10 Great Ferry Journeys And Destinations Of Scotland

Great Ferry Journeys/Destinations of Scotland
Philip
Philip
Updated

Scotland is a nation of islands. Nearly 800 separate isles lie dotted off the mainland. And a great many of these feature regular ferry services - from the Shetland and Orkney archipelagos in the far north to the dazzling Inner and Outer Hebrides. And, no matter how long or short these trips are - they are all an event.

There’s something special about setting foot on an island for the first time. So, which towns and villages should you visit, to start your next island-hopping adventure? Read on to discover the great ferry journeys and destinations of Scotland.

1. Oban

2012 Trip to Oban (8110218345)
Source: Photo by user marsupium photogr... used under CC BY-SA 2.0

A true ‘Gateway to the Isles’ in every sense, Oban serves no fewer than 10 different ports on a range of eight Scottish islands - from Mull and Lismore in the immediate vicinity to Barra and South Uist in the Outer Hebrides and Colonsay and Islay to the south.

The surfing paradise of Tiree also lies on one of the routes - or the ‘Hawaii of the North’, as sports aficionados have labelled it. The variety of destinations are truly unsurpassed within Scotland. So, whether it’s the famous whisky distilleries of Islay you’re after, the stunning beaches of the Outer Hebrides, or maybe Mull’s majestic landscapes and the neighbouring islands of Iona and Staffa - Oban should be one of your first ports of call.

Oban Ferry Terminal

Address: The Ferry Terminal, Oban, PA34 4DB

Contact: 0800 066 5000 (within UK) and +44 1475 650 397 (international)

Website: Caledonian MacBrayne

2. Scrabster and Thurso

Scrabster2009-2
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Gestumblindi used under CC0

Nestled in the far north of mainland Scotland lies the remote Caithness town of Thurso and the neighbouring port of Scrabster. The latter is the gateway to Orkney for many a traveller. Northlink Ferries operates a major service from here to the Orkney mainland. From here, you’ve access to all manner of Orcadian islands and landmarks.

Popular locations and attractions in Orkney include the stunning Ring of Brodgar stone circle - which actually predates the more famous Stonehenge of southern England, the huge Old Man of Hoy sea stack, off the coast of Hoy, the scuttled remains of German battleships in Scapa Flow, and the Neolithic village of Skara Brae.

The uncanny level of preservation of the latter and the millennia in which it was lost from view, beneath shifting sand dunes, have seen it branded ‘the Scottish Pompeii’ - for good reason.

Northlink Ferries

Contact: 0845 6000 449 (within UK); +44 1856 885500 (international)

Website: Northlink Ferries

3. Aberdeen

NorthLink ferry Hrossey leaving Aberdeen Harbour (geograph 4347282)
Source: Photo by user Nigel Corby used under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Granite City, so-called because of the beautiful granite stone which makes up many of the area’s buildings, is another gateway port - this time to the far north, in the form of a Northlink Ferries service that connects to Orkney and Shetland. The latter archipelago is the most northerly outpost of Scotland and the British Isles. Indeed, these remote islands sit so far to the north that the polar bears of the Arctic Circle are closer than the hustle and bustle of London.

Aberdeen, meanwhile, is a great location from which to start your Scottish adventure. The third largest city in Scotland - after Glasgow and Edinburgh - Aberdeen boasts a beautiful sandy beach, good air connections in the form of the airport at Dyce, and the usual mix of cosmopolitan attractions and eateries you’d expect from a city of its size.

Aberdeen Ferry Terminal

Address: Jamieson’s Quay, Aberdeen, AB11 5NP

Contact: 0845 6000 449 (within UK); +44 1856 885500 (international)

Website: Aberdeen Ferry Terminal with Northlink Ferries

4. Ardrossan

Ardrossan, Scotland, United Kingdom
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Vincent van Zeijst used under CC BY 3.0

Ardrossan, in Ayrshire, is one of three different ferry access points to the Isle of Arran. The crossing to the island is a stunner, offering views north to Bute and the isles of Great and Little Cumbrae, as well as breathtaking vistas of Arran’s jagged mountain peaks. Goatfell - the highest point on the island - just aches to be climbed when viewed from the deck of the ship.

