Off the coast of mainland Scotland are countless islands with secluded white sand beaches, towering mountains, charming blackhouse villages, and incredible wildlife. Co-author of Wild Guide Scotland, Kimberley Grant reveals some of the most beautiful places in Scotland.
Vatersay, the most southernly inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides, is a small, tranquil island connected to Barra by a causeway. It has an unusual shape, being deeply indented by the sea on both sides, with only a thin strip of land holding the island together, and it boasts a series of magnificent beaches backed by undulating dunes and vibrant machair grasses and flowers. On calm days, Vatersay Bay is an ideal location for picnics and wild swimming.
Due to the moderating effect of the warm Gulf Stream, the most western island of the Inner Hebrides is one of the windiest yet sunniest locations in Scotland. Tiree is renowned for its pristine, windsurfing-popular beaches and its fertile, croft-dotted machair land. The island’s architecture consists of traditional blackhouses and white houses, many of which retain their charming thatched roofs, as well as one-of-a-kind ‘pudding houses’ with white mortar and dark stone.
This subarctic archipelago is situated so far north that, during the summer, it is bathed in near-constant sunlight, a phenomenon that gives the islands a silver sheen at midnight – the “simmer dim.” Long, winding coastlines of the islands feature towering sea cliffs, pristine beaches, and an abundance of wildlife, such as puffins, otters, and orcas. Its vast, arid landscapes and narrow voes (sea lochs) make it an ideal location for long walks, sailing, and fishing. Learn more about traveling to Shetland.
The island’s rugged coastline is comprised of towering cliffs, natural arches, and sandy coves that face scattered rocky outcrops and small islands. Before heading north to Glengorm Castle or one of the island’s beaches, most visitors sail into the colorful harbour village of Tobermory to sample fresh seafood and peruse local shops. Ben More, Mull’s highest peak, overlooks sea lochs frequented by white-tailed sea eagles. The south-east has more kayak-friendly white beaches renowned for their pink granite skerries and breathtaking sunsets.
Orkney, a dispersed archipelago of approximately 70 islands, contains both ancient wonders and natural beauty. On the main island, archaeology enthusiasts can visit the ‘Heart of Neolithic Orkney,’ a collection of 5,000-year-old sites including the preserved village of Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar stone circle. Hoy, with its scattered woodland, steep valleys, high cliffs, and the famous Old Man, a withered red sandstone sea stack, is another of the island’s unique locations.
Small Isles’ second-largest island has a thriving green community that generates nearly 95% of its electricity from renewable sources. There are numerous sites to explore, including the Singing Sands beach that overlooks Rùm, the Cathedral and Massacre caves, the abandoned village of Grulin, and the island’s most recognizable landmark, the nearly vertical-sided volcanic plug of An Sgurr that towers over the southern end of the island.
Lake Eilean Shona
This private tidal island in the tranquil waters of Loch Moidart is believed to be where J.M. Barrie wrote the screenplay for the Peter Pan film adaptation. There are several vacation cottages available for rental, including the Old Schoolhouse and the Sawmill cottage. The island has numerous walking trails that lead through peaceful woodlands, up hills, and to secluded swimming beaches.
This charming little island has its own castle and beach airport, where you can watch planes take off and land on the sand between high and low tide. On the highest hill is a statue of the Madonna and child, also known as “Our Lady, Star of the Sea.” In addition, there are high cliffs in the east and beautiful beaches and bays for swimming and surfing in the west.
This is one of the most recognizable islands in Scotland, with sun, cloud, and mist enveloping its magnificent mountains and extraordinary landslides, The Quiraing and The Storr. The island is a photographer’s paradise due to its pastel-colored homes, “Fairy Pools,” and miles of coastline. Visit the headlands with lonely lighthouses, such as Neist Point, or the majestic Loch Coruisk, which sits at the base of the towering Black Cuillin mountains, to experience Scotland at its most atmospheric. Learn about the best activities on Skye.
Skye’s The Quiraing is depicted.
This small, isolated archipelago of Hebridean islands, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, rises dramatically from the raging North Atlantic. Its largest island, Hirta, was permanently inhabited until 1930, and the ghostly ruins of the old village are still visible in the bay. Along with the other magnificent jagged sea stacks, the highest sea cliffs in the United Kingdom are home to one of the world’s largest gannet colonies.
