Family days out in the Outer Hebrides

With peaceful beaches, an abundance of wildlife and fascinating historical monuments, the Outer Hebrides are an ideal choice for a relaxed family holiday. Have a look at this 2-day itinerary for ideas on how to make the most of your time in the isles, with attractions and activities for kids of all ages.

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  • The annual open art show at the An Lanntair Arts Centre, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
    An Lanntair Arts Centre, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
  • Looking out over the Calanais Standing Stones, Calanais, Isle of Lewis
    The Calanais Standing Stones, Calanais, Isle of Lewis
  • Inside the Garenin Blackhouse Village, Carloway
    Garenin Blackhouse Village, Carloway
  • Seal, Harris
    Seal, Harris
  • Traigh Sheileboist, Isle of Harris
    Traigh Sheileboist, Isle of Harris

Originally a Viking settlement, the pleasant town of Stornoway is now the main point of arrival for those travelling to the Outer Hebrides, with regular flights from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness and ferries from Ullapool – look out for seals playing as you arrive at the colourful harbour, or take to the water yourself with the Stornoway Canoe Club.

Visit the Lewis Loom Centre to find out about Harris Tweed, one of the islands’ most important exports. The small museum’s spinning and weaving demonstrations bring the history of this Scottish industry to life, and the gift shop is a great place to pick up pieces for arts and crafts.

Take a drive to Coll, 15 minutes’ drive from Stornoway, and make your own souvenirs at Paint a Pot Studios. Great fun for kids and adults alike, you can choose from one of over a hundred pieces of pottery to decorate anyway you choose before the team fire it up in the kiln for 24 hours. Don’t worry if you won’t be in Stornoway to pick up your masterpiece the next day, as it can easily be posted home to you.

Next, head to the north western coast of Lewis to discover some of the most fascinating historical monuments in the Outer Hebrides. Begin with the Arnol Blackhouse, a traditional thatched croft around 30 minutes from Stornoway. This immaculately-preserved house gives a unique insight into the life of a Hebridean crofting family, while the visitor centre sells locally-made crafts and tells its fascinating story through interactive displays.

Half an hour’s drive up the coast are the Calanais Standing Stones, the 5000-year-old stone circle featured in Disney•Pixar’s Brave. The visitor centre features an excellent interactive exhibit exploring the stones’ history via graphic novels, models and audiovisuals, as well as a café and gift shop. Treat yourself to a tasty cream sponge cake and admire the views over Loch Roag.

For a unique Hebridean experience, stay overnight at the nearby Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, four traditional Blackhouse cottages converted into high-quality self-catering accommodation. Or, if you’re coming back to Stornoway, enjoy dinner at Eleven at the Caladh Inn, a relaxed, child-friendly restaurant serving local seafood, a varied kids’ menu and delicious homemade desserts. If your busy day hasn’t tired you all out, catch a film at An Lanntair Arts Centre before bed.

Head to Leverburgh on Harris, an hour and a half south of Stornoway, where a 2-hour ferry crossing will take you to the southern islands of the Outer Hebrides. Before you board, stop off at Seallam! Visitor Centre in the nearby village of Northton – the interesting exhibits explore the natural and social history of the Hebrides, and the coffee room is an ideal spot for a mid-morning snack.

The ferry from Leverburgh leads to Berneray, a small, peaceful island that boasts some of the area’s most incredible landscapes. Head to one of its idyllic beaches to play on the white sands, spot otters and other wildlife, take a paddle or even a swim if you’re feeling brave enough! If you want to make the most of the stunning scenery with a picnic, you can pick up supplies at Ardmaree Stores, just 700 m from the ferry terminal.

North Uist is just a few minutes’ drive from Berneray and is connected to the island by a causeway. Head to the island’s north western coast and discover the Barpa Langass, a chambered cairn dating back to 3000 BC. Just a short walk away is the Pobull Fhinn Stone Circle, composed of 48 stones and thought to have been constructed around 2000 BC.

The Outer Hebrides are home to a rich variety of birds and animals, many of which can be seen at the Balranald RSPB Nature Reserve. A 3-mile nature trail leads through machair rich with wildflowers, and the visitor centre (open from April to August) offers assistance in identifying different species – look out for barnacle geese in spring, corncrakes in summer, lapwings in autumn and rare white-tailed eagles in winter.

North Uist’s main settlement is Lochmaddy, a small village overlooking the strait of the Little Minch. Try scuba diving, sea kayaking or rock climbing at the Uist Outdoor Centre, or catch a film screening or a Saturday art workshop for families at the award-winning Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre. A small selection of guest houses and hotels are available for dining and accommodation, such as Lochmaddy Hotel, which serves burgers, pies and local seafood in its Anglers Dining Room and Lounge Bar. 

This is just a small selection of things to see and do in the Outer Hebrides – you’ll find many more attractions and places of historical interest on Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay and each of the islands mentioned here. Find information on events and festivals, accommodation, travel and more in our Outer Hebrides guide and make sure you and your family see the best of this fascinating region.