20 days
Duration
British Isles
Destination
Level 2 - Moderate
Activity

Scottish Islands and Shetland small group tours

These Scottish island tours including Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland is specifically tailored for mature aged and senior travellers.

Join Odyssey Traveller on this Scotland tour, a journey through its islands including Shetland, for 20 days with 3 departures each year. This unique travel experience explores the nation's living history. While the islands' residents mostly lead modern lives, there is still evidence of a much older way of life. The Scottish Islands are among the world’s great repositories of archaeological treasures, such as the prehistoric Callanish standing stones on Lewis and Harris, as well as isolated monuments and unforgettable natural scenery. Our guided tours also include a visit to a whisky distillery on the Isle of Arran.

Odyssey Traveller's escorted tours are specifically tailored for senior and mature-aged travellers.

A Brief History of Scotland

Modern-day Scotland had its roots in the Celtic settlements during the Iron Age, and was formed by the subsequent waves of invasions and established kingdoms.

The Celts arrived in Scotland during the Iron Age (circa 500 BC). Our knowledge of this group of tribes come to us filtered through Roman eyes, as it was the Romans who first chronicled their lifestyles and fighting prowess.

The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD, but they were unsuccessful in fighting the Celtic tribes in the north. Julius Agricola, a Roman governor, marched into what is now Scotland around 80 AD and spent four years trying to subdue the tribes. Emperor Hadrian decided fighting the Celts was futile and pulled back, building Hadrian’s Wall around 122 AD in England to mark the northern limit of Roman Britain.

The Romans abandoned Britain around 410 AD, and the region was settled by other invading parties, such as the Vikings and the Germanic Anglo-Saxons. The Vikings would have a long and lasting presence in certain parts of Scotland: Norse earls would rule the Hebrides until 1266, and the islands of Shetland and Orkney would remain with the Vikings until it was annexed to Scotland as part of a dowry in 1472. (Read more in our article on the Shetland Islands.)

Before the Vikings, Scotland was settled by the Picts, which the Romans referred to as the Picti, or “painted ones” perhaps due to their habit of painting dye on their bodies (though this claim is contested by modern historians). They were said to have migrated from Scythia (Scandinavia) before settling and forming powerful kingdoms in what is now northern Scotland.

The Viking invasions may have weakened the Picts’ forces. While the Picts were able to thwart the Romans for many centuries, in 843 AD, Kenneth MacAlpin, crowned King Kenneth I of the Kingdom of Dál Riada (or Dalriada) crushed their resistance and also became king of the Picts.

Dalriada was composed of parts of northeastern Ireland and western Scotland. The union of Dalriada and Pictish lands in northern Scotland formed the Kingdom of Alba, which became the starting point of the Scots’ expansion of their territory.

The Scottish Highlands and the Lowlands diverged culturally following the Battle of Hastings that marked Norman ascendancy in England. The Anglo-Norman feudal system was introduced to the Lowlands, but the Dalriadan clan system persisted in the Highlands. Gaelic would be spoken in the Highlands until the 19th century, and to this day Highland English displays strong influence of Gaelic in its grammar and pronunciation.

Tour of Scotland and Shetland Itinerary

This Scottish Islands and Shetland tour program focuses particularly on the culture and heritage of the Scottish islanders. Because Odyssey ensures that the tour is kept to a small group tour, we stay in comfortable family-run hotels and cruise to some of the more isolated Scottish isles. As we visit each island, we take short history tours and take in some of the most breathtaking scenery in the British Isles that is the islands around Scotland. Our escorted tour of the Scottish Islands also includes a stop at the ancient Island of Iona. This is the point from which St. Columba took Celtic Christianity to the British Isles. Our trip also includes time on the outer Hebrides islands of Lewis and Harris. Here, our tour with a local guide features encounters with fantastic geological formations and collections of Scottish stone circles. We also make sure to visit the Isle of Skye, including the striking mountains of the Storr and the charming village of Portree.

Guided by a local tour guide, their passion for these unique islands of Scotland shines through. Whilst on this tour, we learn about the settlement and the burial mounds and the unique wildlife of the Scottish Islands. We gain local insights on the relationship with the mainland and learn about the invasions repelled from both the North and the South. And of course the contemporary lives of this diverse collection of people who now inhabit the Islands around Scotland. It is, as we will discover, the local people today who are keeping the history and lifestyle of our destinations alive.

About our small group tours Scottish Isles

This 20-day Scottish Island tour for mature travellers starts in Glasgow on the River Clyde. The tour continues to seven terrific islands whilst passing many more as we circumnavigate the striking landscapes of the Scottish coastline from west to east.

