The ultimate guide to Scotland's magical Hebrides islands

Kerry Walker

Aug 10, 2022 • 12 min read

Couple crossing river, Fairy Pools, near Glenbrittle, Isle of Skye, Hebrides, Scotland

Crossing a river near the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye © Leon Harris/Getty Images

An emerald shore receding behind, a sea breeze in your face, a dolphin surfing the bow wave as escort. The magic begins as soon as you board the ferry from Scotland’s rugged west coast and head for Scotland 's Hebrides islands. 

This scattering of more than 50 inhabited and uninhabited islands, islets and skerries is like a world unto itself – thrillingly isolated, wind-battered, sea-smashed  and with a beauty that is off the charts. From the ragged mountains of Skye to the snow-white beaches and cerulean seas of Harris, the mysterious standing stones of Lewis to the whisky heaven of Islay, these islands lift spirits in every possible sense of the expression.

Some of Europe’s most alluring beaches are on these Scottish islands (but you’ll need to be made of stern stuff to brave the waters and don’t expect to return home with a tan), while remoteness and underpopulation mean that wildlife displaced elsewhere still flourishes. You’re almost guaranteed to see seals and whales; otters, dolphins and porpoises are also regularly sighted.  Seabirds – gannets, fulmars, puffins and more – thrive on jagged coasts, and geese of various species often outnumber residents. That very same isolation – Edinburgh seems another world, and London is outside the Hebridean solar system – means that life has traditionally been a tough, self-reliant affair.

Visiting the Hebrides is about being outdoors. Throughout the islands, there’s great walking, from pacing the sublime sandy beaches of Barra, Tiree or Harris to tackling the rugged challenge of Skye’s Cuillin Hills or the Paps on Jura. To get out on the water, sea-kayaking is a great option on Barra, Skye and other islands. Bicycles are easily taken on ferries, though high winds can make for tough pedaling at times. So lace up the hiking boots, grab binoculars or a paddle, fortify yourself with a local dram and throw yourself into the wilds no matter what hand the weather deals you.

Woman standing on a cliff looking out to sea on the Isle of Islay, Scotland

Visit Islay & Jura to try some of the world’s best whiskies

Mellow, relaxed and so friendly that even passing strangers stop for a wee chat, Islay (‘eye-la’) is the home of several of the world’s best whiskies – many famed for their peatiness – whose names reverberate on the tongue like a pantheon of Celtic deities: Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain, Kilchoman, Bruichladdich, Bowmore. 

Wilder and more rugged, the adjacent island of Jura likes long, dark and low off the coast like a Viking longship and provides a tremendous hit of scenery, with its brooding twin hills, the Paps, providing habitat for an enormous deer population. The ferocious Corryvreckan whirlpool churns away at the north of the island, near where George Orwell wrote 1984. The author summed it up neatly as “a very un-get-at-able place”. 

What to do 

Top billing goes to the distilleries on Islay and Jura, which have whisky enthusiasts in raptures, among them Ardbeg , with its magnificent 10-year-old, Bowmore , which malts its own barley, Laphroig, where you can taste famously peaty whiskies, and the Isle of Jura Distillery . All welcome visitors and run tours and tastings. More expensive tours throw in more malts and take you further behind the scenes. It’s worth booking in advance online or by calling ahead.

Cracking seafood (langoustines and crabs fresh off the boat, hand-dived scallops, and tasty mussels and oysters), days spent roaming machair-fringed bays lapped by turquoise seas and brilliant wildlife watching (keep an eye out for grey seals, white-tailed sea eagles, barnacle geese and otters) ramp up Islay’s appeal beyond the dram. Hop on Islay Sea Safaris to spot all of Islay and Jura’s distilleries in a single day. Their customized tours from Port Ellen also include birdwatching trips and visits to Jura’s remote west coast and the Corryvreckan whirlpool, one of the most notorious tidal whirlpools in the world.

Whisky Barrels on the Coast of Islay

Where to stay

Accommodation is like gold dust on Islay and Jura for the number of visitors they receive in spring and summer, so always book ahead. Get the best of Islay seafood and whisky, as well as seriously comfortable Victorian accommodation, at the Port Charlotte Hotel , or camp or stay in a self-catering cottage at Kintra Farm amid the dunes at the southern end of Laggan Bay. 

How to get to Islay 

Loganair flies up to three times daily from Glasgow to Islay, and Hebridean Air Services operates twice daily on Thursday from Oban to Colonsay and Islay. There are two ferry terminals: Port Askaig on the east coast, and Port Ellen in the south. Ferries are run by CalMac .

A car ferry shuttles between Port Askaig on Islay and Feolin on Jura. There is no direct car-ferry connection to the mainland. From April to September, Jura Passenger Ferry runs from Tayvallich on the mainland to Craighouse on Jura.

Islay & Jura might be for you if: You’re a fan of whisky and wilderness.

Islay & Jura might not be for you if: You’re looking for serious mountains.

Houses by the beach under a cloudy blue sky in Iona, Scotland

Find mountain drama and holy marvels on Mull and Iona

All of the islands are ravishing, but Mull really hits the scenic high notes, with wild mountains and spectacularly eroded dropping abruptly to startlingly turquoise waters. From great crags of black basalt to blindingly white sands, this is an island for slowing the pace for a spell and wholeheartedly embracing nature. 

Birds of prey glide above the highest peaks, otters can be spotted along the shore, while the west coast is good for watching whales, dolphins and porpoises. You’ll for sure see seals, too, both the Atlantic gray (look for its Roman nose) and the common seal (recognizable by its doggy face). 

What do do 

Mull’s characterful main town, Tobermory, is an instant heart-stealer, with its row of colorful houses, Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust spotlighting local marine life, bijou distillery , excellent restaurant serving sustainable seafood and good old-fashioned pub , near the pier on the harbourfront. Even here, the focus is on the wild outdoors, with hillwalking, whale-watching excursions and boat trips to weird Fingal’s Cave, a 60m-deep chasm of hexagonal pillars, on uninhabited Staffa .

If you’re up for more, you could clamber up 966m Ben More , Mull’s highest peak, and the only island Munro outside Skye, for stirring views out across the islands. Or grab your hiking boots for the adventurous eight-mile return stomp to the phenomenal rock formations of the Carsaig Arches at Malcom’s Point. 

A five-minute ferry ride from Fionnphort on Mull, the holy island of Iona weaves its own spell. St Columba sailed from Ireland and landed here in 563, establishing a monastic community with the aim of Christianizing Scotland. Its scriptorium produced some of the most important illuminated manuscripts of the period, including, allegedly, the Book of Kells now in Dublin’s Trinity College. Dotted with majestic stone crosses and monastic ruins, this emerald teardrop of an island is now a place for solitude seekers and pilgrims. The heavily restored abbey is the island’s spiritual heart.

Where to stay 

There’s plenty of charming places to stay on Mull, from back-to-nature campsites to B&Bs and luxurious small hotels. For something fancier, Highland Cottage in Tobermory is enchantingly intimate, with antique-filled rooms and a hearty welcome. On a working sheep croft at Iona’s northern tip, the Green Shed is lovely, with eco-friendly self-catering digs decorated with flair and upcycled furniture and riveting sea views.  

How to get to Mull

CalMac has three car ferries that link Mull with the mainland: Oban to Craignure (the busiest route), Lochaline to Fishnish and  Tobermory to Kilchoan.

Mull & Iona might be for you if: You love wildlife, mountains and ancient abbeys.

Mull & Iona might not be for you if: You want to just rock up without booking ahead.

Girl hiking towards The Old Man of Storr, Scotland

Getting a natural high on the Isle of Skye

The Vikings called it sky-a, or ‘cloud island’, in old Norse, alluding to the clouds that often hovered above the menacing Cuillin Hills, which entice hardcore hikers and mountaineers with some of Scotland’s gnarliest peaks and dizzying views. But even seen from ground level, the Isle of Skye is just stunning. An ethereal light squeezes through the clouds and bathes a rugged splendor that stretches across heather-brushed moors, glittering lochs and sea cliffs razoring above pounding surf. 

Skye delivers the kind of big wilderness for which Scotland is so famous – and all neatly packaged into one island. But it’s no secret, so dodge the biggest crowds (and midges) by visiting in spring or autumn. That said, most visitors stick to Portree, Dunvegan and Trotternish – you can always find peace if you’re willing to venture further afield.

Bring your boots. Hikers are in their element with some of the roughest, toughest and most soul-stirring trails in the country. Ease yourself in gently on short hikes through the remote, boggy, loch-speckled, strikingly beautiful glens of Strath Mor, keeping an eye out for red deer and otters, or on moderately challenging ramble to the Old Man of Storr , an iconic pinnacle of crumbling basalt on the Trotternish Peninsula. Or throw yourself in at the deep end with a pulse-racing, nerve-jangling five-mile trek up 992m Sgùrr Alasdair, the loftiest peak in the Black Cuillin, where dark, fierce fangs of rock punch above the sea. Its summit has sensational views all the way to the isles of Rhum, Eigg and Canna. For rock climbers, the Inaccessible Pinnacle (In Pinn) is the Holy Grail. You might need a guide .

The secluded coves and sparkling sea lochs indenting Skye’s coast are best seen with your bum in a kayak and a paddle in your hand, some say. Whitewave Outdoor Centre and Skyak Adventures get you out on the water.

The outdoors is the big draw, for sure, but when the mist descends or the dreich weather blows in, there’s still plenty to do, from castles like mighty Dunvegan on the vast MacLeod Estate to the fascinating Skye Museum of Island Life , zooming in on the island’s crofting heritage, and jolly pubs where you can shelter from the drizzle with a pint.  

Skye is insanely popular and accommodation is therefore plentiful, from camping and glamping to backpacker hostels and high-end hotels. Nevertheless, you should book ahead. Harborside Portree is Skye’s largest and liveliest town, with options ranging from simple, homely B&Bs to the luxe Cuillin Hills Hotel , with broad views out to sea and up to the mountains. 

Housed in the old village school, Skyewalker Hostel in Minginish has a cool mix of rooms, glamping huts and a glass-domed outdoor seating area. 

How to get to Skye

Skye became permanently tethered to the Scottish mainland when the Skye Bridge opened in 1995. The crossing is free. There are buses from Glasgow to Portree and Uig via Crianlarich, Fort William and Kyle of Lochalsh, plus a service from Inverness to Portree. 

Despite the bridge, there are still a couple of ferry links between Skye and the mainland. Ferries also operate from Uig on Skye to the Outer Hebrides. The CalMac ferry between Mallaig and Armadale is very popular on weekends and in July and August. The Glenelg–Skye Ferry runs a tiny vessel (six cars only) on the short Kylerhea to Glenelg crossing.

Skye might be for you if: You are mad about big mountains and hardcore hiking.

Skye might not be for you if: You want to totally escape the crowds.

Atlantic Puffin with sand eels in its beak in Scotland

Give the world the slip in the Outer Hebrides 

When the sun breaks through the clouds on Outer Hebrides (or Western Isles), illuminating the velvet pleats of mountains, bracken-cloaked moors and machair-draped dunes that drop to frost-white sands fizzing into a sea of exquisite turquoise, it’s like witnessing the dawn of creation. Far removed from civilization, there are times you will feel like the last soul on earth here, especially if you come in the hush of spring or autumn. Times when you will forget the century we live in, walking barefoot on mile-long beaches made afresh by the tides, looking for otter footprints, witnessing a fiery sunset after a storm, or foraging for cockles and mussels in rocky bays.

These glorious isles – some just wee specks of rock – are  isolated, windswept, treeless places that have traditionally subsisted on fishing, weaving and livestock, though renewable energy is increasingly big business. You’ll hear the gentle lilt of Scottish Gaelic everywhere here as it’s still a working language.

What to do in the Outer Hebrides

The principal island, its northern half called Lewis and its southern Harris, is a terrific starting point, with out-of-this-world coastal scenery, traditional turf-roofed blackhouses, lonely peat bogs dimpled with lochans and the famous Harris tweed. 

Mountainous and virtually roadless, North Harris is the hiking dream. South Harris by turn beguiles with staggeringly lovely white-sand beaches like Luskentyre and Scarista, swirling into jade waters. They are all the more enchanting for often being deserted.

Heading to the far northern tip of Lewis brings you to the lighthouse-topped Butt of Lewis, battered by the North Atlantic. The hinterland is largely desolate peat moorland, glittering with lochans. The island is littered with mysterious prehistoric sites, most famously the late-Neolithic standing stones of Callanish , weighing in at some four and a half millennia, roughly contemporary with the Great Pyramid of Giza, and Dun Carloway , a 2000-year-old, dry-stone broch.

To the south, the lonely Uist islands are prime nature-watching territory and connected by a causeway, while little Barra offers memorable sea-kayaking and the chance to watch the Glasgow flight land on the beach. 

Where to stay on the Outer Hebrides

Given how remote they are, there’s a surprisingly great assortment of places to stay in the  Outer Hebrides, from basic campsites and hostels to B&Bs, sleek, architect-designed hotels and eco-friendly beach houses. A lot of accommodation swings with the seasons, closing down during the dark, rainy months from October to March. For hostels with a dash of history and incredible views, check out the Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust . Or if you fancy staying in a conserved village of traditional blackhouses on the Isle of Lewis, with the crashing Atlantic as your wake-up call, try Gearrannan Holiday Cottages .

How to get to the Outer Hebrides

Loganair flights operate to Stornoway from Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow. There are also flights (weekdays only) between Stornoway and Benbecula. There are daily Loganair flights from Glasgow to Barra, and from Monday to Saturday to Benbecula. At Barra, the planes land on the hard-sand beach at low tide, so the schedule depends on the tides. 

There are two or three CalMac ferries a day to Stornoway, one or two a day to Tarbert and Lochmaddy, and one a day to Castlebay and Lochboisdale (always weather permitting – it can get wild out here!).

The Outer Hebrides might be for you if: You love wild scenery, beaches and prehistory.

The Outer Hebrides might not be for you if: You want more action – it’s remote and quiet here.

This article was first published May 2014 and updated August 2022

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PAID CONTENT FOR VISIT OUTER HEBRIDES

What to do in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland

The west coast of Lewis, the largest island of the Outer Hebrides archipelago.

The Outer Hebrides are a 130-mile-long string of islands in the extreme northwestern corner of Europe, dotted with favourites such as Harris, Lewis, North and South Uist and Barra and lesser-explored gems including Scalpay, Grimsay, Eriskay, Benbecula and Vatersay. There's even a Bernera and a Berneray — so make sure you know which one you're heading for. It’s a place of seemingly endless, raw landscapes, where traditions form the backbone of modern life and clues to the distant past still inspire child-like wonder. All of this makes it a destination where unwinding comes naturally. 

1. Get a taste of the Gaelic way of life

The archipelago is one of the last strongholds of Gaelic culture, from the centuries-old language — still spoken as part of daily life — to traditional folk music, which plays in bars and halls on cèilidh nights (music gatherings) across the isles. Fans of the distinctive pipe and fiddle sounds should visit in July, when the Hebridean Celtic Festival , held in Stornoway, and Eilean Dorcha Festival in Benbecula bring together musicians from around the world for four days of celebration.

