Iona's highest point is Dùn Ì (101 m, 331 ft), an Iron Age hill fort dating from 100 BC – 200 AD. Its geographical features include the Bay at the Back of the Ocean and Càrn Cùl ri Éirinn (the Hill/Cairn with its Back to Ireland), said to be adjacent to the beach where St. Columba first landed.
Many believe that the Book of Kells was produced, in whole or in part, on Iona towards the end of the 8th century. A series of Viking raids on the monastery on Iona began in 794, and after its treasures had been plundered many times, Columba’s relics were removed and divided two ways between Scotland and Ireland in 849 as the monastery was abandoned. A convent for the Order of Benedictine Nuns was established in 1208, with Beathag, daughter of Somerled, as first prioress. The present Benedictine abbey was built in 1203. The monastery itself flourished until the Reformation when buildings were demolished and all but three of the 360 carved crosses destroyed.
Iona Abbey, now an ecumenical church, is of particular historical and religious interest to pilgrims and visitors alike. It is the most elaborate and best-preserved ecclesiastical building surviving from the Middle Ages in the Western Isles of Scotland. Though modest in scale in comparison to medieval abbeys elsewhere in Western Europe, it has a wealth of fine architectural detail, and monuments of many periods.
In front of the Abbey stands the 9th century St Martin's Cross, one of the best-preserved Celtic crosses in the British Isles, and a replica of the 8th century St John's Cross (original fragments in the Abbey museum).
The ancient burial ground, called the Reilig Odhráin (Eng: Oran's "burial place" or "cemetery"), contains the 12th century chapel of St Odhrán (said to be Columba's uncle), restored at the same time as the Abbey itself. It contains a number of medieval grave monuments. The abbey graveyard contains the graves of many early Scottish Kings, as well as kings from Ireland, Norway and France. Iona became the burial site for the kings of Dál Riata and their successors. Notable burials there include:
In 1549 an inventory of 48 Scottish, 8 Norwegian and 4 Irish kings was recorded. None of these graves are now identifiable (their inscriptions were reported to have worn away at the end of the 17th century).
The graveyard is also the final resting place of John Smith, the former Labour Party leader, who loved Iona. His grave is marked with an epitaph quoting Alexander Pope: "An honest man's the noblest work of God".
Other early Christian and medieval monuments have been removed for preservation to the cloister arcade of the Abbey, and the Abbey museum (in the medieval infirmary).
The ancient buildings of Iona Abbey are now cared for by Historic Scotland.
In 1938 George MacLeod founded the Iona Community, an ecumenical Christian community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Christian church committed to seeking new ways of living the gospel of Jesus in today's world. This community is a leading force in the present Celtic Christianity revival.
The Iona Community runs 3 residential centres on the Isle of Iona and on Mull. These are places of welcome and engagement giving a unique opportunity to live together in community with people of every background from all over the world. Weeks at the centres often follow a programme related to the concerns of the Iona Community.
Iona Nunnery survives as a series of exquisitely beautiful 12th-13th century ruins of the church and cloister, and a colourful and peaceful garden. Unlike the rest of the medieval religious buildings, the nunnery was too fragmentary to restore, though its remains are nevertheless the most complete survival of a medieval nunnery in Scotland.
Away from the historic buildings, Iona offers enjoyable walks to the north of the island, with pristine white sand beaches, and south and west to the Bay at the Back of the Atlantic.
Pebbles of the famous green streaked Iona marble, commercially mined in the 19th century (the quarry and original machinery survive) can be found on the island's beaches.
Port Bhan beach on the west side of the island is home of the annual Iona Beach Party.