The Inner Hebrides are a conglomeration of islands off the west coast of Scotland in the Atlantic Ocean. There are two sets of islands including the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides. When we made our reservation for our 3 Island Tour (sing it in your head like Gilligan’s Island theme song), I had no idea that we would be visiting a celebrated area of Scotland.
I just thought we were going to see some little islands. I have since learned that “Little islands” is not the correct term. The Hebrides are one of Scotland’s pride and joy. And what we experienced was unlike anything else on this already memorable trip. I highly recommend visiting the Isles of Mull, Iona, and Staffa of the Inner Hebrides.
Welcome to the Inner Hebrides
Our Three Isle Tour began from the port in Oban located on the Firth of Lorn–the west coast of Scotland. We loaded on a large ferry and took it to Craignure of Mull . Mull is one of the largest islands of the Inner Hebrides. On Mull, we hopped on a double decker coach bus and drove it down the length of the island past Ben More to Fionnphort.
Originally, we had planned to visit Staffa from Mull and finish the tour on Iona. However, with the weather being typical Scottish weather, Colin–our tour guide–decided that we would enjoy visiting Iona first. So that’s what we did. We toured around the island of Saint Columba who brought Christianity to Scotland. We toured the Abbey and the Nunnery and the shops.
After a couple of hours on Iona, we boarded a wee charter boat to head up to the Isle of Staffa to see Fingal’s cave and lots of puffins.
Our Impression of the Inner Hebrides
Touring all of the Inner Hebrides islands will take more than one day, but that’s all we had. We dedicated the whole day and picked the Tour Package with the best islands. The Isle of Mull held beautiful scenery. The Isle of Iona was full of history of the Celtic Christian faith. And the Isle of Staffa was a beautiful site all on its own with Fingal’s Cave and the cliffs filled with puffins in flight.
What We Loved
The Isle of Mull was gorgeous and extremely beautiful. I repeated myself over and over that I couldn’t compare them to anything I have ever seen. While the Highlands are a type of mountain range, they are unlike any mountain range I have seen. They the like large (LARGE) rolling hills covered in vegetations with a few Rocky Mountain-like peaks popping out here and there. Winding roads cut through the countryside, leading to overlooks or private residences. The scenery landed us square in the middle of a fantasy story.
The Isle of Iona continues that storybook feeling with its ancient buildings and hobbit doors. Touring the island is a perfect day trip. Guests wander around the Augustinian Nunnery and Marble Quarry. Tours explore the still-working Abbey on the island including the different Celtic Crosses and gravesites. Also, guests enjoy the galleries, gift shops, and cafes. Seriously, I love the shops on Iona. So many Scottish and artistic items live happily on the tables and shelves. Iona hosts picture perfect Atlantic Ocean coastline views.
The Isle of Staffa invites robust explorers to its intimate islet. A small island with a majestic cave on it’s south shore is also home to thousands of puffins on the other side. To see the puffins, you must climb the 40-step, steep staircase on the side of the cliff. If you are afraid of heights (as I am), it’s not fun, but it’s absolutely worth it. Even in the wind and the rain. Exploring Fingal’s Cave is another option. Guests pick their way across the terrain from the pier to the mouth of the cave. Most tours do not stay at Staffa for long, so this island is a Choose Your Own Adventure.
Challenges We Experienced
As is the case most often on the British Isles, the biggest challenge is the unpredictable weather. And by unpredictable I mean cold, wet, windy, dark, and dank. For the Isles of Mull and Iona, you can find plenty to do to keep you dry and warm, but Staffa is a different story.
A visit to Staffa includes a 40 minute boat ride and that can hold 75 people, but the boat’s cabin holds just half of the tour group. The rest of the group sits on the stern deck in big thick rain slickers. Ask me how I know
Our new phrase when we are struggling with discomfort is, “We’ve been colder and wetter.”
Dress properly and you are ready for adventure.
We explored Mull through the bus windows, both from Craignure to Fionnphort and back. I am super glad we did an all day tour, and I think it was the best use of our time, money, and energy. It would have been fun, though, to get out to scout around the countryside, but the tour did not offer that. We purchased our tour through West Coast Tours.
Looking for more Travel Ideas? Check out this page.
What to know before you Go
Using a Tour Service is very helpful even if it isn’t perfect. It was nice to just follow instructions and not figure out how to get to the next thing.
Ferry ticketholders must be at the Oban terminal 45 minutes before departure time.
After the boat ride to Staffa, the hiking and climbing on the island, and the freezing cold boat ride back, I missed the entire bus ride through Mull because I fell asleep. Hard. Not that it would have mattered. We were the first ones to board the bus from the Staffa boat–we sprinted from the boat to the coach and grabbed the best seats for the way back. However, it didn’t really matter since everyone was super wet and cold, the windows fogged up for the entire ride. We had the perfect vantage point of seeing everything Colin told us about. Except that we didn’t.
Trip Details and Recommendations
If you are looking to visit the Inner Hebrides, here are some details of our stay and recommendations for you.
Where we stayed
There are many guest houses in Oban, and the one we stayed in was the Corran Guest House and Hostel. It had a kitchen space for us to use in the main lobby. Our private room held four beds and had its own en suite bathroom with a shower. It was extremely affordable, was clean, and was excellent for the price.
The only problem was that because the room was extremely small, every piece of furniture was smashed into the room. Each time I moved on my bed, my touch-sensitive bedside light would jiggle and turn on. Every. Single. Time. It was super confusing at first. Then, funny. And finally, completely irritating to where I yanked the cord out of the wall. After I did that on the second night, I slept like a baby.
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Where We Ate
Oban is a very busy port town. And while it is busy, it didn’t feel crowded at all. Not even a little. After our adventure on the Atlantic Ocean, we changed into dry clothes and raced down to Markie Dan’s that was in the lower level of our Guest House. We gorged ourselves on burgers and chips
More Restaurant Options
Piazza in Oban
–Delicious and fresh Italian cuisine
Martyr’s Bay Restaurant on Iona
–Melt in your mouth scones and delicious coffee
Lazy Cow Cafe and Farmshop on Mull
–popular lunch destination with farm fresh food
What We Did
More Things to Do in Oban and on the Inner Hebrides
Want to Travel Closer to Home? Check out these ideas.
Inner Hebrides Travel Tips
It absolutely never hurts to keep a few things in mind. When preparing for a trip, you have a lot of things to think about. If you consider one or two of these suggestions, it could make or break your adventure.
- Camera. If you don’t bring your camera, you WILL regret it.
- Dramamine. The ferries can list from side to side a lot, and the boat ride to Staffa is pretty choppy. If you are prone to motion sickness, you will benefit from this little vacation helper.
- An Adventurous Spirit. Especially if you include visiting the Isle of Staffa, you will want to pack this. I was terrified to get on the boat to Staffa. But I did it and I will forever applaud myself for doing it even though I was scared.
The Inner Hebrides host magically mysterious adventures for kids of all ages. I think kids who are 8 and older will have the most fun. Younger kids can do it, but they may not appreciate the idyllic scenery on the long bus ride. But I will leave that judgement call up to each parent because they know what their kids would enjoy.
What to pack
- Rain boots
- Wool socks
- Rain jacket
- Layers with a sweater
- Long pants (or as they say in the UK trousers since the word pants refers to undergarments)