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North Coast 500 vs Oban and Inner Hebrides (Islay, Mull, Iona, etc.)

Hi all,

My husband and I are hopefully planning a Scotland trip for late August (yes late notice, but as a PhD student you don't often have the luxury of being able to plan far in advance!). We wanted to pull the trigger on tickets today (Delta had $450 tickets to Glasgow!), but the prices went way up overnight, so we are waiting and seeing over the next week or so if there's any change.

We likely will be going for ~14 days (I wish more!). I studied abroad in Scotland at the University of Aberdeen for a semester, so for most cities in Scotland (though I never went to Glasgow), plus Skye and Glencoe/Loch Lomond, I feel like I've got a good idea of how much time we should spend and what is of interest. My husband has never been, so the plan is to give him a broad taste of what I've seen, hopefully in better weather than springtime. Even if we don't end up doing it this summer, we absolutely will go and spend a similar amount of time there.

That being said, we likely will have 4-5 days that we can allocate to things I haven't done before. I'm a bit torn between spending those days touring the NC500, or going to Oban, and going to the Inner Hebrides (excluding Skye which we will be for sure be doing), especially Islay. Some of my ancestors came from Islay, and the rest near Aberdeen, which is why it is of interest to me, plus I've heard wonderful things. We're pretty outdoorsy people, and my husband is definitely interested in the whisky.

So, I ask, if you had 4-5 days, would you rather spend them doing the North Coast 500, or going Island Hopping? The NC500 appeals to me from a road trip perspective, not unlike I've done in Iceland, and some of the sights seems amazing. But island hopping seems a bit less stressful (reading about single lane passes is terrifying!).

Beyond this advice, any suggestions of what to do in either location would be much appreciated! That might help make the decision easier. Currently sorting through a bit of information overload in regards to both places.

Posted by
1188 posts

How about an island hop up the Outer Hebrides? You could go from Oban to Castlebay (Barra) and then work your way up the chain of islands using a mixture of ferries and causeways to either Lochmaddy, Tarbert, or Stornaway, from where you can catch a ferry to either Uig on Skye (Lochmaddy/Tarbert) or Ullapool (Stornaway). The scenery is quite different from anywhere else in Scotland, the islands are much less busy than Skye/Mull, there is the machair and white sand beaches stretching for miles, and then on Lewis & Harris there are mountains and some prehistoric standing stones (Callanish). You could easily get a good flavour in 4-5 days, maybe staying in B&BS, but you'd need to check accommodation first before booking ferries as it's quite limited out there.

The NC500 is obviously another good choice, but August is peak tourist season and I would expect the route to be very busy and not particularly enjoyable to drive at that time of year.

Accommodation on Skye could also be problematic (I have a B&B myself and know many other owners and we are all fully booked in August already) but you could try the Skye Rooms Facebook group to ask for any availability for your chosen dates.

Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
5678 posts

So, while August is peak travel season in Scotland, you're from Chicago. You will think that there are not many people! :) The 500 promoted since we did most of it a number of years ago. In fact, I don't think it had a name yet. :) But it was wonderful. I think you would have fewer people there in the Inner Hebrides which are extremely popular. If you go, be sure to take the Drumbeg road. Also, I hope you can visit Cape Wrath. We didn't get to which I still regret. The sands of Durness were amazing. Also, Bettyhill is very interesting and if you have time dip down to see Stravnaver, the former cleared village site. I thought Tongue looked charming. We had lunch there. I visited John O'Groats last year and the cliffs were amazing. The lochs have great history from WWII. They are where many of the convoys were assembled.

So the western isles are wonderful, no doubt, but I really liked my drive over the top of Scotland.


Posted by
9 posts

Thanks for the advice! We've booked our flight, and now the trip is going to be a bit shorter (my husband wasn't too keen on taking two weeks out of his PhD program), so we've tabled this part of the trip, but this will definitely come in handy in the future!

And yes, getting on skye reservations now. Though availability on airbnb isn't too bad, while basically every hotel is sold out. We'll definitely be able to find a good place!