Ask most people what wildlife they’d most like to see when visiting Scotland and we’re pretty sure many would say the puffin. These cute seabirds are some of the most photogenic animals we’ve ever seen, with their bright beaks and matching orange feet. And, for a short time every year, we’re lucky that they call Scotland home.
Seeing puffins up close does need a bit of planning. We learnt the hard way on our first year in Scotland when we missed them by about a week (they had already headed out to sea, where they spend most of their lives). So, we thought it would be helpful to share our advice on making the most of their time on Scottish shores.
When is best to see them?
You only have a small window to see puffins, when they return to land to breed during Spring and Summer. This gives you about four months (April to July) to guarantee they’ll be there when you visit. By July the chick, known as a puffling, is nearly ready to leave the burrow, so you’ll have a better chance of seeing them outside.
Late afternoon and early evening are good times to see them, although we’ve also found early mornings are good too – it just depends a little on where you are and how hungry they are!
Where should we go?
Puffins can be found in many parts of Scotland, which means they may be closer to where you are going than you think!
Here are some of our top places where you’re pretty much guaranteed to see them:
This has to be one of our favourite places to see puffins. The stunning wildlife reserve can only be reached by a short boat crossing (10 minutes) from the tiny settlement of Tarbet on the north-west coast. Landing on its beautiful white sandy beaches, you feel like you are completely disconnected from the outside world. Here, seabird colonies rule the roost.
Left to explore at your own pace, it takes about four miles to walk around the island. The path is easy to follow and takes you around some epic sea cliffs, where you’ll see hundreds of nesting puffins.
Tickets for the ferry cost £15 per person (cash only) and the great thing about Handa is that once you’re on the island (outward crossings run from about 9am-2pm) you can stay on there for the full day!
The Treshnish Isles – Lunga
Probably the most well-known spot for puffin photography, Lunga, has a huge wildlife population. The small island, which is normally combined with a trip to Staffa and Fingal’s Cave, lets you get very close to them. This means that for those without zoom lenses, you’ll have lots of opportunities to get great pictures, even from your phone!
Tickets and tours over to Staffa can vary and cost as much as £65 depending on how long you want to spend on the island. Most trips will give you a few hours on the island, which is enough for most people.
Isles of May, Fidra, and Craigleith
Very close to Edinburgh and accessible from North Berwick or the Anstruther harbour in Fife, these small islands offer a great and easy way to see puffins as well as many other seabirds. Tickets for the ferry over cost around £15-£30 depending on whether you are booking in advance, or on the day.
Shetland Islands – Samburgh Head
Despite being the hardest of the islands on this list to reach, once you’re there, Samburgh Head in Shetland is actually the most accessible place to see puffins, especially for those with reduced mobility. Like Handa, it’s home to thousands of rare seabirds. The rest of Shetland isn’t too bad either!
You can reach Shetland by ferry or plane, although both can get expensive if you don’t book them in advance.
Wherever you do go though, please be respectful of the puffins and their young, and do avoid getting too close as it can seriously impact their nesting routines.
If you have any other questions or would like to order a print of any of these images, please let us know!
Enjoy your travels!