pick up locally made artwork and crafts at the Art Den.
Head along to The Gannet Restaurant at the Isle of Coll Hotel for hearty meals made from locally sourced ingredients, including seafood, lamb and beef.
The ferry from Oban in Argyll to Arinagour on the Isle of Coll takes 2 hours and 30 minutes and runs all year round. Check out the summer ferry timetable (valid late March till late October) and the winter ferry timetable (valid late October till late March) and book your tickets with CalMac.
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2. Food and drink on Arran
Food and drink, outdoor adventures, nature
Things to do
- Tour the Isle of Arran Distillery – book a tour of the Isle of Arran Distillery to learn how whisky is made, beginning with the malting of the barley to the maturing of the spirit. You’ll also get a dram of whisky to try, along with a taste of the special Arran Gold liqueur.
- Eating and drinking – as well as tasting a nip of whisky, you could also visit the Island Cheese Shop or the Arran Creamery Cheese Shop for a taste of tangy island cheese. While you’re on the island look out for chances to try a huge range of local produce from Taste of Arran, including ice cream, oatcakes, haggis, black pudding, chocolates and much more.
- Go for a hike – with its rugged peaks and granite ridges to the north and beautiful flatter landscapes in the south, Arran offers a great variety of walking routes.
- Visit Machrie Moor – Arran’s most famous historical sites are the other-worldly Machrie Moor standing stone circles. Comprised of six stone circles, these ancient standing stones have stood on the site for centuries – the oldest dates from 3500 BC – and there is a lovely walking route out to visit them.
- Spot wildlife – Arran is home to a number of year-round species, including beautiful red deer (frequently spotted in woodland, on hills and close to the Isle of Arran Distillery), red squirrels (look out for them at Brodick Castle Woods, North Sannox Wood and Glenashdale Forest) and harbour seals (see them at King’s Cave, Newton Shore, Kildonan shore and Lochranza).
From dining in the elegant restaurant of a beautiful country house to warming your hands on a cup of tea in a cosy café, Arran has plenty of restaurants and cafés to try during your visit. Try the Old Pier Tearoom at Lamlash.
The ferry from Ardrossan in Ayrshire to Brodick on the Isle of Arran takes around 55 minutes and runs all year round. Check out the summer ferry timetable (valid late March till late October) and the winter ferry timetable (valid late October till late March) and book your tickets with CalMac.
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3. Arts, crafts and culture on Shetland
Art and crafts, Northern Lights, geology and nature
Things to do
- Find unique arts and crafts – browse Shetland Arts & Crafts to find talented makers and follow the Craft Trail to see where you’ll find them on the islands.
- See the Northern Lights – as the most northerly island group in Scotland, you stand a good chance of spotting the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) in Shetland – when conditions are right! Known locally as the ‘mirrie dancers’, the lights are most commonly seen from mid-October till mid-March. Sign up to alerts from the aurora forecast for the best chance to see them.
- Hear live music – Shetland is home to a vibrant music scene and you can regularly hear live music in the towns’ pubs and events spaces. Things are a little different this year, so see how you can experience some of the islands’ culture virtually while live events are paused.
- Outdoor adventures – from walking and cycling to kayaking and diving, Shetland is full of potential for outdoor adventures. As you explore the islands, keep an eye out for adorable Shetland ponies, birds and sea life. Have a look at what blogger Challenge Sophie got up to on her visit to Shetland.
- Snap pictures of Geopark Shetland – Shetland is one of three geoparks in Scotland. As you explore, pay attention to the natural features around you – this land is millions of years old and contains world-class examples of geology.
There are lots of great places to eat in Shetland, including Fjarå Coffee in Lerwick and Busta House Hotel in Brae. Look out for local produce, including seafood, lamb, beef and vegetables, in restaurants throughout the islands.
Ferry – the ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick on Shetland takes around 12 – 13 hours (travelling through the night) and runs all year round. Book your tickets with NorthLink Ferries.
Flying – there are year-round flights to Sumburgh in Shetland from a number of airports: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Kirkwall. Book your flight with Loganair.
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4. History and shopping on Orkney
Ancient places, folklore, arts and crafts
Things to do
- Shop for unique gifts – with jewellery makers, silversmiths, artists, woodworkers and more, Orkney is home to a whole range to talented artists and crafts people. Find unique gifts for yourself and your loved ones on the Orkney Craft Trail.
