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Scotland is full of beautiful islands – there are over 790 islands that make up the country and each has its own charm and diversity.
Not all are inhabitable or able to be visited, but of the ones that are, I want to share some of the best Scottish islands to visit, including the most beautiful Scottish islands.
Whether you’re looking for stunning natural landscapes, wild camping in Britain, family-friendly activities or just the serenity of being in the middle of the sea, this list of Scotland’s best islands will inspire you to book your next trip.
If you’re coming from England, take the train from London to Edinburgh or Aberdeen and then you can take flights, ferries, and more to get to your final destination.
You’re going to want to make sure you’re prepared for all weather when you journey out to the Scottish islands.
Depending on where you go, you won’t find all of the amenities such as big box stores that you would in big cities – and that’s the charm of it!
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Here’s a packing list for the Scottish islands to give you an idea of what to bring.
A heavy duty rain jacket:there’s no getting away from the fact that it rains in Scotland throughout the year.
Not only will it keep you dry, but it will help keep you warm and act as a windbreaker as well.
His regular waterproof shoes are light enough that he can wear them with any outfit and no matter the weather, but if it starts pouring, he doesn’t need to run for the nearest covering.
The waterproof hiking boots are just essential for walking around the Scottish islands, as you never know when you’re going to be stuck in a storm or just want to wade through some puddles.
Not only will it help prevent your feet from blisters, but they’ll keep your feet warm in the colder months and feel all cozy inside.
Sunglasses: If you haven’t experienced the joy of a Scottish summer, you should know that the sun lasts a long time!
Like, from 4am to 10pm kind of long, if not longer.
Come prepped with your favorite pair of sunglasses so you’ll be both stylish and functional.
Waterproof travel trousers: Visiting Scottish islands isn’t the best time to rock your newest pair of jeans.
You want to be comfortable and functional, and the only way to do that is with these travel trousers.
They’re versatile so you can match them with plenty of outfits, and you’ll appreciate how fast they dry if you do get caught in some sort of storm.
Want a tour of some of Scotland’s most beautiful islands? We love these!
1. Islay Island
The Isle of Islay is best known for the smoky whiskies it creates in its eight distilleries, but the joy of visiting Islay Island is much more than that.
In addition, there are beautiful coastal views, gorgeous beaches and regular festivals.
The main town on Islay is known as Bowmore, home to shopping options, amenities like the post office and supermarket, and a unique round church that is said to give evil spirits nowhere to hide.
One of the things that makes this island one of the best Scottish islands to visit is its abundance of wildlife.
Visit the RSPB reserve to spot local animals like geese and other birds. Lovely trails along the way help you navigate your way through the reserve while still feeling like you’re in the wilderness.
Islay is in the Inner Herbridies off the west coast of Scotland and holds just over 3,000 regular residents.
How to Get There: The best way to get to the Isle of Islay is to catch the ferry from Kennacraig, which runs on a regular schedule.
There are also weekly departures from Oban.
2. Arran Island
It’s the seventh largest Scottish island and one of Scotland’s most beautiful islands with its fantastic landscapes ranging from beaches to rural fields to rocky peaks.
It can also be a great midge free place to visit in Scotland!
If you enjoy golf, you’ll feel right at home on the luxurious golf courses on Arran.
There are seven in total, meaning that you can easily find one to suit your skill level.
And what’s better than teeing off while looking at seriously gorgeous landscapes?
That’s right, nothing!
Let’s say golf isn’t your thing, though.
And I get it!
While some of your group tee off, you can explore niche shops on the island selling everything from crafts to furniture to delicious food.
If the weather isn’t quite up to scratch, you can also head indoors to a swimming pool or indoor tennis or snooker area.
Or stop into one of the local cafes like the Isle of Arran Distillers Cafe where you can get fresh food and panoramic views.
How to Get There: Car ferries run from Ardrossan Harbor, which is about a 3 hour drive from the north of England.
The crossing takes just under an hour, except for in the winter months when there is a reduced service that takes about an hour and a half.
3. North Ronaldsay Island: one of the best Scottish islands to visit
Head to the north of the Orkensy to find North Ronaldsay Island, the best Scottish island for seeing its unique sheep and wildlife (the sheep eat seaweed, which is the cutest thing I’ve ever heard).
