Red deer, unspoiled beaches and sublime seafood: The ultimate guide to the Scottish Hebrides

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A vacation to Scotland that
doesn’t include Edinburgh
always gets my attention. The Hebrides are an archipelago made up
of inhabited and uninhabited islands off the northwest coast of
Scotland. This is a great place to eventually visit if you want to
maintain social
distancing
. For example, the Outer Hebrides has a population
density of just nine people per square mile.

Divided into the Inner Hebrides to the east and the Outer
Hebrides to the west, they are famous for rugged landscapes,
untouched beaches, whisky distilleries and incredible wildlife.
Home to remote Gaelic-speaking communities, Hebrides comes from the
word Harbredey, which roughly translates to “isles at the edge of
the sea.†Bearing in mind this unique location, be sure to pack
for all weathers.

Here are our picks of where to stay on the Hebridean islands and
how to get there.

Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides Callanish Standing Stones. (Photo by Rachel Bibby/ EyeEm/Getty Images)The
Callanish standing stones. (Photo by Rachel Bibby/EyeEm/Getty
Images)

There is a lot of discussion about whether Lewis and Harris are
separate islands or not. Some say the distinction between the two
dates back to a split in the MacLeod clan, and others simply point
to the range of high mountains and where the island narrows between
Lewis and Harris, turning them into virtually separate islands.
Physically, Lewis is a lot flatter than Harris but just as
pretty.

As the largest town on the archipelago, Stornoway is the ideal
place to start your Hebridean journey. This is a place to explore
the amazing food of the islands including Stornoway black pudding,
peat-smoked scallops, kippers from the Stornoway Smokehouse and hot
smoked salmon. Also look out for Lews Castle, which has a
Starbucks, and Era, Stornoway’s only nightclub.

A drive along the west coast of the Isle of Lewis is a tour
through the past few thousand years. There are the Neolithic
standing stones at Callanish that are older than
Stonehenge
, the Iron Age Dun Carloway Broch and 19th-century
blackhouse villages at Arnol and Gearrannan. Keep driving west to
the beach at Uig where the Chessmen, a group of distinctive
12th-century chess pieces, were found and then on to the cliffs at
Mangersta, which are just a bit farther off the beaten trail.

Traditional
houses in Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. (Photo courtesy of
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village)Where to stay

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

This is as authentic as it gets. Each blackhouse, or traditional
Gaelic house, has its own character named after the family who once
lived there. “Taigh Thormoid ‘an ‘ic Iain†is in the oldest
part of the village with a sea view, solid fuel stove, underfloor
heating, a double bedroom, shower room, kitchenette and a sitting
room. It’s $396 for a three-night stay during high season.

The Doune Braes Hotel

Overlooking the lochan and tranquil countryside, this is the
closest hotel to the standing stones at Callanish. The restaurant
specializes in local seafood dishes with shellfish, prawns,
scallops, lobster and whitefish on the menu. Double rooms are from
$183 per night.

How to get there

There’s an airport in Stornoway (SYY) that has nonstop flights
from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness with Loganair. Most nonstop
flights from the Scottish airports only take up to an hour, making
the journey to the islands quick and easy.

There’s also a ferry from Ullapool on the Scottish mainland to
Stornoway. You can travel on to the other Outer Hebrides islands
via the Leverburgh to Berneray ferry.

Read more: From
paradise beaches to world-class golf, here’s why Scotland should
be on your bucket list

Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK (Photo by PetraKosonen/Getty Images)Luskentyre
Beach on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides. (Photo by
PetraKosonen/Getty Images)

The combination of beaches and of mountains on the Isle
of Harris
creates a miniature Scotland to discover. A drive
around Harris is a fun way to see the best of the island. The drive
to Hushinish is spectacular, and you will spot golden eagles and
sea eagles. During summer, driving to the Machair Grassland is a
great way to see this rare coastal habitat of low-lying grassland
and shell sands, which is unique to the northwestern fringe of
Europe.

The beaches of Harris are famous for their white sands and clear
(but bracing) turquoise waters. Stunning Luskentyre is the star of
the show and is one of the largest and most spectacular beaches on
Harris. Regularly voted as one of the best U.K. beaches, this
three-mile stretch of sand also has free parking.

