The Ultimate Guide to Island Hopping with CalMac
"Scotland's west coast is vast, remote, and varied. From the dark skies of Coll to the MacPhies of Colonsay; the wild flowers of Gigha to the whisky distilleries on Islay; the beaches, castles, and stone circles to the book, jazz, and mountain festivals - there's so much to see and do, so many islands to explore, which makes picking just one place to go an impossible choice"
That's why we have Island Hopscotch® tickets - so you can spend a few days on one island, then catch a ferry to another. There are plenty of itineraries to choose from, designed to give you as much flexibility as possible.
How Island Hopping works
There are 25 Hopscotch itineraries, they're valid for 31 days from the first date of travel, and you can travel in any direction. Decide on the best Island Hopscotch® ticket for your holiday, buy online or at the port, and you're on your way. You can even combine Island Hopscotch® tickets to make it a bumper exploration of the isles.
- Bute, Cowal, Kintyre and Arran
- Mull, Iona, Lismore, Coll, and Tiree... (and Skye)
- Skye and the Outer Hebrides
The five-minute Island Hop: Bute and Cowal
Island Hopscotch® 3 takes you to Bute and Cowal - and the ferry journey from Rhubodach to Colintraive is just five minutes. Bute's Victorian Gothic mansion, Mount Stuart, is one of the finest in the UK - look out for the tapestries, rare marble and alabaster in the astonishing 80-foot high Marble Hall. Elsewhere on the island you'll find secluded bays, a colony of over 200 seals, and a Bronze Age stone circle.
With the Island Hopscotch® 3 ticket you can nip across to Cowal, a disarmingly wild corner of the mainland. Walkers will love the Arrochar Alps, and the Benmore Botanic Gardens have an astonishing variety of trees - look out for the avenue of giant redwoods.
Go a little further: Bute, Cowal and Kintyre
With a Island Hopscotch® 4 ticket, you can add a trip from Portavadie to Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula. Stop off at Portavadie before the crossing, though - you don't want to miss the delicious seafood on offer at the Portavadie marina. Time it right, and you could land on Kintyre in time for the Tarbert Seafood Festival, when the town comes alive in celebration of the unbeatably fresh catch that the harbour's famous for.
Further down the Kintyre peninsula you'll find Machrihanish Bay, a favourite for surfers and golfers alike. There are beautiful walks too - and a brilliant heritage museum in Campbeltown.
Arran and Kintyre: the best of Scotland
For the island with a bit of everything, head to Arran on the ferry with a Island Hopscotch® 5 ticket. Explore the mountainous interior of the north - with an expert guide from Arran Adventures, if you like - or stick to the beautiful bays and golf courses of the south.
Don't miss the Machrie Moor standing stones, set in a wild glen on the west coast. Stop off for a dram at the Arran Distillery in Lochranza, then catch the ferry over to Claonaig on Kintyre. From there, the peninsula is yours to explore - try one of the many walks along the west coast that inspired Paul McCartney to write a song about the place.
With Island Hopscotch® tickets 6, 7, 19, 21 and 22 you can explore the wild variety of the Inner Hebrides. From Ardnamurchan - the most remote part of the UK mainland - to the windsurfing hotspot of Tiree way out west, these are beautiful, captivating places.
Picture-postcard Tobermory to true wilderness: Mull and Morvern
Island Hopscotch® 6 will get you to Mull and Morvern on the ferry from Oban. Mull is big and wild - keep an eye out for the sea eagles that soar overhead (look for their huge, plank-like wings).
On the north west coast you'll find Calgary Bay - its turquoise sea and white sand might convince you that you've stumbled on some sort of tropical paradise. Book a trip to Staffa and Iona, in the south, for brilliant wildlife and a peek into the Scottish origins of Christianity - though you'll need to leave the car on Mull.
You may think Mull is wild, but wait till you get to Morvern. It's a remote peninsula of the mainland - and perfect for wildlife spotting, especially otters. The ferry will drop you at Lochaline, beside the sea loch that makes a perfect otter habitat.
Want to go a bit further? Pick Island Hopscotch® 22, and get the ferry from Mallaig to Skye.
Go really wild: Mull, Morvern, Ardnamurchan and Skye
Island Hopscotch® 7 takes you from Oban to Craignure on Mull, then from Tobermory up to Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. From there, you drive to Mallaig to go over the sea to Skye.
You can swap Ardnamurchan for Morvern if you prefer - choose Island Hopscotch® 22 to include a ferry ticket from Fishnish to Lochaline.
Before you leave Mull, take spend a bit of time in Tobermory: you might recognise its brightly-painted harbour houses made famous by the Balamory TV show. You can take a tour of the Tobermory distillery too - and fill up on the excellent fish and chips on the pier, if you get peckish.
The ferry then takes you from the relatively bright lights of Tobermory to the wilds of Morvern and Ardnamurchan. As the UK's most remote patch of mainland, it's a place of rich wildlife, beautiful views and twisting single-track roads. Base yourself around Sanna for the gorgeous bay, and then drive north - about two hours - to Mallaig for the third leg of your Island Hopscotch® route.
Skye's abundance of Munros - there are 12 in all - make it the perfect place for hikers. Fill up on langoustines at Mallaig before you get the ferry to Armadale, and explore the Sleat peninsula, before you head north for the pretty harbour town of Portree, and the dramatic Cuillin range.
