Guide to Scotland’s Hebrides Islands, A Dream Vacation

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Hebrides Island of Scotland, A Dream Vacation

The Hebrides islands off the west coast of Scotland are a dream vacation for anyone who loves the great outdoors, history, and creative arts.

The Hebrides islands have been a destination for travelers since Time immemorial, and you can encounter Norse and Celtic influences today in the landscape and lifestyle. Across the Hebrides islands, you can connect with both material and living heritage. Be sure to visit ancient monuments and settlements, learn a few words of the Gaelic language, and watch a weaver create a beautiful piece of tweed from the wool of local sheep.

Pristine and indeed remote, the Hebrides islands are nonetheless not difficult to reach, given the efficiency of the fabulous Caledonian MacBray ferry line. The journey to and between islands is in fact spectacular, with magnificent vistas of the coastal landscape. There is even wi fi for those who can’t bear to unplug. A trip of three hours seems timeless, as the passage offers a great opportunity to contemplate Mother Nature at her finest.

Because of COVID-19, the tourism situation is in flux. Be sure to check the country’s requirements, the policies of individual establishments, and whether the attraction you plan to visit is open.

Hebrides Islands
A Cal Mac ferry makes a pivot in tiny Loch Broom off Ullapool. Photo: Meg Pier

How To Use This Map

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The Lay of the Land

The Hebrides islands archipelago is divided into two groups, the Outer Hebrides and the Inner Hebrides. The Outer Hebrides has five main islands, Lewis and Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra. There are also nine other small inhabited islands, and more than 50 uninhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides. We’ll focus on the scenic attractions of Lewis and Harris here, but definitely recommend that you build time into your Hebridean dream vacation to explore the other main islands of the Outer Hebrides.

The Inner Hebrides are south of the Outer Hebrides and encompass another 79 islands, 35 of which are inhabited. Of those, we’ll take you to Skye and Isle of Mull, two of the largest, as well as the Isle of Iona, a small but significant island that lies off the coast of Mull.

Despite its location in the far north of Scotland, the climate of the Hebrides islands is chilly yet mild. In January, the average temperature is 44 °F while during the summer it stays around 57 °F. The best times to visit the Hebrides islands is between April and October as the climate is dry and the warmest time of the year. It is also a prime time to see wildlife, and quite possibly the Aurora Borealis!

Hebrides Islands
The northern lights above the ruins of St. Columbia’s Church near Stornoway. Photo: Les Ellingham, An Lanntair

Isle of Lewis

From Ullapool, take a gorgeous 2 hour 45 minute Cal Mac ferry to Stornoway, the main town of Lewis and of the Outer Hebrides. Known for its mysterious standing stones, Lewis is part of the largest Hebridean island, known as Lewis and Harris. Though often referred to separately, Lewis and Harris is actually one island.

The Isle of Lewis and Harris is about 841 square miles with Lewis taking up two thirds of the island, Harris belonging to the southern third of the island. The distinction between the two dates back to Clan Macleod of Lewis and Clan Macleod of Harris, who split the land respectively, in the 18th and 19th century.

Much like other Hebridean islands, Lewis boasts the smell of peat in summers, the mix of Gaelic and English languages spoken by its people, and a connection with history that hasn’t been forgotten.

The tranquil coast of Isle of Lewis. Photo: Meg Pier

Stornoway, Gateway to Lewis and Harris

After getting off the ferry in Stornoway, explore this town of 8,000 residents. Stornoway is famous for its fishing boats and bustling harbor. Several other settlements can be found all around Lewis but due to its fertile ground and sheltered harbor, Stornoway has been the most inhabited for many centuries. Vikings who frequented the town often referred to it as “Steering Bay” which translated to Stornoway, and thus it had its name!

Hebrides Islands
“Lovely Stornoway” by LochieGirl, Flickr

An Lanntair Arts Center

While in Stornoway, pay a visit to arts center An Lanntair, an active member of the community that focuses on sharing the heritage and art of Gaelic and Highland culture. Established in 2005, An Lanntair endeavors to connect visitors to the Gaelic cultural community through a multifaceted approach. A variety of mediums can be found in An Lanntair, from a cinema to a dance studio to a place for poetry and literature to be performed.

