Top 20 of 2024
As the year comes into focus many of us will have blank calendars full of possibility. If experience teaches us anything it's that they don't stay that way for long. Pretty soon the weeks, days and hours will be booked up, bursting full with the minutiae of everyday life. So let's take some time to run down our top 20 of 2024, to inspire you to block off some time for real adventure before life gets in the way.
1) Outdoor Activities
Scotland is the perfect playground for all manner of outdoor activities. If you can do it in the great outdoors then we'll have you covered. Why not explore the enchanting coast of Barra by Kayak? Giving you a close-up view of its stunning beaches, rugged caves and bountiful wildlife. Previous visitors have enjoyed close encounters of the Seal kind - a perfect way to make friends, furry or otherwise, while drinking in some of the country's most breath-taking scenery.
2) History and Heritage
Take a step back in time with a captivating visit to one of our many historical sites. The islands are littered with relics from the past just waiting to be discovered. Why not take a trip to the evocative Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute - a 19th century mansion built in the gothic revival style and painstakingly maintained for future generations.
3) Family Fun
We know how hard it is to keep the whole family entertained but if anywhere can do it, the Scottish islands can. Whether you want an all-action adventure holiday on Skye or a chilled-out family relaxation session on Eigg, we can take you there. Ditch the gadgets and take the family out to meet the real Scotland, together.
4) Food and Drink
A foodie voyage to Scotland's islands is the perfect way to combine sweeping landscapes with savoury delights. Take the ferry to Skye where you can indulge in michelin star gourmet and hearty Scottish grub alongside freshly brewed beer and some of the world's finest whisky - a paradise for the palate all on one island.
5) Our new podcast
Embark on a journey across Scotland's wonderful west coast with our new podcast, 'Scottish Island Adventures'. Hosted by Coinneach MacLeod, the Hebridean Baker, this ten-part series features some of the islands' most unique experiences, historical landmarks, wildlife and outdoor activities. Featuring some famous guests such as Cathy MacDonald, Tony Kearney and Kirsty Wark, 'Scottish Island Adventures' is perfect listening if you're planning a trip to the islands. Listen now on all major podcast platforms!
When it comes to stargazing, Scotland's clear skies and low light pollution make it a top destination for looking into the infinite. But there is one island that stands out for its commitment to astronomy - the beautiful island of Coll. An official 'dark sky community', it has been certified as one of the best places in the world to look at the night sky. A must-see for the stargazers amongst us.
We are blessed with an abundance of iconic cycle routes in Scotland, but one has lodged itself in the imagination of every two-wheeled enthusiast - the five ferries. The 52-mile route can be completed in a day or taken at a more leisurely pace, and yes, it features five CalMac ferry journeys as part of the endeavour. A beautiful, if slightly strenuous way, to see Arran, Kintyre, Cowal and Bute.
8) Island Gifts
On every one of our destination islands you'll find a unique vendor selling one of a kind gifts for you to take home. Cheese from Mull? Soap from Arran? Ale from Skye? These are the sort of gifts that will make you very popular with your friends and relatives. We have our very own range of gifts at CalMac too - cool and cosy hoodies, sharply designed art print and the must-have CalMac calendar can all be ordered online today to commemorate your journey or get excited about your next one.
9) Travelling with dogs
If you don't want to leave your furry friend at home while you go off adventuring, then there are plenty of pet-friendly destinations to check out. Why not take your faithful companion to Bute where they can enjoy a walk along the pristine beaches before settling in for a cosy pint (and bowl of water) at any number of dog-friendly pubs. Remember that our larger vessels have their own pet lounge where your pooch can make some new friends while we get you to your destination.
10) Onboard food and beverage
So, you're going on an adventure and looking to tempt your tastebuds as well as treat your eyes to the magical landscape of the west coast. Why wait until you get to your destination to enjoy the first great meal of your trip? Our onboard menu features freshly prepared meals throughout the day including classics like the fish and chips, Chicken Tikka Masala and the vegan plant-based burger. If you're starting early then you can take advantage of our traditional breakfast menu too.