An Lanntair , also based in Stornoway, or Taigh Chearsabhagh in North Uist — two of the islands’ leading arts hubs — are well worth a visit for their exhibitions and installations. The Western Isles are also home to the world-famous Harris Tweed, and its weavers can still be seen hand-making this unique woollen fabric in their homes across Harris and Lewis.

The Atlantic larder here comprises produce gained from crofting, farming and fishing — think Stornoway Black Pudding (a blood sausage with protected status), sweet langoustines, crab and lobster, hand-dived scallops and Hebridean salmon. The self-guided  Eat Drink Hebrides Trail  lists cafes, restaurants and food craftspeople across the islands (Stornoway kippers are a must). And if you like a tipple, try one of three local gins:  Isle of Harris ,  Downpour  made on North Uist or  Barra Atlantic . 

Eriskay Ponies near Lochboisdale, South Uist. The origins of the breed are ancient, with roots in ...

Eriskay Ponies near Lochboisdale, South Uist. The origins of the breed are ancient, with roots in Celtic and Norse breeding. 

2. Reconnect with nature

A broad palette of colour awaits in the Outer Hebrides. The islands are perhaps most renowned for their vast, white-sand beaches, where the Atlantic shows off countless shades of blue, sand lies rippled and curved at low tide and the machair (low-lying grass plains) are strewn with wildflowers in spring and summer.

But the Western Isles’ landscapes are varied, with much of North Lewis and North Uist covered by swathes of moorland and mountains dominating the landscape of North Harris and southeast Lewis. A boat trip from Harris, South Uist or Barra will take visitors to St Kilda , a cluster of uninhabited islands and the UK’s only dual UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognised for both its cultural and natural qualities.

Thanks to the islands’ pristine natural landscapes, wildlife encounters are guaranteed. Look for whales, dolphins and porpoises on the Outer Hebrides branch of the Hebridean Whale Trail , or head to Scalpay — an island connected to Harris via a bridge — for a whale and dolphin walk . The Outer Hebrides are one of the best places to spot the European otter, too. Seek them out on an incoming tide, or take an otter walk with the RSPB on the east coast of North Uist.

Thanks to the islands’ stunning natural landscapes, wildlife encounters are guaranteed in the Outer Hebrides.

Thanks to the islands’ stunning natural landscapes, wildlife encounters are guaranteed in the Outer Hebrides.

Hiking Beinn Dhubh, arguably one of the Isle of Harris' finest viewpoints.

3. Discover the local history and heritage

Before the Egyptian pyramids were built, civilisations in the Western Isles were erecting sophisticated monuments that continue to fascinate archaeologists and visitors alike. The prehistoric, mystery-enshrouded Calanais Standing Stones on Lewis are the most famous of the islands’ historic sites. Yet, treasures are dotted across all the Outer Hebrides, from Dun Carloway , a wonderfully preserved ‘broch’ (a stone-built, circular construction) believed to have been built around 2,000 years ago, to the two mummies discovered during excavations at Cladh Hallan, in South Uist (use the Uist Unearthed app to learn their story).

Local history is on show at museums, too, as well as visitor centres and historical societies around the townships. A popular exhibit to make a beeline for is the Lewis chessmen: discovered on glorious Uig Bay in 1831, these 78 elaborate chess pieces were carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth probably in Norway sometime in the 12th century. Six of them are displayed at the  Museum nan Eilean  in Lews Castle, Stornoway.

The Calanais Standing Stones, erected 5,000 years ago, are four rows of ancient stones, forming a rough cross shape. ...

The Calanais Standing Stones, erected 5,000 years ago, are four rows of ancient stones, forming a rough cross shape. There is much mystery surrounding their inception, though they may have been a place of ritual activity.

Elaborately carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth, six of the 78 pieces of Lewis chessmen are displayed at the Museum nan Eilean in Lews Castle.

4. Relax and slow down

Focus on the small things while foraging wild edibles. Pick cockles, mussels, seaweed and razor clams (called ‘spoots’ here, due to their resemblance to teapot spouts) on the beaches and search for berries inland. You can’t go wrong with this guide , written by Fiona Bird, who lives on South Uist. Enthusiasts can also try fly fishing on one of approximately 4,000 lochs and lochans throughout the archipelago, with sea angling trips also available.

With some of the darkest skies in the UK, the Outer Hebrides are an awe-inspiring stargazing destination, and — if visiting during winter — you might also see the heavens ablaze with the Northern Lights (known as ‘Fir Chlis’ in Gaelic). To further experience the benefits of nature, jump into the crystal-clear waters of the Hebridean beaches with an experienced wild swimming guide .

For pampering, try yoga, a massage or even an afternoon’s retreat at The Wee Haven on Benbecula , a glamping site and wellness centre along the Hebridean Way. The islands have five golf courses, too, including the historical  Askernish Golf Club , laid out by renowned Scottish golfer “Old” Tom Morris, and Scotland’s most westerly course on the Isle of Barra .

With little light pollution, the Outer Hebrides are an awe-inspiring stargazing destination.

With little light pollution, the Outer Hebrides has some of the darkest skies in the UK, making it an awe-inspiring stargazing destination.

The Outer Hebrides can be reached by ferry from four of  CalMac 's west-coast mainland hubs (from 1hr 40mins) or by air with  Loganair  from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness (from 45mins).

The islands can be explored by car, on foot or on a bike. Following the  Hebridean Way , a cycling and walking route that covers 10 islands, six causeways and two ferries, is a great way to take them in.

For more information about planning a trip to the Outer Hebrides, head to visitouterhebrides.co.uk/wellbeing

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Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Outer Hebrides

Home > Blog > Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Outer Hebrides

Picture pristine white sand beaches, mystical stone monuments, quiet roads through lochs and inlets, and wild waves crashing on a lighthouse. A colony of inquisitive puffins, distant ferries sailing by, and peaceful crofts and farmland with plentiful sheep. An icy cold wind reminds you that you’re on the far edge of Scotland. Welcome to the Outer Hebrides.

Absolute Escapes are award-winning specialists in self-drive holidays in Scotland , and we love the opportunity to use our knowledge and experience to design the perfect, bespoke holiday for our clients.

The Outer Hebrides is a destination close to our hearts and we’re delighted to share a bit of our first-hand knowledge. Read on to find out all you’ve ever wanted to know about visiting Scotland’s spectacular western islands.

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Visit Outer Hebrides (@visitouterhebrides)

General FAQs:

Where are the Outer Hebrides?

What is the history of the outer hebrides, what’s the weather like in the outer hebrides, when is the best time to visit the outer hebrides, what’s the largest island in the outer hebrides.

Getting to the Outer Hebrides:

Do ferries sail to the Outer Hebrides?

Are there flights to the outer hebrides, how do i get from edinburgh or glasgow to the outer hebrides, how do i get from london to the outer hebrides.

Staying on the Outer Hebrides:

What kind of accommodation is in the Outer Hebrides?

Are there luxury hotels in the outer hebrides, what are the best places to stay in the outer hebrides.

Touring the Outer Hebrides:

What are the best things to do in the Outer Hebrides?

Are there good walking opportunities in the outer hebrides, where are the best beaches in the outer hebrides, what are the best boat trips in the outer hebrides, how do i visit st kilda, are there escorted tours of the outer hebrides, are there midges in the outer hebrides, how do i book a holiday to the outer hebrides.

The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, are a chain of remote islands located off the northwest coast of Scotland.

The main islands that form this archipelago include Lewis and Harris (two ‘islands’ connected by land), North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra. However, there are as many as ten more islands connected or attached to the main islands!

Tiny islands such as Berneray and Vatersay act as a link in the chain and are equally worth exploring, despite their small size.

The Outer Hebrides have been inhabited since Mesolithic times, and there is a range of fascinating prehistoric archaeological sites to discover. The most famous of these is the ancient Neolithic Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis, which resembles its better-known younger cousin Stonehenge in England.

Also on Lewis you’ll find Dun Carloway – one of the best-preserved brochs in the country.

In addition to Neolithic stone structures, there are many other historic sites and interesting archaeological finds that reveal the fascinating history of the islands, from Medieval churches to mummy remains in the Cladh Hallan Roundhouses!

Celtic roots run deep within these island communities and Gaelic is an important aspect of life in the Outer Hebrides. Islanders are proud of their Celtic heritage, and this is reflected in the rich arts and music culture that stems from the islands.

Gaelic is still widely spoken and popular crafts such as Harris Tweed and Celtic jewellery are still handmade using traditional methods.

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Stuart Ansell (@stuartansellphotography)

With their soft white sand and clear turquoise waters, picture-postcard images of beaches in the Outer Hebrides might transport you to the Caribbean. However, you are far from the Caribbean warmth!

The weather in the Outer Hebrides is much the same as in the rest of the west coast of Scotland – a bit chilly, a bit windy, and maybe a little wet at times.

While lovely sunny days do exist, it is always worth being prepared to face the elements. A light waterproof jacket, boots and layers are your best companion on an island-hopping adventure .

Although, make sure you don’t forget your swimming costume (or wetsuit perhaps!).

The Outer Hebrides are a very popular destination with limited accommodation on offer, so it’s always worth booking well in advance.

High summer months such as July and August tend to be the busiest, while May, June and September are great alternatives when the weather might be drier.

Summer days in the Outer Hebrides are long, giving you more opportunities to make the most of your trip and enjoy all that the islands have to offer.

Lewis & Harris is the largest island in the Outer Hebrides, where most of the population lives. Stornoway on Lewis is the main town and commercial centre of the islands, home to approximately 8,000 people.

If you have limited time to visit the islands, then Stornoway or Tarbert in Harris might the best bases for you to explore much of the islands and do a couple of day trips.

Getting to the Outer Hebrides

There are various ways to travel to the Outer Hebrides, but if you wish to explore the whole chain, then multiple ferry rides are involved.

From the Scottish mainland, you can travel to Barra from Oban, to North Uist from Skye (which is connected to the mainland by the Skye Bridge), or to Stornoway from Ullapool.

While there are daily sailings available, these are limited to once or twice per day, so booking in advance is important if you are taking a car on the ferry. You can pre-book your journeys on the Calmac website.

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by CalMac Ferries (@calmacferries)

Flying to the Outer Hebrides is also a tempting option as the flight to the Isle of Barra is an incredibly scenic and exciting trip! Barra Airport is unique as it is the only airport in the world where scheduled flights land on a beach.

Direct flights are available from most Scottish airports to Barra, Lewis and Benbecula. Trips are typically under an hour, so travelling by air can be quicker than travelling by ferry, but often more expensive and less environmentally friendly. You can check flight times and plan your journey on the Skyscanner website.

From Edinburgh or Glasgow, you can either fly to Stornoway and/or Barra. While this might save you some time, the drive to the west coast of Scotland is spectacular and, in our opinion, unmissable.

We would recommend driving to Oban, following the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, and traversing across wild Argyll towards the coast.

If you prefer to start your island-hopping itinerary from the north to travel south, then travelling north across the Scottish Highlands to Ullapool will take a little longer. In this case, we would suggest splitting your journey by spending an additional night en route.

As there are no direct flights from London to the Outer Hebrides, we would recommend travelling to Edinburgh or Glasgow and making your way to the Outer Hebrides from there.

Staying on the Outer Hebrides

There is a range of lovely places to stay dotted all around in the Outer Hebrides. For our self-drive packages, we will normally try to secure accommodation in a larger town or village with various amenities, such and Stornoway or Tarbert.

However, there are some special places to stay in more remote areas, which are absolutely worth a short drive.

Proper luxury in the form of a 5* hotel is not available in the Outer Hebrides, but there are some truly spectacular and unique places to stay.

Scarista House in Harris is a very popular destination – an elegant yet rustic B&B and fine dining restaurant with lovely rooms featuring spectacular views towards the sea and nearby hills.

Another wonderful place to stay is Broad Bay House on the Isle of Lewis. Owners Sue and Tom offer a warm welcome to their beautiful 5* guest house which offers panoramic sea views, comfortable rooms, and some of the best local produce from the islands.

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Scarista House (@scaristahouse)

Scarista House and Broad Bay House are undoubtedly two of the best places to stay on the islands. However, we also work with a range of accommodation in our Budget and Standard categories, which offer good food, comfort and an all-round unforgettable experience.

For example, the small Heathbank Hotel in Barra has a great restaurant featuring some of the freshest seafood in the country, while Beul Na Mara in Harris sits near the specular Luskentyre Beach and offers clean, bright and airy rooms.

Langass Lodge in North Uist is one of our top choices of Premium accommodation and another great place to stay; this former hunting lodge overlooks Loch Eport and its kitchen serves modern Scottish cuisine featuring fresh island ingredients.

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Langass Lodge (@langasslodgehotel)

Touring the Outer Hebrides

Have we mentioned heading to the beach yet? In addition to the many stunning beaches on the islands, there are plenty of other great activities on offer.

History fans will enjoy exploring Lews Castle in Stornoway; a Victorian Baronial mansion, or visiting the brooding ruins of Kisimul Castle in Barra.

The 5,000-year-old Calanais Standing Stones are a must for all visitors to Lewis (including Outlander fans!), while Gearrannan Blackhouse Village is a short drive from Callanish. Here, you can learn about traditional Hebridean blackhouses with their drystone walls and picturesque thatched roofs.

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Gearrannan Blackhouse Village (@gearrannanblackhousevillage)

For those interested in wildlife and the outdoors, there are endless opportunities for walking, cycling, and sea kayaking on the islands. The Hebridean Whale Trail follows the best places in the Outer Hebrides to spot cetaceans, such as porpoises, orca whales, minke whales, as well as basking sharks and dolphins.

The Bird of Prey Trail spans the whole island chain and features location markers for the best places to see birds of prey, such as golden eagles, hen harriers and short-eared owls.

Inspired by stunning scenery and rich Celtic heritage, the Outer Hebrides are also home to some of the finest arts and crafts in the world. If it is a cultural experience that you are seeking, visit Sgeulachd a Chlò Mhòir – the official ‘Story Room’ of the Harris Tweed Authority. Harris Tweed is a luxurious wool fabric, exclusively handwoven in the Western Isles and you can find it in the many craft and gift shops in the islands. The art centres An Lanntair in Stornoway and Taigh Chearsabhagh in North Uist also host inspiring exhibitions, theatre and music events.

For those interested in whisky and gin, you might want to pop by the Isle of Harris Distillery which sits on the shores of East Loch Tarbert. While their whisky is still maturing, you can buy a bottle of the lovely Isle of Harris Gin, infused with sugar kelp.

Yes! The Outer Hebrides are a walker’s paradise, with magnificent beaches peacefully stretching for miles on end. The Hebridean Way is a long-distance route spanning nearly 200 miles across 10 breathtaking islands. It is very popular not only with walkers but with cyclists too.

For hillwalkers, there are also some mountain ranges in Harris. To the north, there is the most extensive and highest range of mountains in the Outer Hebrides—a wild conglomeration of ridges, glens and summits. Clisham (or An Cliseam) is the highest mountain at 799 metres high and it is the archipelago’s only Corbett. Further hillwalking opportunities are available in Lewis and South Uist.

If you are interested in learning more, you might wish to purchase a Pocket Mountains guidebook for walking on the islands. We would also recommend visiting our friends at Walkhighlands for inspiration on trickier routes and to help you plan your walks.