Hebrides Islands
An Lanntair Arts Center. Photo: An Lanntair
  • Address: Kenneth St, Stornoway HS1 2DS, United Kingdom
  • Opening hours: Monday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm; Last Sunday of every month, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • Admission fees: Free admission
  • Website: lanntair.com

Moria Maclean, Wallpaper Pirate

Moira Maclean is one of the artists featured in the halls of An Lanntair. Her work is uniquely inspired by the Hebrides’ landscape and history. Born and raised on the Isle of Lewis, Moira’s visual art focuses on her own unique connection with the landscape. She explores her place in Lewis by examining memories of her childhood and personal history as a mother and a female, from the lens of domesticity. Her own experiences, combined with the lingering impact of the Clearances, play a large role in her art. Using found materials from abandoned croft houses, she creates work that brings history into the present.

Moira’s work has gained a dedicated following both on and off island. She calls herself a ‘wallpaper pirate;’ her work is based on a practice of ‘raiding’ the abandoned croft houses of the island. From these interiors, or “time capsules” she collects the old wallpaper, which she calls “silent witness” and uses both her paintings and in her installation pieces to different ends.

Hebrides Islands
Moira’s collection: Hebridean beachscapes. Photo: Moira Maclean

Butt of Lewis and Lighthouse Heritage

Following a trip to An Lanntair, take a 45-minute drive north to the Butt of Lewis for your ultimate dream vacation destination, a famous lighthouse on the island. Lighthouses are a distinctive feature of Scotland’s many miles of coastline. These beacons have long been essential to the safety of the many fishing communities, as well as the growth of trade in Scotland.

Butt of Lewis Lighthouse
Butt of Lewis Lighthouse | Image Credit: Kristi Herbert / Flickr

At the northernmost tip of Lewis, one can find the Butt of Lewis which has been recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records as the windiest place in Britain. The Butt of Lewis consists of a series of cliffs, made from rocks that are estimated to be 3000 million years old. Those brave enough can climb the 168 steps to the top of the Butt of Lewis lighthouse, which shines light to ships passing in the night.

  • Address: Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, HS2 0XF

Blackhouse of Arnol

Following a trip to the Butt of Lewis, a short drive will take you to the famous Blackhouse of Arnol, to take a peek at what life would’ve been like for a Lewis resident as recently as 100 years ago.

The Blackhouse blends into the surrounding scenery with its low profile and rounded design. The roof is made of driftwood, shipwreck salvage, and covered by turf. It’s overlaid with straw and a lattice of ropes weighed down with stones. Inside the home, the hearth still burns, much like it always did in the past. It was the center of family life, providing light and warmth, as well as keeping the building dry.

Hebrides Islands | Photo: Meg Pier
Photo: Meg Pier

The smoke from the fire spreads throughout the roof space which prevents the growth of fungus and acts as an insect repellent. It’s clever design allowed these families to live comfortably. Interestingly, peat was used as fuel for its spark resistance and tolerable fumes. The Blackhouse contributes to Arnol’s sense of identity and belonging, being tangible evidence of Scotland’s rich heritage. It has a great ability to authentically demonstrate a past way of life and culture.

  • Address: 42 Arnol, Bragar, Isle of Lewis HS2 9DB, United Kingdom
  • Opening hours: Currently closed due to COVID-19
  • Admission fees: Adult £6.00, £3.60 for children 5-15, children under 5 free
  • Website: historicenvironment.scot

Calanais Standing Stones

To go even further into the past, visitors can drive just 30 minutes south of the Blackhouse to the ancient Standing Stones of Calanais. These stones were erected nearly 5000 years ago, giving a unique perspective into ancient Hebridean people.

Hebrides Islands
Standing Stones of Calanasis. Photo: Portengaround, Flickr

The ancient Calanais Standing Stones monument is made up by 49 stones that create a sort of amphitheatre on a rocky ridge. Research has shown the site has both astronomical and landscape alignments. The immense stones would have been moved with rollers and wooden frames, facilitated by the great strength of many people.

Folklore holds giants were turned to stone for refusing to convert to Christianity, earning its local name Na Fir Brìghe (‘The False Men’). From around 1500BC, the standing rocks lost their popularity and were overcome by meters of peat over 2000 years. When it was fully exposed in the 1850s, its importance was recognized again and it was included on the first Schedule of Ancient Monuments in 1882.

Hebrides Islands
Callanish Stones near Callanish village, Isle of Lewis. Photo: Chmee2, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Today, the stones remain a magical place to visit during your dream vacation. The stones have inspired countless artists and writers over the years. While visiting, the surrounding landscape may evoke feelings of spirituality and wonder.

