The majestic Scotland of the British Isles has nearly 900 offshore islands. And no trip to Scotland is ever complete without visiting these glorious Scottish Islands. You will be amazed at the beauty and splendor of the islands that stretch across the North Atlantic to nearly as far as Norway.
The Scottish Islands come under one of four groups:
The Shetland Islands.
The Orkney Islands.
The outer Hebrides.
The inner Hebrides.
It is a herculean task to visit every island in one go, and it is a much bigger task to list the best of them all. It all depends on your schedule and interests.
As you ponder on which is the best Island to go to on your next vacation, this article will help you understand and give you a short introduction to some of the best Scottish islands.
Four Main Scottish Islands
Here is a description of the four central Scottish Islands.
1. The Shetland Islands
The Shetland Islands were formerly known as Zetland. As the northernmost region of the United Kingdom, the Shetland islands lie at the confluence between the Orkney Islands, the Faroe Islands, and Norway.
The secluded islands are a bunch of hundred islands, out of which only 16 islands are inhabited. The spectacular isolated archipelago is a beautiful treat for traveling between coasts and sea cliffs.
The central part of its population is in Mainland Shetland. Most islands in this area are either inhospitable in nature or isolated. Historically, the Shetland islands were mainly dominated by Scandinavia, so you will find that the people display an exciting mix of Scottish race and Norse culture.
An exciting aspect of Shetland is that a large part of the island is low-lying and treeless. Many of its serene shores hide its beautiful beaches, coves, and cliffs. It is well-known for its wildlife as well. From Otters and Seals to Puffins, dolphins and orcas can be seen on in Shetland.
The following are the islands that come under the Shetland Islands:
Mainland Shetland is primarily visited for its uniqueness and the fact that it is a very remote island. Much of its beautiful location can be explored anywhere between 2-3 days.
You can take overnight ferry services from Aberdeen, which takes around 14 hours to get to Mainland Shetland. Otherwise, you can use the ferry services from the Orkney Islands with Northlink Ferry, which will be for 7 hours.
Visitors to the Mainland Shetland have tons of choices when it comes to the number of things to do or see. From Archaeological sites such as the settlements of Jarihoh and Scatness to lovely landscapes like the cliffs of Eshaness or the beaches, one will find the the islands are great for a quick visit or a lazy outing.
Yell is known for its wildlife and is the second-largest island of the Shetland Islands. It also remains to be the third most populous in the archipelago region. Yell has existed since the Neolithic times and is one of the few inhabited Scottish islands.
Modern Economy due to Scottish control, has increased crofting, fishing, transport, and tourism in this region. As the ‘Otter Capital of Britain’, Yell is a nature haven for most aquatic creatures. Bird watchers would love the diverse bird life.
Yell is a pretty tiny Scottish island in Shetland, so you will be able to view the entire island in a day. To travel to Yell, one can use the Inter-Island Ferry from Toft in Mainland Shetland to Ulsta.
Have a superb time visiting some of its notable buildings, such as the 17th Old Haa Museum of Borough in Burravoe, or spend a lovely time watching the otters by the ocean.
On the northernmost part of Scotland is an island called the Unst. It is also known to be one of the larger islands among the Scottish islands and is being developed as a great walking destination.
This Scottish Island is the third largest island after Mainland and Yell. Unst is mainly grassland with many coastal cliffs. The main village in Unst is Baltasound which was the second-largest herring fishing port but now has transformed into a leisure center and airport.
Unst can be seen in a day. Visitors can take the inter-city Ferry from Gutcher in Yel and head to Belmont to reach the island.
Unst is well known for its stunning landscapes, especially from the cliffs of Hermaness, and for its beautiful beaches of Skaw and Farmland. Shetland Ponies are another star attraction on the island. At Unst, all you need to do is simply go for a walk to encounter nature at its very best.
