Some of Scotland's islands are really only accessible for those able to stay for a few days, particularly as they often require considerable time to reach. Many are uninhabited or impossible to set foot on without multi-stage journeys. Don't worry, though - there are some Scottish islands that are a lot easier to reach.
If you’re short on time and still need an island fix - don’t despair! Here are some of our favourite day trips to the Scottish isles.
Title image credit: Unsplash / Jolan Wathelet
Mull & Iona
Image: Jill Dimond
Depart from: Oban (year-round)
Ferry time: 45mins
Ferry operator: Caledonian MacBrayne
Ferry frequency: At least every hour in peak season - from approximately 6am until 7pm
Cars allowed? Yes (pre-booking advised)
The beautiful Isle of Mull is one of the most easily-accessible island from the famous west-coast town of Oban. Its rugged landscape, abundant wildlife and golden beaches make for a stunning and varied day trip, and frequent, fast ferries mean it’s easily achievable as a day trip.
While it’s possible to drive around the island in a day, the roads are mostly single-track, and you’ll want to stop frequently to admire the views, so we recommend selecting the areas or sights you most want to visit in advance and planning your route to prioritise those.
Those who want to reach the Isle of Iona should head straight down to Fionnphort at the tip of the Ross of Mull (approx 1-1.5hrs’ drive from the ferry terminal at Craignure, depending on traffic) to catch a further 5-minute ferry across the turquoise water. They’ll be rewarded with white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, independent art studios and craft shops to browse and plenty of impressive history to soak up.
- Tobermory’s colourful waterfront, stunning harbour and excellent distillery
- Otter and seal-spotting on Loch Scridain
- Incredible beaches - we love Calgary bay in the north-west, or head straight for the Ross of Mull to Ardalanish and Fidden.
- A pit-stop for coffee, cake (and maybe gin!) at the Whitetail Coffee Shop
- If you cross to Iona, we highly recommend a visit to the Abbey with its beautiful and tranquil cloisters, and why not grab a picnic in the small Spar shop to eat on one of its glorious beaches. In the summer months, you’ll often spot dolphins playing in the Sound of Iona
The Small Isles
Image: Emily Woolard
Depart from: Arisaig (1 April - 30 September only)
Ferry time: 2-2.5hrs
Ferry operator: Arisaig Marine Ltd
Ferry frequency: Once daily - to Eigg and Muck on Mon, Weds, Fri and Sat; and Eigg and Rum on Thurs. On Sun and Fri, there are 3-hour sightseeing tours without island stops.
Cars allowed?: No
Whilst the large passenger ferries operated by Caledonian MacBrayne only serve the Small Isles a few times a week, Arisaig Marine’s wildlife cruises on the MV Sheerwater make it possible to visit Eigg and either Muck (Mon, Weds, Fri and Sat) or Rum (Thurs only) in a single day.
The Small Isles are normally visited as part of multi-day itineraries, but this trip is manageable in a day as long as you’re happy spending around half of your time at sea. There are incredible views to offer and amazing wildlife-spotting opportunities, so we can assure you that you won’t be bored on the way!
The timetable is such that you will have the choice of spending approximately 5 hours on the Isle of Eigg or three hours on Muck / two-and-a-half hours on Rum. If you opt for Muck or Rum, you will have around 30 minutes on Eigg to stretch your legs between arrival and departure of the boat. In each case, the boat departs mid-morning and is due back into Arisaig at around 5pm.
The Isle of Eigg has a distinctive shape and will be instantly recognisable from Arisaig on a clear day. If you opt for a longer stop on Eigg, you can climb the impressive Sgurr to take in the views and visit the local tearoom.
The tiny Isle of Muck has just 38 inhabitants and is a miniature paradise in the middle of the sea. Friendly and welcoming residents, a cosy tearoom and a beautiful beach with views out to the tidal Horse Island will be the highlights of your visit.
The larger Isle of Rum is known for its scenery and enormous deer population, and you will have time to take in Kinloch Castle, follow the otter hide trail and/or visit the Rum Craft Shop.
