Outer Hebrides: The Best Things to Do

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 which is famous for its white sand and turquoise waters.

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 meters) presents a challenging but rewarding hike for any outdoor adventurer.

Hushinish Harris

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 on the outskirts as well as boutique shops in the high street.

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 is 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 on one page but a big recommendation is given to Tiumpan Head on Lewis which looks across The Minch where there are frequent 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 is one of the most significant and well-preserved Neolithic monuments in Europe, even older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

Callanish Standing Stones

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 an incredible 2,000 years ago.

Whether you’re interested in wildlife, hiking, history, or simply sunbathing on secluded beaches, the Outer Hebrides deserves to be included in any sightseeing tour of Scotland.

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

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