The tiny but abundant islands of Ireland and Scotland are full of fascinating wildlife, rich and storied history, and immersive culture that are best explored by foot, bike and boat. With Wilderness Scotland and Wilderness Ireland, journey from island to island on local ferries and private charters, visit ancient sites, take in the unspoiled, rolling green landscapes, and at the end of each day relax in hand-picked island accommodations with mouth-watering local food, ales and whiskies for an authentic taste of the islands.
From over 1000 islands, Wilderness Ireland and Wilderness Scotland experts have narrowed down their top five hidden gems and remote regions that are not to be missed on the next island hopping adventure:
1. The Blasket Islands, Ireland
The six islands of the archipelago are easily visible from the coast of the Dingle Peninsula and were inhabited entirely by an Irish-speaking community until evacuation in 1953, due to the harsh island conditions. Located just off the coast of Slea Head, mainland Ireland’s westernmost point, the Blasket Islands mark the final stop across the Atlantic before reaching North America’s easternmost point, Newfoundland.
On Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry, travelers embark on guided hikes along the spectacular coastline trails of southwest Ireland, climb up the ancient stone steps of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Skellig Michael (once the home of Christian monks, and now a filming location for Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi). Later, visit remote islands and travel on Ireland’s only cable car to Dursey Island, where each stone tells a story of its rich cultural past. Spot marine life such as gannets, puffins, basking sharks, whales and dolphins.
2. The Aran Islands, Ireland
Of all the islands of Ireland, the Aran Islands in Galway Bay are some of the most famous. With about 1,200 inhabitants, the Aran Islands are some of the most populated Irish islands. With their own distinct culture and traditions, the Aran Islands are among the last bastions of the Irish Gaelic language and home to some of the oldest archaeological remains in the country including Dun Aengus fort, Teampull Bheanáin (one of the world’s smallest churches), and the 14th century O’Brien’s Castle.
Bike Tour – Connemara and the Aran Islands takes travelers through Connemara National Park and along the famous Sky Road, spending two nights on the largest of the Aran Islands and visiting the towering Cliffs of Moher. The coast will be an ever-present companion for cyclists, from the white sandy beaches of Dog’s Bay to the dramatic Cliffs of Moher. Ireland’s west coast is a geological playground from the dramatic windswept mountains of Connemara to the steep cliffs of the Aran Islands and the unique limestone landscapes of the Burren National Park.
3. The Isle of Lewis & Harris, Scotland
Once thought to be two separate islands, as any travel between them was undertaken by boat, we now know Harris and Lewis as one remarkable landmass. In many ways though, they remain distinct. Most of Lewis is relatively flat, scattered with peat land and surrounded by dramatic coastlines, while the remote mountain landscapes and the sweeping white sandy beaches of Harris could be mistaken for the Caribbean.
A journey of nine islands, Road Cycling – Outer Hebrides follows the beautiful coastal path to the magical beach of Traigh Meilein to view vast, white sand backed by machair strewn with wild flowers, stretching above the azure ocean. On Lewis explore the rugged west coast as far as its most northerly point and wander above crashing waves that have sculpted the coastline into sea stacks, gullies and arches. Visit impressive ancient sites such as Callanish standing stones and the seat of the Clan Macneil and stay in accommodations ranging from an intimate boutique hotel to a cozy converted change–house dating back to 1750.
4. The Isle of Islay, Scotland
This glorious coastal region of western Scotland is known for its glittering sea lochs, wild islands, hills and glens; perfect for exploring on foot. At around 25 miles long, and 20 miles at its widest, this little island packs a punch on the world whisky stage with their iconic brands. It’s a whisky lover’s delight with distilleries seemingly dotted between every mountain and monument.
Wilderness Walking – Argyll & the Isles brings travelers on a journey through the Argyll peninsula and several of its islands, including the whisky island of Islay. The daily guided hikes link prehistoric sites, nature reserves, and whisky distilleries, all set against the backdrop of green hills and the rolling Atlantic. Finish the trip with two nights on the Isle of Islay, on the very western fringe of Scotland.
5. The Isle of Jura, Scotland
With a population of only 200, mostly residents in the south of the island, Jura is a rugged place. Fast tides make its waters unforgiving, and the ground is some of the roughest encountered anywhere in the British Isles. This is an island that doesn’t yield easily. However, those who make the effort to discover its hidden places will never forget their beauty.
Road Cycling – Island Explorer is a journey of three islands including the Isle of Jura, and offers quiet scenic roads, excellent accommodation, food and some of the world’s finest whisky. Throughout the trip, travelers take part in day rides on the beautiful islands of Arran, Islay and Jura, as well as crossing the Mull of Kintyre. These small islands were made for exploring by bike and travelers can expect fascinating wildlife, history, and culture along the way.