With over 11% of Europe’s coastline it is no surprise that Scotland has a few islands. Over 800 in fact, with almost 100 of those inhabited. It can be hard choosing which ones to visit, but handily I’ve been to over 50 Scottish isles. Here is my insider Top 10 Scottish Islands in no particular order – all 10 are fantastic!
- Arran – The Island with it all is dubbed ‘Scotland in Miniature’ with good reason. One half is in the Highlands, the other in the Lowlands with a distillery, brewery, castles, for me Scotland’s finest blue cheese, mountains, cute villages, epic sandy beaches and plenty of wildlife too. Then there is the Arran Taste Trail, which showcases the best of all the island’s glorious local produce.
Barra – All of the best bits of the Outer Hebrides crammed into one compact island. Fly into Britain’s only airport with a beach runway for the full Barra experience! The capital of Castlebay awaits with its eponymous castle, a great pub and an Indian restaurant serving stunning king scallop pakora. Seriously! The walking is great, the sea kayaking even better and as for the beaches…
- Jura – One road, one village, one distillery, one hotel and one pub – what more does an island really need? Nothing judging by the cheery locals (the Diurachs)! The population is around 6,000. Red deer that is, with only around 100 hardy humans enjoying this most Scottish of island paradises. Superb hillwalking too on the famous Paps of Jura.
- St. Kilda – Not so much an island (actually an archipelago), more a Holy Grail for many Scots. Ultra remote – its inhabitants were evacuated in 1930 – this special outpost is on UNESCO’s coveted World Heritage List. Twice. Once for its natural wonders and also again for its intriguing human heritage. Not easy to get to, but that bumpy boat journey out into the Atlantic is worth it if you actually get to land.
Harris – Ok, so it’s not strictly speaking an island as it is joined to Lewis, but don’t dare mention that to the proud locals! I’ve travelled to almost 100 countries and nowhere in the world has better beaches than Harris. The sands here are truly epic and you’ll mostly have them to yourself bar a few seals and the bountiful birdlife. On the other coast a volcanic netherworld awaits that is a complete contrast.
Islay – A whisky lover’s dream. This wee gem is now home to no fewer than eight whisky distilleries and you win a special prize if you can spell them all without reading the following sentence more than once. They are (deep breath) Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain and Kilchoman.
- Iona – Take away the famous abbey and this island is still a wee gem with its sandy beaches, birdlife and views. Add in the abbey and St Columba and it is a world famous destination laden with history and intrigue, an essential stop on any tour of Scotland. Whether you are religious or not most visitors tend to be moved by this Inner Hedridean star.
Mousa – My favourite island in the Shetland Isles and that is saying something. Home to Scotland’s best preserved broch, most enjoyable in summer when you can sit there and observe the spectacle as the storm petrels flock back to feed their young here at night. A circular walk lets you discover this scenic wee isle, its beaches, hills and seals.
- Papa Westray – This Orcadian star boasts a bijou prehistoric village that echoes the more famous Skara Brae on Orkney’s mainland, but there are none of the crowds here. Flying in is fun too on the world’s shortest scheduled flight, which is shorter then the length of the main runway at Heathrow! Otters hug the rugged coastline.
- Mull – It is Mull over Skye for me as an island walking destination. Yes Skye has the Cuillin, but Mull has the only other island Munro in the shape of Ben More. This year also saw the inauguration of a new long distance trail, the Stevenson Way, which starts on Mull and crosses the entire island.
For our even more comprehensive guide have a look at our Scottish island hopping article.