With its arresting landscapes, shimmering aqua blue seas, looming mountain ranges and rich heritage, it's no secret that Scotland is a nation in which every travel addict should step foot! While the Scottish mainland is undoubtedly a wonder to behold, no tour of bonnie Scotland would be complete without a trip to some of its islands. To the surprise of many, there are a magnificent 900 islands scattered off Scotland's coast. With so many to choose from, it's nigh-on impossible to know where to start! That's why we've taken the initiative to drastically narrow things down and compose an article that pieces together a much more manageable list of just 5 offshore islands to visit. From the stunning Isle of Skye to far-away St Kilda and the Small Islands' very own Rum (just a short ferry ride away from Mallaig), read on to discover some of Scotland's hidden gems.
Wondering which is the prettiest Scottish Island? Introducing the Inner Hebrides' beautiful Isle of Skye...
Perhaps Scotland's most iconic island, the Isle of Skye is a magical, mountainous location that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. With majestic rock formations protruding out of its sloping green scenery and miles of breathtaking coastlines all around, its landscape is quite unlike anything you'll have ever seen before. To add to the enchantment of this exquisite place, a series of ice-cold, crystal-clear waters – charmingly named the Fairy Pools – sit alongside rushing waterfalls, just off Skye's River Brittle. For those who love wild swimming, this is arguably one of the best places to visit in the UK! If taking a dip in these transparent but oh-so chilly waters isn't for you though, then Skye has plenty more to satisfy your lust for adventure... Since it is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides, Skye is not short of walking trails, so be sure to bring along your walking shoes! Discover the ruins of Dunscaith Castle, embark upon a moderate hike towards the 'Garden of Skye' situated on the Sleat Peninsula, or walk along the rocky shores of Talisker Beach. For a more challenging climb, why not ascend the Trotternish Ridge and marvel up-close at the Old Man of Storr – an iconic natural landmark of towering ancient rocks – or attempt one of the Cuillin range’s 12 munros. And that's not all. While Skye is a glorious setting to behold in and of itself, it's also a great location for wildlife watching. Keep your binoculars close to hand and you may well catch a glimpse of otters, dolphins and the notorious White-Tailed Sea Eagle. If we've not already made it apparent, Skye is by far one of the prettiest Scottish islands, so pin it to the top of your travel bucket list!
Remote and uninhabited: the archipelago of St Kilda
Ok, so we've cheated ever so slightly... While often referred to as one entity, St Kilda is actually a remote archipelago (a subset of islands: Hirta, Dùn, Soay, Boreray and Levenish) that lies 112 miles West of mainland Scotland. Hirta is St Kilda's main island, measuring less than 2.5 square miles. Much like the whole of St Kilda, it’s been colloquially assigned the status of 'the island on the edge of the world', since it’s the most far-flung part of the British Isles. Listed as a World Heritage Site for both its natural heritage and cultural landscape, the abandoned haven of St Kilda is hands down worth a visit. Uninhabited since 1930, St Kilda's scenery is eerily sensational. Tread Hirta’s ghostly Main Street, lined with intact empty houses from days gone by, and soak up the sites of awe-inspiring cliffs and sea stacks, surrounded by an expanse of clear blue waters. This archipelago is not only home to Europe's largest colony of seabirds – which includes gannets and puffins – but also diverse ecosystems, and even whales! For wildlife lovers, this place is a paradise unlike any other. It's also a great spot for diving, thanks to its clear-as-day Atlantic waters, fascinating arches and underwater sea caves. To put it lightly, this is one day trip you don't want to miss out on!