11) Island Hopping
One of the great pleasures in visiting the islands with CalMac is the flexibility our timetable affords your trip. Our service is structured to facilitate great island-hopping itineraries - allowing you to get the most value from your holiday. Why not make the journey from Barra to Lewis, hopping between the Hebrides and taking in the beautiful sights in between? Or discover the enchanting Kintyre peninsula after a trip around the magical Isle of Arran? Thanks to CalMac your trip isn't contained to one destination, your first stop is only a starting point.
12) Digital Detox
As the pace of life picks up again we often find ourselves living in a whirlwind of work and responsibilities, wondering where our time went. This year let the phone ring, ignore the emails and let CalMac whisk you away on a much-needed digital detox. Take some time to yourself in nature, perhaps exploring the beautiful secluded island of Colonsay or head for a spa on Arran, treating yourself to a day of pampering far away from the daily expectations of 'real' life.
Scotland is famous worldwide for our great national export, the single-malt whisky. Renowned for its variety and clarity of flavour, we are lucky enough to include some of the world's most famous distilleries in our network. For the full whisky experience take a trip to Islay, the spiritual home of Whisky making, featuring no fewer than nine distilleries and some of the biggest names in the industry.
14) Gaelic Culture
The resurgence of the Gaelic language has seen an explosion in interest in Gaelic culture in general. There are many places on the CalMac network to visit in order to understand more about the language, culture and people who make up Scotland's vibrant, and growing, Gaelic community. Take a trip to the Isle of Canna to explore Canna House and its incredible archive of books, documents and photographs preserving the history of Hebridean Gaelic culture for future generations to discover.
Scotland's natural beauty never fails to elicit wonder. Blessed with a bounty of stunning vistas, enchanting woodlands and close-up wildlife encounters - we are one of the world's top destinations for getting back to nature. For the full rugged experience why not take a journey to Jura where you can witness one of Scotland's rawest natural phenomenon: the red deer rut.
16) Hill Walking
Whether you want to bag a multitude of munros or take a leisurely hike to a scenic viewpoint, there is plenty of choice amongst Scotland's West Coast and islands. A trip to Skye offers many opportunities to conquer some peaks and enjoy the hard-won views from the top. Start off with a walk up to the iconic Old Man of Storr to warm up before taking on the famous Cuillin mountain range - one of the most challenging in the UK.
17) Picture-perfect scenery on Mull
Less than an hour from Oban lies the isle of Mull - home to the fishing port of Tobermory, famous for its pastel-coloured houses, which line the harbour. There's around 300 miles of coastline to explore on Mull - with beautiful bays of turquoise water. On that coastline lies one of Mull's most famous spots - Calgary Bay. Around its edges you'll find traces of previous settlements including Iron Age forts, and most recently, those dating from the Clearances. Nearby is Calgary Art In Nature woodland walk - a cultural landscape, peppered with sculpture, that perfectly marries art to nature. There's plenty of surprises to uncover.
There is a wealth and great breadth of organised festivals populating Scotland's calendar, many of them hosted by island communities. If live music is your thing then you're spoiled for choice - ButeFest, Skye Live and Tiree Music Festival are all top picks for catching established and emerging acts. If literature is more your speed then check out Tobermory Book Festival on Mull, Colonsay Book Festival or Faclan: the Hebridean Book Festival hosted by An Lanntair on Lewis. For something a bit different try Fèis Ìle - Islay's annual celebration of island culture and whisky.
In Spring it's all about the crisp light. In summer, the sun and the sea. Autumn is home of the invigorating wind and winter is for long walks. Scotland's beaches are our multipurpose playground - free, accessible and ready for any conditions. For 20 miles of uninterrupted beaches, travel to South Uist's West Coast where you'll find a constantly evolving landscape along its coastline.
20) Travelling with CalMac
And of course, we couldn't leave out the whole experience of travelling with CalMac. There's nothing like traversing the sparkling waters of the west coast en route to another magical destination, sun in the sky and wind in your hair. Our friendly and knowledgable staff are on hand to deal with any issues that may arise but also just to have a chat about the vessel, the route - or our specialist subject - the islands themselves. Travelling with CalMac is a journey all of its own.
That's our top 20 of 2024, but what's going to be on yours? Check out our destinations and book your tickets today for an adventure that'll rank amongst your top memories for a lifetime ahead.