Fair Isle is another delightful Scottish Island in Shetland. It forms a part of northern Scotland and lies halfway between mainland Shetland and Orkney.
It also remains one of the few Scottish islands famous for the traditional style of knitting. Fair Isle and owned by the National Trust of Scotland since 1954.
Fair Isle is just 5km long and 3 km wide. All you need is a good bike and excellent stamina to go around the island.
The island is home to a beautiful bird observatory, so take your time to appreciate the variety of birds.
The Shetland Islands also have much smaller and less visited Scottish Islands as well. Some are Papa Stour, Bressay, Isle of Noss, Walsay, Fetlar Muckle Roe, Foula Island, Buray, etc.
You can take a trip around the Shetland Islands by choosing the best Island hopping tour offered by the Scottish island tours. Enjoy the incredible landscapes and experience the Viking heritage of the destination.
There are many ways to explore this region as well. You can choose to be bewildered by the breathtaking coastline or just become mesmerized by the view from the towering clifftop. The spectacular wildlife is just perfect on the Shetland islands. From seabirds and seals to otters and orcas, you will be enamored by the awesomeness of its wildlife.
2. The Orkney Islands
The Orkney are a group of islands on the north coast of the British Isles and are known as the archipelago of the Northern Isles of Scotland.
Mainland Orkney is the largest island in Orkney and is the sixth largest among all the Scottish islands.
Facts about Orkney Island
Orkney is part of the 32 council areas of Scotland.
The locally elected council is the Orkney Islands Council
The Scottish island has been an inhabited island for over 8500 years.
Orkney was originally occupied by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes
In 875 BC it was colonized and annexed to the kingdom of Norway
In 1472 AD, the Parliament of Scotland absorbed the island into the Kingdom of Scotland on account of the nonpayment of dowry to James III of Scotland by the family of Margaret of Denmark.
Local people are known as Orcadians and speak a distinct dialect of the Scots.
The following are the islands that come under Orkney.
Mainland Orkney has a rich history of archeological sites. The land has excellent wildlife, but the fertility of the land is low.
The Mainland is also known as Hrossey and Pomona. Most of the Orkney population lives on Mainland Orkney. As one of the densely populated Scottish islands, the Mainland Orkney is the largest freshwater island.
You need at least two days to see Mainland Orkney. You have several options to choose your way to the island. You can use either ferry from Aberdeen and reach Kirkwall. It will be a seven-hour crossing. You can also use the ferry to Stromness from Scrabster, which will take you to Mainland Orkney after a two-hour crossing.
You can view some great monuments such as St Magnus Cathedra and Palaces in Kirkwall. Others are Skara Brae and the Broch of Gurness. The lovely Unesco world heritage site of the standing stones of Stenness is a must-visit in Orkney island.
Hoy is yet another one of the most beautiful Scottish islands in Orkney. It measures about 143 square kilometers. Hoy is the second largest of all Scottish islands after Mainland Orkney.
The island of Hoy links the smaller South Walls through ‘the Ayre,’ a natural causeway. Therefore, the Hoy and South Walls islands are treated as one entity by the UK census.
Hoy has spectacular views of cliffs and valleys, and the island is like a beautifully painted canvas.
Hoy can be seen in a day, and travel to Hoy is quite accessible by everyone. Ferry services are the perfect way to reach Hoy. There are ferries available from all islands in Orkneys.
Hoy has many splendid activities, such as hiking or birdwatching. The Old Man of Hoy hike is a simple 3-hour walk from Rackwick.
Be mystified at the Dwarfie Stone, a tomb that is nearly 5000 years old, or you can climb on the Martello Tower to get a grand view of the island.
Northern Orkney makes up many small islands with distinctive features and rich history. Various ferry services from different islands can reach northern Orkney. The travel time is usually one to three hours.
To travel within the island, you can opt to take your car, hire a car or taxi or take a bus. Northern Orkney’s famous places to see are as follows:
- Rousay – Rousay has dramatic cliffs and extensive bird colonies that cannot be missed.