A visit to Harris isn’t complete without checking out some
Harris Tweed, the only fabric protected by its own act of
parliament. What makes Harris Tweed so very special is that any
cloth that is officially Harris Tweed is woven in a weaver’s shed
on the island. Donald John Mackay in Luskentyre is probably the
most famous maker of Harris Tweed (he made tweed for Nike and
Belstaff) and you can buy it there by the meter.

(Photo courtesy of Celticcastles.com)Amhuinnsuidhe
Castle. (Photo courtesy of Celtic Castles)Where to stay

Amhuinnsuidhe Castle 

This
castle
near Hushinish has uninterrupted views over West Loch
Tarbert. As well as plush bedrooms and a resident ghost, there is
direct access to a small beach and plenty of activities surrounded
by some 55,000 acres. You can rent the whole castle and become a
laird for one week with up to 17 of your guests. Otherwise, double
rooms are from $484 and include a full Scottish breakfast, afternoon
tea
and a four-course evening meal.

Harris Hotel 

Located in Tarbert, the hotel is minutes from the Tarbert Ferry
Terminal and the Isle of Harris distillery. Some of the rooms have
a stunning sea view, but the highlight is its restaurant that
serves up local ingredients like fresh fish, shellfish, lamb, beef
and venison. Don’t miss the famous Harris Hotel shortbread. Rooms
are from $164 per night.

How to get there

Fly into Stornoway (SYY) and then drive to Harris, which is an
hour away by car. There is also a ferry from Uig on the Isle of
Skye to Tarbert on Harris.

Related: Whisky,
walking and wonderful views: The ultimate Scottish road
trip

Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides (Photo by David Makin/Unsplash)Isle
of Mull puffins. (Photo by David Makin/Unsplash)

Easily accessed by ferry from Oban, Mull has some of the finest
and most varied scenery in the Inner Hebrides from the rugged
ridges of Ben More and the black basalt crags of Burg to the white
sand, rose pink granite and emerald waters that fringe the
Ross.

Mull is widely known for its varied wildlife with many
land-based and marine tours of on offer to get the most out of your
trip. Expect to see whales, dolphins, puffins, white-tailed eagles,
sea otters and, of course, red deer. The largest and most
impressive land animal to be found on the Isle of Mull, red deer
are numerous and widespread. Be sure to have a look at Calgary Bay,
a huge sandy beach facing west.

The town of Tobermory is a must-visit and straight out of a
fairy tale. It’s small, cozy and colorful. You can’t miss the
brightly painted buildings along the main street to the pier made
famous by CBeebies program Balamory, based around the colored
houses of Tobermory.

Be sure to also pop over to neighboring island Iona, and if you
visit in the winter, you might just be lucky enough to catch a
glimpse of the Northern
Lights
.

Tobermory on a summer's day (Photo by e55evu/Getty Images)Tobermory
on a summer’s day. (Photo by e55evu/Getty Images)Where to stay

Tobermory Hotel

Located on the same street as the famous colored houses is
Tobermory Hotel. Most of the individually styled rooms have a view
out onto the Tobermory Bay. Be sure to try the west coast kipper
for breakfast, which is included. Double rooms are from $203 per
night.

Glengorm Castle 

This grand castle was built in 1860, and despite its grandeur,
is very much a private family home with loads of character. Located
on the northernmost tip of Mull overlooking the Sound of Mull,
there are
dramatic sunsets
to be had all year round. The hall with a
large open fire is furnished as a sitting room, and the library has
a complementary selection of whiskies, too. Rooms are from $249 and
include breakfast.

How to get there

The best way to Mull is via Glasgow. Flying is easy from several
airports across the U.K., or if you’d prefer to take the train,
there are direct connections from all over the U.K. After that, you
need to drive around 2.5 hours or take the train for three hours to
Oban on the coast of Scotland’s mainland. From Oban, it is a
45-minute ferry across to the Isle of Mull.

Reads more: The ultimate
guide to visiting the Cotswolds

Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides (Fairy Pools on Isle of Skye. Photo by Adam Gavlák/Unsplash)Fairy
Pools on the Isle of Skye. (Photo by Adam Gavlák/Unsplash)

This 50-mile long island is the largest of the Inner Hebrides,
connected to mainland Scotland by the Skye Bridge. The stunning
scenery is the main attraction, but when the mist closes in, there
are plenty of castles, museums and cozy pubs to while away the
hours.

