Of the 119 islands that form the Outer Hebrides, just a handful are inhabited – and even those remain sparsely populated and wild. Stretching from the main island of Lewis and Harris in the north, to the Uists, Benbecula and Barra in the south, you’ll need at least 7-10 days to explore.
Islands of the Outer Hebrides
The largest and most northerly of the Hebridean isles, Lewis is home to the bustling capital, Stornaway, where you’re likely to start or end your journey. On the scenic west coast are the ruins of Dun Carloway broch, the mysterious Callanish Standing Stones and the blackhouse villages of Gaerrannan and Arnol. One of the island's best (and windiest!) walks is to the Butt of Lewis lighthouse where waves crash dramatically against the cliffs and it feels like you’re standing at the edge of the world.
Harris has some of the Outer Hebrides' most spectacular landscapes. The towering mountains in the north form a natural boundary with Lewis (all part of the same island) and a dramatic backdrop to the legendary white-sand beaches of Luskentyre, Seilebost and Scarista. Golden eagles soar over the wild terrain, while playful otters can be spotted in the eastern sea lochs. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy two of the Hebrides’ most famous exports: the Harris Tweed Exhibition and the Isle of Harris Distillery.
Known collectively as the Uists, the central islands of Berneray, North Uist, Grimsay, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay are connected by road-bearing causeways. Glorious empty beaches line the west coast while boggy moors, peaty lochs and craggy hills dominate the east. The 'drowned landscape' is dotted with Gaelic crofting communities, ancient burial chambers and colonies of seals. Highlights include the view from the summit of Rueval (124m), birdspotting in Balranald Nature Reserve and a boat trip out to remote St Kilda.
With its tiny castle, peat-covered hills and machair-backed white sand, laidback Barra is the Outer Hebrides in miniature. At just 5 miles wide and 8 miles wide, you can cycle the ring road in a couple of hours, detouring to hike up Heaval (393m), take in Vatersay's stunning twin beaches or kayak across turquoise bays to explore uninhabited islets. Whether you arrive by ferry at picturesque Castlebay or land on the sand at Traigh Mhor, you’ll wish you had more time.
We'll send you a complimentary copy of Bradt's Travel Guide Book to the Outer Hebrides when you book your trip to this Atlantic archipelago with us.
Map of the Outer Hebrides
Getting there & getting around
How to get to the Outer Hebrides
Flying to the Outer Hebrides is quick and easy so if time isn't on your side, take advantage of the daily flights from the mainland. Choose to fly to to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Benbecula or Barra and let us arrange for a hire car to be ready for when you land. Alternatively, Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) operates ferries from a number of ports on the west coast, so take to the wide open seas of The Minch and sail with your own car or as a foot passenger. Whatever you decide, we can pre-book all your flights, ferries and car hire.
Hopscotching the Hebrides
The Outer Hebrides were made for self-drive and cycling trips, and 'hopscotching' (as it's known in Scotland) is easier than you might think. Starting either in Stornoway (on Lewis) or Barra, the islands are inter-linked by dramatic causeways, bridges and ferries, with one-way car and bike hire available. The archipelago might be just 130 miles long but the rural roads are mostly single-track, so slow down and take it all in. With epic landscapes around every bend, this place is too special to rush.
To make sure you experience the very best the Outer Hebrides has to offer, before you travel we'll send you a list of recommendations including natural wonders, suggested activities, local attractions and places to eat.
Experiences on the Outer Hebrides
Hike to Eilean Glas Lighthouse
This picture perfect lighthouse can be found on the island of Scalpay. A circular loop, around six miles long makes for a spectacular three hour walk. It's boggy in places and you'll wade through knee-high heather so be sure to wear the right footwear.
Drive the Golden Road
The Golden Road winds and twists through the east coast of Harris. This single-track route is surrounded by a lunar-like landscape of dramatic and spectacular scenery including rocks and beautiful lochs which sparkle in sunlight.
Meet the wild ponies of Loch Skipport
For a unique wildlife experience, head to South Uist to seek out the friendly resident wild ponies. They will even stick their noses in your car given the chance!
Experience spectacular beaches
On the west coast of Harris, you'll find the spectacular beaches of Luskentyre, Seilebost, Horgabost, Scarista which boast pure white sands and azure seas. Often listed as some of the best in the UK, you might think you’ve found the Caribbean.
Spot wild golden eagles
The Outer Hebrides are a haven for a variety of birdlife, who thrive on the islands. Trek the short hike to the North Harris Eagle Observatory to scan the skies for impressive golden eagles.
Hike to the summit of Reuval
Climb to the highest point on Benbecula for a fantastic 360 degree view of beaches, mountains and sea.
A chance to experience the spectacular Scottish island scenery from the water. Explore caves and sea stacks by kayak off the islands of Barra and Vatersay, enjoy incredible surfing swells at Eoropie Beach or embark on instructed open-water swimming, snorkelling and coasteering adventures in the many lochs.
Visit Gearrannan Blackhouse Village
Atop a grassy hilltop overlooking the Atlantic on the Isle of Lewis sits a charming coastal crofting village. Visit for a wander or choose to stay overnight in one of the quirky holidays cottages.
Touch the Callanish Standing Stones
Situated on the Isle of Lewis, the Callanish Standing Stones are thought to be around 5,000 years old. It is not known why they were built. Walk through the avenues the stones create for a magical and mysterious experience.
Take a day trip to St Kilda
Coined 'the islands at the edge of the world' the beautiful rocky archipelagos of St Kilda have been created from the remnants of a volcano. Now a National Reserve and the UK’s only dual UNESCO World Heritage Site, they are also a haven for birdlife.
Highlights of the Outer Hebrides
The bucket list Barra beach landing
The legendary trip from Glasgow to Barra is definitely one for the bucket-list. This is the only place in the world where a scheduled flight lands on a tidal beach runway – and it's a truly thrilling experience. The Twin Otter planes are undeniably cosy, with just 6 rows of passenger seats. The journey is surprisingly noisy too, with an excitingly bumpy landing! If this is your first trip, we'll make sure you get a window seat to enjoy 75 minutes of spectacular aerial views.
The heart pumping hike up Heaval
Rising 1,300ft above Castlebay, Heaval mountain is the highest hill on the Isle of Barra. The ascent on grassy ground is short yet steep, but the heart-pumping half hour hike is worth every second. Those who reach the top will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views in Scotland. Head out on a clear day at low tide and you’ll be able to see the sandy coves that circle the island, Kisimul castle in the bay below, and the mountains of Skye to the east.
From Barra in the south to Lewis in the north, via the Uists, Benbecula and Harris, these beach-fringed Western Isles will certainly keep you busy. These are our favourite things to do in Britain's wildest corner.
Hideaway in a Hebridean Hut
Combining a idyllic location with the little touches you’d expect in a boutique hotel, these luxury eco-cabins (of which there are just two) are perfectly placed to explore the remote, rugged and romantic landscape of the Isle of Lewis. With hot showers, comfy beds, a small kitchen area, and a private porch to perch on and watch the sunset over the sea, this is glamping at it's finest. And being located on a working croft and alpaca farm 'Alpaca Encounters' can be booked as an optional extra!
Lochmaddy lobster at Langass Lodge
Perched above Lochport on the Isle of North Uist, this former shooting lodge has been beautifully renovated into a boutique hotel and restaurant. With a reputation as probably the best place to eat in the Hebrides, dining here is an absolute must. Serving Scottish cuisine with the finest ingredients these islands have to offer, the menu sings of the sea. From Lochmaddy lobster and smoked scallops to pan fried hake and seared halibut - booking a table in advance is essential, and we can do that for you.