The Scottish Isles
When one thinks of island-hopping, images of Scotland probably don’t immediately come to mind but 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 Inner and Outer Hebrides
The Hebrides refers 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.
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. 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.
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.
Approach the Outer Hebrides from the east, and you will be met by rocky, glaciated valleys and seemingly barren lands. Approach from the west, however, and you will find pristine beautiful hebridean white sandy beaches to rival any in Europe. Cute cottages dot the fertile grassland, grazing cattle completing the picture of rural idyll. These vast extremes are separated by peat moor teeming with biodiversity and wildlife: more than meets the eye. Expect prehistoric sites, Victorian-era castles, jaw-dropping landscapes and museums celebrating local culture and history.
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. With beautiful rolling green hills, a rugged coastline, crystal clear waters and an abundance of wildlife, Shetland is a popular travel destination and its not hard to see why. 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.
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. Travellers can marvel at remote seabird colonies and visit some of the best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. Both the Orkney and Shetland 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 Scottish Islands offer the chance to explore beautiful scenery and breathtaking views, a fascinating history accompanied by prehistoric monuments and geographic wonders and a travel experience like no other. A trip to Scotland would not be complete without at least a few days exploring this magical area. Our Scottish Isles group tour 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.
Articles about Scotland and the Scottish Islands published by Odyssey Traveller.
The following list of articles published by odyssey Traveller for mature aged and senior travellers to maximise their knowledge and enjoyment of Scotland when visiting:
- Birth of Scotland
- Questions about Scotland
- Peat & Scotland
- Shetland Islands Discovered
- Questions about the Outer Hebrides
- Visiting Scotland
- Scotland & Scotch Whisky
- Visiting Edinburgh places to consider visiting
- Country Spotlight; Scotland
- Nelson Mandela Place; a Glasgow story
- Glasgow’s Architectural heritage
- Stone circles
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.
External articles to assist you on your visit to Scotland and the Scottish Islands
20 daysSep, May, Jul
Scottish Islands and Shetland small group tours for seniors
An escorted small group tour for couples and solo travellers of the Scottish isles including the isle of Skye draws on local guides to share their knowledge of the destinations in this unique part of Scotland. UNESCO world heritage site are visited as breathtaking scenery and authentic experiences are shared in a group of like minded people on this guided tour of remote Scotland.
Prehistoric Britain small group history tour including standing stones
Visiting England, Scotland
This guided tour invites you to explore UNESCO World heritage sites at Skara Brae in the Orkneys, Isle of Skye, and Stonehenge in a prehistoric tour. This escorted tour has trips to key sites in Scotland, and the Irish sea in Wales such as Gower Peninsula and National Museum in Cardiff and England. Each day tour is supported by local guides.
From A$14,750 AUDView Tour
5 daysOct, Sep, Apr
Faroe Islands Tour
From A$6,450 AUDView Tour
British Gardens Small Group Tour including Chatsworth RHS show
Visiting England, Scotland
5 daysJun, Jul
Edinburgh City Tour
From A$2,450 AUDView Tour
Edinburgh Festival Fringe Small Group Tour
One of the few European tour companies to have in Scotland an escorted small group tour of Edinburgh during the fringe festival. As well attending performances, this trip includes time to experience, the old town, new town and the royal mile, a UNESCO world heritage site plus Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse.
From A$5,150 AUDView Tour
Jacobites, Scottish History small group mature travellers tour
From A$13,250 AUDView Tour
22 daysJul, Sep
Scotland small group tour | Tracing 5,000 years of history
This guided tour of Scotland with a tour leader and local guides includes the isle of Skye, Orkney islands, the Scottish highlands with breathtaking scenery. Edinburgh including the royal mile, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Fort William, Urquhart castle, Stirling castle, loch lomond, Hadrians wall and New Lanark also a UNESCO World heritage site.
13 daysJun, Aug
Scotland's Great Trails Walking Tour
An escorted walking tour of Scotland. This trip is mainly in the Scottish Highlands. Your tour leader guides you to Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond and Craignorms National park with experienced local guides. The tour for mature couples and solo travellers finishes in Edinburgh with time to visit Edinburgh Castle and the Royal mile a UNESCO World heritage site.
From A$9,250 AUDView Tour
19 daysAug, Jul
Whisky and Other Scottish Wonders
A guided small group tour of Scotland is a day tour collection that includes Edinburgh, the royal mile, Edinburgh castle, and the old town a UNESCO World heritage site Experience and learn about, Kellie castle, St Andrews, Skye, Balmoral castle, Loch Lomond and Loch Ness as well touring the Scottish highlands to finish in Glasgow.
About Scottish isles
Atlantic Ocean and How it Shaped Ancient Communities In Europe
Atlantic Ocean and How it Shaped Ancient Communities In Europe.
Exploring Britain's Prehistoric Past: The Definitive Guide for Travellers
Exploring Britain’s Prehistoric Past Scattered across the islands of Great Britain are countless stone circles and monoliths. As successive waves of different peoples settled and lived in Britain, many would erect stone monuments and carve…
Isle of Mull, Scotland
New Discoveries about Britain's Stone Circles
New Discoveries about Britain’s Stone Circles We’ve written about Britain’s prehistoric stone circles before, but recent studies from 2017 to 2019 show there are likely more secrets to uncover about these Neolithic monuments. In this…
Peat and Scotland
Questions about the Outer Hebrides, Scotland for senior travellers.
Shetland Islands Discovered: The Definitive Guide for Travellers
Skara Brae, Scotland
Standing Stones in Prehistoric Britain
Standing Stones in Prehistoric Britain Stonehenge, England, United Kingdom The standing stones of Great Britain continue to be the subject of research and archaeological hypothesis. Britain is not the only location where standing stones are…