Day Trip: Isles of Staffa and Iona

Our day on the Isles of Staffa and Iona, which make up part of the Inner Hebrides archipelago in Scotland, could not have been more perfect. We woke up to a gorgeously sunny day and ate breakfast on the beach before making our way to the harbor in Fionnphort to depart for our boat tour. Almost as soon as we pulled away from the harbor, we saw seals basking in the sun on the rocky shore of a small island we passed. And around 30 minutes later, we were hopping off the boat straight onto Staffa’s otherworldy landscape. The only thing that could have made the day more amazing is if we had seen puffins (the island is famous for them).

TRAVEL

‘Early Bird’ Boat Tour | We chose the earliest tour possible in order to make the most of the day. It really wasn’t even that early considering our campsite was so close to the departing port. This tour leaves at 9:45 am from Fionnphort on Mull, giving you an hour on land to explore the Isle of Staffa before heading to Iona. Of course, there are other options if you’re staying on Iona as well!

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SEE

Fingal’s Cave | Follow the lower path along the side of the island to get to Fingal’s Cave, aka the Cave of Melody. Entirely composed of basalt lava columns and appearing like a natural cathedral, the atmosphere in this cave is insane. The famous composer Felix Mendelssohn was so moved by the cave, it served as inspiration for his ‘Hebrides Overture‘. If only we had been able to blast this from the boat while exploring the cave. Don’t forget to sing or hum something to hear the incredible acoustics!

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Iona Abbey | There is so much to see and learn about at this special place, considered one of Scotland’s most sacred sites. In addition to the abbey and nunnery, the grounds also accommodate a graveyard of ancient Scottish kings and 4 iconic high crosses. The island of Iona has survived as a center of Christian worship since 563 AD when St. Columba first arrived with his Irish followers and it retains a feeling of spiritual calm to this day.

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EAT

I only have one food recommendation for the Isle of Iona. And considering it’s such a small island, you shouldn’t need much more than lunch and maybe some ice cream from the corner shop. We did also stop at a pub, but it wasn’t very good so I won’t tell you about it.

The Low Door | They have a few lunch and tea options available for take away including soup and sandwiches. They also have a good range of local food and drink products on display in their shop–lots of whisky to choose from!

SHOP

Iona Craft Shop | We walked into a handful of gift stores on the island, but this was our favorite. It’s full of knitwear and wool blankets, basically anything stereotypically Scottish done in a slightly more modern way.

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For more photos and to read about the rest of our trip to the Inner Hebrides, see my previous post on the Isle of Mull.

Isle of Mull, Scotland

The Isle of Mull is one of my absolute favorite places in the UK. We only spent a weekend here, but I wish it had been longer. There seemed to be endless possibilities for exploration both along the coast and within the interior of the island. It’s a short ferry ride from Oban, making it one of the easiest islands of the Inner Hebrides to reach. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an amazing view of the castle from the water as you arrive at the island.

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We took an early ferry over to Craignure on a Saturday morning leaving us the whole day to venture around the island before heading to our campsite. Straight away, we left for Tobermory (on the North side of the island) with a plan to visit the distillery and harbour before stopping for lunch at the Isle of Mull Cheese.

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DRINK

Tobermory Distillery | The whisky distillery in Tobermory may not have a tasting room, but they sell plenty of small samples if you don’t want to commit to an entire bottle. We bought a few small ones so we could sample them all. Also, their whisky fudge is the best I’ve ever had!

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EAT

Isle of Mull Cheese | This was the cutest little shop and restaurant! We were out of luck as the café was closed during our visit (which seemed especially odd as it was a relatively busy bank holiday weekend). However, the shop works on a trust system, meaning there is a small cash box where you leave your payment, so we were able to buy some supplies for a few meals.

Mishnish | The only pub we were told to go to. We didn’t eat here, but we heard good things about it!

For the most part, we cooked our meals at our campsite. There is nothing better than barbecued burgers and s’mores by the campfire, looking out at the sea.

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DO

We pretty much just drove around stopping at anything that looked cool, but we did have a couple places in mind to go to.

Calgary Bay | This is a nice wide beach, perfect for swimming. There are also a couple cool places to stay near here (linked above).

Knockvologan Beach | Finding this series of small coves was a bit confusing because the roads are seemingly not well traveled. I think we even had to open a cow gate ourselves in order to continue on the road. Once we found what we thought was parking for the beach (but actually just looked like someone’s farmhouse), it was pretty easy to continue on foot. We saw a couple kayakers out while we were relaxing on the beach and were a little jealous. The coves would be so much fun to explore by kayak! Then again, we had the shore entirely to ourselves and it was lovely.

FYI: the Isle of Erraid, which you can reach from Knockvologan by sand at low tide is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Tobermory Harbour | At first we weren’t sure we’d have time to stop in Tobermory because it was fairly far from our campsite as well as most of the other sites we planned to visit, but I am so glad we made the time! There were actually some really cool shops in the town and the view of the harbour is picturesque.

Eas Fors Waterfall | A waterfall that meets the sea near the ferry to Ulva. I’m not sure how to get down below the waterfall, but there is a really cool viewpoint from the top looking down. It’s pretty much right off the road, so there’s almost no walking involved!

Duart Castle | I’m not sure this castle is a must-see, especially if you’ve seen other Scottish castles before, but it is definitely worth a stop if you have the time. Perhaps it would have been a better visit for us, had it not been covered in scaffolding. And it is really easy to visit on your way onto and off of the island with its proximity to the ferry in Craignure.

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CAMP

Fidden Farm |This is one of the best campsites I’ve ever been to and by far the best one in the UK. Our tent was set up on the grass just behind the rocky shore of the Fidden Beach and those sunset pictures were literally taken while we were cooking our dinner. It was also super helpful to be so near the ferry to Iona and Staffa, as it leaves from Fioniphort down the road from the farm. Just remember to bring bug spray! The midges can get pretty bad if there’s no wind.

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Upon leaving the island, we were given this map on our way onto the ferry. We realized it would have been so helpful for planning our trip, so I’m including it here to show where the main attractions are. Be sure to book ahead for the ferry, as the most popular times sell out before the day of the sailing. And stay tuned for another post on our visit to the Isles of Iona and Staffa!

 

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