Discover the Western Isles of Lewis and Harris, Benbecula, the Uists and Barra, and the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland.
In doing so we bring together two very different cultural and historical landscapes, contrasting the Gaelic-speaking Hebrides with the Norse-influenced archipelagos to the north. Join us on this unique opportunity to sample a whole range of island experiences, from Vatersay in the south to Eshaness in the far north.
The first part of this island odyssey is essentially our Grand Tour of the Outer Hebrides, with all the elements that has made this our top-selling island tour, from Kisimul Castle and Cockleshell Beach to the Standing Stones of Callanish and the Blackhouses of Lewis.
Returning to the mainland we have an interlude in Aberdeen and a visit to Castle Fraser before taking the overnight ferry to Lerwick and exploring the rugged and breathtaking seascapes of Shetland.
Then it’s on to Orkney, home to some of the most impressive Neolithic monuments in Europe and a green, fertile landscape that sets it apart from other Scottish islands. After 11 days and countless unique island memories we return home.
NC500: Please note that this itinerary features part of the North Coast 500, the highly scenic coastal route which begins and ends in Inverness.
What You’ll Love
- Return coach travel available from Inverurie, Aberdeen, Elgin, Forres, Nairn & Inverness
- Accommodation, Dinner & Breakfast
- Services of a professional tour manager
- Comfortable coach travel throughout
- All visits as outlined in the itinerary
Single supplements apply. Subject to availability.
We depart from our designated pick-up points, stopping en-route for refreshments (not included) and travel via Fort William and Glenfinnan to Mallaig. From here we take the early evening ferry to Lochboisdale in South Uist, with dinner served on board. Look out for the Small Isles of Rum and Canna to port and the Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye to starboard. On arrival we continue over causeways (keeping a careful eye out for otters) to Benbecula, the ‘stepping stone’ between the Uists, where we arrive in the late evening at our base for the next two nights.
After our full Scottish breakfast we will depart for Barra, travelling via the little island of Eriskay, just three miles long and two miles wide, with a great sandy beach known as Prince Charlie’s Bay – Bonnie Prince Charlie having landed here in July 1745.
From Eriskay we make the short ferry crossing to Barra and have a tour of the island, including a visit by boat to Kisimul Castle, the only surviving medieval castle in the Western Isles and the seat of the Clan MacNeil.
The castle features a great hall, kitchen, chapel, dungeon and 60-foot tower, together with a shop. We will also visit Cockleshell Beach, the unique runway whose use is governed by the tides. On approaching the airport keep an eye out to the left for the much loved former home of Sir Compton Mackenzie, the author of ‘Whisky Galore’, which is forever associated with the island.
In fact, it was on the neighbouring island of Vatersay, which we will visit by means of the causeway linking the two islands, that the classic film adaptation was made. In the course of our tour today we also hope to see some of the hundreds of species of wild flowers that grow on the island, particularly on the machair, the fertile, grassy pastures that lie between the moorland and the sea.
We return via the Eriskay ferry to our hotel.
After breakfast we check out of the hotel and take the ferry from Berneray to Leverburgh at the southern end of Harris and visit St Clement’s Church at Rodel, built on top of an earlier structure in the 16th century by Alasdair Crotach, 8th chief of the Macleods of Harris and Dun Bheagan.
The church tombs are among the most spectacular in Scotland. There are outstanding views as we travel along the coast, including the island of Taransay of ‘Castaway’ fame, and the wonderful beaches at Scarasta, Horgabost, Borve and of course Luskentyre, which was voted among the world’s 25 Top Beaches in 2020.
We will pause for refreshments (not included) in Tarbert, before continuing through the mountainous countryside of Harris which eventually gives way to the rolling moorland of Lewis. We continue to the island capital of Stornoway and our comfortable accommodation at the Cabarfeidh Hotel.
This morning after breakfast we will travel to the west coast of Lewis for a visit to the 5,000 year old Standing Stones of Callanish.
Undoubtedly the most remarkable antiquity in the Western Isles, this collection of almost 50 stones forms a well-marked megalithic avenue, comprising 19 monoliths, ending in a circle of 13 stones, with a great cairn at the centre. Entry to the Visitor Centre is included.
From here we move on to the Black Houses at Gearrannan, typical of the crofting settlements which until relatively recently were found throughout the Western Isles.
The final visit on our circular tour is the Norse Mill at Shawbost, a reconstruction of the type of grain mill used originally by Viking settlers and by islanders up until the 1930s. A short walk past a small lochan leads to two beautifully restored little thatched buildings with a fine view to the ocean beyond.
This morning we check out of the hotel and take the early morning Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool which takes approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes (breakfast will be served on board).
We then continue to our overnight hotel in Aberdeen, breaking our journey with some free time in Inverness.
