When it comes to Lewis and Harris, it is the standing stones popularised by time travelling romance Outlander that is likely to spring to mind. While these are seriously cool, there are way more things to do on the Isle of Lewis.
Somewhat confusingly, the Isle of Lewis is only the northern two-thirds of the island known as Lewis and Harris. The southern third is known as, you guessed it, Harris! Although they are often referred to as separate isles, the only thing that really divides the two is a small mountain range.
With its barren landscapes, pristine beaches and somewhat odd capital, Lewis is a land of contrasts. This variety means that there’s plenty of fun to be had. Whether you love hiking, lazing on the beach or sinking a cheeky dram in a highland pub, you’ll find something for everyone on Lewis.
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8 Best Things to do on the Isle of Lewis
1. Head to the Callanish Standing Stones for Sunrise
Although these stones were never actually used in the Outlander TV series, it has been said that they are the ones to most closely resemble the fictional stones at Craigh na Dun. Sadly, though, they won’t take you to Jamie Fraser – both Tim and I tried! For more Outlander travel, don’t miss Doune Castle from your Scotland itinerary!
The Callanish Standing Stones are estimated to have been erected around 5,000 years ago, however, little is known about what purpose they served or why they were constructed. Historians surmise that they were used as a kind of astronomical observatory.
In the nearby area, there are three sets of standing stones which go from small to pretty huge! As the main attraction on the island, these stones attract a lot of visitors, especially in summer during peak season. Be warned that some of the areas around the smaller stones can be quite boggy, so make sure you have decent boots that will hold up to this kind of terrain.
To avoid the bulk of the crowds, it is worth visiting the stones towards the end of the season (September – October). I definitely recommend aiming to get to Callanish for sunrise. The colours of the sky make this enigmatic location simply breathtaking and you can get some amazing photos.
2. Walk the Garry Bridge (Bridge to Nowhere)
This bridge is a quirky attraction on the Isle of Lewis. The Bridge to Nowhere leads exactly there: nowhere. It was built in roughly 1921 as part of a project by Lord Leverhulmes to build a new road from Tolsta to Sgiogarstaigh, however, the road was never completed and the bridge was all that ever ended up being built.
3. Marvel at Dun Carloway Broch
Throughout my time hiking around the Isle of Skye, I became somewhat of a broch-spotter. This is not a technical term and one I have coined myself. Broch-spotter and proud! I digress.
These rounded structures dating back from the Iron-Age feature all over Scotland and are believed to have been constructed to serve either a defensive purpose or as a show of superiority. You could think of them as the stately homes of the day!
Although it is possible to see brochs all over the country, they are rarely in as good condition as the one on Lewis. The Dun Carloway Broch is the best that I have seen and still holds much of its original shape and structure, with one wall a whopping nine metres high! It is said to have been a major stronghold of the Morrison clan.
When we visited, the broch’s interior was closed as the structure was undergoing essential maintenance but we were still able to get a good look inside. Visitors are asked not to climb on the broch as this can cause damage to the structure.
There is a visitor centre here which has information about Dun Carloway and the uses of brochs across Scotland. Please note: the visitor centre is closed on Sundays.
The sabbath is taken very seriously on the islands and pretty much everywhere (including petrol stations) closes on Sundays. Make sure you have planned for this and stocked up on food etc. beforehand.
4. Explore Gearrannan Blackhouse Village (Garenin)
This traditional village has now been largely renovated into self-catering holiday cottages alongside a hostel. Unlike the other attractions on this list, there is an entrance fee to enter (just £3.90 per adult) but the open-air museum is very informative.
Inside the house, there is a traditional loom where regular Harris Tweed weaving demonstrations take place. Also on-site is a cafe and a gift shop so it is possible to spend a fair bit of time here – especially if you like cake! As with many places on Lewis, it is best to arrive early if you want to beat the crowds! Gearrannan Blackhouse Village opens at 9.30 between the third week in March to the third week in October.
5. Hike to the Butt of Lewis
Head to the most northerly point of the island and take in the views from the Butt of Lewis. Known mainly for the towering lighthouse that resides here, this is also a beautiful area for a hike (especially on a Sunday when everywhere is closed)!
Be warned that it gets very windy at the Butt of Lewis so visitors are always advised to layer up and bring a hat if severe wind gives you headaches! Much like Neist Point on the Isle of Skye, the Butt of Lewis is a great place to go wildlife spotting and some visitors will even get lucky enough to see dolphins and whales in the waters below.
