Towns and villages
- Balivanich - the biggest village on Benbecula
- Castlebay - the main village on Barra
- Leverburgh - a village at the south of Harris
- Lochmaddy - the main village on North Uist
- Stornoway - the only town, on the Isle of Lewis
- Tarbert - the main village in Harris
The Outer Hebrides are a fascinating destination. The scenery is beautiful. The landscape is rocky and mountainous, but also lush and verdant - due in no small part to the large amounts of rain which tend to fall. It is easy to find a quiet peaceful spot.
The Gaelic language and culture is appealing. At a practical level this means that place names on road signs are in Gaelic, but the bus timetables use the English names!
Religion still plays an important part in many people’s lives. In Lewis and Harris this is often in the form of Protestant Churches. As a result the Sabbath (Sunday) is respected, so you are unlikely to find shops etc. open on a Sunday. Activities happening on a Sunday often are opposed locally. In contrast Barra and South Uist are mainly Catholic, and many businesses typically open after midday on a Sunday. Benbecula is half-Protestant and half-Catholic, and one can still find businesses open on a Sunday there.
The main languages are Gaelic (Gàidhlig) and English, with Gaelic (pronounced in English as 'gallick') being the dominant language in people's homes. However, outside their homes, Gaelic is mainly used as a social and cultural language. Virtually all Gaelic speakers over the age of 5 speak English to a near-native fluency.
Most modern maps and road signs show the local place names in Gaelic with the English name shown below, usually in a smaller and often illegible font. However, bus timetables will exclusively use their English names as will locals when speaking English.
Caledonian MacBrayne is the national ferry service. Citylink coaches generally connect with the ferries on the mainland.
In the Outer Hebrides, there are airports in Stornoway in Lewis, Benbecula and Barra. These airports provide direct flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. The airport in Barra is one of the most spectacular in the world, with planes landing on a three-mile beach at low tide, but this does mean that the flight times vary with the tide.
- Caledonian MacBrayne. The national ferry service. Details below are for Summer 2006:
There are good bus services during the day Monday 'thru Saturday, but little in the evening and no buses on a Sunday.
Many of the islands are linked by road causeways and bridges, which have progressively been built over the last 50 years or so. Most recently, causeways have been built to Eriskay from South Uist, and to Berneray from North Uist.
The Outer Hebrides are popular for cycle tourists, generally taking around a week to cycle from Barra to Stornoway.
- MacLennan's Garage, Balivanich, Benbecula, tel: +44 1870 602191
- Ask Car Hire, Creagorry, Benbecula, tel: +44 1870 602818.
- Mackinnon Self Drive, 18 Inaclete Road, Stornoway, Lewis, HS1 2RB tel: +44 1851 702984. From £25.50 per day.
- Arnol Motors, Arnol, Lewis HS2 9DB +44 1851 710548. From £34 per day.
- Lewis Car Rentals, 52 Bayhead Street, Stornoway, Lewis, HS1 2TU. From £34 per day.
- Car Hire Hebrides, Stornoway Airport, Lewis, +44 1851 706500. From £34 per day
- Alda Taxis, Lochmaddy, North Uist. tel: +44 1876 500215.
There are many fine sandy beaches, mainly on the Western shores of the islands.
- The islands are good places for birdwatching, with a RSPB reserve on North Uist as well as many informal opportunities. On land this is one of the last places to hear (and maybe see) corncrakes. Seabirds can be see on beaches and on sea cliffs. St Kilda is an extremely good place for seeing seabirds.
- In summer wild flowers can be seen. The most colourful display is the medley of coastal flowers on the machair (sandy soil near the sea), which is usually in bloom in July.
- Seals and occasionally otters can be seen on coastal rocks.
- Historic Scotland Properties:
- Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway
- Garenin Historic village - a village of black houses in Lewis
- Bostadh Iron Age House on Great Bernera
- Western Isles Overland Route - the bus and ferry journey from Barra to Lewis.
- Play Golf. at one of the island golf courses: Askernish on South Uist, Scarista on Harris, Stornoway or Benbecula
- There are several banks on the islands in Stornoway, Tarbert, Lochmaddy, Balivanich, Lochboisdale and Barra. The Royal Bank of Scotland also runs mobile banks (in a van) from Stornoway and Lochboisdale.
- Stornoway is the only town on the islands with a selection of shops comparable to a mainland town. It is the only place that you will find chain shops other than Co-op supermarkets. Stornoway has two large supermarkets, a chemist, hardware store, book shop and clothes shops.
- Elsewhere in the islands there are several small Co-op supermarkets, and many independent stores which often sell groceries along with clothes or hardware. Although the shops are generally small, they manage to carry quite a varied stock.
- Newspapers arrive on the islands by ferry and so are often not available until lunchtime or later.
- Except in Stornoway, there are not many restaurants serving evening meals, and the local hotels may be the best (or only) option. In summer it is often advisable to book a table for dinner. There are also a few cafes which add to the daytime selection, or you may prefer to buy your own bread and cheese and make sandwiches.
- The seafood caught around the shores of the islands is excellent, and in particular it is worth trying the local shellfish such as scallops.
- Stornoway is famous for its black pudding (blood sausage), and you are likely to find this on breakfast menus.
- There are two good local bakeries whose products are sold in all the islands - Stag Bakeries in Stornoway and MacLean's Bakery in Benbecula. Their products may be more expensive than larger mainland bakeries but the extra is worth it.
- Pubs are not particularly common, and in some places the only choice may be the hotel bar.
- The bars in Castlebay and Eriskay often have live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
- In Lewis and Harris observation of the Sabbath means that any Saturday night music or drinking will end promptly at midnight or before. Almost no entertainment happens on Sundays (except on Barra and South Uist).
- The Hebridean Brewing Company brews beer in Stornoway, and this is widely available in bottles on the islands.
- The Isle of Harris Distillery in Tarbet distils gin and is starting work on 'The Hearach' whisky.
There are several other groups of Scottish islands, which have some similarities and some differences from the Outer Hebrides.
- Inner Hebrides, the main islands are: Tiree (which has a weekly ferry from Barra), Mull, Islay.
- Orkney Islands an archipelago of some 70 islands off the North of Scotland.
- Shetland Islands, some 100 islands (15 inhabited) to the north of the Orkney Islands.
- The islands in the Clyde, principally the Isle of Arran and the Isle of Bute.