5 Scottish islands perfect for weekend breaks

A stonce circle on Arran's Machrie Moor.

A stonce circle on Arran's Machrie Moor.

Share this article
3
Have your say

There’s no better place for a weekend getaway than one of Scotland’s many beautiful islands.

From the Hebrides to Shetland, visitors can discover fine whiskies, breathtaking landscapes, and rich history across the isles.

Port Ellenm, Islay. Picture: Ian Rutherford/TSPL

Port Ellenm, Islay. Picture: Ian Rutherford/TSPL

To help you find the perfect holiday destination, we have hand-picked five islands you’ll be sure to adore.

Islay

When an island is called the ‘Queen of the Hebrides’, you can be sure that it’s worth a visit.

Easily accessible by ferry from Kennacraig, Islay’s coastline is dotted with sandy beaches and inhabited by raucous sea birds.

Birdwatchers will not de disappointed with the avian wildlife on the island: the barnacle goose and greater white-fronted goose are regular visitors to Islay from Greenland, and are a sight worth seeing.

The Loch Gruinart Nature Reserve is a perfect spot to enjoy Islay’s wildlife and see these magnificent birds.

Whiskey fanatics will fall head over heels in love with Islay. There are eight distilleries across the island, each producing a whiskey with its own unique flavour and history. The whiskeys from the south of the island are considered some of the most intensely flavoured, with a rich, peaty flavour.

For culture vultures, the Bowmore round church is a must-see. Local legend says that the church is round so as to give the Devil no corners to hide in.

Across the island, a number of ornate Celtic crosses can be found, giving an insight into Islay’s history.

Outdoorsy types will be equally happy on Islay, as a whole range of activities are on offer to tourists.

Kayaking and pony trekking will let you experience Islay’s unique scenery, and the sea safari will get you acquainted with the island’s underwater neighbours.

Why not stay at the 150 year old Bridgend Hotel, famed for its friendly produce and delicious local food? Or you could grab dinner at the Ballygrant Inn, where they serve local fish and shellfish.

Mainland, Orkney

The biggest of the Orkney islands is a history-buff’s dream holiday destination.

The archaeological site of Skara Brae is the most complete neolithic village in Europe, where you can find out the intimate details of human lives from thousands of years ago.

Maeshowe, an ancient burial mound, is especially spell-binding at the winter solstice, when the sun peers through a tiny window and illuminates the rear wall of the tomb.

By comparison, the 12th century cathedral of St Magnus seems positively recent, but is still a great place to visit.

Don’t forget to explore the rugged coastline, and keep an eye out for rare birds, dolphins and whales. Orkney is also one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in the UK. If you’re lucky enough to see them, the glowing boughs of the Aurora Borealis are a sight you will never forget.

Despite their apparent isolation, the Orkney islands have great transport links with the British mainland, and you can easily hop to some of the other islands by ferry.

In terms of accommodation, ‘B&B’ is given a new meaning of luxury and comfort by Braehead Manse.

A century and a half old, this former village hall is an ideal base from which to discover Orkney.

Make sure to sample the local produce during your stay, perhaps at the Foveran restaurant in Kirkwall.

You will be spoiled with amazing views across Scapa Flow and delicious food, cooked using Orkney culinary traditions.

READ MORE: Travel: How many Scottish islands can you visit in a day?

Iona

St Columba’s legacy makes Iona a site of special significance for Christians.

The atmospheric medieval abbey still holds daily services, showing the continuity of life on the island.

Furthermore, the historic St Oran’s chapel is reputed to be the final resting place of 40 of Scotland’s kings, including the ill-fated Macbeth of Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish Play’.

The island’s unforgettable scenery is best viewed by exploring it on foot, or by taking one of the island’s boat tours, where you can see the dramatic coastline and diverse wildlife from the sea.

Iona is also famed for its local crafts, and you’ll be able to visit a number of shops which offer beautiful objects made using local materials and techniques.

It is a bit of a trek to get to Iona – you have to take a ferry to Mull and reach the island from there – but there are buses and taxis available to help you out, and when you reach the island you’ll know it was worth it.

You may want to stay in the recently refurbished Argyll Hotel, which offers all the comforts of home, as well as the best seafood.

The garden of the Heritage Centre is equally delightful, and is a great spot to enjoy a pot of tea in the afternoon.

READ MORE: Nine abandoned islands of Scotland

Mull

A crossing from Oban will take you to the charming island of Mull, which has 300 miles of coastline for you to explore. Robert Louis Stevenson set his novel Kidnapped here, and you’ll be sure to create your own adventure when staying here.

The peak of Ben More is popular with climbers, but beginners will be able to take an easier path to the top, while experts prefer more challenging routes.

People who love nature will also love the local wildlife tours, which will give you a chance to spot basking sharks and sea eagles. Geologists will go crazy for the boat trips to the stunning Staffa columns.

For a bit of history and culture, you can visit the medieval castle at Duart, or you can go further into the past by checking out the Bronze Age stone circle at Loch Buie.

The colourful town of Tobermoray is the setting for the popular children’s programme Balamory, chosen for its brightly painted houses. The Tobermoray Hotel is also playful, with its distinctive top-hatted, pink highland cow logo. If you want a boutique-style hotel experience with a great view from your room, this hotel is the place for you.

For local cuisine with a modern twist, you can try out the Am Birlinn restaurant, which is set in an idyllic location by a stream.

Arran

If you want to stay fit and active on your holiday, Arran has all the outdoor activities your heart desires. With mountains, woodland and beaches to explore, you can take your pick of hillwalking, gorge scrambling or mountain biking as your way to landscape. You can even take to the sea and go sailing, or stay on dry land and have an afternoon of golf. Goatfell is a popular hillwalking spot and will give you a chance to see some wonderful views of the island.

In terms of sightseeing, Arran is far from deficient. Brodick Castle has some gorgeous 17th century furniture to cast your eye over, and the garden, established by the Duchess of Montrose, has been expertly restored. You can also take a trip to Lochranza, to see some awe-inspiring castle ruins.

Animal-lovers will be keen to catch a glimpse of the woodland’s red squirrels and deer, or the seals which lounge on the shores.

You can also sample Arran’s produce, which includes top-quality cheeses, beers and whiskey. The brewery and distillery offer tours to satisfy your curiosity.

One of the best places to stay on the island is Glenisle Hotel. Founded in 1849, it looks across to the Holy Isle, and has a pleasant walled garden to relax in. For a bite to eat, we recommend you sample Little Rock’s bistro menu, or its popular home baking.

Back to the top of the page