Photo Story | Scotland

Ten Things Worth Writing Home About from Scotland Slowly

© Dennis Minty

Each Adventure Canada expedition holds its own unique highlights. Find out more about the top ten experiences on this trip of a lifetime. Captivating history, vibrant culture, rich wildlife, and enchanting isles—especially those unreachable except by small ship—are what knock our socks off in Scotland.

Scotland, like good whisky, is best savoured slowly. Culture thrives on these isles—haunting historic sites, Gaelic tales and traditions, pagan ruins, lilting tunes. Nature thrives here, too, in the form of misty mountains, emerald moors, inlets splashing with marine life, and cliffs thronging with seabirds. You’ll experience it all with enchanting Scottish experts at your side—and perhaps a wee dram in your hand.

Hall of clestrain

© Dennis Minty

1. Travel back through the centuries to the ancient, unspoiled Orkneys

Though just offshore of the Scottish mainland, the Orkneys are a world apart. This gaggle of green isles, sandstone cliffs, stormy beaches, and ancient villages is an outpost of Viking heritage. Its main town, Kirkwall, is dominated by the monumental St. Magnus Cathedral, dating from 1137. Be sure to check out the Hall of Clestrain, childhood home of Arctic explorer John Rae. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the eerie Stonehenge-like standing stones of the 4,000-year-old Ring of Brodgar.

Visitors walking hills of St Kilda Scotland

© Dennis Minty

2. Fly free at haunting, historic St. Kilda—not just for the birds

St. Kilda, the westernmost Scottish archipelago, was inhabited for millennia until being depopulated in 1930. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, protecting fascinating ruins as well as natural history features. Seabirds thrive on its biggest island, Hirta, where colonies throng with hundreds of thousands of gannets, puffins, and fulmars. (Also note the feral sheep left by the departing islanders!) Zodiac cruises of the jutting sea stacks and towering oceanfront cliffs—the highest in the UK—offer dramatic views and are a trip highlight.

Wool weaving

© Andrew Stewart

3. Drop anchor at faraway Fair Isle, a haven for history buffs and birders

The most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom, mystic Fair Isle lies amid rich fishing grounds halfway from the Orkneys to the Shetlands. This former Viking hub belonged to Norway until the fifteenth century. Now it’s an idyllic colony of roughly sixty-five shepherds and craftspeople, the latter of whom are famous for their knitted wool sweaters. Visit the local museum, dedicated to preserving island heritage. Fair Isle is also celebrated for its birds: some 350 species flocks here, including fulmars, kittiwakes, skuas (locally called “bonxies”), and the sweetest wee puffins you'll ever see.

Iona abbey scotland

© Dennis Minty

4. Make a pilgrimage to Iona

The breathtaking isle of Iona, where St. Columba established his monastery, is the burial place of kings. The restored abbey preserves a splendid collection of sculptures and two outstanding crosses dating as far back as the eighth century, while the graveyard invites quiet contemplation. The stunning turquoise beach, more reminiscent of the Caribbean than of Scotland's reputation for drizzle, has to be seen to be believed.

Puffins outer hebrides

© Dennis Minty

5. Embrace your inner adventurer among the wild Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides are a fantastic collection of over one hundred islands scattered off Scotland’s west coast. Here you can find the oldest evidence of human habitation in the country, showing both Pictish and Norse influences. Among today’s hearty inhabitants, Gaelic is the predominant language. Make the most of the conditions with a Zodiac cruise or a hike to explore one of the more than fifty uninhabited islands in the region, searching out the rich cultural history as well as the outstanding flora and fauna.

Callanish standing stones Lewis

© Dennis Minty

6. Go down in history on the Isle of Lewis

Lewis is the largest of the Hebridean islands and a Gaelic cultural stronghold. Climb to Stornoway’s Victorian-era castle to find the Lewis chessmen: intricate walrus ivory chess pieces dating from the twelfth century. Stop in at the thatch roofed Blackhouse Village for its quaint museum. Marvel at one of Britain’s key Stone Age sites, the Calanais Standing Stones, said to be giants punished by St. Kieran for refusing to convert to Christianity. And for the shoppers, be sure to pick up some of the island’s famous Harris Tweed.

Hiking on Skye Scotland

© Dennis Minty

7. Climb high in the Skye

The largest and most mountainous of the Inner Hebrides, Skye is stunning fun for hikers, photographers, and birders alike. Cruise its ragged shores to visit Loch Coruisk, home to some of the finest peaks in Britain, the Cuillin Mountains. Whether you’re aiming for altitude, birdwatching, or being regaled by enchanting Scottish tales, be sure to monitor the misty heather hills for red deer and scan the coast to spot frolicking seals, dolphins, and minke whales.

Guests cheers drinking glasses Islay craft centre Scotland

© Dennis Minty

8. Raise a toast to Islay, Queen of the Hebrides

Idyllic Islay is the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides islands. It’s renowned for mist-capped hills, smoky malt whisky, and diverse birds (at least 100 species, from Slavonian grebes to corncrakes to curlew sandpipers). Traipse the flower-fringed paths of Loch Gruinart Nature Reserve, a habitat for barnacle goose, hen harriers, and otter. Tour the sites of Loch Finlaggan, the historic seat of Scottish nobility. If you’re a Scotch lover (and who isn’t?), a distillery tour here is a must.

Fingal cave staffa scotland

© Dennis Minty

9. Hear your heart sing out at Staffa’s harmonious hollows

The Isle of Staffa is famed for swooping puffins, towering basaltic columns, and sea caves—the best-known being Fingal’s Cave. Geologically and mythologically connected to the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, it's known as the “melodious cave” in Gaelic. Indeed, this special place inspired a generation of artists, including Felix Mendelssohn who composed his overture The Hebrides based on the sounds created by the waves of this powerful seascape. On a Zodiac cruise, it will likely inspire any and all musicians onboard to test out its sonorous qualities, too.

Papa stour scotland

© Dennis Minty

10. Set sail for the Shetlands

Welcome to the wild, subarctic Shetland archipelago! At Papa Stour, cruise the rugged coastline by Zodiac, exploring cliffs, caves, sea stacks, and blowholes where marine life flourish. On Foula, Shetland ponies outnumber the few dozen residents. Receive a hearty greeting from them, learn about their traditional life ways, and have a chance to buy local arts and crafts. Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for birds, including Arctic terns and red-throated divers.