Known for hilltop castles, abundant rainfall, and rolling green valleys speckled with flocks of sheep, Scotland far exceeds its classic clichés. From the Highlands to the islands, Scotland is an enchanting destination where multilayered history converges with some of Europe’s most dramatic landscapes, mesmerizing wildlife, and a culinary prowess sure to impress epicureans.
This is most prevalent in the Inner Hebrides, an archipelago comprised of 79 islands off the west coast of mainland Scotland. Here, remote lands are replete with impressive beaches, picturesque villages, and tranquil back roads — the perfect locales to explore by bike.
Although some of these hidden gems are hard to find on your own, local operators like Wilderness Scotland tailor cycling holidays to unveil the region’s mysteries. Here, your guide to cycling the most beautiful islands in the Inner Hebrides, and where to stop, eat, stay, and play on each.
Isle of Mull
Begin a cycling trip on the Isle of Mull, the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides. As on most of the islands in the Inner Hebrides, Mull has a system of easy-graded roads, making cycling along quiet countryside a peaceful adventure. Craignure marks the most opportune entry point, nestled just 45 minutes by ferry from the west coast of mainland Scotland.
Plan your route along the serene roads of Mull’s jagged perimeter, kinking and curving along the coast. Venture north to the village of Dervaig (translated from “Good Inlet” in Old Norse) for a chance to sleep at the The Bellachroy; established in 1608, it’s the island’s oldest inn.
Not far lies Tobermory, Mull’s vibrant capital, distinguished by the colorfully painted facades of Main Street’s sundry shops and restaurants. No visit would be complete without a whiskey tasting at the legendary Tobermory Distillery, founded in 1789. While in Dervaig, don’t miss Am Birlinn, a contemporary restaurant serving the freshest seafood in Mull.
Weather permitting, cycle single track road under the shadow of Ben More, the highest mountain on the Island, and don’t miss a stop at Calgary Bay, framed by craggy bluffs and its white shell sand beach. Stone ruins allude to its storied past while the Gothic 19th-century Calgary Castle still overlooks the bay to the west.
Isle of Iona
Just off the southwestern tip of Mull is the slight but significant Isle of Iona, with a total area of 3.4 square miles and approximately 120 permanent residents. A ferry ride from Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull brings visitors across the Sound of Iona in less than 10 minutes.
The island’s relatively flat terrain makes cycling a breeze. Plus, Iona’s Prohibition of Vehicles Order ensures only a limited number of authorized vehicles (such as taxis and special permit holders) can navigate the roads.
Steeped in history, Iona is revered as the cradle of Christianity in Scotland, after an exiled Irish priest found refuge on the island in 563 A.D. He and his companions spent decades spreading the teachings of what came to be known as Celtic Christianity throughout present-day Scotland.
To learn more about this fundamental history, cycle to the island’s most visited attraction, the restored Iona Abbey and Nunnery, where 48 kings (including Macbeth) are believed to be buried. Next, pedal along the multitude of beaches ranging from hidden coves to wide-open, sandy stretches. Before departing Mull, stop by the waterfront Argyll Hotel to indulge in local lamb, sustainably caught fish, and organic produce grown on-island.
Isle of Skye
The famed Road to Isles connects Fort William to Mallaig, a thriving port with a direct ferry route to Armadale on the Isle of Skye. Vehicles are virtually absent along this coastal path thanks to a new bypass, allowing bikers to appreciate vistas such as Camusdarach Beach and the jagged peaks of Cuillin Hills.
The Isle of Skye is the largest and most northerly island of the Inner Hebrides. It’s a significant tourist attraction, encompassing a 639-square-mile collage of charming harbor towns, billowing moorlands, soaring sea cliffs, and weathered mountaintops.
Overlooking the sparkling Sound of Sleat, the Ardvasar Hotel provides a welcoming retreat near port after a long day of travel. Once recuperated, bike north to Portree, Skye’s largest town. It’s home to a thriving cultural hub, lapped by the waters of Loch Portree and fringed by towering bluffs. Don’t depart without sampling the modern Scottish fare at Scorrybreac.
Trotternish, the northernmost peninsula of the Isle of Skye, is another ppopular destination thanks to its natural attractions like the iconic spiked pinnacles of Old Man of Storr and Quiraing, a looped landslip offering spectacular panoramic views.
Conclude your journey with a ride to Dunvegan to witness Scotland’s oldest continuously inhabited castle, Dunvegan Castle. Expect extensive art, formal gardens, and boat excursions to see the local seal colony of Loch Dunvegan.