Some places are like a breath of fresh air. Whether you spend five minutes or two weeks in them, they relax you, rejuvenate you, refill your energy reservoir and make you feel like you could take on the world. The Isle of Coll is such a place for me. I recently go to spend one day on Coll while island hopping in Scotland and I could not have felt better leaving the island – although, I really did not want to!
This post contains affiliate links from which I may make a commission. Find out more here. All opinions are my own.
I originally visited the Isle of Coll as part of a campaign with Wild About Argyll, but have since been back on private trips too. My first stay at The Coll Hotel was complimentary. All opinions are my own and there was no obligation to write this blog post.
The Isle of Coll is a hidden gem on the Scottish west coast. It is most famous for being a Dark Sky Park – an entire island without street lights where the night skies are more beautiful and clear than almost anywhere else in Scotland.
Even though it is popular among locals and insiders, it is not on many people’s radars when they think about their own Scotland itineraries. Bigger islands such as Mull, Skye or Lewis are usually higher up on people’s lists, but if you ask me, you would be missing out if you did not consider Coll for your next Scotland trip!
This post is an ode to Coll, an island that hit me by surprise, captured me immediately with its rugged landscapes and warm hospitality, and released me back to the mainland with a small bit missing from my heart.
Read on if you would like to learn more about Coll:
- Why should you visit?
- Where is Coll & how do you get there?
- Where should you stay and eat?
- What are the things to do on the Isle for Coll?
You should also read my guide to the best Scottish Islands to Visit!
Isle of Coll FAQ
Where is the Isle of Coll?
The Isle of Coll is one of the Inner Hebrides islands on the west coast of Scotland. Other islands in this archipelago are Skye, Mull, Islay and many more islands that are far less known than these classic Scottish island destinations.
Many of the Inner Hebrides belong to a region called Argyll & The Isles, which covers a vast and varied area on the west coast stretching from Loch Lomond to Oban on the mainland. It includes mountain ranges like the Arrochar Alps, peninsulas like Cowal and Kintyre and an endless number of islands, big and small, inhabited and uninhabited. Argyll also has the longest coastline of all Scottish regions – the water is never war, but neither are the mountains. Can you guess why it’s one of my favourite regions?
The Isle of Coll lies at the outer edge of the Inner Hebrides – beyond Mull but not quite as far from the mainland as the Outer Hebrides. It is located centrally between many neighbouring islands such as Tiree, Mull and the Small Isles south of Skye.
You might also like: The best Outdoor Adventures in Argyll
How to get to the Isle of Coll
The easiest way to get to the Isle of Coll is by ferry. During the summer, Calmac Ferries runs a car ferry from Oban to Coll every day – click here for the summer timetable. In winter, there are fewer ferries – up to 4 crossings per week. Click here for the winter timetable.
if you’d rather fly to Coll, Hebridean Air offers flights from Oban airport to the Isle of Coll on three days/week during the summer and winter. You can check their timetables here.
How to get around Coll
There is no public transport on Coll, so it’s worth thinking about how you will get around the island before you go.
Having a car gives you the most flexibility. There are very few roads on Coll, so it is very easy to navigate. Note though, that many of the most beautiful natural wonders on Coll can only be reached on foot – so even if you bring your car, prepare for some walking and hiking.
Hire bikes are available from An Cridhe, Coll’s Community Centre, and also from some accommodation providers, like the Coll Hotel. If you have your own bike, you can bring it across on the ferry for free.
Where to stay on the Isle of Coll
The vast majority of accommodation on Coll are self-catering houses and cottages. These usually rent by the week and start as low as £360 per week for a 5-person cottage. You can find all self-catering providers on Coll here.
There are also a few places to stay on Coll that book out rooms by the night. There are two B&Bs, one hotel and one bunkhouse/hostel, as well as a serviced camping site and a few spaces for motorhomes.
I stayed at The Coll Hotel, which is a welcoming family-run business in Arinagour, the main village on the island. The hotel underwent significant refurbishment and in 2019 the family added a new extension to house the new restaurant, bar and lounge area overlooking the hotel’s garden and the bay or Arinagour.
They offer free bikes, pick up from the ferry terminal, homemade goodies, WiFi and many other amenities such as beach towels, buckets and spades for a beach day, board games for rainy days and teddies for the little ones.
All rooms are on the upper level of the hotel (although new ground-floor rooms will be added in the next step of the renovations) and have views of the village and the bay.
Coll Hotel is one of my favourite hotels in Scotland – check out more Unique Places to Stay in Scotland, from hotels to B&Bs!
