Outer Hebrides

Luskentyre beach

Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, are a chain of islands off the northwest coast of mainland Scotland. The archipelago comprises more than 70 islands, of which 15 are inhabited, and spans approximately 130 miles from north to south. The larger islands include Lewis and Harris (which is a single island despite the separate names), North Uist, South Uist, and Benbecula, along with much smaller but equally scenic islands like Barra, Vatersay, and Eriskay.

The islands are known for their white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, particularly on Harris which has been compared to the Caribbean thanks to beautiful beaches like Luyskentyre. The terrain of Harris is a tapestry of moorland, peat bogs, and a scattering of mountains, the highest being Clisham, which, at 2,621 feet (799 metres), presents a challenging but rewarding hike for any outdoor adventurer.

The main towns in the Outer Hebrides are Stornoway on Lewis, the largest town and the administrative centre of the island chain, and Tarbert on Harris. Both settlements offer a range of services and amenities including shops and restaurants, but Stornoway is far and away the best place to stock up on supplies as it has big-name supermarkets as well as boutique shops.

Hushinish Harris

Villages like Gearrannan and Arnol on Lewis, meanwhile, offer a glimpse into the past with their preserved blackhouses (traditional island stone dwellings), as does Castlebay on Barra with its castle positioned on an outcrop in the middle of the harbour.

For wildlife enthusiasts, the Outer Hebrides are an absolute paradise. The archipelago is home to a wide range of animal species including red deer, otters, and seals, and each island is a crucial breeding ground for many types of birds including golden eagles, corncrakes, and puffins.

Offshore, the waters are home to dolphins, porpoises, orcas, and even minke and humpback whales. There are too many wildlife-spotting sites to mention here, but a big recommendation is given to Tiumpan Head on Lewis where there are sightings of whales and dolphins on most days.

Tourist attractions in the Outer Hebrides are as varied as the islands themselves. The Callanish Standing Stones on Lewis are one of the most significant and well-preserved Neolithic monuments in Europe and are even older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

The St Kilda archipelago, meanwhile, is the westernmost point of the UK and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visiting these remote and desolate islands is an unforgettable experience, even though getting there involves a long boat trip. Known as the ‘islands at the edge of the world’, St. Kilda is home to Europe’s largest seabird colony, and it’s also the site of settlements that were inhabited more than 2,000 years ago.

Callanish Standing Stones

Find places to visit and things to do in the Outer Hebrides with these visitor guides.

  • Arnol Blackhouse

    Arnol Blackhouse

    The Arnol Blackhouse on the Isle of Lewis is a fine example of one of the traditional thatched stone-walled houses that served as home to both people and animals on Scotland’s west coast islands for hundreds of years. The restored building at Arnol – number 42 – sits in an idyllic setting on Lewis, surrounded…

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  • Bagh A’Deas Beach

    Bagh A’Deas Beach

    Welcome to the Isle of Vatersay, the southernmost inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides, and home to the breathtaking Bagh a Deas beach – a hidden gem located on the south-facing side of the island. Bagh a Deas, aptly named ‘South Bay’ in Scots Gaelic, is an emblem of natural beauty, with pristine white sand,…

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  • Beinn Mhartainn

    Beinn Mhartainn

    There are many walking trails on Barra, but one of the best takes visitors around Beinn Mhartainn hill on the west side of the island, past the villages of Craigston and Allasdale and through windswept stretches of moorland that are home to golden eagles. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a casual walker, this walking…

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  • Butt of Lewis

    Butt of Lewis

    The Butt of Lewis is an area on the far-northern tip of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. In addition to being one of the windiest places in Britain, the ‘butt’ is home to a lighthouse built in 1862 that’s unusual because it’s unpainted rather than having the standard red and white colour…

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  • Callanish Standing Stones

    Callanish Standing Stones

    The Callanish Standing Stones are located on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. These huge granite stones (the largest is 16 feet tall) were erected 5,000 years ago in the late Neolithic era, possibly for ritual use. The site comprises a cross shape of monoliths around a central circle of 13…

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  • Castlebay

    Castlebay

    Castlebay is the main settlement on the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The village is a popular tourist destination, but it is perhaps best known for the ferry terminal which provides links to Oban on the mainland and the isles of Tiree and South Uist. Castlebay is a good base to explore Barra…

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  • Eoligarry

    Eoligarry

    The Eoligarry peninsula is located on the northern region of the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The peninsula is best known for its airport which is the only one in the world where scheduled flights use a beach as the runway. The peninsula offers breathtaking views of the surrounding Fuday and…

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  • Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

    Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

    Gearrannan Blackhouse Village lies on the southwest edge of the Isle of Lewis, set within a deep cove that offers protection against the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The village comprises a number of restored blackhouses – traditional thatched stone-walled dwellings that served as home to both animals and people for hundreds of years.

