Discover the Outer Hebrides
A brief guide to holidays and Western Isles tourist information
This article concentrates on the Isle of Lewis. For more detailed Outer Hebrides information, we suggest that you follow this link to Hebridean Hopscotch Holidays, our recommended partner for complete touring holidays thoughout the islands.
The Isles of Lewis and Harris together actually form a single island, which is the third largest landmass of the British Isles. The separation of the two is by natural landscape, a sea loch, a mountain range and watercourses.
It’s easy to enjoy the area for what it is – a world apart from the everyday.
There’s plenty of peace and quiet for just sitting on a quiet sunny day, looking at some of the world’s finest shell sand beaches or surfing in breakers that rival those of California, Cornwall or Australia.
Perhaps you’ll stroll among the old streets beneath the Dutch style facades of Stornoway, or hike the rugged mountains of Harris, in search of the elusive White Tailed Eagle.
You can take a paddle, or join with others on an enthralling boat journey to view deserted islands inhabited by puffins and where dolphins and whales perform natural antics, purely for their own purposes – not for a theme park audience.
Best beaches of the Western Isles
You’re never more than ten miles or so from a fabulous, soft, sandy beach.
Close to Stornoway – Tolsta 10 miles north-east has three wonderful beaches and you’ll pass Coll and Gress Beaches on the way there. All sandy.
On the West Side of Lewis – Uig (a huge expanse of shell-sand), Reef, Mangersta, Dalmor and Dalbeg.
Harris – Scarista, Seilebost, Luskentyre (perhaps the best in all the islands) and Hushinish.
Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the water is much less cold than you might expect at this northerly latitude and it’s quite common for Caribbean seeds and plants to be washed ashore – even whole coconuts have arrived. (Free parking at all accessible beaches.)
Top historical sites of the Isle of Lewis
A circular trip including the west side of Lewis will reveal a little of the fascinating history of the island and its people, many of whom are descended from Celtic and Scandinavian roots.
Most famous is Callanish (aka Calanis, Callanais, Calanais) – with its series of stone circles that pre-date Stonehenge. A wonderful site where, unlike Stonehenge, you can touch the stones, feel the magic and reflect on the lack of an entrance fee.
Further along the same road, there are substantial remains of a stone fort at Carloway Broch (Dun Charlabhaigh) which are over 2000 years old.
Just on the edge of Carloway village, the Gearrannan Black House Village will take you back in time and gives a clear picture of what life was like in a crofters’ community – there’s a cottage restored and containing everyday artifacts of the 1950’s that evokes memories for many who lived in that period.
At Bragar, the whalebone arch is a gruesome reminder of bygone industries.
In Stornoway itself, for many years we’ve enjoyed there’s a super museum that illustrates the island people’s history, from earliest settlement to the present day. In late 2015, the museum is relocating to Lews Castle, to a purpose built facility.
Culture, music, arts and crafts
Stornoway hosts the Hebridean Celtic Festival every July, with performances by modern and traditional Celtic musicians in the main festival tent, plus further venues in the town. The Royal National Mod, which celebrates Gaelic music and culture, is held in a number of Scottish locations, with Stornoway taking its turn on a regular basis.
A fine arts centre, An Lanntair, provides exhibitions, musical and drama performances, also cinema throughout the year, open daily, except Sundays.
During the summer, there are a number of agricultural shows plus highland games, so there’s plenty of entertainment for vistors.
Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) operate ferries from Ullapool to Stornoway, 7 days a week, with between one and three sailings depending on the day and season. From the Isle of Skye, ferries connect via Uig to Tarbert (Harris) about 45 minutes away, and from the Uists via Berneray to Leverburgh, about 60 miles south of Stornoway.