Scotland Itinerary Ideas: The Isle of Mull

by Keith Savage · 27 comments

The Mull interior near Dervaig

Scotland has a couple of vast islands off its west coast. Most visitors are intimately familiar with the Isle of Skye by the time they step off the plane in Scotland, but the other island, the Isle of Mull, snares only a fraction of Skye’s limelight. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the two islands – their primary similarity being that they are both large islands on Scotland’s west coast – but the fact is they fill similar roles in visitors’ itineraries. Today I’m giving Mull the rightful attention it deserves in the latest installment of my Scotland Itinerary Ideas series.

I have largely focused on specific topics throughout the life of Traveling Savage, but now I’m providing you with information at a higher level to help in your Scotland trip-planning, idea-generation phase. These Scotland Itinerary Ideas articles collect many of my previous posts on the selected region into one place, along with my assessment of their criticality for the visitor and a bevy of useful tidbits that might’ve gotten lost along the way. At the end of the day, these articles should be useful cheat sheets to refer to when you begin planning your next trip to Scotland.

Questions and suggestions are always welcome!

The Isle of Mull

The memory of the Isle of Mull is like a warm handprint upon my mind where eagles soared in the skies and otters scampered along the endless jagged coastline, where dolphin pods arced above waters that splashed upon geological wonders thrusting from the sea, where narrow roads pulled me through vast glens echoing with the primordial hammer strokes of creation. Mull is a thriving wilderness that propositions the visitor with communion. Will you stop and allow this outside world to help you look inward? Out on the lonely roads and in the wild places or hunched over a pint amidst the pub’s clamor there is a sense of being connected to something greater here on Mull, and in all my travels it is a special feeling I hold in reverence.

Things You Can’t Miss

Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. Truly the stuff of legend, the tiny island of Staffa pokes from the sea to the west of Mull looking like a sheaf of straw clutched tight by a titan’s hand. The dark maw of Fingal’s Cave opens on the southern face and provides an intense look upon the island’s incredible geology. Boat trips from Oban and Ulva Ferry, Fionnphort, and Iona regularly ply the waters and give visitors an unforgettable experience – some, like Turus Mara, even “abandon” you on the island for a short time. Soak in the distant views and the singular location.

Tobermory. Often cited as Scotland’s most beautiful village, Tobermory’s stepped streets descend toward a perfect harbor surrounded by a multicolored waterfront. Mull’s primary town has more than a few great places to eat and drink that serve up delicious local seafood and batches of cask ale. Tobermory is a calm place that makes an excellent spot to retire to after a long day rambling across Mull’s hills or sailing among the islands of the Inner Hebrides.

Iona Abbey. Just a five-minute ferry crossing from the western tip of the Ross of Mull sits the Isle of Iona with its famous abbey. Iona Abbey was the focal point of the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland, and untold thousands make the pilgrimage here each year to pay respects and look upon the abbey’s religious wonders. Iona Abbey is a worthy day out even for the non-religious as the interesting history of the place dates all the way back to 563 AD – plus, the Argyll Hotel on Iona serves up some tasty menu items.

Things You Shouldn’t Miss

Castles. Mull is home to a couple of stunning castles. Duart, perched majestically on a rocky promontory overlooking the Firth of Lorn, will be incredibly hard to miss as you’ll pass right by it on the ferry from Oban. Much further afield, in the far north hinterland, stands gorgeous Victorian Glengorm castle (pictured below). Both castles are worth a look inside and make good bad-weather excursions. If opulent seclusion is your modus operandi, you can even stay at Glengorm.

A wildlife tour. Several companies offer wildlife tours around Mull and you will be shocked at how good the tour guides are at leading you to some amazing wildlife sightings. I spent a day with Discover Mull and, though the weather was terrible, enjoyed seeing several golden eagles, sea otters, seal pups, and huge red deer traveling along the tops of hills. Mull is truly one of the best places in Scotland to spot wildlife and a compelling reason to visit the island.

