2 day itinerary for Mull and Iona
10th September 2020
A lovely escape to the islands of Mull and Iona begins with a 45-minute ferry journey from Oban (a beautiful little place in its own right) to the village of Craignure. As you sail slowly toward the island, the crystal clear waters welcoming you into the bay, make sure to take a deep breath and fill your lungs with that fresh sea air. It’s time for a mini adventure!
Many foreign travellers embarking on a tour of Scotland include Mull and Iona on their itinerary. You might be surprised to hear, that although I spend all my free time travelling to every nook and cranny of Scotland, Mull had never been on my ‘must see’ list until last year. I went across to bag Mull’s only Munro – Ben More. There are 282 mountains over 3,000ft in Scotland – ‘Munros’ - and ‘bagging’ every Munro is becoming an increasingly popular challenge amongst Scots as well as our neighbour’s south of the border.
How wrong I was to discount the splendour of Mull! Castles spectacular enough to be featured in Hollywood movies; white sandy beaches that stretch for miles; stunning azure waters; colourful little harbour towns where you could sit for hours and watch the world go by… And then there’s the Isle of Iona, a tiny spiritual and wild island.
Sounds like a lot? Indeed, it is! I am glad I will be able to re-visit Mull and Iona to explore further, but I am aware not everyone has that luxury. So I have devised the perfect 2-day itinerary for these gorgeous little islands to include as part of your vacation in Scotland.
Day 1 – Morning
Arriving in Mull on the 8.45 ferry gives you plenty of time to drive the northern loop of the island visiting the many sites along the way.
Salen Shipwreck - The three shipwrecked fishing boats at Salen must be some of the most photographed wrecks on the planet and many an artist has travelled to Mull to paint these famous boats. The algae and vegetation on the boats has given them a lovely green colour and their tranquil location on this quiet beach really creates a beautiful sight.
Eas Fors Waterfall - Eas Fors waterfall is actually a serious of waterfalls, all worth viewing. The final waterfall comes from a height of 100ft to crash into the sea below. There is a parking area nearby but the final waterfall can’t be viewed properly from the road and involves a 20-minute walk back in the direction of the Ulva ferry down to the beach below.
Calgary Bay - I think everyone who takes a vacation in Scotland spends some time marvelling at our beautiful remote beaches. Calgary Bay definitely belongs on Scotland’s top 10 list. On a sunny day you will feel you have been transported to a Caribbean Island, well almost… it won’t be quite as warm. Spend some time wandering along the glistening white sands, taking in Mull’s beautiful Northern coast. Oh, and make sure to get yourself some Mull Ice Cream! Sold at a little kiosk made from old boat parts.
If you aren’t limited for time, you could also visit the equally beautiful and remote Langamull Beach slightly further east. You may even find you have the whole beach to yourself as it isn’t as well-known as Calgary. To get to this beach you will have a 30-minute walk through rough forest track but you will be rewarded with spectacular views over the isle of Rὺm.
Tobermory - For lunch, make your way to the colourful village of Tobermory, where the seafront houses are painted in an array of bright colours. This is where a well-known children’s TV show, Balamory, was filmed in the early 2000’s with the famous ‘What’s the story in Balamory’ theme tune. Sadly, the most famous ‘house’ from the show, Archie’s big pink castle (Fenton Tower), is actually in North Berwick near Edinburgh. There are plenty of quaint little cafes where you can get a bite to eat and re-charge, ready for an afternoon of touring the south of the island. If you have more time here, you can also take a boat tour to go in search of Mull’s sea life – dolphins, porpoises, whales and seals can all be spotted swimming in the waters around Mull. If you aren’t able to fit in a boat trip, you might get lucky and see them from the land so keep your eyes on the sea!
Day 1 – Afternoon
Eagle Spotting - In the afternoon head south back towards the ferry port and take a guided walk along the beach at Craignure for the chance to spot some magnificent sea eagles. The guides are very friendly and knowledgeable about the local area and will help you increase your changes of spotting these great birds. You may also see some adorable otters.
Duart Castle - There are a number of castles on Mull, but Duart is by far the most famous, it has even made it to Hollywood! It pops up in Entrapment (1999) – starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones; When Eight Bells Toll (1971) – Starring Anthony Hopkins and I Know Where I’m Going (1945) – starring Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey. Take a visit to this well preserved, coastal castle and right away you will see why film directors have flown and sailed their cast hundreds of miles just to film at this captivating location. The castle, stronghold of Clan Maclean, was originally built in the 14th century, although it fell into ruin and was rebuilt just over 100 years ago.
Day 1 – Evening
Time to rest up for the night! There are many lovely places to stay and dine on the Isle of Mull. I’d highly recommend the Pennygate Lodge in Craignure which is close to Duart Castle and you won’t have too far a drive the next morning to catch the boat over to Iona. The hotel will be re-opening in Spring 2021.
Day 2 – Morning
Fionnphort - The next morning, take a leisurely drive to Fionnphort on the far south west of Mull. There are lots of lovely bays here and plenty of great coastal walks so spend some time here before taking the 10-minute passenger ferry across to Iona. You don’t have to book this ferry in advance.
Iona Abbey - Iona Abbey is the most religious site in Scotland, built as a place of worship by St Columba in AD 563 and the place where he was later laid to rest. The Abbey is steeped in centuries of history including struggles between the protestant and catholic church as well as Viking raids. It is a truly beautiful building, and has survived well through the ages with much of the 13th and 14th century stone work still standing. You could easily spend a few hours exploring this eerie monastery.
St. Columbas Bay - This is also a deeply spiritual place and to get to the bay you must walk across the Hill of Angels. Given this name because it is where St Columbas is said to have first landed on the island and where he could be seen kneeling in prayer surrounded by angels. The walk to the remote bay gives stunning views out to the sea.
Day 2 – Afternoon
You will have to leave Iona by mid-afternoon in order to make your way back to Craignure on time for the ferry. Enjoy a pleasant sail back to Oban on an evening ferry – the last sailing back to the mainland is 19.15 most days or 17.55 on Sundays. Be sure to book this in advance, especially if travelling by car.
But ‘What about the big mountain’ I hear you cry! Yes of course I would really recommend a hike to the top of Ben More. On a clear day you get brilliant views over to the mountains on the mainland and to the nearby island of Ulva. However, this is a full day’s walking and requires good fitness level, proper hiking equipment including boots, full waterproofs, maps and compass, first aid kit… so it may not be feasible for all travellers. If you are really keen to bag a Munro or do some hiking as part of your vacation, this can be included as part of our custom tours. We do also have some set tours which include walking. The mountains of Scotland don’t rival countries such as USA, Canada and New Zealand in terms of height, but they are wild with unpredictable weather, meaning their beauty and their danger should not be underestimated.
I hope you have found this itinerary guide to 2 wonderful days touring around the Isles of Mull and Iona useful. I would highly recommend including a visit in your next vacation to Scotland.
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