The Western Isles, The Outer Hebrides, The Hebrides, the Isle of Lewis and of course the Isle of Harris. Whatever you may call them (and truth be told, I use all of the above depending on context), I am going to show you 8 of the best things to do on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland.
I think this is where I should hold my hands up and say that ok, I am from Stornoway, the main town in the Western Isles so when it comes to finding great things to do on Lewis, I am an advocate.
You can look at this in different ways
Do I love where I’m from? Yes. So am I biased? Maybe, but it is beautiful so I don’t know if that’s just fact.
Will I show you the best things from a locals perspective? Absolutely.
I have grown up having visited these places and taken many day trips to these historic sights countless times over the years and these are some of my must-see and hidden gems when visiting the Outer Hebrides.
And make sure to have access to a vehicle! This trip and any plan of Hebrides tours will require some mode of transport to travel, along with appropriate clothing as many of these things to do are outer activities. If you are familiar with the weather we experience in the United Kingdom, it will come as no surprise to hear that spending days in the Outer Hebrides can be challenging if windy.
Butt of Lewis
Let’s start at the Butt. The Butt of Lewis is the most northerly point of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. And it’s windy AF.
Standing on top of the rugged rocks around 80 feet high from the North Atlantic sea, there is no longer anything between you and North America.
Once marked as the windiest place in the UK by The Guinness Book of Records (up to 100mph), wrap up warm and don’t get too close to the edge! There isn’t a huge amount to see here, the water, the rocks and the lighthouse. Just enjoy the views and if you can withstand the wind, there is a coastal walk that you can take.
If like me, you prefer a little shelter, you have Port Stoth which is an inlet that you pass just before reaching the lighthouse. Follow the path down and it leads you to a very quiet and lovely small beach.
Make sure to head to the Port of Ness afterwards for some beautiful views and you will get to see some of that Hebridean turquoise water.
The Callanish Stones (Calanais)
When looking for things to do in the Western Isles, the top tourist attraction on the Isle of Lewis is The Callanish Standing Stones, seen often in pictures depicting the beauty of Scotland and more recently used as an image on bank cards.
The Callanish Stones, which are older than Stonehenge, are still a bit of a mystery.
There are many theories on what they stand (no pun intended) for. From an aerial view, you have a stone circle in the middle, with rows of stones leading to the centre which look like a cross.
Some people believe that it was a cross, linked to religion and used as an altar for a place of worship.
Folklore says that they were heathens turned to stone.
Perhaps the most popular belief though, and the reason I mentioned Stonehenge earlier, is people think that it was built to track the light and cycles of the sun and moon.
There are many, many standing stones all around the Isle of Lewis but these are the largest group. You have Callanish II a short drive from these if you would like to see more.
All of the Callanish sites are free to visit.
Lastly, make sure to check out the Callanish alpacas nearby. They are so cute and probably an unexpected addition to the landscape so well worth checking out!
Garry Bridge/Bridge To Nowhere
You’re probably thinking two things, what and why? In short, it is a bridge to nowhere.
In 1918 there was a businessman (a soap manufacturer, which is now part of Unilever), Lord Leverhulme, who took a boat trip and fell in love with the islands and err, bought them.
Reports vary but show he did this for around £150,000 which just makes me want to cry. I live in Aberdeen, I couldn’t even get a flat for that amount!
Anyway, from what I know he was an eccentric man, a keen dancer and passionate about generating jobs and opportunities, mainly in fishing, for those living in the Western Isles. The aim to achieve this was to create a road from Tolsta to Ness and this is the point, at Garry beach, that he admitted defeat.
You can drive over the bridge but it is an almost immediate turn in the road to get back. It is a little fun though and great for photographs.
The Bridge To Nowhere stands out to me in the knowledge of the work that went into it. The men employed to construct the bridge were paid a whopping 10p per hour and all the mixing of concrete was done by hand. BY HAND! Respect.
On the subject of Lord Leverhulme, this was his home which was bought from the original owners, the Matheson family, while he owned the island until he eventually gave the castle to the people of Stornoway on his departure in 1923. Lord Leverhulme installed electric lights, central heating and telephones into Lews Castle, and when I said he was a keen dancer, this was the place to be. He held grand, and frequent dances in the ballroom here.
Lews Castle sits on a hill overlooking Stornoway harbour. It is a focal point of the town. And I just adore it. This is also where Stornoways famous Hebcelt Fest is held.
Over the years, Lews Castle has been a home, a hospital, a college and now a hotel and function area. With a Starbucks. Starbucks? In Stornoway. I still can’t get used to that.
I have been in love with the exterior of this building my whole life. It induces that Disney princess leg pop and heart eyes every time I see it.
I spent most of my life dreaming about the inside of this building, as it lay in darkness for decades. There were comments about how run down it was and what a shame and what a waste and I thought I would never get to see the inside until Natural Retreats and The Western Isles Council funded a regeneration for which I am so thankful. The next dream is to stay there!
I think it’s beautiful, in particular, the hallway and morning room are just breathtaking.
