The Outer Hebrides are the outer islands off the West coast of Scotland. Including Lewis, Harris, the Uist’s, Benbecula, Barra and Vatersay, plus several more! They are filled with stunning landscapes, from hill and moor to coastline and a fantastic cultural and historic heritage. They may seem remote and unfriendly from the mainland, but when you visit you will find friendly locals and plenty to do!
Here are 10 of our favourite things to do in the Outer Hebrides.
We visited Lewis and Harris with the children a few years ago, it was definitely one of their most memorable holidays at the time. One of the places they still remember are the standing stones at Callanish on Lewis. We’ve visited many standing stones over the years, but there’s something special about Callanish and the history they’ve discovered at the site.
There’s a great little visitor centre at the entrance, which is great for the kids and adults alike. Plenty of information about Callanish and the surrounding area.
Bosta Iron Age House
Another hit for the kids is the iron age house at Bosta on Lewis. During a rather violent storm in 1993 the sands at the beach were shifted to reveal an iron age village. In 1996 the village was excavated and several well preserved houses were found.
In more recent years a fantastic reconstruction of one of the iron age houses has been created. Check opening times, but this house is a great place to visit to learn about the history of the area during the late iron age and find out a little about how they lived at Bosta.
It’s £3 for adults and £1 for children, cash required, no cards.
There are various black houses that you can visit on the Isle of Lewis, Arnol Blackhouse is commonly mentioned, but we were particularly impressed by Gearannan blackhouse village. The village was just a short walk down from a lovely, cosy, self-catering house that we were staying at on Lewis.
At Gearannan you can experience what it was like to live in a crofting township with various buildings reconstructed for you to visit. When we visited you could also see someone crafting Harris tweed and there is a fantastic little shop stocked full of Hebridean gifts to take home.
Just below the village is a lovely little beach to let the kids run wild on after a trip to the village.
There are plenty of boats you can take out whale and dolphin spotting around the Hebrides. However you may be lucky enough to see them from land too! We personally only saw dolphins in two places in the Outer Hebrides, the first from Butt of Lewis lighthouse at the very North of the island chain. There is a nice walk around the coast, however there are very high cliffs in this area, so please keep young children close, especially when it’s windy and certain areas of the coast have cracks from subsidence.
The second area I saw dolphins was on the ferry from Barra between the Outer and Inner Hebrides. Of course seeing whales and dolphins will simply be down to weather and luck. So it’s definitely a good idea to just keep a eye out whether you are on the water or the coast!
Exploring ALL The Beaches
The Outer Hebrides have some of the best beaches in the world, the stunning white sands and turquoise water. You won’t be able to resist paddling in the crystal clear sea along the shore line, admiring how clean and pure it looks. You certainly could mistake it for a tropical beach. At least until you look at the characteristic headlands surrounding the beaches and feel the cool wind on your face.
It still gets warm enough for a dip in the water though. We’ve been in the Atlantic Ocean many times from both the Outer and Inner Hebrides and the best time to visit (in our opinion!) is May or September for warm and dry weather. This is the main reason we do our Scottish trips in May, it really is a perfect time to visit the Isles.
Check out this post for some of the best beaches in Scotland, including several from the Outer Hebrides. Our favourite beaches that we visited were Luskentyre on Harris, Balranald on North Uist and the twin beaches of Vatersay. Although that’s not to say you won’t find plenty more beautiful beaches all along the island chain.
Balranald RSPB Reserve
In the North West corner of North Uist is Balranald RSPB reserve. We stayed at the campsite on the reserve during our Hebridean campervan road trip. The campsite is fantastic and just over the dune from a curving white sand beach with crystal clear water, this is also part of the reserve.
If you’re not staying on the site then you can park up beside the RSPB visitor centre and either walk or cycle along the road. You will certainly hear the elusive Corncrake if you are there at the right time of year (we visited in May and even managed to spot one up close, after a lot of searching!). If you follow the road along through the reserve during breeding season you will eventually get to a little headland that is screeching with birdlife. During May when we visited there were so many birds nesting and calling out in different direction it was wonderful! If you have kids who enjoy wildlife, they will love this! Even those kids who aren’t wildlife lovers will be awed by the bird displays!
Cycling On the Uist’s
North Uist has several busy main roads, however there are also plenty of smaller roads that are perfect for cycling with the kids. Have a look at the map, but generally aim toward the coast and away from the main artery road heading down the island chain.
Whilst staying at Balranald campsite we cycled each evening along the smaller roads to another beach that could be found along a random farm track. It was completely isolated and we didn’t see another soul each time we visited! So definitely take your time to cycle around and explore a little slower than by car.
Despite being made of smaller communities, the Outer Hebrides have their fair share of museums and visitor centres. On Lewis you will find the fantastic interactive museum at Lews Castle, which the kids could have spent hours at. There are also several blackhouse museums, harris tweed and geneaological museums throughout Harris and Lewis.
South Uist is home to Kildonan museum and Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre, both of which have fantastic displays. You will certainly have plenty of culture to explore on wet or chilly days.
Beach Plane Landing
Barra is home to one of the world’s only airports where planes land on the sand! During the spring and summer the car park can get quite busy as tourists visit the island to watch the plane land and take off. It’s fun to see it race across the sand (runway), but make sure you keep off the beach when the plane is due!!
We also had a great view point to watch the plane land and take off again from an old dun, Dun Sgurabbal, which is mostly grass covered stone to the North of the airport. You can park in a a grassy area at the bottom of the hill and walk up to the top of the mound to explore an watch the planes fly over.
Digging for Cockles
It’s not unusual to see people digging for cockles out on the wet sand of the Hebridean beaches. We noticed a few people on the beach outwith the airport runway on Barra. All you need is a rake and bucket to get started. We didn’t try it ourselves but it looks like a fun way to get children exploring the beach and finding food for dinner!
Check out this website on how to dig for cockles and other foraging tips!