- Northern Lights spotting – like Shetland, Orkney’s northern location makes it a great place to spot the Northern Lights (aurora borealis). Autumn and winter is a great time to visit as mid-October till mid-March is the best time to see them. Follow the aurora forecast to get aurora alerts.
- Delve into Orkney’s history – with a colourful past that dates back thousands of years, Orkney is a treasure trove of historic sites. The most famous is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Heart of Neolithic Orkney – which is made up of two standing stone circles (the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness), Skara Brae (an ancient Neolithic settlement) and Maeshowe (a Neolithic chambered tomb). All four sites are open all year round.
- Hear enchanting stories – passing down folklore is a strong tradition in Orkney and it’s celebrated every year at the Orkney Storytelling Festival in October. The festival went virtual this year, but you can still watch the performances online. Outwith the festival you can also visit the Orkney Folklore & Storytelling Centre.
- Taste local tipples – Orkney is home to quite a few whisky, beer and gin producers. Look out for whisky from Highland Park Distillery and Scapa Distillery, beer from The Orkney Brewery and Swannay Brewery and gin from producers such as The Orkney Distillery and the Orkney Gin Company. Please note that group tours might not be possible at the moment.
Orkney is home to many artisan producers who produce top quality food and drink that you’ll find on menus throughout the islands, including at restaurants and cafés such as The Foveran, the Lynnfield Hotel and Helgi’s.
Ferry – the ferry from Scrabster in the North Highlands to Stromness in Orkney takes around 1 hour 30 minutes. The route from Aberdeen to Kirkwall in Orkney takes around 6 hours. Both routes run all year round. View the summer and winter timetables and book your tickets with NorthLink Ferries. Pentland Ferries operate from Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope and the journey time is around 1 hour, while the ferry from John O’Groats to Burwick by John O’Groats Ferries (May – September) takes around 40 minutues.
Flying – there are year-round flights to Kirkwall in Orkney from a number of airports: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Sumburgh. Book your flight with Loganair.
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5. Outdoor adventures in Lewis & Harris
Nature walks, beautiful beaches, stunning viewpoints
Things to do
- Outdoors adventures – from invigorating clifftop strolls to challenging hill climbs, there are plenty of fantastic walking routes on the Outer Hebrides. If you’re looking for a faster pace, horse riding is a great way to see the islands, while the stunning, 185 mile long Hebridean Way – which can either be walked or cycled – will set you a real challenge (or smaller ones if you want to do part of the route). Read about blogger Challenge Sophie’s choice of 10 hidden treasures in the Outer Hebrides.
- Enjoy the beautiful beaches – autumn is a wonderful time to visit Lewis and Harris as you’re very likely to have the islands’ world-renowned beaches all to yourself. Head to beaches such as Luskentyre, Seilebost and Hushinish to stroll along pure white sands and breathe in fresh sea air.
- Find hidden gems – the Outer Hebrides are packed with hidden gems to discover. The coastline and hill tops offer plenty of jaw dropping viewpoints, golden eagles soar in the sky above and there are plenty of local crafts and cosy pubs to uncover. Read our blog on 12 quirky experiences in the Outer Hebrides for more suggestions.
- Discover Harris Tweed – visit the Harris Tweed Authority Brand Room in Stornoway to learn about the heritage behind Harris Tweed and see how it is transformed from pure raw wool to the colourful cloth that is famous around the world.
- Tour the Isle of Harris Distillery – located in Tarbert, the Isle of Harris Distillery opened in 2015 and is known as the ‘social distillery’ thanks to its strong community ethos and the warm welcome you’ll receive. Book a tour to discover how they craft their whisky – The Hearach – and their gin – Harris Gin – and stop for a tasty lunch in the canteen.
Try eateries including the Croft 36 on Harris or Uig Sands Restaurant on Lewis. While you’re on the islands, be sure to try a taste of traditional Stornoway Black Pudding, which is PGI protected and can only be made within the town or parish of Stornoway.
Ferry – the ferry from Ullapool in the Highlands to Stornoway on Lewis takes around 2 hours 45 minutes. The route from Uig on the Isle of Skye to Tarbert on Harris takes around 1 hour 40 minutes. Both run all year round. Lewis and Harris are two parts of one island, so you can easily explore both during your visit. Book your tickets with CalMac.
Flying – there are year-round direct flights to Stornoway in Lewis from a number of airports: Aberdeen, Benbecula, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. Book your flight with Loganair.
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And the island fun doesn’t end in autumn, these breaks also make great getaways in winter, spring and summer too. Take a look at more island hopping holidays for more inspiration.