The spectacular coastline in the Western Isles is one of the main reasons the archipelago is such as popular tourist destination. The Outer Hebrides have a restorative quality, with endless quiet beaches, an invigorating sea breeze, and the relaxing scent of machair and wildflowers.

Often rated as some of the top beaches in the world, Luskentyre Beach in Harris and Uig Sands in Lewis are undoubtedly two of the most spectacular beaches on the islands.

There are many other tranquil beaches to explore such as Vatersay Bay; the small island of Vatersay is linked by causeway to Barra and boats a stunning sandy bay and a wide expanse of dunes.

Eriskay is another small island connected to South Uist by a causeway and it is host to the beautiful Coileag a’ Prionnnsa beach.

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Dan Ferguson (@_dfergie94)

As well as the trip to St Kilda (see below), Seatrek , which is based in Lewis, offers unforgettable boat trips around the Uig coastline.

Kilda Cruises also offer shorter trips off the coast of Harris, including fishing trips and excursions to the Shiant Isles.

St Kilda is one of the most unique and spectacular places one could visit in the world. This uninhabited isolated archipelago with rugged sea cliffs and impressive sea-stacks towers out of the wild Atlantic Ocean.

It is home to nearly one million seabirds, including the largest colony of Atlantic puffins in the UK. It is also one of the only dual UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. It is remote. It is wild. It is breathtaking.

A trip to St Kilda is certainly worth it, but not easy. It takes approximately 2.5 to 3 hours to sail to St Kilda each way from the Isle of Harris. Boat trips are available from Leverburgh with Kilda Cruises and Sea Harris , and booking well in advance is essential.

As these trips are often disrupted by the weather, our recommendation would be to spend at least three nights in Harris and book the trip on day two, so if the trip needs to be rescheduled, you can try again the following day.

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by MoodyScotland (@moodyscotland)

Our friends at Rabbie’s Tours offer escorted tours to the Outer Hebrides departing from Edinburgh and Inverness. Rabbie’s are an award-winning company whose expert guides truly take you beyond the guidebooks to explore the stunning scenery and extraordinary history of this country.

Explore the islands in a modern, air-conditioned mini-coach touring with a maximum of 16 passengers. Please get in touch if you are interested in an escorted tour. Rabbie’s will do the guiding, and with our expert knowledge, we’ll make sure you stay in the best accommodation on each island.

Midges are small biting insects and they can indeed be a pest. The good news is that they tend to not be too much of a problem in the Outer Hebrides as there is usually a bit of a sea breeze to keep them away.

Midges like cool, overcast days, and don’t like direct sunlight or wind. You might want to “smidge-up” if you are spending some time on the west coast upon your return from the islands though, particularly during high summer. Smidge is available almost everywhere in the Scottish Highlands, but we also recommend Avon Skin So Soft which is incredibly effective.

Our Hebridean Island Hopping itinerary is one of our most popular self-drive holidays in Scotland, but we can also create a bespoke itinerary based on your interests and requirements.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our expert team if we can help you plan an unforgettable Hebridean escape!

Katia Fernandez Mayo

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visit hebrides scotland

5 of the best places to visit in the Hebrides

From spectacular beaches and distinctive seabirds to heritage fabrics and traditional smokehouses, the islands of the Hebrides offer an epic taste of adventure, culture and exploration.

The rugged landscapes of the Outer Hebrides, off Scotland’s west coast, may be sparsely populated, but there’s a deep human history here, from ancient stone circles to traditional Gaelic culture. These interconnected islands have shaped a distinct way of life, not just in the Harris Tweed and whisky distilleries that travellers encounter, but also in the daily routines of remote fishing communities. Spanning over 150 miles, this island chain is stitched together by causeway, bridge, road and boat, meaning visitors can pick their own method — car, bike, bus or ferry — to make the most of this extraordinary destination.

1. Barra, Castlebay

With beaches reminiscent of those in Thailand — but often feel more like they’re in Greenland — Barra is one of the most beautiful Hebridean islands. Before rushing north, be sure to visit 16th-century Kisimul Castle, the similarly named Indian restaurant with its scallop pakora, and the local airport, which sees light aircraft landing on sand.

Few people think they know anything about Eriskay but it was off this coast in 1941 that the SS Politician was wrecked, with its famous cargo of whisky, and a considerable amount of cash. The following raids by locals were the basis for the 1949 film Whisky Galore! Today the Politician Bar offers a popular nod to that ignoble history.

3. North Uist

Each of the three Uist islands has a highlight, but the   Hebridean Smokehouse offers a chance to pick up a souvenir, learn about the history of peat-smoking, and meet an earl. Fergus Granville is not only the owner of the smokehouse, he’s also a talented artist and the late Queen Elizabeth II’s godson.

visit hebrides scotland

A stop at Luskentyre means you can visit one of the most gorgeous beaches in Europe while being in the right spot to visit a traditional   Harris tweed shop . Owner and weaver Donald John Mackay is well practised at explaining exactly why the tweed’s trademark matters so much — and perhaps why you should buy some.  

Completists will want to make the journey all the way to the Butt of Lewis, the northernmost extremity of the Hebrides. An almost 30-mile drive north from Stornoway, it feels suitably storm-lashed and dramatic, with a battered lighthouse, thriving colonies of northern fulmars and, incredibly, masochistic surfers coming to try their luck in the cold waves.  

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Visit Distilleries, Castles, and Dramatic Cliffs on Scotland’s Hebrides Islands

On the islands of northwestern Scotland, get lost among windswept cliffs and crumbling ruins.

Stanley Stewart is a multi-award-winning travel writer and author of three acclaimed books. He is a regular contributor to The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His work has taken him to more than 50 countries.

On an empty road behind the sweep of Scarista Beach, where ocean winds were flattening the dune grasses, stood a lone white house. It could have been a drawing from a storybook: steep-roofed, a little wonky, smoke curling from the chimney. I followed a path to a rusty gate, then let myself into an entrance hall lined with rubber boots, walking sticks, and fishing rods.

A fire crackled in the drawing room. In front of it, I found my host serving tea. A soft-spoken woman in her fifties, Patricia Martin runs Scarista House , an intimate six-bedroom hotel, with her husband, Tim. Patricia moved here, to the Isle of Lewis and Harris in Scotland 's Outer Hebrides, 20 years ago. She arrived feeling anxious about trading her busy life in London for one of Britain's most remote places.

As we sipped our tea, Patricia and I gazed out the window to the Sound of Taransay, running with whitecaps, and to the mountains of North Harris bumping their heads against pewter-bellied clouds. The long, empty lines of the landscape looked as if they had been carved by the winds. Far out on the ocean, beyond a tumult of dark thunderheads, pools of silver sun sailed northward.

"Within two weeks of arriving," Patricia said, "I knew I would never want to leave."

Last autumn, still reeling after the first six months of the pandemic, I had the idea that I should go somewhere truly remote. The year had been full of noise, of argument, of claim and counterclaim. I wanted to travel to what Georgia O'Keeffeused to call "the faraway"—somewhere distant and elemental, a place with endless skies.

Scattered off the western coast of Scotland, almost 40 miles from the mainland, the Outer Hebrides promised to be a place apart. This archipelago forms the northwestern extremity of Great Britain. Just 14 of its 119 islands are inhabited. Their combined population is less than 27,000—barely enough to constitute a single town.

I took the Caledonian Sleeper north from London. Sleeper trains are not what they once were, and there is always a little disappointment when you don't encounter a Russian countess or a mustachioed spy in the dining car. I did, however, meet a lawyer from Edinburgh with the softest Scottish brogue who told me she goes to the Hebrides every year. As the train hurtled northward through the darkness, we ordered a dram of whisky . "They may be small islands, but it is a world that feels bigger than any I know," she told me. "I go because I want to lose myself."

"They may be small islands, but it is a world that feels bigger than any I know. I go because I want to lose myself."

The next morning on the 30-minute ferry crossing from the mainland to the Isle of Skye , the stepping-stone to the Outer Hebrides, I watched weather racing down the Sound of Sleat. Bursts of sun splashed across Skye's green hills as cloud shadows chased one another down the channel. From the deep valleys of the island's Cuillin mountain range, mists rose like smoke, and the scarred basalt faces of the summits came and went like apparitions. This is a world in flux, one that can shift from one mood to another in moments, a fluid, windswept, cloud-scudding place.

Some people say that Skye is all of the Scottish Highlands distilled into a single island. The scenery is ravishingly romantic in that extravagant Sir Walter Scott kind of way—mountains and glens, sheep and handsome chaps in kilts. Written after a rapturous visit in 1814, Scott's narrative poem, Lord of the Isles, inspired eager waves of Victorian readers to visit Skye's bracing landscapes, where they could walk the mountains and valleys by day and dine by peat fires in the evening.

But Skye has outgrown its Victorian aesthetic. In the past 10 years, the island has undergone a renaissance. Gone are the tired old hotels and the dreary cafés where fish-and-chips dominated the menus. A new generation of islanders has returned from other parts of the U.K. and beyond, brimming with ideas, while newcomers in search of a simpler, better life have delivered a fresh energy to the region.

Enterprises are blossoming—from artisanal bakeries to beekeepers, from design studios to brands creating skin-care products from seaweed. In the largest town, Portree, Birch is a deli that champions traditional ingredients such as oats and Highland cheeses. Over on Skye's neighboring island, the Isle of Raasay Distillery is creating a new whisky in a striking complex that includes a six-room boutique hotel. Up twisting island roads, beneath sharp-toothed cliffs, all sorts of people are making dreams come true.

I had lunch at Edinbane Lodge , on Skye, which first opened in 1543 as a staging inn on the old road to Dunvegan Castle , and which two local families relaunched as a small hotel in 2018. The rooms are delightful, but it is the restaurant that really impresses—the menu wouldn't look out of place in a high-end London hotel. Ingredients and their sources are carefully listed, and provisions rarely travel more than a few miles: monkfish from Portree Bay; Isle of Skye sea salt; chanterelle, trompette, and hedgehog mushrooms foraged by the kitchen staff in the woods nearby.

That afternoon, I drove to the harbor at Portree, where pastel-colored cottages overlook a row of small fishing trawlers. There I met Ewen Grant and Janice Cooney, a couple who welcomed me aboard their catamaran, the Seaflower. Having spent a few years traveling in Asia and Australia, they have now settled on Skye to make a new life operating charter boat trips with gourmet lunches. Off the neighboring island of Rona—population two—we lunched on lobster and langoustine, caught the previous night.

"It took me leaving Skye to realize how beautiful it is," Grant said as we watched a pod of dolphins shadowing the boat. It took me meeting this couple to discover that Skye was the kind of place I had assumed did not exist outside of black-and-white movies. "No one locks their doors here," he shrugged. "My father always leaves the keys inside his car, in case someone might need to move it."

The last time I was on Skye, some 15 years ago, I visited the roofless ruin of a former clan chieftain's home named Monkstadt House, on the Trotternish Peninsula, about a half-hour's drive north of Portree. Returning to the place that evening, I found it transformed. In an elegant drawing room, I sat by a fireplace as James MacQueen, the owner of Monkstadt 1745 —now a five-room hotel—fetched a bottle of whisky from a secret cupboard behind the bookshelf. "It is one of the finest houses on the island," MacQueen said. "It was my late father's dream to restore it. I think he would be proud of what we have done here."

Flora MacDonald warmed her toes by the fire at Monkstadt in 1745, back when she was helping the fugitive Bonnie Prince Charlie flee from the British Redcoats after the defeat of his rebel armies at Culloden. I found a monument to Flora at Kilmuir Cemetery , on the Trotternish Peninsula's wild northern coast. A legend on these islands for her part in Charlie's escape, she was given a funeral that is said to have been attended by 3,000 people, who between them drank 300 gallons of whisky.

A few yards away, among crooked gravestones that marked generations of MacDonalds and MacArthurs and MacLeans, I came upon an austere memorial for the fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who came home to rest among his clansmen after his death in 2010.

From Kilmuir, the narrow coastal road pitched and turned like a roller coaster as it wound north toward Duntulm. Birds flew up from the hawthorn scrub and tumbled away in the wind. Sheep were scattered across stone-walled fields like pieces of windblown paper. Across the sea below, whitecaps marched toward the headland of Rubha Hunish.

On this coast, with the light changing from moment to moment, it felt like the whole landscape was in motion—this wilderness of pasture and moorland, dark lochs and heather-glazed hills, wind and unraveling clouds, all of it as restless as the ocean.

The population of Lewis and Harris is just under 22,000. Sheep outnumber people by almost eight to one.

At the ruins of Duntulm Castle , once a prize fought over by the MacLeod and MacDonald clans, sheer cliffs fell away on all sides to rocks still marked by the keels of Viking longships. There are ghosts here—though no one seems to agree on how many. Some say two, others four. But then I guess that is the thing with ghosts: they don't do roll call. Apparently on windy nights you can hear them keening around the castle ramparts, quarreling with one another. You might see the northern lights here, their fluorescent trails filling half the sky.

Somehow the idea of the ghosts at Duntulm helped me locate myself. There was something hauntingly familiar about these islands. And then I realized: these are the landscapes of escapist fantasy, from Robert Louis Stevenson to Harry Potter, from Game of Thrones to Outlander , a kind of Middle Earth of cloud-shredding mountains and vast, tempestuous skies. It helps that the history fits. Here, the stories are of chieftains and clans, of castles and princes and dungeons. It is a place of childhood imagination, where anything can happen—and much of it will.

From the small village of Uig on the peninsula's western coast, I took the ferry across the Minch. These are the straits that separate Skye from the island of Lewis and Harris , and the Hebrides from the Outer Hebrides. Joined at the hip, Lewis and Harris are technically two separate entities that share a single island roughly 60 miles long (the southernmost third is Harris; the top two-thirds is Lewis).

These are the most remote and most traditional of the Scottish islands. Gaelic is still the first language, and life still revolves around fishing, weaving, and crofting—the system of small tenant farms that has existed here since the 18th century. The Outer Hebrides is not the back of beyond, wrote the Hebridean novelist Kevin MacNeil, but the very heart of beyond.

The population of Lewis and Harris is just under 22,000. Sheep outnumber people by almost eight to one. The U.K.'s Office of National Statistics has identified the people of Lewis and Harris as the happiest in Britain, outperforming all other regions in surveys that recorded high levels of "life satisfaction" and low levels of anxiety.

I drove across Lewis to Callanish, a prehistoric site where 49 vertical stone slabs are arranged in a circle on top of a wind-blasted hill. Older than Stonehenge , older even than the Great Pyramids , the Callanish Stones were probably erected sometime around 3000 B.C. A central monolith, over 11 feet high, is surrounded by an enclosing ring of standing stones, or menhirs, while avenues framed by other stones lead away to all points of the compass. Further off, scattered across the landscape, are up to 20 smaller satellite sites. No one really understands their meaning, or their purpose.

I looked across the moorlands toward the sea, and was struck by how little must have changed here. These are the same landscapes the people who erected these monoliths saw—peat bogs pockmarked by small lochs, an inlet of the sea to the south rippled with whitecaps. To the west the ridges of the hills, known locally as Cailleach na Mointeach, or the Old Woman of the Moors, stood scarved in mists. I rested my hand on the surface of the stones, patterned with mineral color and glistening with mica, and felt a sense of contact with an ancient world.

