Iona Abbey – located on the Isle of Iona on the far southwest corner of Mull – was founded by St. Columba in AD 563.
The abbey is one of Europe’s oldest sites of worship and was an important burial site for Scottish royalty after the Scottish Reformation. Today, Iona is a popular tourist destination that is accessible via ferry from the village of Fionnphort on Mull.
|Address:||Isle of Iona,|
|Opening Hours:||1 Apr to 30 Sept:|
Daily, 9.30 am to 5.30 pm
Last entry 5 pm
1 Oct to 31 Mar:
Mon to Sat, 10 am to 4 pm
Last entry 3.30 pm
|Admission Price:||Adult (16-64yrs) £9.50|
Concession (65yrs+ and unemployed) £7.50
Child (5-15yrs) £5.50
Family (1 adult, 2 children) £19.00
Family (2 adults, 2 children) £27.50
Family (2 adults, 3 children) £32.50
|Contact:||01681 700 512|
|Facilities:||Shop, guided tours, drinks machine, cafe and shops in Baile Mor village|
Iona Abbey is located on the beautiful Isle of Iona just a few minutes ferry ride from the Isle of Mull, and it has played an integral role in Scotland’s religious history for well over a thousand years.
Not only is the abbey the final resting place for many of Scotland’s royalty, but it is also the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland due to the monastery built by Saint Columba in AD 563.
The legend of Columba led to Iona becoming one of the most important and influential sites in mediaeval Britain and even though the small island seems remote it’s renowned as one of the leading places of spirituality in Scotland.
Early pilgrims are known to have travelled to Iona from at least the 7th century, which is a tradition that continues to this day with many Christians following their footsteps to visit this remarkable island.
Although the abbey draws visitors from all over the world due to its religious connections many more come to explore the beautiful abbey buildings and discover the fascinating stories behind their history.
There are lots of artefacts to see during a visit in addition to the information displays installed by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) who run the site, as well as several areas to walk through including a church, the famed graveyard and the ruins of a long-since-abandoned nunnery.
If you would like to join a tour of Scotland’s west coast islands take a look at this selection from Get Your Guide.
1: Iona Abbey is a fascinating glimpse into Scotland’s past. If you can, I recommend joining a guided tour for an expert’s overview.
2: Iona is a lovely wee island and there are some great walks to be found, especially if you head south. One recommended walking destination is St. Columba’s Bay where St. Columba first set foot in Scotland.
3: The shops near the ferry port are excellent and visitors are bound to find a nice handmade memento or two.
1: If you’re combining a visit to the abbey with a walk on the island make sure you remember your ferry times or it’ll be a long wait to get back to Mull. Check the Calmac ferry times before departing.
2: There’s no on-site café on Iona but you can get good food in the shops near the ferry ramp. On the Mull side, there’s a snack bar at Fionnphort.
3: Book your ferry in advance in summer as Iona Abbey is very popular with tourists and ferry sailings are usually sold out on the day.
Even if you’re not remotely interested in religion you’re going to enjoy a trip to Iona to see the abbey.
The sightseeing begins long before you set foot on the island because you’ll more than likely be getting there via the ferry from the village of Fionnphort on the southwest of Mull and the drive to this pretty little coastal hamlet takes you through some of the nicest landscapes on the island.
While the ferry crossing only takes around 5 minutes you will at least get a chance to take a few photos of the abbey from a different angle, and once you arrive at the little pier you might be surprised to see several shops facing the seafront.
It’s not surprising St. Columba chose this place to build his monastery because it’s both absolutely gorgeous and incredibly peaceful. If you really want to feel like you’re completely off-grid then Iona is the place to be.
The short walk to the abbey will see you passing the ruins of the old nunnery which is quite interesting to walk around, though it would have been nice if there were a few more information displays dotted about.
The footpath leaving the nunnery runs right up to the abbey itself, and it’s at this point where your camera trigger finger will likely go into overdrive.
The old 13th-century church is impressive for such a remote location and the views behind it looking across Mull are nothing short of spectacular.
Before entering the church you’ll pass St. Oran’s chapel and Reilig Odrain, the graveyard where many of Scotland’s ancient royals were laid to rest, so take a short detour and have a good look around before heading to the main abbey buildings.
As you walk down the path leading to the church you’ll notice a small hill where St. Columba is believed to have built his writing hut nearly 1,500 years ago.
There’s a small section of the original stone laid into the ground so it’s worth heading up there to take a quick look before heading into the church.
Once inside you’ll find several displays and information boards as well as a few exhibits – all of which are up to HES’s usual high standards – and after exploring the interior you can head back outside to walk around the cloister.
The cloister originally served as a way to link the abbey buildings and was also a place of contemplation, and it still has a very peaceful feel today.
Much of the columns and stonework have been restored over the years so it’s pretty much the same as it would have been when it was originally built, although there’s now a large sculpture in the middle and a few restored stone plinths around the perimeter.
Other highlights include St. Columba’s Shrine which is the oldest structure in the abbey dating to around the 9th century, and the enormous stone crosses near the church entrance, one of which, St. Martins Cross, is believed to be over a thousand years old.
And finally, after exploring the abbey you can just set off on foot to take a look at the Isle of Iona itself with its crystal-clear sea, white-sand beaches and unspoilt landscapes.
I really enjoyed visiting this attraction and I reckon if you’re anywhere near Mull then a trip to Iona should be at the top of your list of things to do.
The story of the abbey begins with Saint Columba who travelled to Iona along with 12 of his companions in AD 563.
Originally from Ireland, Columba chose Iona as it was easily accessible from Ireland by boat, and after his death many Christian pilgrims chose to show their devotion by visiting the monastery he founded.
Before long the site became one of the foremost centres for learning, art, and worship in the British Isles which led to the surrounding buildings being slowly expanded between the 13th and 16th centuries.
