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Scotland’s 5 Most Beautiful Islands

Posted on Aug 23, 2016 by Zoe Newsam

‘Scotland’s five most beautiful islands’… Well, goodness me, there’s a question!

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.

Harris & Lewis

Scotland's 5 Most Beautiful Islands

Luskentyre Beach on Harris


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 wild flowers, stretching above the azure ocean. On Lewis explore the rugged west coast as far as it’s most northerly point. Wander above crashing waves that have sculpted the coastline into sea stacks, gullies and arches.

Read our Top 3 Places to Eat on Harris – It’ll get your tastebuds sizzling.

Want to visit? We go to Harris and Lewis on several of our adventure holidays.


Scotland's 5 Most Beautiful Islands

Mingulay Bay


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…

Click for More Island Articles

  1. Scotland’s Top 5 Beautiful but Underrated Beaches
  2. Whisky Galore on the Isle of Eriskay
  3. Best Cycle Routes in Scotland – Isle of Mull
  4. Our Top 3 Places to Eat on Harris
  5. The Outer Hebrides – A Stunning Sea Kayaking Photo Blog



Scotland's 5 Most Beautiful Islands

Paps of Jura


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.


Scotland's 5 Most Beautiful Islands

Sumburgh Airport on Shetland


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. For wildlife-watchers its coast and surrounding waters attract sea birds and cetaceans galore. For history buffs or music lovers, Shetland is a delight!

Click here to learn about the Top 5 Wildlife Spectacles on Shetland.


Scotland's 5 Most Beautiful Islands

A wee rest from kayaking on Easdale


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!

  • Care to pop by? We sometimes paddle over to Easdale on our Whisky Coast sea kayaking holiday.

Fancy an Island Hopping Holiday in Scotland?

We run a range of walking, road cycling, mountain biking and sea kayaking tours to Scotland’s Islands. We go to some of the islands in the limelight like the Outer Hebrides chain and Orkney and Shetland and we also travel to the less well known but for that reason, all the more interesting islands along Scotland’s coastline.

Click the links in the table below to search for the perfect island hopping trip for you.

Trip Date Name Price Availability Book
18th Apr - 22nd Apr 2018 Photography Trip - Skye & The West Highlands £1,5252 place(s) leftBook Now
28th Apr - 4th May 2018 Road Cycling - Outer Hebrides £1,6953 place(s) leftBook Now
28th Apr - 4th May 2018 Wilderness Walking - Argyll & the Isles £1,6951 place(s) leftBook Now
28th Apr - 4th May 2018 Wilderness Walking - Isle of Skye £1,6951 place(s) leftBook Now
19th May - 25th May 2018 Wilderness Walking - Argyll & the Isles £1,6955 place(s) leftBook Now
26th May - 1st Jun 2018 Wildlife Adventures - The Outer Hebrides & St Kilda £1,6953 place(s) leftBook Now
2nd Jun - 9th Jun 2018 Wilderness Walking - High Points of the Outer Hebrides £1,5956 place(s) leftBook Now
2nd Jun - 8th Jun 2018 Wilderness Walking - Outer Hebrides: Uists, Barra and Mingulay £1,5951 place(s) leftBook Now
16th Jun - 22nd Jun 2018 Sailing and Walking - Knoydart, Skye & The Small Isles £1,4955 place(s) leftBook Now
23rd Jun - 29th Jun 2018 Sailing Journeys - The Inner Hebrides £895Trip Full
30th Jun - 6th Jul 2018 Road Cycling - Outer Hebrides £1,6951 place(s) leftBook Now
30th Jun - 6th Jul 2018 Wilderness Walking - Isle of Skye £1,6951 place(s) leftBook Now
30th Jun - 6th Jul 2018 Wilderness Walking - Outer Hebrides & Skye £1,5958 place(s) leftBook Now

Want more blogs like this? Have a look at the 10 Most Dramatic Castles in Scotland or Zoe’s Five Favourite Cafes on the North Coast 500.

About the author

Zoe Newsam

During a varied career in, amongst other things, Air Traffic Control and Theatre, the single constant has been a love for the outdoors and for exploration. This has taken me to Europe, North Africa, Canada, New Zealand, and most recently Greenland.

Read more articles by Zoe | View Zoe's Profile

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