The Isle of Lewis might just be the most famous island of the Outer Hebrides. After all, it is home to the Callanish Standing Stones and location of several books by the British crime novelist Peter May. I had one day left at the end of my Hebridean Way adventure and decided to spend it on the Isle of Lewis. This is an itinerary to take it all in – the top 10 things to do on Lewis in just one day!
I have to admit – I didn’t fall for Lewis immediately. I took my first steps on the island, after crossing a river that marks the border between Lewis and Harris and subsequently spent two days walking across the moorland of southern Lewis. After three wonderful and incredibly varied days on Harris, I was a little underwhelmed. If I had gone by the Hebridean Way route, I could have believed that all of Lewis was empty moorland!
Check out my complete hiking guide to the Hebridean Way!
Of course, that is absolutely not the case and the rest of Lewis boasts lonely bays and white sandy beaches, rugged rocks and beautiful coastline, quaint fishing villages and towering lighthouses – there is a lot to see!
Unfortunately, you will not be able to visit in really just a day, since a day trip from the mainland is impossible due to ferry times and schedules. You will have to plan an overnight stay – 2-3 nights at best, so you can take in all of Lewis and Harris as well.
Where to Stay on Lewis
I had two nights in Stornoway before I had to catch my ferry back to the mainland, which gave me a whole day to explore the Isle of Lewis.
I stayed at Stornoway Bed & Breakfast, a lovely B&B in a central location, just a stone’s throw away from the harbour, Lews Castle and plenty of restaurants and bars in the main streets of Stornoway. I received a warm welcome from host Rachael, who made me feel right at home and cooked up a storm every morning in the kitchen.
The B&B has 9 rooms across two neighbouring buildings. Check-in, the breakfast room and a guest lounge are at 29 Kenneth Street, which is where I stayed in a comfy double room on the top floor. Since this is a 175-year-old listed building, my room came with slanted ceilings – something to consider if you’re very tall. The rooms on the lower floor have regular ceilings, so just specify that when you book.
The B&B was a great home base in Stornoway, nearby my car rental place and the ferry terminal, and a quiet retreat after a busy day on the road.
How to get around Lewis
Lewis is manageable in size, which means that it is easy to see the top sites of interest within a day! I rented a small car from a highly recommended local company called MacKinnon Self Drive. Their city office in Stornoway is near the town centre and the ferry terminal, which made it the ideal location to pick up my car early in the morning after breakfast and return it before boarding the ferry home.
I started my day bright and early and picked up my car at 8 am. I paid about £35 for a 24-hour car rental plus £17 for fuel – considering that I was zooming around Lewis all day, I thought that was pretty good! The rental fee included the standard insurance for a small additional fee I took the excess down to £100 (the lowest possible). The car was in great condition and the check-in process really laid-back and quick.
Driving on Lewis is really easy. I used Google Maps for navigation, which was very helpful, particularly in town traffic. Most roads I took outside of Stornoway were two-lane roads – a gentle introduction to island driving. I did eventually also come across a few single track roads, but by that time I was completely in my element.
10 things to do on Lewis in one day
Without further ado, here are 10 things you can do on the Isle of Lewis that all fit easily into a day!
#1: Dun Carloway
Dun Carloway is an impressive broch on the west coast of Lewis. There are hundreds of broch sites around Scotland, but this is certainly one of the most well-preserved ones. A broch is a fort-like structure from the Iron Age – typically a wealthy family would have lived in it. Dun Carloway was probably built in the 1st century AD. Surprisingly it was only destroyed in the 17th century, but one side of it still rises 9 metres high, revealing the hollow-walled structure on the inside.
It is free to visit Dun Carloway, and you can access the inside of the broch to explore the chambers leading off from the main hall.
#2: Blackhouse Village, Gearrannan
The Blackhouse Village in Gearrannan consists of 9 restored and thatched historical blackhouses. Some of them can be rented as self-catering accommodation, but there is also a museum across two of them and you can walk around the entire village.
In the first blackhouse, you can see what a traditional bedroom and living area would have looked like after the Blackhouses were fitted with chimneys and fireplaces. Originally, blackhouses had an open fire pit in the centre and the smoke was supposed to go through a small opening in the ceiling above it. However, that rarely worked efficiently, and so the black smoke from the peat fire stayed inside – hence the name, Blackhouse. There is also an area where you can see Harris Tweed being woven on a traditional, manually operated loom – it’s quite noisy, but it’s great to see the labour and detail that goes into the craft.
In the second blackhouse there you can see a short film about the village and read more about its history and restoration on the displays.
Below the village, there is a beautiful bay with a small beach, and behind it, a coastal path leads out onto the cliffs.
#3: West Coastal Walk
The Lewis West Side coastal path follows the coastline between Gearrannan and Bragar. It is easy to pick up the trail right behind the Blackhouse Village. After a short ascent offers amazing views back to the village and the bay, the trail continues across the rocky clifftop. There are waymarkers along the path, so it’s easy to follow the trail even when there is no obvious path. The views of the sea, stacks and bays are amazing!
