SCOTTISH ISLANDS ON A BUDGET
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Travelling on, around and in-between the Scottish islands can be very expensive. Most of the trips and tours that take you to the islands are out of my price range, so I have learned to travel the Scottish islands on a budget.
Whilst it would be great to be able to afford one of the luxury tours, at the moment (for me at least) this is not feasible. Therefore, for most of my trips to the islands, I have had to budget and plan to make the most of any offers available at the time of travel.
Below are my top tips for saving money when travelling around the Scottish islands.
(Please note – as prices fluctuate, I have not included them within this article. Instead, I have included a link to the relevant web page, so that you can keep up to date with any price changes).
There can be huge challenges in using the car as your main mode of transport. Chief among these is the price of taking a car on a ferry over to an island. Taking 2 passengers and a car on a day trip to the Isle of Mull in peak season can cost upwards of £90. NB – New RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) fares have now brought this down to a more acceptable £40.
One way around this is to book an Island Rover or an Island Hopscotch ticket with Caledonian Macbrayne (CalMac – serving the west coast of Scotland). This can save you a lot of money. Also with CalMac, there are discounts available for Blue Badge holders and also for electric cars on ferries to Mull and Bute. At peak season, it is imperative that you book your car onto the ferry in advance. However, I would suggest that you always reserve your car on the ferry, to make absolutely certain there is space for you. On Northlink Ferries (serving Orkney and Shetland) there is a 10% discount on passenger and vehicle fares for senior citizens (aged 60 years +), those in full-time education and disabled passengers.
Also on Northlink ferries, there is a Family and Friends discount of 30%. So, if you are travelling to visit relatives, you may be able to use this discount.
Fuel is also another consideration. Make sure to fill up on the mainland if you can, as the price of fuel on the islands can be very, very expensive. Also, on some of the smaller islands, there can be a call-out charge if the fuel pumps are needed outside of opening hours.
Finally, the last thing to remember is that for the majority of the islands (especially the smaller ones) you will be using single-track roads. Once you get used to them, they are fine to use. Just remember to use the Passing places and you will usually get a friendly wave or thumbs up from a grateful local.
I have travelled around a lot of the islands I have visited on a motorbike. They are a lot easier to manoeuvre on single track roads and more importantly are only about a third/half of the price of a car on ferry journeys. For a motorbike and 2 passengers (rider and passenger) on a day trip to the Isle of Mull in peak season, the cost would be around £55 (RET £20). The savings are higher when using the Island Rover or Hopscotch tickets. Motorcycle Scotland is an excellent website with some great routes to choose from around Scotland and the islands.
When motorcycling on the islands, wind can be a factor and sometimes the weather can be difficult. But on a clear, sunny day with no wind, there is no feeling like it.
Similar to motorbikes – bicycles are an excellent way to travel to, from and around the islands. On CalMac ferries there is no charge for bikes. Another plus point is that a lot of the islands are relatively flat. My top 5 islands to cycle around would be Colonsay, Cumbrae, Fair Isle, Muck and North Ronaldsay. The wind can be a factor, especially if you are cycling around the coast. Cycling Scotland is an excellent website about cycling in Scotland and has lots of useful information. Bus, rail and ferry companies that will carry bikes include:
- ScotRail – welcomes cyclists on all services, and taking your bike is free. Increased cycle capacity is available on many routes. In some cases, it is mandatory to book in advance.
- West Coast Motors – Service 448 (Lochgilphead to/from Skipness via piers at Tarbert, Portavadie and Cloanaig) carries cycles. Capacity is limited and you are urged to check with the operator before travelling
- Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) policy for all supported bus services to carry cycles wherever capacity permits. Cyclists should check locally for details before travelling.
- Cycles will be carried on Scottish Citylink services free of charge provided they are in an approved box or bag and that there is sufficient space in the luggage hold.
- Cycles can be carried for free on the John O’ Groats to Burwick (Orkney) ferry. On Northlink Ferries, Shetland Islands inter-island and Pentland Ferries all services carry bicycles at no charge.
- Orkney Ferries – Cycles can be carried on all ferries. Charges apply, and vary according to route.
Another option could be to hire a bike (if you are travelling from abroad, for example). Most islands will hire cycles, including most of the smaller one’s. Cycling is an excellent way of discovering the scottish islands on a budget.
There are no train services on any of the islands. There used to be a mini railway on the Isle of Mull, but even this has gone now. However, travelling to and between ports on the mainland can be relatively inexpensive on the train. The key here is to book in advance.