Although many people come here, snap a quick photo of the lighthouse and leave, I would definitely recommend taking on the coastal walk that starts here. It is a four-mile circular hike that heads over the cliffs and past the incredible Eoropie beach. I don’t want to scare anyone as the hike is safe, but make sure to keep an eye out for quicksand near the beach and don’t hike too close to the cliff edge. Check out the route on Walk Highlands for more information.
6. Soak up the Scottish Sun on the Beaches
Although it tends to be the Isle of Harris that is most well-known for beautiful beaches, Lewis has its fair share of spectacular sandy bays. I have already mentioned one that I definitely recommend that you visit: Eoropie Beach. My other favourite was Bosta Beach but there are plenty of others on the island to choose from!
7. Visit Lews Castle and Museum nan Eilean
Located in Stornoway, this Victorian-era castle overlooks the town. It was first built in 1844–51 and designed by Charles Wilson, the notable Glasgow architect. Although the castle is wonderful to visit in its own right, arguably the best part of a trip here is exploring the grounds.
Spanning 270 hectares, there is everything from picturesque woodlands to scenic coastal paths. The area is wonderful for walking (don’t miss the Gallows Hill loop trail) and also cycling. There is a mountain bike trail here too.
On a rainy day, the museum is a great place to visit. Learn about the Isle of Lewis and its inhabitants through the years. If you fancy it, you can even try learning some of the Gaelic language. Be warned though, it isn’t easy!
8. Be a Foodie in Stornoway
There is no denying that Stornoway is an odd town. In comparison to the rest of Lewis which feels very isolated, Stornoway is practically a metropolis! It is unusually modern for one of the Scottish Isles and is home to all sorts of chain brands – there is even an Argos!
The town itself is rather small and there isn’t all that much to do there. However, I would recommend taking the time to sink a refreshing Tennants in one of the pubs and sampling the famous Stornoway black pudding. It is delicious!
If black pudding freaks you out (you’re not the first), there is also great seafood on offer here. Restaurants like Harbour Kitchen have a great reputation or you could enjoy a classic fish and chip takeout from Camerons Chip Shop.
How to Get to the Isle of Lewis
The most popular way to get to the Isle of Lewis is by ferry. Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) run ferries from Ullapool, located on the mainland, to Stornoway which is the main town on Lewis. These need to be booked in advance.
There is also a ferry that goes from Uig on the Isle of Skye to Tarbet on Harris. These leave daily but again, it is best to book in advance as they fill up quick.
For those of you who feel more at home in the air than on the sea, it is also possible to fly onto Lewis. The airport is located just a few miles from Stornoway town centre and regularly serves flights from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen.
Getting Around the Isle of Lewis
Like much of the Scottish highlands, public transportation is fairly limited this far north so visitors are advised to rent a car if possible. When we visited, we took our car on the ferry over from Skye so we could continue our road trip when we got there.
Be warned that much like Skye, the roads are generally narrow and are there are passing places to allow traffic to flow freely. If you have a camper van, you may struggle with some of the thinner windy roads. Parking isn’t always available in abundance either!
If you are relying on public transport, you’ll be relieved to hear that the buses run fairly regularly from Monday to Saturday, however, remember that Lewis and Harris still observe the Sabbath and no buses run on Sundays.
Recommended Accommodation on the Isle of Lewis
Located just a short walk from Museum Nan Eileen, Springfield Guesthouse is a cheap and cheerful base for your trip to Lewis. This place is known for its friendly and welcoming hosts. Free parking is available on site and a continental breakfast is included in the price.
The Hatchery (££)
Located in Tolstachaolais, Isle of Lewis, this stunning, modern holiday home is the perfect place for your stay on the island. The entire front of the building has wide windows which stretch from floor to ceiling, showcasing all of the amazing views on offer. The Hatchery accommodates up to four individuals which makes it a great option for families or groups travelling together. It can only be rented for multiple nights so it is ideal for longer stays.
Lews Castle (£££)
For a stay you won’t forget, reserve one of the self-catered apartments on the upper floors at Lews Castle. The rooms are clean and contemporary with incredible views of Stornoway Harbour. Every little detail of your stay is catered for here, from a well-equipped on-site bar to high-end toiletries in the bathrooms.