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Best Scottish Islands to Live On

Best Scottish Islands to Live On

If you’re ready to swap city lights for starry nights and traffic jams for tranquil beaches, then it’s time to move to an island! From the coastlines of Orkney and Shetland to the landscapes of the Hebrides, islands provide an escape from all the hustle and bustle.

In this guide, we’ll explore some of the best Scottish islands to call home, whether you seek a tranquil retreat or a hip cultural scene. Each of these islands has its distinct charm, making them enticing options for those looking to embrace island life.

Isle of Arran

Isle of Arran
Image by Daily Mail

Population: 4,629

Population Density: 10.72 people/km2

Coordinates: 55.5775°N 5.2375°W

Island Group: Firth of Clyde

Highest Elevation: Goat Fell

Council Area: North Ayrshire

Employment Fields: Salmon Farming, Restaurants, Golf, Hotels, Distillery

The Isle of Arran, often referred to as “Scotland in Miniature,” offers an idyllic lifestyle. Living here means having access to a diverse range of landscapes, from lush forests to rugged mountains and stunning coastlines. 

The island’s friendly communities and vibrant local culture create a welcoming atmosphere. With excellent schools, healthcare facilities, and a variety of outdoor activities, it’s an ideal place to raise a family. 

Plus, Arran’s close proximity to mainland Scotland, just a short ferry ride away, ensures convenience while maintaining a peaceful island life.

Pro tip:
In terms of activities, you can explore the Machrie Moor Standing Stones for a taste of ancient history, or hike Goat Fell for panoramic vistas.

Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye
Image by Winetraveler

Population: 10,008

Population Density: 6.04/km2

Coordinates: 57.307°N 6.230°W

Island Group: Skye

Highest Elevation: Sgùrr Alasdair

Council Area: Highland

Employment Fields: Administration, Education, Health, Distribution, Hotels, Restaurants

The Isle of Skye, famous for its dramatic landscapes, offers a unique living experience. With iconic landmarks like the Fairy Pools, Old Man of Storr, and the Quiraing, it’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, photographers, and nature lovers. 

Residents wake up to breathtaking views of rugged mountains, serene lochs, and the ever-changing sea. Though remote, Skye’s infrastructure is improving, ensuring a comfortable lifestyle without sacrificing its wild charm.

Skye’s close-knit communities are also known for their warmth and support. With excellent schools and a growing arts and culinary scene, Skye combines natural beauty with cultural richness. 

Pro tip:
Do note that it tends to become quite busy in the summer months due to tourists with campervans. If you plan to move here, this is something to consider.

Isle of Mull (Inner Hebrides)

Population: 2,990

Population Density: 3.2/km2

Coordinates: 56.45°N 6°W

Island Group: Mull 

Highest Elevation: Ben More 

Council Area: Argyll and Bute

Employment Fields: Farming, Aquaculture, Fishing, Whiskey Distillery, Cheese, Brewery, Tourism, Ecotourism, Hotels, Cottages

Life on the Isle of Mull is a dream for those seeking a tranquil yet connected existence. With pristine beaches, charming villages, and abundant wildlife, residents can enjoy a slower pace of life while staying engaged with the stunning natural surroundings. 

Birdwatchers flock here for sea eagles, while boat trips offer chances to spot seals and whales. The island’s healthcare and education services are also reliable. 

With regular ferry connections to the mainland, residents have easy access to the amenities of larger towns when needed. Keep in mind that the ferry stands as the sole means of reaching the island, departing from Lochaline, Kilchoan, and Oban.

Pro tip:
Tobermory, with its colourful waterfront buildings, is a must-visit town. You can explore this part of the island to get a feel for island living.

Isle of Eigg

Population: 105

Population Density: 2.7 people/km2

Coordinates: 56.9°N 6.15°W

Island Group: Small Isles

Highest Elevation: An Sgùrr

Council Area: Highland

Employment Fields: Tourism, Tours, Cafes, Bars, Restaurants, Beer Brewery

The Isle of Eigg, one of the Small Isles, offers a unique and sustainable way of life. With its small population and a strong sense of community, Eigg provides a peaceful and eco-conscious environment. 

Residents can enjoy unspoiled nature, including the famous Singing Sands beach, and participate in traditional ceilidhs. Eigg’s renewable energy initiatives ensure a sustainable future, and the island’s limited development maintains its natural beauty. 

Living here means being part of a tight-knit island family and embracing a simpler, more environmentally conscious lifestyle. However, there is only one shop in the area.

Pro tip:
To help with your decision, immerse yourself in their culture by attending a ceilidh – traditional Scottish dance – with the friendly locals.

Isle of Iona

Isle of Iona
Image by Tripadvisor

Population: 177

Population Density: 21.10/km2

Coordinates: 56°19′48″N 06°24′36″W

Island Group: Mull

Highest Elevation: Dùn Ì

Council Area: Argyll and Bute

Employment Fields: Tourism, School

The Isle of Iona, with its rich spiritual history, offers a tranquil and contemplative way of life. Living on Iona means being immersed in an atmosphere of serenity, with access to beautiful beaches and historic sites like the Iona Abbey.

Residents can engage in reflective walks and appreciate the island’s unspoiled landscapes. Despite its remote location, Iona remains connected to the mainland, allowing for essential services and connections when needed.

While the community is small, it’s welcoming, and the island’s cultural significance and spiritual charm make it a unique place to call home. 

Pro tip:
Expect only basic single-track gravel roads that wind their way throughout the island. While these roads offer a scenic drive, make sure to drive cautiously, yield to oncoming vehicles at passing places, and be prepared for slower travel times.

