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Five of Scotland's Most Beautiful Islands

Charlotte Boswell

Scotland is home to an array of breathtaking and isolated archipelagos made up 790 individual islands, with 94 of those inhabited. The Scottish Islands are known for their spectacular coastal scenery, fabulous walking trails, captivating history and wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities. Combine this with traditional Scottish hospitality and you have some of Europe’s most enchanting destinations. With so many to choose from, here are five of Scotland’s most beautiful islands.

1. Harris & Lewis

Situated off the west coast of Scotland, the Isle of Harris and Lewis forms the Outer Hebrides’ largest island. It is home to a unique Gaelic culture, an interesting history and breathtaking coastal scenery, and it is often said that the white sand and turquoise sea beaches are reminiscent of the Caribbean.

North Harris is dominated by mountains and is one of the most spectacular areas of the Outer Hebrides. Renowned for its fairytale glens and beautiful beaches, visits to the bright white sands of Huisinish and the magnificent overhanging cliff of Sron Uladal which is hidden in the Harris hills are recommended. To the south of the island you will find flowering machair, the Gaelic name for a coastal grassy fertile plain which in summer is a carpet of wildflowers. Lewis is just as spectacular with its dramatic coastal landscapes of sea stacks, arches and gullies that have been sculpted by the crashing waves over thousands of years. Visit the ancient thatched blackhouses at Gearrannan and the mysterious stone of Calanais and shop for world-renowned Harris Tweed. This particular tweed cloth is made from pure virgin wool which is dyed, spun and handwoven in the Outer Hebrides and is even protected by its own act of Parliament, The Harris Tweed Act 1993

Featured in ‘Walking the Outer Hebrides and Skye

Luskentyre Beach, Harris
Luskentyre Beach, Harris

2. Mull

As the second largest Inner Hebridean island, the Isle of Mull boasts some of the region’s finest and most varied scenery including rugged mountains, jagged crags, flowering machair and white sandy beaches framed by emerald waters. Mull is also home to a rich array of bird and marine life; noble birds of prey such as the white-tailed eagle soar through the sky whilst dolphins, minke whales and seals playfully splash in the clear waters.

Mull’s charming capital, Tobermory, lies on the north coast and is a delightful place to stay with its bustling waterfront, colourful homes and independent distilleries. To the west lies the beautiful Calgary Bay and the picturesque Treshnish Peninsula. The coastal scenery here is some of Scotland’s best and there are plenty of opportunities to see a range of birdlife including buzzards, hen harriers and the rare marsh harrier. A visit to Mull would not be complete without seeing Duart Castle, the ancestral home of Clan Maclean. This castle boasts a spectacular location overlooking Mull’s sea and treasures over 800 years of history. You can also visit the legendary ‘Whisky Cave’, once the location of an illicit distillery.

Featured in ‘Wildlife Adventure – Mull, Staffa and Iona’

Ben More Isle of Mull
Ben More, Isle of Mull

3. Shetland

With over one hundred islands, the picturesque and remote archipelago of the Shetland Islands is the UK’s most northerly point. Due to its location, Shetland’s language, culture and landscapes are noted for being more similar to Scandinavia rather than Scotland, and inhabitants refer to themselves Shetlanders, not Scots.

One of the Shetland’s main draws is the diverse bird and marine life. During ‘Simmer Dim’ in the summer months when the sun barely drops below the horizon, visitors can experience millions of seabirds flocking to the island for breeding season. From March onwards you are likely to witness cormorants, skuas, gulls, waders and auks. Other birds to encounter in Shetland include the rare red-throated diver, beautiful puffin, razorbill and black guillemot; Noss National Nature Reserve is an excellent place to see them, whereas you may spot orcas, seals and otters in the water. Inhabited for thousands of years, the archipelago is also known for its ancient archaeological remains. Jarlshof is often considered one of the most important prehistoric sites in the UK dating back to the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages and is one of Shetland’s most recommended sights.

Featured in ‘Wildlife of the Shetland Islands’

Westerwick Coast Shetland Islands
Westerwick Coast, Shetland Islands

4. Skye

The magical island of Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago and is home to some of Scotland’s most iconic and recognisable landscapes. Skye’s abundance of wildlife combined with the miles of dramatic coastline, interesting history and impressive geology makes for an enchanting destination.

Skye is renowned for some of Scotland’s most beautiful hikes. One recommended walk is through Glen Sligachan which is flanked by the towering peaks of the Cuillin Hills. Alternatively, the Trotternish Peninsula is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Here you will find the mesmerising Old Man of Storr, a rocky formation overlooking the Sound of Raasay, and the scenic Quiraing landslip. Portree is a great base whilst staying in Skye, boasting a beautiful waterfront location dotted with pastel-coloured houses, boutique shops and atmospheric pubs. Here you can buy local hand-crafted gifts, enjoy true Scottish hospitality and, if lucky, experience some traditional live music. Other must-see’s on the Isle of Skye include Dunvegan Castle, the small village of Staffin and of course, the Talisker Distillery, for a few drams of whisky.

Featured in ‘Walking the Outer Hebrides and Skye’

Portree Isle of Skye
Portree, Isle of Skye

5. Mingulay

The remote and abandoned island of Mingulay, located on the very edge of Outer Hebrides, is both spellbinding in beauty and captivating in history. Renowned for some of the finest coastal landscapes in Scotland with its rugged cliffs, rocky sea stacks and crystal seas, Mingulay is now cared for by the National Trust of Scotland, having been uninhabited since 1912.

Travelling to the island is a wonderful and adventurous experience in itself, and if lucky, you may witness minke whales and basking sharks in the sea. Once in Mingulay, it is fascinating to explore the ghost villages and abandoned settlements where communities once farmed, fished and hunted. Mingulay also provides great opportunities for birdwatching where the cliffs provide homes for breeding colonies and walks on the beautiful beaches which are framed by sea stacks and green grassy slopes. Neighbouring Berneray and Pabbay are also worth visiting when travelling to Mingulay, again both are uninhabited and full of history and spectacular coastal scenery.

Featured in ‘The Outer Hebrides – North and South Uist, Barra and Mingulay'

Wild flower machair, Mingulay
Wild flower machair, Mingulay

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