Island hopping

Islands & island hopping

Want to experience the best of Scotland's islands? Then we reckon an island hopping trip is just the thing for you.

Whether you've only got a couple of days or a couple of weeks, it's well worth taking the time to explore a few islands and discover the unique character of each. The main island groups which are best suited for touring include the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides in the west of Scotland, and Orkney and Shetland in the north.

Why island hop in the Inner Hebrides?

  • Sample the fine peaty whiskies of the Isle of Islay - it's home to eight working distilleries!
  • Marvel at the untouched beauty of Jura, or roam the quiet beaches of Colonsay.
  • See the peaceful, ancient abbey on the Isle of Iona before admiring the breathtaking geological wonder of St Fingal's Cave on Staffa.
  • Spot impressive sea eagles on the Isle of Mull, or enjoy fresh seafood in the pubs of its main town Tobermory.
  • Try windsurfing on Tiree, or look out for basking sharks off the shores of Coll.
  • Explore castles and admire some of the most dramatic natural landscapes in the world on Skye.

Why island hop in the Outer Hebrides?

  • Have a go at paddling a kayak in the crystal clear waters off the Barra coast.
  • Explore miles of pristine sands at world-famous beaches, such as Luskentyre Sands on the Isle of Harris.
  • Pedal across connecting causeways as part of an incredible cycling holiday.
  • Walk amongst the mysterious standing stones at Calanais on the Isle of Lewis.
  • Observe how luxurious Harris Tweed is traditionally handwoven on looms on Harris or Lewis.
  • Connect with Gaelic culture at  the arts centre in Stornoway and hear it spoken throughout the island.
  • Explore the lunar landscapes of Harris on foot.
  • Venture to the abandoned Isle of St Kilda, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Why island hop on Orkney and Shetland?

  • See remnants of ancient civilisations at sites such as Skara Brae, Brough of Birsay, Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney.
  • Witness the incredible sight of thousands of seabirds on cliffs at nature reserves, such as Marwick Head on Mainland Orkney or Hermaness in Shetland.
  • Enjoy lively folk music sessions in pubs in Lerwick and Kirkwall and try locally produced spirits and ales.
  • Unearth the history of the Viking era on Unst in Shetland where you can see excavated Viking longhouses.
  • See striking contemporary architecture and soak up some culture at Mareel in Shetland.
  • Stroll along pristine white beaches, or take bracing coastal clifftop walks.

How can I island hop?

Whether you fancy travelling between Scotland's islands by ferry or plane you'll find plenty of ways to tick your dream islands off your must-visit list.

Island hopping by ferry

Regular ferry connections run from the mainland to the islands on the west and north coasts of Scotland, and also between the islands themselves.

In the west of Scotland

Caledonian MacBrayne, often known as CalMac, is the largest operator of ferry services in the west of Scotland, serving the main island groups of:

In addition to the CalMac routes, there are a few smaller ferry services to some destinations. These are usually run by council-appointed operators.

In the north of Scotland

Orkney and Shetland are connected to the mainland and each other by NorthLink Ferries. In Shetland, inter-island ferry travel is operated by the council, while Orkney Ferries connect the archipelago's 13 island destinations.

Island hopping by plane

In some instances it's possible to go by plane. Some islands have a local airport where chartered flights are operated from mainland Scotland and beyond.

In addition, there are inter-island flights in:

  • Outer Hebrides - flights connect Benbecula with Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.
  • Orkney - flights connect Kirkwall with North Ronaldsay and Papa Westray, and Eday, Stronsay, Sanday and Westray.
  • Shetland - from Shetland Mainland, flights go to Fair Isle, Foula, Papa Stour and Skerries.

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