The 14 Best Islands for a Beach Holiday in Scotland
With over 900 offshore islands, Scotland has to be one of the best places in Europe for a beach holiday. Subdivided into four main groups – Shetland, Orkney, the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides – the islands here are simply breathtaking. From Caribbean-esque white-sand strips to moody bays with mountain backdrops, and from cottage-lined coves to pink coral beaches lapped by turquoise seas, the coastal havens here are as beautiful as they are varied.
With wild, majestic landscapes and remote locations, the Scottish islands may be the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of busier holiday destinations. If you fancy an island getaway this summer, let us share with you some unmissable inspiration with our guide to the best islands for a beach holiday in Scotland.
Note: Scotland’s Covid-19 rules now allow visitors from other parts of the UK with some exceptions. Visitors to the islands are also encouraged to take two lateral flow tests before travelling. For the latest guidance, see VisitScotland’s advice page.
If you thought that a flight south was the only way to see palm trees and white-sand beaches, think again. Thanks to the balmy climate of the Gulf Stream, the magical island of Arran on the west coast of Scotland is one of the most awe-inspiring places in Europe for gorgeous beaches and romantic scenery. For arguably the best beaches, head to Strabane and Kildonan and savour the jaw-dropping views. Lamlash and Whiting Bay on the island’s east coast are ideal places to stay for stunning sea views.
Home to its own beach airport with a runway that appears and reappears with the tide, Barra Island in the Outer Hebrides has to be one of the best places for a seaside holiday in Scotland. At only 11 miles long and 6 miles wide, it boasts white sandy beaches, a 15th century ‘Castle in the Sea’ (Kisimul Castle), great surf spots and lots of sea kayaking opportunities, perfect for the wild at heart.
With its palms and promenade, the Victorian seaside resort of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute is a really attractive location for a nostalgic retreat. Flaunting handsome architecture, manicured esplanade gardens, a 13th-century castle, and a 1930s tramline-come-walkway, Bute offers a veritable time capsule into an age-forgotten. Wine and dine in the town or head to Ettrick Bay for sunbathing and paddling.
The Isle of Cumbae , also known as Great Cumbrae, can be found off Scotland’s Ayrshire coast. One of the country’s most accessible islands, it promises a wonderful, salt-kissed escape with a popular seaside resort town surrounded by unspoilt scenery. Head to Millport (the island’s only town) to walk along the Victorian promenade and visit Britain’s smallest cathedral, the Cathedral of the Isles.
One of the Small Isles in the Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Eigg is well-known for its untamed Hebridean beauty. Accessible via ferry from Mallaig in Lochaber, it provides the most idyllic destination for those looking to get off the beaten track and relish the lost-world vibes. Must-visits during a coastal escape here include the Singing Sands beach, Massacre and Cathedral caves, An Sgurr hill and the lost village of Grulin.
One of the best places for wildlife watching in Scotland is the island of Iona. Situated off the south-west coast of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, its diverse habitats lend themselves well to an array of flourishing fauna and flora and naturally attract keen wildlife watchers. A sanctuary for many different species, you can hope to see puffins, otters, seals, dolphins, whales and more around the island’s coast.
7. Lewis And Harris
A single island divided by mountains, the island of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides is a real playground for adventure. During your Scottish seaside holiday on the island, make sure you set time aside for visiting the ancient black houses of Gearrannan, the Calanais standing stones, the dazzling Luskentyre Sands beach and the plentiful shops and restaurants in the former Viking settlement of Stornoway.
The Isle of Mull’s dramatic coastline juxtaposes rugged cliffs and huge natural arches with sweeping sandy bays and multi-coloured harbour villages. Offering something for everyone, a holiday here gives you the chance to watch white-tailed eagles soar over pink granite skerries and drink wine to the most incredible sunsets. For the best food, head to the seaside capital of Tobermory for bustling local pubs and great seafood restaurants.
Orkney comprises 70 islands, though we seriously recommend visiting Orkney mainland. Shaped by 10,000 years of civilisation, it truly does offer something for everyone, whether you are looking forward to sampling the local produce, searching for some of the archipelago’s 500 native plants, wildlife watching from a scenic boat cruise, visiting ancient cultural sites or simply chilling out on one of the many epic beaches.
Encompassed by the North Sea, the sub-Arctic archipelago of Shetland is truly unique. It’s so far north that in the summer, it is bathed in nearly continuous light, while in winter, the star-studded night sky provides you with the best chance of seeing the northern lights anywhere in Britain. While adventurers will love the island’s towering sea cliffs, pristine beaches and stunning wildlife, foodies will love the fresh fish, seafood and seasonal produce here.
Skye is the Inner Hebrides’ largest island and certainly one of the country’s most dramatic. At 50 miles long, it features some of the most incredible scenery imaginable and is regularly used as the location for films and TV series. While many walkers head to Skye for its inland routes, Skye’s coastline vies for the attention of seaside enthusiasts. Must-sees are the bustling port of Portree, Neist Point Lighthouse, Kilt Rock and Claigan Coral Beach.
12. South Uist
If you are looking for a laid-back seaside escape in Scotland, then South Uist may be the place for you. Nestled between Barra and Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, it is one of the last strongholds of the Gaelic language and much-loved for its white, powdery beaches and picturesque cottages overlooking the Atlantic. Visit the Cladh Hallan Roundhouses, the only place in Great Britain where prehistoric mummies have been found, and Askernish Golf Course, the Hebrides’ oldest course.
Tiree is the most westerly island in the Inner Hebrides and, as well as being one of the windiest places in Scotland, is also one of the sunniest. As such, its idyllic beaches are a magnet for windsurfers who flock to the waves throughout the year. Catering to all abilities, beginners, intermediates and experienced boarders can hone their skills in the water and also watch the island’s windsurfing competition, the Tiree Wave Classic, that takes place each year, usually in October.
Connected to Barra by a causeway, the peaceful Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides is a Scottish island that easily captures the heart and mind. Indented by the sea on each side, the middle section of the island gives the impression of being squeezed by the ocean and features some really magnificent beaches backed by dunes. A fantastic destination for those looking to spend long summer days picnicking and wild swimming, it provides the setting for unforgettable memories.
Book Your Beach Holiday in Scotland
There are so many wonderful islands with beautiful beaches and coastal scenery to visit in Scotland. Find your holiday accommodation by the sea in the Scottish Isles at the Scotland search page.