Odyssey's tour of the Scottish Islands visits:

  • The island of Arran
  • Isle of Mull
  • Isle of Skye
  • Harris & Lewis
  • Orkney Islands
  • Shetland Islands

Finally, we end our tour in Edinburgh. While we only include one night in an Edinburgh hotel, you can prolong your trip to take in the major sights: the Royal Mile, Palace of Holyroodhouse, and of course, make time for another whisky tour!

The Scottish Isles small group educational program is terrific for couples or solo travellers.

Typically Odyssey Traveller offers 3 departures each year of this program to the Scottish islands, in order to ensure we can keep the groups at a manageable size and offer you as many options as possible.

For more details, click the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Itinerary’ buttons above! If you’re keen to experience this tour, please call or send an email. Or, to book, simply fill in the form on the right hand side of this page.

You can also start by reading our our country spotlight on Scotland and the following articles:

We also have a short feature on Glasgow and Nelson Mandela Place and an article on Scotland & Scotch whisky which you may find interesting. This article visiting standing stones and the Neolithic history of Scotland may also assist you with your planning.

The rest of our Scotland-related articles can be found here.

Tour Notes

  • Ferry routes and schedules are subject to change so, although we will include all elements in the tour, the order/nights may change
  • Many of the hotels used on this tour are small or in heritage buildings. Lifts and/or porterage may not be available.
  • Maximum of 18 participants.
Tour Notes
  • Ferry routes and schedules are subject to change so, although we will include all elements in the tour, the order/nights may change
  • Many of the hotels used on this tour are small or in heritage buildings. Lifts and/or porterage may not be available.
  • Maximum of 18 participants.

PDF of Tour PDF of Reading List

Overview: Upon arrival in Glasgow, we will come to the hotel individually. There will be free time before our tour orientation and a welcome dinner.

Accommodation: 1 night at Moxy Glasgow or similar.

Overview: In the morning we will have a tour of Glasgow, visiting the main sights of the city. From Ayrshire, we cross the Firth of Clyde to the Island of Arran. With its rugged granite mountain peaks in the north and green rolling hills and pretty villages in the south, it is believed that Arran has been populated since the end of the last Ice Age. The island boasts a number of Neolithicburial tombs and the Bronze Age stone circle. The island was purchased from the Vikings after the Battle of Largs and it is said that Robert the Bruce received the signal to re-invade Scotland while his followers were harassing the English garrison at Brodick Castle. We will have a chance to see this 13th century castle. The island is now best known for outdoor activities and its distillery producing whisky, and local producers of cheese, and oatcakes.

Accommodation: 2 nights at the Auchrannie Hotel or similar.

Overview: From Arran we take a ferry to the strangely-shaped Scottish peninsula of Kintyre, traversing magnificent scenery and visiting fine gardens such as Arduaine, noted for its spectacular displays of rhododendrons and azaleas.

Accommodation: 1 night at Muthu Dalmally Hotel or similar.

Overview: We will explore the outstanding scenery of Mull, one of the larger of the Inner Hebridean islands. Mull offers rough moorlands, the rocky peak of Ben More, and a stunning coastline. The 13th century Duart Castle, home of the chief of the Maclean clan, is our next stop. We will visit the pretty fishing village of Tobermory and see the brightly coloured buildings lining the harbour. We will see the burial place of Lachlan Macquarie, who was a native of Mull. We will make our pilgrimage to the tranquil islet of Iona, which is the birthplace of Celtic Christianity in Britain. A restored abbey stands on the site where Irish Saint Columba began his crusade in 563 and where 48 Scottish kings are said to be buried. Though not covered within the tour cost, there may also be time, – weather permitting – to make the trip to Fingal’s cave on the Isle of Staffa, one of Scotland’s natural wonders and inspiration for Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides Overture.”

Accommodation: 2 nights at Western Isles Hotel or similar.

Overview: The Isle of Skye, renowned for its rugged and dramatic scenery, has enjoyed a turbulent geological history and is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides. Its abandoned crofts pay testament to the brutal Highland Clearances which followed the battle of Culloden and it is historically significant as the Island that provided refuge to Bonnie Prince Charlie after the battle.

