11 Scottish Islands for Every Type of Traveller

We’ve hopped between Shetland, Orkney and the Inner and Outer Hebrides to find the Scottish island to suit you. Get a taste of Skye’s best restaurants, spot puffins on South Mainland or sip Islay’s peaty whisky. Plus, private islands for natural seclusion.

With more than 900 offshore islands to discover, Scotland and its jagged coat is hardly a well-kept secret among travellers. Still, when you're strolling along a beach at the height of summer and there's barely a soul in sight, it's hard to feel like this place wasn't made just for you.

The four main island groups - Shetland, Orkney and the Inner and Outer Hebrides - include uninhabited craggy outcrops with sandy coves and thriving hubs of farming, textiles and whisky-making. Whether your idea of fun is dining on fresh hand-dived scallops, riding the Atlantic surf or togging up for hearty outdoor pursuits, Scotland has an island to suit. Here are some of the best.

Highland flings and secluded escapes: which Scottish island should you visit?

Isle of Mull

Scotland, United Kingdom

Best for: adventurers

One of the largest Scottish islands, Mull is an outdoorsy nirvana. Hire bikes in the main town of Tobermory or get involved in an e-bike cycling tour. Kayaking, bouldering, wild swimming and hiking are also popular pursuits, while others visit the island to climb up majestic Ben More, the only island Munro (that's Scottish for a mountain that's more than 3,000ft high) outside Skye. Mull is also a twitcher's paradise, home to the white-tailed eagle - the UK's largest bird of prey - as well as merlins, buzzards and hen harriers.

Stay: Camping is big on the island, and Pennygown Holiday Park has the best views as well as a small shop selling meat from their own farm. It's a good jumping-off point for adventures.


Scotland, United Kingdom

Best for: community spirits

One road. One pub. One distillery. And a very distinct, very harsh microclimate that seems to have windswept the tiny island's tight-knit community together. Part of the Inner Hebrides, Jura is one of the wildest corners of Scotland, with 200 inhabitants outnumbered by 5,000 wild deer. As for its whisk, many believe it's the best in the world.

Stay: Black Tomato has launched its ultra-luxe Blink glamping service for the first time on Jura's remote north coast. It's a completely bespoke experience - they'll arrange RIB trips to the whirlpools of Corryvreckan, with a rare chance to sight sea eagles, porpoises, dolphins and seals.


Scotland, United Kingdom

Best for: wildlife enthusiasts

The 300 or so Shetland islands are famous for puffins - tammie norries, as they're locally known. Take the ferry to the little island of Bressay for walks across the heather and watch them in their natural habitat. Elsewhere, the RSPB nature reserve at Sumburgh Head on the southern tip of mainland Shetland is home to tens of thousands of seabirds in the summer, including kittiwakes and guillemots.

Stay: Beside the nature reserve on the South Mainland, self-catered Sumburgh Lighthouse is ideal for a small group getaway. The property has a double bedroom, twin room and single bedroom inside the old Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage. Buffeted by the elements, the lighthouse still has relics from its working days, but an electric Aga and large dining table keep things snug.

Isle of Islay

Scotland, United Kingdom

Best for: whisky lovers

There are so many gin and whisky distilleries on this tiny Hebridean island that you could spend a whole holiday getting to know your Bruichladdich from your Lagavulin. Private tastings and distillery tours can be a fun way to learn about the peaty single malts that comes from the island. Elsewhere, wildlife and pristine beaches earn Islay the well-deserved title as "Queen of the Hebrides".

Stay: Machrie Hotel is surrounded by 11km of pristine sand dunes, and is a jumping-off point for fishing trips, cycling routes and birdwatching. Any golfers would be happy here too.


Scotland, United Kingdom

Best for: history buffs

Explore First World War shipwrecks, Viking villages and prehistoric sites as you island-hop across the Orkney archipelago. The islands' diverse history includes a famous Italian chapel, a Viking-founded cathedral of Kirkwall, the crumbling remains of 5,000-year-old Skara Brae, the neolithic stone circle at Brodgar, and the Standing Stones of Stenness. Want to get a deeper understanding of the Orkneys' rich history? Book a guided tour with Rabbie's.

