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The Scottish Isles

Orkney Islands

Orkney, Scotland

The Scottish Isles

An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983 with small group tours exploring the Shetland isles, Orkney, Skara Brae and isle of Skye. For senior couples or solo travellers who are curious about Scottish history, wildlife and landscape.

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

View of the sea stacks at Traigh Mhangurstadh (Mangersta Beach), Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

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.

View on Portree before sunset, Isle of Skye, Scotland

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.

A view of the town of Stornoway in Lewis, Outer Hebrides

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 Islands

St. Ninian’s Isle, Shetland Islands

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.

Orkney Islands

St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney.

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:

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

About Scottish isles

An island in the Inner Hebrides, lying just off of Mull, Iona is a tiny piece of land, measuring just 6 km long by 2 km wide. However, Iona's tiny size does not reflect its…
Isle of Arran, Scotland The Isle of Arran (Eilean Arainn) is Scotland’s seventh largest island, and the largest island in the ocean inlet Firth of Clyde, located at the mouth of the River Clyde that…
The island of Mull is the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides (after Skye) and the most accessible of the archipelago. Of all the Hebrides, it has some of the most diverse scenery and…
The second-largest of Scotland's islands, the Isle of Skye is known for its breathtaking, dramatic landscapes, beautiful natural wonders and quaint villages. As well as stunning scenery, such as rugged mountains, glittering lochs and impressive…
The Orkney Islands, also referred to as Orkney, are an archipelago off the north coast of mainland Scotland. Comprised of around 70 islands (20 of which are inhabited), the Orkney Islands have a mystical charm…
Scotland has two distinct topographic regions, the Highlands in the north and west and the Lowlands in the south and east, which also gave birth to two kinds of bogs.
The Neolithic village of Skara Brae was discovered in the winter of 1850. Wild storms ripped the grass and earth from a high dune then known as "Skerrabra" beside the Bay of Skaill, and exposed…
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…
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…
Touring the beautiful Scottish Islands:  Scotland is island-rich, with some of the most awesome scenery in the United Kingdom. There are nearly 800 islands around Scotland, scattered around its western and northern coastline. Each has…