Beat the winter blues! Travel to the edge of Scotland and escape from the stresses of the 21st century. What better place than the Outer Hebrides to take a break from your daily routine, breathe in the clean fresh Hebridean air and experience a different pace of life. Find the space to warm your soul and stimulate your senses on Scotland’s Wild Atlantic Islands. Connecting with nature and being close to the water does wonders for your wellbeing. Switch off your phone, unplug the TV, embrace wellness activities and enjoy that feeling of full-body wellbeing.
1. Breathe the fresh air of the Outer Hebridean Beaches
Find the space to unwind. Escape from the pressures of everyday life, relax and find splendour in isolation, revelling in the incredible natural world around you. Here you can breathe some of the cleanest air in Europe and enjoy something that is increasingly hard to find: peace and tranquillity.
Embrace your flow in the wilds of the Outer Hebrides with a yoga session by the beach in Benbecula. Inhale and exhale the fresh air and sink into a deep sense of relaxation and wellbeing with Yoga for Life Hebrides or Solas Yoga on Benbecula.
2. Clear your head on miles of golden sands
Find the space for Nature. Throughout the isles, you’ll discover countless stunning white sandy beaches, surrounded by clear turquoise waters. Think miles of empty golden sands, backed by large dunes and machair that are rich with wild flowers and wildlife, and endless views across the Atlantic Ocean. You won’t find deck chairs and herds of people on these beaches, but what you’ll find is the space to reflect, wonder and relax. You might even get an entire beach to yourself!
Stretch your legs on the vast golden sand plains of Tolsta Beach on Lewis or explore Garrynamonie Beach and the 20 continuous miles of brilliant white sand, backed by large dunes and machair on South Uist. For something more off the beaten path, enjoy the peaceful Northton beaches on South Harris with a mysterious medieval chapel nearby, or head to Clachan Sands on North Uist for the most spectacular sunset that you will remember for a lifetime.
3. Step back in time
Find the space to wonder. Lose yourself and stand in awe of celebrated mysterious ancient sites and archaeological treasures. Touch 5,000 years of history at the mysterious Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis, or explore the past of Kisimul Castle, perched on a rocky islet off Castlebay on the Isle of Barra. The medieval castle was leased by the chief of Clan MacNeil to Historic Environment Scotland for 1,000 years for the annual sum of £1 and a bottle of whisky.
Visit the atmospheric St Clement’s Church on South Harris, made famous last year in Call the Midwife’s TV Christmas special, or discover the Lews Castle Museum and Archive on Lewis, where you can see six of the world famous 12th century Lewis Chessmen, as well as many other stories of these isles. Or take the journey of a lifetime and sail to the astonishing archipelago and UNESCO World Heritage Site of St Kilda, arguably the most remote part of the British Isles.
4. Immerse yourself into the Atlantic Ocean
Whether you’re a toe-dipper or a surfer, the crystal-clear Atlantic waters of the Outer Hebrides are a great way to connect to nature. And with 2,500km of Hebridean coastline, you will be spoiled for choice!
Rejuvenate your mind and body with a wild open water swim off the sandy beaches of Hushinish with Immerse Hebrides. Experience the wonders beneath the waves, from colourful starfish to inquisitive seals, as you snorkel along the North Harris Snorkel Trail, or marvel at spectacular reefs and pinnacles as you dive off the Butt of Lewis. Or you could try some adrenaline surfing on Cliff Beach on the West Coast of Lewis with Surf Lewis, body surfing on the gorgeous Uist beaches, or sea kayaking around the turquoise waters of medieval Kisimul Castle on Barra with Clearwater Padding.
5. Reach Heights on walks in the Outer Hebrides
Walks in the Outer Hebrides have plenty of unclimbed rocks to scale, for both experienced and novice hillwalkers.
Tackle the heights of Clisham (the highest peak in the Outer Hebrides at 799m high) and Uisgnaval Mòr on Harris or climb the spectacular Beinn Mhor and Hecla mountains on South Uist. You’ll be rewarded with breath-taking views right across the islands, over the Atlantic and across the waters to Skye or Wester Ross. For something easier, try bagging the small hill of Heaval on Barra, which boasts tremendous views to the south across Castlebay and all the way down to Mingulay and beyond. Or try Rueval, the highest point on Benbecula, which provides a 360 degree view of the unique Hebridean landscape.
6. Get blown away
Live on the edge and indulge your senses on a windy day with some of the best wave-watching and wild seas’ spectacles in the UK. Nothing quite reminds you of Mother Nature’s force than braving the wild Outer Hebridean winds. When the winds pick up, wrap yourself in a few warm layers (perhaps of Harris Tweed) and have the freshest air detox for your body.
