We have a group that would like to plan a trip to Iona, staying at the religious center a while but also seeing other sites in Scotland while there. Has anyone ever done anything similar to this? Have you organized and gone on your own? Do you know of tour companies that specialize in trips to Iona? Thanks for your input. We are just in the beginning planning stages.
Rick's Great Britain chapter on visiting Mull and Iona is short, but pretty detailed. It takes about 2.5 hours for ferry-bus-ferry connections between Oban-Mull-Iona, making it not a convenient home base for daytrips to other towns on the mainland. The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry company sells roundtrip packages.
Once you're on Iona you don't need any transportation. You do need transportation if you want to tour places on Mull. To find out about staying on Iona in association with the religious center, you should contact the Iona Community. The Island is lovely. I visited it on 9/11 and so it has special meaning for me.
Mull is a large Island. Tobermorey is very picturesque and has a distillery. There are a couple of castles, and the island has interesting wild life. There are boat tours to Fingal's Cave which leave from just across the way in Fionnphort. i would recommend the Duarte Castle. The location is fantastic and the history is fascinating.
In regards to finding a tour or setting up your own, you might try the Scottish Tour Guides Association.
Iona is very small, very walkable. I was there on a ferry-bus daytrip from Oban, and it was a day-long outing. I am not at all sure there are overnight accomodations on Iona.
There's a morning ferry from Oban over to the north end of Mull. From there, tour buses transport folks to the southern end of the island where they connect for the very short ferry trip over to Iona, After several hours exploring on foot, travelers return to their bus for the return trip.
A very visible travel office at Oban's harbor sells tickets for the whole package.
There are hotels on Iona. There are not many and can be expensive. If you want to overnight in Iona, I would plan well in advance due to limited lodging options. I took a day trip from Oban and really wish I could have stayed one or two nights to really hike and see the island. (I am a nature lover.). With the day trips, you get a few hours -then have to leave due to lengthy transportation requirements. The bus and ferry rides are part of the enjoyment though. It is easy to book a day trip to Iona from Oban. Just visit the ticket office located on the small waterfront, near the bus stops. It's easy to find when strolling along the waterfront sidewalk.
A few years ago I organized a small group to depart from a tour of Scotland and spend 2 nights on Iona. If you want to attend services at the abbey, you will need to spend at least one night. Check the schedule of the abbey services. I seems to me there was a morning, noon, and evening service--each was well-worth attending. I could have enjoyed staying longer. We stayed at one of the 2 major hotels, meals included (nowhere else to eat on the island). A few in our group stayed at a convent instead. It was a bit cheaper, I think. At the time we went, it was not possible to stay at the abbey for less than a week, but that might have changed. Other than the abbey, the other sites on Iona can be covered in a day walking the island. Map and guidebooks available at the Wild Goose gift shop (right near the abbey) or the abbey. We hired Phillip Newell, former director/steward of the abbey, to tour us for the day around the island and to teach us about Celtic spirituality.
Once you leave Oban on the ferry, it is quite clear how to get there; many of the others on the ferry from Oban are going to Iona too. As I recall, we stepped off the ferry, almost immediately onto the bus across Mull, then immediately onto the ferry to Iona.