We’re saying meal ur naidheachd (that’s Gaelic for congratulations) to the Outer Hebrides, as the islands have made it into Lonely Planet’s Best in Europe 2014! The stunning Scottish region ranks alongside locations such as Italy, Greece and Denmark in the travel guide’s Top 10 European destinations to visit this year, with its breathtaking landscapes, idyllic beaches and historic sites listed as some of its main attractions.
The award is yet another great accolade for the Outer Hebrides: Harris and Lewis won Best Island in Europe and Luskentyre was named one of Britain’s best beaches in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards just a few months ago. With 2014 being the Year of Homecoming, there’s never been a better time to visit this gorgeous part of Scotland – check out our suggestions of just a few things to see and do in the Outer Hebrides this year.
Hit the beach
When it comes to beaches, the Outer Hebrides rival even the most exotic islands. Here you’ll find long stretches of powdery white sand bordered by crystalline waters that turn turquoise in the right light, while the small population means there’s little to spoil the peace and quiet.
Just a few of the best include Traigh Eais and Tangasdale on Barra, West Beach on Berneray, and award-winning Luskentyre on Harris. Take a picnic, enjoy a tranquil walk or even try surfing – the waves around Lewis and Harris are some of the best in Europe.
Discover Celtic culture
The Outer Hebrides boast a long and proud tradition of Celtic music, showcasing the genre’s brightest talents at the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway each summer. Commonly known as HebCelt, the festival is famed for its buzzing atmosphere and enthusiastic crowds, who come from around the world to enjoy Gaelic, Celtic and traditional music by both local and international acts.
Featured on the programme this year are former Runrig frontman Donnie Munro, British group Hunter & the Bear, the Louisiana-based Magnolia Sisters, local singer-songwriter Eleanor Nicholson and many more. Check the full line-up and listen to some great sample tracks on the official HebCelt website.
See the Highland games
Askernish on South Uist is most famed for its fantastic golf course, designed by Old Tom Morris and known as the ‘Holy Grail of Golf’. The tiny township is set to welcome hundreds of visitors on 23 July as it hosts the Outer Hebrides’ only Highland games, a brilliant day out packed full of music, athletics and fun. See kilted strongmen and women toss the caber or battle it out in tug o’ war, while athletes tackle the Hill Race and pipers and Highland dancers show off their skills – all to a backdrop of stunning Hebridean scenery.
Run a marathon
Scotland hosts a great range of races and marathons throughout the year, from fun 5ks to super-challenging ultramarathons. Amongst the most scenic is the Calanais Standing Stones Marathon on the Isle of Lewis, an unforgettable route leading around some of the island’s most iconic monuments.
Sign up to race past sites like the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, the Doune Broch and of course, the Calanais Standing Stones themselves on Saturday 2 August, or join the 10k or the family fun run for a more relaxed challenge in a truly beautiful setting.
Explore your roots
2014 is Scotland’s Year of Homecoming, making it the ideal time to trace your Hebridean roots. The Seallam! Visitor Centre in Harris is home to Co Leis Thu?, an enormous genealogical resource covering almost every household in the Outer Hebrides for the past 200 years alongside details on families that emigrated to America, Canada, Australia and beyond.
For a fascinating look into life on the islands in decades past, pay a visit to the Arnol Blackhouse on Lewis, an authentic crofting home built in 1880, or see fascinating exhibits and artefacts at the nearby Shawbost Museum.