Brave the elements and stare in wonder at the wild Atlantic waves crashing as the tide rolls in from the North Sea on the golden sands of West Beach on the Isle of Berneray, or against the rugged Butt of Lewis, one of the windiest places in the UK, on the Isle of Lewis.
7. See the lights and the darks
There is a wonderful clear light in the Outer Hebrides. Did you know that at the height of summer, you can enjoy 22 hours of daylight? With so few hills on North Uist, you’ll witness huge and dramatic vistas that are ever changing with the weather and seasons.
During the summer months, the days seem to last forever. Witness some spectacular sunsets from the scenic Uig Sands Restaurant on Lewis or from Straigh Scarista on South Harris, with pinks, reds and oranges, fading through to purples and blues.
Come winter time, the Outer Hebrides’ dark starry skies are perfect for stargazing. You might even be fortunate enough to catch sight of the magnificent Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis. Don’t miss the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival each February, with special astronomy and stargazing events happening across the islands.
8. Feel as free as a bird
The Outer Hebrides is a magnet for birdwatchers, as more than 1,000 species of bird breed on these islands. Experience the relaxing sounds of the sea and wildlife at the RSPB Nature Reserve at Balranald on North Uist where the machair draws in lapwings, oystercatchers and corncrakes. The Outer Hebrides is the last stronghold of the elusive corncrake with around two thirds of the UK’s corncrake population making its home here. Listen to the magical drumming sound of the snipe, the piping peep of the oystercatcher, or the distinctive call of the corncake at Cula Bay Beach on Benbecula.
Feel as free as the air, watching many birds fly with effortless grace. Watch golden and white tailed eagles cruising the immense skies from the North Harris Eagle Observatory on the Bird of Prey Trail, marvel at fulmars gliding elegantly over the Atlantic on the Isle of Scalpay, wonder at gannets plunging into the sea at incredible speed at the Butt of Lewis, and look for puffins diving down to catch a beak full of fish on the Isle of Mingulay.
9. Make new furry friends
You can expect some thrilling wildlife encounters in the Outer Hebrides, but out of them all, the Eriskay ponies are sure to put the biggest smile on your face. With only about 400 existing worldwide, you can often meet this rare breed roaming freely on Eriskay and South Uist.
You can also find some adorable Shetland ponies along Loch Skipport in South Uist. They are super friendly and will let you get up close and give them a good petting. Just be sure to thank them for their welcome with a treat – carrots and apples are their favourites!
10. Connect with the islanders at a ceilidh
Find the space to be together. From the moment you reach the Outer Hebrides, you will realise just how special this part of the world is. Hebridean people are warm and friendly – they will welcome you with open arms and make you feel like you truly belong.
The islands are the heartland of Gaelic culture and there is a rich musical tradition celebrated in the many festivals and informal ceilidhs. It’s a great opportunity to meet the friendly islanders, experience their great hospitality and perhaps share a song or a dance, or a wee dram of whisky.
Experience an authentic island gathering at the regular Kildonan Ceilidhs on South Uist, mingle with the locals and dance the night away to the music of the legendary Vatersay Boys at the annual Fisherman Mass on Barra, or meet island artists at the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre on North Uist.
11. Pedal the islands and feel accomplished
Bag an island! Hire a bike and take the 13 mile ride round the beautiful Isle of Barra – or Barra-bados as some like to call it. You can also take a detour to include the small island of Vatersay. At the end of your adventure, reward yourself with some delicious Scallop Pakora from Cafe Kisimul in Castlebay.
If you’re looking for something more challenging, The Hebridean Way Cycling Route is the ride of a lifetime! The 185-mile route offers you the chance to pedal over ten of the islands across spectacular scenery. Or you could take part in The Heb – Race on the Edge – an achievable, exciting and truly adventurous journey involving running, cycling and kayaking.
12. Feel warm and cosy
After all your nature hunting, wild wind breathing, reflecting and accomplishments, settle in next to a roaring peat-burning fire (with its own unique smell) and sip on one of the many local drams, from the Crofter IPA ale of the Loomshed Hebrides Brewery to Isle of Harris Gin of the Harris Distillery or the Barra Atlantic Gin of the Isle of Barra Distillery. Nestle in to some eco accommodation, listen to the winds pass you by outside, or the sound of the corncrake, or the beautiful silence that may fall.
Find more information on the Outer Hebrides.