The impeccably clear night sky. When the weather is clear, Mull has some of the clearest night sky in Britain for stargazing thanks to the utter lack of light pollution. Many have captured amazing images of the Northern Lights on these nights, and there’s even a Web site that tracks the level of geomagnetic activity and thus the likelihood of spotting the Aurora Borealis.

Things to Do Off the Beaten Path

Explore Glen More. Austere Glen More is a windswept gash in Mull’s western reaches. The towering hills are largely unpeopled and make for excellent hill walking and exploration. Hidden lochs await beyond the view from the road. Always take suitable precautions when hiking in the hills, especially when doing so alone.

Meditate at Calgary Bay. West of Dervaig in northwest Mull hides the gorgeous white-sand beach at Calgary Bay. A great span of low, green grass fades into the sand where picnic tables and birds accentuate the natural vista. The bay, which gave its name to the city of Calgary, Alberta, is the right place to lose yourself in artistic or meditative endeavors and makes an ideal stop on your way to Ulva Ferry from Tobermory.

Get “Kidnapped” on Erraid. Erraid is little more than a rocky, deserted tidal island, but for literature nerds it might very well be worth the effort to visit as it was one of the locations in Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel Kidnapped. David Balfour, the hero of the novel, was marooned on Erraid, a place the author was familiar with since his father built a lighthouse there.

Logistics and Salient Bits

Bases. The vast majority of Muileachs live in the northern section of Mull near Tobermory, and that’s where I recommend basing yourself during a visit. This means you’ll have a bit of a drive if you arrive by ferry to Craignure and also if you mean to visit Iona on the far distant side of the island, but those will be good excuses to get out and explore regions you might otherwise miss. I spent time in Dervaig and Tobermory and found both to be well situated for all the activities I had planned. Self-catering is a great idea, though there are plenty of B&Bs scattered across the island that won’t disappoint.

Transportation. Getting to Mull generally requires a ferry ride from Oban, though there are some flights to the island (I never saw an airport). Other ferries sail from the smaller islands and from Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. I recommend sailing over with a rental car from Oban. The ride is not long, especially compared to getting to Islay, and you will be ecstatic to have the freedom a car offers in a wild place like Mull.

Food & Drink. I enjoyed some surprisingly good food and drink on Mull. My favorite pub quickly became the Bellachroy Hotel near Dervaig, which served plenty of good whisky and cask ales in addition to hearty local fare prepared with a skilled touch. Am Birlinn prepared the pork belly pictured below out in a secluded, forested setting west of Dervaig, and everything on their menu was delicious. In Tobermory, Café Fish is renown for its seafood and often wins awards as the best seafood restaurant in Scotland, and the Galleon Grill is a worthy stop as well. The Mishnish and MacDonald Arms make for a pair of decent pubs, but also consider The Western Isles Hotel for a drink with a great view. Don’t miss the fish carts along the harbor or the excellent Tobermory distillery!

I hope this article has filled you with an impulse to visit Mull. I really loved my time on the island and found that I might even prefer it to Skye, but that seems like an opinion that changes with the weather. The last thing you should do is write-off Mull because you’re planning to visit Skye. The two islands are dissimilar in so many different ways and both worthy of your visit.

Louise RansberryNo Gravatar March 28, 2017 at 4:39 PM

Hi, I’ve just booked a week in Mull at the end of August. I’ve heard the midges are really bad in the summer – is that true?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 28, 2017 at 4:42 PM

It all depends on the weather, Louise. If the wind is absent then the midges come out. Thankfully, it’s almost always windy in Scotland.

Susan ShorNo Gravatar February 10, 2017 at 5:58 PM

I am planning a trip to Scotland for next June. Being a musician, I have always dreamed of seeing the real Fingal’s Cave–also an orchestral piece I have played many times. However, I am not planning on driving while in Scotland. Is there any feasible way of getting to the cave using a tour or public transportation? So far, I have not found any easy ways to get there without a car.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 11, 2017 at 10:29 AM

Hi Susan. You could take the train to Oban. There you would be able to catch a boat tour out to Staffa and Fingal’s from a variety of tour operators.