  • Address: 12m West of Stornoway off the A859 Isle of Lewis HS2 9DY
  • Admission fees: Free
  • Website: historicenvironment.scot

 

Observe the Sabbath in Lewis

Steeped in tradition, the people of Lewis are fiercely Presbyterian. As proud members of the Church of Scotland and the Free Church, many businesses are closed on Sundays, in observance of the rules of Sabbath. This is unique in a world where many expect to be able to conduct the business of everyday life 24/7. For visitors, Sundays are an opportunity to take part in the services available on the island, spoken in Gaelic in the morning and English in the evening.

Hebrides Islands
Photo: Meg Pier

And, now onward to Harris, Lewis’ neighbor to the south, where more cultural connections are woven literally!

Harris

To get to the next leg of your journey, you’ll need to drive an hour and a half to Harris, just south of Lewis on the same island. This drive will take you through the hills and natural landscape of Lewis and Harris, a very relaxing and pleasant drive.

Scottish Highlands Guide | Harris

Seallam! Visitor Centre

Start your tour of Harris by getting a grounding in the history of the Outer Hebrides with a visit to Seallam! Visitor Centre located in Taobh Tuath, also known as Northton, in the south of Harris. For visitors interested in exploring family roots in the Outer Hebrides, genealogical research company Co Leis Thu? (Who do you belong to?) is based at the Visitor Centre.

Hebrides Islands
Outside Seallam! Visitor Centre. Photo: Seallam Visitor Centre
  • Address: Seallam! Visitor Centre, An Taobh Tuath, Northton, Isle of Harris, HS3 3JA
  • Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 10:00am to 5:00pm during the summer; Wednesday to Friday, 10:00am to 5:00 pm during the winter
  • Admission fees: £3.00
  • Website: hebridespeople.com

Harris Tweed

Harris Tweed is a world-renowned brand and the Harris Tweed Authority is the governing body over the cloth. There are three main mills but all of the weaving is still done in the home which is why this is classed as a cottage industry. Many weavers are commissioned by the mills to weave particular patterns to supply retail stores.

There are a number of private weavers who design their own patterns and make their own tweed, which must be taken to the Harris Tweed Authority for quality control and to be stamped with the historic orb. This symbol guarantees the highest quality tweed, dyed, spun and handwoven by islanders of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland in their homes to the laws outlined in the Harris Tweed Act of Parliament.

Scottish Highlands Guide | Harris Tweed

Among the private companies selling are Harris Tweed and Knitwear Ltd., which operates a retail shop at the mouth of the harbor in Tarbert on Harris.

Scottish Highlands Guide | Harris Tweed

Read MoreLearn the story behind another long-held tradition on Scotland’s Outer Hebrides–heating with a good peat fire!

  • Address: Caberfeidh, Tarbert, Outer Hebrides, HS3 3DJ
  • Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:00 am to 5:30 pm
  • Website: harristweedisleofharris.co.uk

Mission House Studio & Gallery

Now pay a visit to The Mission House Studio in Finsbay. This drive will take you south of Tarbert for a meander through small crofting villages set in a lunar landscape. If you’re lucky, on your way to Mission House Studio, you might spot some native wildlife like seals, golden eagles, and maybe even an otter! While at Mission House Studio, visitors can immerse themselves in the unique perspective of artistry inspired by the surrounding landscape.

The Mission House Studio
Photo: The Mission House Studio

In the Hebrides, collaboration is a way of life, and this is much in evidence at The Mission House Studio, the creative wellspring of husband-and-wife artists Beka and Nikolai Globe. The couple’s work space and gallery are located in a former church, set in a spot overlooking the Bays of Harris. The Mission House brings the art of the new age into a space of old in a way that is provocative and moving.

Beka, a fine art photographer, embodies the liminality of nature, those in between places where sky, sea, and land meet. Her photographs provoke an emotional response, truly portraying the binaries of this earth. Nikolai’s medium is ceramics, along with other physical materials such as glass and raw minerals. Geological in feel, Nikolai’s work truly reflects the harshness and beauty of the Hebrides terrain. From stoneware bowls to other vessel forms, Nikola’s work is created to reflect the nature of the Hebrides.

