Set sail for the Scottish islands on a journey of adventure. Explore the variety, the culture and the beauty of Scotland's coast with this bumper list of islands.

From Arran in the west to Shetland in the far north, you'll discover everything from ancient castles to whisky distilleries, set against some truly exquisite backdrops. Packed with tips on things to do, transport ideas and more, we hope you will be inspired to visit the Scottish islands.  

A wee note. Attempting to visit all these fabulous islands in one trip would be too difficult - unless you were in Scotland for a long time. We recommend visiting one or two islands and coming back next year to visit a few more!

1. Arran

Brodick Bay, isle of Arran

Our journey begins on the incredible island of Arran. Take the ferry from the Ayrshire port of Ardrossan and spend time discovering the charms of this small, lively island. Arran is one of Scotland's most accessible islands and can be reached entirely by public transport. The ferry crossing takes just 55 minutes - see you there!

See the sights

Brodick Castle

First, head to Brodick Castle and Country Park, the only island country park in Britain. Traditionalists will love it; it's the quintessential Victorian Scottish estate. Explore the garden to see the famous collection of rhododendrons. As you follow one of the woodland trails, you might even spot rare red squirrels.

Arran Coastal Way

After visiting Brodick Castle, take a beautiful stroll on along Arran's Coastal Way. The section from Brodick to Sannox starts with a trip along Fisherman's Walk towards Cladach. You'll then have the choice to take the coastal route through Merkland Wood or alternatively climb to the summit of Goatfell. Whichever route you choose there will be plenty of wildlife to spot along the way.

Arran Brewery

What a lovely walk! You must be thirsty by now. Head back towards Brodick to visit the Arran Brewery. Here you'll see how the island's premium ales are brewed, followed, of course, by a complimentary tasting.

Find out more about Arran.

2. Bute

Rothesay, Isle of Bute

Our second Scottish island is beautiful Bute. Catch the ferry from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, which takes 35 mins. Renowned for its glorious gardens and grand architecture, this peaceful island haven will be your home for a few days.

See the sights

Rothesay

Your first port of call is Rothesay - and there is plenty to explore. This smart seaside resort is very traditional and reminders of its Victorian heritage are everywhere on show. Take a look around the Isle of Bute Discovery Centre, a unique 1920's building that showcases the best of Bute. Before you leave Rothesay, don't miss Rothesay Castle. With its massive walls, dungeons and grand hall this is one for the castle-hunters.

Mount Stuart House

Stop in at one of Scotland's most impressive gothic mansions, Mount Stuart House. This flamboyant sandstone house has 300 acres of gardens and reflects the passions of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, one of the greatest architectural patrons of his day.

Ettrick Bay

To the north of Rothesay lies Ettrick Bay, Bute's most accessible beach. This long, sandy beach reaches about a mile along the west coast of the island and even has a tearoom serving cakes. At the south end of the beach there is a bird hide which is great for spotting waders and other sea birds.

Find out more about Bute.

3. Islay & Jura

Lagavulin Distillery, Isle of Islay

Travel to the port of Kennacraig where you'll hop on a ferry to Port Askaig on the Isle of Islay. This crossing takes around 2 hours - and what will you find when you arrive? Another lovely island where fine malt whisky, pretty villages and beautiful beaches await!

See the sights

Visit a distillery or two

No visit to Islay would be complete without a trip to a whisky distillery. Spend the day finding out about the whisky making process at one of the island's many distilleries. Caol Ila, Ardnahoe and Bunnahabhain are all relatively close to Port Askaig.

Jura

From Port Askaig it's a quick ferry over to the peaceful island of Jura. This is the perfect place to go for a wilderness walk and get away from it all. Famously, George Orwell wrote his classic novel 1984 on Jura, so perhaps you'll find some creative inspiration here.

4. Colonsay

Kiloran Bay, Isle of Colonsay

The jewel of the Hebrides, Colonsay has outstanding natural scenery as well as important archaeological sites. Sail from Oban which takes 2 hours 20 minutes.

See the sights

Colonsay Brewery

It's a fine journey to get to Colonsay, but we think it's high time you stopped for a beer! Colonsay Brewery is at the heart of the community and a great place to visit for beer aficionados. Learn about the brewing process as well as the unique challenges of brewing beer on an island.

Colonsay House Gardens

Colonsay House Gardens has one of the finest rhododendron collections in Scotland. It was planted in the 1930s and has a variety of trees and shrubs including some exotic species from the southern hemisphere.

