After arriving on the tiny island of Iona near Mull in 563, Irish pilgrim Saint Columba proceeded to establish a Christian church and monastery, creating a vibrant religious community that lives on to this day. The monastery survived until the 12th century despite repeated Viking raids, and around 1200, the sons of Somerled founded a Benedictine abbey on the site. Though monastic life ended on Iona with the Protestant Reformation of 1560, pilgrimages to St Columba’s Shrine continued for many years. Today, it’s believed that the Book of Kells, along with several other great works of art, was created here.
Visit this most sacred of Scottish sights to see the four iconic high crosses, then tour the abbey church, with its 13th- to 16th-century architecture. You can also stop by St Columba’s Shrine, the longest-standing structure in the abbey, dating to the 9th or 10th century; climb Tòrr an Aba, a hill above the abbey where Saint Columba is said to have had a writing hut; or walk through Reilig Odhráin, the graveyard where ancient Scottish kings were laid to rest. While you’re exploring, keep an eye out for the vallum—a boundary ditch and bank of earth that serves as the only evidence of Columba’s original monastery.