The Inner Hebrides are part of the UK, so visitors from the EU do not currently need a visa. However, now that the UK has left the European Union, documentation requirements for EU citizens may change – especially once the transition period has ended in January 2021; check before travelling.
People coming from the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries should follow the same procedures as entering the UK elsewhere.
Getting there and away
The Inner Hebrides range from relatively remote to quite accessible depending on your choice of destination. While it might take 4 hours to reach Tiree from the mainland, or you could have to wait a couple of days to catch a ferry to Canna, driving across to Seil or Skye takes a matter of minutes. In all cases, the journey should be considered a part of your trip, as mainland Argyll and the Highlands are beautiful parts of Scotland and ferry journeys provide great wildlife-watching opportunities in the open sea.
Note that it’s not necessary to have a car to visit the Inner Hebrides, but – with the exception of Skye and Seil where some buses run directly over the bridge – in order to reach the islands by public transport you will generally have to change and get on to the ferry on foot.
The vast majority of ferry services are run by CalMac. Of the main port towns, Mallaig serves the Small Isles and Skye; Oban serves Mull, Coll, Tiree, Colonsay and Lismore; Gallanach, just south of Oban, has ferries to Kerrera; to reach the Slate Islands, you will first have to travel to Seil; Kennacraig, which is really little more than a shed ferry terminal in a large car park, serves Islay; and ferries to Gigha leave from Tayinloan.
You can also travel to Raasay from Sconser on Skye; to Colonsay from Port Askaig on Islay; to Iona from Fionnphort; and to Ulva from Ulva Ferry on Mull.
By bus and rail
Trains to Oban, Mallaig, Arrochar and Tarbet (the last two for bus connections towards Kennacraig and Tayinloan) leave from Glasgow Queen Street. Times and fares can be checked via ScotRail.
The journey from Glasgow to Oban by both bus and train takes just over 3 hours, with departures every couple of hours throughout the day. Travelling to Mallaig takes just over 5 hours with only a couple of departures each day and the possibility of needing to change in Fort William.
It takes just over 3 hours to reach Kennacraig, for connections to Islay, by Citylink bus, whereas travelling to Tayinloan (for Gigha) adds a further 30 minutes and a couple of pounds more; there are departures a few times a day.
Travel between the islands
Almost all roads in the Inner Hebrides are paved and, excluding a few good stretches on Skye and a couple on Mull and Islay, the vast majority are single track. The condition of the roads is a point of much contention among locals who are accustomed to driving on narrow roads, but resent the inconvenience and damage caused by pot-holes.
You can generally expect the quality of roads to decrease in accordance with the size of the population and proximity to the mainland: although single track, Seil’s roads are smooth and painless, whereas those on Skye’s northern Waternish Peninsula, the west coast of Mull and towards the north of Raasay are more dubious.
Jura deserves a special mention for its only substantial road: the A846. The classification as an A road should not confuse visitors into assuming it will be well maintained – the northern section sees grass growing in the middle and in places the sides are so sunken that a small car is likely to occasionally graze the road with its undercarriage.
Routes between islands are more limited and less frequent than those between the islands and the mainland, making it impossible to explore the whole archipelago without intermittently visiting the mainland; fortunately, Argyll and the Highlands are both beautiful parts of Scotland, so this is really no hardship.
That said, it is possible to travel between some of the islands: Coll and Tiree; Islay to Jura and Colonsay; between some of the Small Isles; Seil to Easdale and Luing; Skye to Raasay; and Mull to Iona and Ulva.
With a little forward planning, a holiday or trip around some of the Inner Hebridean islands by bus is perfectly possible and allows you the extra luxuries of being a little higher above the ground and not needing to watch the road, so you can relax and enjoy the scenery.
Bus services on the islands, though reliable, comfortable and convenient where they exist, have limited routes and timetables. Generally, schedules work around school times rather than the arrival of ferries, so there might be some wait between connections. On Sundays, services are dramatically reduced and often do not run at all.