No, the dream is not over! For those who have the fortune of free time at the edge of autumn, the Scottish Hebrides are ripe for adventure.
The dream begins as soon as you depart the mainland of Scotland and head towards the west. The Hebrides are made up of rugged isolated landscapes carved from rock. With miles of coastline and sea lochs abounding with wildlife, the region offers countless opportunities for diving, sea kayaking and whale & shark watching or enjoying a mix of it all on board a wildlife cruise.
This sprawling archipelago is split into two groups, the Inner and Outer Hebrides. The Inner Hebrides has 35 inhabited and 45 uninhabited islands. But we’ll learn more about the main islands in a moment. First let’s talk about the three W’s of the Hebrides: wilderness, wildlife and whisky.
Photo: Walking on the Isle of Staffa
The Hebrides are one of the UK's last great wildernesses. Visiting the Hebrides is all about enjoying the outdoors. Rough sea waves have molded islands that are breathtaking and inspiring in their solitude. All over the Hebrides there’s great walking. The fresh ocean breeze and remoteness will make you want to soak up the sights of the islands on your own time.
Photo: A sea eagle catching supper in the Inner Hebrides
This wild area is home to minke whales, basking sharks, and harbor porpoises. You’re almost guaranteed to see seals, both the Atlantic grey, and the common seal. On the shore, search for otters and look out for “otter crossing” signs if driving along the roads. Seabirds – fulmars, puffins and more – thrive on the rough rocky coasts. In the air above, you can catch a glimpse sea eagles soaring by, looking for their next meal.
Photo: Seal resting in kelp
- Tip: Get up close and personal with the wild locals and sign up for a seal lagoon tour. Adventure through mesmerizing kelp forests with a marine biologist. Snorkel, kayak or SUP along while discovering the abundant marine life.
Whisky has been made on these islands ever since Irish monks washed ashore in the 14th century, and many distilleries are hundreds of years old. The best island for whisky is Islay, known for its smoky, peat-infused malts. Here you’ll find eight distilleries: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig and the new distillery, Kilchoman.
- Tip: Combine wildlife and whisky on the malt whisky wildlife cruise on board the St Hilda. Join this exceptional 8-night cruise through islands famous for their distilleries - Mull, Jura and especially Islay. See wildlife like golden eagles, seals, and basking sharks between tastings!
The Inner Hebrides: Jura, Skye and Mull
The island of Jura is known for its amazing landscape inhabited by an enormous deer population. It also has the Corryvreckan whirlpool at the north end near to where George Orwell wrote 1984.
Photo: The Mull Experience on board the St Hilda
- Tip: Get in the water to make the most of these islands. On the Sounds of the Hebrides cruise you can visit remote bays on Mull, Oronsay, Luing, Shuna and Jura.
Skye is the largest of Scotland’s islands also has an activity for everyone. Hikers will love its hilly terrain, sea-kayakers will be excited to explore its coves, and those wanting to relax can go on a cruise and search for the island’s castles.
Photo: The St. Hilda is great for sea expeditions through the Hebrides
- Tip: Enjoy a 7-day sea voyage around the sea lochs of Isle of Skye and the Small Isles of west Scotland on board the St. Hilda - a family owned, wooden sailing vessel. Swim in secluded sea lochs, take stunning island walks and eat locally sourced food on board. Look out for orcas! You can end the cruise with a visit to Skye's famous Talisker malt whisky distillery.
Photo: Tobermory is known for its colorful houses and is a great starting point for ocean adventures
Mull. An aesthetically stunning isle with a mountainous spine plunging into the ocean. Mull’s main town, Tobermory, is known for its vibrantly colored houses. Walking, whale-watching, and ocean cruises are top activities here. For those who want to venture further, the holy isle of Iona is close by. It’s also worth it to boat over to the natural rock pillars of Fingal’s Cave (which inspired part of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture) on uninhabited Staffa.
Photo: Fingal’s Cave on the isle of Staffa can be reached by boat
- Tip #1: Go on a 7-day sea adventure around Mull, Iona, and Staffa on the Mull Odyssey. On this tour you will gain sailing experience while spotting wildlife.
- Tip #2: Enjoy a 7-day holiday anchored in Tobermory with the Mull Experience and explore the Isle of Mull from land and sea. Search for whales, and trek on Staffa and Iona.
The Outer Hebrides
With some isles closer to Reykjavik than London, the Outer Hebrides stretch for 130 miles and include about 200 islands, of which only ten are inhabited. These isles are isolated, treeless places with harsh weather most of the year. Scottish Gaelic is the common language. Learn more here.
Photo: Mull Odyssey participant enjoying making the most of his trip
So what are you waiting for? Take the plunge! You dolphinitely deserve the unforgettable experience of adventuring through the archipelago full of wilderness, wildlife, and whisky – the Scottish Hebrides.