Of course, Harris is famous for Harris tweed. Weaving remains a cottage industry of artisans working in their own homes. I met Donald John Mackay in his house overlooking Luskentyre Beach. A mischievous fellow in his sixties, Mackay works in a tin shed in his garden, crowded with loom parts, sacks of yarn, and rolls of finished cloth. Weaving is a family tradition. Mackay's earliest memories are of his father at the loom; he still remembers the pride he felt as a boy when he was allowed to help work the foot pedals and arrange the bobbins.

Of course, Harris is famous for Harris tweed. Weaving remains a cottage industry of artisans working in their own homes.

"There have been a few little ups and downs with the weaving," Mackay told me, grinning at this understatement. At the beginning of the 20th century there were 1,000 weavers working on Harris. A century later, Harris tweed had fallen so far out of fashion that there were barely 80 weavers still working. And then, in 2004, Nike came to call.

Mackay had never heard of Nike. His wife received an e-mail asking for samples. They sent them off and, for some time, heard nothing. Then suddenly a second message arrived. Nike wanted 22,000 yards of tweed to make inlays for their Terminator sneakers, which became one of their most popular styles after celebrities like Madonna were photographed wearing them. Old weavers came out of retirement, young men took up the trade, and people all over the island worked frantically to fill the order. Nike's shoes revived the tradition of weaving on this island: Harris tweed was fashionable again.

Converse and Clarks shoes have both since put in large orders. Designers began using Harris tweed for upholstery and cushions. Ralph Lauren used the cloth, as did Patrick Grant of Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons. Even Harris tweed jackets came back in vogue. Today there are 200 weavers on Harris, and the cottage industry that made this island famous is flourishing.

Out on Harris's fractured coastline, I followed twisting roads that dipped up and down over deep, indented bays. The bones of this place—Lewisian gneiss rock, the oldest in Europe—protruded like ribs through a thin skin of heather and gorse. On these islands they say if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes. Storms ride in from the ocean. But when the winds turn and the clouds loosen, there is nothing as moving as the delicate evening light on Harris's Loch Ghreosabhagh, or the morning sun draped around Renish Point.

Landscape may be the delight of these islands, but their history has often been painful. For centuries the domain of clan chiefs, the large estates on these islands began, in the 19th century, to be passed between wealthy landowners. Many were keen to clear the estates of their tenants, and there are tragic tales of crofters being shipped off to America and Australia by ruthless landlords. They wanted to give the land over to sheep—more lucrative in those days than people.

They are connoisseurs of the winds, these islanders. Through the winds, the Hebridean people read the mood of each day.

Local communities now own the land collectively, but there is a sense that the sheep are not entirely with the program. On back roads, where these creatures are often the only traffic, they moved reluctantly aside as I slowed the car, casting sidelong looks. It was clear they felt I didn't really belong there.

At Rodell, on the southern tip of Harris, I found St. Clement's, a 16th-century church that manages to feel far older. In the gloom of its nave, where shafts of light reflected off the sea onto the ancient brick floor, the effigies of forgotten knights lay on their backs, hands folded over their chests, staring up at a ceiling that looked like the upturned hull of a boat. In the reliefs above the tombs, an angel casts incense to the Hebridean winds and a bìrlinn, or Highland galley, sets sail, hauntingly similar to a Viking longship.

Day's end brought me to Scarista House, the white hotel overlooking the beach in Harris. After tea in the drawing room with Patricia Martin, I went out into the weather and the winds to walk the beach, following a path across the hummocky machair—the common, uncultivated land lining the coast. Spectacular white-sand beaches are one of the many revelations of these islands. They would astonish surfers in Hawaii. Luskentyre, a couple of miles to the north, regularly makes it onto lists of the world's best beaches.

The tide was out and the wet sands shone with the reflections of clouds and distant hills. As twilight gathered, I watched curlews dance away from the incoming waves. Far off, a couple of solitary figures walked the beach. Dwarfed by the scale of this place, and by its vast skies, they seemed tiny and insubstantial.

They are connoisseurs of the winds, these islanders. They will tell you the character and import of each one. Through them, the Hebridean people read the mood of each day. From ocean gales to subtle breezes rippling the dune grasses, the air here is lung-cleansing, head-clearing, consciousness-altering. These are winds from the heart of beyond, winds to blow away the inconsequential, to reorder priorities, to render petty concerns insignificant. This is what I was looking for.

How to See the Hebrides

Isle of skye.

Ferry Inn : A family-run inn with an excellent restaurant. The adjoining pub has cozy log fires and views of Uig Bay. (Doubles from $525.)

Monkstadt 1745 : This beautifully restored laird's house has five elegant guest rooms. (Doubles from $590.)

Edinbane Lodge : Chef Calum Montgomery presides over one of the best kitchens on the island. (Tasting menu $110.)

Dunvegan Castle : The seat of Clan MacLeod since the 13th century is a must-visit.

Isle of Lewis and Harris

Lews Castle : This grand castle, now a hotel, is set among gardens overlooking Stornoway, the largest town on Lewis and Harris. (Doubles from $385.)

Scarista House : On Harris's gorgeous western shore, this former rectory has an old-world atmosphere and dramatic beach views. (Doubles from $275.)

How to Book

A 10-night trip similar to this one that include sa tour and lunch on the catamaran Seaflower can be booked through Scotland specialist Away from the Ordinary . (From $10,500 per person.)

A version of this story first appeared in the March 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Come Wind, Come Weather.

Bradt Guides

When to visit the Outer Hebrides

When to visit.

The islands on the edge of the British Isles offer great extremes – not only of interest throughout the year but also of weather. Late April to the end of June is probably the best time to visit the Outer Hebrides . The days quickly become much longer – although you are some way south of the midnight sun, it never gets completely dark in mid June – and wildlife, on a mission to breed and rear young, is at its richest.

April can often be a fine month for weather. A ridge of high pressure driven by anticyclones is a recognised, if not consistent, phenomenon across the islands at the end of May and the start of June.

July and August herald the striking spectacle of carpets of wild flowers along the grasslands, known as the machair, along the west coast. Summer also brings many outdoor events, such as Gaelic singing festivals, agricultural shows and local versions of Highland games. It can be hard to get accommodation at short notice during the summer holidays (Scotland’s school holidays run from the start of July to mid August), and there is even more pressure on car rental, with prices to match.

Autumn triggers a mass shift in the wildlife of the islands, with birds either migrating south or fleeing the approaching Arctic winter. The dark days of winter are not for the faint-hearted but bring a sporting chance of seeing the northern lights and are a superb time to see hardy wildlife toughing things out. At this season, time your visit for a break in the stormy weather and you may witness some of the most extraordinarily wild and battered landscapes you’ll ever see. The low winter sun can also show off the distinctively corrugated appearance of undulating moors and age-old farming furrows.

February and March are the prime time to witness the territorial behaviour of golden eagles, which pair-bond at this time, soaring together and locking talons in a breathtaking display. For walkers and cyclists, the same opportunities and guidance that are relevant elsewhere in the UK apply here: check the weather whatever the season, and acknowledge that a good day out in winter can be as wonderful as anything in summer.

The Outer Hebrides are regularly exposed to the extremes of wind and rain but – relatively speaking – enjoy a mild climate, with frosts rare.

Many places where you stay will helpfully print out the weather forecast for you to peruse over breakfast: it’s not uncommon for such forecasts to predict winds to be ‘minimum 2mph, maximum 58mph’. Not only can you experience all four seasons in one day here; stand on a headland in sunshine watching hail across the sea, and it can feel as though you can experience them all at once.

In Stornoway, winter temperatures average 7°C by day and lows of 1.8°C at night; spring time temperatures climb to 9.9°C in the afternoon with overnight lows of 3.8°C. Summer’s average high temperatures are 15.2°C, though they can reach the mid-20s°C any time between April and September, with lows of 9.3°C. Come autumn, temperatures typically drop to 11.5°C during the day and lows of 6°C.

Rainfall averages 46.2 inches (1,173mm), and Harris and Lewis – with the exception of Ness – have had significantly higher rainfall over the past 30 years than the southern islands; they are also wetter than most places on the mainland, with the exception of the western Highlands, the Lake District and Snowdonia.

On average, there are 1,234 hours of sunshine per year: Stornoway sees just 50 minutes sunlight per day in December. On Midsummer’s Day the islands enjoy 18 1/4 hours of daylight, the sun rising at 04.20 and setting at 22.35, though the nautical twilight continues all night, so it doesn’t ever really get pitch black.

More information

Discover more about the Outer Hebrides in our comprehensive guide :

Outer Hebrides

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Outer Hebrides

visit hebrides scotland

An island-by-island guide to Scotland's Outer Hebrides

The outer hebrides archipelago is nothing short of otherworldly – all stone circles, deserted beaches and epic wildlife. there are over 200 islands and islets to explore, but we’ve chosen six world-class spots for you to savour., why explore the outer hebrides.

The Outer Hebrides, a 130-mile (209km) island chain also known as the Western Isles, is seriously out there. Physically out there, that is, set across the treacherous Minch strait, west of the Isle of Skye (the next landfall is the Americas), but also spiritually, linguistically, culturally and scenically in a world of their own. 

Calanais, Lewis (Image: Helen Hotson/Shutterstock)

We’re talking stone circles, a hundred sweeping white sand beaches that rival the Caribbean and hulking mountains where you won’t meet a soul, but you’ll grow closer to yours. Then there’s a culture and heritage alive with everything from torrid tales from the Clearances years through to the global fashion icon of Harris Tweed. And, yes, whisky too – best enjoyed with an impromptu folk music session in the life-affirming local pubs.

Lewis may be joined at the hip with Harris – and together they form the third-largest island in the British Isles after Britain and Ireland – but they are very much two separate places.

Lewis overflows with culture and history, from the recently revamped Lews Castle in the lively capital of Stornoway (home to riotous Scottish folk rock sensation Peat and Diesel), through to one of the best-preserved old crofting villages in Scotland, the thatched roof wonder of Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. 

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Lewis (Image: M. Vinuesa/Shutterstock)

Nearby vaults one of the nation’s finest brochs (a fortified tower unique to Scotland), Dun Carloway, standing firm against the baleful Atlantic. And so too does the star of the show: Calanais. This remarkable 5,000-year-old stone circle overlooking the ocean was the inspiration for the stone circle in Disney's Brave . This being the Outer Hebrides, there are little-visited prehistoric sites sprinkled in the countryside around too. 

Where to stay

It has to be  Gearrannan Blackhouse Village . Peel back the centuries and connect with Lewis’s historic heart by staying in one of the old blackhouses.

Where to eat 

You won’t forget the views across the famous beach out of the giant windows at the Uig Sands Restaurant – nor the boat-fresh seafood at the special spot where the legendary Lewis Chessmen were uncovered.

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READ MORE: 10 life-affirming experiences you can only have in Scotland

If it’s beaches you crave, then Harris is for you. The water never quite warms up properly, but there’s nothing like standing on your own beach with mountains at one end, seals at the other. Scarista, Luskentyre or Seilebost are the most famous in this epic landscape forged by some of the oldest rocks in the world (Lewis gneiss), but you’ll have fun finding your own. 

Luskentyre Beach, Harris (Image: Helen Hotson/Shutterstock)

The village of Tarbert makes a good base as it’s home to a  superb shop where you can learn more about Harris Tweed. They sell the genuine article – hand-crafted from wool that’s dyed, spun and then hand-woven on looms in the Outer Hebrides. Look out for the famous orb trademark label. Next door is the modern, purpose-built Isle of Harris Distillery , well known for its gin. Though the first (legal) distillery on Harris will soon be more famous for its whisky as its single malts mature. 

Don’t miss a drive on the ‘Golden Road’, either. Sinewy and surreal, the tarmac single track feels more rollercoaster than road and the local sheep ensure your journey takes three times longer than Google reckons.

The  Sound of Harris is a brace of beautiful 1950s retro-chic lodges with Japanese baths. Floor-to-ceiling windows make the most of the views of the eponymous sound.

Sound of Harris, Harris (Sound of Harris/Facebook)

Where to eat

You can ‘only’ enjoy a homemade scone or triple chocolate brownie with your coffee here, but  Skoon is also an art gallery where you can pick up traditional music, as well as an original painting.

READ MORE: Here are more reasons why you should visit the Isle of Harris

North Uist thrills wildlife enthusiasts and is a scenic stunner too, if you swoon at big skies, Atlantic views and beaches. A necklace of white sand graces its entire west coast, with rugged lochs, lochans and sodden moors breaking east. 

Few bird reserves boast as impressive an array of birds as the RSPB’s  Balranald . The corncrake is its most famous resident, nevermind the colourful machair flowers, white-sand beaches and the passing basking sharks. 

Corncrake at Balranald Nature Reserve, North Uist (Image: Ian Rutherford/Alamy Stock Photo)

The imprint of man is intriguing too. Trinity Temple is an eye-catching 13th-century church and monastery ruin alive with history. Founded by Beathag, daughter of the Norse-Scot warrior Somerled, it has changed over the centuries, but its moody appeal is undimmed. 

It’s also easy to ‘island hop’ as causeways link north to Berneray – with a beach so spectacular the Thai tourist office apparently nicked it for an advert – and Benbecula to the south, with its own stunning strands.

Fans out of Outlander won’t be able to contain their excitement while staying in  Struan Cottage , a traditional whitewashed thatched croft by the beach. 

Struan Cottage, North Uist (Image: Richard Newton/Alamy)

Grab the local gossip and take the cultural pulse of North Uist at Taigh Chearsabhagh , in the ‘capital’ of Lochmaddy. It’s a café and cultural centre where you can learn more about Gaelic and Hebridean culture.

The rich sprinkling of white-sand beaches that line the entire west coast are reason enough to visit, but the largest of the southern Outer Hebrides will always be associated with one of Scotland’s most famous historical figures, Flora Macdonald. 

After growing up here, she helped Jacobite pretender Bonnie Prince Charlie – at the time Europe’s most wanted man – to evade the British Army Redcoats in the aftermath of The Battle of Culloden in 1746. Check out the simple memorial by the ruin of her blackhouse. 

Eriskey ponies, South Uist (Image: Erni/Shutterstock)

South Uist’s population of Eriskay ponies don’t care much for history, not when they have wild Loch Druidibeg to roam around. Spread across more than 4,000 acres, this Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) creates an island habitat with its machair stretching on to moorland punctuated with wee lochans. The RSPB reserve here is alive too with everything from corncrakes and graylag geese to golden eagles and peregrine falcons. 

READ MORE: Searching for sharks on Scotland's wild west coast

The  Polochar Inn is a whitewashed dame right on the Atlantic with mind-blowing sunsets. It’s great for stargazing and possibly spotting the Northern Lights too.

Polochar Inn, South Uist (Image: Polochar Inn/Facebook)

Love seafood? Head for the  Orasay Inn and tuck into boat-fresh scallops, crab and lobster.

If you’re short of time and can only visit one island, then this is the one: this multifaceted wee charmer is the Outer Hebrides in miniature. 

The journey is a joy – especially if you fly in from Glasgow and experience the world’s only scheduled flight that lands on a gorgeous white sand beach. Don’t miss garlic cockles culled from the runway. 