Stoneware, Porcelain, Glass and Shino Glaze made by Nickolai Globe.
Stoneware, Porcelain, Glass and Shino Glaze made by Nickolai Globe. Photo: The Mission House Studio
Chapaval from Isle of Harris Collection by Beka Globe
Chapaval from Isle of Harris Collection by Beka Globe
  • Address: Finsbay, Isle of Harris HS3 3JD, United Kingdom
  • Opening hours: Open upon scheduled appointments
  • Website: themissionhouse.co.uk

St. Clements Church

Next, we head to St. Clements Church in Rodel. The setting of this lovely site is atmospheric and the interior is a virtual time capsule of ancient ecclesiastical sculpture, symbolism, and history. Carvings represent goddesses giving birth, hunting scenes, and knights in armor protected by crouching lions, among many other exotic and varied scenes. The medieval tombs and grave slabs include the church’s founder, Alexander MacLeod, also known as the Humpback as a result of a sword wound he had received while fighting the MacDonalds on Skye.

MacLeod's tomb in St. Clement's church. Photo: Lorna M Campbell
MacLeod’s tomb in St. Clement’s church. Photo: Lorna M Campbell

MacLeod clan chiefs of Dunvegan and Harris built this beautiful church as their burial place in about 1520. Although many of their tombstones survive, the exact location of the MacLeod graves is uncertain. St. Clement’s fell into ruin after the Prodestant Reformation of 1560. It was rebuilt just over two centuries later by Captain Alexander MacLeod, but within three years substantial repairs were required after the church was damaged by fire. In 1873 the building was restored by the Countess of Dunmore.

In the church there are four stones with sword carvings which date from the 1400s and 1500s. They once marked the burial places for members of Clan MacLeod, either here or in the graveyard. The beautiful carvings illustrate the high status of the family and their prominence on the island. The swords represent their strength and power.

A grave in St. Clements graveyard.
A grave in St. Clements graveyard. Photo: Meg Pier
  • Address: Rodel, Harris (on A859), HS5 3TW

Isle of Skye

From Tarbert in Harris, you can take a one hour and forty-minute ferry to Uig in the Isle of Skye, the largest of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides archipelago. Quite possibly one of the most breathtaking landscapes for a dream vacation, Skye’s landmarks are steeped in lore.

Uig is located on Skye’s Trotternish Peninsula, a Gaelic-speaking area in the northwest of the island that is designated by governmental conservation agency Scottish Natural Heritage as a national scenic area. There are currently 40 national scenic areas (NSAs) in Scotland, covering 13% of the land area of Scotland.

Isle of Skye

Kilt Rock

One scenic area to be sure to check out is Kilt Rock, named for the impression of pleats created by the vertical columns of basalt over horizontal strips of grey and white oolite. The tight formation of pillars lined up in a precise row inspired the tartan pattern worn by clan members from Skye.

Stand atop the 180-foot heights above Kilt Rock and watch the spring-fed waterfall tumble over the precipice to the sparkling waters of the Atlantic below. In the whipping wind on the very edge of the Trotternish Peninsula, become enveloped in Kilt Rock’s spray, and a part of the landscape.

Isle of Skye

Staffin Dinosaur Museum

Nearby is the Staffin Dinosaur Museum, founded by Dugald Ross in 1976 when he was only a teenager. The small building which houses the museum used to be a Gaelic school; one of many that the church established in the early 1800s. The species Dugald has collected in the area include Stegosaurus, Megalosaurus, Cetiosaurus, Hadrosaurus, and Ceolophysis. Dugald also offers tours to the nearby beach at An Corran to see footprints left by dinosaurs 165 million years ago!

Isle of Skye
Coelophysis footprints, in fossilised mud. Image Credit: Staffin Dinosaur Museum
  • Address: Elishader, Staffin IV51 9JE, United Kingdom
  • Opening Hours: Open Upon Request
  • Admission fees: Adults: £2.00, Children: £1.00, Family Ticket: £5.00
  • Website: facebook.com/StaffinDinosaurMuseum/

Portree

From Staffin, head a half-hour down the road to Portree, the capital of Skye. Its name is said to come from Port Ruighe, meaning “slope harbor” and indeed the town is flanked by layers of hills and cliffs. Ben Tianavaig resides on the south and Suidh Fhinn or Fingal’s Seat to the west, both about 1000 feet in height and Ben Chrachaig, much smaller in stature at 470 feet, to the north. Ben means “peak” in Gaelic and the fanciful name Fingal’s Seat comes from an epic poem by 18th century Scots poet James MacPherson, and the legend of Finn McCool, a mythological Irish hunter-warrior who is said to have traveled the Irish Sea between Scotland and Ireland via stepping stones.