Touch down on the Isle of Barra
If you're seeking somewhere that's extra-special for your next holiday, look no further than the Isle of Barra. If travelling here via plane, then you're in for quite an experience, even from touchdown... The island's airport is unapologetically unique, with planes landing on Cockle Strand Beach when the tide is out. This unusual arrival will acquaint you with the beauty of Barra's beaches from the very get-go, and put you in the mood to discover others... Tangasdale Beach is particularly stunning and is a wonderful viewpoint from which to catch the sunset, while the unblemished white sands of Cleat Beach deserve to be seen too! Another must-visit shoreline is Castlebay. For a short but unforgettable adventure, hop on a 5-minute boat trip that runs from here to the Kisimul Castle – a remote, medieval Castle that sits right in the middle of the sea! For holiday memories that leave an imprint on your heart, mind and soul, you'll want to head to Seal Bay too, where you're almost guaranteed to catch sight of lolling seals. Though compact (measuring just 8 x 5 miles), Barra has lots to enjoy. So, why not take up residence in one of the holiday cottages dotted across the island and take the time to fully appreciate Barra's costal treasures, green hills, abandoned village of Boldnabodach and present-day close-knit community.
Don’t overlook the Small Isles and the Isle of Rum…
A relatively tiny island, the Isle of Rum (sometimes spelt Rhum) forms part of the Small Isles, along with Eigg, Muck, and Canna. It constitutes a National Nature Reserve that is only accessible by ferry. It’s also pretty much uninhabited and without a permanent population, except for a minute number of researchers, Scottish Natural Heritage employees, and their families. It is this wild, somewhat untouched aspect of Rum (once upon a time referred to as the ‘Forbidden Island') that makes it such a captivating place to visit. If you need to submerse yourself in nature, this is the ultimate escape. A former private holiday retreat for the rich and powerful during the late 19th century, the island now more inclusively welcomes visitors and offers accommodation to tourists that hunger for more than just a day trip. You can even undertake wild camping here to really soak up the natural wonders of this mesmerising destination. Just make sure to glance at our beginner's guide to camping in advance! For such a small island, Rum has an interesting geology and impressive geography that includes jagged peaks, rolling hills and rugged terrain, shaped by a rich volcanic history. With idyllic beaches too, it really is a walker's wonderland. History enthusiasts will be entertained by Kinloch Castle, and animal lovers won't go unsatisfied either... Abundant in wildlife and home to rare Rum ponies, 900 red deer, and one of the largest Manx Shearwater colonies in the world, this island is the place to go if you want to uncover the wonder of creation!
Visit the Isle of Lewis – the largest island of the Outer Hebrides
As well as being the largest isle in the Outer Hebrides, Lewis is high up there in terms of beauty too – it is one of those Scottish islands that you simply have to see! Part of the same landmass as the Isle of Harris, Lewis and Harris are technically one, forming the biggest island of Scotland. Distinct and not to be overshadowed by its counterpart, Lewis is home to extraordinary landscapes, authentic Gaelic culture and idyllic beaches. Keen surfers should head to the golden sands of Dalmore Beach, while Uig Sands is probably the best pick of beach if you're in search of a scenic backdrop. Here, the white sands are breathtakingly expansive, and rolling green meadows and mountainscapes trace the edges of the shore and the sparkling sea. Other island highlights include the quaint and dynamic Stornoway harbour, and the ancient Callanish Stones, erected thousands of years ago. Alternatively, let yourself be led to Lewis' most northerly point – the Butt of Lewis – by a magnificent lighthouse that overlooks the North Atlantic Ocean. With staggering 80 ft high cliffs and crashing waves, this awe-inspiring spot will leave you feeling invigorated to say the least. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it holds the crown as the UK’s windiest location, so you'll want to remember your windbreaker jacket and some insulating mid-layers like a snug fleece too. Wherever you wander, the Isle of Lewis is sure to please!
What is the best Scottish island to visit? It's time for you to decide!
Each beautiful and worthy of exploration in their own unique ways, in our opinion these destinations are the cream of the crop when it comes to Scotland's islands. That being said, there are hundreds more to discover too, so don't stop there! Nevertheless, we hope our rundown of the top 5 Scottish isles to visit will set you up for many enjoyable adventures to come! If time is on your side, why not visit a few in succession? You can even combine island hopping with a visit to the mainland. And who knows, maybe you can even wangle it so that you get to visit some must-see Scottish lochs too. Otherwise, if a fleeting visit is all you can fit in and one of the above locations in particular appeals to your sense of wanderlust, the only thing left to do is book your trip and pack your travel backpack!