The whole hike takes 6-7 hours one way, but it is worth it even if you only walk 30 minutes one way and then back to your car at the village.
#4: Port of Ness
Port of Ness is the small picturesque harbour of the parish of Ness in the north of Lewis. If you’ve read Peter May’s Lewis trilogy, you will recognise the boathouse, the beach and the cliffs on the far side of it.
I had initially hoped to find lunch at the Ness Historical Society or Cafe Sonas above the harbour, but both were unexpectedly closed on the day of my road trip. Instead, I had a little picnic with snacks I had picked up in Stornoway and visited Harbourview Gallery (also of Peter May fame) to pick up a few art prints and souvenirs. You can get some small prints of beautiful Lewis landscapes for as little as £5!
#5: Butt of Lewis Lighthouse
The Butt of Lewis is the northernmost point of the Western Isles – look north and there is only open water between you and the Arctic. Standing at its rocky tip is the 121 ft-high Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Like so many other lighthouses in Scotland, it was built by the David and Thomas Stevenson. Its light reaches 171 feet above the water surface and signals ships miles away.
The lighthouse is surrounded by beautiful cliffs from where you can see the waves crashing into the rocks and seabirds flying towards their nests on the majestic sea stacs. There are plans to extend the Hebridean Way walking route to here once additional funding gets secured.
#6: Eoropie Beach
I actually had to give this beach a miss, because it had started raining after my walk around the Butt of Lewis and I was starving. However, the sand dunes of Eoropie Beach are definitely worth a visit. The beach is popular among surfers, photographers and families.
I returned to Stornoway for lunch – nice options are Camerons Chip Shop on Point Street, the cafe at An Lanntair arts centre on Kenneth Street and Artizan Cafe on Church Street; however, you might struggle to find many vegan-friendly options.
Afterward, I browsed the local shops for more souvenirs. The Baltic Bookshop on Cromwell Street has books and stationery on offer, but also more traditional souvenirs like calendars, postcards, prints and magnets. This is where I picked up Peter May’s novel The Blackhouse.
I also loved browsing the quirky collection of vintage interior pieces at Lewis Revival, a small shop with vintage prairie and croft decor. I found a beautiful pre-WW1 map of Glasgow and Argyll, which I’m going to get framed, and a first edition copy of Finlay Macdonald’s famous autobiographical Lewis novel Crowdie & Cream.
#8: Bosta Beach, Great Bernera
When I arrived in Stornoway on the last day of my solo trek on the Hebridean Way, I met a couple of locals who were kind enough to take a photo of me at the finish line. We got talking and all of a sudden, they mentioned a place I had never heard about before. “I think Bosta Beach is more beautiful than Luskentyre on Harris”, the man said. And I knew I wanted to see it.
Bosta Beach is in the north of Great Bernera, an island that is connected to Lewis by a bridge. It takes about 50 minutes to drive here from Stornoway and the last 9 miles or so are mostly along single-track roads.
Behind the beach, there is an excavated Iron Age village and a replica of an Iron Age house built by the local historical society, but the site was already closed when I arrived just in time for a picnic dinner.
I found a nice spot in the middle of the beach and ate my picnic to the sound of the waves crashing onto the soft white sand. In the distance, I could see stacs and small islands sticking out of the sea. Every now and then the sun broke through the clouds and dipped the whole beach into a golden sparkling hue. Picture-perfect doesn’t even begin to describe it!
#9: Callanish Standing Stones
Of course, I could not leave Lewis without stopping by its most significant and well-known site – the Callanish Standing Stones!
I actually swung by there early in the day, before the tour buses from an anchoring cruise boat arrived, but I wanted to return for sunset – hoping that there would be one.
The Callanish Standing Stones are over 5,000 years old and famous all over the world. No one really knows what their purpose was, but their charisma is undeniable. There are many standing stones and stone circles all over Scotland, but none is as impressive and extensive as Callanish. The main site encompasses about 50 stones in a cross-shaped circle. The inner circle is made up of 13 stones that are up to 4 m tall.
There are several other stone circles in the area that are worth a visit.
#10: Live music in Stornoway
Back in Stornoway, I had one more thing to do – listen to some live music! Throughout my trek on the Hebridean Way I found loads of local live music at village halls and pubs, and Stornoway was no different.
I followed my host Rachael’s suggestion and headed down to McNeill’s, a welcoming pub on Cromwell Street. With a dram of Harris gin in my hand, I sat down at one of the tables and ended my jam-packed day on Lewis with some live music and chat with locals.
One day is certainly not enough time to explore all that Lewis has to offer. I didn’t even get half-way through my list of beaches and bays I wanted to see – but these 10 things to do in Lewis gave a real taste for more and turned around my initial impression of the island.
Have you ever been to Lewis? What was your favourite place?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.