With its rainbow coloured houses, friendly locals and stunning scenery, not to mention the otters, Scottish island Mull is pretty much as charming as it comes. Here are my tips for things to do on Mull on your next trip…
2019 has been the year of the staycation for me. Never in my life have I had so many short breaks in Scotland. I usually can’t wait to jump on a plane to the nearest and cheapest European city, but this year I’ve merrily used up my annual leave to stay in the same country. So why the change? Well, it could just be middle age drawing closer and because we’ve now got a golden labrador puppy, Casper, who makes getting that Ryanair flight to Europe that little bit more complicated. Aside from that, I think it’s due to more of a general desire of mine to see more of my home country of Scotland.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like you never do the tourist stuff where you live, right? As someone who doesn’t currently drive, I feel like I’ve not seen half of much of my home country as I should have done, and I’m certainly guilty of not having visited a lot the museums and tourist attractions in the city I live in, Dundee. That’s something I want to work on. So for mine and my twin sister’s birthday this year, we opted to book a holiday for an island off the west coast of Scotland, the isle of Mull. Here’s my verdict on where to stay in Mull, what to do in Mull, and most important, where to eat in Mull!
Why should you visit Mull?
You might still be deciding which Scottish island you’d like to visit on your next trip, so let me tell you a bit more about the isle of Mull. Mull is the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides and it’s not to be confused with Mull of Kintyre, which is located on the mainland and is well-known due to the Paul McCartney song of the same name. When it comes to the isle of Mull’s attractions, one of its most well-known locations is the colourful town of Tobermory, which is the main town on the island.
The town is known for its cute rainbow coloured houses and for being the location for the 00s BBC children’s television programme, Balamory. If anyone wants to take a step down memory lane you can watch the theme tune here. Having visited the island of Burano on a trip to Venice last year, which is also known for it’s array of beautiful rainbow-hued houses, it was lovely to see these brightly coloured cottages on home turf. Tobermory holds its own, though – even in the rain it was so charming!
“One of the most well-known attractions of Mull is the colourful town of Tobermory, which is the main town on the island. The town is known for its cute rainbow coloured houses facing the harbour and for being the location of children’s television programme Balamory.”
Mull is also known for its wildlife and in particular, otters. As you drive around you’ll see signs to slow down for otters crossing the road. Unfortunately we didn’t see any this time but you might be luckier than us. There are also a number of other points of interest in Mull, such as a Tobermory Distillery, Duart Castle, and beautiful white sand beaches such as Calgary Bay. I’ll talk more about these later!
How do you get to Mull?
The good news is that if you’re travelling from the central belt of Scotland, the island of Mull is actually pretty accessible – aside from the small detail that you have to catch a ferry to get to it of course. A six hour drive into the depths of the Highlands it is not. In fact, for us coming from Dundee, it didn’t even involve ‘going up north’ which felt a little odd – it was actually a straight line west from the city.
So where is Mull exactly? Mull can be found on the west coast of Scotland to the north west of Glasgow, south of Glencoe and Fort William. You need to get yourself to the town of Oban on the mainland, and it’s from there you’ll catch the Oban to Mull ferry. Oban actually seemed like a really charming place so if you do have time, definitely spend some time there. My sister actually spotted a lovely interiors shop and she popped in to buy a cushion on the way home! It definitely had a nice buzz about it.
Catching the ferry to Mull is fairly straightforward; the ferry leaves several times a day and the journey takes around 45 minutes. As someone who’s taken the overnight ferry to Shetland more than once, which takes around 12 hours in total) this was a cake walk. There’s a cafe on board the ferry so you can refuel if you need to and there are plenty of comfortable seats so you can take a pew and watch the waves as you glide along the water. I enjoyed a leisurely coffee with a view on our trip! You can also take your vehicle on board the ferry (as with most ferries I imagine) so that was convenient too.
Where to stay in Mull
Should you stay in a hotel in Mull or should you opt for an Airbnb? We mulled over (sorry, just getting that one out of the way) staying in a hotel, as there are some rather lovely looking ones on the island – and who doesn’t love a tasty hotel breakfast and clean sheets every day? But I also love the idea of having a bit more space to stretch out in, which you have if you stay in an Airbnb. If I’m being honest, it boiled down to the question of a wood burning stove. Nothing says warm, cosy and off the grid like a cup of tea, a good book and a crackling wood burner, so that was the thing we ended up prioritising in our search for where to stay in Mull. In the end, I was super happy with what we found…
“Nothing says warm, cosy and off the grid like a cup of tea, a good book and a crackling wood burner and so it was that cosy atmosphere that we ended up prioritising in our search for an Airbnb in Mull. We ended up staying at the Teacher’s Apartment in Salen, which was lovely!”
