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Melanie Grandidge January 6 2023

There’s something magical about Scotland’s islands.

Perhaps it’s the relaxed pace of life, the stunning golden beaches, or the friendly locals. Whatever the reason, there’s nothing like exploring the country one island at a time.

But with over 790 to choose from, which Scottish islands should be top of your travel wish list?

As award-winning experts in self-drive holidays in the UK, we’ve been helping our clients discover Scotland since 2004. We asked our adventurous team for their recommendations on their favourite islands to visit across the country. Read on to discover their favourites.

 

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides

If you’re looking for a true island adventure, look no further than the most westerly point of the British Isles; St Kilda. It is situated 40 miles northwest of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.

Until the last residents were evacuated to the mainland at their own request in 1930, St Kilda was the remotest inhabited and self-sufficient island in the UK. Today, only a few people live on the island for conservation. The remains of the ancient settlement on the main island of Hirta is fascinating to explore.

With St Kilda being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with dual status for both natural and cultural characteristics, it has so much to offer. The archipelago contains Europe’s highest sea cliff and is home to the continent’s largest seabird colony, with a thriving population of gannets and puffins.

Team tip: “If you’re planning on visiting I’d recommend having a few days on the Outer Hebrides so that you can have a choice of travel days depending on the weather. When you’re there, walk up to the cliffs to the east of the island to discover some of the UK’s most breathtaking scenery.” – Pippa Robson

 

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Easdale, Inner Hebrides

Imagine a colourful wheelbarrow full to the brim with suitcases and luggage trundling along a grassy path from the ferry port. That’s Easdale, where locals do things a little differently. With no cars or roads anywhere on the island, the trusty wheelbarrow is the official mode of transportation. So if it’s peace and quiet you seek, you’ll only hear the calming sounds of the sea crashing on the shore and the breeze rustling through the long grass.

The smallest permanently-inhabited island in the Inner Hebrides, Easdale is often referred to as one of the most unique places in Scotland. Make sure you pay a visit to the award-winning Easdale Island Folk Museum to discover the island’s rich history as a world-renowned source of slate.

The slate quarries were flooded in 1881 by a tidal storm which forced them to be abandoned. These flooded quarries have now become extraordinary natural swimming pools which are a fantastic pastime on a summer’s day. Kayaking is also a popular activity from Easdale because of the island’s proximity to the small isles of the Inner Hebrides and the coast of Argyll.

Team tip: “Visit in September to coincide with the annual World Stone Skimming Championship.” – Daisy Andrews

 

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Unst, Shetland

Located at the very top of Scotland is the northernmost island in the British Isles; Unst.

This is the ultimate Shetland island-hop destination and it’s easy to see why. As one of the richest Viking heritage sites in Europe, it’s a must-see for lovers of history and archaeology.

The island is also home to the spectacular Hermaness National Nature Reserve, where the dramatic coastline and wealth of wildlife make a visit to this cliff-top haven an unforgettable experience. Make sure to visit in summer if you’re looking to spot some of the extraordinary wildlife, including puffins, seals, whales and dolphins.

Team tip: “Getting to Unst takes a little bit of planning and ferries should be booked in advance. You can find more information on travelling here in our Ultimate Guide to Visiting Shetland & Orkney.” – Scott Smyth

 

Isle of Raasay, Inner Hebrides

The Isle of Raasay offers a calmer and more laid-back experience than its more popular neighbour, the Isle of Skye. Why not take a day trip to Raasay from Skye for a relaxing change of pace?

Raasay (Gaelic for ‘Isle of the Roe Deer‘) is extremely geologically-diverse, with rugged mountains, lush woodland, and secluded bays. The island also enjoys panoramic views of the Cuillins and Torridon on the Isle of Skye.

We recommend visiting Raasay Walled Gardens, driving along the famous Calum’s Road, and exploring the many fantastic walks the island has to offer.

Team tip: “Add an additional day on Raasay to your Highlands & Islands Malt Whisky Trail self-drive holiday to visit the unique Isle of Raasay Distillery.” – Zoe Kirkbride

 

Kerrera, Inner Hebrides

Castles, cream teas and more sheep than people, what’s not to love? With only 68 residents and a modest size of four miles by one mile, Kerrera is a tiny hidden gem off the coast of Oban.

No visit here is complete without exploring the magnificent Gylen Castle. Build in 1582 by the Clan McDougall, its ruins hold a fascinating Scottish history in a beautiful setting overlooking the Firth of Lorne.

Just a few minutes away from the castle is the delightful Kerrera Tea Garden. Serving hearty soups, homemade bread, scrumptious cakes and daily specials, this cafe is a lovely place to re-energise after exploring the island. Just bear in mind that the cafe is open from Thursdays to Mondays from April until September.

Sound like your cup of tea? Why not add a trip to the Isle of Kerrera to your Argyll & Mull of Kintyre self-drive holiday.

Team tip: “Walking around the whole island by foot takes a while. Why not hire bikes so you can complete the whole circuit?” – Daisy Andrews

 

Hoy, Orkney

Hop on the ferry from mainland Orkney for a unique day trip to the island of Hoy.

The Vikings aptly named this island ‘Haey’, meaning ‘High Island’ in Old Norse. As you explore the spectacular hills and dramatic coastline rising from the sea, you see where the name comes from.

Hoy’s most acclaimed location has to be the impressive Old Man of Hoy which you can visit from Rackwick Bay. This legendary sea stack is the tallest in the British Isles, standing 137 metres high.

