The Outer Hebrides – also known as the Western Isles – are a 130-mile long island chain on the northwestern fringe of the UK. The main islands are Lewis and Harris, North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra, but there are also scores of smaller islands. Nearly all offer superb walking in an unrivalled setting.
Magnificent beaches with perfect white sand, usually deserted, stretch for mile upon mile on their western coastlines. The islands also offer a unique culture, being the stronghold of the Gaelic language, and superb wildlife. Harris has a range of unfrequented but spectacular mountains whilst Lewis, South Uist, and to a lesser extent some of the other islands, all offer fine hillwalking. Yet another attraction are the archaelogical remains found throughout the islands – a treasure trove of prehistory.
With its gorgeous white sand beaches, turquoise seas, rugged moors and jagged peaks, the Outer Hebrides is the ideal retreat from modern, urban life. Whether you’re planning walking, cycling, golfing or fishing on your holiday, or are simply looking to just soak up the culture and history, the Outer Hebrides is where your perfect break awaits.
pectacularly located on the outer north western edge of mainland Scotland, this beautiful chain of 200 inter-linked islands in a 130 mile archipelago has a population of just over 26,000 people residing in 15 interlinked islands.
Inhabited for over 6,000 years, the islands offer plenty unique archaeology to discover, each reflecting the islands’ diverse culture and speaking of the intriguing past. From the magnificent Calanais Standing Stones on Lewis to Bosta Iron Age House on Great Bernera, or the Barpa Langass on North Uist, explore the places that captivate the senses and the imagination.
There are various important prehistoric structures, many of which pre-date the first written references to the islands by Roman and Greek authors. The Western Isles became part of the Norse kingdom of the Suðreyjar, which lasted for over 400 years until sovereignty was transferred to Scotland by the Treaty of Perth in 1266. Control of the islands was then held by clan chiefs, principal of whom were the MacLeods, MacDonalds, Mackenzies and MacNeils.
The Highland Clearances of the 19th century had a devastating effect on many communities and it is only in recent years that population levels have ceased to decline. Much of the land is now under local control and commercial activity is based on tourism, crofting, fishing, and weaving.
Boasting 55 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and three National Nature Reserves, this unspoilt wilderness with breathtaking scenery is an incredible natural playground for outdoor lovers. The contrasting terrain of low lying Lewis and mountainous Harris offer great adventures from cycling, walking and climbing to fishing and watersports. Whatever you’re looking for, the islands have something for everyone.
Protected and recognised internationally for their environmental importance, the islands are teeming with wildlife. Visit St Kilda, one of only 29 dual UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, for some amazing birdwatching. With more than 100 species of birds breeding here, including the UK’s largest gannet colony, this natural draw attracts many visitors every year.
The region is also famous for the quality and distinctive taste of Hebridean food. From specialist local products such as Stornoway black pudding to unique whisky and abundant seafood, you’ll be delighted for the choice and the list of places to enjoy or buy fresh, local produce.
The ancient Gaelic language is still widely spoken here. As a heartland of the Gaelic culture, Hebrideans proudly and widely celebrate their roots, especially in the form of music. Why not soak up the region’s rich history by attending the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway? This enduring outdoor event is a great way to learn about the local culture and heritage.
Travelling to the Outer Hebrides is relatively easy too. There are plenty of daily flights and ferries from different points on the mainland and the regular inter-island ferries make getting around straightforward.
The Outer Hebrides offer the visitor a fantastic range of activities and places to visit. For the more active visitor there are opportunities to participate in walking, cycling, rock climbing, sea kayaking and sailing.
From the Butt of Lewis in the north to Barra and Vatersay in the south there are historic and archaeological sites to visit and throughout the islands there are craft centres, galleries and museums which provide images and artefacts reflecting the culture and landscape of these wonderful islands.
For the adventurous there are boat trips available to islands such as St Kilda, The Flannans and Mingulay. Here you will have the opportunity to observe spectacular birdlife and marine life.
A number of venues throughout the islands promote traditional music and culture and during the year a variety of festivals and concerts are held.
The long daylight hours of summer make the Outer Hebrides a paradise for the artist or photographer with the ever changing light and an early morning walk can provide an opportunity to see the elusive Otter or some other shy wildlife.
There are a wide range of hostels, hotels, self-catering cottages, campsites, bed and breakfast or sporting estates – all of which offer accommodation tailored to the needs of the Outer Hebridean traveller.