Can't fit the drive to Mallaig and Skye in? Go for Island Hopscotch® 21 to combine Mull and Ardnamurchan.
Dark skies, sun and surf: Coll and Tiree
Island Hopscotch® 19 is the best way to combine the western-most isles of the Inner Hebrides: Coll and Tiree. Famed for its dark skies, Coll is one of the best places in Scotland to see the full night sky. For the daytime, take your pick of 23 beaches - and head to the west coast for the RSPB reserve, and a chance to hear the distinctive call of corncrakes.
Tiree is a slightly different story: it's one of the sunniest places in the UK. Look out west and there's nothing but sea, and then North America. That makes it perfect for windsurfers - and there's an international championship held in October each year. There's plenty of heritage too, with traditional Blackhouses - some with walls six-foot thick.
From the mountainous Skye interior to the wild blooms of Barra, the ponies of Eriskay to the Neolithic wonders of Lewis - an Island Hopscotch® ticket round Skye and the Hebrides opens up a world of striking landscapes and abundant wildlife.
The classic tour: Barra, the Uists, Harris, and Lewis
Island Hopscotch® 8 takes you from Oban to Barra, and on to the Uists, Harris and Lewis, returning to the mainland from Stornoway to Ullapool (remember, you can always go in the other direction).
Then there's the king of them all: Island Hopscotch® 25. Tour all of the Outer Hebrides, with a trip to Skye in the middle. Your two mainland ports are Oban and Ullapool for that one.
Lewis has captured the imagination since Neolithic times - but most recently it was voted No. 1 island in Europe by TripAdvisor and it's still regularly selected as one of the top ten islands in Europe on TripAdvisor. Head for the Callanish Stones for one of the continent's best Neolithic sites, and don't miss the chance to try Stornoway's famous Black Pudding.
Further south lies Harris, where you can take a boat trip to see basking sharks, minke and killer whales - as well as the puffin colonies. And for the best view of the archipelago, get the ferry to North Uist and climb Eavall on North Uist, where you can see right out to St Kilda on a clear day.
The short tours: Skye and the Uists, or Harris and Lewis
Island Hopscotch® 10 takes you through mountainous Skye to the Uists - where you'll find Europe's largest breeding colony of seals. Choose Island Hopscotch® 13 to combine Skye, Harris and Lewis - returning to Ullapool.
Whichever one of the Outer Hebrides you pick, be sure to get the full measure of Skye before you travel onwards. Explore the dramatic knife-edge ridge of the Black Cuillin Range - and bag as many of the island's 12 Munros as you have legs for. Drop in on the Michelin-starred Kinloch Lodge to refuel, and then head north to Uig, for the ferry to Lochmaddy on North Uist.
The wildlife on the Uists is exceptional. Aside from the 9,000 seal pups born every year, it's one of the best places to listen to the elusive corncrake. The Island Hopscotch® 13 ticket includes a ferry back to Oban from Lochboisdale, on South Uist. Want to go back through Skye? Pick Island Hopscotch® 14, and sail from Lochmaddy to Uig.
Mix it up: Skye, North Uist, Harris, Lewis
Island Hopscotch® 11 takes you through Skye and North Uist, then over to Harris and Lewis, returning to Ullapool. It's a tour through the northern half of the Outer Hebrides: pristine beaches, machair dunes, and unrivalled wildlife.
You can head south instead with Island Hopscotch® 12, landing at Tarbert on Harris, then making your way down to North Uist and South Uist. On South Uist, explore the island's rich Neolithic past at the Kildonan Museum. Island Hopscotch® 12 takes you back to Oban from Lochboisdale - but if you have time to go all the way south to Barra, pick Island Hopscotch® 15.
The little Hopscotch: Barra, Eriskay, and South Uist
For just a little taste of the Outer Hebrides, Island Hopscotch® 27 might be perfect. Start and end in Oban, and make your way through Barra, Eriskay and South Uist - ideal for a short trip that's big on beaches, wildlife and the Eriskay ponies.
Island Hopscotches® 16 and 17 will get you to Islay, with a tour through Arran and Kintyre. The difference between the two tickets? Island Hopscotch® 17 includes the ferry back to Oban from Port Askaig. And if you prefer to drive to Kennacraig, rather than use Arran as your stepping stone, pick Island Hopscotch® 26 to connect Kintyre, Islay and Oban.
Islay is a haven for whisky lovers: there's practically a world-famous distillery round every corner. Take your pick of no fewer than eight of them - and go on a tour to see how the 'water of life' is made.
There's wildlife to see too: over 100 different bird species breed on the island. Head for RSPB reserve The Oa for the best chances - or to Loch Gruinart to see the migrant ducks and geese that call it home for the summer months. And don't forget: you can always get the five-minute ferry across to Jura to explore a truly wild island.
Pick Island Hopscotch® 18 and you can hop off at Colonsay: beautifully remote, and refreshingly enterprising. There's a micro-brewery, and a good lineup of festivals for music, books, and a three-week celebration spring.
There are a surprising number of hills too: 22 MacPhies, the island's answer to the Munros. Walk the coastal path, or take a boat trip round the island to see its thriving seabird population: look out for fulmars, razorbills and kittiwakes.
If you're feeling inspired to book your Island Hopping adventure with CalMac Ferries, start your journey by clicking the Buy Tickets button below.