I recently booked to travel from Lancashire to Mallaig. The journey took 9 hours. 3 hours to Glasgow, 30 minutes to travel between train stations in Glasgow and 5 and a half hours to travel to Mallaig. That is a long time on a train! The flipside is that the scenery from Glasgow to Mallaig is stunning. Especially the last hour which is the journey from Fort William to Mallaig. This route is rightly regarded as one of the best train journeys in the UK. The price of my return journey to Mallaig was around £70, which is not bad. If I had booked the journey earlier, it would have been even cheaper.
There are several types of train tickets such as Advance, Off Peak and anytime. Some of the tickets (such as Advance) only have a limited number of tickets, which is why it is important to book early. Tickets can be booked from The Trainline. You can register on the Trainline to receive ticket alerts of any Advance tickets that go on sale. There are also offers available such as ‘Two Together’ railcard, Disabled persons Railcard, 16-25 Railcard, Family and Friends Railcard, Senior Railcard and the Highland Railcard. For more details click on the Railcards page of the Scotrail website.
Some of the train stations that are important for Ferry connections to the islands are:
- Largs – Isle of Cumbrae
- Ardrossan – Isle of Bute
- Wemyss Bay – Isle of Bute
- North Berwick – Bass Rock
- Oban – Isles of Kerrera, Lismore, Mull, Iona, Ulva, Coll, Tiree and the Outer Hebrides
- Mallaig – Isles of Skye, Muck, Eigg, Canna and Rum
- Arisaig – Isles of Muck, Eigg, Canna and Rum
- Kyle of Lochalsh – Isle of Skye
- Aberdeen – Shetland and Orkney islands (via Northlink ferries)
You can Save 20% on NorthLink Ferries when you purchase a Scotrail Highland Rover ticket. The Highland Rover is a great way to explore the West Highland lines or the magnificent Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness line. The Highland Rover lets you choose where and when to travel. You can buy your Highland Rover ticket online or at staffed railway stations throughout Britain.
Later in 2015, ScotRail will be introducing the Club50 card – a card exclusively for the over 50’s.
If you’re over 50, you’ll be able to benefit from cheaper off-peak travel, fantastic offers and partnerships with organisations like the National Trust for Scotland. All members will be entitled to a year-round 20% discount for online sales. You’ll also get free registration (worth £10) to Bike & Go – a national bike hire scheme.
FREEDOM OF SCOTLAND TRAVEL PASS
Freedom of Scotland travel pass – allows you to travel across the whole of Scotland. Choose from four days unlimited travel over eight consecutive days, or eight days unlimited travel over 15 consecutive days.
Most of the services covered are included in the price, while some others offer a substantial discount.
- Train: on all scheduled services wholly within Scotland, including to and from Carlisle and Berwick-Upon-Tweed
- Ferry – Caledonian MacBrayne: all scheduled ferry services within Scotland
- Ferry – Argyll Ferries, between Gourock and Dunoon.
- Coach – Scottish Citylink/West Coast Motors: Oban/Fort William – Inverness, Oban – Campbeltown, Kyle of Lochalsh – Uig, Inverness – Ullapool
- Coach – Stagecoach East Scotland: Dundee/Leuchars – St Andrews
- Coach – First Scotland East: Melrose – Galashiels – Peebles – Edinburgh (Service 62), Carlisle – Langholm – Hawick- Galashiels – Edinburgh (Service X95)
- Coach – Stagecoach in the Highlands: Services on the Isle of Skye (except any registered tours), Wick – John O’Groats, Thurso – John O’Groats, Thurso – Scrabster
Discounts are also available on the following services:
- Train – Strathspey Steam Railway: 10% discount on all full standard fares.
- Train – Keith & Dufftown Railway: 10% discount on all full standard fares.
- Ferry – Northlink Ferries: 20% discount on seated Standard fares purchased on the day of sailing on the following routes: Scrabster – Stromness, Aberdeen – Lerwick, Aberdeen -Kirkwall – Lerwick
- Coach – D & E Coaches: 10% discount on Single and Day Return fares between Inverness and Durness
- City Sightseeing Bus Tours: £1 off adult and concession tickets on the following tours: Edinburgh Bus Tour, Glasgow City Sightseeing
For travellers from outside the UK, BritRail passes are available – covering the whole of the UK, or just for Scotland. For the full range of BritRail passes click here . Also, for every adult buying a full price ticket, one child (age 5 to 15) receives a pass of the same type and duration for free (under 5’s are already free for all passes).
