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 multi-island 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
Travelling from one island to another is a great way to explore the west coast of Scotland - building an itinerary that suits you best. Decide on which destinations you would like to explore and package them in the one itinerary. We suggest you can travel in either direction. Your itinerary can be purchased using our multiple-journey ticket option, where you can purchase a ticket for each leg of the journey in one transaction.
When you're ready to make your reservation, you can do this online in one transaction, adding more than one route, your companions and vehicle(s) to your multiple journey booking.*
*Some of the routes within the suggested itineraries below operate on a turn up and go basis, and don't require any advance booking, however, you can purchase your travel in advance of travel, online - or if you wish via our port offices. When you pre-purchase tickets for Turn Up a Go routes, you'll be purchasing an 'open' ticket for a chosen departure date, valid for the season in which you've purchased it - but it won't have a specific sailing time.
- 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
This itinerary 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.
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 this itinerary, 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. 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.
Add Mull, Iona, Lismore, Coll, Tiree and Skye where 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
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? Get the ferry from Mallaig to Skye.
Go really wild: Mull, Morvern, Ardnamurchan and Skye
You can swap Ardnamurchan for Morvern if you prefer simply add Fishnish to Lochaline to your basket online.
Before you leave Mull, 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 Hopping 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.
Dark skies, sun and surf: Coll and Tiree
Taking the ferry from Oban to Coll and then Tiree 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 Hopping route around Skye and the Hebrides opens up a world of striking landscapes and abundant wildlife.
The classic tour: Barra, the Uists, Harris, and Lewis
Then there's the king of them all, take in: Barra, South Uist, North Uist, Skye, Harris and Lewis. 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
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.
Mix it up: Skye, North Uist, Harris, Lewis
Travel 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 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. Sail back to Mallaig from Lochboisdale - but if you have time to go all the way south add in a trip to Barra.
The little Hopscotch: Barra, Eriskay, and South Uist
For just a little taste of the Outer Hebrides, 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.
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.
Why not add in a stop 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.