Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye
Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye

A Guide To Island-Hopping In Scotland

If you're going to make the journey to Scotland, why not maximize your time there by doing a bit of island hopping? There are around 900 islands dotted around the Scottish shorelines, some uninhabited and others boasting amazing sites to visit, and there are a range of ways to travel around this magnificent part of the UK to ensure you see as much of what it has to offer as possible. With us here at Brightwater, you can explore over 30 of them and we have selected our favourites to highlight, which we hope might inspire your next Scottish island vacation!


An island in the Outer Hebrides, Barra is home to a unique runway situated on a beach along with some truly stunning scenery. It is just 8 x 5 miles at its widest point and boasts the picturesque island castle (shown right) of Kisimul in addition to beaches that will leave you breathless. If you'd like to explore Barra, we pay a visit to it as part of our Grand Tour of the Outer Hebrides vacation, which has multiple departures throughout the year.


A tiny island that is only 1.5 miles wide by 3 miles long, Iona is located off the coast of Mull in the glorious Inner Hebrides. This destination is known for its famous abbey, one of Western Europe's oldest Christian religious centers, and many people visit it as part of a pilgrimage trip. Visit Iona as part of our dedicated Mull, Staffa & Iona itinerary or our Grand Tour of the Inner Hebrides vacation.



The Isle of Arran is often described as "Scotland in Miniature" with its blend of Highland and Island scenery with granite peaks and deep glens to the north of the island that contrast with its rolling and lush farmlands to the south. Only 56 miles around its coastline, the small villages are compared to ‘jewels on a necklace’ strung out like pearls around the island. Visit Arran on our Arran, Scotland in Miniature tour or our Autumn Tints of Arran vacation.



With its diverse landscape of mountains, sea lochs, moorland and peatbog, the Isle of Mull is home to a wide range of mammals and birds and has established itself as one of the UK’s top wildlife destinations. Mull is a paradise for birdwatchers and one of the best places in the country to see big raptors such as the Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Sea Eagle. It is also home to the historic Duart Castle. Explore Mull on our Mull Wildlife, Mull, Staffa & Iona or Grand Tour of the Inner Hebrides itineraries.


Situated on the whisky coast of Scotland, Islay (pronounced eye-lah) is home to a phenomenal nine working distilleries! So, if you're a fan of warming, golden drams – this is the place to be. Once the ancient home of the Lord of the Isles, who ruled the Hebrides from two islets on Loch Finlaggan, it has always been popular with archaeologists and historians. The island is also known for its sandy beaches and its diverse birdlife. Our dedicated Islay & Jura tour visits the isle, as does our Grand Tour of the Inner Hebrides.


To the north-east of Islay is its neighbour, Jura. This is an untamed and rather mysterious island with just 200 human inhabitants, dominated by the “Paps of Jura”. The northern end of the island was once home to George Orwell, where he wrote his masterpiece 1984. During a visit to the island, you could also pay a warming visit to the fabulous Jura Distillery, which produces smoky yet subtle malts. Our best-selling Grand Tour of the Inner Hebrides and Islay & Jura vacations visit this Scottish island.


Perhaps one of Scotland's most popular islands, Skye is the Inner Hebrides' largest and it is also incredibly beautiful. Home to mountain ranges, enchanting fairy pools and the famous Old Man of Storr - a pinnacle of rock that juts high into the air. Discover the isle of Skye on our Stornoway, Skye & the Summer Isles tour or our Highland Explorer: Skye & the Far North vacation.


A wildlife reserve in Scotland's north, the uninhabited isle of Handa sees almost 100,000 seabirds breed here each summer. There is a 6km circular path, which offers a chance to look out for seabirds such as guillemots, razorbills, great and arctic skuas to name but a few. In addition to the birdlife, there are also the archaeological remains of an old village which was inhabited until 1847 and a profusion of interesting wildflowers. Visit as part of our Scotland’s Northern Edge or Stornoway, Skye & the Summer Isles itineraries.