We will explore from the rugged volcanic plateau of the north to the peaks of the Cuillins. We are never far from the sea and will experience numerous sea-lochs, limestone grasslands dotted with sheep and cattle, and crofts abandoned during the Highland Clearances, when landowners demanded rent instead of military service from their tenants. Thousands of tenants were evicted and emigrated when they were unable to afford the impost. We learn about clan heritage and see the castle at Dunvegan. We will also visit Armadale Castle, which houses the Clan Donald Visitors’ Centre, and experience the local whisky.

Accommodation: 2 nights at The Ardvasar or similar.

Overview: We explore the islands of Lewis and Harris, which are separated by a narrow isthmus, with the ancient Standing Stones of Callanish and the ruins of Carloway Broch providing testament to long habitation here. We also visit the bustling harbour of Stornoway, view the rolling peat moors of Lewis, and the mountains of Harris. For centuries, the peat bogs of the eastern shores have provided islanders with fuel and man has been here for 6,000 years living off the sea and the thin turf. However, abandoned monuments attest to the difficulties faced in commercializing the islanders’ traditional skills such as the tough Harris Tweed, known throughout the world. Gaelic, part of an enduring culture, is still spoken on the islands. We learn more about the recent past at Arnol’s Black House Museum, a showcase of crofting life, and there is chance to experience the local producers of cheese, smoked fish, and tweed.

Accommodation: 2 nights at Royal Hotel and 1 night at Arch Inn or similar.

Overview: We board our early morning ferry for our return to the Scottish mainland where we visit Dunnett Head, the most northerly point on mainland Britain. On a clear day it commands extensive views which include the Orkney Islands to the north, and the length of the north coast of Scotland from Duncansby Head to the east, and to Cape Wrath, in the west. We will drive via Kylesku to a small, remote fishing village, and visit Durness, where we explore Dunnet Head.

Accommodation: 1 night at The Portland Lybster or similar.

Overview: On Orkney we will experience some of the most awesome scenery in Britain. We learn about some of the prehistoric, Celtic, and Viking influences on the island peoples, visit some of the picturesque small towns and villages, and catch a glimpse of some of the island’s seals, otters, and colonies of sea birds while we search for historical treasures in its great collection of ancient sites. We will visit the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodga, and the prehistoric village of Skara Brae. We will also learn about the wartime history of the island as we view the Churchill Barriers and Italian Chapel.

Both Orkney and Shetland have close links to the Nordic countries through language, lifestyle, and history, despite the fact that the Orkney Islands are within 10 kilometres of mainland Scotland. The island differs from Shetland in that it has flat and undulating islands with rich soil, which makes the grass green and nurtures summer crops of grain. Shetlanders are fishermen with farms while Orcadians are farmers with boats. Orkney is, however, still known for its dramatic coastal scenery, abundant marine bird life, and islands which contain the densest concentration of prehistoric sites in Britain, testifying to their long history of settlement. Eighteen of the 67 islands are inhabited.

Accommodation: 2 nights at Orkney Hotel or similar.

Overview: Today we will have a morning tour of Kirkwall, and a visit to Bishop’s and Early’s Palaces, before leaving you the afternoon to further explore the area. We will then have dinner at a local restaurant before boarding an overnight ferry to travel between Orkney and Shetland. Northlink Ferrries have all the attributes of a mini cruise liner with en-suite cabins, restaurant, bar, and lounges. A typical local breakfast is provided during the cruise.

Accommodation: 1 night on Northlink Ferry.

Overview: We will view the wild, untamed scenery of Shetland, where we may catch a glimpse of some of the islands’ tiny ponies, colonies of sea birds, and other wildlife. We trace the ancient Celtic and Viking influences on the island peoples and their language, as we visit some of the remote villages in our search for historical treasures. We will also visit the Shetland museum in Lerwick, the harbour of Scalloway, the Sunburgh Head, and Jarlshof, where the museum explains the sprawling sea-front ruins spanning 3,000 years.

The Shetlands are just over 300 kilometres from the Norwegian coast and were under Norse rule until 1469. About 14 of the hundred or so islands in the Shetland group are occupied and these cliff-edged islands now form the northernmost part of Scotland. Shetlanders have a distinctive dialect derived from their long connection with Norway and nowhere on the islands is more than 8 kilometres from the sea, so that fishing and salmon farming still provide a major contribution to the economy. However, North Sea Oil has been the major source of recent revenue. Shetland too boasts some of Britain’s most stunning coastal scenery, awesome colonies of sea birds, abundant marine life, and a rich pre-history.

Accommodation: 2 nights at Scalloway Hotel or similar.

Overview: From Shetland we again take an overnight Northlink Ferry to Aberdeen from where we travel to the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. During our overnight Northlink Ferry service we stay in cabins and breakfast will be included.