The only real village is Castlebay. It tempts with Kisimul Castle, the ancient seat of the Macneils of Barra, whose hulk lies in the bay, just a boat ride away. You can kayak too: Clearwater Paddling shows you that Barra is a world-class sea kayaking destination as you ease along with the seals, otters, eagles, dolphins and even whales. 

READ MORE: 8 reasons to visit Perth, Scotland's oldest new city

Kisimul Castle, Barra (Image: Steven Finlayson/Shutterstock)

The beaches are life-affirming, backed inland by the wildflower-kissed machair and spreading out towards rugged hills and glowering peaks. The view from Sheabhal back towards Skye and the mainland, and closer to the wee isles of Mingulay and Vatersay, is sublime. 

Boat trips from Castlebay leave for uninhabited Mingulay, with its mysterious beachfront abandoned village too.

It’s worth staying at the  Castlebay Hotel just in case the legendary Vatersay Boys are in the bar for an impromptu music session. Book a sea-view room.

The Barra hand-dived king scallop pakora at  Café Kisimul – a top-notch Indian spot with a focus on local ingredients – are out of this world. 

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Even the mention of mystical St Kilda is enough to get many a Scot misty-eyed. UNESCO are fans too – they awarded it a dual listing on their coveted World Heritage List, for both its natural charms and for human heritage. It lies a whopping 40 miles (64km) west of the main thrust of the Outer Hebrides.

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides (Image: Martin Payne/Shutterstock)

St Kilda is not actually one island, but the only one you’re likely to get to is the main island of Hirta. It was once home to a community that lived life on Main Street in Village Bay with few of the creature comforts we deem essential today and few of the social structures and graces of the mainland. The last residents were only evacuated in 1930, leaving it largely to the one-million-plus birds who call it home in summer. 

Many a sailor fails to get here – any sort of easterly and forget the only real anchorage in Village Bay – but the  fast boats from Skye have a good landing record. You can also join a live-aboard cruise that ventures this far out –  Hebrides Cruises is a great option.

Volunteering to do conservation work with the  NTS means you get to live in this amazing world.

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides (Image: Hebrides Cruises/Facebook)

There is a small shop with limited hours. The good news is all picnic spots come with a serious view.

READ MORE: 9 great ways to experience Scotland's first national park

Lead image: Helen Hotson/Alamy

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Southern Hebrides of Scotland

A Guide to the Southern Inner Hebridean Isles of Argyll

Welcome to Southern Hebrides

The Inner Hebrides are a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland , and are subdivided into two groups, the Northern and Southern Hebrides. Where the Northern Hebrides belong to the Highland Council, the Southern Hebrides are a part of the Argyll and Bute council. One can say that the Sound of Mull between the island of Mull and Morvern forms the dividing line. The area is also sometimes referred to as Scotland’s Sea Kingdom or the Hebridean Isles of Argyll.

Cross at Oronsay Priory with View to Paps of Jura

The Southern Hebrides

This website is about the Southern Hebrides and includes the island of Mull and Iona in the north, the islands of Coll and Tiree in the west, the Slate Islands in the north east, Gigha in the south east and the islands of Islay , Jura and Colonsay in the south west. In Gaelic the islands are called Na h-Eileanan a-staigh which means the inner isles, whereas the Outer Hebrides are usually referred to in Gaelic as Na h-Eileanan a-Muigh, the outer isles.

Kiloran Bay Beach Colonsay

Island Fascination

People have always been fascinated by islands and they are often described as remote, lonely, wind swept and wild which can sometimes be the case on the islands of Scotland . Visiting islands often include an adventurous ferry or plane journey and the thrill of arriving on a remote island is hard to match. Visiting the islands in the Southern Hebrides recall such feelings and most islands are in fact quite remote.

The Scottish Islands

Hamish Haswell-Smith, in his book ‘The Scottish Islands’, has a nice way of describing the island feeling. ‘There are few parts of the world which possess such magic and mystery as the seas around Scotland. This is an area of breathtaking beauty with a character formed not only by the proximity of mountains and sea but also by the complexity of the geography and the geology, of the climate and the social history. It is a serene yet chaotic landscape in which every isle has a distinct personality Each is an individual entity with differences so remarkable that the mere crossing of a short stretch of water can be like visting another continent.’

Red Deer Hindes Isle of Jura

Martin Martin in the Hebrides

Martin Martin was one of the first mainland explorers to record his visit to the Hebrides and in 1703 he published ‘A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland.’ His publication assisted later travellers like Thomas Pennant who set out to explore the last remaining blanks on the map of the west coast of Scotland in 1772. Other travellers such as James Boswell and Samuel Johnson followed Martin?s and Pennant?s footsteps and left fascinating accounts of their journeys.

Travelling The Southern Hebrides

Nowadays we can still set out on a journey to discover this fascinating area, often on one of Caledonian MacBraynes Ferries, a name well known throughout the Scottish islands. Alternatively several companies in the area offer island cruises or wildlife sea tours. The islands in the Southern Hebrides have so much to offer and each island is unique in it’s sort. Where Islay is home to nine whisky distilleries , on Jura the two hundred people are outnumbered by the almost seven thousand red deer that inhabit this wild and stunning island. Colonsay has beautiful white beaches, Mull offers high mountains such as Ben Mor and is home to nesting White Tailed Sea Eagles. Mull’s main port of Tobermory is one of the most picturesque villages in the west of Scotland. Nearby Iona is the place where Columba came to the Inner Hebrides in 563 and founded a monastery. On one of the Garvellachs , there are also amazing ruins of an ancient monastery, and you can explore the isle of Gigha, owned by it’s inhabitants and having, like several other islands, very beautiful gardens which can be visited.

Stormy Seas off Islay Coast

In the 9th century AD the Southern Hebridean islands were raided by the Vikings and came under Norse control , while in the Medieval 14th and 15th centuries the Lords of the Isles ruled the Hebrides and large areas of the west of Scotland from Finlaggan, Isle of Islay. The entire area is steeped in early history and offers many historic monuments such as monasteries, standing stones, castles, carved grave slabs, chapels and hill forts which can be visited.

What we offer:

This website offers a chance to enhance your knowledge of, and whet your appetite for the Southern Hebridean islands, through information and many photographs of these enchanting islands. For more online information, visit the Southern Hebrides Blog , or, for the written word, a visit to the site’s book shop . This is an ongoing project and there will be many updates, so please return for a renewed acquaintance with these sometimes hidden Scottish gems. If you require accommodation in the Southern Hebrides please visit the Scotland Accommodation Directory .

Photography on this website is provided by Ron Steenvoorden

Sound of Ulva from Mull

All the Southern Hebridean Islands

The islands of the Southern Hebrides are: Calve Cara Càrna Coll Colonsay Dùn Channuill Eileach an Naoimh Eilean Dubh Mòr Eilean Mhic Asgain Eilean Mhic Coinnich Eilean Rìgh Eorsa Erraid Garbh Eileach Gigalum Gigha Gometra Gunna Iona Inch Kenneth Islay Jura Kerrera Lismore Little Colonsay MacCormaig Isles Mull Nave Oronsay Samalan Scarba Skerryvore Slate Islands: Seil, Easdale, Luing, Lunga, Shuna, Torsa, Belnahua Staffa Texa Tiree Treshnish Islands: Bac Beag, Bac Mòr, Cairn na Burgh Beag, Cairn na Burgh Mòr, Fladda, Sgeir an Eirionnaich, Sgeir a’ Chaisteil, Lunga Ulva

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Scotland’s Hebrides Islands Travel Guide: NEED TO KNOW Tips

Published: October 17, 2023

Modified: December 28, 2023

by Gloriane Peres

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  • Travel Guide
  • Travel Tips

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Introduction

Welcome to Scotland’s stunning Hebrides Islands, a group of islands located off the northwest coast of mainland Scotland. With their breathtaking landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and abundant wildlife, the Hebrides are a paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

The Hebrides Islands are divided into two main groups: the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides. The Inner Hebrides consist of Skye, Mull, Islay, and several other islands, while the Outer Hebrides include Lewis and Harris, North Uist, South Uist, and Barra, among others. Each island has its own unique charm and attractions, making them a delightful destination to explore.

Whether you’re interested in hiking majestic mountains, exploring ancient ruins, or simply relaxing on pristine beaches, the Hebrides Islands offer something for everyone. Immerse yourself in the rich Gaelic culture, witness the dramatic Scottish sunsets, and indulge in the delicious local cuisine.

In this comprehensive travel guide, we will provide you with all the essential information you need to know before visiting the Hebrides Islands. From how to get there and when to go, to the top attractions and activities, we’ve got you covered. So, pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in the enchanting Hebrides!

Overview of the Hebrides Islands

The Hebrides Islands are a stunning archipelago located on the western coast of Scotland. This group of islands is known for its rugged landscapes, picturesque beaches, and rich history. Split into the Inner and Outer Hebrides, this region offers a diverse range of experiences for travelers.

The Inner Hebrides, closer to the mainland, are characterized by towering mountains, deep lochs, and charming coastal villages. The Isle of Skye, one of the most popular destinations in the Hebrides, is renowned for its dramatic landscapes such as the iconic Old Man of Storr and the Fairy Pools.

Further south lies the Isle of Mull, home to sandy beaches, historic castles, and diverse wildlife, including the famous puffins on Lunga Island. The Isle of Islay, known as the “Queen of the Hebrides,” offers visitors a chance to explore its renowned distilleries and sample some of Scotland’s finest single malt whiskies.

In contrast, the Outer Hebrides, a remote and untouched cluster of islands, boast pristine white sand beaches that stretch for miles. Lewis and Harris, the largest of the Outer Hebrides islands, are famous for their ancient standing stones at Callanish, beautiful coastal walks, and the stunning turquoise waters of Luskentyre Beach.

One of the unique aspects of the Hebrides Islands is the Gaelic language and culture that still thrives here. Gaels have inhabited these islands for centuries, and their rich heritage can be experienced through traditional music, language, and local customs.

With their diverse range of outdoor activities, the Hebrides Islands offer something for all nature enthusiasts. From hiking and climbing to kayaking and wildlife spotting, there are plenty of opportunities to discover the natural beauty of the islands.

Whether you’re seeking a peaceful retreat or an adventurous getaway, the Hebrides Islands are a must-visit destination in Scotland. With their stunning scenery, rich history, and warm Gaelic hospitality, this enchanting archipelago promises a truly unforgettable experience.

How to Get to the Hebrides

Getting to the Hebrides Islands is an adventure in itself. Although situated off the northwest coast of mainland Scotland, there are several transportation options available to reach this remote and picturesque archipelago.

1. By Ferry: One of the most popular and scenic ways to reach the Hebrides is by ferry. Several ferry routes operate between the mainland and the islands. The main ferry ports for accessing the Inner Hebrides are Oban, Mallaig, and Uig on the Isle of Skye. For the Outer Hebrides, the ferry departs from Ullapool and Oban to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.

2. By Air: If you prefer a quicker mode of transportation, you can opt to fly to the Hebrides. There are direct flights from major cities such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness to the main airports in the Hebrides, including Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Benbecula, and Barra. Flights to Barra are particularly unique as the airport is situated on a beach, making it one of the world’s most scenic landing strips.

3. By Car: If you’re planning to explore the islands at your own pace, bringing your own car or renting one is a convenient option. You can take your car on the ferry and use it to travel around the islands. However, it’s important to check ferry schedules and availability in advance, especially during peak seasons, as spaces for vehicles can fill up quickly.

4. By Bus and Train: Public transportation options are available to some of the main ferry ports. Buses and trains operate from major cities to destinations such as Oban and Mallaig, where you can then catch a ferry to the Hebrides. Be sure to check the schedules and connections to ensure a smooth journey.

Once you’ve arrived at your chosen island in the Hebrides, there are local bus services, taxis, and car rental options available to help you explore the different areas.

It’s important to note that weather conditions can sometimes affect ferry and flight schedules, particularly in the winter months. It’s advisable to check for any weather-related updates and plan your travel accordingly.

With the various transportation options available, reaching the Hebrides Islands is an exciting and memorable part of your journey, allowing you to immerse yourself in the natural beauty and tranquility of this unique Scottish destination.

Best Time to Visit the Hebrides

The best time to visit the Hebrides Islands largely depends on your personal preferences and the activities you wish to engage in. Each season offers its own unique charm, and the weather can vary significantly throughout the year.

Spring (March to May): Spring is a wonderful time to visit the Hebrides as the islands burst into life with vibrant colors and blossoming flowers. The weather is generally mild, although it can be changeable, so it’s advisable to pack layers. Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy the opportunity to spot migratory birds returning to the islands and witness adorable seal pups along the coastline.

Summer (June to August): Summer is the peak tourist season in the Hebrides, thanks to the longer daylight hours and milder weather. This is the perfect time to explore the pristine beaches, go hiking in the mountains, and participate in various water sports such as kayaking and surfing. The islands come alive with festivals and events, celebrating the Gaelic culture and traditions. However, it’s worth noting that accommodation and popular sites can get crowded, so advanced booking is recommended.

Autumn (September to November): Autumn is a quieter period in the Hebrides, offering a peaceful and tranquil atmosphere. The landscapes are adorned with hues of orange and gold as the leaves change color. This is an excellent time for hiking and photography, as the dramatic vistas are further enhanced by the golden light. Autumn also brings opportunities to attend traditional music and cultural events, providing a deeper insight into the local way of life.

Winter (December to February): Winter in the Hebrides offers a unique and magical experience. Although the weather can be harsh and unpredictable, with shorter daylight hours, there is a certain charm to the islands during this time. The dramatic landscapes are often covered in a blanket of snow, creating a picturesque winter wonderland. This is an ideal time for cozying up by a warm fire in a traditional pub, sampling hearty Scottish cuisine, and immersing oneself in the local folklore and music.

It’s important to note that the weather in the Hebrides can change quickly, and it’s always recommended to check the forecast before setting out. Regardless of the season, proper outdoor clothing and waterproof gear are essential for any visit to the Hebrides.

Ultimately, the best time to visit the Hebrides depends on your preferences and the type of experience you desire. Whether you’re seeking vibrant festivals or peaceful solitude, you’re sure to discover the beauty of the islands, no matter the time of year.

Weather and Climate

The Hebrides Islands experience a mild and temperate maritime climate, influenced by the Gulf Stream. However, the weather can be highly variable and changeable, even within a single day. It’s often said that you can experience all four seasons in one day in the Hebrides!

Summer (June to August): The summer months in the Hebrides are generally mild, with average temperatures ranging from 14°C (57°F) to 17°C (63°F). It’s the sunniest period of the year, with longer daylight hours, ranging from 16 to 18 hours per day. However, it’s still advisable to pack layers as the weather can be unpredictable, and rain showers can occur at any time. It’s a popular time for outdoor activities and exploring the islands’ nature and wildlife.

Autumn (September to November): Autumn is characterized by cooler temperatures and increasing rainfall. The average temperatures range from 10°C (50°F) to 14°C (57°F). The autumn colors can be stunning as the landscapes transform into beautiful shades of orange and gold. Rainfall is more frequent during this time, so it’s important to be prepared with waterproof clothing. It’s a quieter season, perfect for those seeking a peaceful retreat and opportunities for scenic walks and cultural experiences.

