Are you ready to learn about my favorite island in the UK? It’s called the Isle of Harris and Lewis because it’s technically two islands in one. The larger and more populated Lewis is well known among history lovers because of its abundance of ancient sites like the Callanish Standing Stones and Dun Carloway Broch. The Isle of Harris, on the other hand, is better known for its more rugged landscape and white sand beaches. Both islands combined make for the perfect trip as far as I’m concerned: a little education, a little adventure.
We only spent 3 nights on the island which was just barely enough time to see it all. But it took so long to get there, we lost a lot of time to the journey. Luckily, it’s a beautiful ride no matter how you choose to go. I’ll tell you about our route as we were conscious of both cost and time.
First, we flew up to Aberdeen in order to meet our friends living there (it would have been faster to fly into Inverness, but wasn’t too far out of the way). We spent one night with them before picking up a rental car and heading out to catch the ferry from Ullapool. I recommend booking in advance, here. From there, it felt like a scenic 2+ hour cruise all the way to Stornoway, Lewis’ largest town.
Alternatively, you can fly straight into Stornoway via Loganair, however, flights from London are neither cheap nor direct. Then on Lewis, rental car options are limited and costly. But if you’re more concerned with time, this is definitely the way to go!
Accommodation is so sparse on Harris and Lewis. We went with glamping pods or wigwams to save money, but also because there was nothing else available. Perhaps if you book far enough in advance, some of the guesthouses may be available.
Sandy Bay Wigwams | For the most part, we enjoyed our wigwam stay–especially the fire-pit and amazing view. The only thing I didn’t like was being nickel and dimed for things like firewood and marshmallows after the fact. Regardless, it was a cool place to stay.
Callanish Camping | These camping pods were a bit more rustic than the wigwams and lacking in running water, but they were still awesome. The lady who runs them was so friendly and helpful when we arrived and their proximity to the Callanish Standing Stones is unbeatable.
EAT & DRINK
Ok, so we didn’t actually get to eat at some of these places. In Scotland, nothing is open on bank holidays or weekends…and those are basically the only times we travel. Anyway, I thought I would share them in case you get the chance to go. Visit Outer Hebrides website and their Eat Drink Hebrides Trail was a great resource for finding these!
Croft 36 | This cute honesty farm stand is located right near the wigwams we stayed in on Harris. I think we tried to go on a Friday and it was closed, so maybe it would be best to call ahead. According to their website (linked above), they now do meal delivery with pre-booking as well!
The Scallop Shack | Again, really not sure what their hours are, but I was able to find photos on google with their phone number listed. Of course, we didn’t have service at all on the island, so I probably should have made that call on the mainland. I would have loved some fresh Hebridean scallops.
The Stornoway Smokehouse | Slow cured smoked salmon from the last traditional smokehouse in the Hebrides. I don’t think you’re able to view the kiln and smokehouse (although I would have LOVED that), but you can visit their small shop and pick up something tasty to take away.
Charles Macleod | Home of the Stornoway black pudding, aka the best black pudding in the world. I normally won’t even eat black pudding (because I think it’s gross), but I make an exception for this one.
Isle of Harris Distillery | I can’t tell if I love this gin because it’s good or because the packaging is so beautiful. Either way, this distillery is definitely worth a stop on Harris.
Edge O’ the World Alehouse | The Hebridean Brewing Company is the only craft brewery in the Outer Hebrides and has won tons of awards for their beer since their start in 2001. Our favorite was the Berserker, made from a 150 year old recipe (and also everyone else’s favorite). They were so friendly and let us sample as many as we wanted! Wish we could have picked some up to bring back with us, but they were sold out.
ISLE OF HARRIS
After stocking up on food and supplies for the weekend, we made our way south to the Isle of Harris first because the weather forecast looked better for spending some time on the beach. I try to plan these things according to the weather and sometimes it works out better than others, but regardless, it was SO beautiful.
Seilebost | Just to get you in the right direction, this is where you should start looking for beaches on Harris. But seriously, take your pick of beautiful sandy beaches and you can have one all to yourself. We particularly enjoyed climbing up to the MacLeod Stone for a cool view out to Taransay at sunset.
Luskentyre Beach | Probably our favorite beach on Harris. The clearest water and purest sand, there was so much to explore here. Unfortunately, on the day we chose to visit, it was too cloudy to see any of the mountains in the distance. So I can only imagine how amazing it would be on a sunny day.
St. Clements Church | Medieval church founded by Alasdair MacLeod, the 8th clan chief of the MacLeods, who died in 1547. We nearly had the entire place to ourselves making it such an atmospheric experience to wander around the church and graveyard. But if you happen to make it down to the water, there is also the cutest stone harbor.
ISLE OF LEWIS
After being on the more mountainous Harris, it can feel a bit anti-climactic driving north to the Isle of Lewis. But even though it appears flat and boring, there is so much to see if you know where to look! Lewis has a mixed Norse and Celtic heritage evident not only in place names but also abundant archaeological sites.
Bostadh Iron Age House | Although I had seen pictures of this place before arriving on the island, I didn’t know how to get there until we came across a guide book inside our wigwam. It’s technically a rebuilt Pictish house on the site where a well-preserved settlement was found (the original houses were found further down the beach, near the water). But there are also the remains of a Viking farm as well as blackhouses from more recent times. It would be so hard to choose a favorite spot on this island, but I loved the feeling of this place! If you want to go inside, make sure you check the opening times.
Dun Carloway Broch |One of the oldest structures on the island and one of the best preserved Brochs in Britain–pretty impressive considering the number of ancient sites on the island.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village | Can you believe you can actually stay in these? They even have a hostel option if you’re looking to save money. Again, they seem to book up early, so plan ahead! We had fun just walking around the village, but you have to pay even to do that.
Norse Mill & Kiln | We came across this completely by accident, just driving by! It’s a reconstructed site, but still super interesting to see.
Stac a’ Phris Arch | My favorite sea arch to date! I actually added the google maps location of the arch myself, so you could say it’s not well known. Some people walk over from the parking at Dail Beag Beach, but that was a longer walk than we were hoping for. We just parked along a road nearer the arch and walked about a mile out.
Callanish Stones | Probably the most famous site on the island, the Callanish Standing Stones have inspired almost as many theories about their origin as Stonehenge. But unlike Stonehenge, entry is free and you can walk right up to them! Also, don’t judge me, but the stones used in Outlander were based on the Callanish Stones. 🙂
Doesn’t it look like the best?! I would recommend going in summer to make the most of the beaches, but there isn’t too big a difference in the winter weather anyway. It’s pretty magical no matter when you choose to visit.