Last year I spent a week on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. After my trip many people asked me to write a blog post with my recommended attractions that they could refer to for their own trip. However, even after a week, I felt I had only scratched the surface and although I could have easily written a classic '10 things to do' list, I would have been doing the island and my readers a disservice.
I strive for my Scottish travel guides to be among the best out there which means they are well researched and I personally visit every location I write about. There is no point in me churning out another blog post that only features the popular attractions or I wouldn't be giving you anything that hasn't been written about widely already. I want my Scotland travel blog to offer you something fresh, original and comprehensive which also showcases some of the many hidden gems that other guide books and blog posts miss out.
I only write about a place once I feel I have gotten to know it fairly well and have explored beyond the stereotype. Often this involves multiple visits and in this case it took a second trip later in the year for me to feel comfortable enough to write about this captivating island.
Lewis has a long history and a deep culture so to sum it up in a 'top ten' list doesn't do it justice. Although travel blogging is my job, at the heart of what I do is travelling to learn about and understand the destinations I visit on a deeper level. I hope to encourage others to do the same.
While this blog post featuring my recommended things to do on the Isle of Lewis could be used purely as a tick-list, I would suggest it is better used as a starting point for learning about the many aspects that have contributed to moulding the people and the culture of this interesting island in to the place you see today.
TRAVEL TIPS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
From top attractions to hidden gems, activities to try, and places to eat and shop - hopefully you will find something that appeals in my recommendations. They are all tried and tested by me so you are getting the benefit of my personal experience to help you put together your own Isle of Lewis itinerary.
Incidentally, if you are still needing some help to put your Scotland travel itinerary together or would like a local to check your plans are doable, then I offer a range of Scotland itinerary planning services that might be of interest.
Here are a few things to note when planning your trip to Lewis -
Parking at some of the popular attractions is quite limited and those with motor-homes seemed to be struggling to find a big enough space. Arrive first thing if you can is my top tip for the popular places.
Religion is a big part of life on the island and most places close on Sunday, which is a day of rest and worship. This is worth remembering when you plan your itinerary.
Public transport is limited so I do recommend a car to make the most of your time.
You can sail to the Isle of Lewis from Ullapool with CalMac Ferries - you might also like to read my recommended things to do in Ullapool
You can also reach Lewis by sailing from the Isle of Skye to the Isle of Harris and driving to Lewis, which is the route I followed on my west coast of Scotland road-trip
I've also marked all of the places mentioned in this handy interactive map to help you plan your itinerary.
A HANDY MAP OF LEWIS WITH ALL THE LOCATIONS MENTIONED
My recommended things to do on the Isle of Lewis
Stroll along the beautiful beaches
While the Isle of Harris may be better known for its breathtakingly beautiful beaches, Lewis's southern neighbour definitely has some competition in the north. In fact the beaches of Harris get so much limelight, the stunning offerings on Lewis tend to get a little overshadowed. I wasn't aware of the plentiful large expanses of pristine sand on the island until I arrived.
On my first trip I stayed in North Tolsta and everyone in my family unanimously agreed that nearby Traigh Mhor was our personal favourite, with the adjacent Tràigh Ghearadha (Garry Beach) also being highly rated. In case you are wondering - tràigh is Gaelic for sandy beach.
On my second trip I stayed in Ness and explored the nearby Eoropie Beach which turned out to be another favourite. Other places I highly rate include Reef Beach, Cliff Beach at Valtos. and Tràigh Uig which is enormous and stunning but a I found it to be a bit busier than the others.
I have no doubt there are many more I have yet to discover but these were a few favourites.
Calanais Standing Stones & Visitor Centre
About the Isle of Gigha
The Isle of Gigha is clearly visible from the Kintyre Peninsula and a short 20 minute ferry ride across the Sound of Gigha is all that separates the two.
The little lump of land was originally named Gudey by the Norse King Hakon. The name meaning Good Isle or God's Isle was later adjusted by the Gaels to Gigha (pronounced Geeea).
There aren't many Scottish Islands that you can feasibly visit and explore widely in 1 or 2 days but the community owned Isle of Gigha is one of the exceptions. It is an ideal destination for those looking to experience a little piece of Hebridean paradise in a short amount of time thanks to its close proximity to the mainland and its bijou size.
It is the most southerly Hebridean Island and is only 7 miles long by 1 1/2 miles at its widest point, with one main road dissecting its length. Although you could visit with a car, its small size means it is equally possible to explore by bike (bike hire is available locally) or on foot.
There are not many man-made attractions on Gigha but the beautiful natural scenery is the real draw. Although there are no museums, the history of the island is told through the objects that intertwine the landscape from the standing stones to the modern 'Dancing Ladies' wind turbines.
The island has seen many inhabitants and owners over the centuries, including the Scots, Vikings, various clans and private individuals.
However, Gigha has been community owned since 2002 and many of the facilities are owned or run by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust. By visiting and supporting these ventures, you are directly supporting the future of a Scottish island community.
Where is the Isle of Gigha?
The little red marker is Gigha, nestled off the west coast of Scotland between the Kintyre Peninsula and Islay which are both famed for their excellent whisky distilleries.
A combined trip to the Kintyre Peninsula and Gigha is a great choice for those that like to take the road less travelled. This combination also makes a great detour on your Scotland itinerary if you plan to explore the west coast north to Oban.
Kintyre is also the starting point for a Hebridean island hopping adventure to Islay, Colonsay and Jura. Gigha makes an easy addition to this route if bagging some Scottish islands are on your travel agenda. You can also travel to Arran from Kintyre which offers another island hopping possibility.
