VISITING THE ISLANDS
Anyone visiting Scotland's islands is:
- Encouraged to take two lateral flow tests before travelling.
- The first test should be three days before you travel.
- The second test on the day of travel.
- If you test positive, you would be able to take a more-sensitive PCR test to confirm the result before cancelling your visit.
- Find out more on details around how to order a rapid lateral flow test.
- You can order the lateral flow kit directly from the UK Government.
Non-essential travel between Mainland Scotland and Orkney and Shetland is now permitted. To allow for physical distancing, there will be limits on the numbers that can sail, so please book ahead to avoid disappointment. All passengers must disembark the vessel upon arrival and visitors to Orkney and Shetland must have their island accommodation booked before travelling.
NorthLink Ferries encourage all passengers to download the NHS Scotland Test & Protect tracing app. The app, when downloaded to your phone, will alert you when you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
NorthLink Ferries are also requesting that travellers wear face coverings within the ferry terminals and on board.
If you have any enquiries or want to keep up to date with all the latest travel information, please visit NorthLink Ferries Coronavirus help page.
CalMac Ferries have now published their summer timetables for 2021. Visit the CalMac website for all the latest travel information. Non-essential travel to the islands is now permitted, but it is advised passengers take two rapid lateral flow tests before they travel.
CalMac are operating guidelines and safety measures - including physical distancing - which are all designed to keep customers and crew safe. If you're considering travel, we advise you to plan ahead carefully, as numbers are limited on each ferry. Please be aware that only those who are permitted to travel in the Scottish Government guidance will be allowed on board and you should be prepared to answer questions about possible symptoms and reasons for travelling on the day. Please remember to maintain physical distancing of 2 metres at all times, both indoors and outdoors, and to wear a face covering when travelling by ferry.
Many of the greatest adventures start with a ferry ride - where will yours take you? Scotland's various ferry services are a vital life line for island residents, and a great way to explore the unique beauty of these remote areas - all with fantastic views to soak in along the way. There is plenty to do on the islands, as well as there being many routes and itineraries you can follow to make the most of your journey; explore the Orkney Isles, follow the Ultimate Island Itinerary, or uncover the west coast.
Firth of Clyde and the Inner and Outer Hebrides
Caledonian MacBrayne, generally known as CalMac, operates all main services on the Firth of Clyde and to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, sailing to over 20 destinations. Mainland ports which serve the islands in the west include Oban and Kennacraig in Argyll, and Mallaig and Ullapool in the Highlands.
For CalMac ferries, it's recommended to book tickets in advance wherever possible, although you can normally buy foot passenger tickets on the day of travel. If planning on making multiple ferry journeys, you can consider purchasing an Island Hopscotch ticket which combines multiple journeys, or you can leave the car behind and opt for a great value Rail and Sail ticket.
Purchasing the passes doesn't guarantee a place on a specific ferry, so it's best to book ahead if you are travelling with a vehicle. Always check the journey information before you travel, for details on baggage allowance, checking in times and delays or cancellations due to weather conditions.
Argyll Ferries also run a regular service between Dunoon and Gourock, which can be combined with a train ticket from Glasgow Central and only takes an hour and a half in total.
Ferries to Orkney and Shetland
NorthLink Ferries operate nightly car ferries from Aberdeen in the north east to Lerwick in Shetland, with stops en route on alternative days at Orkney's main port, Kirkwall. Travel time is around 12 hours direct, and just over 14 hours via Orkney.
Shetland's inter-island ferries are run in conjunction with the local council, and information about routes and timetables can be found on the Shetland Islands Council website.
NorthLink Ferries also operate car ferry services from Scrabster in Caithness to Stromness on Orkney, which takes around an hour and a half.
The quickest route to Orkney is with Pentland Ferries who operate from Gill's Bay, near John o' Groats, and St Margaret's Hope in South Ronaldsay (just over 1 hour). This is also the greenest way to travel to Orkney as their new purpose built catamaran, MV Alfred, is the most environmentally friendly passenger ferry of its size in Scotland. In summertime, John o' Groats Ferries offer a passenger ferry service from John o' Groats to Burwick, South Ronaldsay. Many of the Orkney Islands are linked by services run by Orkney Ferries.
Ferries are popular so make sure you book in advance. You'll find you can book Northlink Ferries or Pentland Ferries directly with the companies.
Ferries in other areas
There are also numerous small operators running day excursion trips around Scotland's coast and islands. Find more ferry operators in Scotland or check out our tours section for more ideas about what to see around the stunning Scottish coast.
If you're planning to hop onboard one of Scotland's ferries, there are many ways to get to our ports. Browse our easy public transport trips that allow you to sit back and enjoy the scenery, travel along the west coast by train, or bring your campervan or motorhome and explore Scotland at your own pace.