Rùm is ideal for hikers and animal lovers due to its primarily mountainous National Nature Reserve terrain. Before entering the wilderness, visitors arrive by passenger ferry at the small, community-run hamlet of Kinloch and its eccentric castle. Explore the volcanic peaks of the Cuillin, grasslands and lochans dotted with rare plants, sea cliffs and hidden bays with bothies from which you can spot stags and otters.
Long and slender, Jura has only one main road, which runs from the ferry port to the main settlement of Craighouse and then continues eastward. The remainder of the island is largely uninhabited, with the exception of a population of deer that vastly outnumbers humans, and the distinctive Paps of Jura rise above miles of blanket bog and freshwater lochans. You can visit remote bays and bothies or join a skipper on a boat trip to the Corryvreckan whirlpool along the coast.
Harris and Lewis
Lewis and Harris, the largest of the Outer Hebrides, are two parts of the same island. Old blackhouse villages, brochs, and standing stones are among the historical landmarks found in the peaty northern lands of Lewis. Harris is more mountainous, rugged, and lunar-like to the south. Here are some of the most spectacular machair plains and finest beaches in the United Kingdom, including the miles-long, pristine Luskentyre sands.
This uninhabited island is renowned for its distinctive geological features and birdlife. Fingal’s Cave, a large sea cavern flanked by hundreds of hexagonal basalt columns, is the most enchanted location on the island. The eerie sounds produced by the waves beneath the roof’s arch gave it the Gaelic name Uamh-Binn, which translates to “cave of melody.” In the spring and early summer, puffins, razorbills, and guillemots nest on the cliffs and grassy slopes located elsewhere on the island.
Arran, often referred to as “Scotland in miniature,” is rugged in the north and gentler in the south. Explore the interior’s dramatic peaks, expansive glens, and verdant forests, where you may spot red squirrels and golden eagles. Lochranza, the northernmost settlement on the island, is surrounded by hills and situated on the shore of a small sea loch. Along the coastline, there are cliffs, caves, and beaches where otters and seals are frequently spotted. There is also a ruined castle and a golf course, which are frequented by red deer.
Scotland’s North Uist
North Uist is a place of contrasts, with its high hills, peat bogs, beaches, and vast numbers of freshwater and saltwater lochs. From Eaval, the island’s highest point, there are views of the landscape and other islands in the ‘Long Chain’ that are dominated by a labyrinth of lochans. On the west coast are breathtaking crescents of white sand, high dunes, and flower-filled machair plains.
Ulva and Gometra
The varied landscape of Ulva, which is separated from Mull by a narrow inlet, includes peaceful woodlands, open moors, coastal cliffs, and cleared villages. The Boathouse seafood restaurant, which specializes in local shellfish, and the renovated thatched Sheila’s Cottage are located in Ulva. From this location, visitors can access multiple waymarked hiking trails, one of which leads to the remote island of Gometra. It is connected by a small bridge and, at low tide, by a beach, and has breathtaking views of the Treshnish Isles.
This small but beautiful island is a popular destination for spiritual retreats, attracting people from all over the world due to its renowned abbey and tranquil atmosphere. Numerous habitats, such as sandy beaches, cliffs, rocks, fields, and bogs, support an abundance of flora and fauna. The island is abundant with flora and fauna, including the rare corncrake and puffins. From one of the many accessible inlets off the coast, one can observe an abundance of marine life, including three distinct dolphin species.
Muck is the smallest of the four inhabited Small Isles, and its landscape is low and fertile. The majority of the island is used for livestock, and inventive islanders use wool and other materials to create traditional rugs and clothing. There are incredible white-sand beaches along the coast for watching the sunset, visiting the small Muck ponies, and observing whales and porpoises.
This is one of the most charming islands in the group of Slate Islands off the west coast of Scotland. It is the Inner Hebrides’ smallest permanently inhabited island, and visitors must request the short ferry by pressing a button that activates a klaxon during the day and a light at night. Easdale is home to traditional whitewashed cottages, a small pub, and abandoned slate quarries that are now filled with crystal-clear blue water and are ideal for swimming in the wild.
Topic: The 20 most beautiful islands to visit in Scotland
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