I know only few places in the world that can rival the dazzling beauty of the Isles of Scotland, especially on a calm sunny day. Every island has its unique atmosphere, character, and scenery. The Inner Hebrides are more gentle and lush than the more savage islands of the Outer Hebrides, while the secluded Isle of Shetland is a flat piece of fertile and green land between vast skies and turbulent seas.
With over 800 islands it may be difficult to choose which one to visit, so we share here the list of our favorites.
Islay, Inner Hebrides
For whisky connaisseurs
Islay is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides and is known as The Queen of the Hebrides and the whisky isle. Located around the coastline, you’ll find eight distilleries that are producing some of Scotland’s finest and most distinctive single malts. Perhaps the most famous are the three southern distilleries – Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig – that make use of local peat to produce full-body whiskies with glass-filling smokiness.
However, there is more to Islay. Add a broad range of sandy beaches, some easy walking trails, and picturesque whitewashed villages, and it is an attractive cocktail.
Arran, North Ayrshire
For outdoor lovers
Rightly labeled ‘Scotland in miniature’ Arran has it all, from dramatic mountain peaks to rolling hills, verdant forests, and sheltered beaches. The Highland fault line splits the island into the verdant south and the wilder mountainous area of the north providing plenty of great hiking opportunities. The temptation may be to head straight up Goatfell, the island’s highest point (874m). It’s well worth challenge if you’re fit (and the weather is behaving); on a clear day, you even can see Ireland from here. There are also plenty of other easier walking routes like the Arran Coastal Way, which loops around the island for about 100 kilometers, passing beautiful sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, caves and waterfalls.
But that is not it. Arran offers more activities for ‘outdoor play’ such as gorge walking, rock climbing or sea kayaking, one by one great ways to explore the beauty of this island.
Mull, Inner Hebrides
For wildlife enthusiasts
Mull is the second largest of the Inner Hebridean Islands and the third largest in Scotland, with 300 miles (480km) of coastline. Mull is a wildlife haven on its land and in its waters, including curious puffins, great whales, and sharks that swim nearby the coast. You might be even lucky enough to spot indigenous wildlife such as eagles, dolphins, and otters.
In the center of the island of Mull lies the mountain Ben More, with an elevation of 1.174m, it is a popular place for hiking lovers.
On top of the imposing mountain scenery, the Isle of Mull has plenty of beautiful beaches, and bays in the north and the south.
But probably the most famous landmark of Mull is its main town, Tobermory, noted for the colorful waterfront buildings and the yachts floating in the natural harbor.
Harris, Outer Hebrides
For keen photographers
Off the Scottish west coast, lies the chain of islands called the Outer Hebrides. Barra, Uist, Harris, and Lewis are one by one beautiful island, but as a chain, they offer a wealth of natural attractions, an ever-changing scenery, as well as wildlife.
The island of Harris is, however, the jewel in the crown. It offers wonderful landscapes and the most incredible display of light and color. It is the ideal place for great pictures.
South from the town of Tarbert (arrival point of the ferry from Skye) meanders the narrow “Golden Road” through an attractive landscape of rocky hills, lochs, and whitewashed houses. On Harris west coast you’ll find vast stretches of pristine white sandy beaches – like Scarista beach – bordered by Caribbean blue waters and rugged mountains, where often only seals and birds keep you company. The east coast cannot be different; areas that can be described as a ‘lunar’ landscape, alternate with beautiful lochs and inlets. When you visit the Isle of Harris in summer, you may capture great shots of the fabulous sandy grasslands on the coast (Machair) boasting many thousands of colorful wildflowers.
Skye, Inner Hebrides
For foodies and fun
Whether you arrive by car over the bridge, or by ferry, the north-western island of Skye is a truly magical place. The largest of the Inner Hebrides has countless ways to enchant you with a spectacular coastal scenery, a stunning landscape of high-rise mountains (such as the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, and the Cuillin), and captivating history.
The stunning scenery is the main attraction of Skye, but when the mist closes in, there are plenty of castles, museums, and charming villages to explore. Or what about its offer of exquisite shellfish, quality meats, and tasty cheeses. Indeed Skye is home to one of Scotland’s most famous restaurants, The Three Chimneys, acknowledged far and wide to be the best place to eat on the island.
Shetland, Northern Isles
For those that embrace wilderness
The Shetlands, Scotland’s wild, awe-inspiring islands are an archipelago made up of more than 100 islands that are closer to Norway than mainland Scotland. The Old Norse language pops up everywhere, from practically every place name to the local dialect. And its beautifully preserved archaeological sites are vivid reminders of the islands’ Viking past.
It is no surprise that throughout history the sea has dominated life on Shetland like the fishing industry has always been important to the islands and remains the largest contributor to its economy.
The rugged and secluded Shetland Islands are home to a landscape that is quite unlikely to find anywhere else in the world. Imagine kilometers of breathtaking coastlines, pristine beaches, and crystal-clear, blue shores. In addition to its unique rock formations, moorlands and high cliff tops shaped by millennia of wind, sea, and sand.