From the 8th century onwards Iona became a leading artistic centre for sculptors, metalworkers, and manuscript writers, which goes some way to explaining why such a huge amount of medieval artefacts have been discovered on the island over the years.
The riches that were kept on Iona were also the reason why it was so heavily targeted by Vikings during the 9th and 10th centuries, and hence why St. Columba’s remains were moved to Dunkeld in Perthshire into what was to eventually become Dunkeld Cathedral.
Somerled, Lord of the Isles, became the patron of Iona in the 12th century and it was he who had St. Oran’s Chapel built which became the burial ground for many of his royal descendants, while his son Ranald re-established the monastery as a Benedectine abbey.
Following the Scottish Reformation, the abbey was abandoned and fell into ruin until the Duke of Argyll transferred ownership of the site to the Iona Cathedral Trust.
The trust subsequently began a program of restoration and the surrounding buildings were renovated by the Iona community in the 1900s.
If Iona has whetted your appetite for Scotland’s islands you’ll find more ideas for places to visit in these Hebrides articles.
Things to do
Discover the Abbey’s Rich History: Immerse yourself in the captivating history of Iona Abbey, which dates back to the 6th century. Marvel at the intricately carved Celtic stonework and explore the medieval cloisters. Don’t miss the chance to learn about the life of Saint Columba who founded the Abbey and played a pivotal role in spreading Christianity in Scotland.
See the Crosses: The abbey is home to a remarkable collection of Celtic artefacts, including ancient stone crosses like the famous St John’s Cross and the medieval St. Martin’s Cross. Each one tells a unique story of the monastic community that once flourished on Iona, providing a fascinating insight into the religious and cultural history of the island.
See the Nunnery: The nearby Augustinian nunnery is the most complete nunnery complex from the era still standing in Scotland. Though roofless and in ruin, it’s a fascinating place to walk around.
Audio Guide: Listen to one of the included audio guides to enhance your understanding of the abbey’s significance. Expert narrators share engaging stories about the Abbey’s construction, its historical importance, and the daily lives of the monks who lived there centuries ago.
Enjoy the Natural Beauty: Beyond the Abbey, Iona offers breathtaking scenery to discover. Take a leisurely walk along white sandy beaches, hike to the highest point on Dun I for stunning panoramic views, or spot wildlife such as seals and otters around the coastline.
Historical Origin: Iona Abbey is one of the oldest and most important religious centres in Western Europe. It was founded by St. Columba and his Irish followers in AD 563.
Monastic Community: Iona Abbey was home to a community of monks for centuries who were instrumental in spreading Christianity throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Book of Kells: The monks at Iona are believed to have created the Book of Kells, one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world, around AD 800.
Viking Attacks: The abbey suffered numerous Viking raids during the 8th and 9th centuries, which led to the monks relocating the abbey’s treasures, including the Book of Kells, to Ireland for safety.
Benedictine Era: In the 13th century, the abbey was rebuilt in the style of the Benedictine order, which led to its current architectural design.
Architectural Features: Iona Abbey boasts a unique blend of Celtic and Romanesque architectural styles. Significant features include intricate stone carvings, an impressive refectory, and the iconic St. Martin’s Cross.
St. Martin’s Cross: This intricately carved stone cross, standing outside the abbey, is one of the best-preserved Celtic crosses in the UK.
Burial Site of Kings: Iona Abbey is reputed to be the burial site of 48 Scottish kings, including Macbeth.
Things to do nearby
Iona Nunnery. Baile Mor, Isle of Iona PA76 6SJ. 5-minute walk.
A historical landmark located close to the ferry terminal. The nunnery is in complete ruin but most of the original walls are still standing. The park to the front has benches suitable for picnics.
Fionnphort. Fionnphort PA66 6BL. 8-minute ferry.
A small village on the southwest of Mull that serves as the gateway to the Isle of Iona. Regular ferries allow access to Iona and the abbey but Fionnphort is also worth visiting for the sandy bay to the north and the cliff-top walks to the north and south.
St. Oran’s Chapel. Isle of Iona PA76 6SQ. 2-minute walk.
An ancient (it’s the oldest building on Iona) chapel located close to Iona Abbey that is still in use for religious ceremonies. The interior of the chapel displays a collection of Celtic art and stone crosses.
St. Columba’s Bay. 24-minute walk.
Scenic bay on the southernmost tip of Iona that was reputedly the landing point for Saint Columba when he arrived in Scotland. There are several man-made stone formations in the area. The bay is shingle and surrounded by rock outcrops.
Iona Heritage Centre. The Manse, Isle of Iona PA76 6SJ. 6-minute walk.
A small independent museum that includes a collection of displays and exhibits of Iona’s fishing, crofting and religious heritage. The centre has a café and a small gift shop.
Frequently asked questions
Who is buried at Iona Abbey?
Iona Abbey is the final resting place for 60 kings: 48 Scottish, 8 Norwegian, and 4 Irish. The most famous burials at Iona Abbey are Kenneth MacAlpin (the first king of Scotland) and Macbeth (king of Scotland from AD 1040 and subject of a play by Shakespeare).
Why is Iona Abbey famous?
Iona Abbey is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. St. Columba established the abbey in AD 563, and it later rose to prominence among religious sites in the British Isles.
The abbey graveyard – Reilig Odhráin – was used as a burial site for a number of Scottish kings and nobles.
Can you get married in Iona Abbey?
It is possible to get married at Iona Abbey. Wedding venues include the abbey church, Michael Chapel, and St. Oran’s Chapel.
Can you stay in Iona Abbey?
It is not possible to stay in Iona Abbey, but overnight stays can be booked in the Bishop’s House which is located close to the abbey looking over the Sound of Iona.