What can you do in the Inner Hebrides? What wildlife can you see? Where are the best places to stay? When is the best time to visit? This guide answers all your burning questions about Scotland's isles...
The Inner Hebrides are an archipelago, spreading out over the west coast of Scotland. A good starting point for a thorough tour of the Inner Hebridean islands is Oban, in west Scotland.
Oban is a resort town. Go for the seafood, stay for the museums. Once you've soaked up what the town has to offer, it's time to arrange your transport to the many islands surrounding it.
You're likely well acquainted with the Isle of Skye. It's probably the best known island in the region, along with the Isle of Islay. Lesser known islands include Iona, Jura, Coll, Ulva, Staffa, Colonsay and Oronsay.
Here, we'll share our guide to the Inner Hebrides, including which islands to visit, when's best to go, where to stay and how to get around the islands...
There are benefits to visiting the Inner Hebridean islands year round. Whether you want warm weather, wildlife experiences or a crowd-free walking trail, these are the best times to go:
June, July, August & September – These are the warmest months in the Inner Hebrides, as well as the busiest period for the more touristy islands, such as Islay, Mull and Iona.
April to June & September to October – The shoulder season has far fewer crowds. April to August are the best months for spying puffins and guillemots on the Treshnish Isles.
November to March – The winter months on the island can be harsh, and there are more limited ferry services, but the upside is you’ll be sharing them with few others.
Oban and Kennacraig are the main departure ports for car and passenger ferries to the Inner Hebrides. The ports are easy to reach by car; Oban is around a two and a half hour drive from Glasgow, and there are also train and bus services.
CalMac Ferries (0800 066 5000) serves many of the islands in the Inner Hebrides, including Coll, Mull, Islay and others. A return trip from Oban to Craignure, on Mull, for a car and two people (driver and passenger), for example, costs £41.20. Hopscotch tickets are cheaper if you’re planning to visit multiple islands.
If travelling by ferry, note that you usually need to check in at least 45 minutes before departure or you may not be allowed to board.
A few islands, such as Coll, are just about small enough to explore on foot, while others, including Iona, don’t even allow cars.
There are bus services on some of the bigger islands, including Mull and Islay, but they mainly serve key hub points across the islands.
In order to have the freedom to explore, visiting remote beaches and wildlife spots, a car is essential. Roads on some of the islands are a bit rough, though.
The main cost of travelling around the Inner Hebrides is buying ferry tickets. Ferries are reasonably priced, but if you’re travelling to several islands, which often involves travelling back and forth to Oban, then costs soon mount up.
Accommodation varies in price. At the lower end, a camping pitch at Garden House Campsite on Coll costs £9 per night, for example, though wild camping is possible on many of the islands. A good pub meal (with drinks) costs about £20 per person.
Falls of Lora Hotel, a short drive outside Oban, has a traditional, Scotland-of-old feel, with B&B doubles from £98 per night, while modern boutique hotel Perle Oban lies close to the ferry terminal; doubles from £119 per night.
Garden House Campsite on Coll (01879 230374) is a sheltered campsite within a walled garden for £9 per night, or stay at Coll Hotel, which is known for its seafood; doubles from £110 per night.
Mull’s Penny Gate Lodge is a lovely, warm, upmarket B&B in Craignure and is close to the ferry terminal; doubles from £130 per night – ask for the highest room.
Luxurious Linndhu House, close to Tobermory, is another excellent option on Mull; B&B doubles also from £130 per night.
Port Charlotte Holidays have self-catering accommodation available in Islay for short breaks. Sanaigmore Cottage, for example, is a comfy, modern home-away-from-home with a kitchen, lounge, dining room and plenty of space for a family or group of friends; prices from £995 for seven nights.
Creag Nan Ubhal is a cosy B&B up in the north of Colonsay, and lies close to the sands of Kiloran Beach; B&B doubles from £75 per night.
Surrounded by ocean, and with livestock filling the islands, it’s not surprising that good meat and seafood is found in restaurants and pubs across the Inner Hebrides.
There are distilleries aplenty, too. Laphroaig on Islay is the author’s favourite, and has a museum, tours and tastings (from £10pp). A tour with a G&T at Lussa Gin on Jura costs £6 per person, while Colonsay Brewery on Colonsay has a shop worth visiting near the ferry terminal, and its beers are also served in the nearby Colonsay Hotel.
There aren't many restaurants, especially on the smaller islands, and they do fill up in the summer months; booking is recommended.
There's so much to see and do in the archipelago, but one thing you simply can't miss are some of the stunning wildlife sightings.
Birdwatchers should be eagle-eyed to spot sea eagles, while puffins and seals are likely to delight those who love marine animals. Check out some of the best spots:
The iconic white-tailed sea eagle is the big success story of the Inner Hebrides, with self-sustaining populations now back on the islands. Mull, Islay, Rum and Skye are some of the best places to see them in action, and Mull Charters also runs special boat tours to specifically take birdwatchers and photographers out to find white-tailed sea eagles on the coasts of Mull and Ulva. You can also join Mull Eagle Watch on Mull, or head out with Wild Islay Birding on Islay. It always pays to keep an eye on the skies.
The rocks around the Treshnish Isles are home to an important colony of common seals. Atlantic grey seals are also found in these waters, and the populations are rising.
Jura’s Gaelic name means ‘deer island’, and it’s very apt, with 6,000 deer found across its wild lands. Some can be skittish, but in the evenings, once many of the cars have disappeared, they can often be seen in fields close to the roads. You can also find deer on Mull, Rum and elsewhere.
Iain Morrison, boat captain with Turus Mara boat trips, has coined the term ‘Puffin Therapy’ for the health and happiness benefits he believes people get from spending time with the joyful, colourful birds that nest around the Treshnish Isles. April to August are the best months to see them.
Famously shy and hard to spot, otters can be seen along the coast as well as inland on the Inner Hebrides. Islay is a good place to see them; keep your eyes peeled around the distilleries on the north-east coast. The BBC’s Winterwatch otter footage was even filmed here.
Fortunately, the Inner Hebrides are very safe for travellers. Your main concern is probably the weather, which can change quickly.
The islands can be cold and wet, so be prepared with the appropriate gear: waterproofs, warm jackets, and walking boots or sturdy trainers are essential.
Midges can be a nuisance, so take some powerful insect repellent. And lastly, plan hikes carefully, especially if crossing from Colonsay to Oronsay at low tide, to avoid getting stranded.
Capital: Edinburgh's the capital of Scotland.
Population: 5.3 million
Language: English, Scots & Gaelic
International dialling code: +44
Money: GBP (£). Cash machines aren’t easy to find in the Inner Hebrides, especially on the smaller islands. Carry some cash, though most restaurants, hotels and petrol stations do accept cards.
The RSPB is also a good source of info on the islands’ birdlife.
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