Arran itself is a particularly bonnie island, which has oft been labelled ‘Scotland in Miniature’ - the rolling hills of the south and the more mountainous north aping the mainland’s classic Lowland and Highland landscapes.

In recent years, ferry passengers heading out of Ardrossan have also had the option of continuing their journey out past Arran and onto the port of Campbeltown on the remote Kintyre peninsula.

Ardrossan Ferry Terminal

Address: The Ferry Terminal, Ardrossan, KA22 8ED

Access: Private parking available on site (charges apply). Ardrossan Harbour railway station is just 150 metres (492.1 feet) away.

Contact: 0800 066 5000 (within UK) and +44 1475 650 397 (international)

Website: Caledonian MacBrayne

5. Ullapool

Loch Seaforth (19867703899)
Source: Photo by user Alan Jamieson used under CC BY 2.0

The most northerly of Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferry routes, the crossing from Ullapool to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis is also one of its longest - taking two-and-a-half hours to cross the Minch to the Outer Hebrides. Those who embark the purpose-built ferry, the MV Loch Seaforth, which only began operating on the route in 2015, will enjoy superb views across to the Summer Isles, Skye, and the islands of the Outer Hebrides.

You also have a good chance of spotting wildlife on the crossing. Gannets, dive-bombing the sea for food, and porpoises are among the species that can be seen on the journey.

Ullapool Ferry Terminal

Address: Shore Street, Ullapool, IV26 2UR

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday: 9 am to 5.30 pm. Saturday: 9 am to 7 pm (6.30 pm during the winter timetable). Sunday: 4 pm to 6.30 pm

Contact: 0800 066 5000 (within UK) and +44 1475 650 397 (international)

Website: Caledonian MacBrayne

6. Mallaig

Inner Harbour, Mallaig - geograph.org.uk - 970473
Source: Photo by user Sarah Charlesworth used under CC BY-SA 2.0

As with Oban, Mallaig is another of Scotland’s true gateways to the islands. Indeed, Mallaig’s links to the Scottish isles are so strong that the main road to the village has long been known as the ‘Road to the Isles’. The reasons are well founded. As well as ferry sailings to the South Uist port of Lochboisdale, Mallaig also serves the Small Isles - a group of four islands, with very different characteristics, that lie to the south of Skye.

And, since the construction of the Skye Bridge in the 1990s, ferries from Mallaig are one of only two ways to get to Skye from the mainland - the small village offering a ferry link to Armadale (with its famous gardens) and the Sleat peninsula on the south of the island.

Mallaig Ferry Terminal

Address: Ferry Terminal, Mallaig, PH41 4QD

Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 8.10 am to 4 pm (during the winter timetable). Monday to Saturday: 7.10 am to 6.10 pm (summer timetable) and Sunday: 8.30 am to 6 pm (summer timetable)

Contact: 0800 066 5000 (within UK) and +44 1475 650 397 (international)

Website: Caledonian MacBrayne

7. Kilchoan to Tobermory

Tobermory waterfront
Source: Photo by user DeFacto used under CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the more remote ferry sailings on this list, the mainland port from which you embark or disembark sits close to the small village of Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula - the most westerly area on the entire British mainland. Yes, it sits even further west than Cornwall in the south of England, although surprisingly few people are aware of this - so bear that wee fact in mind, the next time you find yourself in a pub quiz, as it might come in handy.

But, joking aside, there is much more to this route than simply leaving from the westernmost extreme of mainland Britain. At the other end of the route lies Tobermory. As well as being a gateway to the huge island of Mull and its many outdoor activities, the small port and its multi-coloured buildings are famous around the world. And there must be few finer ways to approach this iconic port than via ferry from the mainland.