Almost next to the hotel is Coll Bunkhouse, a modern hostel with more budget-friendly prices from £30 per person. The hostel has 15 beds in rooms for up to 6 people. There is a fully equipped kitchen and a cosy common area. The hostel is very involved in the local community and hosts regular events such as the Coll Bird Festival and Dark Skies astronomical workshops.
Why visit the Isle of Coll
There are many reasons to put the Isle of Coll on your Scotland itinerary – here are some of them:
- Dark Sky Park: Stargazers and (hobby) astronomers will love the Isle of Coll and its incredibly dark night skies. There are no street lights on Coll and the island is far away from any other source of potential light pollution. Coll is an official Dark Sky Park -one of three in Scotland. You will see more stars than you can handle!
- Rugged Nature: The Isle of Coll requires some effort to get to, but once you’ve made the trek, you will be rewarded with rugged landscapes and a sense of wilderness. Whether you come alone and need time for yourself or bring your whole family to spend quality time together, Coll is the ideal place for time spent in nature.
- Wildlife Watching: The Isle of Coll is sparsely inhabited – only 150 people live on the island – but there is a lot of wildlife to watch! There is an RSPB Nature Reserve on western Coll which is a great place to see corncrake. There are also many beaches on Coll where you can see sea birds, waders, seals and even otters. Bring your binoculars and keep your eyes open!
You might also like: 14 Romantic Getaways in Scotland
Things to do on the Isle of Coll
A Walk to the West Coast Beaches
Even though Coll is mostly rocky, the island has about 20 large sandy beaches and a handful of smaller ones to pick from. If you want to visit several of them in one day, I highly recommend doing the walk to the west coast beaches of Coll.
The walk begins at the end of the public road near Crossapol beach. The trail leads northwards through the machair to Feall Bay – the first beach on this walk. Here you have the option to climb the top of Ben Feall for views of the south-western part of Coll.
From here, you follow around the edges of the island and visit several sandy beaches and bays, including a trig point at Calgary Point and Tràigh Halium (tràigh means beach in Gaelic). Enjoy the views across to the Isle of Gunna and if you fancy more walking, continue south towards Tràigh nan Siolag and Tràigh Garbh.
Otherwise, cross the (at times) boggy farmland until you reach the vast expanse of Tràigh Crossapol.
The walk is about 8 miles and takes 3.5 hours. Find a full walk description here.
Snorkelling at Struan Beach
Among all the beaches on the Isle of Coll, Struan beach is one of the best for snorkelling. There is a small headland in the middle of the beach, which means there is plenty to explore within the safe and sheltered waters of the bay.
Struan, also known as Bousd Beach, lies very near the northern tip of Coll. There is limited parking available and the beach is about a 5-minute walk from the road.
Note that Coll is surrounded by strong ocean currents. It’s important to think about safety first when you enter the water at any of the beaches in Coll.
You might also like: My complete guide to Snorkelling in Scotland, incl. safety tips
Stargazing at the Dark Sky Park
A Dark Sky Park is a recognised area with very little light pollution. Once an area has been declared a Dark Sky Park, there are also certain rules about installing new lights in order to keep it that way.
In an effort that took the whole community to come together, the Isle of Coll won the bid and was officially declared a Dark Sky Park in 2013. Without street lights, the island immersed in the dark night sky, but in turn, illuminated by a spectacular array of stars and planets.
The idea of a Dark Sky Park is to promote astronomy, but also other scientific research and recognising our planet’s place in the Universe in general. Coll Bunkhouse hosts regular stargazing and astronomy workshops which usually last 2-3 days and include theoretical and practical parts.
But even without guidance, you will be able to enjoy the night skies on Coll. This is the place to try out your night photography skills and whip out your favourite stargazing app on the phone. I walked up the little footpath behind the hotel to reach the church of Arinagour and took photos around there.
To photograph the dark sky on Coll, set up your camera on a tripod and set it to manual.
You want to use a long exposure (like 30 seconds), wide aperture (f 3.5 or lower), wide focal length (set to ∞ if possible) and high ISO (mine were taken with ISO 2500).
I find that my batteries die much quicker in the cold night air and so I always bring fully-charged spare batteries when I photograph the night sky.
To get a sharp image, try to focus on a bright star in the night sky.
In order to see the full night sky, it has to be dark – a no-brainer. Note though, that days during Scottish summers can be incredibly long. Already in April, the sun does not set until 8 pm and around the summer solstice in June, it barely gets dark at all. The best time to visit the Dark Sky Park on Coll is winter from October to March.
