The Best of the Scottish Islands
An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983
Guided Tours of the Scottish Islands
Whether you are tracing your ancestry or chasing the romance, landscapes, or wildlife of the Scottish Islands, our carefully crafted educational tour will paint Scotland in a whole new light. In order to understand the Celts and the early settlement of Britain, or pursue your passion for standing stones, join our tour as we island-hop via ferries.
Our tours are led by local guides to give you an authentic cultural and historical experience. These local networks have allowed some of our Australian and New Zealand travellers to reconnect with their ancestral homes in Scotland!
Scotland and its Isles
Scotland is island-rich, with some of the most awesome scenery in the United Kingdom. There are nearly 800 islands that are part of Scotland, scattered around its western and northern coastline. Each of these islands has its own individual character, identity and charm but only 60 of them are populated and ferries run to only 46. No point on any island is greater than eight kilometres from the sea.
Exploring these islands on a Scotland tour, with their sea-lochs, moors and grasslands dotted with sheep and cattle, is to walk through Scottish history. There are crofts abandoned during the Highland Clearances, ancient standing stones and brochs. The diverse geology and climate of the more remote islands influenced local landforms and land use, creating a unique culture and heritage.
There are three main groups of Scottish islands: The Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Orkney Islands, and the Shetland Islands. The Hebrides Islands refer to a crescent-shaped archipelago that lies around 40 miles off the north-west of mainland Scotland, its west coast pounded by the unbroken force of the North Atlantic. There are roughly 200 islands in this group, making up an area of 716,000 acres.
Split into the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Inner Hebrides are closer to the mainland and comprise of 35 inhabited islands as well as 44 uninhabited islands. The islands Skye, Mull and Islay are the most well-known and heavily populated. The Inner Hebrides are known for their dramatic natural beauty, dazzling castles and impressive working distilleries. Many travellers enjoy spotting wildlife in the archipelago and if you’re lucky you may catch sight of puffins, seals, otters or red deer on the various islands. The Outer Hebrides are also known as the Western Isles and are a 30-mile-long string of islands, with five main inhabited islands. Not only are the islands miles away from the mainland, as the outermost islands of the British Isles, but there is a distinct cultural divide with the Outer Hebrides remaining the last stronghold of the Gaelic language and lifestyle. Only 13 of the islands are inhabited, with about 80% of the population based in Lewis and Harris. Shetland is Scotland’s most northerly outpost, lying some 300 km from Norway. The archipelago was under Norse rule until the 15th century and the local culture is influenced by both its Scottish and Norse heritage. A UNESCO Global Geopark 3 billion years in the making, Shetland is made up of 300 islands with 16 inhabited. Only a few short miles off the north coast of Scotland you will find a collection of flat, green-topped islands, bare of trees and ringed with red sandstone cliffs. These are the Orkney Islands and they are famous for their prehistoric villages, ancient stone formations and spectacular coastal vistas.
The Scottish Islands offer the chance to explore beautiful scenery and breathtaking views, a fascinating history accompanied by prehistoric monuments and a travel experience like no other. If you want an escape from the heat, stress and hustle and bustle that can sometimes accompany a holiday, consider visiting this magical destination.
Over 20 days, our local guide will take you to the best of the Scottish Islands, including:
The Island of Arran
Purchased from the Vikings after the Battle of Largs, the Isle of Arran is sometimes referred to as “mini Scotland”. The dramatic landscape is a feast for the senses; from its mountain peaks to rolling hills, distilleries, and castles. Today Arran is known for outdoor activities such as walking, cycling and wildlife watching; and for its gastronomy – fresh cheddar cheeses, traditional oatcakes, and some of Scotland’s best whiskey.
Inner Hebrides: Isle of Mull
A kaleidoscope of colours adorns the sparkling waterfront. Mull boasts incredible topography, intriguing heritage sites, and wildlife encounters at every turn. Indulge in local seafood as you soak in the idyllic coastline or explore the isle on a pony trek. Mull’s main town, Tobermory, is also worth a visit. A colourful and picturesque fishing village, it is a great base from which to visit Duart Castle, which dates back to the 13th century and is the seat of Clan MacLean. Just off of Mull is the Isle of Iona, home to Iona Abbey, the final resting place of many medieval Scottish monarchs, including the real Macbeth. Built by St Columba, Today the abbey remains one of the oldest and most important Christian religious centres in Europe. These are just some of the amazing highlights you will find across the Inner Hebrides.
Inner Hebrides: Isle of Skye
Explore the limestone grasslands and majestic volcanic plateaus as clouds of mist roll by. Learn about the clan heritage of the second largest Scottish Island. Mother Nature’s splendour will take your breath away – truly, this is Scotland’s highlands at its best. On the Isle of Skye, you will find Dunvegan Castle, which is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. It has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years and was originally designed as a fortress. Today, it is open to visitors and and steeped in history.
Outer Hebrides: Lewis and Harris
Scotland’s version of the Stonehenge? The Callanish Standing Stones dating back to the Neolithic age on the Isle of Lewis. Uncover Gaelic culture and learn more about the role of tweed on these narrowly-separated charming islands. Stroll along pristine, white sandy beaches whose seaside views could rival those of the Caribbean. Expect prehistoric sites, Victorian-era castles, jaw-dropping landscapes and museums celebrating local culture and history.
Step back in time on Orkney Isle with its expansive historical treasures. Recognised for its prehistoric sites and rich marine bird life, the island’s history has been shaped by its long Nordic past. Travellers can marvel at remote seabird colonies and visit some of the best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. Both the Orkney and Shetland Islands (the Northerly Islands) are home to a number of standing stones and stone circles. The Ring of Brodgar, on the largest island in Orkney, is a Neolithic henge and stone circle that is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Shetland Islands are home to a range of natural wonders, including an incredibly diverse ecosystem and the stunning winter Northern Lights. Satisfy your stomach with the freshest seafood from where the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea meet. Walk down memory lane via the sea-front ruins and monuments framed by beautiful rolling hills, a rugged coastline and crystal clear waters. Explore bustling towns, glittering sky-blue lochs and marvel at the birdlife. Make sure to see some of the famous but small Shetland ponies, who have been a part of island life since the Bronze Age, and enjoy the unencumbered views of the surrounding Northern Atlantic Ocean. There is bound to be something that catches your fancy on this isle close to the Norwegian coast – culturally and geographically closer to Norway than to London.
Our Scottish Isles tour which runs thrice annually (May, July, September) is one of some 140 small group tours that Odyssey offers each year. Our tours around Scotland’s capital continually delights our groups (6-18 pax) of mature travellers.
Small group tours for senior travellers
Odyssey Traveller is famous for our small groups, and we average eight participants per tour. Our maximum group size is eighteen people, which ensures quality, flexibility and care that is tailored to our clients. We specialise in small group tours for the senior traveller who is seeking adventure or is curious about the world we live in. Typically, our clients begin travelling with us from their mid 50’s onward. But be prepared to meet fellow travellers in their 80s and beyond! Both couples and solo travellers are very welcome on our tours.