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How To Get To Islay By Ferry

CalMac (Caledonian MacBrayne) ferries are one of the most accessible and affordable ways to get to Islay. Ferries depart daily from Kennacraig and arrive at either Port Ellen or Port Askaig. There is also a ferry service from Oban via Colonsay to Port Askaig, but this only operates weekly in winter and twice weekly in summer.

Ferry to Islay from Glasgow

To get the ferry from Glasgow to Islay, you need to head to the west coast of Scotland and the Port of Kennacraig on West Loch Tarbert. The cost of the Islay ferry for an adult one way is £7.25 and £14.50 return. The journey time of the ferry from Kennacraig to Islay depends on which Port the ferry docks at on the island - Kennacraig to Port Ellen is just over 2 hours (2 hr 10 min), and Kennacraig to Port Askaig takes 1 hour and 55 minutes.

blue sky with white fluffy clouds, ferry wash visible in the water below as the Islay ferry enters the Sound of Islay. Islay hillside visible from middle to right, filling the horizon

Ferry wash as the CalMac Ferry turns into the Sound of Islay headed towards Port Askaig

Pedestrians - Catching The Ferry Without A Car

Pedestrians do not need to book a ticket in advance - you can show up at Kennacraig and buy one at the ticket office. The cost of an adult ticket from Kennacraig to Islay each way (no discount return) is £7.25. Children (5-15 years old) are £3.65 each way. However, if you'd rather not wait in the queue, you can buy them online via the CalMac Booking Portal.

See our guide, Glasgow to Islay on Public Transport, for more information on catching a bus to Kennacraig and why you might want to book your ferry ticket in advance.

Return tickets are valid for one month from the date they are issued and used for one return trip on the same route within this period.

If you require assistance while boarding or travelling on the ferry (e.g. reduced mobility, travelling with a disability, travelling with young children), please see the Assisted Travel Guide on the CalMac website for further information.

Can I Take My Car To Islay (or Motorbike or RV)?

Generally, you can take your car (or motorbike or motorhome) to Islay on the ferry. You should book your ferry ticket well in advance, though, as the number of spaces available for vehicles is limited. The ferry is the main transport link between Islay and the mainland, including the main commercial link for all the lorries and tankers, and these vehicles take up most of the available space on the ferries. The summer months are the most competitive for bookings, and while extra ferries often run, they just as often break down or are booked solid or cancelled due to inclement weather. If you plan to take your car to Islay, make you book as soon as you know your travel dates.

The cost to take a car or 4x4 on the ferry from Kennacraig to Islay is £36.70 each way. You will still need to purchase a ticket for each passenger separately, and the driver must purchase a ticket in addition to the car's ticket. The ferry price varies depending on the type/size of the vehicle - the classifications are Car, People Carrier, 4X4, Motorbike, Motorhome, and Van. You must also declare if you have a trailer, caravan or bike rack.

Book your vehicle on the ferry (arrival and departure) as soon as you know the dates. You can generally change the dates if your plans change; however, don't leave changes to the last minute, as you won't be able to change if the ferry is already booked. There is almost always a 'wait list' of vehicles at the ferry terminal - they are hoping other vehicles don't show up (especially some of the trucks) and that extra spaces will become available. You can't book a place on the 'wait list'; you simply have to show up (early!!) and hope for the best.

CalMac will ask for your vehicle registration details when booking your vehicle on the ferry. If you are hiring a car/don't know which vehicle you will use, select the 'registration unknown' option. They will still ask for the make + model of the vehicle, but these are not mandatory fields and can be left blank. If you are taking a van or motorhome, you will need to at least know the length of the vehicle before booking your ferry ticket. If your van or motorhome has a bike rack attached to the rear, you must select the overall length of the vehicle and bike rack combined.

If the vehicle you travel with is not the vehicle you have booked or exceeds the length you have reserved, a surcharge may be due, and space may not be available on the ferry.

Glasgow to Islay by Car

Driving from Glasgow to Kennacraig and then on the ferry to Islay is relatively easy as you only need to get onto the A2 out of Glasgow and then take the A83 from Tarbert to Kennacraig. The route is well signed and the roads are usually in good condition (though sometimes there are land slips around the Rest and Be Thankful which can close the road). Road conditions can be checked via Traffic Scotland.

The Kennacraig Ferry Terminal is roughly 2.5 hours (106 miles / 170 kilometres) drive from Glasgow.

The journey is spectacularly beautiful from Loch Lomond all the way through to Kennacraig. Inveraray is an excellent place to stop for a coffee, an ice cream, and if you need fuel. Lochgilphead and Tarbert are also ideal places to fill up with petrol before you catch the ferry (avoid paying fuel prices on Islay for as long as possible - they're high). There are electric vehicle charging stations at the Kennacraig Ferry Port (connector types CHAdeMO / 62196-2 / CCS).

Ferry from Oban to Islay

The ferry runs twice a week in summer (Wednesday and Saturday, March to October) and once a week in winter (Saturday) from Oban to Islay via Colonsay. The ferry from Oban to Islay takes just under 4 hours. For adults, the cost of catching the ferry from Oban to Islay (Port Askaig) is £10.35 each way. 

If you intend to catch the bus on Islay once you arrive, please note that the Wednesday ferry arrives several hours after the last bus has departed. Make sure you organise separate transport in advance (there is nothing in Port Askaig other than the pub). See our Guide to Islay Without A Car for more information.

Vehicles are permitted on the Oban to Islay ferry, the cost being £56.25 each way for a car or 4X4. Drivers must purchase a ticket for themselves and the vehicle's ticket.

Weathering the Weather and Cancellation of Services

The ferries to Islay will operate in most weather conditions, including in some pretty rough seas. There are some fairly epic youtube videos of CalMac ferries operating in storms that you may or may not want to see! The ferry is generally not as affected by adverse weather as the plane (which usually doesn't land in strong wind or fog, assuming it makes it out of Glasgow at all, but that's another story - read our post on Getting to Islay Without A Car for more info). The main issue (ongoing since forever, just ask an Islay local!) is that the ferries tend to break down a lot. A LOT. Breakdowns may only cause a delay of an hour or two but occasionally result in the cancellation of entire services for days or weeks (Oban to Islay is not operating at the time of writing).

The ferry service status is available on the CalMac website, and it pays to check before you leave Glasgow (or return from Islay).

We do not want to deter you from travelling to Islay (or any of the Islands, as the issues are the same elsewhere) but please keep in mind that much of your journey's progress will be dependent on the weather conditions, and it can create havoc with your travel schedule.

We recommend you allow an additional day or two after your trip to Islay for important interconnecting flights or unmissable events or be flexible with your schedule. This is one of the reasons we don't recommend you try and 'do' Islay in a weekend, as sometimes it can take an entire day to get to/from the mainland.

Have travel insurance that covers the cost of your flights or accommodation if you are delayed, or be flexible with your travel arrangements. We use World Nomads as they have great rates and a really clear policy of what is/isn't covered. 

Motion Sickness

If you're prone to motion sickness, especially if you get it badly, bring whatever works for you. Even in mild weather I find my stomach flip flops as I'm not used to being on the water for 2 hours. The ferry will run in most weather, and the west coast of Scotland has some pretty epic storms; be warned you might experience some rough seas.

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About the author

Amanda

Amanda is an Australian-born photographer, digital nomad and whisky lover. Her passion for travel and whisky lead her to Islay, where she fell in love with an Ileach (an Islay native). Amanda and Roddy now share their Spirited Adventures.

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