The beaches can hold their own against the sands of the Caribbean, and the rocky scenery could easily double as a backdrop shot from Lord of the Rings.
Welcome to the Outer Hebrides – also sometimes referred to as the Western Isles – a beautiful island chain lying 30 miles off the north-west coast of mainland Scotland.
These islands span roughly 130 miles, home to a population of 26,000 people. But don’t make the mistake of assuming their location at the edge of the Atlantic means they are at the edge of society.
On these shores you’ll find spectacular scenery; a vibrant and unique culture that blends Gaelic tradition and current trends; endless outdoor activities; and some of the freshest farm-to-table food around.
So come and discover them for yourself. To help, I’ve collected stories on the islands I call ‘home’ into categories that will help you dream of, and plan, your island adventure.
What to do (a few highlights)
- Go on a day trip around the West Side of Lewis to see some famous sights, like the Callanish Stones.
- Drive to the beautiful isolated beach in Huisinis on the Isle of Harris.
- Get off the beaten path and hike to the North Harris Eagle Observatory, one of the best places in Europe to see Golden Eagles.
- Follow the literary trail of the best-selling Lewis Trilogy by Peter May, and stay alert – you might meet even some of the characters in real life!
- Watch planes land on the beach at Barra Airport, one of the most scenic landing spots on earth.
- Explore the streets of Stornoway, the largest town in the islands.
- Sail to the islands at the edge of the world, and double World Heritage Site, St Kilda.
- Visit the mysterious Shiants, an archipelago of uninhabited islands just off the coast of Lewis, home to puffins, guillemots, razorbills, and more.
- Experience croft life at Air An Lot, a fun time for all the family in Ness, the most northerly community in the islands.
- Visit the Lewis Chessmen at the newly opened Lews Castle Museum.
- Listen to live Celtic music at the annual Heb Celt festival, held each July in the main town of Stornoway.
- Do a spot of shopping at the Essence of Harris shop and factory in Tarbert.
- See the Northern Lights during the long Hebridean winters.
- Drive over the Atlantic – a sliver of it – to the island of Great Bernera.
- Take a road trip through Uist and the southern isles, where you’ll find a warm welcome.
Where to eat and drink
- At one of the multiple places on my list of favourite places to eat in Lewis and Harris!
- Sip some Isle of Harris Gin and take a tour at the Harris Distillery – known as the social distillery – in Tarbert, Isle of Harris.
- Have a scone with some cream and jam, and a beach view, at the Temple Cafe in Harris.
- Enjoy a dram at Abhainn Dearg Distillery in Uig, Isle of Lewis.
- Get a taste of a local “Downpour” (that’s Downpour Gin!) at North Uist Distillery.
Where to stay
- Spend a night of luxury at The Broch at Borve Lodge in West Harris.
- Travel back in time with a stay at the beautifully renovated Lews Castle in Stornoway.
- Enjoy a warm welcome (and a hearty breakfast!) at Kilvale B&B in South Uist.
- 13 Useful Things To Know Before Visiting The Outer Hebrides
- 21 Must-Have Travel Experiences in the Outer Hebrides
- 10 Books to Read Before Visiting the Outer Hebrides
- Why You Should Visit The Outer Hebrides in Autumn
- 15 Scenic Sites That Will Make You Want to Visit the Outer Hebrides
- Why the Outer Hebrides is the Happiest Place in the UK
- Six Reasons To Visit Europe’s Best Island
- Why Outlander Fans Need To Visit The Outer Hebrides
- A Day on the Isle of Barra: A Travel Video
- The Outer Hebrides: A Travel Video
- A Week in Lewis and Harris – On Video!
- A Boat Trip to the Shiant Isles – On Video!
- On Travel Writing and Stereotyping the Outer Hebrides
- On Leaving Home, and Loving the Hebrides
- Thoughts on Donald Trump, the BBC, and the Isle of Lewis
- An Expat’s View of the Importance of Gaelic Language
- What Can You Do On Sunday in Lewis and Harris?
- A Holiday At Home on the Isle of Harris
- Wind Farms, Land Rights, and the Isle of Lewis
How to get there
The Outer Hebrides are served by the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry service, on which you can travel as a foot passenger, or with a car. Depending on which island you are travelling to, timetables and costs will vary. Be aware that adverse weather can delay or cancel the service altogether, especially during the winter months, and that in the busy summer season, you will almost always need to book your ticket in advance.
Daily return flights operated by Loganair arrive in Stornoway from Benbecula, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness multiple times a day; an additional flight service operates five days a week between Southend, near London, and Stornoway. Loganair also operate return flights to Benbecula from Glasgow and Stornoway, and to Barra from Glasgow.
I love promoting these islands – an often overlooked and misrepresented tourist destination – to a wider audience, and that includes on social media.
Feel free to share your photos on the community Instagram account (don’t forget to use #lovetheouterhebrides), email me to get added to the group Pinterest board, or find more resources on my Outer Hebrides Twitter list!