Well, that’s not an easy question to answer.
Trying to answer that is a bit like giving a wee boy the keys to the sweetie shop and telling him he can only pick five jars. There are 790 of them, of which 94 are recorded as being inhabited, and many more that have a history of habitation in days gone by.
The Scottish islands have something for everyone, for every mood, and for every activity.
Fall in love with the sweeping white sand beaches and flowering machair of the Outer Hebrides. Marvel at the rock architecture of Papa Stour. Take in the raw grandeur of the Cuillin of Skye.
Immerse yourself in the history that peppers the Orkney archipelago. Whether you’re a hardened adventurer, wildlife watcher or beachcomber, you won’t be disappointed. I hope to give you just a very small flavour of the joys to be discovered with Scotland’s 5 most beautiful islands: just hop on a ferry or jump on a plane, and let the adventure unfold.
Number 1 of Scotland’s 5 Most Beautiful Islands? Harris and Lewis; there is a lifetime of adventure and discovery in those two names. Once thought to be two islands as any travel between them was undertaken by boat, we now know these as one landmass.
In many ways though, they remain distinct. The remote mountain landscape and the sweeping white sandy beaches of Harris could be mistaken for the Caribbean when the sun shines. And it often does.
Drive the rollercoaster road to Huisinis and follow the beautiful (but in places precipitous) coastal path to the magical beach of Traigh Meilein. I challenge you not to gasp with awe as the beach comes into view. Empty white sand backed by machair strewn with wildflowers, stretching above the azure ocean. On Lewis explore the rugged west coast as far as its most northerly point. Wander above crashing waves that have sculpted the coastline into sea stacks, gullies and arches.
Want to visit? We go to Harris and Lewis on several of our adventure holidays.
Bearing a striking resemblance to its’ more famous cousin St Kilda, Mingulay was inhabited until the 1930s.
Then, the small population was evacuated to a very different life on the Scottish mainland. Their houses still stand behind the sandy beach where boats have given access to the island for centuries. However, these days the visitors are tourists, climbers and sea kayakers, who have come to explore the island for pleasure. Its only resident is now the National Trust for Scotland warden.
The warden makes a home on the island in a restored building during the summer months. Thousand-foot cliffs surrounding the island lead down to the beautiful bay. The sand has gradually worked its way into the houses, which have been left untouched since the residents departed all those years ago.
But the memories are long here. Ask enough people on the neighbouring islands of the Outer Hebrides and you will encounter a grandchild of those evacuated. Stand within the houses and feel the ghosts, going about their business…
Fancy going? We will explore #2 of Scotland’s 5 Most Beautiful Islands on our green-graded walking holiday to Uist, Barra and Mingulay.
If you’re a whisky fan, you may know a little of Jura. A curvaceous, shapely bottle, much like the island on which the nectar is made.
You have to make an effort to get to Jura, and particularly to the settlement of Craignish. You take more than one ferry, via Kennacraig on the mainland and passing through Islay. After following the single track road around the bottom of the island you get to Craignish. But my goodness, it’s worth it.
With a population of only 200, mostly resident in the south of the island, Jura is a rugged place. Fast tides make its waters unforgiving, and the ground is some of the roughest encountered anywhere in the British Isles. This is an island that doesn’t yield easily. However, if you make the effort to discover its hidden places, you will never forget their beauty. This one really deserves to be on our list of Scotland’s 5 Most Beautiful Islands.
The Shetland archipelago is more Scandinavian in appearance, language and culture than Scottish. Shetlanders do not consider themselves Scots: they are Shetlanders.
‘Mainland’, as the main island of the group is known, is a geological mish-mash of time.
For sea kayakers, every inch of its coastline is world-class, with more nooks and crannies than you could explore in a whole lifetime. Wildlife-watchers can enjoy the coast and surrounding waters which attract sea birds and cetaceans galore. History buffs or music lovers will find Shetland an absolute delight.
Let us take you there. Experience this extraordinary archipelago on a 6-night long wildlife and walking holiday.
This is the smallest island on the list, and one of the smallest inhabited islands with a viable population in Scotland.
Easdale belongs to a group off the west coast known as the Slate Isles. Made of- you guessed it- slate, the island has been quarried for generations and now holds a succession of quarry pools in its interior.
It is a lovely friendly place with a vibrant little community. It has a village hall hosting theatre and music, an excellent pub & café, and a boat owner running trips to see neighbouring islands and wildlife. All on an island you can walk round in less than 30 minutes. And if that’s not enough, Easdale hosts the ‘World Stone Skimming Championship’ every summer. Well, when you live on an island made from a pile of flat rocks, why not.
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