Ten Things to do on a Family Holiday to the Outer Hebrides

Having just returned from a wonderful campervan trip to the Outer Hebrides, I honestly can’t think of many places I could recommend more wholeheartedly for a family holiday. With mile upon mile of white sandy beaches, scenery to die for, and history seeping from every single island, this idyllic setting would make for a fantastic holiday at any time of year. Whether you’re looking to relax and recharge, seek out ancient dwelling places, stumble upon wild horses, or have a kick about on a world famous football pitch, these islands will offer something for everyone. If you’re planning a trip to the beautiful Western Isles soon I’ve put together 10 ideas to get you started on your Hebridean adventure. Your only problem will be deciding which one to do first!

You could literally spend your whole holiday in the Outer Hebrides on beaches. There are so many of them peppering the coastline that it would be almost impossible to visit them all on one trip. Some of them are tiny and some of them, like the one below at Uig, seem to go on forever. One thing they have in common are their lack of people – most of those we visited were either empty or dotted with only a few fellow visitors (and we were there at the start of July). Our favourites were at Uig, on Vatersay and on Eriskay (the last of which, coincidentally, is the beach on which Bonnie Prince Charlie landed when he arrived in Scotland in 1745). Why not explore and find your own favourites – I can guarantee you’ll enjoy lots of outdoor adventure along the way.

Boys on Uig Beach
Uig Beach
North Uist Beach
A deserted beach on North Uist
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Our dog enjoyed his holiday too! (photo taken at Port of Ness)
Butt of Lewis
At the Butt of Lewis
Vatersay Beach
Eriskay Beach
‘Charlie’s Beach’ on Eriskay

During our 7 day stay in the Outer Hebrides we visited 10 islands in total, making our trip a very busy one. Despite the under eye bags, island hopping gave us the chance to experience a lot of the Hebridean landscape and culture we might otherwise have missed. Highlights included meeting the Eriskay ponies (a group of semi wild ponies who can be seen in the vicinity of Eriskay village), driving across the Atlantic on the way to the Isle of Great Bernera, passing a rather bumpy looking football pitch recognised by FIFA as one of the most unique places to play football in the world, touching an original bottle of whisky from the shipwreck that inspired the 1949 movie ‘Whisky Galore’, and delighting over the machair – the fertile land that blankets the coastline of the Hebrides with an explosion of buttercups, wildflowers and colour at this time of year. Each island has its own unique landscape, character and charm and it’s difficult to pick a favourite – if pushed, I would have to say that for me the southernmost islands had a particularly lovely appeal. Why not do a bit of island hopping and find your own favourite island hideaway? One thing’s for sure – you’ll discover much more than you expect.

A tranquil scene in Scalpay
Lily Pond North Uist
Lily pond in North Uist
Machair Outer Hebrides
The machair carpeted every coastline
Eriskay Ponies
Meeting the Eriskay Ponies
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Beautiful ferry views

There is such a lot of history in the Outer Hebrides, and almost everywhere are signs of times gone by. Why not take a trip to the Callanish standing stones, the site of a 5000 year old megalithic complex (fans of Outlander will love it), visit the impressively well preserved Carloway Broch or wander round a rebuilt Iron Age dwelling at Bosta, on the Isle of Great Bernera (bonus: there’s a fantastic beach right next door). A absolute must-see is the group of restored thatched cottages at the Gearrannan Blackhouse village at Carloway, for a taste of island life in the last century. And if all else fails, just soak up the sight of the many abandoned dwelling places by the roadsides along your travels – and let your imagination and the soul-igniting scenery do the rest.

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One of the Callanish Standing Stones
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The well-concealed Iron Age House at Bosta
Blackhouse Village
The wonderful Blackhouse Village at Gearrannan

Whether or not you’re a chess player, you’ll love the story of the Lewis Chessmen – the group of intricately carved Viking chess pieces found in the vicinity of Uig in 1831. A sculpture of one of the pieces stands guard outside the beach at Uig and six of the original pieces can be viewed at the Lews Castle Museum in Stornoway. Around the island you’ll find replica pieces on sale in gift shops and museums – with an eldest son who’s a big fan of playing, a replica chess set was definitely our one must-have holiday souvenir.

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A sculpture of one of the Lewis Chessmen outside the beach at Uig
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What a handsome chap!

While you’re checking out the chess pieces – and the many other fantastic exhibits at the museum in Stornoway – why not pop into the adjacent Lews Castle? With a beautiful wooded setting, wonderful grounds to explore and a lovely cafe and shop, it makes for a great day out in the Hebridean capital. if you’re travelling into Stornoway by ferry, you’ll also get a lovely view of the castle as you arrive and leave!

Lews Castle
Lews Castle in Stornoway
Lews Castle Interior
One of the beautiful interior rooms
Lews Castle Grounds
The gorgeous grounds surrounding the castle

If a visit to Barra is on your Outer Hebrides travel itinerary, don’t miss a visit to the island’s airport, the only one in the world to have a beach runway used for scheduled flights. We spent a lovely couple of hours watching the morning flight arrive and leave again. Just make sure you don’t take a walk on the beach when the windsocks fly!

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The airport at Barra

We spent some time in the Hebrides camping in informal settings such as at Uig, which at the time of our visit offered camping and facilities in return for a donation. Several village halls and community centres also offered access to toilets and showers in return for a small donation (please leave a donation, and no trace of your visit, to ensure this type of welcome is maintained). It all added up to a lovely experience and the feeling that tourists were not just tolerated, but actively enjoyed in this beautiful area. We also appreciated stays in more formal campsites, where we enjoyed long summer evenings, stunning sunsets and dreamy starry skies.

The type of view you might expect to see on your travels
Wild Camping
Keeping up with the laundry

We’re always happy to inject a little something into the local economies of the areas we visit, and try to support local business wherever possible. The Hebrides were no exception and we settled on purchasing some Harris Gin and the replica chess set I mentioned earlier on. There are plenty of other locally made souvenirs such as the infamous Harris Tweed or beautiful Buth Bheag candles depending on what you’re into. You’re unlikely to come away from your visit empty handed (unless of course, you manage to polish off your bottle of the local stuff before you depart).

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My lovely bottle of Harris Gin

If you’re a book lover, you might be interested in reading Peter May’s ‘Lewis Trilogy’ on your holiday, a bestselling series following a Lewis-born detective sent back to his native island to investigate a murder. While you are in the Hebrides you can seek out many of the locations from the novels, such as the harbour at Port of Ness, and St Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Eriskay (look out for the magnificent boat-shaped altar while you’re there). If you’re lucky, you might even meet some of the local stalwarts who inspired the characters in the books!

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The Blackhouse is the first book in the ‘Lewis Man’ Trilogy
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Port of Ness is a lovely spot on the location trail
Lewis Shieling
This shieling not far from Stornoway also features in the trilogy

Whatever you choose to do in the Hebrides, you’ll find a place that allows you the chance to recharge and unwind, to enjoy beautiful scenery, relax on deserted beaches, breathe in the fresh air and just take a moment to enjoy the peace and quiet. Whatever you do, I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy it. And whatever you do, I can guarantee your mind, body and spirit will thank you for a dose of Hebridean tender loving care.

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A summer evening near Stornoway
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And relax!

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