As with trains, coaches are an excellent way of travelling around the mainland. The big difference is that some coach companies do travel to and around some of the Scottish islands. National Express and Citylink for example, both travel to the Isle of Skye.
Coaches are usually cheaper than travelling by train, but the journeys do tend to take longer. Again, the key is to try and book your coach travel early. Some prices Like Megabus for example can be exceptionally low.
Some of the coach stations that coach companies travel to, on or on the way to, the islands are:
- Megabus – Aberdeen and Oban
- National Express – Kennacraig, Kyle of Lochalsh, Oban, Portree and Uig. Also with National Express Overseas travellers can buy a Brit Xplorer pass (in 7, 14 or 28-day versions) in the UK, or at major ports and airports.
- Citylink – Aberdeen, Arisaig, John O’Groats, Kennacraig, Kyle of Lochalsh, Mallaig, Oban, Skye (many stops), Sconser, Scrabster and Ullapool. Also with Citylink, you can save 20% on NorthLink Ferries passenger fares and travel to Orkney and Shetland from Scrabster-Stromness, Aberdeen-Lerwick, and Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Lerwick.
- You can buy an Explorer Pass Online or by calling 08705 50 50 50. Alternatively pick up and fill in a form at any Citylink agent. There is a specialist Savings page on the Citylink website – have a look here for current promotions and offers for travelling on Citylink coaches.
- Shiel Buses serve Kilchoan and Mallaig and there are specific coaches that connect with the Mallaig-Lochboisdale crossing
There are scheduled bus services around the UK. Also, most islands have a scheduled bus service. If they do not, they may have a ‘Ride-a-Bus’ scheme (such as Fetlar), where you can book the Bus in advance.
On some of the smaller islands, there may be a Postbus . On my first visit to Barra in 2003, I used the Postbus to travel around the island. Detail of the Postbus timetable and the ‘Ride-a-bus’ scheme can normally be found on the relevant islands own website. The postbus (in-conjunction with other services) is currently used on the following islands:
Inner Hebrides – Islay, Luing and Seil
Outer Hebrides – Baleshare, Benbecula, Eriskay, Grimsay, Lewis, Nort Uist and South Uist
Using the bus is a good way of travelling around the islands. However, you will definitely need to plan your journey as the buses do not run all that often and can change due to school opening times etc. Also, the buses will make regular stops and will be slower than travelling by coach or by rail. Also, they will usually be smaller vehicles with less facilities.
TRIPS AND TOURS
Probably the best way of visiting one island or a group of islands is to join a group tour, have a personal tour or hire a local guide (often the same thing). There are usually locally accredited guides for each island and if you have no transport, they will usually take you around the island in their car.
I have used local guides on several occasions – see my Blog post on Local Guides. I have used SeeShetland Tours for personal tours of Unst, Yell, Fetlar, Whalsay and the Burra Isles. I have also used Local Guides on Westray and Papa Westray. I have been on organised small group tours around Rousay, mainland Shetland, mainland Orkney, Noss, Belnahua, Staffa and the Treshnish Isles. It is not cheap to hire a guide, but if you factor in the cost of travelling around an island and the time spent trying to find specific locations, it can make sense to hire a guide. Obviously it would be cheaper to join an organised day tour and again planning is the key here, to make sure that there are places available.
By far the cheapest option is to walk your way around the islands. If you have the time and a sturdy pair of walking boots, this is probably the best way to see the islands. Especially on the smaller islands. An example of an island excellent for walking is the isle of Canna. When you get off the ferry, it is possible to buy a detailed map for £1. This highlights all the excellent walks on Canna and what you can see on each walk. This is invaluable if you are only on the island for a limited time.
Walk Highlands have some excellent walking routes around the islands. I have tried several of them myself. There are also trails and marked walks on a lot of the islands and there are even books on specific walks such as Orkney Walks by Felicity Martin. In 2000, the Isle of Bute created a route around the island known as the ‘ West Island Way’ .
The most romantic way of travelling to each island is undoubtedly by ferry. For example, travelling to Craignure on the Isle of Mull, you will pass the Hutcheson memorial on Kerrrera, the Lighthouse on Lismore and most imposingly, Duart Castle on Mull. Travelling to Barra, includes a bird’s eye view of Kisimul Castle at Castlebay.
As I mentioned in the ‘Car’ section, the best way of travelling to a group of islands is to buy an ‘Island Rover’ or ‘Island Hopscotch’ ticket (both with Cal Mac), or similar, with other ferry operators.
