Our Scotland travel guide reveals a land full of wildlife, and mountainous and marine magnificence.
Hebrides cruise holidays
Cruising holidays in the Hebrides will typically focus on a handful of islands and sounds, often sticking either to the Inner or Outer Hebrides but sometimes visiting islands in both. You may also spend time in some of the smaller archipelagos such as the Treshnish Isles west of Mull or the Small Isles (Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck) south of Skye – both are famed for their sea bird colonies.
Cruising in the Hebrides combines the three Ws: wildlife, walking and whisky, although the last is optional of course! You will explore remote coastlines dotted with old castles and lighthouses, get up close with whales, dolphins, seals, otters and of course vast numbers of sea birds – the white-tailed eagle was recently reintroduced to Rum. You may pause for a tasting in a whisky distillery, or climb into your ship’s tender (a small motorised boat) to do a little beachcombing.
As most cruises are small group holidays, you will follow a set itinerary on set dates – though of course the exact route and daily activities are subject to change depending on the weather. The exact numbers of passengers vary but typically will be limited to around 11 or 12, plus two to three crew including your skipper. Expect it then to be quite cramped in the living quarters, but very sociable, and by the end of the first evening aboard you’ll be on first name terms and getting along famously. If you want a tailor-made trip, you can look at either a private charter (a good option for families) or basing yourself in a hotel on Mull with daily wildlife watching boat trips. This latter of course does not give you the same flexibility a cruise holiday offers, where you will meander along with no time pressures, sailing and mooring up wherever the skipper feels is looking good that day.
Our Hebrides (Inner & Outer) Holidays
What do Hebrides cruise holidays entail?Cruises are aboard a wide range of vessels: tall ships, converted ferries, fishing boats and lifeboats, or purpose-built small ship cruise vessels. In every case, space will be at a premium, so you will need to pack light and cleverly. Given you’ll not spend much time in your cabin anyway though, the cramped conditions below deck shouldn’t be too much of an issue. What can be are the steep steps down to the cabins, and bunk beds – you’ll need to be comfortable negotiating them, as well as getting from the boat onto a tender for shore visits. Cabins are typically en suite, and some operators do not impose a single supplement, making their trips ideal for solo passengers.
Another aspect of Hebrides cruise holidays that serves solo travellers well is the communal side to boat life: you’ll all dine together in a roomy saloon, or al fresco on deck when the weather is nice, and many boats have their own onboard chef. Days on shore excursions, and evenings spent playing games, make for a very sociable atmosphere which the small crew helps with as well. For this reason however, most cruises are adults only, while a few have a minimum age of 16. If you are interested in a more family-orientated tour, look at a centre-based trip on Mull, as wildlife day trips often have a minimum age of just five.
Dining can be exquisite, with chefs making good use of locally sourced meat, seafood and vegetables. You should expect to be very well-fed. Some itineraries will see you mooring up on inhabited islands where you might visit a local restaurant, or take a distillery tour. There are several prestigious whisky distilleries in the Hebrides, particularly on Islay.
Bringing a hip flask, then, is recommended, especially as the weather can be unpredictable even in summer. Cruising itineraries particularly are quite sensitive to the weather – skippers will take into consideration tides, wind direction and strength, currents and the weather when plotting daily itineraries, however they know the area so well that there is always a plan B if your planned excursion isn’t possible.
So beyond a hip flask and your seasickness pills (just in case), what else will you need to stow in your soft-shell bag? A camera is the one essential: the scenery, and the amount of wildlife here land, sea and air, demands it. A laptop will come in handy too for viewing your photos every evening. Some boats will provide binoculars for passengers but you may want to check in advance. Bring waterproofs, and clothing you can layer as the climate in the Hebrides tends to be so changeable. You probably won’t regret bringing a selection of books and games for the evenings – phone and WiFi signal will range from patchy to non-existent much of the time. And you almost certainly won’t give it a moment’s thought.
Our top Hebrides (Inner & Outer) Holiday
Scottish Cruise to St Kilda and the Outer Hebrides
From £4480 11 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2021: 10 Jul, 4 Sep
2023: 15 Apr, 29 Apr, 27 May
2021: 10 Jul, 4 Sep
2023: 15 Apr, 29 Apr, 27 May
If you'd like to chat about Hebrides (Inner & Outer) or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Catriona Craig from our supplier The Majestic Line with some more advice on the benefits of cruise holidays in the Hebrides:
Why take a cruise
“On a cruise the scenery is constantly changing. They offer greater opportunities for viewing marine life – dolphins love to swim in the wake, and in 2019 we’ve seen lots of minke whales and porpoises. With a cruise you can visit the little out of the way places, stop for a walk here or a lunch there, with more time available to you than you would normally get on a day trip.”
Food and drink
“Our boats all have a chef aboard, and each has their own style of cooking. We aim to make the most of Scottish produce and source ingredients locally wherever possible, not only from an environmental perspective but also because the food here is so wonderful. The seafood, the venison, local cheese, and of course the whisky – we often visit one or two distilleries.”
More about Hebrides (Inner & Outer)
Our Hebrides travel guide covers the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides and shows you how to explore them on small ship cruises, or by basing yourself on an island for wildlife watching trips by boat.
The best time to go to the Hebrides is between April and October, especially if you’re planning a cruise holiday.