- Westray – Knap of Howar is a farmstead that predates the Pyramids. It is an excellent historic location for your to visit. Other best places to visit are the Noland Castle and the Viking House. It is fantastic to watch the puffins on the island.
- Sanday – Sanday is an island filled with lovely beaches. There are many historical locations as well. A tomb called the Quayness Chambered and a towering lighthouse.
The Hebrides are a bunch of islands in Scotland. It can be found on the country’s west coast. The inner Hebrides islands and the outer Hebrides islands have a vast history. It dates back to the Mesolithic period.
The inhabitants of the Hebrides islands have a Celtic influence. The Norse and English cultures can also be seen in the diversity found in its islands.
Interesting Facts About Hebrides Islands
The inhabitants of the Hebrides speak a distinctive dialect derived from the Celtic language. Their dialect is also influenced by Norse heritage and the English people.
Gaelic Music and Literature originated from the Hebrides islands.
The primary income sources are crofting, fishing, tourism, and oil production.
The islands have far less biodiversity than many sea creatures, such as seals and birds.
The entire Hebrides population is around 45000.
The total area of the islands is 7285 square kilometers.
3. The Outer Hebrides
There are few English speakers here as the primary language is Scottish Gaelic. The following are the islands found that come under the Outer Hebrides:
Isle of Lewis and Harris
Lewis & Harris Islands is a single Island found in the Hebrides. As the most significant island among the Scottish islands, Lewis and Harris has 842 square miles. It is well known for its sandy beaches and is the most famous prehistoric site in Scotland.
The island needs at least 2-3 days to visit. You can get to Lewis and Harris in the following ways:
Ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway
Ferry from Skye or North Uist Islands
Fly in from Glasgow or Benbeculas
Lewis and Harris have plenty of exciting places to see and enjoy. The Callanish standing stones called the Carloway Borch, and the Lewis Castle are some of its historical delights to watch out for. Sandy beaches such as the Luskentyre and Borve are an integral part of Lewis and harris.
North Uist & South Uist
North Uist and South Uist are fantastic breeding places for seals in all of Europe. Birdwatchers find themselves entirely at home here, and nature lovers would love the island’s stunning scenery.
North Uist and the South Uist are a group of Scottish islands found in the outer Hebrides. The visitors are treated to a perfect ” get away from it all” experience. All of them will feel warmth and joy from everyone on the island. They would love the island to relax, rejuvenate and replenish their parched soul.
At Uist, you will find friendly locals who would love to chat with you. They may wave to you whenever you cross them. The Uists are reachable by ferry or plane from the mainland and neighboring islands.
The road in Uist is a single track, so you cannot speed a lot. This encourages visitors to take time and have as many stopovers as possible. Barpa Langass, a 5000-year-old burial chamber, and the Langlais stone circle are the historical places to visit in Uist.
Barra and Vatersay
Barra and Vetersay are Scottish islands located at the southern end of the island chain of the Outer Hebrides. Both islands offer a unique and contrasting mix of experiences.
You can land on a beach on the island of Barra, and it is the only one among the Scottish islands to allow such a luxury.
There is a strong sense of community created by the people of Barra, and visitors would be able to taste the fruit of the labors of the locals.
The iconic Kismul Castle at Castlebay and the isolated village at Eoradail on Vatersay are the places to learn about the history of the Outer Hebrides.
Seal Bay at Barra will let you watch the seals to your heart’s desire. A stroll on the Vatersay Machair to watch the wildflowers is simply divine.
For outdoor excitement, surfing is the most recommended sport at Barra and Vatersay. Both islands are great places to explore the true nature of island life. The Outer Hebrides lets you experience a lifestyle that is both unmatched and unique in its own special way.
4. The Inner Hebrides
The Inner Hebrides are a group of Scottish islands found off the west coast of Scotland. From the Outer Hebrides, the islands will be seen in the southeast direction.