Along with Edinburgh
and
Loch Ness
, Skye is one of Scotland’s top-three tourist
destinations. However, the crowds tend to stick to Portree and
Trotternish, so look to the island’s farther-flung corners.

Some of the most popular attractions are the Fairy Pools, a set
of waterfalls along the River Brittle. The east coast of Skye is
where you can hike to the Old Man of Storr, meander around Portree
harbor and take in the views from the Quiraing hills. On the west
coast, you can experience Dunvegan Castle, which is right on the
seafront, home of Clan MacLeod.

(Photo courtesy of Kinloch Lodge)(Photo
courtesy of Kinloch Lodge)Where to stay

Kinloch Lodge

Just 15 minutes’ drive from the Skye Bridge, sitting on the
shores of Loch na Dal is Kinloch Lodge. The views are pretty
spectacular and many rooms feature them. The biggest draw here is
the much-talked-about restaurant where menus draw heavily on the
local bounty of the island, so seafood features prominently. Rooms
are from $366 per night.

Three Chimneys 

This world-renowned restaurant with rooms has views of Dunvegan
Castle across the loch and the spectacular Neist Point just 20
minutes’ drive away. The rather tempting menu is full of local
ingredients including oysters, deer and salmon. After dinner, rest
in one of the six rooms, five of which are split-level. Rooms are
from $360 per night.

How to get there

You can get to the Isle of Skye from Inverness. The city has
good bus links to the island or you could go by train to
Kyle of Lochalsh. It terminates close to the toll-free Skye Bridge,
which links the island with the mainland, and the train connects
with local bus services.

If you want to drive from Inverness, it is 112 miles to Portree
on Skye.

Barra, Outer Hebrides (Photo by Sela Yair/Flickr)(Photo
by Sela Yair/Flickr)

The airport at Barra is one of the most unusual in the world,
with flights landing on the beach at Cockle Strand between tides.
At high tide, the runway simply disappears beneath the waves.

Along with Eriskay and South Uist, these islands bring a
different atmosphere to the Hebrides as they are much less visited
than Lewis and Harris. The island is only eight miles long and four
miles wide and has beautiful beaches and seven lochs. Stroll along
beautiful white sandy beaches, such as Tangasdale, or enjoy
breathtaking scenery as you
cycle
or walk around this small but well-formed island.

Castlebay was once a 19th-century fishing port and today is the
main town on the Isle of Barra. Take a five-minute boat trip from
Castlebay to the medieval Kisimul Castle, the “Castle in the
Sea,†which sits dramatically on a rock islet in the bay.

Where to stay

Isle of Barra Beach Hotel

This is the hotel for views. The most westerly hotel in Britain,
it overlooks the white sands of Tangasdale Beach. The Hotel’s
lounge has views of Halaman Bay and Ben Tangaval, and the
restaurant faces due west with uninterrupted views of the rolling
North Atlantic Ocean with spectacular sunsets. Rooms are from $105
per night.

Number Nine Cottage 

The closest accommodation to the famous Barra Airport beach,
this pet-friendly
traditional stone-built cottage sleeps six. Located in the
picturesque township of Ardmhor, the cottage is just yards from the
beach, which forms the world-famous Barra airstrip. High season
from March to October for a seven-night stay is $850.

How to get there

Traveling to the Isle of Barra can be a very enjoyable part of
your vacation, especially if you fly into the only commercial beach
runway in the world. You can fly to Barra (BRR) from Glasgow with
Loganair in 55 minutes. Barra is also accessible by
ferry
, which departs from Oban and arrives at Castlebay five
hours later.

Bottom line

There’s no question that this unique island chain is a very
special part of the world. With a photo
opportunity
around every corner, many of these idyllic
environments are more evocative of the
Caribbean
(minus the hot sunshine) than coastal Scotland. There
is so much to see from sandy beaches and dunes, rocky coasts and
cliffs, woodlands, inland lochs to rare flowers and a diverse array
of bird species and wildlife.

Featured photo by Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images 

Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News2
Red deer, unspoiled beaches and sublime seafood: The
ultimate guide to the Scottish Hebrides