Some of the larger ferries have excellent facilities, such as Northlink Ferries to Orkney and Shetland, where it is possible to book a cabin for the duration of your journey. I did this for a trip to Shetland, but you could just use the loungers to save money. On the new Northlink Ferry they even have Sleeping Pods. They come with a large table, adjustable lighting and a USB socket to charge your mobile phone or any other mobile device. The seat reclines back to allow you to lie and sleep without intruding on the space of the person behind. The price includes a pack with a blanket, pillow and eye mask as well as a token for a free shower in the facilities next. The cost is around £20. Of course, you could just use the loungers, but on the 14 hour trip to Shetland, the Sleeping Pods could be a good way to save money (cabins are usually in excess of £100).
On a calm day travelling by Ferry can be idyllic, but on a windy day in rough seas it can be very challenging! On the islands close to the mainland, this is normally not a problem. However, islands that are more isolated that involve longer crossings such as the Oban-Barra/Lochboisdale, Oban – Tiree/Coll and Ullapool – Stornoway sailings can be occasionally rough, as can all sailings to Orkney and Shetland.
To me though, the positives far outweigh the negatives when travelling on ferries. On a recent journey to Colonsay, I sat outside and read a book for the whole duration (about 2 and a half hours). It was a warm day, with hardly any wind. Absolute bliss!
One thing to bear in mind, is that the ferries do not actually run that often. Especially to the smaller islands. Some ferries only run once a week! I have pored over many a timetable trying to fathom out how to get to an island and then how to get back. An example of this was when I visited the Isle of Muck last year. I travelled out to Muck on the CalMac ferry, but actually returned on a ferry operated by Arisaig Marine , because the CalMac ferry was not returning to Muck until the day after.
The easiest way to travel around the islands is by plane. It is also the quickest way. The downside of course, is that it is the most expensive. Flights are available from most of the UK to the main airports in Scotland – Glasgow/Edinburgh/Inverness/Aberdeen. From here, there are flights to the inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland through Flybe. Flights are also available to Colonsay, Islay, Coll and Tiree from Oban (Connel) Airport with Hebridean Air.
Loganair offer an ‘Island Saver’ ticket for travel to, from and in between Kirkwall and the Northern-most Orkney isles (North Ronaldsay and Papa Westray). Also, Loganair offer an ‘Excursion’ ticket, which is actually cheaper than the Island Saver. The only stipulation for the ticket is that you have to spend at least one night on North Ronaldsay or Papa Westray. More details about both tickets are available here .
Two Scottish islands have a claim to fame with regards to flights. Firstly, the Westray-Papa Westray flight is the world’s shortest scheduled flight at just under 2 minutes. I travelled on this flight about 2-3 years ago and when you book the flight you can choose to receive a special gift to mark the occasion. I received a Certificate from the pilot and also a miniature bottle of Highland Park Whisky.
The Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, is the only Airport in the world, where the plane lands on the beach. I have taken off from here, but am yet to land. Another reason to go back!
Due to increased tourism around the islands, it looks like there will be new Airports being built in the future. Islands such as Mull and Skye have not had commercial Airports for several decades. Also, Oban Airport will be expanding in the near future and this could bring in thousands of extra tourists to the islands.
A quick solution for searching public transport is to use GoEuro. GoEuro helps travellers to browse and book air, rail and bus travel in one simple search.
The company works with over 400 travel providers and allows you to combine and compare a number of different travel options so that you can book a route that best suits you, whether that be the quickest, cheapest or most direct journey. Partners of the company include; Arriva, Citylink, EasyBus, Eurolines, National Express, Scotrail and Virgin Trains.
In an ideal world, I’d be able to travel around the islands in the lap of luxury. In the real world, I only occasionally stay in Hotels as I prefer the cosiness and friendliness of Guest Houses and Bed and Breakfast accommodation. The best way to make sure of the best deals is to plan ahead. Search local listings or Visit Scotland for accommodation and then find the actual website of the Bed and Breakfast. They often have offers on if you are staying for 3 days or more or if you are staying out of season. Trip Advisor is always a good point of reference to find the best hotels in a particular area.
If your visit is last minute or you have not been able to book accommodation in advance, I would recommend using the Book a Bed Ahead scheme (known as BABA). This is available at Tourist Information Centres and they will find accommodation for you for the princely sum of £3 and 10% of the cost of the accommodation (you pay the remainder to the accommodation provider when you arrive). This can be a real time-saver, as during the High season, rooms can be difficult to find. B & B’s/Guest Houses are my preferred form of accommodation, but there are other ways to stay on the islands.
