Treasured island: Orkney voted Scotland’s best island in Which? survey

Orkney, with its neolithic sites and panoramic views, has been named the best Scottish island, according to a survey from Which?.

While Scotland’s waters are home to approximately 800 islands, Which? Travel readers rated only 14, highlighting how undiscovered and uninhabited many of them still are. And of the 14 that received enough visitors to be ranked in the survey, 10 received an impressive visitor score of 80 per cent or more.

Orkney – with its 70 or so islands off the northeastern coast of the country – took the top spot in the table with visitors awarding it a score of 88 per cent.

The island was the only one in the survey to receive five stars for its tourist attractions, with visitors speaking highly of its many prehistoric sites and archaeology – some of the most frequently cited highlights included the Italian Church, Skara Brae, and the “spectacular” Ring of Brodgar.

The island was also praised for its “beautiful” scenery and friendly locals, while others cited its remoteness as its main attraction – one reader was particularly impressed by the “miles and miles of secluded sandy beaches with no-one in sight”.

In second place was Shetland, with a score of 86 per cent. Of its 100 or so islands, only 16 are inhabited, which could go some way to explaining its five-star rating for peace and quiet. This, combined with the fact it is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to London, might lead some to think it could be difficult to reach – but the island was given four stars for ease of travel. It also received four stars for scenery, tourist attractions and shopping, meaning most travellers will be well catered to.

Harris, Islay and Mull each received a visitor score of 85 per cent, putting them in joint third place. 

Harris received five stars for both its beaches and its scenery, as well as for peace and quiet, making it the perfect destination for anyone looking to escape to the great outdoors. Visitors can also head to Tarbert where they can buy their own Harris tweed, handwoven from local wool and reflecting the colours of the landscape, for a memento to remember the stunning views by.

Islay, known for its distillery tours and whisky tasting, also received five stars for peace and quiet, as well as four stars for its food and drink – not just for its whisky though, with fishing another mainstay of the island, meaning visitors can enjoy fresh seafood or fish and chips from many of the island’s restaurants.

While Mull only scored three stars for tourist attractions, food and drink, and shopping,

its main attraction is its five-star scenery, made up of white-sand bays fringed with wildflower-rich grassland, and pink granite skerries scattered across the sea. Visitors can soak up the view from the top of Ben More, Mull’s only Munro, head to Tobermory with its picturesque painted houses, or visit one of the island’s imposing castles.

Only one island in the survey received a score that dipped below 70 per cent, largely down to it being seen as a stepping stone between North and South Uist. Benbecula received a visitor score of 67 per cent, but still received four stars for its beaches and its peace and quiet. 

While it only received three stars for scenery, visitors still spoke warmly of its beaches and landscape, with its wildlife and birdwatching being praised by a number of those in the survey.

Many of Scotland’s islands, including Orkney, are currently under Level 1 coronavirus restrictions. This means visitors can freely travel to the islands (unless they are in a Level 3 area in Scotland, or under other tiered restrictions across the rest of the UK). 

Almost all hospitality, shopping, visitor attractions and holiday accommodation are allowed to open and operate under Level 1 restrictions. However, anyone planning to visit one of the islands should check the restrictions in place at the time they are due to travel, and only book with a provider that will allow them to rebook or cancel for a refund if they cannot travel as a result of government restrictions.

The Scottish government is also encouraging anyone planning on travelling to one of Scotland’s islands to take a coronavirus test before they do to reduce the risk of the virus being brought into island communities. Visitors are recommended to get tested three days before travelling and then again on the day of departure.


Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said:

“After more than a year of restrictions that have seen most of us confined to our homes, many of us will be craving a holiday featuring beautiful scenery, grand landscapes, and the peace and quiet to soak it all in. The Scottish islands have all of this in abundance, making many of them a brilliant choice for a UK holiday this summer.

“You’ll need to pack for all seasons, and be prepared for a bit of travelling to get there – but when you do, you’ll be glad you made the effort. Just be sure to book with an accommodation provider that will allow you to freely change or cancel your booking at short notice, should coronavirus restrictions change and prevent you from travelling as planned.”


Notes to editors:

  1. Which? surveyed 1,058 members of its online panel in December 2020.
  2. Scottish coronavirus levels: 

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