You might also like: 10 Reasons to Visit Scotland in Off Season
Indulging in Scottish food at the Coll Hotel
When it comes to food, the Isle of Coll is famous for one thing: fresh seafood. On the menu, you will find locally caught lobsters, crabs or langoustines, served with locally grown seasonal vegetables.
Since I’m vegan, I don’t indulge in that myself, but I was pleasantly surprised by the vegan food offering in Coll’s only restaurant at the Coll Hotel. Julie and her kitchen team always have a few vegan options on the menu, such as home-made sweet potato gnocchi or to-fish & chips with the tofu wrapped in seaweed for a hint of sea. There are also desserts and homemade vegan ice cream.
I really appreciated that a restaurant so renowned for its seafood also has such a thoughtful vegan offering. As a vegan traveller, a great foodie experience comes down to not feeling like an afterthought. The team at the Coll Hotel really made every possible effort to stuff my face with delicious meals.
You might also like: How to Travel Scotland as a Vegan
Birdwatching at the RSPB Coll Nature Reserve
The Isle of Coll offers important habitat for a variety of species in flora and fauna, from nesting grounds for corncrakes to the unique machair landscape of the west coast.
The RSPB Nature Reserve in the west of Coll was established to ensure that these species can thrive on the island in a managed way. There are wetlands for waders, sand dunes for animals like sand lizards, heather moorland and grasslands. Farmers use the area, but have agreed to low-intensity grazing in order to peacefully co-exist with the local wildlife.
You might also like: 11 Educational & Science-Based Tourism Experiences in Scotland
Learning about basking sharks with Basking Sharks Scotland
Basking sharks arrive on the Scottish west coast in huge numbers each summer to feed and bask near the surface – hence their name. They are the second largest shark in the world, but they feed exclusively on plankton.
Basking Sharks Scotland runs eco-conscious wildlife adventures from Oban and the Isle of Coll. These include boat tours, scuba diving, wild swimming, snorkelling, paddle boarding and kayaking – anything that brings you out onto the water and potentially closer to these gentle giants.
Their tours are lead by experts in marine biology and always include an element of science as they record sightings, study abundance, take photos and video and collect plankton samples for lab analysis.
Seal spotting at Cliadh Beach
Going for a walk on the beach is one of the best and most obvious things to do on the Isle of Coll.
If you’re after wildlife encounters, head to Cliadh Beach – a remote sandy bay on the west coast of Coll. We parked the car and walked through the dunes until we reached the beach (for about 15 minutes) – what a stunner!
I spent an hour walking up and down the beach, watching waters in the shallow water and seagulls resting further out. Waves crashed into one part of the beach, but the other end of it was protected by a series of rocky outcrops. Seals were basking on these rocks and some were so curious, they rolled into the water and swam closer to inspect me.
Cliadh beach is also suitable for swimming, snorkelling and paddleboarding as the bay is pretty sheltered.
You might also like: The Best Places to See Wildlife in Scotland
Boat trip with Tiree Sea Tours
Please note that IsleGO Boat Tours (previously mentioned in this post) is no longer operating.
The Isle of Coll might seem remote when you consider the long ferry journey across – but when you change your perspective slightly, you’ll find that Coll is actually really centrally located. Especially if you’re planning to do some island hopping around the Scottish Isles.
Tiree Sea Tours from the neighbouring Isle of Tiree offers boat trips to many of the surrounding islands, including the Treshnish Isles where you can see puffins. Pick-ups from Arinagour are available upon request.
Bird watching on Lunga A puffin on the Treshnish Isles
Day trip to the Isle of Tiree
Calmac ferry schedules make it possible to do a day trip to the Isle of Tiree twice a week (during the summer). You can board as a foot passenger and explore Tiree on foot, by (e-)bike (hire available from Tiree Fitness) or by bus, or bring your car across for greater flexibility. If you want to take the bus, you must book it in advance, as it’s an on-demand bus service.
Visiting Tiree was ironically one of my favourite things to do on Coll because I love island hopping. We saw dolphins and minke whales from the ferry, drove to the sparkling beach at Hynish for coffee & cake and pier jumping and ended our day with a drink at the Isle of Tiree Distillery.
A beach on Tiree Swimming in Hynish Coffee & cake in Hynish
Coll has without a doubt stolen a piece of my heart. The beaches, the fresh sea air, the delicious vegan food, the lovely locals and the raw experiences of nature on the island, make Coll feel like a fresh of breath air.
I can’t wait to return to the Isle of Coll and see even more. I hope I have inspired you to visit too!
Don’t miss my practical guide to island hopping in Scotland!
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