You might want to check out my blog post with my travel guide to Kintyre for more ideas of things to do in this underrated part of the country.
How to get the ferry to Gigha
The ferry to Gigha departs from Tayinloan on the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula. The crossing takes approx. 20 minutes and vehicles are permitted on the ferry.
There is no need to book in advance as this is a fairly quiet route but I do recommend turning up in plenty of time for your sailing to make sure you get a place if you do plan to take a vehicle. There is a cafe at the ferry terminal so you can park up in the queue early and grab a coffee while you wait.
You can find the ferry timetable on the CalMac website.
Tayinloan is around 120 miles from Glasgow and the drive takes about 3 hours. There is also the option to take the Campbeltown bus from Glasgow which stops at Tayinloan. I recommend using the Traveline website for planning public transport journeys in Scotland.
My recommended things to do on Gigha
Beaches, archaeology, natural scenery, wildlife, gardens, walks and historical sites are some of the things to see and do on a trip to Gigha. I've listed some of the places I been to that I think are worth exploring and a few other ideas of things that I haven't managed to do yet.
Whether you explore them all or just enjoy the chance to switch off from the hustle and bustle, Gigha makes a great wee alternative to its bigger and busier Hebridean neighbours.
HEAD TO ONE OF THE BEAUTIFUL BEACHES
A 1 day itinerary for exploring Stromness, Orkney
If you follow my blog, you may have noticed that I have been working with Destination Orkney to try out a range of 1 day themed itineraries which are part of their 'See You at The Weekend' campaign. They are perfect for any visitor but are particularly suited to those short on time or looking for things to do outside the busy summer season.
I have already covered a wide variety of topics including coastal walks, Viking history, wartime sites, world heritage attractions and locally made goods. You can find all these blog posts on my Orkney Islands page.
For this itinerary, I headed to the historic town of Stromness which is always a delight to visit. I don't think I'll ever get tired of wandering the characterful streets and taking in all the quaint and quirky details.
Stromness is a town that has been shaped by the sea, with maritime history running through the veins of its winding, narrow streets. Sitting on the fringes of a natural harbour used by Picts and Vikings, increased trade with the New World played a large part in its rapid growth as a town in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Wars between Britain and France made the route around the north of Scotland more attractive than the English Channel which resulted in Stromness becoming a popular stopping off point on voyages.
The Hudson's Bay Company would regularly stop en-route to and from Canada. Many Orcadians were recruited by them in Stromness and at one point Orcadians made up approx. 3/4 of their workforce in Canada. The town has also seen whaling fleets, herring fleets and even the Royal Navy Grand Fleet which was based in Scapa Flow during the First World War.
While various industries have come and gone, the surrounding waters have continued to be a valuable asset to the local economy. Today Stromness is at the cutting edge of marine renewables and is home to The European Marine Energy Centre which supports developers of wave and tidal energy devices and is the only centre of its kind in the world.
However, the town has managed to retain its historic character and in some places away from the cars, it is easy to feel like you have stepped back in time.
This suggested day out which starts at the historic harbour area is the perfect introduction to the sea-faring history and contemporary businesses that make Stromness so unique.
My recommended ways to explore the Scottish west coast in Wester Ross, Skye, Lewis and Harris
Recently I went on a trip around Wester Ross, Skye, Harris and Lewis as part of a partnership to promote the #WestCoastWaters Campaign. The aim of my trip was firstly to explore the road less travelled and I previously wrote a blog post with details of how I tried to achieve this on a west coast Scotland road trip.
The second aim was to find ways of slowing down and immersing my senses in the coastal landscape. This involved trying out a number of water and coastal themed activities including sea kayaking, pony trekking, boat trips, wildlife watching, coastal walks and eating ALL the seafood!
I've put together a list of 15 activities that are readily available in the areas I visited and but they are also available throughout the west coast in general. It is not a definitive list and I've added a few more options at the bottom but these suggestions should be enough to give you plenty of ideas to create your own unique Scottish west coast adventure.
These are my recommendations and you can just skip to the sections you are most interested in to find out more details on the activities and providers in Wester Ross, Skye, Lewis and Harris.
1. VISIT THE BEACH
2. GO FOR A COASTAL WALK
3. TAKE A BOAT TRIP
4. GO ISLAND HOPPING BY FERRY
5. EXPLORE BY SEA KAYAK OR CANOE
6. FOLLOW THE HEBRIDEAN WHALE TRAIL
7. GO WILDLIFE SPOTTING
8. GO PONY TREKKING ALONG THE BEACH
9. TRY STAND UP PADDLE BOARDING
10. CATCH SOME WAVES ON A SURFBOARD
11. TASTE THE CATCH OF THE DAY
12. SAMPLE THE LOCAL DRINK ON A TOUR
13. STROLL THROUGH A COASTAL GARDEN
14. TAKE PART IN A BEACH CLEAN
15. CATCH A WEST COAST SUNSET
1. VISIT THE BEACH
Taking a trip to one of Scotland's stunning west coast beaches is the easiest way for anyone to enjoy the coast and it is absolutely free. Whether you want to feel the sand between your toes, build a castle, do some beach-combing or even go for a paddle, the areas featured in this blog have some of the best beaches in Scotland to choose from. The best part - they are never crowded!
These are some of my favourites beaches in the area but there are plenty more to choose from -
2. GO FOR A COASTAL WALK
Another free and easy way to enjoy the west coast of Scotland is to follow one of the many coastal walking trails. There are loads of options for all levels of abilities and far too many to mention here. Personally I find the Walkhighlands website to be an excellent resource, not just for coastal routes but walks all over Scotland.
However, here are a few suggestions of my own -
3. TAKE A BOAT TRIP
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