Winter (December to February): Winter in the Hebrides is cold and can be quite blustery. Average temperatures range from 6°C (43°F) to 9°C (48°F). Rainfall is more persistent, and snowfall is not uncommon, particularly in the higher areas. Winter days are the shortest, with only 6 to 8 hours of daylight. It’s a unique time to experience the islands’ tranquility and cozy up by a warm fire in a traditional cottage or pub. The winter months are also ideal for birdwatching, as the islands become home to a variety of migratory species.

Spring (March to May): Spring brings milder temperatures and longer daylight hours. Average temperatures range from 8°C (46°F) to 12°C (54°F). The landscapes come alive with blooming flowers and foliage, and wildlife begins to make a return to the islands. Spring is a wonderful time for photography, as the scenery is vibrant and rejuvenated. However, the weather can still be changeable, so it’s best to pack layers and be prepared for rain showers.

It’s important to note that the weather conditions can vary between the Inner and Outer Hebrides. The western coast tends to be more exposed to the Atlantic weather systems, experiencing higher rainfall and stronger winds, while the eastern coast is generally milder.

Regardless of the season, it’s always advisable to pack layers, including waterproof clothing, as the weather can change quickly. Being prepared for different weather conditions will ensure a comfortable and enjoyable visit to the beautiful Hebrides Islands.

Accommodation Options

When visiting the Hebrides Islands, you’ll find a range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. From cozy guesthouses to luxurious hotels, traditional self-catering cottages to campsites amidst stunning landscapes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy their stay in the Hebrides.

Hotels: The Hebrides offer a variety of hotels scattered across the islands, ranging from small family-run establishments to larger luxury resorts. Many hotels boast stunning coastal or countryside locations, providing breathtaking views right from your window. Hotel amenities will vary but can include restaurants, bars, spas, and other leisure facilities.

Guesthouses and B&Bs: For a more intimate and local experience, staying in a guesthouse or bed and breakfast can be a great option. These accommodations are often owned and operated by friendly hosts who can offer valuable insights into the local area and provide a personalized touch to your stay.

Self-Catering Cottages and Apartments: If you prefer more independence and flexibility, renting a self-catering cottage or apartment is a popular choice in the Hebrides. These accommodations come fully equipped with kitchen facilities, allowing you to cook your meals and truly immerse yourself in the local culture.

Camping and Caravan Sites: The Hebrides offer beautiful camping and caravan sites for those who enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you bring your own camping gear or rent a caravan, camping in the Hebrides allows you to be closer to nature, with many sites offering stunning coastal or mountain views.

Hostels: For budget-conscious travelers, hostels provide a cost-effective option for accommodation. The Hebrides have a few well-equipped and comfortable hostels that offer dormitory-style rooms or private rooms at affordable rates.

It’s essential to book your accommodation well in advance, especially during the peak summer season when the islands attract a higher number of visitors. Additionally, do consider the location of your chosen accommodation, as the Hebrides Islands have scattered settlements, and some areas may require additional transportation to access attractions and activities.

Wherever you choose to stay in the Hebrides, you’ll be surrounded by stunning landscapes, warm hospitality, and the enchanting atmosphere of these beautiful Scottish islands.

Getting Around the Islands

Getting around the Hebrides Islands is relatively easy, with various transportation options available to explore the different islands and their attractions. Whether you prefer flexibility or a more guided experience, there are options to suit every traveler’s needs.

Car Rental: Renting a car is a popular choice for exploring the Hebrides Islands, providing you with the freedom to travel at your own pace. There are car rental companies available on the larger islands, such as Skye and Lewis, where you can pick up a vehicle upon arrival. Having a car allows you to venture off the beaten path, discover hidden gems, and take scenic drives along the coast.

Local Buses: Each island in the Hebrides has a network of local bus services, operated by several different companies. These buses provide affordable and convenient transportation between towns, villages, and popular attractions. However, it’s important to note that bus schedules may be less frequent, especially in more remote areas, so it’s advisable to plan your journeys in advance.

Taxis: Taxis are another option for getting around the islands, particularly if you prefer not to drive or are visiting with a group. Taxis can be hailed in towns or booked in advance for longer journeys or specific destinations.

Ferries: The Hebrides Islands are connected by a network of ferry routes, allowing travelers to hop between islands. Ferries not only offer transportation but also provide a scenic and memorable way to experience the stunning coastal landscapes. Timetables and routes can vary, and it’s recommended to check the ferry schedules in advance, especially during peak season.

Walking and Cycling: The Hebrides Islands have a multitude of walking and cycling routes, offering a unique perspective of the natural beauty and tranquility of the islands. Walking and cycling allow you to explore at a leisurely pace, discovering hidden gems and enjoying the breathtaking scenery.

Guided Tours: If you prefer a more structured and guided experience, there are various tour operators that offer guided tours around the Hebrides Islands. These tours often include transportation, knowledgeable guides, and pre-planned itineraries, ensuring you make the most of your visit to the islands.

It’s important to note that while public transportation options exist, some areas and attractions may be less accessible without private transportation. Additionally, it’s crucial to plan your journeys in advance, especially during off-peak seasons, as some transport services may have reduced schedules.

With multiple transportation options available, exploring the Hebrides Islands is an adventure in itself, allowing you to uncover the hidden gems and natural wonders of this pristine Scottish archipelago.

Top Attractions and Activities

The Hebrides Islands are a treasure trove of natural beauty, rich history, and cultural experiences. From magnificent landscapes to ancient ruins, there is no shortage of attractions and activities to immerse yourself in while exploring this stunning Scottish archipelago.

1. Isle of Skye: Known as the “Misty Isle,” Skye provides a wealth of breathtaking sights, including the iconic Fairy Glen, the magnificent Quiraing, and the enchanting Fairy Pools. Explore the medieval Dunvegan Castle or take a boat trip to spot seals and dolphins off the Isle of Raasay.

2. Callanish Standing Stones: Located on the Isle of Lewis, the Callanish Standing Stones are an ancient and mystical monument dating back over 5,000 years. Marvel at the impressive stone circle and soak in the atmosphere of this historical site.

3. Luskentyre Beach: Situated on the Isle of Harris, Luskentyre Beach is renowned for its pristine white sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Stroll along the shoreline, take in the stunning views of the surrounding landscape, and enjoy the tranquility of this breathtaking beach.

4. Isle of Iona: Visit the peaceful Isle of Iona, known as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. Explore the historic Iona Abbey, stroll along beautiful beaches, and take a moment of reflection in the serene atmosphere of this spiritual island.

5. Isle of Mull: Mull offers diverse attractions, from the colorful waterfront of Tobermory to the fascinating wildlife at the Isle of Mull Wildlife Park. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the historic Duart Castle or take a wildlife tour to spot eagles, puffins, seals, and whales.

6. St. Kilda: Embark on a boat trip to the remote archipelago of St. Kilda, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This uninhabited island group is home to stunning cliffs, unique bird colonies, and a rich history. Explore the abandoned village of Hirta and witness the extraordinary wildlife.

7. Historic Castles: The Hebrides are adorned with a variety of historic castles, including Kisimul Castle on the Isle of Barra, Eilean Donan Castle near the Isle of Skye, and the magnificent Castle Tioram on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. These castles offer a glimpse into the region’s fascinating past.

8. Whisky Distilleries: The Hebrides are known for their whisky production, and visiting one of the distilleries is a must for whisky enthusiasts. Explore iconic distilleries such as Talisker on the Isle of Skye, Lagavulin on Islay, or the Isle of Harris Distillery, and learn about the whisky-making process.

9. Outdoor Activities: The Hebrides provide endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Go hiking in the Cuillin Mountains, try your hand at surfing along the coast, embark on a kayaking adventure, or explore the underwater world with snorkeling or diving excursions.

10. Gaelic Culture and Festivals: Immerse yourself in the rich Gaelic culture of the Hebrides by attending traditional music events and festivals, such as the Hebridean Celtic Festival on the Isle of Lewis. Experience Gaelic hospitality, learn about local traditions, and appreciate the vibrant music and language of the islands.

These are just a few of the many attractions and activities waiting to be discovered in the Hebrides Islands. Whether you’re seeking breathtaking natural landscapes, intriguing history, or a cultural experience like no other, the Hebrides will captivate you with their charm and beauty.

Outdoor Adventures

The Hebrides Islands are a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a wide array of activities and adventures amidst breathtaking natural landscapes. Whether you’re a hiker, kayaker, wildlife lover, or adrenaline seeker, the Hebrides have something for everyone to enjoy.

Hiking and Mountain Climbing: The Hebrides Islands are a haven for hikers and climbers, with its rugged mountains and stunning coastal trails providing endless opportunities for exploration. The Isle of Skye offers iconic hikes such as the Cuillin Ridge, while the Isle of Rum boasts the dramatic peaks of the Rum Cuillin. Mull, Islay, and Harris also offer scenic walks and challenging climbs for all skill levels.

Water Sports: The crystal-clear waters surrounding the Hebrides make it a perfect destination for water sports enthusiasts. Take to the waves and try your hand at surfing off the beaches of Lewis and Tiree. Alternatively, go kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding along the calm and sheltered sea lochs, giving you a unique perspective of the stunning coastline.

Wildlife Spotting: The Hebrides are renowned for their abundant wildlife. Embark on a wildlife-watching adventure and spot majestic sea eagles, puffins, otters, seals, and even the elusive whales and dolphins. Take a boat tour to the remote islands of St. Kilda to witness one of the world’s largest gannet colonies and experience the untouched wildlife.

Scenic Cycling: The islands’ quiet roads and picturesque landscapes make cycling a fantastic way to explore. Rent a bike and pedal along the coastal routes, catching breathtaking scenes at every turn. The Outer Hebrides’ Hebridean Way is a popular long-distance cycling route that takes you through stunning scenery, historic sites, and charming villages.

Fishing: The Hebrides offer excellent fishing opportunities, both in freshwater lochs and the surrounding sea. Cast your line for salmon and trout in the island’s rivers and lochs, or charter a boat and go deep-sea fishing for mackerel, cod, and even shark. Fishing enthusiasts will appreciate the tranquility and abundance of options available.

Scenic Drives: Exploring the islands by car or motorcycle is a fantastic way to appreciate the breathtaking landscapes. Take the winding roads of the Isle of Skye’s Trotternish Peninsula for stunning cliff-side views and the iconic Old Man of Storr. Or, drive along the Harris and Lewis coastal road, marveling at the rugged coastline, sandy beaches, and ancient stone structures.

With their diverse range of outdoor activities, the Hebrides Islands provide endless opportunities for adventure and exploration. Whether you’re seeking an adrenaline-pumping experience or a tranquil encounter with nature, the Hebrides will leave you with unforgettable memories of your outdoor adventures.

Wildlife Spotting

The Hebrides Islands are home to a wealth of wildlife, making it a dream destination for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. From majestic birds soaring through the skies to adorable marine creatures frolicking in the clear waters, the Hebrides offer fantastic opportunities for wildlife spotting.

Sea Eagles: One of the iconic species in the Hebrides is the white-tailed sea eagle, the largest bird of prey in the UK. These magnificent birds can be spotted soaring above the coastal areas, their broad wingspan and distinctive white tail feathers making them a remarkable sight.

Puffins: The comical and charismatic puffins are a crowd favorite among visitors to the Hebrides. These small seabirds with colorful beaks and distinctive black and white plumage nest in burrows along the coastal cliffs. The Isle of Lunga, part of the Treshnish Isles, is a popular spot to see puffins up close during the breeding season.

Seals: Throughout the Hebrides, you’ll encounter seals lounging on rocky shores or bobbing playfully in the water. Both grey seals and common seals can be spotted along the rugged coastline, where they enjoy the calm waters and bask in the sunshine. Boat trips often offer excellent opportunities for observing them at a safe distance.

Dolphins and Whales: The waters surrounding the Hebrides are teeming with marine life, including several species of dolphins and whales. Spotting common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, or even the majestic orca (killer whale) is possible during boat trips or from the shore on a lucky day. Minke whales, porpoises, and even basking sharks can also be seen during the summer months.

Otters: The elusive and adorable otter is a true highlight for wildlife enthusiasts. These shy creatures can be seen fishing in the sea lochs or playing along the shoreline. Patience, stealth, and a bit of luck are necessary to spot these charismatic creatures, but the rewards are immense when you witness their playful antics.

Birdwatching: The Hebrides are a haven for birdwatchers, boasting a diverse range of avian species. In addition to puffins and sea eagles, you may also spot other seabirds such as guillemots, razorbills, and kittiwakes nesting on the coastal cliffs. The machair grasslands of the Outer Hebrides provide breeding grounds for a variety of rare and protected species, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise.

It’s important to respect the wildlife and their habitats while spotting them in the Hebrides. Keep a safe distance, adhere to any guidelines or regulations, and never disturb or feed the animals. Joining a guided wildlife tour or boat trip with knowledgeable guides can provide valuable insights and enhance your wildlife spotting experience.

The Hebrides offer a unique opportunity to witness the beauty and diversity of the natural world. With its abundance of wildlife, this archipelago promises unforgettable encounters with some of Scotland’s most incredible creatures in their natural habitat.

Historical and Cultural Sites

The Hebrides Islands are steeped in history and possess a rich cultural heritage, offering a fascinating glimpse into Scotland’s past. From ancient ruins to well-preserved artifacts, the islands are scattered with historical and cultural sites that tell captivating stories of their inhabitants.

Dunvegan Castle: Situated on the Isle of Skye, Dunvegan Castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years. Explore its well-preserved rooms, admire the beautiful gardens, and learn about the castle’s history through its fascinating artifacts and legends.

Calanais Standing Stones: On the Isle of Lewis, the Calanais Standing Stones, also known as Callanish, is a collection of ancient stone monuments dating back over 5,000 years. These mysterious standing stones form a Celtic cross-like pattern, sparking speculation about their purpose and significance.

The Black House: Visit the Black House Museum on the Isle of Lewis for a glimpse into traditional island life. These iconic houses were once the common dwelling of rural communities. Step inside to see how people lived, with exhibits showcasing the traditional furniture, tools, and lifestyle of the past.

Iona Abbey: Located on the Isle of Iona, the historic Iona Abbey holds great significance as a religious site and center of Celtic Christianity. Dating back to the 6th century, the abbey is an architectural marvel, and its tranquil setting continues to attract visitors seeking spiritual reflection.

Kisimul Castle: Situated on the Isle of Barra, Kisimul Castle is a stunning fortress perched on a rocky islet. This medieval stronghold has served as the ancestral seat of the Clan MacNeil for centuries. Explore its well-restored interior and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding sea and landscape.

St. Clement’s Church: Found on the Isle of Harris, St. Clement’s Church is a picturesque Gothic Revival church dating back to the 16th century. Its interior features intricate wood and ironwork, stained glass windows, and a peaceful atmosphere ideal for reflection.

Museum nan Eilean: Located in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Museum nan Eilean houses a treasure trove of historical artifacts, showcasing the islands’ archaeology, history, and natural heritage. From ancient fossils to traditional crafts, the museum provides a comprehensive insight into the Hebrides’ rich cultural heritage.

