Rugged and remote, ideal for hardy outdoor types – that’s how the isles of Scotland are usually described, and with good reason. Culture Trip has just the ticket to fulfil your inner explorer, with this list of the most magnificent Scottish islands.
The westernmost island of the Inner Hebrides – and known as the Hawaii of the North – Tiree is a haven where fishing and crofting are a way of life. Graced with prime fertile land, sparkling beaches and an abundance of beaming rays of sunshine in the warm seasons, the blustery elements and sweeping seas of Tiree attract countless groups of avid windsurfers.
Iona, an island near Mull on the western coast, is rich in history and often leaves even the most cynical people infused with a sense of spirituality. A perfect retreat for those in need of restoration, Iona was home to a monastery during the Middle Ages.
Something from a fairytale, Eigg sits innocently to the south of Skye and north of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. From golden eagles and peregrine falcons to kestrels, this little land is home to an impressive bird population. Eigg sports spectacular views and generates almost all of its own electricity using renewable energy. A mysterious wonder, the quartz beach contains the so-called “singing sands” that seem to cry out when walked upon.
Exceptionally desolate and laden with tribes of mountains, Jura, which is adjacent to Islay, is one of the least densely populated islands of Scotland. The name Jura dates back to the Norse-Gael era and means Beast Island. Evidence of settlements was unearthed by archaeologist John Mercer in the 1960s.
The kind of place that makes you want to pack up whatever you are doing and stay forever, Staffa exudes a celestial beauty unachievable by man. The name is derived from the Old Norse for Stave or Pillar Island, and its majestic basalt columns and remarkable sea caverns (like Fingal’s Cave) draw avid thinkers from far and near. Uninhabited since 1800, Staffa is the kind of spot to ignite the purest of epiphanies.
A walkers’ paradise adorned with ancient trees and undulating terrain, Raasay hosts myriad paths awaiting exploration. Sandwiched between Skye and the mainland, this geological sight of interest is a playground for a subspecies of bank vole, and a land of adventure for humans. The name Raasay means Isle of the Roe Deer.
A little piece of heaven on earth, Gigha is an artist’s palette of reds, greens, and blues. Near the west coast of Kintyre and part of Argyll and Bute, the Achamore Gardens on the island host dancing hordes of rhododendrons and azaleas. Visit during winter and notice how the trees are still blanketed in leaves galore, due to the positioning of Gigha on the Gulf Stream.
Graced with barrels of gin and an abundance of whisky, Islay is considered the Queen of the Hebrides – and regal she is. Home to a magnificent bird population and a plethora of deer, this glistening jewel is the fifth-largest Scottish island. One taste of this place inevitably results in a lifetime spent yearning to return.
Connected to Shetland by the largest tombolo (or, as the Scots say, ayre) in the UK, St Ninian’s Isle is one of Scotland’s most sanctified spots. The ayre, which is 500 metres (1,640ft) long, permits people to cross it only when the seas allow, which happens to be during the summer months. Swathes of silver sands and pristine beaches encapsulate this free-willed spot.
Anointed with dramatic nature and delightfully wild in appearance, Skye sparks a longing for adventure within the best of us. From fiercely pure waters and blustery air forever swirling around the Cuillin Mountains, to the dreamlike essence of the mystical Fairy Pools, Skye is a land free from confines and overflowing with dignity.