Laura HysjulienNo Gravatar August 6, 2016 at 8:27 AM

Recommendation on itinerary needed for 4 nights.
September 15 we fly into Edinburgh and spend 3 nights, then go to St Andrew and spend 1 night
Arrive in London on Sunday October 2 and stay in London until departing for home on October 8
I have 4 nights unaccounted for that I would like to spend in scotland before we go to the lake district, wales then london.

Any thoughts?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 7, 2016 at 9:32 PM

Hi Laura,
The Cairngorms National Park is a great place to base yourself for those nights. Have a look at my itinerary ideas!

AlexNo Gravatar February 20, 2016 at 4:49 PM

Thanks for your amazing website! I am planning my family’s first trip to Scotland and the information you provide has been invaluable! We will spend 4 nights in Edinburgh, 4 nights in Pitlochry, 2 nights in Inverness, 2 nights in Mull or Skye, 3 nights around in Loch Awe and 2 nights in Glasgow.
Do you think that is a good plan?
Still having a very hard time deciding if we should stay 2 nights in Skye or Mull. What would you recommend?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 20, 2016 at 4:54 PM

Hi Alex,

You can’t go wrong with Mull or Skye. Mull feels like it has a bit more wildlife while Skye has a slight edge on awesome scenery, but everything is subjective. I offer trip-planning consultation services, so have a look at those if you’d like my in-depth help.

CyndieNo Gravatar January 7, 2016 at 4:19 PM

I’ve just recently booked my flight to scotland for June…from Canada. This will be my 5th time over. I’m making plans to go to Mull for the first time and staying a few days. Really looking forward to it. Thanks for sharing some useful information in this article! Ive bookmarked it for future reference when I’m detailing my plans 🙂 thanks again for all the info you share on your website

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 7, 2016 at 4:42 PM

Happy to help, Cyndie. Have fun!

VitaliyNo Gravatar October 21, 2014 at 3:43 PM

This place looks sooo interesting… I’ve only got a chance to visit Northern Ireland in the past and hope that one day I’ll see all the beauty of Scotland too!

EstherNo Gravatar June 25, 2014 at 5:05 PM

Hi everyone!
What are your thoughts regarding camping at fidden? We are planning our trip for mid July.

BrittanyNo Gravatar April 23, 2014 at 4:59 PM

I’ve booked a room in Oban for 2 nights. We will have a rental car but was wondering if it is feasible to do Mull in one day…and if so, how you’d recommend doing it. Would like to see Fingal’s Cave/Tobermory and Iona as well. If that can’t be done, I’ll either look at canceling my reservation in Oban for one of the nights & finding a place somewhere in Mull…or take the ferry across from Oban to Mull on 2 separate days. Thanks!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar April 24, 2014 at 11:04 AM

It will be difficult to see Tobermory, Iona, and Fingal’s in a single day trip. The main problem is distance – Tobermory and Iona are about as far apart as they can be. You’ll either need one night on Mull or two separate day trips to the island. Many of the boat trips out to Fingal’s Cave and the like take the better part of a day in themselves. I recommend spending a night on Mull.

ChautauquaNYNo Gravatar January 15, 2016 at 10:25 PM

We spent the night in Oban, caught the first ferry over to Mull, and drove immediately for the ferry to take us to Iona. Spent a few hours on Iona–could have stayed longer, but…..then we drove to Tobermory where we had a B & B booked. Got there in time to check in and then have dinner. Distillery wasn’t open as it was too late in the day. Roads are one vehicle wide, so one is pulling over a lot to let traffic through. The next day we had time to drive to Dervaig and Calgary Bay –just the time to drive through, not stop–and then drove to the ferry to leave around noon. You will not regret more time on Mull and B & B’s are plentiful in Tobermory, and no more expensive than Oban.

Escape HunterNo Gravatar April 1, 2014 at 5:24 AM

“Mull” sounds so soft, just like that wet grass area covering those barren landscapes…

KenNo Gravatar March 6, 2014 at 7:11 AM

So many places yet to see in Scotland! It could take a bit of time to see the islands, spending the time in each that it deserves.

