Travel tales

9 reasons to love the Isles of Lewis and Harris, Outer Hebrides

Nine reasons to visit Lewis and Harris in Scotland's Outer Hebrides – from stunning beaches and diverse countryside to the great food and unique culture.

Scotland’s islands have to be one of Britain’s best-kept secrets. I’d heard tales of the stunning beaches, breathtaking landscapes and unique culture you can find in the far north, all without even having to leave the country. I just needed some sunshine to make it perfect – and the Hebridean islands of Lewis and Harris couldn’t have put on a better show for my first Scottish island trip. Technically one landmass but split into two islands, Lewis and Harris lie at the top of the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. So as a preview of posts to come, and while I work on editing my huge pile of photos (damn you two for being so photogenic!), here are nine reasons I fell in love with the Isles of Lewis and Harris.

Read more: A journey through history on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides

Port of Ness, Isle of Lewis

The harbour in the Port of Ness

1. The beaches

It’s not hard to see why the beaches on Harris’ west coast top so many ‘best beach in the world’ lists. Their white sands and clear turquoise waters could easily give places I’ve visited in Australia or the Caribbean a run for their money. Luskentyre’s the star of the show but both islands are dotted with a mix of sheltered coves, sandy dunes and rocky bays, so you’ll have no problem finding your perfect beach.

Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris

Lovely Luskentyre beach

2. The history

If you’re at all interested in history or archaeology then you’ll be fascinated by the Hebrides. You can take a tour through the last few thousand years without leaving the west coast of Lewis. There are the Neolithic standing stones at Callanish – older and more impressive than Stonehenge – the Iron Age Dun Carloway Broch, a Norse mill and even a traditional 19th-century blackhouse that you can stay in.

Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis

Callanish Standing Stones

3. The diverse landscapes

The islands pack a lot of different landscapes into a small area. The centre of Lewis has miles of flat peaty moorlands that reminded me of Iceland. Around the coast you’ve got sandy beaches and rocky headlands. Then the road down to Harris is different again, winding its way up and down hills with panoramic views down to lochs and coastal inlets. Be prepared to make a lot of photo stops everywhere you go.

Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides

On the road to the Isle of Harris

4. The food and drink

Seasonal, local produce are foodie buzzwords right now, but Lewis and Harris are old hands at this. There’s an impressive selection of places to eat and drink as well as lots of small-scale local producers. We followed the Eat Drink Hebrides Trail which lists black pudding, smoked fish, scallops, cheese and tea among their island favourites – not to mention a drop of Harris Gin and Abhainn Dearg whisky.

Harris Gin, Outer Hebrides

My bottle of Harris Gin

5. The traditions

The islands hold their traditions close, like the Gaelic which is still spoken and used on signs around the Hebrides. But it’s not a place that’s just looking to the past, and traditions are always evolving. Alongside traditional music you can see modern art and photography on show in the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway. And as for those ‘everything’s closed on Sundays for church’ stereotypes – we had no trouble filling up the car, going out for lunch and catching a flight on our last day despite it being Sunday.

St Clements Church, Isle of Harris

St Clements Church

6. The wild coastline

Much as I love a good sandy beach there’s something entrancing about watching waves crashing against the rocks. And the Butt of Lewis has some serious cliffs up to 80 feet high. You can get right to the edge so it’s not one for vertigo sufferers, but the views are stunning. The area gets winds of 100 mph and at one point the Guinness Book of Records named it Britain’s windiest spot – imagine the size of those waves!

Butt of Lewis, Outer Hebrides

The Butt of Lewis

7. The locals

You can’t have a Scottish island post without a Highland coo – our house came with a few of these photogenic guys as neighbours. As well as cows, you can see wildlife like red deer and otters, plus seals, dolphins and whales off the coast. Our human neighbours were just as friendly too. Islanders are justifiably proud of their home and everyone we met wanted to share tips of their favourite places to visit.

Highland coo in the Outer Hebrides

A friendly neighbour

8. The artistic side

Something about the scenery of Lewis and Harris makes you want to pick up a paintbrush (even if you’re as hopeless as me!), so it’s no surprise many talented artists and craftspeople have made their home on the islands. Best known is Harris Tweed – which has to be woven by hand at home in the Hebrides to earn the name. But you’ll also find painters, photographers, jewellers, potters, knitters and candle-makers.