Duart Castle: Situated on the Isle of Mull, Duart Castle is a magnificent fortress with a dramatic cliff-top setting overlooking the Sound of Mull. Explore its well-preserved interior, visit the museum, and learn about the Maclean clan’s history and their connections to Scottish royalty.

These are just a few of the many historical and cultural sites the Hebrides have to offer. Explore the islands to uncover more ancient ruins, traditional villages, museums, and landmarks, and discover the captivating stories that have shaped this remarkable corner of Scotland.

Traditional Cuisine and Local Delicacies

When visiting the Hebrides Islands, be sure to tantalize your taste buds with the region’s traditional cuisine and indulge in local delicacies that showcase the rich flavors of the Scottish Isles. From delectable seafood to hearty dishes, there’s a wide range of culinary delights to explore.

Seafood: As the Hebrides are surrounded by the bountiful waters of the North Atlantic, it’s no surprise that seafood takes center stage in the local cuisine. Sample mouthwatering fresh oysters, succulent langoustines, plump scallops, and flaky white fish like haddock and cod. Don’t miss the chance to try traditional Cullen Skink, a creamy fish soup with smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions.

Black Pudding: A quintessential Scottish delicacy, black pudding, made with pig’s blood, oats, and spices, can be found on many Hebridean menus. This rich and flavorful sausage is often served as part of a hearty Scottish breakfast or as a delicious addition to a main course.

Stornoway Black Pudding: Hailing from the Isle of Lewis, Stornoway Black Pudding is a prized local specialty. The use of high-quality ingredients, including Scottish oats, makes it particularly renowned. Its distinct flavor and texture make it a must-try delicacy in the Hebrides.

Haggis: No visit to Scotland would be complete without trying haggis, a traditional dish made of sheep’s offal, onions, herbs, and spices, all encased in a sheep’s stomach. Haggis is often served with “neeps and tatties” (turnips and potatoes) and enjoyed as part of a traditional Burns Supper celebration.

Smoked Salmon: Hebridean smoked salmon is renowned for its exceptional quality and flavor. Locally caught salmon is expertly cured and smoked using traditional methods, resulting in a delicate texture and a rich smoky taste that is truly irresistible.

Tablet: Those with a sweet tooth should sample tablet, a traditional Scottish confectionery made with sugar, butter, and condensed milk. It has a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture and a rich caramel flavor. Enjoy it as a sweet treat or as a delightful dessert.

Whisky: The Hebrides are renowned for their whisky production, and tasting the local single malts is a must-do for whisky lovers. Distilleries on islands such as Islay and Skye produce a range of peaty and smoky whiskies that reflect the rugged and unique terroir of the region.

Many restaurants and cafes in the Hebrides pride themselves on sourcing local, seasonal ingredients, ensuring that each dish showcases the region’s flavors and traditions. Whether you’re dining in a cozy pub, a fine seafood restaurant, or indulging in a traditional Scottish feast, the local cuisine of the Hebrides is sure to delight and leave you craving more.

Shopping and Souvenirs

Exploring the Hebrides Islands offers plenty of opportunities to find unique souvenirs and take home a piece of this beautiful region. From local crafts to traditional products, shopping in the Hebrides is a delightful experience.

Harris Tweed: One of the most famous products from the Hebrides is Harris Tweed, a handwoven fabric made from pure virgin wool. Known for its durability and distinctive patterns, Harris Tweed items range from clothing and accessories to home décor. Make sure to purchase your own piece of this iconic Scottish textile as a keepsake or gift.

Island Crafts and Artwork: The Hebrides are home to a vibrant arts and crafts scene. Visit local galleries, craft centers, and boutiques to discover a wide range of handmade pottery, ceramics, jewelry, and artwork created by local artists. These unique pieces reflect the natural beauty and traditions of the islands.

Whisky and Local Beverages: The Hebrides are renowned for producing some of Scotland’s finest whiskies. Take the opportunity to visit the local distilleries and purchase a bottle of their renowned single malt or blended whisky as a special memento. You can also explore other local beverages, such as gin, craft beers, and traditional Scottish ales.

Local Food Products: Bring a taste of the Hebrides home by purchasing locally produced food products. From artisanal cheeses and smoked salmon to traditional oatcakes, preserves, and honey, you’ll find a range of delicious treats that capture the flavors of the islands. Look for farm shops, markets, and specialty stores to discover these culinary delights.

Gaelic Music and Books: The Hebrides have a rich musical heritage, rooted in Gaelic traditions. Browse local music shops and bookstores to find CDs, sheet music, and books on traditional music or the Gaelic language. These cultural treasures provide a deeper insight into the history and customs of the region.

Local Crafts and Knitwear: Embrace the warmth and craftsmanship of the Hebrides with traditional knitwear and handcrafted items. Look for items made from local wool, including stylish jumpers, scarves, blankets, and hats. Additionally, you may find hand-carved wooden items, leather goods, and more among the local crafts available.

Exploring the shops and markets of the Hebrides is an opportunity to support local artisans, learn about traditional crafts, and bring home unique and meaningful souvenirs that embody the spirit of these captivating islands.

Safety Tips for Travelers

While the Hebrides Islands are generally safe destinations, it’s always important to take precautions and prioritize your safety during your visit. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind:

1. Plan and Research: Before your trip, familiarize yourself with the area you’ll be visiting. Research the weather conditions, local customs, and any potential hazards or safety concerns specific to the islands. This will help you make informed decisions and stay prepared.

2. Dress Appropriately: The weather in the Hebrides can be unpredictable, so be prepared for various conditions. Pack layers of clothing, including waterproof and windproof gear, to accommodate changing weather patterns. Good walking shoes or boots are also recommended for exploring the rugged terrains.

3. Check the Tides: If you’re planning to explore coastal areas, be aware of the tides and plan your activities accordingly. Consult tide timetables and avoid getting caught in rapidly rising tides that can potentially pose a danger.

4. Stay on Designated Paths and Trails: When hiking or walking, stick to marked paths and trails to minimize the risk of accidents. Keep an eye on signage and follow any guidance or restrictions in place to ensure your safety and protect the fragile ecosystems of the islands.

5. Be Vigilant around Water: While the scenery is stunning, be cautious near bodies of water. Strong waves, unpredictable currents, and undertows can make swimming risky in certain areas. Follow local advice and warnings, and never leave children unattended near water.

6. Drive with Caution: If you’re renting a car or driving around the islands, be cautious on the narrow, winding roads and follow traffic regulations. Some roads may have single-track sections, so familiarize yourself with the passing places etiquette and use them when encountering oncoming traffic.

7. Wildlife Observation Etiquette: If you’re wildlife spotting, maintain a safe distance from animals and respect their habitats. Do not disturb or feed wildlife and be mindful of nesting areas during breeding seasons. Binoculars or a zoom lens can allow you to observe wildlife without getting too close.

8. Protect against Insects and Ticks: In certain areas, especially during the warmer months, insects and ticks can be prevalent. Use insect repellent, wear protective clothing, and consider checking yourself for ticks after spending time in grassy or wooded areas.

9. Stay Informed about COVID-19: During these times, stay updated on the latest travel guidelines and restrictions related to COVID-19. Follow hygiene practices, maintain social distancing, and adhere to any local regulations in place to ensure the safety of yourself and others.

10. Travel Insurance: It’s always wise to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellation, and any specific activities you plan to participate in, such as hiking or water sports.

By following these safety tips and using common sense, you can enjoy a safe and memorable experience exploring the stunning Hebrides Islands.

Etiquette and Customs

When visiting the Hebrides Islands, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the local etiquette and customs to ensure a respectful and enjoyable experience. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

Greetings and Politeness: The people of the Hebrides are known for their warmth and friendliness. It’s customary to greet others with a smile and a friendly “hello” or “hi.” Politeness is valued, so saying “please” and “thank you” is important in everyday interactions.

Punctuality: Being punctual is appreciated in the Hebrides. If you have arranged to meet someone or join a scheduled tour or event, it’s considered polite to arrive on time.

Respecting Gaelic Culture: The Hebrides have a rich Gaelic heritage, and locals take pride in their language and traditions. Showing respect for Gaelic culture includes being mindful of signs in Gaelic, using basic Gaelic greetings (“hello” is “halò,” and “thank you” is “tapadh leat”), and showing an interest in learning about the local traditions.

Conservation and Environment: The Hebrides have exceptional natural beauty that is cherished by both locals and visitors. It’s important to respect the environment by avoiding littering, staying on designated paths, and following any specific guidelines or instructions when visiting protected areas.

Tipping: While not obligatory, tipping is appreciated for good service. In restaurants, a typical practice is to leave a gratuity of around 10% of the bill if the service is satisfactory. Tipping in other service industries like taxis or hotels is also customary.

Observing Local Customs: The Hebrides have a strong sense of tradition and local customs. Observe and respect any local customs or traditions you come across during your visit, such as participating in festivals, listening to traditional music, or joining in on cultural events.

Dressing Modestly: When visiting places of worship or more conservative areas, dressing modestly is appreciated. It’s advisable to have a wrap or scarf to cover your shoulders or head if necessary.

Be Mindful of Others: The Hebrides are known for their peaceful and serene atmosphere. When visiting public places, be mindful of noise levels and avoid disturbing others, especially in residential areas or during quiet hours.

Photography Etiquette: The beauty of the Hebrides may inspire you to take countless photos. However, it’s important to be respectful when taking pictures, especially in private or sensitive areas. Always ask for permission before photographing individuals, particularly during events or in the case of cultural performances.

By showing respect for the local customs and etiquette, you’ll be warmly welcomed in the Hebrides and forge connections with the friendly locals while immersing yourself in the unique atmosphere of these breathtaking islands.

Helpful Phrases in Gaelic

Immerse yourself in the Gaelic culture of the Hebrides Islands by learning a few helpful phrases. While English is widely spoken, using Gaelic greetings and expressions can help you connect with locals and show your appreciation for their heritage. Here are some useful phrases to get you started:

  • Hàlo – Hello
  • Ciamar a tha thu? – How are you?
  • Tapadh leat – Thank you
  • Madainn mhath – Good morning
  • Feasgar math – Good afternoon/evening
  • Oidhche mhath – Good night
  • Fàilte – Welcome
  • Slàinte – Cheers/Good health
  • Le dùrachd – Best wishes
  • Slàn leat – Goodbye (to one person)
  • Slàn leibh – Goodbye (to multiple people or in a formal setting)
  • Ma dh’èirich thu – Excuse me
  • Cùm air adhart – Keep going/Carry on
  • Dè an t-ainm a th’ ort? – What is your name?
  • Tha mi duilich – I’m sorry
  • Dè tha seo? – What is this?
  • Fosgail an dorus, feuch an cuala mi bruadar – Open the door, let me hear a story
  • Gabh mo leisgeul – Excuse me (to get someone’s attention)
  • Tapadh leibh airson taic – Thank you for your help
  • Ciamar a chanas mi…? – How do you say…?

Learning and using these Gaelic phrases will not only help you navigate the Hebrides Islands but also demonstrate your respect for the local culture and provide an opportunity for connection and conversation with Gaelic speakers.

The Hebrides Islands offer a truly enchanting and captivating experience for travelers. From the breathtaking landscapes and rich Gaelic heritage to the warm hospitality of the locals, these Scottish islands have something to offer every visitor.

Whether you’re exploring the rugged mountains of Skye, strolling along the pristine beaches of Harris, or delving into the ancient history of Lewis, the Hebrides promise unforgettable adventures at every turn. Immerse yourself in the rich culture, indulge in delectable seafood and traditional delicacies, and connect with nature through outdoor activities and wildlife spotting.

As you venture through the Hebrides, be sure to embrace the local customs and etiquette, respect the environment, and greet the Gaelic language with a warm “hàlo.” Whether it’s the friendly interactions with locals, the dramatic landscapes that take your breath away, or the taste of traditional dishes, the Hebrides will leave an indelible mark on your heart.

Remember to plan ahead, be prepared for changing weather conditions, and prioritize your safety during your visit. From the stunning castles to the ancient standing stones, the Hebrides’ historical and cultural sites offer a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Scotland’s past.

Whether you’re seeking tranquility, adventure, or a deeper connection with nature and culture, the Hebrides Islands are waiting to be explored. So, pack your sense of adventure and embark on a journey full of unforgettable moments and lifelong memories in these captivating Scottish isles.

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Your holiday in the Outer Hebrides with Hebridean Hopscotch

Our Outer Hebrides holiday packages can be tailored precisely to your wishes, so your island hopping through the Western Isles will be just what you want. We’ll book the kind of hotels, guest houses or bed and breakfast accommodations that you prefer.

The holiday booking is arranged for you by expert advisors who live locally. We know from first hand experience what’s here in the Western Isles.

We even include your ferries between these idyllic Western Isles of Scotland. So you’re free to enjoy your Outer Hebrides holidays without the stress of organising any of the time-consuming details.

Bring your own car on Calmac Ferries to enjoy Scottish island hopping. Or fly direct with Loganair to your Outer Hebrides holiday in the Western Isles from one of several airports in Scotland. Then you can experience our islands with a holiday hire car rental included . Or bring a bike, rent one of ours , take the bus – as the local experts in Outer Hebrides holidays, we’re here to help make your holiday go perfectly.

Want to know more about Outer Hebrides holidays? After you’ve had a look through the website, call us on 01851 706611 and have a chat about your holiday plans. There’s no obligation to book and we won’t put you under pressure to buy.

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As a thank you for booking your earlier Hebridean adventure with us, we are happy to offer you a £50 per person discount off your 2024 holiday quote. Simply let us know the booking number from your last holiday or your year of travel when completing your holiday planner or when speaking to a holiday advisor and we shall do the rest!

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25 Best Things to Do in Scotland, According to Local Experts

L ocal experts share their favorite things to do in Scotland — from hiking in the Highlands to enjoying the country’s classic dishes.

If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, there’s a good chance your to-do list is already extensive. Walking the picturesque streets of Edinburgh , heading to the Highlands, buying a tartan accessory or two, and attending a whisky tasting are likely strong contenders. If that’s the case, you’re not alone. “Many visitors come to Scotland for a week for their first visit trying to see it all, and end up realizing that it’s a country of many contrasts,” says Katy Fennema, whisky ambassador for The Fife Arms , a boutique five-star hotel in Braemar. “The wise ones then plan their second, third, and fourth trips at a more leisurely pace.”

To help curate your itinerary — whether it’s for your initial visit or one of the slower-paced return trips — we tapped a few of the country’s most knowledgeable residents, Fennema included, for their best tips. Read on to discover the 25 best things to do in Scotland.

Related: The Best Times to Visit Scotland

Explore the Hebrides.

An archipelago off the west coast of Scotland, the Hebrides are made of 40 islands and numerous islets, all divided into the Inner and Outer Hebrides. “The Gulf Stream dominates here, allowing palm trees (somewhat incongruously) to grow in Scotland and plants from South America to thrive. It’s not unusual to discover a white-sand beach all to yourself, and whether the weather is tropical or otherwise, I defy anyone to not fall in love with this special part of Scotland,” says Fennema.

Play a round or two at the “home of golf.”

The game of golf goes back 600 years, with its origins in St. Andrews, a seaside town in northwest Scotland. St Andrews Links has seven public courses, including the “oldest course in the world,” aptly named Old Course.