I have not included self-catering properties as they are usually booked for at least 3-4 days, so can be quite restrictive if you are traveling around. Having said that, below are some excellent websites that deal with self-catering properties in Scotland and the islands of Scotland:
- Cottages 4 U
- Scottish Cottages
- Holiday Cottages
- Sykes Cottages
Again, look for deals on their website. Some Hotels are in a chain including:
- Isles Hotel Group (Outer Hebrides) – Dark Island Hotel, Isle of Benbecula Hotel and Borrodale Hotel
- Brudolff Hotels (Shetland) – Kveldsro Hotel, Lerwick Hotel and the Shetland Hotel
If you are staying in different Hotels on your travels, it may be worth contacting them to see if you can get a discount if you stay in their hotels on your trip.
It may be possible to get your Hotel cheaper through a third party website such as Expedia, or Hotels Combined. Especially if you book at the last minute.
There are also other ways to get money off Hotels such as through reward schemes. This could be through points with a Credit Card, Nectar card or even through a benefit through your employer. I have used my own employers benefit scheme to book Hotels and received a hefty discount. I have also booked accommodation (and a flight to Shetland) through saving points on my Nectar Card (and looking for promotions to boost my point’s total).
An affordable and interesting way to visit the islands is to use Hostels. They are no longer the preserve of the young; Hostelling has come a long way in the last few years. Some of the Hostels (especially in the Outer Hebrides) are great. There is Hostel accommodation on a lot of the islands, including some of the smaller ones such as Eday, Muck and Kerrera. On an island such as Colonsay, using the Hostel may be the best accommodation option, as there are very few B & B’s and only one Hotel. Most Hostels in Scotland can be booked through HostelBookers .
As mentioned above, some of the best Hostels are located on the Outer Hebrides. On the Outer Hebrides are the Gatliff Hebridean Hostels . They are located on wonderfully scenic locations on Harris, Berneray and South Uist.
Some Hostels can now cater for single travellers or couples who want to have a private room, rather than share with fellow travellers.
You are required to join the Scottish Youth Hostel Association to use SYHA Hostels and this can be done at any SYHA establishment when you arrive. A temporary membership fee of £3 each night is charged to non-members. Another Hostel provider in Scotland is Scottish Independent Hostels.
CARAVAN AND CAMPSITES
There are many caravan sites around the islands. There is an excellent fold out brochure available through Amazon entitled – Scotland Campsites and caravan parks that shows every Caravan and Camp site’s location around Scotland. Alternatively, there is a list of Scottish Caravan sites through the Caravan Club of Great Britain.
It can be very expensive taking a touring caravan over to the islands, so that is definitely something to bear in mind. However, this would not be an issue visiting an island such as Skye where you can reach the island via the bridge. The Caravan Club also offer membership and you can then get a discount off accredited sites. Again, staying for longer periods of time can increase savings.
Some of the Caravan and Camping Sites are large parks with excellent facilities, but others are quite basic, with only a few facilities. However, some of the locations for the sites are stunning. I can think of several locations on the Isle of Skye that are jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Many of the Campsites have a designated area for tents and campers are welcome to use the facilities. A list of separate campsites (and joint camping/caravan sites) around Scotland is available through Scottish Camping .
There is also the option of wild camping which can be exhilarating in the right location. Wild camping has guidelines that you need to follow in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code . Here is a great article on wild camping – A Beginners guide to wild camping . Permission should be sought from the landowner where-ever possible before camping.
Scotland is one of the few places in the UK where it’s legal to wild camp, meaning there’s an unlimited number of remote and picturesque spots you can pitch your tent. Andy Strangeway was the first person to land and sleep on all 162 Scottish Islands which are 40 hectares and above in size. He achieved this amazing feat in 2007. During this adventure he camped on many uninhabited islands alone.
Sometimes it is worth thinking ‘outside the box’ when it comes to accommodation in the Scottish islands. There is a lot of other types of accommodation available. This includes the following:
Mongolian Yurt Tent – Isle of Muck. This is a canvas framed circular structure based on a Mongolian design. It has a wooden floor and a small wood-burning stove in the centre for heating and water, and a small gas stove (with 2 hobs and a grill) is provided for cooking. There is a composting toilet close by, and shower/wash/toilet facilities are available at the Community Hall in Port Mor.
4 metre Bell tent – Isle of Kerrera. A double bed raised from the tent floor with a heavy tog duvet and pillows, wood burning stove, vibrant rugs, solar lights, outdoor covered cooking area, BBQ access, shared bathroom and showering facilities.
