Image: Emily Woolard
The beautiful Isle of Mull is the most easily-accessible island from the famous west-coast town of Oban. Its rugged landscape, abundant wildlife and golden beaches make it a stunning Scottish holiday destination, easily accessed from the mainland with a fast and frequent ferry service.
It’s possible to drive around the island in a day, but the roads are mostly single-track, so progress can be slow. We're absolutely sure you’ll want to stop frequently to admire the views, so we recommend staying on the island for a night or two to make the most of everything this beautiful and diverse island has to offer.
To reach the Isle of Iona, head 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 10-minute ferry across the turquoise waters of the Sound of Iona. There you'll be rewarded with white sandy beaches, sparkling seas, a lovely collection of independent art studios and craft shops, a glorious Abbey and plenty of impressive history to soak up. The peace of Iona is legendary - it's the perfect place to relax and escape.
The wild and rugged Treshnish Isles form an archipelago located to the west of the Isle of Mull. It's possible to take a boat tour out to the Treshnish Isles from either Mull or Iona, and we highly recommend this, especially in summer when the puffins are nesting.
Admire the scenery
Image: Emily Woolard - Glen More
Mull and the nearby islands are scenically spectacular - all of them in their own unique way. On Mull, it's the glorious hillscapes contrasted with beautiful, isolated bays and rugged cliffs that take your breath away. On Iona, the colours of the sand and water are simply stunning, whilst on the Treshnish Isles, the dark and dramatic volcanic rock formations are topped with fertile green and speckled with thousands of nesting birds in summer.
These are places where it's enough to simply be. Walk, drive or cycle around, drink in the views and just enjoy the space - we promise you won't regret it!
Take a hike
Image: Unsplash / Ana Essentiels
Mull, in particular, is a brilliant destination for keen hikers. The island has one Munro, Ben More (not to be confused with another Ben More in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, or Ben More Assynt in Sutherland...). You can climb this by taking a rough and, at times, rocky path up from Dhiseig and back. The views from the summit on a clear day are particularly special.
Besides Ben More, there are a huge range of walks on Mull for all abilities - it's a wonderful destination for any keen hiker to spend a few days. We also love the route up Spienne Mor from Loch Frisa, the walk to Quinish Point, a headland accessible via a relatively flat route from the village of Dervaig, the Carsaig Arches, and if we're feeling brave, the challenging coastal route to MacCulloch's Fossil Tree.
Spend time on the glorious beaches
Image: Emily Woolard - Ardalanish beach
Mull's beaches are among some of the very best in Scotland. It's hard to choose favourites as there are so many secluded and spectacular little bays, but our favourites include Calgary Bay, definitely the most spectacular in the north-west of the island. The Ross of Mull in the southwest corner of the island is all about the beaches. Highlights include the myriad bays and inlets at and around Fidden (there's also a great campsite here), Knockvologan, from which you can access a tidal island, and Ardalanish, next to the Isle of Mull Weavers' shop and barn, which has a wide stretch of white sand with views out to the islands of Colonsay and Jura. Fionnphort itself, from which the ferries depart to Iona, also has a lovely and easily accessible beach.
If you thought Mull's beaches packed a punch, wait until you get to the isle of Iona! This tiny island - just 1.5 by 3.5 miles - has beaches everywhere you look, and just when you thought they couldn't get any better, you find another! As soon as you arrive, you're treated to some absolute gems, St Ronan's and Martyrs' Bay, which look back across the Sound of Iona to Mull. You can often spot dolphins from these beaches as they play in the narrow stretch of water between the islands in summer. The north and north-east beaches on Iona are famed for their white sands and turquoise waters, punctuated by green machair. Port Ban (white port) also has brilliant white sand, which in this case is made from crushed shells - it's sheltered and quiet, meaning it is an excellent swimming beach. By contrast, the Bay at the Back of the Ocean on the west coast is an exposed pebble beach with 'big sky' views out across the Atlantic.
Image: Unsplash / Pascal Mauerhofer
Wildlife is particularly abundant on Mull - on our first ever trip there, we saw several eagles and a buzzard within moments of driving off the ferry, shortly followed by a family of otters and several seals. The sightings didn't really stop all day! Here are some wildlife highlights.
Otters are regularly seen on Mull, particularly Loch Scridain, a sea loch to the south-west of the island, where they are often close to the shore or sitting on rocks eating their catch. If you visit this area to try and spot otters, it's well worth stopping off at the Whitetail coffee shop & gin distillery nearby, which is a beautiful gem of a place with excellent cakes.
Seals are frequently seen throughout the Inner Hebrides and the west coast of Scotland, and Mull is no different. There are both common and grey seals - the area around Loch Na Keal is a particularly good place to see them hauled out on the rocks.
Dolphins can be seen from the shore, especially in the summer months. In our experience, they seem to love following small boats in the Sound of Iona and playing in the wake, which is great fun to watch.
Whales, especially minke whales, are often seen in the waters around Mull - it's even fairly common to spot them from the Oban to Craignure ferry in the summertime!
Sea eagles (also known as white-tailed eagles) were reintroduced to Mull in the 1980s, and although still rare in general terms, they can be seen frequently on the island these days. The area around Loch Frisa is perfect for spotting these incredible birds. Keep an eye on Mull Eagle Watch for the latest information and guidance.