Isle of Skye

Today, you can have a nice bite of lunch on Quay Street in Portree and enjoy meandering around its picturesque snug harbor, lined with pastel-colored buildings. This quaint main thoroughfare runs parallel to the town’s pier, which was designed in 1818-1820 by the renowned and prolific Scottish engineer Thomas Telford. Telford was a builder of roads, bridges, canals, harbors and tunnels across Scotland.

Neist Point Lighthouse

Neist Point Lighthouse is a must-see on any dream vacation! Be prepared for a bit of a hike. The iconic site is reached via a steep and seeming-endless set of stairs zigged and zagged down the emerald expanse and amongst grazing sheep, streams of scree and an ancient stone wall.

Isle of Skye

The lighthouse, first lit in 1909, was designed by David Alan Stevenson, cousin of famed writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

Isle of Skye

Read More: Learn the lore & legends behind some of the Isle of Skye’s most distinctive landmarks: Kilt Rock, MacLeod’s Table & Neist Point

Armadale Castle

Armadale Castle on the southern coast of Skye was once the seat of the Macdonalds of Sleat. It is now a romantic ruin that is owned and managed by a Scottish charitable trust. Armadale Castle’s sheltered location on the Sound of Sleat and the mild micro-climate created by the Gulf Stream makes the Gardens a serene sanctuary where both indigenous and exotic plants flourish.

Armadale Castle
Image Credit: Armadale Castle

The 20,000-acre estate encompasses manicured formal gardens and a trail that leads through a woodland garden home to trees more than 100 years old that shelter carpets of bluebells, orchids and wildflowers in spring and summer. Beyond is a path through pastures to a stunning vista at the top of Cnoc Armadail, offering a view of the majestic Cuillin ridge.

Armadale Castle

  • Address: Armadale Sleat, Isle of Skye IV45 8RS, United Kingdom
  • Opening Hours: Thursday – Sunday 9.30 am – 5.30 pm
  • Admission fees: Adult: £9.00, Child: £5.00, Family Ticket: £25
  • Website: armadalecastle.com

 

Isles of Mull and Iona

From Armadale in southern Skye, take a 45-minute Cal Mac ferry to Mallaig. Then make the two-hour drive to Oban. Have a bite to eat and then board another Cal Mac for another 45-minute journey to the Isle of Mull.

The Isle of Mull and and the Isle of Iona are two of the Inner Hebrides, islands off Scotland’s western seaboard, and a microcosm of more than 1,500 years of successive waves of settlers and invaders. Sites scattered across these islands tell Scotland’s story—culturally, politically and spiritually.

Today, these mere specks in the Atlantic are drawing a new generation of seekers: some are among the Scottish diaspora’s 50-million members, others are modern-day pilgrims visiting the spot where Christianity reached Scotland, and many come to see the abundant wildlife red deer, sea eagles, otters and puffins.

On the Isle of Mull and the Isle of Iona, the compelling history and spectacular scenery compete for your attention at every turn if you aren’t eagle-eyed, you are sure to miss a magic moment.

Isles of Mull and Iona
Photo: Meg Pier

History to Behold on Ferry from Oban to Mull

Just moments out of the mainland port of Oban on the ferry bound for the Isle of Mull, you are likely to find yourself rushing from one side of the deck to the other, torn between the vistas both port and starboard.

These are the old sea-roads of Argyll when powerful clans patrolled their territories in oared birlinns. These boats were the primary mode of transportation in the Hebrides during the Middle Ages. Influenced by Viking design, birlinns were propelled by sail and oar.

On your right, you’ll see the majestic lighthouse standing tall on the islet of Eilean Musdile south west of Lismore. Built in 1833 to the tune of £4260, it is yet another Scottish beacon designed by Robert Stevenson. He was the grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson, the renowned novelist who penned Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

Lighthouse on the islet of Eilean Musdile
Lighthouse on the islet of Eilean Musdile, designed by Robert Stevenson. Photo: Meg Pier

To the left, you’ll see the dramatic silhouette on the Isle of Mull’s craggy coast of Duart Castle. This was the power-base of the MacLean clan from the 14th-century until it passed into the hands of the Campbells in the 17th century. The MacLeans bought back the ruin back in 1911 and it’s now fully restored as the seat of the current clan chief.

dramatic view of Duart Castle
The ferry ride from Oban to Mull and Iona offers a dramatic view of Duart Castle, stronghold of the MacLean clan. Photo: Meg Pier

From the ferry, you’ll get on the A849, otherwise known as “the road to Iona.” This 35-mile, single-lane track, in use since ancient times, meandered across steep hills covered in pine, birch and larch. In the folds of valleys, crumbling remains of occasional stone houses stood sentinel.

