OUTER HEBRIDES: TRAVEL GUIDE


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Welcome to the Outer Hebrides! Plan and book your perfect holiday with local tips, places to stay, things to do, holiday inspiration & destination info.

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The Outer Hebrides are a group of incredibly beauitiful islands off the west coast of Scotland. Also known as the Western Isles or Na h-Eileanan an Iar in Gaelic, this chain of inter-connected islands lies off the north-west coast of Scotland. On these unique islands, Gaelic is still spoken by the majority of the population and crofting is a big part of Hebridean life.

Places to visit in the Scottish Highlands and Islands Seilebost, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides
Seilebost, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides © Christopher Swan

Where are the Outer Hebrides?

The Outer Hebrides islands are on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and are a 130-mile-long string of 119 islands off the north-west coast of Scotland. The islands lie to the west of the area of sea called the Minch which separates them from the Isle of Skye. They are the very edge of the British Isles.

Only 14 islands are inhabited and the five main inhabited islands are:

    • Barra
    • South Uist
    • Benbecula
    • North Uist
    • Lewis and Harris (one island divided into two)

If you fancy a spot of island-hopping, you can drive over causeways from all the way from Eriskay to Berneray passing through South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist. To discover the other islands will involve a short ferry crossing.

From the northernmost headlands of the Isle of Lewis to the southern tip of Vatersay, these islands on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean offer you a holiday which you will never forget.

There can be a tendency for people to drive from Barra to the Butt of Lewis in several days, but these islands deserve much more of your time. Take it slow and explore these Hebridean islands properly.

I suggest maybe picking one or two islands and spending at least a week exploring them and the neighbouring ones. The Western Isles were made for slow travel.

Also available from Wordery for £11.81

How to get to the Outer Hebrides

Travelling to the Outer Hebrides by ferry

The main crossings are run by Calmac (Caledonian MacBrayne) and are:

    • Uig, Skye – Tarbet, Harris
    • Uig, Skye – Lochmaddy, North Uist
    • Ullapool – Stornoway, Lewis

There are also the following ferry services:

    • Oban – Castlebay, Barra
    • Mallaig – Lochboisdale – Oban

Find out more on the Calmac website.

 

Do the seas get rough on the way to the Outer Hebrides?

Yes, it can be a bit choppy and every year some ferry crossings are cancelled due to the bad weather. But I’ve also been across on wonderfully flat calm sailings so it’s a little bit of pot luck when booking your trip in advance. You’ll probably find your crossing is somewhere in the middle. If seasickness is an issue for you, I sympathise. You might prefer to take the ferry from Skye or Ullapool which are considerably shorter journeys across The Minch. I always pack seasickness tablets just in case. We find Kwells work well for us and my parents swear by Stugeron tablets and brandy. Not at the same time though! Well, at least I don’t think so.

Travelling to the Outer Hebrides by plane

There are three airports on the Outer Hebrides:

    • Barra airport
    • Benbecula airport – serving the isles of Benbecula, North Uist, Berneray, South Uist and Eriskay
    • Stornoway airport – serving the isle of Lewis and Harris

Barra airport is the most famous and most spectacular as it’s where planes land and take off on the beautiful beach which is also mentioned in our best beaches in Scotland: Highlands and Islands. To land on the sand at Barra airport is one of the most popular things to do on the Outer Hebrides.

You can book flights or find out more information on the Flybe website.

Where will you stay on the Outer Hebrides?

There’s a wide range of places to stay including self-catering holiday cottages, hotels, B&Bs, luxury holiday cottages with hot tubs, campsites and more.

Travel on the the Outer Hebrides

You can hire a car from a local car hire company. If you want to explore the islands by camper van, camper van hire available on the Outer Hebrides too such as Outer Hebrides Camper Van Hire.

Car-free travel around the Outer Hebrides

If you prefer to travel without a car or fancy a day off from driving, there are several options including public transport.

Public transport on the Outer Hebrides

There is a public bus service on the main islands. Bus timetables are available on the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) website.

Cycle hire and cycling the Hebridean Way

Cycling has grown in popularity on the quiet roads of the Outer Hebrides. Bring your own bike and use one of the bike and bag transfer services or cycle the Hebridean Way on an organised cycling tour. You can also hire a bike for a less demanding day tour. See our outdoor activities and sports section for cycling hire and bike tours and holidays

Taxis

You can hire taxis on all the main islands. You might want to try: Lewis taxis Harris taxis

Walking and the Hebridean Way

If you love walking, the challenge of the Hebridean Way could be your ideal way to explore the islands.

Best time to visit the Outer Hebrides

The best time to visit depends on what you want to do on your holiday. If seeing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) is your priority, winter is the best time to go. Want to see the incredible machair on the Western Isles? Plan your holiday for the summer months. You also have more chance of seeing whales and dolphins during the summer. Our article on best time to visit Scotland gives you more ideas on what you can see and do throughout the year.

Plan your trip

We hope these tips for things to do on the Outer Hebrides have inspired you to start planning your holiday. Also on our website, you can find holiday accommodation on the Outer Hebrides and don’t forget to get your Outer Hebrides guide book from Amazon.

Walking

Maps

Ordnance Survey maps with free mobile download – various options are available for the Outer Hebrides from Ordnance Survey and Amazon.

Holiday inspiration

Things to see and do on the Outer Hebrides

What to do on the Outer Hebrides

The best tips on what to do and see and where to go from the people who know these islands best.

Jul 31
Local tips: Isle of Barra – things to do – Sarah, Bùth Bharraigh

Sarah MacLean lives on Barra island in the Outer Hebrides where she manages the…

Jul 25
Lewis and Harris – Victoria’s things to do

Victoria Harvey’s career in tourism has seen her work all around Scotland and…

Jul 05
Local tips: Things to do in Harris – Shona, Isle of Harris Distillery

Shona Maclennan lives on the Isle of Harris and works at the renowned Isle of Harris…

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