Puffins mainly nest on the Isle of Staffa and Isle of Lunga in the summer months (approximately early June to early August) and can be visited on a boat trip.
Basking sharks - although the Isle of Coll is the number-one west coast hotspot for these mysterious and enormous creatures, you can often spot basking sharks off the coast of Mull in the summertime. Basking Shark Scotland provide tours focused on spotting and even swimming with these beauties.
There are a number of experienced and excellent wildlife guides and photographers on Mull who can help you spot some of the rarer species from a respectful distance and find opportunities to get the perfect shot.
Image: Emily Woolard - Tobermory Harbour
The Isle of Mull's main town is known for its colourful buildings, the inspiration and filming location for the popular children's TV show, Balamory.
The town of Tobermory is a great place to stop for lunch, followed by a stroll along the pretty harbourfront and a visit to some of the independent craft and souvenir shops.
There are plenty of places to eat, many of them with excellent sea views, a reasonably-sized supermarket and an excellent ice cream shop. There is also a distillery, where Tobermory and Ledaig whiskies are made, and they also produce Tobermory gin. Tours and tastings are available regularly during the summer months.
Close by, Aros Park (sometimes known as 'Tobermory's back garden') is a very special green space with waterfalls and spectacular views down to the harbour and the town itself.
Iona Abbey and craft shops
Image: Emily Woolard - Iona Abbey
It's hard to imagine the peace of Iona Abbey without actually visiting to experience it for yourself. This is where St Columba established his first Celtic church, and it remains a spiritually important site for people of many faiths and backgrounds. The tranquillity of the cloisters alone is worth the modest entrance fee, and visitors will also enjoy the spectacular views across the Sound of Iona from the front of the present-day Abbey building.
On the road to the Abbey from the ferry pier is a small collection of shops known as the St Columba Steadings. A highlight that's well worth your time is Aosdàna, a high-end jewellery shop and silversmith's, where Mhairi Killin merges old and new to create pieces inspired by both the landscape and the Celtic history of this extraordinary island. This 120-year-old family business is a great example of tradition combined with a modern twist to ensure its continued success. The quality of the pieces is a testament to this long history of skill and creativity.
The Treshnish Isles
Image: Emily Woolard - Isle of Lunga
The Treshnish Isles form an archipelago to the west of Mull.
Whilst the islands are uninhabited today and owned and looked after by the Hebridean Trust, the islands have provided both a home and a place of refuge for humans at various points during history. The most recently-occupied settlement is a small village on the isle of Lunga, which was abandoned in the mid-19th century. There are ruined castles and evidence of early settlements on a number of the other islands.
The main islands are Lunga (the largest and the nesting site of thousands of puffins and other seabirds during the summer months), Fladda (the northernmost island with a distinctive flat top), Bac Mor (known as the 'Dutchman's cap' due to its distinctive shape with a peak in the middle) and its smaller sister Bac Beag, Cairn na Burgh Mor and Cairn na Burgh Beag (relatively flat-topped with steep cliffs), Sgeir a' Chaisteil and Sgeir an Eirionnaich. In addition to these islands, there is a large collection of smaller skerries.
The islands are now protected as part of the Loch Na Keal Scenic Area and are also protected due to their significance for seabirds and marine life.
The Treshnish Isles can be reached by boat from Mull or Iona - we recommend a day trip with Staffa Tours during the summer months to see the puffins on Lunga.
Isle of Ulva
Image: Emily Woolard
The community-owned Isle of Ulva is a less-visited destination than the other islands covered in this guide. However, if you enjoy hiking and truly getting away from it all, this is the perfect place to choose. Following a period of depopulation, the island has been taken into community ownership. A band of enthusiastic residents with exciting ideas is now at the helm of Ulva's rejuvenation, working towards improving its appeal as both a place to live and a tourist destination.
Accessed from Ulva Ferry on the Isle of Mull, about 45 minutes drive from the ferry port at Craignure, Ulva is accessed by a small foot passenger ferry. The timing of crossings varies, but you can check on Ulva's dedicated ferry page for the latest information.
Ulva's wildlife is spectacular, particularly due to the low population density. You'll find birds of prey, otters, and a marine environment rich with life. The landscape varies from exposed and rocky areas to mature woodlands and a great deal in between. There is also plenty of evidence of a past time when the island was far more densely populated than today.
There are two bothies and a hostel on the island for overnight visitors - all are basic but more than adequate for a night or two and convenient if you're planning to hike around and explore the island. A jewel in Ulva's crown (and worth a day trip even if you're not able to stay over) is the Boathouse Restaurant specialising in fresh, locally-caught seafood dishes and has rave reviews far and wide, seemingly at odds with its small size.
Image: Visit Scotland / Kenny Lam - Fingal's Cave
The Isle of Staffa lies between the west coast of Mull and the Treshnish Isles. This small, uninhabited island is known for its distinctive hexagonal basalt rock formations are similar to those found at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. There is a dramatic sea cave, Fingal's Cave, which inspired Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture.
Regular boat tours operate from Fionnphort on Mull and from the pier on Iona out to Staffa, operated by Staffa Tours, taking approximately 3 hours. You can see puffins nesting on Staffa in summer by taking a walk across the island's relatively flat grassy top. A reasonable level of mobility and fitness is required to explore the rocky paths and steps in and around Fingal's Cave and the rest of the Isle of Staffa safely.