Find out more about Colonsay.

5. Mull

Isle of Mull

So what's next? What about the lovely Isle of Mull? Catch the ferry from Oban to Craignure (45 mins). The largest of the Inner Hebrides, Mull has become well known to those who watch the BBC programmes Springwatch and Coast. You'll find lots of attractions here and a peaceful way of life.

See the sights

Duart Castle

Your first port of call is Duart Castle, the ancient seat of Clan Maclean, which was built over 700 years ago. Tour the castle, explore the grounds and learn more about the history of Clan Maclean.

Tobermory

Next it's a trip to Tobermory, Mull's colourful capital. The harbourfront's distinctive houses are the perfect backdrop for some lovely photographs, and you'll also be able to sample fish and chips.  Tobermory is home to Mull Museum, Tobermory Distillery and a fascinating Marine Visitor Centre if you still have time on your hands.

Find out more about Mull.

6. Rum & Canna

Mallaig, Lochaber

Travel northwards to the busy port of Mallaig. From here you'll sail to Kinloch on the gorgeous island of Rum (80 mins). The island is an important natural heritage site and a great place for walkers and wildlife enthusiasts.

See the sights

Kinloch Castle

If you like ambitious and eccentric architecture then you will love Kinloch Castle. This extravagant building was built at the end of the 19th century for the wealthy Bullough family and once you visit you will see that no expense was spared. Take a fascinating tour and immerse yourself in days gone by.

Wildlife watching

Rum is home to extinct volcanoes, wilderness and beautiful wildlife. Take a walk along a nature trail or head for the Cuillin Peaks to experience one of Scotland's best mountain ridge walks. There is also a good chance you will see red deer on the island.

Canna

After exploring Rum, take the short ferry west to the peaceful island retreat of Canna. Here you'll find lovely walks as well as opportunities to spot wildlife - including whales! The island is also home to St Columba's Church and a fantastic archive of Gaelic history, songs and traditions.

7. Skye & Raasay

The Storr, Isle of Skye

It's over the sea to Skye now. One of Scotland's most popular locations, the island is famous for its breath-taking scenery and landscapes. Neighbouring Raasay is also well worth a visit - it was named one of the 'Best Islands to Visit in 2020' by Condé Nast Traveler.

See the sights

Armadale Castle Gardens

Visit Armadale Castle Gardens, a beautiful collection of mature gardens with a selection of walking routes and nature trails to follow. The castle is also home to the Museum of the Isles, which tells the story of the powerful Clan Donald. Enjoy a snack in the Stables Café, or have a go at outdoor activities, such as archery, axe throwing or air rifle shooting.

Broadford

Continue north through the island until you reach the town of Broadford. Aside from Portree, no other place in Skye can offer the variety of pubs, hotels, restaurants and takeaways that Broadford can. There are also many well maintained walks in the area and short boat trips are always on the cards.

Raasay

Speaking of short boat trips, you can catch a ferry to the Isle of Raasay from Sconser which will take around 20 minutes. Once there, Raasay House is the place for those who like outdoor adventures - with coasteering, kayaking, climbing and abseiling available. Otherwise, stop off at Raasay Distillery for a guided whisky tour.  

Find out more about Skye.

8. North & South Uist

Isle of South Uist

To get to North & South Uist head for Mallaig and make the crossing to Lochboisdale on South Uist (3 hours and 30 mins). This part of the Western Isles has a magic all of its own. Less visited than other parts of the Hebrides, you'll find a place of tranquillity and escape. The journey is all part of the adventure.

See the sights

Uist Sculpture Trail

The Uist Sculpture Trail provides a way to explore the Uists through the eyes of an artist. Dotted throughout the islands, each sculpture involved the local community in its construction and they are all great places to stop and appreciate the sea, land and sky. 'The Listening Place' by artist Valerie Pragnell marks the boundary between South Lochboisdale and North Glendale and is a great place to start.

Barpa Langass

For an altogether more ancient rock sculpture, head for Barpa Langass on North Uist. This 5,000-year-old burial chamber is thought to be the resting place of a Neolithic Chieftain but it still retains an air of mystery. Nearby you'll find Pobull Fhinn, a stone circle regarded as the finest of its kind on North Uist.

9. Harris

Luskentyre Sands, Isle of Harris

Next up it's the home of the iconic Harris Tweed and plenty more besides. Harris has wonderful scenery and famous beaches as well as friendly people.