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  • Heaval

    Heaval

    Standing at 383 metres, Heaval’s summit offers panoramic views like no other. But this breathtaking spectacle isn’t the only thing that makes Heaval a must-visit spot on Barra. The climb up Heaval offers photo opportunities galore, and as it’s so close to the village of Castlebay it’s easy to combine a visit to both tourist…

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  • Hushinish Beach

    Hushinish Beach

    Hushinish is a remote region of the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It is accessed via a twisting 12-mile single-track road on the southwest of the island which presents stunning views of South Harris and the island of Taransay. Once at Hushinish, visitors can enjoy a white sand beach surrounded by…

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  • Isle of Barra

    Isle of Barra

    The Isle of Barra is located on the southernmost point of the Outer Hebrides where it joins the Isle of Vatersay on its southern edge and faces the island of South Uist on its northern side. At only 23 square miles in total area, Barra isn’t exactly the largest island in the Hebrides but it’s…

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  • Isle of Barra A888

    Isle of Barra A888

    The A888 ring road encircles the Isle of Barra and offers an easily accessible gateway to the stunning landscapes that make Barra a haven for cycling and walking enthusiasts. In this article, we’ll embark on a journey around this road to explore both its western side (best known for being part of the Hebridean Way)…

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  • Isle of Benbecula

    Isle of Benbecula

    The Isle of Benbecula is located between the islands of North and South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Due to its location, Benbecula is an ideal base to explore the Uists but it has a number of attractions of its own including Reuval (the solitary hill in the middle of the island), and several large…

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  • Isle of Eriskay

    Isle of Eriskay

    The Isle of Eriskay is situated to the immediate south of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides where it is connected to its much larger neighbour by a 1-mile causeway. In addition to its spectacular coastline, Eriskay is best known for its indigenous Eriskay ponies, of which only 400 are left on earth.

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  • Isle of Harris

    Isle of Harris

    The Isle of Harris is situated in the Outer Hebrides where it borders the Isle of Lewis on its northern side and faces the isle of North Uist to the south. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Scotland’s Western Isles, primarily because it’s home to some of the best beaches in…

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  • Isle of Lewis

    Isle of Lewis

    The Isle of Lewis is the northern half of Lewis and Harris which is the northernmost island in the Outer Hebrides. Lewis covers an area of 683 square miles and has a landscape that’s much flatter than Harris, mostly comprising moorland surrounded by a rocky and sparsely populated coastline. Visitors to Lewis will find some…

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  • Isle of Mingulay

    Isle of Mingulay

    Discover the untamed beauty and rich history of the Isle of Mingulay. Once inhabited but now reclaimed by nature, this remote island offers breathtaking landscapes and a wealth of wildlife that make it an essential destination for any visitor to the Outer Hebrides. From the towering sea cliffs teeming with seabirds to the remnants of…

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  • Isle of North Uist

    Isle of North Uist

    North Uist is an island in the Outer Hebrides, situated between the islands of Benbecula and Harris. At 117 square miles it is the 10th-largest island in Scotland and has a population of around 1,300 people, most of whom are employed in the fishing and crofting industries. The island is well known for its rugged…

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  • Isle of Scalpay

    Isle of Scalpay

    The Isle of Scalpay is located on the southeast corner of Harris and Lewis. At just 2.5 square miles in total, Scalpay is one of the smallest isles of the Outer Hebrides yet it has a thriving community of crofters, fishermen and artisanal crafters. Highlights of a visit to Scalpay include the stunning 14 miles…

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  • Isle of South Uist

    Isle of South Uist

    At 124 square miles, South Uist is the second-largest island in the Outer Hebrides, yet it’s home to less than 2,000 people. Visitors to the island will quickly find themselves lost in a hauntingly beautiful landscape where nature thrives across mile after mile of white powder beaches to the west and thickets of purple heather…

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  • Isle of Vatersay

    Isle of Vatersay

    The Isle of Vatersay is the most southerly inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides with a population of around 90 permanent residents. Vatersay is best known for its two half-mile white sand beaches – Traigh Shiar and Traigh a Bhaigh – that are set within shallow bays in the middle of the island. The island…

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  • Kildonan Museum

    Kildonan Museum

    Kildonan Museum is part of the cultural centre on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The Museum collection includes over 10,000 exhibits from South Uist’s past across a wide range of themes from religion to fishing, crafting, and everyday life. In addition to the museum, the centre has a cafe and a…

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  • Lews Castle

    Lews Castle

    Lews Castle is a Victorian-era castle situated in the heart of historic Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. The castle is a popular tourist destination thanks to the extensive landscaped gardens as well as the on-site cafe and gift shop. The main point of interest though, is the museum which explores the history of Lewis,…

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  • Loch Druidibeg

    Loch Druidibeg

    Loch Druidibeg is part of a nature reserve situated within a beautiful moorland setting on the northern end of the Isle of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The loch and surrounding area are managed by the RSPB which cares for the fragile habitats that are home to hen harriers, white-tailed eagles, and myriad insect…

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