Though the island is small, it has been inhabitated for many centuries and previous civilizations have left behind structures and artifacts that make this area of the world an anthropologist’s goldmine.
Today, there are only about 60 full time residents (the school had 1 student until they graduated in 2017).
North Ronaldsay Island is also home to the tallest land-based lighthouse in Britain, known as New Lighthouse.
How to Get to Ronaldsay Island: Fly to North Ronaldsay Island from Kirkwall on the Orkney mainland. Alternately there is also a weekly ferry.
4. Isle of Skye
Perhaps one of the most well known islands to visit in Scotland is the Isle of Skye.
It’s the largest island in the Inner Hebrides and measures 50 miles long – plenty of room to enjoy yourself and spread out in the open air!
Walkers will instantly fall in love with the Isle of Skye for its fantastic peaks and climbs.
Try out the Cuillin Range to scale peaks above 3000 feet or take a more leisurely walk to the fairy pools near Glenbrittle.
Wildlife watchers should travel to the Isle of Skye to spot the sea eagle, a majestic creature that’s also the largest bird of prey in Britain.
The capital of the Isle of Skye is Portree, but there are other charming villages and towns surrounding it on the island including Uig, Carbost and Elgol.
How to Get to the Isle of Skye: visiting Scotland’s lovely island isn’t difficult, as you can reach it by car ferry or bus. The nearest airports are Glasgow and Inverness, where you can rent a car to make the journey.
5. Eday: visit Scottish islands
There’s a tiny isle in the Orkneys that would be perfect for anyone truly wanting to get back to nature.
Its name is Eday, and its just about eight miles long so you could walk from end to end in one day easily!
Bird watchers will find their paradise here with the sheer amount of wildlife there is to observe – especially from Mill Loch.
You can also dig into Eday’s history by taking the Eday Heritage Walk.
This walk takes you past remains from past time periods including the Neolithic age, Bronze age and Iron age.
Don’t forget your camera to snap some shots of the Stone of Setter, Orkney’s tallest standing stone (hey, it’s the little things!)
Check out the Red House Croft Restoration Project where you can hear more about island life and see a thresing mill.
How to Get to Eday: There is a daily ferry service in the Orkneys for service to Eday, as well as weekly flights should you prefer to travel by air.
6. Isle of Iona
Ready for some white sand beaches or a spiritual retreat?
The Isle of Iona in the Inner Hebridies is the place for you.
The Isle of Iona is one of the best islands to visit in Scotland for its rich history filled with stories of revolts, kindgdoms, feuds and more.
Discover one of the most popular attractions on Iona, Iona Abbey, known for being the best preserved ecclesiastical building from the Middle Ages.
There’s also an ancient burial ground filled with historic kings, as well as other Christian monuments.
If you’re hoping for some out-of-this world Instagram goodness, head to St. Columba’s Bay where you can enjoy beautiful views of the sea and surrounding landscape.
How to get to the Isle of Iona: Cars aren’t allowed on the island, so the first part of getting there is to get yourself to the Isle of Mull by ferry.
Then you can take a bus or a taxi to the Iona port from the Isle of Mull.
7. Isle of Colonsay
From agriculture to oyster farming, life on the Isle of Colonsay is a friendly community filled with gorgeous landscapes and lovely residents.
This island is about 10 miles long and is located in the Hebridies – a fantastic part of Scotland!
Want to know why the Isle of Colonsay is one of Scotland’s best islands to visit?
Look no further than the cave exploration option at the north end of Kiloran Bay.
Here, you can bring your best flashlight and wander your way through the natural home to bats, otters, pigeons, and spiders (but don’t tell my arachnaphobic husband that or I’ll never get him to come!)
If you’re into star gazing, this island is perfect for it with low levels of light pollution and rare sightings of the Northern Lights.
How to get to the Isle of Colonsay: Take a ferry from Oban to the Isle of Colonsay, which runs every day in the summer and a few times a week during the winter.
Flying is also an option during certain parts of the year.
8. Barra Island
Take a journey to the Outer Hebrides where Barra Island dazzles even the most jaded of visitors with its untouched natural beauty and charm.
Learn about the history of the area at medieval castles like Kisimul Castle, or discover the same views that the Clan McNeil would have seen as you stand on the shores.
Sea kayaking is a popular activity, too, and guided excursions will take you out into the sparkling water of Castlebay to see what you can find.