The Inner Hebrides form a part of 35 inhabited islands and 44 uninhabited islands. The islands of Skye, Mull, and Islay are the largest of Scotland’s islands with the highest populations.
Most of the population on the island is involved in commercial activities such as tourism, fishing, and whisky distilleries. Crofting is another form of economic activity on the islands of the Inner Hebrides. Crofting is a form of small-scale production of food and land tenure.
Here is a short description of some of the most important inhabited Scottish islands in the Inner Hebrides:
Isle of Arran
The Isle of Arran is a small island that can be viewed within a day. It is a grand island if you want to see Scotland in miniature form.
To get to Arran, you can use the Main ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick and reach it within an hour.
A gorgeous Scottish island that has Stone Circles at Auchagallon, Machrie Moore, and Moss Farm Road and enchanting castles at Lochranza and Brodnick.
Islay is often known as the Queen of Hebrides. It is a famous location for beaches, hospitality, and whisky distilleries.
Jura is an island of wilderness that most people visit for the wildlife. Jura is home to nearly 500 deer, as most of the island is covered by the Jura forest.
Visitors love to hike the Paps of Jura and visit the famous Isle of Jura distillery.
The island of Colonsay is one of the small western isles of the Inner Hebrides. With just 135 inhabitants, it is an excellent island for beautiful beaches and birdwatching.
Many love to travel to Colonsay to discover its stunning beaches and wondrous birdlife.
Mull and Iona
Mull and Iona can be described as an island for the whole family. With breathtaking landscapes, spectacular beaches, and gorgeous castles, Mull and Iona is a great island known for its history and friendly communities.
The Scottish Islands of Mull and Iona are known to be the cradle of Scottish Christianity. The ancient abbey, founded in 563 AD, is a witness to this fact, as it is regarded as the birthplace of Celtic Christianity in Scotland.
Wildlife cruises and wildlife walks are some of the beautiful things to do in Mull and Iona. Boat trips to the chapel, the Abbey, and the Hermit cell are some of the Iona tours on the island.
Tiree & Coll
Tiree and Coll are found in the Inner Hebrides. Tiree is called a “raised beach.” Coll offers beautiful nature walks and amazing beaches. They are in the western part of the island.
Tiree and Coll’s islands are famous for their great walks by their stunning beaches. The Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum and the Sandaig Museum are part of the places to visit on the island of Tiree and Coll.
Isle of Skye
Among all the Scottish Islands in the Inner Hebrides region, the Isle of Skye is the largest. It is located in the northernmost part of the Inner Hebrides and is considered one of Scotland’s 10 most beautiful places.
The Isle of Skye has become one of the topmost Scottish Islands to visit due to its expanding collection of activities and attractions.
Skye has the best scenery and beautiful landscapes that will leave you wanting more. The Isle of Skye is approximately 50 miles long and has a rich history, such as Dinosaur Fossil, Clan Warfare, etc. It is an excellent island for wildlife, such as the White-tailed sea eagles. Other sea creatures include Otters, Seals, Whales, and Dolphins.
Other islands in the Isle of Skye are:
Eigg – Known for singing sands and pitchstone ridge.
Rum- The island is a National nature reserve that has a volcanic natural heritage and abundant bird life
Canna and Sanday – known for its sheltered harbor and incredible scenery. It is the most westerly island of the Small Isles of Inner Hebrides.
Scottish Islands are unique, spectacular, and stunning in every possible way. Whether it is the Inner Hebrides with all its majestic culture of fishing, crafting, and whisky distilleries, or the wild, untamed Outer Hebrides, visitors to the islands will be captivated and enthralled in all its beauty.
The rich history of the Orkney and Shetland islands will help you realize that the people on the Island live in a world created by themselves.
So for your next visit to the gorgeous Scottish Islands, please take the time to read this article to learn about the land that is greatly influenced by history and endless legends.