We stayed in the Teacher’s Apartment in Salen, which was gorgeous. As you can see in the picture above, it had the wood burner and cosy cottage vibe we were after. Not only that, the host actually baked us a birthday cake on arrival! I’d included that it was my birthday in the ‘why you’re visiting’ section on Airbnb So that was a really lovely touch from the host, and the cake was delicious. In terms of location, the apartment was conveniently right next to a Spar and the Salen Hotel, so it was perfect for picking up supplies such as emergency firewood and for a tasty, low-key dinner on the first night. In terms of convenience, Salen is a pretty central spot on the island for driving around.
What to pack for Mull
What should you pack for your trip to the isle of Mull? The first thing would be warm clothes and waterproofs. The weather in Mull is something else! As anyone knows, being off the west coast of Scotland means you’re more likely to get more rain at the best of times, but we had about four seasons in a day. We had a mix of sunshine, hailstones, snow, rain – you name it, we had it. So be prepared and make sure you have a good waterproof jacket with you, along with a hat and gloves. Hiking boots are also a good idea. I didn’t bring any with me based on the recommendation that there’s a great outdoor shop in Tobermory that does surprisingly affordable boots and other outdoor gear. And it’s true – the shop is called Trek and I got a pair of good quality boots for £35, which is brilliant value.
“Make sure you bring warm clothes and waterproofs with you on your trip to Mull – we had a mix of sunshine, hailstones, snow and rain on our trip – you name it, we had it. There is a great outdoors shop in Tobermory if you forget anything though!”
You also probably need to have a car. That’s not strictly true, and I just read a really good post by a travel blogger who did it all by public transport which I’m totally in awe of, but it does make everything a lot more convenient. It was great just to drive around and stop off at anywhere that looked interesting. The wildlife on the isle of Mull is incredible – we saw eagles, a stag and the friendliest collie ever – you’ll also see lots of signs about where to spot the otters which inhabit the island. Unfortunately we didn’t see any otters this time but I would love to go back to try again!
What to do on Mull
There are lots of things to do in Mull, but as with any holiday, you can choose to do as many of them or as little of them as you want. So what did we do? To be really honest, I was very much there to just go off grid for a couple of days and enjoy a more leisurely pace of life. After a busy few weeks at work I just wanted to r-e-l-a-x. There’s plenty of choice in terms of things to do on Mull but if you’re travelling out of season a lot of the attractions are closed – this didn’t really bother us but it’s something to bear in mind when deciding what time of year you’d like to visit – if you like your trips to be quite action-packed then maybe the spring or summer would be a better option for you.
I did look into kayaking and pony trekking before we arrived, but coupled with the abysmal weather and off season opening hours, we didn’t get around to doing it. The same goes for hiring bikes – there was a bicycle hire place right next door to our apartment in Salen but with the weather being what it was, it just wasn’t an option for us this time. We would have been cold and wet in five minutes flat!
For the most part, we just drove around the island, stopping at various spots to take in the view or explore further. There are some beautiful spaces to explore in Mull; gorgeous beaches, amazing views around every corner, and even a shell of a cottage that was being used in a film set. If you look really closely you can see that the back of the cottage actually isn’t there – it’s just the front.
Here are a few ideas for what to do in Mull
- Visit Duart Castle – you can even fill up on a delicious afternoon tea afterwards
- Go pony trekking – there are half and full day options available
- Take the ferry to Iona and see the famous Iona Abbey
- Visit Tobermory Distillery and sample a wee dram of whiskey
- Visit Calgary Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches on the island
- Hire bikes or take a guided cycling tour of the island
- Looking for family friendly fun? The Mull Aquarium has you covered
Where to eat in Mull
We visited Mishnish in Tobermory, which is a cosy pub right on the main strip of buildings on the harbour and has a lovely relaxed vibe. We went there on a Friday night, and it was the perfect place for soaking up the atmosphere of the town: an open fire, great pub food, a few rounds of drinks… oh, and a cute dog at the next table. It serves up classic pub grub, but done well. I absolutely adored my mac and cheese that I ordered and my sister enjoyed the steak pie she ordered so much that she actually went back two nights later and had it again. We also made friends with the locals over the course of the evening. We got chatting to one lad and told him that we were up for our birthday and he ended up putting Happy Birthday on the juke box for us, which was one part hilarious and two parts mortifying. This was the only place we ate apart from the Salen Hotel but it was great. Go there.
Things to watch out for on your trip to Mull
Some attractions won’t be open outside of the main season and as we were there in March, this was something we were hit with. As I mentioned above, the Tobermory Distillery was closed. If there’s something you really want to do it’s worth checking ahead to make sure it’s open.