Lewis and Harris

Despite its name, Lewis and Harris is a single Scottish island in the magnificent Outer Hebrides. In Harris, you'll discover beaches that wouldn't look out of place on a tropical island – with clear blue waters and pristine white sands. Around the northern coastline of Lewis, you will find sheer cliffs. The landscapes are diverse, wild and breathtaking. Elsewhere, there are captivating historical and archaeological sites, which include the 5,000-year-old Standing Stones of Callanish and the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. Visit Lewis and Harris on our Stornoway, Skye & the Summer Isles, our Grand Tour of the Western and Northern Isles and our Outer Hebrides tours.


The little island of Staffa is home to Fingal's Cave, a stunning cave that was formed by volcanic eruptions over 50 million years ago and whose natural cathedral of basalt columns is one of the true wonders of the west coast. It's so spectacular that Felix Mendelssohn wrote an overture about it! Our Mull, Staffa & Iona, Grand Tour of the Inner Hebrides and Mull Wildlife tours all visit the isle of Staffa.


Orkney is an archipelago of 70 islands, each with their own distinctive charm, history and natural beauty. Green and fertile, this island is home to an array of amazing historic and archaeological sites, which include the Italian Chapel, the Tomb of the Eagles, Maeshowe with its chambered tomb, Skara Brae and Skaill House. In 1999, Orkney's Neolithic monuments were recognised by UNESCO and every year they attract curious visitors, eager to learn more. We have a selection of Orkney vacations on offer and you’ll find them all here.


If you want to get away from it all, Shetland is the place to be. As close to Norway as it is to Scotland, Shetland is rugged and remote, with a raw natural beauty, a unique culture and wonderful wildlife. There are over a hundred islands here, only 16 of which are inhabited, each with its own individual character. You may also have heard about the annual Viking fire festival, Up Hella Aa! View our full range of Shetland tours here.


Uninhabited since the 19th century, this tiny island is home to the Broch of Mousa – an Iron Age round tower (pictured right) that stands 13 metres high and can be climbed via a winding staircase. This is the tallest of Scotland's 500 or so remaining brochs and anyone fascinated by archaeology would appreciate a visit to this structure. To visit the little island of Mousa, join our Shetland & its Outer Isles vacation or our Archaeologist's View of Orkney & Shetland tour.


An idyllic isle, Lunga is the largest of the Treshnish Isles. Surrounded by wildflowers and stunning scenery, the main attraction that can be seen close up here is the large puffin colony nesting in burrows in the grassy hillside. These comical birds are incredibly inquisitive and will come within a few metres of you. Lunga is also a popular habitat to an ever increasing number of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Shag, Great Skua and a Seal colony. Visit Lunga on our Grand Tour of the Inner Hebrides, our Mull Wildlife tour or our Mull, Staffa & Iona trip.

Other ways to experience Scotland

A scenic Scottish Cruise, perhaps?

If you're looking for something a little different - a new way to explore the Scottish islands - why not consider a cruise? Our Lord of the Glens - Highlands & Islands tour combines both fresh and saltwater cruising, and sails between Inverness, Fort Augustus and Oban. Highlights on this six-day cruise include welcome and farewell receptions, a chance to cruise on Loch Ness, an experience negotiating Neptune’s Staircase and the rest of the Caledonian Canal, and a visit to colourful Tobermory along with a visit to the historic Duart Castle.

Or a classic steam train holiday

We also have a selection of memorable steam train vacations on offer in Scotland. Experiences range from a chance to glide over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct (pictured left) to a journey aboard the preserved Strathspey Line, which provides an authentic taste of the golden age of rail travel in the Highlands. This is a truly wonderful way to enjoy a holiday in Scotland and we can't wait to welcome you.

Join our mailing list

To find out more about Brightwater and to receive our weekly emails, which feature details on brand new itineraries, holidays with late availability and the occasional discount, just scroll down to where it says 'Newsletter' below and complete the relevant fields. 

Previous story Next story

A Guide To Island-Hopping In Scotland was published on 17 February 2022