If you like golf, you can play a few holes at Barra Golf Club, the most westerly golf course in the entire United Kingdom.
How to get to Barra Island: The most fun way to arrive to Barra Island is by plane.
Flights land on the beach in between tides, and at high tide you can’t see the runaway as it’s washed under the waves. I did say that you should prepare yourself for an adventure!
9. Isle of Mull: one of the best Scottish islands
Situated off the west coast of Scotland, the Isle of Mull gained loads of notoriety after being featured on BBC programs, but it’s still a lovely place to escape to nature and relax.
Popular as a summer holiday getaway, the Isle of Mull is one of the most beautiful Scottish islands to visit and filled with things to do.
Because the Isle of Mull is on the larger side, finding a new way to get around – say, on two wheels, is a favorite pasttime of residents and visitors.
Rent a bike and go for a spin around town to get a glimpse of some of the island’s most beautiful views.
If you’d like someone else to do a bit more of the work for you, how about a pony ride around the island?
When the weather turns bad, head to the Mull Aquarium to learn about the local aquatic life and speak to animal professionals about how you can help conserve the wildlife in the Scottish islands.
How to get to the Isle of Mull: There are various ways to get there, but a popular one is to get yourself to Oban via train, car, or bus, and then head over to the Isle of Mull from there via the ferry crossing.
10. Isle of Lewis
Visit the North west corner of the Hebrides for one of Scotland’s most beautiful islands – the Isle of Lewis.
The Herbrides have a viking past, and it’s very apparent when you wander around and see the names of the shops (and the names in the phone books).
Some of the most popular cultural activities include seeing the various standing stone circles throughout the island, which display the area’s rich history.
They also look beautiful against the blue background of a late summer Scottish sky.
Other things to do include visiting the beaches like the Beach at Ness, where you’ll find room to play and dunes to get lost in.
For gorgeous sand and turquoise water, check out Tolsta Beach as well.
How to Get to the Isle of Lewis: There are both ferry and flight options to get to the Isle of Lewis.
The main airport is in Stornoway, and the ferries are run by Calmac.
11. Isle of Gigha
The Isle of Gigha has gone by many different names in the past, including God’s Isle, and it’s easy to see why once you step foot on land.
Here, beauty is at every turn and the warmer climate of this island compared to other Scottish islands means that you can enjoy it that much longer.
Spend the day swimming in a sparkling green sea, or take a long walk through varying landscapes including beaches and hillsides.
Watch the boats bob up and down in the water and breathe the fresh air knowing that you are truly in a paradise.
Check out the standing stones on Gigha or go and try and spot some seals at Cuddyport.
This is island life your way.
How to get to the Isle of Gigha: There’s a car and passenger ferry from Tayinloan on the Scottish mainland, which is the easiest way to get to Gigha.
There is also an airstrip on the island for private planes, though in true Scottish style, you’ll need to call first to make sure the area is free from grazing sheep!
The westernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, Tiree is one of the best Scottish islands if you’re looking for peace and quiet, as well as wonderful beaches and wildlife watching.
It’s only 12 miles long with just over 600 permanent residents, but the lack of elevation means that you’re going to be enjoying stunning views across the island for days with nothing in your way.
Visitors love Tiree for the birding opportunities, as well as the camping options.
Visit the Skerryvore Lighthouse, see the Kirkapol Chapels, or take a sea tour to experience this stunning part of the world.
How to get to Tiree: either take the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry service from Oban, or take a flight from Glasgow using Loganair.
13. North Uist
In the outer Hebrides, North Uist is a great Scottish island to choose if you want to take day trips to other areas of the Hebrides.
You’ll find fresh and salt water lochs, lots of beaches, and perfect conditions for walking, cycling, bird watching, and more.
Stay in the main town of Lochmaddy, where the majority of the small population live, and get to know this fisherman’s paradise.
There’s also plenty of other things to do, including the Uist Sculpture Trail, the historic ruins of Trinity Temple which was probably Scotland’s oldest university, and doing some otter spotting on the east side of the island!
How to get to North Uist: you can get to North Uist by ferry from Uig in Skye, which goes straight to Lochmaddy.
If you want to visit a Scottish island, but don’t want to go fully rugged, Bute is a fantastic and accessible option.
Whether you’re interested in wildlife, coastline, music, arts, adventure sports like wild swimming or paddleboarding, or something else, Bute likely has it for you!