See the sights

Luskentyre Sands

Named one of the UK's best beaches in the TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards, Luskentyre Sands is one of the largest and most spectacular beaches on Harris. Take a walk, take some photos - enjoy being by the water in this truly beautiful place.

Harris Tweed Shop, Tarbert

It's time for some retail therapy. The Harris Tweed Shop is located in the heart of Tarbert, the main town on the Isle of Harris. This family run enterprise is famous the world over and has a long history. The perfect place to pick up a souvenir on your island-hopping adventure.

Find out more about Harris.

10. Lewis

Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis

The largest island of the Outer Hebrides, Lewis is a fascinating place to explore. With strong Gaelic traditions, you'll find that the island has a distinctive atmosphere and a rich history. From ancient history to wilderness, wildlife and the arts, Lewis is a place of inspiring contrasts. 

See the sights

Calanais Standing Stones

Walk among an extraordinary collection of standing stones that was erected some 5,000 years ago. Predating England's famous Stonehenge monument, the Calanais Standing Stones are a sight to behold. Their original purpose is lost to history, but experts think they might have been used in astrological rituals.

Lews Castle

Lews Castle is an impressive gothic revival style castle that overlooks Stornoway Harbour. It was built in the mid-19th century as a country house but these days it is an exciting museum. Learn about the history of the Outer Hebrides and view the famous Lewis Chessmen. Afterwards take a walk in the castle grounds, which include woodland, parkland and gardens.

Find out more about Lewis.

11. Orkney

Skara Brae, Orkney

Moving away from the west coast, our next destination is Orkney, north of the Scottish mainland. Orkney is a charming place and the landscapes, history and people of these islands are sure to leave you feeling inspired. There are several ferry routes to Orkney, running from Scrabster, Gill's Bay and John O' Groats - choose your point of departure and set off for an Orcadian adventure!

See the sights

Stromness

Lively and cosmopolitan, the picturesque town of Stromness is a joy to explore. Old stone buildings and narrow winding streets combine to create a fairy tale atmosphere - and the town's maritime heritage is everywhere on show. Pop into an independent shop and bag yourself some crafts, jewellery or textiles, then why not explore the town's museum?

Ring of Brodgar

Your next attraction is something really special. Orkney is brimming with Neolithic monuments with several sites part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site but the Ring of Brodgar is a standout. A hauntingly beautiful stone circle that is thought to have been built around 2500-2000 BC, The Ring of Brodgar is one of the largest circles of its kind in the British Isles. Guided walks are available.

Italian Chapel

A visit to Orkney isn't all about ancient history, the islands were strategically important during World War Two and stories from that time resound to this day. The Italian Chapel is a remarkable building - a Nissen hut painted to resemble a chapel by Italian prisoners of war during the conflict. This beautiful and intricate building is totally charming.

Skara Brae

Uncovered in 1850 by a storm, Skara Brae is the best-preserved group of prehistoric houses in Europe. Times were very different in the Neolithic period, but you might spot some parallels between times gone by and today's modern living. You might not believe it, but this place is older than the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

Find out more about Orkney.

12. Shetland

Sumburgh Head

Travel even further north to the remote islands of Shetland. It takes around 5 hours to reach Shetland from Orkney, you can catch the ferry from Kirkwall to Lerwick. It will take longer if you travel from further south. Beautiful and rugged, this is a true escape from life on the mainland.

See the sights

Lerwick

Lerwick is the UK's most northerly town, home to around 7,000 people. The central hub of the Shetland Isles, Lerwick has a busy cultural and social life. Explore the old and new towns, making sure to stop in at the outstanding Museum and Archives.

Old Scatness

Discovered as recently as 1975, during the construction of an airport access road, Old Scatness is a time capsule into another world. The site is thought to have been occupied for around 2,000 years, beginning in the early Iron Age, and is remarkably well preserved. You'll find this site at the southern tip of Shetland's mainland. 

Jarlshof

Not far from Old Scatness, you'll find Jarlshof, a site which has attracted the close attention of archaeologists since it was discovered at the end of the 19th century. The earliest remains on the site are late Neolithic houses, followed by bronze age houses and a Norse settlement. Travel back deep in time as you explore one of the best archaeological sites in the country.

Sumburgh Head

Wow - it's been an adventure so far, so why not wind down with a classic Shetland walk. Beginning at Jarlshof, the route runs along the coastline before climbing up to Sumburgh Head and its lighthouse, the southernmost point in the islands. Look out for puffins in the summer!

Find out more about Shetland.