Tobermory: The colourful seaside town that inspired Balamory with sublime beaches and castles nearby

When to go

The wild and windswept Isle of Mull may not be your first thought for a seaside break, but the Hebridean island and the colourful, principal town of Tobermory are the perfect staging ground for a weekend away.

The island, which is the second-largest member of the Inner Hebrides after Skye, is home to rare wildlife, impressive coastal walks and some of Scotland’s finest food and drink, as well as two of its newest distilleries. Mull also has four castles, an embarrassment of silver-sand beaches and some of Scotland’s most significant historical sites.

Tobermory, tucked into the island’s north-eastern corner, is where the best of its accommodation, specialist shops and thronging pubs can be found, as well as its better-known attractions. For those with children of a particular vintage, its colourful seafront houses may be better known as home to the inhabitants of children’s TV programme Balamory.

Tobermory also hosts several sporting competitions, most notably the Mull leg of the Highland Games, held on the third Thursday in July every year. For that reason it may be best to pick another time to visit, with temperatures at their highest and weather its best between June and October. Some attractions may also be closed in winter.

How to get there

Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) operates three car ferry services to the island. The most popular route runs every few hours from Oban to Craignure, Mull’s main port on its eastern coast. Alternative crossings go from Lochaline on the Morvern Peninsula to Fishnish, or from Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula to Tobermory directly.

ScotRail trains run to Oban from Glasgow Queen Street, while Citylink coaches run from Glasgow Buchanan Street Bus Station and – in the summer only – directly from Glasgow International Airport. Oban is also reachable by car. For more information on travel, see visitscotland.com.

Where to stay

The family-run Park Lodge Hotel, which sits atop the cliffs overlooking Tobermory’s harbour, is the best mid-range option, and often hosts hill walkers and wildlife enthusiasts. Rooms include free breakfast and Wi-Fi, with home-cooked meals available between 5pm and 8.30pm. A limited number of rooms are pet-friendly. From £94, park-lodge-tobermory.co.uk.

If you would rather stay outside of Tobermory, the Mull Hotel and Spa is located five minutes from the Craignure ferry terminal. The newly renovated four-star hotel offers guests a range of treatments in its Driftwood Spa, which overlooks the bay, and houses a 17m sea-view swimming pool. Dogs are welcome, Wi-Fi is included, and the Òran na Mara Bistro serves local ingredients and fresh seafood. From £101, crerarhotels.com/isle-of-mull-hotel-spa

Day One

Up with the sun

Visiting the Benedictine Abbey on the Isle of Iona – just off the coast of Mull – is a must. Ferries depart from Fionnphort regularly, but fill up quickly. Make it over for the 8.35am departure to enjoy the peace and quiet with as few other visitors as possible. Adult tickets for the ferry are £3.70, while admission to the abbey is £10.

UK, Scotland, Isle of Iona, Iona Abbey Cloisters, the abbey was originally founded in the 6th century and was restored in the 20th century.
Iona Abbey was originally founded in the 6th century and was restored in the 20th century (Photo: Rob Tilley/Getty)

Souvenir hunting

While on the island, be sure to visit the parade of shops and galleries showing off some of Iona and Mull’s artistic talents. The Aosdàna Gallery displays and sells contemporary artwork alongside traditional Iona jewellery, while the Iona Craft Shop is home to lovingly made wool and tweed clothes.

Don’t miss

On the way back to Tobermory, Duart Castle is one of Mull’s historical gems. For more than 700 years, the seat of Clan Maclean has dominated the view to the Sound of Mull and Loch Linnhe. The grounds and tearoom are free to enjoy, while admission to the castle starts at £9.50 for adults and £4.50 for children. The castle closes to visitors from late October to early April.

Time for a sundowner

Back in town, the Mishnish Bar, which first opened its doors in 1869, is a traditional pub with a cosy atmosphere, stuffed full of memorabilia from the town and maritime visitors. Warmed by open fires and usually jammed full of locals, this is the best place to see live music on Mull, with folk devotees often holding impromptu jamming sessions after dinner.

Dinner reservation

Recommended by Lonely Planet as one of its top five restaurants in Scotland, Café Fish (thecafefish.com) is an award-winning restaurant served by its own fishing boats – so the catches are about as fresh as you could hope for.

Man standing on the beach, looking out to sea where a boat is being launched. Calgary beach is renowned for its beauty, with fine machair sand, and turquoise waters. Taken Calgary, Isle of mull, Argyll and Bute, Scotland, April 2014.
Calgary beach is renowned for its beauty (Photo: VWB photos/Getty)

Day two

Hit the beach

While Tobermory has its own small stretch of sand (when the tide is out) nearby Calgary Beach is the island’s most stunning and long-reaching. Rolling dunes make way for machair grasslands which flower in the summer, giving way to silver sand and crystal-clear waters. Access is easy with parking at one end of the beach, while hikers might want to try a rugged coastal walk to Caliach Point.

Lunch time

The blue walls of the Tobermory Bakery are easily seen on the seafront, while the smell of its ever-changing baked goods will drag you from miles away. It sells sandwiches, soups, pastries and cakes, as well as a strong selection of local cheeses, including the renowned Isle of Mull cheddar.

Time to relax

A short walk from Tobermory is Aros Park, a rolling estate with an idyllic forest path studded with bluebells, rhododendrons and sprawling ferns. A one-mile walking path loops Lochan a Ghurrabain, taking in waterfalls and babbling streams. At low tide, it is even possible to cross the water to the nearby Calve Island, another natural wonder.

A final treat

What would a Scottish holiday be without a dram of whisky? Established in 1798, the Tobermory Distillery (tobermorydistillery.com) offers a tour for £18.50 a person, as well as tastings of its whisky and gin and more specialist visits to its inner workings for true connoisseurs.

Three things you might not know about Tobermory…

Local folklore has it that Dòideag, a famous witch of legend, hailed from the Isle of Mull and was responsible for sinking a Spanish Armada ship off the cost of Tobermory.

Island celebrities include the white-tailed eagles Skye and Frisa, made famous by the BBC nature programme Springwatch, who have nested on Mull for 25 years.

A resident of Mull is called a Muileach. The plural is sometimes given as “Muileachs” but this is really a mix of Gaelic and English: to sound like a local, say “Madainn Mhath!” to a group of Muilich.