Top 10 cruises in Scotland

Our top 10 cruises in Scotland take you into tiny fishing ports, teach you to frame the perfect puffin picture and introduce you to some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever eat. From the locally planned itineraries to the cosy hand-knitted blankets on your bed, these cruises are a celebration of where you are, not just what you are sailing on. And if you want to linger a little longer, have a paddle or take a hike, it’s likely that your beautifully restored wee boat can alter its itinerary just for you.

Keep reading to discover our best Scotland cruises.

1. Inner Hebrides

The pastel rainbow of houses lining Tobermory’s harbour offer a warm welcome to the Inner Hebrides that’s straight out of a children’s story. But don’t expect ear-piercing youthful exuberance. Cruises here – on boats small enough to tailor the itinerary to you – are about peace and quiet. You’ll paddle in sheltered bays, bird watch on isolated islands and hike remote pilgrimage trails.

2. Isle of Skye

Skye is Scotland at its most dramatic. On land, the ragged, dark hulk of the Black Cuillin Mountains overlooking your anchorage at Loch Scavaig call like a beacon to hikers and climbers. At sea, huge basking sharks might glide beside your boat, while golden eagles soar over the sheer cliffs of Canna – perhaps the most beautiful of the neighbouring Small Isles.

Our top trip: Skye and the Small Isles sailing holiday
See all our trips: Small ship cruising in Scotland holidays
Read more: Small ship cruising in Scotland travel guide

3. St Kilda & Outer Hebrides

Cruises to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed St Kilda archipelago are wild, remote and utterly distinct. Visit abandoned Hirta, which echoes with the shadows of former inhabitants who were evacuated in 1930. Or gaze upwards at the UK’s highest sea cliffs, home to a dazzling display of rare and endangered sea birds, including puffins, Leach’s petrels and giant skuas. You’ll have a good chance of spotting orcas and dolphins on these trips too.

Our top trip: St Kilda, Outer Hebrides cruise
See all our trips: Western Isles (Outer Hebrides) holidays
Read more: Hebrides cruise holidays travel guide

4. Wildlife cruises

Wildlife abounds in the remote, changing seas of the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Sheer cliffs shelter seals and globally important colonies of sea birds, while in the water you’ll follow orca and dolphins. Humpback whales have been known to breach right in front of your ship – which, being small, can sail you and your expert guides into the most wildlife-filled wee nooks and crannies.

5. Art cruises

Set against a backdrop of sheltered lochs and ragged mountain ranges, on-board art tutors turn your cruise into a week-long workshop to improve your sketching and painting. These cruises are a relaxed way to work on your skills in the company of like-minded new friends. And if one day you want to put your brush down and simply soak in the views, there’s no pressure to keep painting. It is a holiday, after all.

Our top trip: Art cruise in Scotland
See all our trips: Painting and art holidays in Scotland
Read more: Art holidays in Scotland travel guide
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Scotland cruising or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

6. Family cruises

Small and often family-run, it makes sense that these cruises are a great option for adventurous families. Kids will love learning to help sail their new home, snorkel in sheltered lochs, spot orca, minke and humpback whales, and fish for their evening meal. These are old-school adventures where rock pools take the place of TVs and golden eagles provide the evening entertainment.

Our top trip: Scotland family cruise holiday
See all our trips: Scotland family holidays
Read more: Scotland with kids travel guide

7. Caledonian Canal cruises

Scotland’s smattering of remote islands may get top billing as far as cruise itineraries go, but don’t dismiss a trip along the magnificent Caledonian Canal. Linking the thin line of lochs which split Scotland in two between Oban and Inverness, the canal will take you past some of Scotland’s most defining sights: Ben Nevis, Urquhart Castle and – most famous of all – Loch Ness.

Our top trip: Caledonian Canal cruise in Scotland via Loch Ness
See all our trips: Scottish Highlands holidays
Read more: Cruising the Caledonian Canal travel guide

8. Whisky cruises

Like a fine malt whisky, small ship cruises in Scotland are carefully hand-crafted by local people for whom the islands and sea are an intrinsic part of them. It’s not a coincidence, then, that some of the loveliest cruise routes also take in some of Scotland’s oldest whisky distilleries. Don’t miss the most famous of the “malt whisky islands” – Mull, Jura and Islay – where you can enjoy tastings led by local experts.

9. Photography cruises

Join a traditionally seafaring family and an expert photography tutor for a week-long workshop at sea. You’ll capture a snapshot of life among Scotland’s island communities, improve your wildlife photography skills searching for sea eagles, and – in a region that does desolately beautiful like nowhere else – love the light as you learn how to perfectly frame sweeping seascapes and island viewpoints.

Our top trip: Photography cruise in Scotland
See all our trips: Special interest holidays in Scotland
Read more: Photography holidays travel guide

10. Historic small ship cruises

From Iona’s mythical monks to the disappearing villages of St Kilda, small ship cruises in Scotland weave stories that pull you into the heart of the places you visit. On board, the storytelling continues as you discover your ship’s previous life as a cruising lifeboat, Norwegian ferry, tall ship or fishing vessel, now beautifully restored and repurposed to create a comfortable, historic home from home.

Our top trip: Isle of Mull and Small Isles explorer
See all our trips: Small ship cruising in Scotland holidays
Read more: Small ship cruising in Scotland travel guide
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: Krisjanis Mezulis] [Food: Frank Smith] [Places: Joe Bloggs]