Isle of Jura

Isle of Jura
Image by The Guardian

Population: 196

Population Density: 0.5/km2

Coordinates: 56°N 6°W

Island Group: Islay

Highest Elevation: Beinn an Òir

Council Area: Argyll and Bute

Employment Fields: Rum Distillery, Hotels, Bars, Gallery, Craft Shop, Tearoom, Community Run Petrol

The Isle of Jura, famed for its whisky production and remote beauty, offers a unique lifestyle. If you’re prepared to embrace solitude and have a deep connection with nature, then this is the island to call home.

With just a small population of less than 200, residents have the rugged landscapes almost entirely to themselves. Jura’s distillery also adds a touch of luxury, producing world-renowned whisky, and regular ferry service to the mainland.

Amenities are limited, but Jura’s peaceful surroundings and wildlife make up for it. In fact, Jura literally means Deer Island, so keep an eye out for wild deer while hiking—it’s a common sight! 

Pro tip:
Aspiring writers should choose Jura for its remote tranquillity, just as George Orwell did. Orwell’s time on the island, where he penned iconic works like “Animal Farm” and “1984,” serves as a testament to its potential as a writer’s sanctuary.

Isle of Raasay

Population: 161

Population Density: 2.5/km2

Coordinates: 57°24′N 6°02′W

Island Group: Skye

Highest Elevation: Dùn Caan 

Council Area: Highland

Employment Fields: Ferry Company, Crofting, Fishing, Hotel, Shop/Post Office, Isle Of Raasay Distillery 

Raasay, a hidden gem with rugged terrain and stunning views of Skye, offers a peaceful island lifestyle. Here, you can enjoy a slower pace while surrounded by the island’s natural beauty.

With its crystal-clear waters and outdoor activities like kayaking and paddleboarding, Raasay provides an active yet tranquil existence. You’ll also find plenty of enchanting forest trails and awe-inspiring coastal scenery to discover.

Although it’s remote, regular 25-minute ferry connections to Skye and the mainland maintain accessibility to crucial services. 

Pro tip:
If you have high school kids, do note that older students must catch a ferry to attend high school in Portree. This might be an important consideration, especially if your child has mobility concerns.

Isle of Lewis & Harris (Outer Hebrides)

Isle of Lewis & Harris (Outer Hebrides)
Image by On The Luce

Population: 18,500

Population Density: 27/sq mi

Coordinates: 58.2°N 6.6°W

Island Group: Western Isles

Highest Elevation: Mealasbhal 

Council Area: Na h-Eileanan Siar

Employment Fields: Crofting, Fishing, Weaving

The Isle of Lewis and Harris, with their rugged coastlines, pristine beaches like Luskentyre, and rich history, offer an exceptional lifestyle. Residents here are surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and a strong sense of cultural heritage. 

Lewis and Harris’ shores boast some of Britain’s best beaches, including Luskentyre, Uig Sands, and Scarista Beach. The island also offers a range of educational and healthcare facilities – it even has its own college, the University of Highlands. 

While the phone signal here is weak, ferry links and air transport to the mainland ensure essential services are within reach. You can also spot the renowned Callanish standing stones on the island’s western side, standing tall for over 5,000 years.

Pro tip:
Do note that the fuel and delivery fees here are expensive, so plan accordingly in terms of choosing your vehicle and trade.

Tiree Island

Tiree Island
Image by Tripadvisor

Population: 653

Population Density: 8.3/km2

Coordinates: 56.5°N 6.88°W

Island Group: Mull

Highest Elevation: Ben Hynish

Council Area: Argyll and Bute

Employment Fields: Farming, Fishing, Crofting, Tourism

Tiree, known as the windsurfing capital of Scotland, provides an exhilarating and laid-back lifestyle. Residing here means having some of the UK’s best windsurfing and kitesurfing spots at your doorstep. 

The island’s beautiful beaches and constant breezes make it an ideal destination for water sports enthusiasts. Tiree’s small, friendly community adds to the island’s charm, and residents appreciate the peaceful and relaxed atmosphere. 

Stargazers would be pleased with Tiree since it does not have street lights, which means minimal light pollution. Keep in mind, however, that it would take five hours for a single ferry trip to and from the island.

Pro tip:
For those who love the sun, you’d be happy to know that Tiree is ‘The Sunshine Island.’ This is because, in Scotland, it has the highest number of days with sunshine.

Islay Island

Islay Island
Image by:

Population: 3,228

Population Density: 5.2/km2

Coordinates: 55.77°N 6.15°W

Island Group: Islay

Highest Elevation: Beinn Bheigeir

Council Area: Argyll and Bute

Employment Fields: Sheep Farming, Dairy, Cattle, Sea Angling, Wild Brown Trout And Salmon Fishing, Distilling, Tourism

Islay, renowned for its whisky distilleries and stunning coastal scenery, offers a unique and rewarding way of life. Living on Islay – the 5th largest island in Scotland– means immersing yourself in a world of peaty spirits and breathtaking landscapes. 

If you’re looking for job opportunities in farming and fishing, whisky distilleries, tourism, or renewable energy, Islay is the place to be. This island offers a diverse range of employment options in these sectors, with a particular emphasis on whisky production.

Islay was among the islands that benefited from a 5-pence reduction in fuel prices. Ferry expenses have been alleviated as well, with a significant 55% reduction in car fares.

Pro tip:
We think this island would be ideal for seal life enthusiasts. Venture offshore to catch sight of an incredible array of cetaceans, from playful dolphins and majestic killer whales to massive pilot whales and graceful minke whales.
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