Island Hopping in the Outer Hebrides

27th February 2024

The Outer Hebrides, a chain of islands off the northwest coast of Scotland, are the perfect setting for an adventure. This archipelago, with its rugged beauty, rich history, and diverse wildlife, provides the perfect setting for an island-hopping holiday. Join us as we explore these Atlantic islands’ unique characteristics.

Lewis and Harris

A visit to Lewis starts your Scottish trip with cultural exploration. It is a place of great historical significance in Scotland, with its ancient standing stones, Norse mill, Brochs, and the famous Uig Chessmen. This magnificent island has been inhabited for over 5000 years and still has impressive Iron Age structures that you can visit today. The Callanish Standing Stones make up perhaps the most famous stone circle in the Hebrides, but they are far from the only one. There are many signs of ancient human life dotted around Lewis, with one of the most intact being the Carloway Broch. Dating back over 2,000 years, the broch is a testament to the engineering prowess of its builders. With its dry-stone construction and double-walled design, the broch offers a glimpse into the past.

There is evidence of both Celtic and Norse civilisations here, dating back to the Viking invasion of the Hebrides. The Norse mill is a well-preserved example of this period in the island’s history. Let this island of antiquities pique your interest before you head south into Harris.

Harris is renowned for its stunning beaches, including Luskentyre and Scarista, and its tranquillity. Pristine white sands meet turquoise waters against a backdrop of rolling hills. These beaches captivate visitors with their beauty, offering room for contemplation. Harris is not only known for its landscape but also the craftsmanship of its locals, as seen in the production of the world-famous Harris Tweed. The wool is dyed, spun, and woven in the Outer Hebrides by artisanal crafters using generations of knowledge and skill. Famous for its durability, warmth, and colour variations inspired by the island’s landscapes, Harris Tweed is a tangible piece of the Hebrides.


Continue your journey southward to the islands that make up Uist. Uist is a collection of islands each with unique qualities, connected by causeways and bridges. 

Rich in wildlife and in particular birds, Uist is a paradise for birdwatchers with its diverse avian population. Balranald Reserve is a nature lover’s haven. As you step into this RSPB reserve on North Uist, you’re greeted by vast machair, dotted with vibrant wildflowers and teeming with birdlife. The coastal machair is home to a myriad of species, including oystercatchers, lapwings, and the elusive corncrake. A circular nature trail allows visitors to explore this diverse ecosystem while soaking in the refreshing sea breeze. Whether you’re an avid birder or a casual wanderer, Balranald Reserve invites you to experience Uist’s natural wonders.

Eriskay, a small island accessed by a causeway from South Uist, is a lovely place to spend some time before catching the ferry south to Barra. Famous for being the landing place of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, Eriskay is steeped in history and folklore. For such a small island, there are many notable things that originated here, including Eriskay Ponies, and the true story behind “Whisky Galore!”

Barra and Vatersay

Round off your island-hopping trip with a visit to the southern end of the Outer Hebrides. Barra’s main settlement, Castlebay, is a vibrant fishing village. The medieval seat of the clan MacNeil, Kisimul Castle sits atop a rocky isle in the bay, hence the village name. This is a beautifully restored historic castle: the only intact castle left in the Outer Hebrides. Right on the shore of the bay, you can find a lovely restaurant named after the castle. Cafe Kisimul serves up delicious Punjabi dishes, drinks and desserts, a rare find in the Hebrides, and truly scrumptious.

Vatersay is a more secluded and intimate island to explore. With a tumultuous past involving the clearances, Vatersay’s population is small. The wildlife, however, is abundant with otters and eagles, among other rare creatures

The Uninhabited Island of Mingulay

The human story of the Hebrides is a tale of tenacity and community. Over their long history, there have been invasions and expulsions. It is a testament to the human spirit that there are still such thriving communities on the islands. On the isle of Mingulay, however, there was a different outcome. Uninhabited since 1912, Mingulay’s abandoned village and weathered structures are a window to a bygone era. 

Surrounded by dramatic cliffs and beaches, Mingulay is home to abundant wildlife. In the summer months, the island is home to a colony of puffins that nest on the cliffs as they rear their young. As well as puffins, you can find all sorts of rare seabirds such as guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes. On the beach, below the cliffs, you often find seals enjoying a rest as they soak in the sun.

The island, accessible from Barra with Mingulay boat trips, offers a unique escape into the untamed wilderness, inviting intrepid travellers to explore its historic ruins and connect with the island’s past.

You can read about other uninhabited islands to visit in our previous blog post: Four Uninhabited Islands You Can Visit Now

Whether you seek historical intrigue, serene landscapes, or vibrant communities, the Outer Hebrides promise an experience that transcends the usual. Start planning your adventure with Away from the Ordinary today and let the magic of these islands captivate your soul.