After breakfast we depart for a visit to Castle Fraser, one of the grandest of the Scottish baronial tower houses. Built between 1575 and 1636 by the 6th laird, Michael Fraser, Castle Fraser is the most elaborate Z-plan castle in Scotland.
One of the castle’s most evocative rooms is the strikingly simple Great Hall. The castle contains many Fraser family portraits, including one by Raeburn, and fine 18th- and 19th-century carpets, curtains and bed hangings, and even Charles Mackenzie Fraser’s wooden leg!
The estate contains a flight pond, mixed woodland and open farmland, with two waymarked walks giving magnificent views of the local hills. The historic walled garden features shrubs, flowers, wall-trained fruit and vegetables. Lunch is available here (not included) and there is also a shop selling exclusive gifts.
We return to Aberdeen where the afternoon is free. Recommended is a visit to the Maritime Museum (free admission) which tells the story of the city’s long relationship with the sea and houses a unique collection covering shipbuilding, fast sailing ships and of course the vital fishing industry. It is also offers a spectacular viewpoint over the busy harbour, where you will see our Northlink ferry at her berth.
At an agreed place and time we will assemble and board the ship (Hrossey or Hjaltland) for our overnight sailing to Lerwick (departs 19.00hrs). Once on board we shall check-in to our comfortable, twin-berth cabins which all have en-suite facilities. The ship has a delightful restaurant, where dinner is served this evening, together with a bar and lounges where you can relax. There is also a well-stocked gift shop for souvenir shopping or essential items.
Our ship is due to arrive in Lerwick at 07.30hrs. After breakfast on board (available from 07.15hrs) we will leave the ship and commence our tour of Shetland.
Our first stop is in Scalloway, the former capital of Shetland, where we visit the ruined castle built in 1600 by the infamous Earl Patrick Stewart. We then continue north towards the spectacular cliffs of Eshaness, look out for the ‘Otters Crossing’ sign at the narrow isthmus known as Mavis Grind, where it is said to be possible to throw a stone from the North Sea to the Atlantic.
Following our visit here we transfer to our comfortable accommodation at the historic Busta House Hotel, Brae.
Today we will start with a visit to the outstanding Prehistoric and Norse Settlement of Jarlshof, with over 3 acres of remains, spanning 3000 years since the days of the Stone Age, including oval shaped bronze age houses, iron age broch and wheel houses, Viking long houses and medieval farmhouses.
From there we travel to the southern tip of mainland Shetland, Sumburgh Head, where the North Sea on the east meets the Atlantic Ocean on the west. Here we visit the RSPB Reserve, which is home to thousands of seabirds, including puffins, guillemots and razorbills.
In the afternoon we travel through small communities such as Gulberwick and Cunningsburgh before we explore the island’s capital town of Lerwick, where we have some free time and an opportunity to visit the state of the art Shetland Museum for more detail on this special set of islands.
We will re-join our ship, which sails at 17.30 hours for Orkney. Dinner is served on board.
On arrival in Orkney (expected 23.00hrs) we will transfer the short distance to Kirkwall and our hotel accommodation.
After breakfast today we have an all day excursion of mainland Orkney visiting the many archaeological sites including the, great stone circles of Brodgar and Stenness. lying to the north side of the Orphir Hills.
To this day the monuments’ age remains uncertain, however they are generally thought to have been erected between 2500BC & 2000BC.
We continue to Maeshowe, the finest chambered tomb in Western Europe. Built before 2700 B.C. Maeshowe was raided by Vikings in the 12th Century.
It houses the largest collection of runic inscriptions to be found in any one place in the world. A visit to Skara Brae is also included, with its new visitors centre depicting the history of this world-famous monument.
Today we will have some free time to explore Kirkwall and its environs at leisure.
Places of interest include St. Magnus Cathedral, one of Europe’s greatest architectural masterpieces, its red and yellow sandstone still vibrant after 861 years, and the adjacent Bishop’s Palace. Spend some time shopping and enjoy lunch (not included).
In the afternoon we will depart on a tour of the south end of mainland Orkney, crossing the Churchill Barriers which were built after the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak in October 1939. The causeways are built of 5 and 10 ton concrete blocks and have good roads on the top connecting Burray and South Ronaldsay to the Orkney mainland.
We also stop off at the beautiful Italian Chapel, built on the site of a former prisoner of war camp. Several hundred Italians, captured during the North African campaign of World War II were sent here to work on the Causeways and converted two huts into a chapel.
The marvellous paintings in the interior were done by Domenico Chiocchetti, one of the prisoners who returned several times to restore and repaint parts of the building.
After breakfast we check out of the hotel and transfer to St Margaret’s Hope to catch the Pentland Ferries late morning sailing to Gills Bay. We will then return to our original pick up points by early/late evening