With so much history to uncover on the Island, it’s hard to know what to explore first. We recommend discovering Orkney’s military history at the new Scapa Flow Museum and stepping back in time at the Dwarfie Stane – a 5,000-year-old chambered tomb.

Team tip: “I’d recommend booking the Houton To Lyness ferry well in advance. If you’d like to walk to the Old Man of Hoy from Rackwick Bay, you’ll need to give yourself 2.5 – 3 hours for the return trip.” – Scott Smyth

 

Isle of Jura, Inner Hebrides

Perhaps one of the wildest islands in the Inner Hebrides, Jura is a unique and inspiring place. So inspiring that the writer, George Orwell, moved here in 1946 to write Nineteen Eighty-Four. Imagine what you could create on a retreat to Jura!

With a sparse population of approximately 200 people, you’ll feel like you’ve got those rugged mountainous views all to yourself. Well almost, as there are approximately 7,000 deer on the island. Jura is derived from the Norse word meaning ‘Island of Deer’ after all!

Famous for its single malt whisky, no visit to Jura is complete without a tour of Jura Distillery. The most prominent feature of the island’s landscape is the distinctive Paps of Jura. With three dramatic mountains, each summit provides astonishing panoramic views of neighbouring Islay and the mainland.

Team tip: “Book a boat trip with Jura Boat Tours. Island local, Bob Henry, will take you around the island, and perhaps even to the world’s third-largest whirlpool on the Gulf of Corryvreckan.” – Katia Fernandez Mayo

 

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Isle of Eigg, Small Isles

A community-owned island, Eigg has a vibrant and progressive feel. With a population of less than 100, this tiny island is entirely off-grid and the locals produce their own renewable electricity. The landscape of Eigg is unusually green and lush, giving it the nickname ‘the emerald of the Inner Hebrides’.

We recommend hiking up the Sgùrr of Eigg – a small but dramatic hill with unbeatable views of Skye and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.

Team tip: “Only residents are allowed vehicles on Eigg, so make sure to rent bicycles to get around. The island is only 4 miles across, and your accommodation can offer lifts when you arrive with luggage.” – James Fathers

 

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Isle of Iona, Inner Hebrides

For such a tiny island, Iona has a substantial place in peoples’ hearts all over the world. Famous for its beautiful Abbey and Nunnery, Iona is known as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. To uncover its history, we recommend visiting the Iona Abbey Museum which displays a collection of crosses and carvings from the early centuries of medieval Christianity.

In summer, Iona feels like paradise. With sandy white beaches and sparkling turquoise waters, the beaches are stunning. This is the perfect place to relax on a Magical Islands of Mull, Iona and Skye island-hopping holiday.

Team tip: “Walk to White Beach, take a dip in the ocean, and enjoy a lovely, alfresco lunch at St Columba Hotel with stunning views.” – Sine Birkedal Nielsen

 

Isle of May, Firth of Forth

In peak breeding season, over a quarter of a million seabirds nest on the Isle of May, including puffins, terns, guillemots and fulmars. This is an awe-inspiring spectacle as seabirds burrow into the island’s ridges, caves and grassy burrows.

Situated on the edge of the Firth of Forth, this small rocky island is home to an array of wildlife and a fascinating history, including Scotland’s oldest Bird Observatory.

Team tip: “To get here, hop on the May Princess which sails from Anstruther almost daily from 1st April to 30th September. There are also boat trips which depart from North Berwick on the other side of the estuary.” – Sheila Tulloch

 

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Great Bernera, Outer Hebrides

With a strong community spirit passed down over generations, Great Bernera has an amazing cultural history. Gaelic remains the native language here, although not as predominantly as it was in the past.

One of the skills passed down by generations of islanders is lobster fishing, which was of great economic value to the island. It’s estimated that 60,000 lobsters were sent from Bernera to London in 1827! One of the island’s most remarkable sights is the Loch Risay Lobster Pond – unique for its curved shape.

A favourite for many is beautiful Bosta Beach for its stunning views, vibrant wildflowers, glistening blue waters, and roaming Highland cows.

For tips on island-hopping in the Outer Hebrides, check out our Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Outer Hebrides.

Team tip: “Great Bernera is home to one of the most spectacular beaches on Lewis – Bosta – and an Iron Age house.” – Sine Birkedal Nielsen

 

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Staffa, Inner Hebrides

It’s safe to say the uninhabited island of Staffa looks nothing like the rest of the islands on this list. Made up of hexagonal columns that were formed millions of years ago by volcanic eruptions, Staffa is one of a kind.

The island’s star attraction is Fingal’s Cave – world-famous for its phenomenal basalt columns and the harmonic echo generated by the waves crashing against the cave.

During spring and early summer, various seabirds – including guillemots, razorbills and puffins – nest here.

Team tip: “Book a boat trip with Turus Mara at Ulva Ferry. They will take you past the Treshnish Isles on the way to Staffa, with plenty of opportunities to spot seals and other wildlife en route. When you return, hop on the little ferry across to the Isle of Ulva and enjoy some delicious seafood at The Boathouse.” – Andy Gabe

 

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Explore Scotland’s Incredible Islands with Local Experts

Whether you’re looking to unwind on a pristine beach, discover wonderful wildlife, explore fascinating historical sites, or just meet some friendly Scottish locals – there’s a perfect Scottish island for you.

Our award-winning specialists can customise your holiday into something completely unique to you. We love the opportunity to use our first-hand knowledge and experience to design and deliver the perfect, bespoke holiday experience for you.

Get in touch with our friendly team to start planning your dream island escape.

Melanie Grandidge

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