Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles, Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan Siar) are the westernmost chain of islands in the Hebrides, west of the Scottish Highlands.

A ferry leaving Lochmaddy, North Uist.
Inner Harbour, Stornoway


Towns and villages


The Outer Hebrides are a fascinating destination. The scenery is beautiful. The landscape is rocky and mountainous, but also lush and verdant - due in no small part to the large amounts of rain which tend to fall. It is easy to find a quiet peaceful spot.

The Gaelic language and culture is appealing. At a practical level this means that place names on road signs are in Gaelic, but the bus timetables use the English names!

Religion still plays an important part in many people’s lives. In Lewis and Harris this is often in the form of Protestant Churches. As a result the Sabbath (Sunday) is respected, so you are unlikely to find shops etc. open on a Sunday. Activities happening on a Sunday often are opposed locally. In contrast Barra and South Uist are mainly Catholic, and many businesses typically open after midday on a Sunday. Benbecula is half-Protestant and half-Catholic, and one can still find businesses open on a Sunday there.


Outer Hebrides relief map and location

The main languages are Gaelic (Gàidhlig) and English, with Gaelic (pronounced in English as 'gallick') being the dominant language in people's homes. However, outside their homes, Gaelic is mainly used as a social and cultural language. Virtually all Gaelic speakers over the age of 5 speak English to a near-native fluency.

Most modern maps and road signs show the local place names in Gaelic with the English name shown below, usually in a smaller and often illegible font. However, bus timetables will exclusively use their English names as will locals when speaking English.

Get in

By boat

Caledonian MacBrayne is the national ferry service. Citylink coaches generally connect with the ferries on the mainland.

By air

In the Outer Hebrides, there are airports in Stornoway in Lewis, Benbecula and Barra. These airports provide direct flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. The airport in Barra is one of the most spectacular in the world, with planes landing on a three-mile beach at low tide, but this does mean that the flight times vary with the tide.

Get around

By boat

Berneray to Leverburgh on Harris Daily 3-4 per day, taking 1 hour.

Eriskay to Barra Daily, up to 5 per day, taking 40 minutes.

By bus

There are good bus services during the day Monday 'thru Saturday, but little in the evening and no buses on a Sunday.

Many of the islands are linked by road causeways and bridges, which have progressively been built over the last 50 years or so. Most recently, causeways have been built to Eriskay from South Uist, and to Berneray from North Uist.

By bicycle

The Outer Hebrides are popular for cycle tourists, generally taking around a week to cycle from Barra to Stornoway.

Car hire




There are many fine sandy beaches, mainly on the Western shores of the islands.


Inside Blackhouse Museum at Arnol

Historic Scotland Properties:




There are several banks on the islands in Stornoway, Tarbert, Lochmaddy, Balivanich, Lochboisdale and Barra. The Royal Bank of Scotland also runs mobile banks (in a van) from Stornoway and Lochboisdale.

Go next

There are several other groups of Scottish islands, which have some similarities and some differences from the Outer Hebrides.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, December 09, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.