Shielings – Isle of Mull. Shielings are unique carpeted cottage tents, some with en-suite facilities.
VW Camper Van – Shetland. This camper can sleep a maximum of 4 persons, 2 up top, 2 below. It is fitted with a small gas hob and grille, sink, small fridge, pop up roof and storage space
Böds – are located in the remote areas of Shetland. In Shetland, a Böd was a building used to house fishermen and their gear during the fishing season. There are some very interestingly titled Böds, such as Jonnie Notions Böd and Betty Mouat’s Böd named after characters that previously lived in the Böds.
Lighthouse Accommodation – Where the keeper and his family would have lived next to the tower, are comfortable cottages along some of Scotland’s most remote and spectacular coastlines. Accommodation is available on mainland Shetland, Isle of Bressay (Shetland) and the Isle of North Ronaldsay (Orkney)
Shepherd Huts – Located on the Isle of Skye. Charming shepherd’s hut for two with hand-delivered breakfast provided.
Storm Pods – on the Isle of South Uist (Outer Hebrides). Self-contained glamping pods near the ferry.
Bothy on wheels – on the Isle of Iona. Built along the lines of the traditional Shepherd’s Hut, the Bothy is on four big cast-iron wheels and clad in blue corrugated tin
One of the great ways of saving money on accommodation is to ‘Follow’ or ‘Like’ the relevant accommodation provider on Facebook (or other social media). They often have special offers where you can save money or limited-time voucher codes etc. Also, they often run competitions for free holidays. Another way to find out about special offers is to subscribe to the newsletter of Caledonian Macbrayne and Visit Scotland. They both run competitions or have special offers on on a regular basis. I have had numerous discounts on accommodation through both social media and newsletters.
Another top tip is – when you really like the accommodation (especially if it as Hotel or B&B/GuestHouse) ask for a business card. I have done this for years (they are all stored in my wallet) and whenever I am in a specific area, I have the contact number of accommodation I have stayed in previously readily available. Plus, I know the accommodation will be good (as I have stayed there before and asked for a business card) and won’t have to worry about parking, method of payment etc. Most accommodation have their business cards on a table in the hallway or near the telephone.
If you intend on visiting a lot of tourist attractions on your holiday, then it may be a good idea to purchase an Historic Scotland Explorer Pass With attractions ranging from the Royal Castles of Edinburgh & Stirling to the ancient mystical sites of Skara Brae and Maeshowe on Orkney, the Explorer pass entitles you to free access to 78 properties and free access to daytime events around Scotland including:
- Jarlshof Prehistoric And Norse Settlement – mainland Shetland
- Skara Brae Prehistoric Village, Maeshowe, Brough of Birsy, Broch of Gurness and the Bishops and Earls Palaces – mainland Orkney
- Martello Tower – Isle of Hoy
- Arnol Blackhouse – Isle of Lewis
- Kisimul Castle – Isle of Barra
- Iona Abbey – Isle of Iona
- Rothesay Castle – Isle of Bute
It can be quite expensive visiting several tourist attractions when visiting Scotland. For example, visiting Edinburgh castle costs around £16 each and Stirling Castle costs around £14 each. A 7 day Historic Scotland Explorer Pass is around £40 for an adult and that entitles you to 7 days visiting attractions (out of 14).
New for 2015 is the Island Explorer Pass from Historic Scotland. This allows access to six Historic Scotland properties, ranging from a traditional thatched Blackhouse on Lewis, to Barra’s Kisimul Castle, Rothesay Castle on the Isle of Bute and the Abbey and Chapel on the Isle of Iona. There are also 2 properties on the mainland within easy access of the islands (both are near Oban) The properties are Bonawe Historic Iron Furnace and Dunstaffnage Castle.
One other tip would be to visit the islands in May or October. Visiting in the summer months is difficult as accommodation is more difficult to find and the roads and tourist attractions are all busier. I have visited the islands in May for several years and have always had decent weather. One other consideration, is that in May there are very few (if any) midges.
The single most important consideration when considering travelling the scottish islands on a budget is planning. Without this it can be difficult to navigate around the islands, especially if you are hoping to visit a lot of islands in a short period of time. However, it is definitely worth the effort. The islands of Scotland, in my opinion, are some of the most beautiful in the world. Any trip to Scotland (and indeed the UK) would not be the same without a trip to at least a couple of Scottish islands. You never know, I may see you there!