Isle of Mull or “Eagle Island”

The Isle of Mull’s main town of Tobermory is a bustling little port ablaze in color. The harbor is lined with old houses painted in rainbow shades. Restaurants, inns and shops nestle on the waterfront; among them is the Tobermory Hotel. This 200-year old property, once a row of fishermen’s cottages, offers plain but comfortable rooms for a relaxing dream vacation.

Isle of Mull's main town Tobermory.
Isle of Mull’s main town Tobermory. Photo: Meg Pier

Given Inner Hebrides Isle Mull’s nickname of “Eagle Island,” it likely won’t be long before you get a glimpse of this cousin to the American Bald Eagle. However, for almost 100 years, nary a White-Tailed Eagle could be found on the Isle of Mull.

Photo: Meg Pier

There is now a healthy population on the Isle of Mull but that wasn’t always the case. White-tailed eagles became extinct in the UK in 1918 following hundreds of years of persecution. The eagles were accused of attacking livestock and ruthlessly eliminated. The last pair here was known to nest on a sea cliff in about 1877.

In 1975 a project to release 10 eaglets annually began on the Isle of Rum, just to the north of
Mull. The program has been so successful that today Mull has about 20 breeding pairs.

Isle of Mull Museum and History

The Mull Museum just down the street is crammed with information about the history of the Isle of Mull and its people which the archaeological evidence says dates to pre-history.

Mull Museum in Tobermory
The Isle of Mull Museum has extensive archives and a large reference library that document all aspects of island life and history. Both are available for research. Photo: Mull Museum in Tobermory
  • Adress: Columba Buildings, Main St, Tobermory, Isle of Mull PA75 6NY, United Kingdom
  • Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • Admission fees: Free admission
  • Website: mullmuseum.org.uk

The first Mesolithic inhabitants likely found Mull an ideal place for hunter-gatherers, with lots of easily obtained seafood along the shorelines. The Neolithic inhabitants, who may well have been their descendants, probably found there were areas of good fertile soil for their crops and good pasturage for their animals. The number of Iron Age duns and forts suggests that there had become a bit of competition for these areas by the first century B.C.

The area was colonized in the mid-5th century by the Scotti, Gaelic-speaking tribes from Antrim in Northern Island; their name eventually coming down to give us the present name of Scotland. Later Norse came to settle and farm, with Mull forming part of a Norse kingdom stretching from the Isle of Man to Orkney. The Norse place-names still account for about 12% of the Mull total, a smaller percentage than the Outer Hebrides, so Mull was probably never densely settled.

An Tobar Cafe

On a rainy day, hang out at An Tobar Cafe, a cozy place reached by a five-minute walk from Main Street up a steep hill. The spot affords incredible views from which to get great shots of the harbor. The venue is located in a Victorian-era school building; the fare is vegetarian with wonderful soups and home-baked goods. An Tobar is part of Comar, a multi-arts organization that presents about 100 events a year across the disciplines of live music, virtual arts, theatre, crafts, dance, film, literature, and comedy.

AnTobar
An Tobar Cafe. Photo: AnTobar

Isle of Mull

Magical Iona

Near the Isle of Mull’s southwestern tip, a wild stretch of land called the “Burg” sweeps to the coast of Loch Scridain, one of many sea lochs, or fjords, on the island. In the tiny settlement of Fionnphort, you can hop on another ferry for the ten-minute ride to the Isle of Iona.

This tiny island, just one mile wide and four miles long, is where Christianity arrived in Scotland in 563 A.D. Iona Abbey was founded here by St. Columba, who chose the location because it was the first place he reached that was not visible from Ireland. He had left his homeland after being involved in a rather bloody battle, and he sought redemption by converting as many souls as he had been responsible for killing.

Isle of Iona

Nothing of the humble monk cells of Columba’s missionary community survive today, but the site has endured as a place of pilgrimage and spiritual retreats for more than a millennia. The Isle of Iona is considered by many to be a “thin place”, meaning the energetic veil between the material and spiritual world is elastic. While the atmosphere is tranquil today, Iona’s history includes a period of drama and violence. Between 794 – 825, a series of raids by Vikings left most of the monks slaughtered and the Abbey was eventually abandoned.