Harris Tweed, Outer Hebrides

My new Harris Tweed jacket

9. The feeling of space

For us city dwellers, space, peace and quiet are scarce resources. But the islands have plenty to spare. Even on Luskentyre Beach on a sunny Saturday in the middle of August we counted at most 25 other people. Imagine it transported to Cornwall and you wouldn’t find a spare patch of sand. Outside Stornoway the roads are quiet and there’s so much space to explore – deserted coves, lochs and acres of countryside.

Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris

Not exactly packed!

Have I convinced you to add the islands of Lewis and Harris on your travel wishlist?

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Nine reasons to visit the Isle of Lewis and Harris in Scotland's Outer Hebrides – from stunning beaches and diverse countryside to great food and unique culture. #Scotland #OuterHebrides

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44 Comments

  • Reply
    Darlene
    September 5, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Wow! I can´t believe the beaches. It all looks so amazing and will put it on my list.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 5, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      The beaches were just stunning – and we only got to see a sample of them too!

  • Reply
    Katie MacLeod
    September 5, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    This post makes me so happy! I love your photo from the Port of Ness (and all the others, too, of course). Excited to see you picked up a Harris Tweed jacket! I’m waiting for the weather to cool down over here so I can get mine out again 🙂 I wonder if you ran into anyone I know? It wouldn’t be surprising if you had, I suppose 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 5, 2016 at 7:21 pm

      So glad you liked it and hope I did the islands justice. Love my Harris Tweed jacket – my sister got one too and we had to be restrained from buying up half the shop. Sure we must’ve run into some people you know – I was going to say I knew you to the ladies from 40 North but they were crazy busy as it was last thing on a Saturday so I didn’t get chance!

  • Reply
    Maria
    September 5, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    The outer Hebrides are definitely on my bucket list, most of all because of those beaches! Went to Skye once and loved it, so could only imagine the rest of the islands to be just as wonderful 😛

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 5, 2016 at 7:19 pm

      I was supposed to go to Skye years ago but it got cancelled so that’s a travel oversight I’ll have to fix sometime soon!

  • Reply
    abitofculture
    September 5, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    You got me at number 1, amazing photos. Can you drive to the islands or do you need to get the ferry?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 5, 2016 at 8:05 pm

      Quite something isn’t it! We flew and hired a car but you can get the ferry too – my in-laws drove up and got the ferry to Stornoway on Lewis one way and then back from Harris via the Isle of Skye on the way back.

  • Reply
    Lynsey Jade || One More Slice
    September 5, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    Wow, these really are the UK’s best kept secret! Thank you for sharing it with us! xx

    http://www.one-more-slice.com/

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 5, 2016 at 9:48 pm

      You’re very welcome, glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    September 5, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    I’m definitely convinced. I’ve been pestering the hubs to go for ages now so I’ll show him this post and hope you can convince him too!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 5, 2016 at 9:44 pm

      I’ve got a few hundred more photos too if you need a bit more ammunition 😉

  • Reply
    Sara
    September 5, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    I keep yearning to head up in that direction and you’ve only added to that pull. Wild and romantic, and I’m not talking the new Poldark series 😉 Great post Lucy, thanks!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 6, 2016 at 10:28 am

      Thanks Sara, it’s definitely given me a taste for the Scottish islands, the only question is which one next!

  • Reply
    Jill Barth
    September 6, 2016 at 2:31 am

    So lovely, inspired and fresh. We live in such a wonderful world, so much to enjoy.

    Thank you!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 6, 2016 at 10:35 am

      Thanks, so glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    Rachel Taylor
    September 6, 2016 at 4:06 am

    I spent some time on the lower half of the Outer Hebrides and absolutely loved it!! The pushed exploring Scottish Islands up my wishlist

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 6, 2016 at 10:34 am

      I’m going to have to go and visit the lower half of the Hebrides next time, looks amazing too!

  • Reply
    sophie
    September 6, 2016 at 7:19 am

    Holy moly! Those beaches are simply incredible! I’ve only recently learnt that scotland could be this beautiful – did some work around Knoydart this month. Have you ever heard of that peninsula? Sounds epic!
    http://saintsonaplane.com

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 6, 2016 at 10:27 am

      Stunning aren’t they – the water’s not quite as warm as Australia or the Caribbean but other than that you could easily think you’re halfway around the world!

  • Reply
    theRedPhoneBox (@redphoneboxblog)
    September 6, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    what a beach! it’s a pity it isn’t warmer:)

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 6, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      It was about 24 degrees the day we were there so definitely beach weather – though maybe not quite digging out the bikini!

  • Reply
    wigginswordsandimages
    September 6, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    I wish I were there right now. But I have to ask: what is the water temperature? Is it possible to actually go into the water? I would think that far north it would be freezing.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 6, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      It was quite chilly so we didn’t go path knee depth! There were some hardier souls swimming though, and others in wetsuits – averages maximums are 14.5°C/58°F so it’s never too warm.

