10 of the Best: Ferry Journeys in Scotland

The journey is a big part of any holiday experience.  Actually, for me, the journey is one of the best parts of a holiday.  I love that feeling of time rolled out ahead of you; the freedom, possibility and adventure that lie before you; switching off from everything else to just soak up the beautiful scenery that accompanies you as you travel.  Travelling by ferry in Scotland, particularly when the sun has his hat on, is a wonderful way to do just that: enjoying island-dotted horizons, spectacular seascapes and captivating views of the mainland.

As it’s National Ferry Fortnight 2016 we’ve been asking about your favourite ferry journeys in Scotland.  Many of you told us that your favourite journey meant happy times and good company, the start of wonderful adventures and magical family holidays.  So here they are, 10 of your favourite ferry journeys in Scotland.

Scrabster to Stromness, Orkney

There was a lot of love for Orkney and we quite agree that arriving in Stromness past the Old Man of Hoy is something truly special.  The ferry crossing with NorthLink Ferries from Scrabster takes 90 minutes and you told us that “the view of Stromness from the sea is one of the best in the world”.  You also described passing the Old Man of Hoy and then swinging around into Scapa Flow to Stromness as “breathtaking” and said that this journey was the “only real way to arrive in Orkney”.  And what a treasure trove of sights await once you are there.

Ardrossan to Brodick, Arran

There are two CalMac ferries that can whisk you to what is referred to as ‘Scotland in miniature’.  Ardrossan to Brodick takes around 55 minutes and the views as you near Arran are stunning, particularly the looming sight of Goat Fell, the biggest mountain on the island (and a fantastic walk).  You told us you particularly loved the approach into Brodick on a beautiful day and that it was “always the start of a wonderfully stress free, fun filled break”.  You can also take the shorter 30 minute ferry ride from Claonaig to Lochranza, which is another lovely journey.

Mull to Iona

The passenger ferry takes 10 minutes to reach the Isle of Iona from Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull.  Iona is the birthplace of Celtic Christianity and you can visit Iona Abbey, built on the site of St Columba’s monastery.  Forty-eight medieval kings are buried in the graveyard next to the Abbey, including Macbeth.  As well as being stunningly beautiful, the island has an air of peacefulness about it.  You also felt this about the journey itself, saying “it is so peaceful, whether there or back”.

Wemyss Bay to Rothesay, Bute

Hopping across from Wemyss Bay to beautiful Bute with CalMac was another great suggestion.  Taking 35 minutes, the ferry whisks you to what is often referred to as ‘the unexplored Isle’ (and there is plenty to explore when you’re there, from the lovely beaches to the Victorian mansion Mount Stuart).  You can also take a short 5 minute ferry ride from the mainland at Colintraive to the north end of Bute, across the Kyles of Bute.

Car ferry on the Kyles of Bute, Scotland

Glenelg to Skye

Over the sea to Skye for many visitors these days means across the Skye Bridge, but if you still want to go by speed bonnie boat you can take the original Glenelg-Skye Ferry.   We loved this recommendation and agree that it is a gem of a journey.  It is the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland and is now operated by the local community.  The ferry runs from Easter to mid October, 10am – 6pm, and takes you across the narrow strait between the mainland and the Isle of Skye.  Deborah Storr of Varis Holiday House told us in a blog post on the Glenelg circuit that you can often spot seals and otters whilst waiting for the ferry.

Aberdeen to Lerwick

The overnight NorthLink ferry journey from Aberdeen to Shetland is long (7pm – 7.30am direct or 5pm – 7.30pm via Kirkwall in Orkney) but it is this, the “epic nature” of the journey, that you told us you love (plus the fact that you get a bed!).  With dramatic landscapes, wild scenery and more than 100 islands to discover, we agree wholeheartedly with you: “Being in Shetland is a wonderful thing”.

Oban to Barra (to Lochboisdale)

The CalMac Oban to Barra journey was another popular choice.  The 4 hour 50 minute journey takes you through the Sound of Mull and out past the Isle of Coll (a route you described simply as “stunning”).  You also commented that “Castlebay is a fine end to a journey”.  Keep an eye out for Kisimul Castle, built on a ridge in the middle of the bay as you approach Castlebay.

Continuing from Barra you can journey onto Lochboisdale on South Uist, which was another ferry journey that you suggested.  And we loved your reason why: “lying on a bench on the deck halfway through the journey, you’ll never see clearer or darker skies”.

Kennacraig to Port Ellen, Islay

Islay also came up in your favourite places to travel by ferry to, because “the end of the journey is something to savour, irrespective of the weather”.  CalMac run ferries from Kennacraig on Kintyre to Port Ellen, which takes 2 hours 20 minutes, and to Port Askaig, taking 1 hour 55 minutes.  Islay is known for its whisky, with eight distilleries to explore, but there is also plenty of beautiful scenery to drink in!

Uig to Tarbert

The ferry journey from Uig at the north of the Isle of Skye to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris is the most direct way to reach Harris, which, to you, means “beaches and fresh air”.  You told us that you liked the drive to Uig and the “epic views, beaches and outdoor time with family”  once on Harris.  With spectacular beaches, fantastic wildlife watching and stunning landscapes it is no wonder that Harris was voted TripAdvisor’s best island in Europe – or that the journey there holds a special place in your heart.

Ellenabeich to Easdale

This very short passenger ferry from Ellenabeich to the Isle of Easdale is a joy.  Fifteen miles south of Oban on the Argyll Coast, the lovely car-free island of Easdale is the smallest permanently inhabited island in the Inner Hebrides.  Both Ellenabeich and Easdale are charming, with a fascinating history in slate mining.  We loved this answer for why it was a favourite journey: “the best crossings were when we were accompanied by dolphins and on my own on a crystal-clear October night with the stars stretching on to eternity”.  Surely it doesn’t get more perfect than that..?


Why not plan an island adventure for your next holiday?  To celebrate #NFF2016 NorthLink Ferries are running a competition on Facebook to win a trip to or from Orkney and Shetland, and CalMac have a number of offers until 19th March.


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