From killer whales in Norway to grey whales basking along the coast of Alaska, the world’s waters boast some incredible spots for whale watching enthusiasts, and Scotland is an equally glorious go-to for those who like their marine mammals big and beautiful. Amidst Scotland’s colourful array of aquatic wildlife, there are some unforgettable opportunities for whale watching in Scotland, if you know where to look.
One of the best spots lies around the Gairloch area, and Hebridean Whale Cruises come highly recommended. Based at Gairloch Harbour, on Pier Road, they host whale watching and wildlife cruises, with regular close-ups of whales, dolphins, porpoises and sharks, to name but a few. Two boats go out daily, adventuring inshore around Loch Gairloch and offshore to the whale feeding grounds on the waters of the North Minch, between the mainland and the Western Isles – which, for those that don’t know the turf, offer the added bonus of a chance to glance some of Scotland’s most beautiful islands. Beyond their whale expertise, the boat trip to the Shiant Islands, a small clutch of islands off the coast of Lewis and around 30 miles across the Minch from Gairloch, is truly spellbinding.
Speaking of beautiful islands, whale watching trips around the Isle of Mull offer bags of charm, with boats available from Tobermory. This picturesque town also, incidentally, hosts the island’s whisky distillery, just a few minutes’ walk from the harbour – should you wish to steady the sea legs before climbing aboard. Look out for the Sea Life Surveys boat tours, which leave from the Ledaig pontoon. Visitors can spend the day looking for whales (as part of the Whalewatch Explorer trip), as well as checking out dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks, seals and seabirds, all the while exploring the beautiful waters around the north of Mull, Coll and the Ardnamurchan peninsula.
Mull has loads of places to rest your head after a day on the open sea, but pub-come-hotel, the Mishnish, set on the seafront, can’t really be beaten for a true flavour of Scotland with its whisky selection, seafood-laden menu, live music nights and gregarious banter.
Across the water from Mull, Oban’s Sealife Adventures hosts four- and five-hour whale watching cruises. Better still, Oban itself is affectionately known as the ‘Seafood Capital of Scotland’, which goes some way to suggesting the meal that awaits you when the ship returns to shore.
Wherever you choose, sightings are largely up for grabs throughout the year - but we would suggest a visit from June to early October for the ultimate whale watching experience. Just remember to pack some woollies for warmth, whatever the weather. It’s cold out there.
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Written by Anna Millar
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About the author: AnnaMillarAnna Millar
Anna is a Glasgow born and Edinburgh based freelance writer and editor specialising in arts and travel. When she’s not exploring the Highlands and Islands or reviewing Scotland’s festival scene, she’s likely to be found propping up the bar at one of New York’s finest watering holes or exploring Europe’s untapped corners.