Scotland’s islands offer some of the most breathtaking scenery and colorful people in this nation known widely for both. Just off of the west coast of mainland Scotland lie the Inner Hebrides, a series of hundreds of small islands and a handful of larger ones spread over about 150 miles of water. There are so many different islands in the chain that it’s hard to generalize about them, but here’s some basic information for travelers interested in a Hebridean vacation.
Major Islands and Towns
The largest and most populated islands in the Inner Hebrides are Skye, Islay and Mull. In all, there are 36 inhabited islands in the chain. Portree, Port Ellen and Tobermory are the largest towns on each of these islands, respectively, and the main tourist centers.
Until recently, if you wanted to get to the Hebrides, it meant taking a ferry. Ferries are still a primary way people get across the narrow band of water separating the largest islands from the mainland, but since the opening of the Skye Bridge in 1995, you can now drive to the Isle of Skye without ever setting foot on a ship.
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>> For more information on ferry service to the islands, check out our guide to ferries from Oban to the Hebrides.
The only public airport on the islands is located on Islay, about nine kilometers north of Port Ellen. Flights are only available from Glasgow, so if you’re planning on including Islay in your trip, you might want to base your trip from Glasgow, rather than Edinburgh.
Things To See and Do
The Inner Hebrides are best-known for their wildlife and mountain climbing. Skye in particular is a haven for climbers, though even experienced climbers should be aware that the weather conditions can change very quickly and should be prepared for this. The mountains aren’t all that tall, but some of the climbs are quite technically challenging. There is great wildlife watching all over the islands, but it may be best on Mull, where 250 species of bird can be found including the endangered White-tailed Eagle, once extinct in Britain but recently reintroduced. Whales and dolphins are often spotted here too, and several tour companies specialize in finding them for tourists.
The islands are also known for their unique whiskies. Islay in particular is considered its own class of Scotch whisky, even though there are only eight active distilleries on the island. The only distillery on the Isle of Skye is the world-famous Talisker, and Mull’s Tobermory is significantly less well-known, but well worth the trip for a true island whisky enthusiast.
Places to Stay
There are a number of hotels on all the major islands, but don’t expect to find the sort of variety that you will on the mainland. There are a number of excellent hostels as well, catering to the climbers and backpackers, especially on Skye. To search for a hostel, enter your dates into the form below.