Our son is at that stage where most of his conversations start with “What’s your favourite…? “. The choice usually involves his Hot Wheel cars or stones that he’s found on the beach.
You have to pick one and give a reason. For him, it simply isn’t acceptable to say you like them both just as much but for different reasons.
So when someone asks me “Which is better, Skye or Mull”, I find myself letting out a little sigh as I know people want a black and white answer, but it isn’t that simple.
Let me explain why.
The Scottish Islands all feel quite different and each has its own charms. It’s a lot like comparing Malt whiskies. As my Dad always says; “there’s no such thing as a bad Malt Whisky, there's just differences.”
The best idea is to visit both islands so you can pick your own favourite. If that idea appeals, you will find lots of ideas and information in our Island Adventure itinerary.
But you may not have time to do both, so I’m going to try to compare Skye and Mull as subjectively as possible. And to do this, I’m going to score how the islands stack up against each other in terms of the criteria of Castles & Historic Places, Beaches, Pretty Villages, Food and Folklore.
Please don’t take my scoring system too seriously, this is just a bit of fun.
Every Scottish holiday ought to feature a castle visit. Ideally a castle which is still weathertight so you can save the castle tour for a rainy day.
Skye has Dunvegan Castle, the ancient seat of the MacLeods, but I must admit it’s a castle that I have no great love for. It’s a boxy-looking building finished in the sort of dull gray coloured harling that is normally used on 1970’s office blocks.
On the other hand, Eilean Donan is arguably the prettiest castle in Scotland. It’s not actually on Skye but it’s only 10 miles from the Skye bridge so close enough to count. The castle dates back to the 13th century, but a large chunk of it was blown away by the Royal Navy in 1719. Consequently, most of the castle that you see today is largely a reconstruction that dates from the early 1900’s.
Can Mull offer anything to match Eilean Donan?
Well, it does have the impressive fortress of Duart Castle which greets visitors sailing to Mull on the Oban ferry. It’s not quite as sublimely photogenic as Eilean Donan but Duart retains more of its original structure and the clifftop position is imposing.
If you prefer your castles to be crumbling and a bit spooky then Mull offers some good options with the relatively intact Moy Castle and the Ivy clad ruins of Aros Castle. Moy is undergoing some restoration work and, from a distance, looks quite complete. Aros castle hasn’t fared so well and most of its upper walls have fallen in on themselves so the lower levels of the castle are buried under fallen masonry. It is in a comparable state to Skye’s Duntulm and Caisteal Camus.
The big historical draw that Mull has to offer is Iona Abbey which is famous as the place where St Columba established his Christian missionary in 563AD. The island was an important place of pilgrimage and is the burial ground for 48 Scottish Kings as well as several Norwegian and Irish monarchs.
If you prefer your history even older, like Pre-historic, both islands can deliver. Skye has the dinosaur footprints at Staffin and Mull has a fossil tree on the Burg Peninsula.
Castle & Historical Sites Score - Eilean Donan gives Skye a strong hand, but Mull’s combination of Duart Castle and Iona Abbey balance things up. I’m inclined to say this is a draw. Mull 1 : Skye 1
If it’s fine white sand and clear blue waters that you want, there’s no contest and it’s an easy win for Mull.
Skye does have a few nice beaches and Camas Daraich at the western tip of the Sleat Peninsula is a lovely spot. But Mull and the neighbouring Island of Iona have so many great beaches to choose from. For example, there is Calgary Bay which is very easy to access.
If you prefer a quieter beach then try Langamull or head to the southwest of Mull and explore the beaches around Fionnphort and the Isle of Erraid.
Mull also has beaches where the sand is dark grey and it forms beautiful monochromatic patterns.
Beach Score - It’s a clear win for Mull bringing the score to Mull 2 : Skye 1
How do you measure scenery? It's such a subjective thing that it defies quantification.
If you measure a mountain’s beauty by its height and ruggedness then the Cuillins on Skye would be your winner.
Mull’s highest peak is Ben More, which at 966 metres is just 26 metres short of Skye’s highest peak Sgurr Alasdair (992 metres). But Ben More is a more rounded mountain and accessible by any competent hillwalker, whereas Sgurr Alasdair is a jagged peak with daunting scree slopes to navigate.
And then you have the almost alien-looking landscapes of Skye’s Trotternish peninsula where you find the Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr.
So Skye has some quite spectacular and unusual landscapes to offer.
Mull, on the other hand, has a softer, less forbidding landscape. The east coast of Mull has areas of pleasant woodlands and sheltered inlets.
The west coast is more rugged with cliffs and moorland.
If you are searching on Mull for something to match the otherworldly landscape of Trotternish, we would suggest you take a boat trip to Staffa to see it’s unusual hexagonal basalt columns that emerge vertically from the sea like an ancient fortress.
Mull also has Eas Fors waterfall to offer as an alternative to Skye’s Kilt Rock / Mealt Falls.
