Island-hopping adventures for every season
'The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.' - Saint Augustine
The same could be said for Scotland's rich array of islands - there is a tale to be told in each one but the full story is so often found in plotting a zig-zagging itinerary across the map. Thanks to our flexible timetable of sailings and huge range of destinations to visit, the choice is yours to build your unique west coast adventure
Spend a few days exploring the magic of an island before catching a ferry to the next one - travel on your terms. Thankfully, CalMac is here to help with some great island-hopping itineraries showcasing some of Scotland's most amazing locations.
How Island Hopping works
We have over 30 suggested Island Hopping itineraries, and you can travel in any direction. Decide on the best route for your holiday and you're on your way, with so many islands to visit, why not make it a bumper exploration of the isles. You can either book separate tickets for each leg online, or if you would prefer to book in one transaction, you can do so with the help of our Customer Engagement team or Port Staff. (Both approaches cost the same).
Here are a few favourites to inspire you.
Bute, Cowal, Kintyre and Arran
The five-minute Island Hop: Bute and Cowal
Bute and Cowal are perfect short hops to kickstart this itinerary - and the ferry journey from Rhubodach to Colintraive is just five minutes. Bute truly has a bit of something for everyone. Renowned for the Victorian splendour of its main town, Rothesay, the island also has much to offer beyond the palm tree laden promenade of its famous resort. 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.
Why not take advantage of the close proximity and nip across to Cowal, a disarmingly wild corner of the mainland. Walkers will love the Arrochar Alps, the quaint town of Dunoon and the blooming Benmore Botanic Gardens with its astonishing variety of trees.
Go a little further: Bute, Cowal and Kintyre
If exploring the beautiful Cowal coast, you can easily 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 the stunning Machrihanish Bay, a favourite for surfers and golfers alike. There are beautiful walks too - and a brilliant heritage museum in Campbeltown - all in a day's 'work' for Scotland's mainland island.
Arran and Kintyre: the best of Scotland
For the island with a bit of everything, head to Arran. Catch the ferry over from Claonaig on Kintyre* to 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; or conquer Goatfell, Arran's biggest mountain, imperiously overlooking the island.
*During the winter months the ferry from Kintyre to Arran departs from Tarbert.
Inner Hebrides: Mull, Iona, Lismore, Coll, and Tiree... (and Skye)
Thanks to the super-connected CalMac network 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 waiting to be explored with your own CalMac itinerary.
Picture-postcard Tobermory to true wilderness: Mull and Morvern
Kick-off your adventure by departing from the iconic fishing town of Oban, taking you to Mull and, from there, Morvern. Mull's postcard perfect town of Tobermory should be on the list of any island adventurer. Best known to younger travellers (and their parents!) as the set of children's TV show 'Balamory', the colourful buildings create a stunning pastel backdrop framing the town in colour. A hive of activity, there's lots to do and see in the picturesque town.
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. But it's not just about the beautiful beach, Calgary also boasts its own arts hub featuring a gallery exhibiting work from local artists
While on Mull, why not take a trip to Iona 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. The ferry will drop you at Lochaline, beside the sea loch that makes a perfect otter habitat. This land is untamed, naturally dramatic - a place to stop and appreciate the raw beauty of Scotland.
Want to go a bit further? Why not add Scotland's most emblematic destination, Skye, into the mix.
Go really wild: Mull, Morvern, Ardnamurchan and Skye
For the adventurous traveller the experiences just keep on coming. Using the CalMac network of ferries you can travel from Oban to Craignure on Mull, then from Tobermory up to Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. From there, you can drive to Mallaig and go over the sea to Skye. You can swap Ardnamurchan for Morvern if you prefer - taking in the short hop from Fishnish to Lochaline as you go.
As the UK's most remote patch of mainland, Ardnamurchan is 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 next leg of your island-hopping epic.
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. Skye is a walker's wonderland. Home to no fewer than 12 munros, the Cuillin is the destination for some serious climbing. Adventurous explorers can test their mettle against any or all of the hills with the famous 'Inaccessible Pinnacle' being a notoriously exhilarating climb for those in search of a thrill. Elsewhere on the island the Old Man of Storr is a dramatic rock formation and popular walk suitable for inexperienced visitors boasting dramatic views from its summit.
Dark skies, sun and surf: Coll and Tiree
CalMac ferry is the best, most efficient, way to combine the western-most isles of the Inner Hebrides: Coll and Tiree. Thanks to its location, complete lack of light pollution and no high mountains to attract cloud build-up; Coll is the perfect destination for star gazing. It is such a feature of Coll that it was designated a 'Dark-sky Community' by the International Dark-sky Association- the first official Dark Sky island in Scotland. 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.
Conversely, Tiree is one of the sunniest places in the UK. Look out west and there's nothing but sea (and North America, eventually). It's the wind that has helped to bring life to the island however, specifically the strong gusts coming in from the sea that have made Tiree a mecca for windsurfers. Every year the island hosts the Tiree Wave Classic - the longest running professional windsurfing event in the world.
Skye and the Outer Hebrides
From the mountainous Skye interior to the wild blooms of Barra, the ponies of Eriskay to the Neolithic wonders of Lewis - an island-hopping journey around Skye and the Hebrides opens up a world of striking landscapes and abundant wildlife.
The classic tour: Barra, the Uists, Harris, and Lewis
The most famous CalMac island-hopping route 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). Not got time to do them all? Start out from South Uist - or return from Harris to Uig on Skye, and back over the sea to Mallaig.
Lewis has captured the imagination since Neolithic times - but most recently it was voted No. 1 island in Europe by 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. Take a step back in time to an era of feuding clans and medieval feasts with a day at Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, proud ancestral seat of the MacLeod Clan. The guts of Dunvegan Castle were initially constructed in the 13th century with towers and battlements being added piecemeal over the centuries by various clan leaders. Nowadays the castle and its exquisite surrounding gardens are a five-star tourist attraction, allowing visitors a chance to see and feel the palpable history bursting from every brick. Once you're finished immersing yourself in history, 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. Our network includes a ferry back to Oban from Lochboisdale, on South Uist. Want to go back through Skye? No problem, just sail from Lochmaddy to Uig.
Mix it up: Skye, North Uist, Harris, Lewis
Another options is to 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 could also 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 before travelling back to Oban from Lochboisdale (if you don't have the time to make it all the way South to wonderful Barra).
The island hop: Barra, Eriskay, and South Uist
For just a little taste of the Outer Hebrides, this three-island itinerary 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 adorable Eriskay ponies.
Whisky Galore Tour: tickets to Islay
Why not reach the whisky drenched haven of Islay with a tour through Arran and Kintyre. Starting at Ardrossan you can take in the magical Island of Arran before crossing the beautiful Kintyre peninsula and finally arriving on the shores of Islay - ready to explore this incredible island.
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 - with each offering a tour to see how the 'water of life' is made - as well as the all-important tasting session.
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 full of wildlife and literary history.
You can also 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.