Which are the best Scottish islands to visit?

May 23, 2023 3 min read

Which are the best Scottish islands to visit?

Jon Barton gives his personal recommendations.

Scotland is one of the world’s top travel destinations. Many people every year visit its cities, the highlands and the islands, either in search of their ancestral roots or just for a bit of good old adventure travel.

Scotland is home to numerous breathtaking islands, each with their own unique charm and attractions. Here are some of the best Scottish islands to visit taken from our book Scottish Island Bagging by Helen and Paul Webster of Walkhighlands.

Skye, Loch Coruisk

Skye, Loch Coruisk. © Helen and Paul Webster  

1. Isle of Skye: Known for its dramatic landscapes, rugged mountains, and iconic landmarks such as the Old Man of Storr and the Fairy Pools, Skye is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. It is the best known of all the Scottish Islands, I first visited when I was sixteen for a very ‘memorable’ traverse of the Cuillin Ridge.

Westray, Mae Sands

Westray, Mae Sands. © Helen and Paul Webster  

2. Orkney Islands: Located off the northeastern coast of Scotland, the Orkney Islands boast a rich historical and archaeological heritage. Explore ancient sites like Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, and the Standing Stones of Stenness.

Mull, Tobermory

Mull, Tobermory. © Helen and Paul Webster  

3. Isle of Mull:The second largest of the Inner Hebrides, Mull offers diverse landscapes, including stunning coastal scenery, rolling hills, and wildlife-rich areas. Take a boat trip to the nearby Isle of Staffa and witness the awe-inspiring Fingal's Cave. I’ve visited Mull on many occasions, the cycle tour of the island is as good as cycling gets!

Lewis, lighthouse at the Butt.

Lewis, lighthouse at the Butt. © Helen and Paul Webster  

4. Isle of Lewis and Harris: The largest island in the Outer Hebrides, Lewis and Harris is renowned for its pristine beaches, ancient standing stones (such as the famous Callanish Stones), and traditional Gaelic culture. These two islands are a must-visit adventure travel destination – the climbing, cycling and walking are world class – I can’t comment on the swimming and paddling – but it does look good.

Arran, north ridge of Goatfell

Arran, north ridge of Goatfell. © Helen and Paul Webster  

5. Isle of Arran: Often referred to as 'Scotland in Miniature', Arran offers a little bit of everything, from towering mountains and rugged coastline to picturesque villages and whisky distilleries. Bizarrely my memories of Arran are not its superb almost alpine climbing but some random abandoned mine exploring – it was a long time ago though.

Mainland, Jarlshof

Mainland, Jarlshof. © Helen and Paul Webster  

6. Shetland Islands: Located in the North Atlantic, the Shetland Islands offer stunning landscapes, charming fishing villages, and a rich Viking heritage. I have to confess I have never been to the Shetlands – and I do think my life is poorer for it, if you go let me know what I am missing please.

Iona, Abbey

Iona, Abbey. © Helen and Paul Webster  

7. Isle of Iona: A place of historical and spiritual significance, Iona is known for its medieval abbey, tranquil beaches, and serene atmosphere. It is often considered the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. You can’t take your own car – which is a distinct advantage when exploring this lovely isle.

Islay, Ardbeg distillery.

Islay, Ardbeg distillery. © Helen and Paul Webster  

8. Isle of Islay: Famous for its whisky distilleries, Islay is a paradise for whisky
enthusiasts. Embark on a whisky trail and sample the distinct flavours of renowned distilleries like Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg. Okay – as you can imagine my only memory of this island is a hangover that seemed to last two days.

These are just a few of the hundred or so ‘easily’ accessible Scottish islands listed in our book, Scottish Island Bagging, that are worth exploring. Each island offers its own unique experiences, stunning landscapes, and cultural treasures, making a running, climbing, walking or swimming trip a must. Scotland is a dream destination for island bagging.