While you’re here, make sure to take a trip to Museum Nan Eilean and learn a little more about the history of the Islands and also see some of the famous Lewis Chessmen.
If you have time, I would also highly recommend a walk (or cycle) around The Castle Grounds which give you some of the most stunning views of Stornoway. Head for Cuddy Point or the River Creed for some good views.
Oh, and lastly, Stornoway Golf Club which has an 18 hole golf course is to the back of Lews Castle. Just in case.
Visiting Lews Castle and museum is free to the public.
The Carloway Broch is an Iron Age structure built as means of defence, usually kept for tribal leaders and people of importance in the community.
It may not look like much, but this is one of the best-preserved Iron Age Brochs in Scotland.
Resting on top of a mound, it is of course, windy. But there are beautiful views and again, this was a fun place to visit growing up.
There is a gate which takes you into the broch where you will find some very low doorways or openings. Now you either have to be willing to crouch down and shimmy through (or send a child) but if you go directly to the one at the back from entering, you will find steps between the two interwalls which would have led you up to the next level of housing. As you can see, this is now open to the elements but you can walk up to them and the fact that this structure and it’s steps are still there, is testament to the skills of the masons that made it.
This is free to visit and always open to the public.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village (Garenin)
I feel as though I have said this about all of them but this is one of my favourite places to visit.
The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village in Carloway is a crofting village beside the bay. It consists of 9 stone blackhouses with thatched roofs.
The blackhouses were lived in until the 70s but have now been restored and made into self-catered apartments. However, they have kept one of the houses as it would have been which you can walk around freely, with the peat fire burning and take in a bit of history.
Also, in this house, you will find a Harris Tweed weaver making some tweed on an old fashioned loom. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, he is very knowledgeable and it is such an intricate bit of machinery that he is happy to talk you through.
Make sure to walk around the full village and down to the bay. Take in the smell of peat burning (one of my favourite smells), make a stop in the cafe and gift shop and enjoy!
Gearrannan is the only place from my list that you have to pay to visit. Costing approx £3.50 per adult, it is worth every penny.
The Whalebone Arch
The Whalebone Arch in Bragar is another one of my standout memories as a child. Something I would, and do always look out for because, wow, it’s huge. And extra. And it’s a fantastic story that even now I ask to be retold.
In 1920 a massive blue whale drifted ashore in Bragar, it had a harpoon lodged in it that had not detonated so sadly it would have been quite a slow and painful death.
I believe the people of the village made use of what parts they could for oil etc but one man decided he would like the jawbone as a feature for the gate to his house.
So here you have all these hardy men trundling a big whalebone arch from the bay back to his house where he fixed it up. He also took the harpoon which did eventually detonate but luckily no one was injured.
The harpoon now stands in the apex of the jaw which to this day, still stands at the gate between houses.
This feels like a cop-out last mention, but it’s not. I couldn’t possibly make a post about the best things to do in the Outer Hebrides and not mention visiting the beaches!
We have some of the best beaches in Scotland. And in some lists, the world.
You have the rough and rugged rocks and hills that you would expect of Scotland but mixed with this clear water and fine sand associated with much hotter climates.
A couple of my favourites…
Dalmore Beach in Carloway – Remember when that oil rig ran aground? This is the beach. This is a very popular beach for surfers and barbecues.
Garry Beach/Traigh Mhor in Tolsta – Next to the ‘Bridge To Nowhere’ is Garry Beach. This one has sea stacks and caves that are great for kids to explore. You will also find extensive flat sands on Traigh Mhor.
Tolsta Head (Ghioradail Beach) in North Tolsta – This is the beach I visited most growing up. It involves a long and winding path down to the beach, so if mobility is an issue, this is not the one for you. It is enclosed and sheltered by the cliffs surrounding it and here, you are likely to find caves and rock pools with crabs/mussels etc. If you walk towards the pier, which is surrounded by rocks and if feeling adventurous, you can climb up and over towards another secluded beach.
The Braighe between Stornoway and Point – This beach is an interesting one because although not one of my favourite beaches, it is unique. There is a narrow stretch of road connecting the Stornoway and Point roads with beaches on each side. This road is often closed during bad weather.
Bosta Beach in Great Bernera – Another beautiful white sand beach with a lot of history including an Iron Age house replica in keeping with the local history.
Uig Beach/Ardroil Beach in Uig – The infamous Lewis Chessmen were found on Uig sands, but more than that, these are long and beautiful beaches with dunes and plenty to explore.
And there we have it, 8 of the best things to do in the Outer Hebrides, on the Isle of Lewis. I hope this encourages you to visit more of the Western Isles, the Outer Hebrides in general or simply helps with your plans if you are already coming!
For any further information on things to do, check out this site.
Fancy booking your trip to the Isle of Lewis? Book your trip online.
If this is your first trip to the Isle of Lewis and you have heard stories about life on the islands on Sundays, make sure to read our post for suggestions and tips on what to do in Stornoway on a Sunday to save being caught out!