  • Reply
    beingbuttons
    September 6, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    The beaches are stunning, although it looks like you were blessed with some wonderful weather. I also like your fancy gin bottle – I’m much more of a gin than whisky person!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 6, 2016 at 10:21 pm

      I’m definitely gin over whisky too – I keep trying whisky to see if I like to yet but still no! – the bottle’s so pretty, I’m going to try and recycle it into a lamp or something once then gin’s gone.

  • Reply
    Jessica
    September 7, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    You were lucky with the weather! I don’t think I’ve ever come across posts about the isles of Lewis and Harris (the Isle of Skye tends to steal the show) but it looks like the islands are packed with fascinating history and stunning beauty. I’d go there just for the secluded beaches – and the whiskey!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 7, 2016 at 10:28 pm

      We definitely were, had some beautiful days. The beaches are well worth the trip alone but so much more to see too!

  • Reply
    Mrs macdonald
    September 8, 2016 at 12:30 am

    I was in Harris this year with my family and we would all go back in a heart beat , it’s a beautiful place

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 8, 2016 at 8:32 pm

      It really is – I’d love to go back and see more sometime!

  • Reply
    John
    September 8, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Looks beautiful Luce! I have a few days spare after a conference in Inverness in a fortnight – do you think it’d be easy enough to get around with public transport once on the island/s?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 8, 2016 at 8:30 pm

      Is that Social Travel Summit? Was thinking about applying but left it a bit late. Good excuse to explore Scotland though! There are buses around the islands (though not on Sundays) – it might take a bit of planning though as they are normally once every few hours (there’s a timetable here: http://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/travel/busservice/current/indexlh.asp). There are quite a few tour companies that do trips around the Highlands and Islands (mostly Skye I think) though too.

  • Reply
    atravelingb
    September 21, 2016 at 2:10 am

    Beautiful photos! We almost booked to go to Scotland this June and decided on Ireland at the last minute. Not a bad choice in the least, but still itching to go to this part of the island. I’ve had friends who have been recently and have raved about it. How many days did you spend there and was it enough? I’ve always struggled when planning Scotland – there are so many places I want to go, but it doesn’t seem like enough time to see it all! Still trying to find that delicate balance of giving each place its due without running around like a crazy person!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 21, 2016 at 10:49 am

      I know that struggle well! We had 4 nights in the Outer Hebrides and that was about right to see Lewis and Harris, so I’d say a week if you were wanting to see a bit of the other islands as well. There’s so much I want to see of Scotland too – my sister recently moved to Edinburgh so it’s made it a lot easier to have a base up there.

  • Reply
    Nika
    October 7, 2016 at 4:00 am

    Fell in love with the beautiful photos! I would love to visit it!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 7, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks so much, hope you do get to visit someday!

  • Reply
    Tilly
    October 15, 2016 at 9:42 am

    You certainly have! Wow, you had amazing weather – so lucky. Your photos are fantastic! It’s definitely on my travel wish list!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 16, 2016 at 9:14 pm

      We were so lucky with the weather! Couldn’t have been any better for our beach day.

  • Reply
    invertedsheep
    October 30, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    I’m sat at my laptop organising my photos from Harris and Lewis into a Flickr album and this pops up on Twitter! Of course, I had to click and read. I love your photos and agree with everything you say about these islands. I really wanted to buy something made from Harris tweed whilst I was there, but didn’t want to get clothing. Then I saw cushions in the Temple Cafe in Harris made from tweed and knew that was what I wanted. I bought the material and got it made into cushions for the seats/bed in my camper van. Now I have a memory of Harris with me everywhere I go and I get to use it all year round. I’m looking forward to reading your next posts on Harris and Lewis.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 31, 2016 at 11:01 pm

      So glad to bring back some good memories of such a gorgeous place! Love your Harris tweed cushion idea, it’s lovely to have little reminders of places you’ve been. It’s taken me an age to sort out all the hundreds of photos I took in the Hebrides but should have another post on Harris coming up next month.

  • Reply
    andrea
    September 14, 2017 at 3:54 am

    awsome post Lucy. I was wondering about the temperature of the water, could you say?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 15, 2017 at 8:36 pm

      It averages around 13 or 14ºC (56ºF) in August/September so it’s a bit chilly for swimming!

  • Reply
    Anna
    December 30, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Looks amazing! Do you have any suggestions for accomodation, by any chance?

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