Overview: The city of Edinburgh, the capital of modern-day Scotland, is of great political, cultural, and historical interest. Located near the Firth of Forth, in the Scottish Lowlands, Edinburgh is a city of 2 halves. The old part, with its impressive castle and the Royal Mile stretching down to Holyrood Palace, contrasts with the more recent section of garden squares and elegant Georgian architecture. Princes Street is one of its best-known thoroughfares. Edinburgh is a sophisticated city with a long and rich history, gothic monuments, a royal palace, challenging museums, interesting art galleries, and many churches.

Accommodation: 1 night at Leonardo Royal, Edinburgh Haymarket or similar.

Overview: This tour concludes in Edinburgh. If you wish to extend your stay, please contact your Educational Travel Adviser.

1
Meet hard working people busy at the crafts that occupied the lives of their ancestors at the Orkney and Shetland Islands.
2
Experience Scotland in miniature on the Isle of Arran.
3
Explore the outer Hebridean Islands of Lewis and Harris with their fantastic geological formations, standing stones, and Broch.
4
See Iona, the tiny island from which St. Columba took Celtic Christianity to the British Isles.
5
Visit the western Isles of the Hebrides where our ferry takes us to the Isle of Skye.

What’s included in our Tour

  • 17 nights of hotel accommodation.
  • 2 nights of cabin accommodation on board a ferry  (single clients may need to share depending on availability).
  • 19 breakfasts and 11 dinners.
  • All entry fees and services of local expert driver/guide.
  • Cruises, ferry crossings, field trips, and excursions as indicated.
  • Touring by comfortable and modern mini-coach.
  • Services of a Tour Leader for the duration of tour.
  • Gratuities and necessary tips.
  • Detailed preparatory information.

What’s not included in our Tour

  • Return airfare and departure taxes.
  • Comprehensive travel insurance.
  • Items of a personal nature, such as telephone calls and laundry.
  • Porterage.
  • Meals not specified in the itinerary.

Map for Scottish Isles tour

Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland
standing stones callanish
Tobermory village on the Island of Mull on the west coast of Scotland
The Isle of Mull
Scottish Islands
Cows in Oarkney Scotland
Scalloway, Shetland Islands, Scotland
Puffin, Shetland Islands, Scotland
Tours of Scotland and Shetland
Arnol Blackhouse Lewis Outer Hebrides Scotland
Mangersta Sea Stacks Lewis Outer Hebrides
Dramatic sea cliffs St Kilda Outer Hebrides
Beach on the Isle of Lewis Outer Hebrides Scotland
Stornoway in Lewis Outer Hebrides
Scottish Isles
Lewis
Scottish Isles
Scottish tours
Isle of Skye
Scottish Islands - Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Neolithic Village of Skara Brae, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland
Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland
Scotland History
Scotland History

Tour Reviews

June 21, 2016

“We had previously toured mainland Scotland so the attraction of this tour was the novelty of touring all the islands and the ferry connections. However it was the totally unexpected archaeology that will remain in our memories. Along with the driver and her stories!!! Truly a “Discovery Tour”.

April 28, 2017

I really enjoyed this tour. I found all of our drivers/guides were friendly, organised, professional and knowledgeable. I would recommend this tour to others.

April 28, 2017

We were more than satisfied with the whole trip. Enjoyed every bit of it. If you could improve the weather it’d be nice, but even the cold, rain and wind couldn’t spoil the trip.

April 28, 2017

Our driver and guide was exceptional; full of information about places we visited. Resourceful when we had extra time, in organising ‘wee adventures’. Diverted several times to accommodate the special interests of group members.

June 25, 2018

The Scottish Isles small group tour was thoroughly enjoyable. We had fabulous weather, saw stunning scenery, and walked around sites so incredibly ancient. Learning about the history of the islands and the lives of people past and present was really fascinating.
Participant 2018

July 3, 2018

Staff were very helpful and provided options for travel. The tour information was detailed and informative.
Participant 2018

July 4, 2018

I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my Scottish adventure
– especially the people we met along the way, and the size
of the group was ideal! Kathryn was a super Tour Leader – a
job I had for 15 years – kept her sense of humour very well!
Golly Gosh, I would love to do it again! Och Aye – the Kilts
and the peatie Single Malt – the definition of Heaven methinks.
Participant May ’18

June 20, 2019

A great tour to experience the isles of Scotland and explore ancient and modern history.
Suzanne J. May ’19

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