- The boat timetable is approximate since the boat trips across to the islands are also wildlife tours, so if anything interesting is in the area, your captain will divert and spend longer at sea to ensure you get a good view!
- You cannot take your car or bike on the MV Sheerwater, so you will need to plan your visit to the Small Isles on foot
- Gallanach beach on the Isle of Muck, a gentle 1-mile walk from the ferry terminal. If the tide is right, you can walk across the causeway to Horse Island, which is excellent for spotting birds
- Take a pit-stop at the Isle of Muck tearoom
- The rugged wilderness and towering peaks of the Isle of Rum, as well as Kinloch Castle
- Exceptional views from the top of the Sgurr on the Isle of Eigg, amply rewarded with a visit to the Galmisdale Team Room
- Spotting seals, dolphins, all manner of seabirds, and - if you’re lucky - whales or even basking sharks from the open back deck of the MV Sheerwater
Isle of Bute
Image: Unsplash / Ayman Aldeen
Depart from: Colintrave or Wemyss Bay (year-round)
Arrive: Rhobodach or Rothesay
Ferry time: 5 minutes from Colintrave, 35 minutes from Wemyss Bay
Ferry operator: Caledonian MacBrayne
Ferry frequency: Every 1-2hrs on the Colintrave route, every 45mins-1hr on the Wemyss Bay route
Cars allowed?: Yes (pre-booking advised, especially on the Colintrave route - there is a lot more space on the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay route, which is the main car/passenger route from the mainland to Bute)
One of the most readily-accessible westerly islands, Bute has a lot to offer. It’s feasible and rewarding to visit on foot - with a regular bus connecting the major towns - and at only 15 miles long and 4 miles wide, you can easily cover the length and breadth of the island by car in a day trip.
If you want a taste of island life and a very pleasant and low-stress day out, Bute is a perfect choice.
- Gardens - Bute is very well known for its gardens. The Esplanade Gardens will greet you from the ferry, whilst Ardencraig, Mount Stuart House and Ardernery complete the green and pleasant set
- Seal-watching from Scalpsie Bay
- Grab some lunch in Rothesay or Port Bannatyne, with plenty of waterfront cafes and restaurants
- Bute forest has some lovely family-friendly walks, whilst the more ambitious can take on part of Bute’s long-distance path, the West Island Way
- Bute is known for its birdlife: Loch Ascog, Loch Fad and Ettrick Bay are the best places to spot waders, divers, grebes and whooper swans
Image: Unsplash / mi_shots
Depart from: Ardrossan or Claonaig / Tarbert (year-round)
Arrive: Brodick or Lochranza
Ferry time: 55mins from Ardrossan to Brodick, or 1hr 25mins from Tarbert to Lochranza
Ferry operator: Caledonian MacBrayne
Ferry frequency: Every 1-2hrs
Cars allowed?: Yes (pre-booking advised)
Arran is a place of superlatives, with its steep, imposing and gloriously green landscape, long sandy beaches and towns packed with history, culture and things to do. It offers an escape into the most incredible wilderness within easy reach of Scotland’s cities.
We won’t blame you for wanting to linger here - it’s truly breathtaking! But at just a 30-minute drive from one end of the island to the other and with a frequent local bus service run by Stagecoach, you will find that it’s perfectly possible to take in the highlights on your day trip.
- Lochranza - a dramatic castle, a distillery and the option of a wonderful meal at the Lochranza hotel, this small town really punches above its weight!
- Goatfell - for the more adventurous, the views from Arran’s highest peak (874m) are well worth the 4-6hr climb (which can be undertaken from Brodick or Corrie)
- Fallen Rocks, Sannox - an easy, 4km walk on excellent tracks
- Blackwaterfoot beach - a long, sandy stretch where you can blow away the cobwebs and it will never feel crowded!
- If your ferry back allows, a sunset from Pirnmill is the perfect end to the day!
- Brodick Castle & Gardens - woodland, waterfalls, lush gardens and a castle, what more could you want?