Times and beliefs changed and by the 10th century, Vikings had embraced Christianity and settled down with the local Celtics. By the 12th century, Norse-Celtic dynasties had emerged and one of its nobility built the Norman-style Benedictine Abbey you’ll find today. The beautiful structure survived a series of attacks by Irish bishops while being constructed only to fall into ruin in the 16th century with the onset of the Scottish Reformation. The site remained derelict for almost four hundred years, until 1938 when an Ecumenical Christian group called the Iona Community began its restoration, which was completed in 1965.

Iona Abbey.
Iona Abbey. Photo: Pixabay

Isle of Iona
Follow in the footsteps of pilgrims past, and make your way to the cloister and crypts. It’s said that the Isle of Iona is the resting place of 48 early Scottish kings, as well as monarchs from France, Ireland and Norway.

The marble tomb of the 8th Duke of Argyll, head of the Campbell clan, is prominent inside the sanctuary. He bequeathed the abbey to the Iona Cathedral Trust the year before he died in 1900.

The 8th Duke of Argyll laid to rest in the Crypt of Kings.
The 8th Duke of Argyll laid to rest in the Crypt of Kings. Photo: Meg Pier

Today, the Iona Community offers tours of the abbey and worship services daily, as well as an ongoing series of interfaith programs focused on social concerns such as trade justice, the environment, and peacemaking.

The Art of Iona

Artist Mhairi Killin’s gallery Aosdana can be found a ten-minute walk from the ferry slip. Her shop is located at the St. Columba Steadings, a lovingly renovated collection of farm buildings opposite the St. Columba Hotel. Mhairi’s mother’s family worked as weavers, silversmiths and crofters on the Isle of Iona.

Photo: Aosdana
Photo: Meg Pier

We hope you enjoy your dream vacation jaunt around the Hebrides Islands! If you’ve been to this glorious part of the world, pay it forward and share an insight for those following in your footsteps! Planning a trip? Feel free to ask a question!

Read More:

Book Your Trip To The Hebrides Islands

Getting There

Fly into Edinburgh Airport, serviced internationally and domestically. Fly direct from cities in the U.S. like New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington, from Toronto, Canada and most major cities in Europe. If arriving late or departing early, The Hampton by Hilton is well-rated airport favorite.

Transportation

For the island-hopping portion of your dream vacation around the Hebrides, you’ll enjoy the spectacular views from aboard one of Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferries. The company’s service is punctual, comfortable and incredibly scenic. You can find timetables and tickets prices here.

Where to stay in the Hebrides Islands

Harris

My perch in Harris was Pairc an t-Srath Guest House, about an hour’s drive from Stornoway. The property sits high above golden beaches and the sound of Taransay—on a clear day you can see as far as St Kilda. The guest house has an excellent dining room featuring yummy local ingredients like Isle of Uist Salar Salmon and Hebridean hand-dived scallops. Be sure to book a meal here during your stay!

Skye

In Skye, try out Three Chimneys & House Over-By. This destination restaurant with rooms is situated in a remote location on the shores of Loch Dunvegan, and not far from breathtaking Neist Point. Pricey but a well-worth-it splurge!

Portree is the largest village on Skye and the capital–and yet is only about 200 years old, built as a fishing village at the beginning of the 19th century by Lord MacDonald. The Boswville Hotel is right on the snug harbor.

Mull and Iona

The Tobermory Hotel is a 200-year old property on Mull’s main street and bustling little port ablaze in color. Once a row of fishermen’s cottages, offers plain but comfortable rooms, many with spectacular views of the harbor.

Tours in the Hebrides Islands

GetYourGuide is a global company that offers tours by locals in destinations around the world. GTG was founded by four classmates in 2009, who themselves recognized the need for a central source for personalized tours. I myself know that finding the right guide can be a bit overwhelming. I use GYG and have enjoyed the tours I’ve taken immensely!
Recommended Tours of the Hebrides Islands

 

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. I never ever go on a trip without it. I recommend  World Nomads Travel Insurance.

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2 thoughts on “Guide to Scotland’s Hebrides Islands, A Dream Vacation”

    • Thanks Tom! The Hebrides are really special. It is truly a world apart, with stunning scenery and a culture that is rooted in the landscape. A visit will make for a very powerful experience!

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