Tobermory Ferry Terminal

Address: Main Street, Tobermory, Isle of Mull, PA75 6NU

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday: 9 am to 5.30 pm. Closed Saturdays and Sundays.

Contact: 0800 066 5000 (within UK) and +44 1475 650 397 (international)

Website: Tobermory Ferry Terminal at Caledonian MacBrayne

8. Kennacraig for Islay and Jura

Approaching Kennacraig
Source: Photo by user Mary and Angus Hogg used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Kennacraig itself is little more than a pier, but it’s the prospects that this pier provides that earn it a place on this list. Some of Caledonian MacBrayne’s largest ferries operate out of this harbour. The reason being the destinations it serves. As well as connecting to the whisky-lover’s paradise of Islay - with its multitude of malts - the ferry also carries on to the sparsely populated island of Colonsay and loops round to Oban.

Those who disembark at the Islay ports of Port Askaig or Port Ellen will also be well placed for the crossing to Islay’s neighbouring island of Jura - especially if they leave the vessel in the former harbour, which serves as the departure point for the short crossing to Feolin. From there, Jura offers a distillery of its own (at Craighouse), as well as the Paps - two iconic peaks that pose quite a challenge for hikers, owing to their extensive scree fields.

Kennacraig Ferry Terminal

Address: The Ferry Terminal, Whitehouse, by Tarbert, Argyll, PA29 6YF

Contact: 0800 066 5000 (within UK) and +44 1475 650 397 (international)

Website: Kennacraig Ferry Terminal at Caledonian MacBrayne

9. Uig

A windy day on Uig Bay - geograph.org.uk - 936185
Source: Photo by user Dave Fergusson used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Uig has much to recommend it, as much for the journey to get you to the harbour as the ferry crossings themselves. For those looking to get to the harbour will have to traverse the huge and beautiful Isle of Skye just to get there. From the Old Man of Storr - a spectacular rock formation which has featured in a multitude of Hollywood movies - to the breath-taking landscape of the Quiraing, Skye is world-famous for good reason.

And those who head out of the island’s northwestern port of Uig have even more to look forward to. The ferries heading from there take in North Uist and Harris in the Outer Hebrides - two equally beautiful destinations in their own right.

Uig Ferry Terminal

Address: Ferry Terminal, Uig, Isle of Skye, IV51 9XX

Contact: 0800 066 5000 (within UK) and +44 1475 650 397 (international)

Website: Uig Ferry Terminal at Caledonian MacBrayne

10. Wemyss Bay to Rothesay

MV Argyle at Wemyss Bay pier - geograph.org.uk - 441481
Source: Photo by user Thomas Nugent used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Here we have a ferry crossing that is not only beautiful but also so well served that it is also a commuter route for people travelling between Bute and Glasgow. Caledonian MacBrayne vessels ply these waters from early morning until late evening, ensuring that the trip from Wemyss Bay on the mainland to Rothesay on Bute is well used.

It is also very easy to get from the heart of Glasgow to the island by public transport. A ScotRail train heads directly from Glasgow Central Station to Wemyss Bay, where the railway station and ferry port are combined within one beautiful Victorian-era building. And, if you are prepared to wait for the next ferry, a small bar in the station is worth checking out too - its wood fire and classic Victorian stylings making for a pleasant spot to while away an hour or two. The crossing is also worth the trip - offering cracking views north up the Firth of Clyde towards Dunoon and south to Great Cumbrae Island.

ScotRail

Contact: +44 344 811 0141

Website: ScotRail

Start your Scottish adventure in style

Ferries may be seen by many as a means to an end, but in Scotland, they are the perfect platform to soak up some truly spectacular scenery. Why not give one a go next time you visit the waters of Scotland’s west and northern coasts?

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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I'm a writer and photographer based in the heart of the beautiful Scottish Highlands. A professional journalist by trade, I have written for and edited several newspapers, magazines and websites....Read more

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