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.

The Caledonian MacBrayne

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.

Old Man of Hoy

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.

Skye ferry Raasay sun

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.