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A Guide to Island Hopping in Scotland
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St Ninian's Isles, Shetland
The largest active sand causeway in the UK.

Island hopping

Scottish Islands & Island hopping

Want to experience the best of our Scottish 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, island hopping in Scotland is well worth the time, each of which boast their own unique character. The main groups of Scottish isles 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 not explore the Scottish isles on one of these 12 scenic boat trips or visit some of the best and most popular attractions across the country with our Ultimate Scottish Island Holiday ideas?

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 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.
  • On these Inner Hebrides islands, 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 go island hopping in Scotland?

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 on a Scottish islands holiday. 

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 west coast Scottish 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, and open up some of the best Scottish islands to visit.

If you're visiting our major cities, there are some operators which offer Scottish island tours from Glasgow, or island tours from Edinburgh with additional coach travel added in.

In the north of Scotland

If you're looking to visit the islands 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.

Scottish 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.

Share your island hopping adventures using #scottishislands and #visitscotland!