The heart of Bute is the Rothesay Pavilion, built as Scotland’s “pleasure palace” in 1938, which today hosts concerts, community gatherings, tea dances and more.
Visit Rothesay Castle for an enchanting history lesson, go walking around the sandy beaches, or head to St. Blaine’s Chapel, a gorgeous monastery that offers a chance for peaceful reflection.
It’s not far from Glasgow, and easy to tie into a Scottish itinerary without needing to take a ton of travel time to get there.
How to get to Bute: the easiest and fastest way to get to Bute is from Wemyss Bay Terminal (a train ride from Glasgow), taking the ferry just 35 minutes until you’re on the island
Eigg is one of the smallest Scottish isles, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in things to see.
Sometimes called the “jewel in the Hebridean crown,” Eigg is a fantastic option for visitors who want to experience the local culture, see the many nature reserves, and experience an island that shows off the best of Scotland.
There’s no public transportation on the island, so rent a bicycle or use your own two feet to explore.
Climb An Sgurr for stunning views of the island or visit Laig Bay, a gorgeous Atlantic-facing beach.
Sustainability is a big part of life on Eigg, as it’s home to the first wind, water, and sun-powered renewable electricity grid in the world.
How to get to Eigg: you can take the ferry from Mallaig on the mainland to Eigg, but remember that you can’t take your car!
16. Jura: one of the most beautiful islands in Scotland
Ready for a truly rugged adventure?
If challenging walks, untamed wilderness, and Scottish’s “final frontier,” excite you, then Jura is the place to go.
The people here (around 200) are actually outnumbered by the thousands of deer who live on the island, and it’s believed the name actually came from a Norse word meaning “Deer Island.”
Most of the island can only be visited on foot, and you won’t experience any bustling ports or towns here. It’s quiet, peaceful, and offers enchanting views.
Visit Craighouse, the main village that features the only shop, hotel, and pub on the island, or head to the Jura Distillery where the famous Jura Whiskey comes from.
How to get to Jura: the easiest way to get to Jura is to first get to the Isle of Islay (see route above) and then take the small ferry from Port Askaig to Feolin.
Sometimes referred to as the “ghost island,” Hirta is the largest of the St. Kilda archipelago on the western edge of Scotland and is one of the most remote islands in Scotland.
There aren’t any permanent residents, just a military based that is manned by revolving staff members.
The island is owned by the National Trust and visitors to the island are welcome during the better weather months (it gets very, very windy and wild on this island!).
The most popular thing to do on Hirta is wildlife watching, as its home to colonies of puffins, gannet and a special type of primitive sheep.
How to get to Hirta: the easiest way to get to Hirta is a boat tour departing from Oban on the mainland or Uig on the Isle of Skye. There are not places for visitors to sleep, so it would be a day trip.
One of the most easily accessible Scottish islands is Raasay.
The name means Isle of the Roe Deer, and it’s a beautifully stunning Scottish island filled with geological treasures.
Walking, cycling, and kayaking are an important part of a trip to Raasay, as well as a visit to the distillery which has its own shop so you can bring home some of their favorite spirits.
There are two hotels, two B&Bs, and a variety of self-catering options so you can make your trip your own, and if you look out to the sea on a clear day, you might be able to spot some dolphins!
How to get to Raasay: it’s just 25 minutes on a ferry from Sconser on the Isle of Skye, and you don’t have to book!
Visit the Outer Hebrides for an amazing trip to Benbecula, featuring gorgeous lochs (with otters!), beautiful panoramic views across the beaches, and lots of fishing.
Yell “fore” on the golf course with 18 holes that looks out to the Atlantic Ocean (you pay by honesty box, of course, this is the Hebrides after all!)
There’s also an annual music festival every July, as well as a horseback riding school and a gift shop at MacGillivrays.
Benbecula is a populated Scottish isle, so while it is remote, it isn’t so much so that you’ll be stepping fully away from civilization like some others!
How to get to Benbecula: Take the ferry from Uig in Skye to North Uist, where you can then use the causeway to get from North Uist to Benbecula.
Benbecula is also connected to South Uist by causeway.
While Boreray is an uninhabitated Scottish island, it is one of the most beautiful to view with its beautiful green-coated rock jutting out from the sea.