Muileach WannabeNo Gravatar March 5, 2014 at 11:50 PM

I’ve been to Mull 5 times, most recently for almost half a year, and it seems like you really get the place. Skye’s wonderful (I’ve only been once, so I don’t know it well), but Mull has a pull that’s hard to describe; if you’re lucky, the place will haunt you.

You’ve done a really nice job of covering its charms.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 6, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Thanks! I’m looking forward to my return to Mull one of these days.

Sylvia SavageNo Gravatar March 5, 2014 at 4:07 PM

A nice article about the beautiful Isle of Mull, where I was lucky enough to live for 10 years in the 70’s and 80’s. I wonder how much it’s changed since then !! Just a couple of points..the other main ferry route is from Lochaline on the Morvern peninsula to Fishnish on the east coast, which is between Craignure and Salen, a very popular ferry particularly with people coming from Fort William way, and considerably cheaper than the Oban-Craignure crossing.
And the airport..well it’s a grass airstrip really…is in the grounds of the Glenforsa Hotel just outside Salen ( I worked there once, way back in the day).
I feel totally privileged to have spent time on Mull, where we lived alongside golden eagles, otters, and red deer ..a wonderful place…apart from the weather of course….

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 5, 2014 at 11:14 PM

Thanks for the great information, Sylvia! It must have been wonderful spending so much time on Mull.

Sylvia SavageNo Gravatar March 6, 2014 at 5:49 AM

Yes, it was great…and by the way I am a Savage by marriage, the Derbyshire branch !!!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 6, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Very cool! I’m a Savage by birth – the Inverness-area branch 🙂

Jim StuhtNo Gravatar March 5, 2014 at 2:52 PM

Spent 3 days on Mull in 2012 and while the weather was absolutely dreich, we enjoyed our time on the island. I will posit that the road network on Mull leaves a lot to be desired. I’m really comfortable driving single-track roads, so that wasn’t the problem – the generally rotten condition of the tarmac was (one of the “main” roads actually had grass and bracken growing between the tire tracks, reminded me of Northern Michigan camp roads). The Council really needs to invest in upgrading the whole system. (Even the locals we talked to thought the roads were exeptionally bad!) I do agree though that Mull is sort of a microcosm of the Highlands and the sights are truly lovely. Iona is not to be missed and Staffa is a wonder – gotta listen to Mendlessohn as you’re boating there. Unfortunately for us, Castle Duart was closed to the public while we were there due to a McLean clan reunion so we were’nt able to tour the interior but even just seeing the exteriors from the ferry are quite impressive. The chapel at Pennygowan, Kilmore church at Dervaig with its’ “rocket ship” bell tower, the grave slabs at Kilninian, all are quite impressive. It is too bad that the miniature Mull Railway is no longer running and that Torosay Gardens/Castle is no longer open to the public. Both were wonderful. While I prefer Skye and Islay, the Isle of Mull is certainly a stop not to be missed if you are visiting the Highlands.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 5, 2014 at 11:16 PM

The roads are funny – I have no recollection of their quality, probably because the roads in Wisconsin are worse than any roads I’ve driven elsewhere in the world.

MikeNo Gravatar March 6, 2017 at 9:02 PM

Jim – I think the Council must have read your post because the roads appear much better now. We just returned from a week in Mull (Feb 2017) and there was evidence of freshly paved surfaces across the island. In fact, we saw two paving machines and crews working on smaller bridges. We saw no grass growing on the roads. The roughest road we drove may have been the very scenic road (B8035) around Ben More to Salen on the way back from Iona; but even that road was in good condition with stunning views (20 miles and we only saw one other car).

We spent three weeks in Scotland and, thanks to Keith’s comments, included Mull in our itinerary. It was outstanding – even in February. Great walks, good food, friendly locals, varied geography, interesting history, archaeological sites, and more. A lot was closed (e.g., restaurants, tours, etc) due to it being the off-season; but there was still plenty to do.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 7, 2017 at 8:53 AM

Thanks for the update, Mike. Glad to hear you enjoyed Mull!

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