Stay: On the outskirts of the historic town of Stromness in the West Mainland, this single-storey barn conversion on Airbnb is open plan and minimalist, letting views to the great outdoors take centre stage. It has one large bedroom, underfloor heating and stunning vistas across Hoy Sound.

Torsa Island

Scotland, United Kingdom

Best for: sweet seclusion

There's just one home on this tiny island, and nothing but the local wildlife for company. Run wild in the sheer open space of the beaches and meadows. This rugged island is close to Oban and Seil on Scotland's west coast, where you'll find pubs and provisions if you need.

Stay: It's not often that a self-catering stay comes with its own private island. Check into the six-bed Torsa House for just that - and a cosy log burner, well-equipped kitchen and everything you need to batten down the hatches between enjoying nature. The house comes with its own motorboat in case you fancy pootling over to the neighbouring islands for a change of scene.


Scotland, United Kingdom

Best for: divine disconnection

There's something peaceful about the white sands of Iona, an island just south of Mull. Famed for the medieval chapel of St Oran's, it seems to have been possessed by a spiritual presence for millenia. Small wonder that this is the alleged burial place of no less than 48 Scottish kings - including Macbeth - as well as a handful from Ireland and Norway. This is the spot where Irish monk St Columba landed in the 6th century, built a Celtic church and set about converting pagans to Christianity. The island is rich in wildflowers and sea life, too, making it lovely for long walks and a digital detox.

Stay: A warm Hebridean welcome awaits at the St Columba Hotel, originally built as a clergy house. The hotel makes its own gin, and food is gathered from the organic veg garden.

Isle of Skye

United Kingdom

Best for: foodies

Skye's beauty is no secret, but the island's flourishing food scene adds an extra dimension to this picturesque beauty spot. Native oysters are some of the world's finest, as are hand-dived scallops and langoustines. Note also the historic bakeries and venison. For a true taste of island life, book a table at the cult The Three Chimneys restaurant. Dedicated to sustainability, rifle through nature's larder of foraged herbs, well-sourced fish and local produce. Fuelled up, discover natural Skye's wonders such as the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, the mountain pass of Quiraing and Dunvegan Castle.

Stay: For a far-flung romantic getaway or solo retreat, Supernova is unbeatable. The self-catered chapel conversion overlooks Loch Harport and the mountains beyond, and comes with underfloor heating and Scandi sheepskin rugs. Low-key luxe.

Lewis and Harris

Scotland, United Kingdom

Best for: beaches

Despite the name, this is actually one island, with long sandy bays and crystal-clear waters perfect for dolphin spotting. This part of the Outer Hebrides might as well be the Carribean. Check out Viking relics at the Callanish standing stones or spend days on the white sands of Luskentyre beach looking for native whales.

Stay: The Sound of Harris is broken into two self-catered properties: The Big House and The Other House. Ask the owners and they'll source local scallops and langoustine, or have a go at catching your own mackerel.

Eilean Shona


Best for: fairytale charm

Summers spent here in the 1920s inspired J. M. Barrie's rendering of Neverland in Peter Pan. Today, you'll still find much of that otherworldly charm on this private, car-free island. Only a short boat ride over Loch Moidart from the mainland, its all pristine moors, wild open hills and woodland. Red squirrels, curlew and otters are at home here. Out to sea, you'll spot dolphins, minke whales and the odd basking shark.

Stay: Vanessa Branson has owned the island for the past three decades, and recently renovated Eilean Shona House for holiday rentals of up to 16 people. Think luxury hotel meets family home. Elsewhere on the island are nine tucked-away boutique holiday cottages.

Photo credit: J Bedford


Scotland, United Kingdom

Best for: surfing

The self-proclaimed "Hawaii of the North" might be a little colder than its Pacific namesake, but when the light is right, Tiree does indeed have azure waters to rival any tropical beach. Being so far north, there are more daylight hours here summer months than almost any other part of the British isles. Top surfing conditions, too.

Stay: Reef is a luxury inn on the west coast, with eight bedrooms and a laid-back surfer vibe. It stocks all sorts of interesting Scottish spirits and craft beers - ideal partners for its menus of seafood and homemade pizza.

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