Eat Scottish tablet.

“If you are traveling to Scotland, you must try the traditional Scottish tablet, which is a centuries-old recipe. Historians believe that the first tablet recipe was recorded in 1700, and it’s still a much-loved and enjoyed sweet treat,” says David Musk, head concierge at The Balmoral , one of Edinburgh’s top hotels. It’s a bit like fudge, but grainier and more brittle; Musk recommends this recipe if you want to make it yourself.

Look out for the northern lights.

When the right conditions are met — no clouds, increased solar activity, and limited pollution — there’s a chance you’ll see the northern lights in Scotland. Aim to visit between September through March, and head north to the places best known for their vantage points: the Shetland Islands, the Outer Hebrides, and the Isle of Skye.

Hike up a hill.

“Our remote glens, or valleys, are best viewed from above. It’s here that you can really appreciate their remoteness and extraordinary beauty,” says Fennema. For a casual hike, she suggests Ben Lomond ; more adventurous explorers can try Bealach na Bà , “a formidable single-track road through the mountains on the Applecross Peninsula that gives wonderful views from a car or bike (if you’re feeling brave!).”

Walk the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

One of the best ways to see Edinburgh’s Old Town is to walk the Royal Mile, a cobblestoned stretch connecting Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Along the way, you’ll find shops, pubs, restaurants, cafes, and various attractions, including The Scotch Whisky Experience , which Musk recommends. “Visitors can take a tour of the virtual distillery and learn about the distilling process, then discover the art of whisky blending in a guided sensory presentation,” he says.

Eat a Scottish breakfast.

“Different from an English, Welsh, or Irish Breakfast, a Scottish Breakfast, or ‘fry up,’ serves up two different Scottish delicacies, haggis and black pudding. And, not forgetting the important addition of a potato, or tattie, scone or two, and a Lorne, or square, sausage,” says Lucy Paul, marketing executive at the National Trust for Scotland .

Cozy up by a fireplace at one of Scotland’s best hotels.

After a chilly day trekking through the rugged Scottish landscape, there’s nothing better than settling down by a roaring fire with a warm drink in hand. Guests at Gleneagles , a five-star hotel renowned for its country pursuits, can sip fireside cocktails at The American Bar, and those staying at The Fife Arms can enjoy a whisky in the Drawing Room. 

Attend the Highland games.

For hundreds of years, Highland games have been an important part of Scottish culture. The tradition continues today, with sports like tug of war, the hammer throw, and the caber toss — as well as dancing, music, parades, and food — populating the schedule. Highland games take place across the country from May through September, but the Braemar Gathering is one of the most well-known, as it’s regularly attended by the Royal Family.

Visit a castle.

“Scotland is renowned across the world for its beautiful castles , and with hundreds to visit, it can be difficult to decide where to go,” says Musk. He recommends taking a guided tour of Edinburgh Castle , which he describes as “an icon of Scotland,” driving out to Eilean Donan Castle , “one of the most photographed castles in the country,” and stopping at Fyvie Castle , an 800-year-old fortress “filled with legends, folklore, and even many ghost stories.”

Ski in the Cairngorms.

In the colder months, winter sports take center stage at Cairngorm Mountain . Located in Cairngorms National Park, the ski area has 30 kilometers of runs and 12 surface lifts. The mountain is known to accommodate skiers of all levels, from first-timers to experts.

Taste a few whiskies.

One thing’s for sure: There’s plenty of whisky in Scotland. You’ll have your pick of distilleries to visit as you explore each region of the country. Glenfiddich Distillery is one of the most famous, The Glenmorangie Distillery Co has the tallest stills in Scotland, and Royal Lochnagar Distillery is just a mile from the Royal Family’s Scottish castle, Balmoral. For a more intimate experience, try Bertie’s Whisky Bar at The Fife Arms. The extensive collection — over 400 whiskies — is arranged by flavor profile, from light to dark. “Our tastings include four whiskies, one from each flavor profile, and are a great route to experience the breadth of flavors from Scotland’s (inter)national drink,” says Fennema.

Step back in time at the Highland Folk Museum.

The title of Britain’s first open-air museum goes to the Highland Folk Museum , which showcases life in the Highlands from the 1700s to the 1950s. Open from April through October, the museum’s 35 historical buildings and live actors demonstrate how people worked, lived, and spent their free time in the past.

Take a day trip to Glasgow.

The largest city in Scotland, Glasgow is known for its art and diverse architecture, but its people are also an important part of the experience; Fennema notes that “Glaswegian hospitality is legendary. “You arrive as a stranger, and leave as a friend.” While there, Paul recommends visiting the Tenement House , an “authentic time capsule of life.” “Open the door to early 20th-century Glasgow life and discover quirky items, including a ball of soap, turned jet black from years of handling, and a jar of plum jam made in 1929,” she says.

Try haggis, the national dish of Scotland.

Haggis is made of the liver, lungs, and heart of a sheep, beef or mutton suet, oatmeal, onion, and spices. It’s boiled in a bag — although, traditionally, it’s a bag made from the animal’s stomach. Don’t let that scare you off, though; depending on how it’s cooked, haggis is peppery and almost sausage-like.  “For the less intrepid, and those who don’t eat meat, vegetarian haggis is a delicious alternative and a firm favorite in our omnivorous household,” says Fennema.

Get into the holiday spirit at the Edinburgh Winter Festival.

The beginning of the holiday season also marks the opening of the Edinburgh Winter Festival . From late November to early January, the city hosts a variety of festivities and Christmas markets . Head to Princes Street Gardens for a true holiday wonderland; the traditional Christmas market is filled with vendors offering mulled wine, sausages, gifts, and more.

Drive to the village of Glencoe.

“No description can recreate the impact of seeing Glencoe for the first time. It has long been one of the most loved places in Scotland,” says Paul. Located in the Scottish Highlands, it’s an amazing spot for hillwalking, mountaineering, and waterfall spotting. “It’s known equally for its awe-inspiring views and sorrowful past – it is a place of history, wildlife, adventure, and myth. The mountains were formed through violent volcanic eruptions and then sculpted by massive glaciers. Also, don’t miss the reconstruction of a 300-year-old turf and creel house ,” says Paul.

Ride the Jacobite Steam Train.

Harry Potter enthusiasts will immediately recognize the arches of the Glenfinnan Viaduct as part of the Hogwarts Express route in the movies. While you can visit the iconic site by foot, you can also ride the Jacobite Steam Train across the viaduct; the 84-mile round trip starts in Fort William and ends in Mallaig.

Take a dip in one of Scotland’s many lochs.

Scotland boasts thousands of freshwater lochs, many of which welcome wild swimming. The gorgeous Loch Lomond serves as a gateway to the Highlands and the Lowlands, Loch Duntelchaig is great for snorkeling, and there are lots of hotels, inns, and vacation rentals around Loch Awe. “ Loch Awe is filled with history and culture and… [it] supports an enormous and diverse range of wildlife including golden eagles, ospreys, and pine marten,” says Musk. 

Walk the West Highland Way.

You’re guaranteed to get your steps in along the 96-mile West Highland Way, one of the best walking paths in the United Kingdom . The route is typically completed from South to North — Milngavie to Fort William — and the terrain gets trickier the further you go.

Immerse yourself in the Edinburgh Art Festival.

Every year, the U.K.'s largest annual festival of visual arts, the Edinburgh Art Festival , comes to Scotland. During the month of August, the festival hosts exhibitions, projects, and events across the city and features both established artists as well as up-and-comers. 

Tour Culloden Battlefield.

Those interested in Scottish history will have no shortage of things to do and see around the country.  “If you want to experience the site of one of Scotland’s most famous battles, this is a must-see in the Highlands, especially if you are a fan of Outlander . A powerfully emotive and atmospheric place, the battlefield is where the 1745 Jacobite Rising came to a tragic end – and you can discover the true story in the museum ,” says Paul.

Come aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh.

“The Royal Yacht Britannia is a must-visit tourist attraction in Edinburgh,” says Musk. Five decks on Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's former floating palace are open to visitors, who can explore the engine room, the crew’s quarters, and the state apartments, among others. Pre-booking tickets is highly recommended. 

Drive the North Coast 500.

The only way to truly immerse yourself in Scotland’s breathtaking scenery is to circumnavigate the 516 miles of the North Coast 500 . There are a variety of exact itineraries to use as inspiration, but for the most part, you’ll need between seven and nine days to complete the circuit.

Celebrate Hogmanay on December 31.

Hogmanay festivities occur across the country as Scottish residents and visitors say goodbye to the past year and ring in the new one. Edinburgh is particularly known for its celebrations, with fireworks, concerts, parades, and parties marking the occasion. 

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New spring campaign for the South of Scotland

We've launched our new spring marketing campaign collaboration with the South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA). The promotion features things to do, places to visit and stay across the South of Scotland. It aims to inspire visitors to consider the South for their next holiday in Scotland in 2024. 

It’s currently featuring on several websites across the Reach Media network, including the Daily Record, targeting key audiences for the South of Scotland. 

The target audience for this campaign includes couples and over 35's with families with the focus on "achievable adventures". 

The campaign went live on the 18 March and will run until  21 April. 

marketing campaign

Many visitors drive through the south of Scotland on the way to places further north or south. 

We aim to attract visitors to the area year-round by offering a taste of what the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway have to offer to visitors.  

From the dark skies to the dramatic coastline, gardens to farming experiences, and some of the world's best walking and cycling routes, this activity will bring to life the abundance of activities, rich experiences and stunning scenery on offer right across this region.  

Activity will also spotlight the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere following its inclusion in National Geographic’s Cool Destinations for 2024.

It will encourage visitors to come and experience it for themselves by booking a trip and exploring the south of Scotland. 

St abbs

View from the top of St Abbs

Agritourism in the South of Scotland

Capitalising on the trend for agritourism, we worked with media to spotlight fun days out on working farms.

These farm experiences included Ernespie Farm Centre ,   Jacksons at Jedburgh , and Kitchen Coos & Ewes  where you can get close to Highland cows and Beltex sheep. 

Wilson’s Farm and Kitchen ,   Dalscone Farm , and Cream O' Galloway  also feature. 

In the campaign, we promote popular alpacas experiences across the south at  Beirhope Alpacas  in the heart of the Cheviot Hills near   Kelso, and  Galloway Alpacas , Gatehouse of Fleet. 

Kitchen coos and ewes

Kitchen Coos & Ewes

Where the content will feature:

The campaign will feature online in these media outlets:

  • DailyRecord.co.uk 
  • ScottishDailyExpress.co.uk 
  • GlasgowLive.co.uk 
  • EdinburghLive.co.uk 
  • ChronicleLive.co.uk 

Edinburgh live article

The new South of Scotland tourism strategy

New responsible tourism strategy for the south.

South of Scotland unveils new responsible tourism strategy with ambition to grow the economy by £1 billion.

Related links

Statshot series | influencer marketing, our marketing calendar, promoting meaningful travel experiences, reduce your climate impact guide.

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Magic Men 2024 World Tour

Featuring some of the hottest and most talented performers from down under, this show is an experience like no other. With heart-stopping dance routines, mesmerizing acrobatics, and interactive audience participation, you'll be transported to a world of fantasy and excitement. Whether you're planning a night out with friends, a bachelorette party, or just looking for some entertainment that's sure to leave you breathless, the Magic Men have got you covered. Don't miss your chance to see the show that's been taking Australia by storm - get your tickets now before they sell out!

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Flooding on the A82 great western road in Glasgow on Saturday.

Storm Kathleen: Scotland hit by high winds, heavy rain and travel disruption

Flood and wind warnings remain in place, with Sepa warning of ‘real danger to life’ on coastal roads and paths

High winds and heavy rain from Storm Kathleen persisted through Sunday, battering parts of Scotland and Ireland and disrupting travel.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) had 18 regional flood alerts and 37 flood warnings in place in Scotland. They have been in force since Saturday.

The Met Office has also issued a yellow wind warning from 9am on Sunday covering parts of the west and northern Highlands, the Isle of Skye and the Hebrides. It will remain in force until 11:59pm.

Winds as high as 73mph were recorded in Drumalbin, South Lanarkshire.

A previous warning stretched from the Scottish Borders to just south of Stirling. It spanned the west coast, throughout much of central Scotland, and ended just short of the east coast.

Janine Hensman, Sepa’s flood duty manager, said: “Across Sunday, we’ll continue to see high tides, storm surges and large waves across coastal areas. This combination is particularly dangerous – especially around high tides. There is real danger to life from wave overtopping, particularly around causeways, coastal roads and paths.

“While the risk is greatest around high tide times, our message is clear: Take extra care if you are near the coast at any point and stay well clear of waves and water. Be careful when travelling around exposed coastal areas and don’t walk or drive through flood water, as there may be hidden hazards.”

She added: “Whilst Storm Kathleen will ease on Sunday evening, another weather system is on the way. Significant flooding from rivers and surface water is possible in southern, central and north-eastern areas on Tuesday, with coastal flooding continuing due to high spring tides.

“Flood alerts and warnings are in place, so stay up to date though our website. We will continue to work with the Met Office to monitor the situation 24/7 and review regional flood alerts and local flood warnings as required.”

The Met Office has warned of potential power cuts, damage to buildings, poor mobile phone coverage and danger to life because of large waves and debris from beaches being thrown on to seafronts. About 34,000 people were left without electricity on Saturday, with a few thousand customers remaining without power overnight, but by Sunday afternoon almost all had had their supply restored.

CalMac, Scotland’s largest ferry operator, cancelled a number of its services and many other ferries were operating on reduced timetables, while others faced potential disruption.

ScotRail also faced a number of disruptions throughout the day, including to its Helensburgh Central and Dumbarton Central services.

However, the services, according to ScotRail, were “starting to return to normal”.

On Saturday, more than 140 flights throughout the UK were cancelled as a result of the storm.

In Ireland, a girl was swept out to sea from the east pier of Dún Laoghaire harbour in County Dublin on Saturday evening. Rescuers were able to pull her out of the water within eight and a half minutes, with a lifeboat volunteer revealing that pockets of air trapped under her coat helped keep her afloat before the rescue.

Andrew Sykes, a volunteer helm with the RNLI, told PA Media that the stormy conditions made the rescue operation difficult.

“With the high winds and storm we were experiencing, with large waves and surge coming off the pier, to get alongside her was extremely difficult,” he said. “She would be pushed one way and we would be pushed another,”

The girl was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Titanic Belfast was forced to close after strong winds damaged part of its roof on Saturday. However, the yellow wind warning covering Donegal, Mayo and west Galway was lifted at 4pm on Sunday.

More on this story

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Storm Kathleen sweeps across west of UK and Ireland – in pictures

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Dozens of flights cancelled as Storm Kathleen hits west of UK

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Storm Kathleen to bring unseasonably wet and windy weather to UK and Ireland

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UK at risk of summer water shortages and hosepipe bans, scientists warn

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UK weather: rain disrupts Easter weekend events amid flood warnings

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UK Easter weather and travel: ferries hit by winds as getaway begins for millions

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Snow falls in Devon as UK prepares for ‘unsettled’ Easter weekend weather

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UK weather warnings for wind and rain issued in run-up to Easter weekend

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UK weather: Met Office issues yellow warning for snow in west of England

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  14. Outer Hebrides

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