The cliffs are home to various seabirds, and an important species of sheep live on the island.
You can’t stay on Boreray, but you can visit it during calm weather by taking a boat cruise that goes near it.
This small tidal island only has a few permanent residents, but it’s popular with walkers as you can get to it by tidal causeway from Ullinish and explore some of the high cliffs and morelands.
You need to time your trip carefully and be aware, however, as the tidal causeway means that at high tide, the ability to walk to the island is gone and covered by the sea.
Being stranded on Oronsay is not a good idea, so don’t venture out on your own unless you’re an experienced walker and understand the tides.
Oronsay is designated as a scientific place of special interest, and if you have a need for adventure and the joy of walking across the sand that’s usually covered by the sea to get to this island, then this trip is for you.
Berneray is known for its incredible beaches that’ll make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean with how stunningly golden the sand is.
The white sand is mostly found on West Beach (on the west coast), while the best conditions for water sports at at Beasdaire on the east.
There’s a visitor centre, the Nurses Cottage, as well as seal watching opportunities and some historic burial grounds.
Take the Berneray Circular Walk if you want to stretch your legs and see the island on foot, or head for the coves on the south coast of the island for some peace and quiet.
How to get to Berneray: Berneray is connected by causeway to North Uist, and the ferry goes from Leverburgh to Bernerary.
23. Great Cumbrae
Cumbrae is very close to the Scottish mainland, but with a history all its own.
Visit Millport, the only settlement on the island, for its Victorian promenade and to see Britain’s smallest cathedral, the Cathedral of the Isles.
The circular loop is great on bike, which you can rent from Millport and take around the island to see the various sights and sounds.
If you’d prefer some more history and educational experiences, the Museum of the Cumbraes features the history of Millport and shares the history of smuggling on the island, as well as its wartime connection.
You can also jump in the water and enjoy water activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, and even yachting.
How to get to Great Cumbrae: take the ferry from Largs on the mainland, only 10 minutes
The second largest of the Shetland islands, the isle of Yell is considered the gateway to the North Isles.
Walking on the island is one of the most popular pastimes, as it has gorgeous beaches like Sands of Breckon and West Sandwick.
There’s also the Shetland Gallery, a fascinating art gallery featuring work from local Shetland artists.
Feeling like getting back to Mother Nature?
Wildlife watching is another great option on Yell, as much is reserved as a nature reserve and you can see everything from birds to otters to dolphins, porpoises and orcas offshore (if you’re lucky).
How to get to Yell: ferries run from Toft in the north of the mainland to Ulsta in Yell
25. Papa Westray
This is the smallest of the Orkney islands, but a wonderous treasure trove of archeological finds if you’re into history.
For instance, the Knap of Hower is older than even the pyramids, and the remains of the medieval chapel are a must-see.
Birdwatchers love the island for the amount of wildlife here, and there’s an annual art festival, a community shop, and even a hostel for visitors.
The community is vibrant and friendly, and the island of Papa Westray is one of the most beautiful islands in all of Scotland.
How to get to Papa Westray: take the world’s shortest scheduled flight (seriously) via Loganair from Westray. It’ll take you 2 minutes. Yes, you read that right.
UK Travel Planning Guide: the FAQs
🏥 Should I buy UK travel insurance?
Absolutely yes. Basic coverage is not expensive, and as a visitor you are NOT covered under the NHS. Compare policies and prices with Travel Insurance Master here, a big name in the travel insurance business, and cross that off your list.
🔌 Do I need travel adapters for the UK?
Yes, you do, otherwise you won’t be able to plug in your electronics/phone/lifelines. I recommend this one, which is all-in-one so you can use it in other countries.
🚗 What do I need to drive in the UK?
The first thing you need to check out if you’re planning on renting a car in the UK is this guide to driving in the UK for visitors – the roads, signs, and driving experience will likely not be what you’re used to and it’s essential to prepare yourself to stay safe and aware.
🛌 What’s the best way to book hotels in the UK?
📳 Will my phone work in the UK?
Yes – if you set it up right. Check out my guide on making your foreign phone work in the UK to ensure that you get the type of service you need.
🚿 Can I drink the water in the UK?
Yes, UK water is great and perfectly safe. But drink out of taps in any kitchen or use water fountains. Double check before drinking out of the taps in hotel bathrooms, though, as they may be on a different system.