Scenery Score - In summary, for the sheer drama and diversity of the landscape, Skye is the winner of this category. But both islands have their own charms.We’re giving this point to Skye, but it’s a close call. Mull 2 : Skye 2
Mull wins this thanks to the picture-perfect waterfront of Tobermory village. The kaleidoscopic mix of vibrantly painted houses is something that only started in the 1960’s when the owner of the Mishnish hotel first slapped some pink paint on it. Pretty soon, the rest of the village joined in with a range of bright colours and it has become a fixture of Tobermory ever since.
Portree does have quite a few brightly painted buildings down by its harbour, but Portree is a rather sprawling town by comparison and doesn’t have the same village feel that makes Tobermory so appealing.
Also on Mull, you have Dervaig which is not much more than a one-street village, but is very photogenic and has an unusual pencil spire church.
Outside of Portree, the prettiest village on Skye is the little cluster of buildings at Isleornsay on the Sleat Peninsula.
Pretty village Score - This goes to Mull thanks to Tobermory with support from Dervaig, which brings the aggregate score to Mull 3 : Skye 2
By food we are not just thinking about restaurants, but also local food producers. Both islands score really well here.
Skye has the famous Three Chimneys restaurant which was one of the places that championed Scottish cuisine and helped put Scottish food on the culinary map. But the 3C is expensive and out of reach for most folk.
Mull doesn’t have anything that aspires to be quite as exclusive as the Three Chimneys, but it does have the excellent Am Birlinn which we rate as one of our favourite places in Scotland. Am Birlinn makes a big thing about food miles and the menu tells you precisely how far the ingredients have traveled to get to your plate. It is also a nice informal place to dine and kids are welcomed.
Being a larger island with more visitors, Skye does have more restaurants and more choice so it does win on the count of top-class places to dine out. That’s not to say the restaurants on Skye are better than Mull, it’s just that there are more of them.
Where Mull can fight back is with its local food producers. Mull has a creamery that makes my favourite cheddar. It’s such a good cheddar that I have often bought it as a gift for friends and then eaten it before I could deliver it to them. It really is that irresistible!
Mull also has a great smokehouse located at Tobermory and a visit to this is a must when you are on the island. Strangely, for an island with so many visitors, Skye didn’t get a smokehouse until 2017 when a young couple from England moved to the island to open a B&B and spotted the gap in the market. I’ve stayed at their B&B and sampled their Smoked Salmon and have to say it really is very good.
Food Score - Hard to call a winner in this category. If you want posh restaurants then Skye is your place. If you want locally sourced produce then Mull takes the biscuit (literally as they have a biscuit company on the island too). So we’re going to call it a draw here and mark the scores up to Mull 4 : Skye 3
Scotland is a land steeped in history and folklore. The landscape lends itself to stories of giants, witches, and fairies. Legends add colour to places and can transform the otherwise unremarkable into something that makes your senses tingle.
For example, Skye has the legend of the Fairy Flag in Dunvegan Castle. Without the legend, it would just be a rather threadbare and unnoteworthy piece of old silk cloth. But give it magical powers gifted from the Fairies and you have an instant tourist attraction.
Mull’s most famous legend is the promise of sunken treasure on board the wreck of a Spanish galleon that sunk in Tobermory Bay. Despite several attempts, no chests of gold have been recovered, but the story lives on.
Both island’s have lots of Ghost stories. Moy Castle on Mull is said to be haunted by the headless Ewen Maclaine who rides his horse around the castle that he died fighting for in a battle with his father.
Duntulm Castle on Skye had so many ghosts that its occupants abandoned the place and moved to Monkstadt house. Well, that’s the story, but we imagine the new house was probably just a nicer place to live. Skye also has more contemporary ghosts and there are intriguing stories of a 1934 Austin car that speeds along roads near Sligachan but with no driver at the wheel. This automotive apparition has been reported by some trustworthy sources which gives it some credibility.
If Fairies are your thing, then Skye certainly has lots of places where Fairies might hang out. There’s the Fairy Bridge on the B886 which is where the Fairy Flag was meant to have been given to the MacLeod’s. And there is the Fairy Glen at Uig which has a series of miniature mountains and loch formed by glacial deposits.
And, of course, there are the very popular “Fairy Pools” in Glen Brittle, but there is actually no folklore about Fairies here. Stories about being granted eternal beauty by swimming in the stream are just something someone made up. Possibly so they could have a laugh at the noises people make as they plunge into the cold water.
Legends & Ghosts Score - We think this one has to go to Skye as it has the sort of dark and menacing landscapes that fire up your imagination for stories of mysterious things. Mull 4 : Skye 4
Once again I find myself saying that Scotland defies categorization into a simple “Best of” list. There are just too many variables and you have to decide based on what your own interests are.
If you were to force me to pick a favourite between Mull and Skye, I would opt for Mull primarily on the basis that it is less crowded and I have so many happy memories tied to it.
Mull is also still a “true island” whereas Skye is now connected to the mainland by a bridge that never gives you the same sense of occasion as arrival by sea. Of course, you can still sail to Skye by ferry from Mallaig or Glenelg if you are the type that believes the journey is as important as the destination.
The best way to pick a winner is to visit them both and decide for yourself.