The Unsung Hero of the Hebrides—Isle of Lewis

Scotland boasts more than nine hundred offshore islands, primarily clustered into four main groups: Shetland, Orkney, Inner Hebrides, and Outer Hebrides. Read this compelling case as to why the Isle of Lewis stands out as the ultimate gem among them all.
Lewis, Scotland landscape

© Liz Carlson

When it comes to visiting Scotland, people get really excited. After all, so many of us have Scottish heritage or roots and feel compelled to return to the motherland. Others are in awe of the rugged beauty, gripping history, charming villages, lilting accents, and iconic places. Beyond the usual landlocked spots, getting out to the Scottish Isles is a real dream for many. And with more than nine hundred, it can be hard to choose where to start.

building isle of lewis, scotland

© Liz Carlson

Getting out to the Hebrides by ship is one of the most spectacular and unique experiences you can have on a trip to Scotland. This archipelago off Scotland's west coast is home to hundreds of islands. Divided into the Inner and Outer Hebrides groups, here is where you’ll find iconic places like the Isle of Skye, Islay, and Iona, among many others. But allow me to make the case that the Isle of Lewis is the best of them all.

Sheep on a hill Lewis Scotland

© Liz Carlson

The underdog of the Hebridean islands has been punching above its weight for a long time. The Isle of Lewis consists of the northern part of Lewis and Harris—the largest of the Hebridean islands—and is home to everything you’ll be looking for on an island-hopping Scottish adventure. The two parts are often spoken about as if they were separate islands, adding to the quirkiness of the place.

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Calanais Standing Stones

The scenery is incredible on Lewis, and it’s a real drawcard for those looking for sweeping views across rugged coastlines and white sandy beaches. Here, you’ll find some of the richest history in the United Kingdom, spanning from Neolithic times to the Picts to the Norse; today, it’s known as a Gaelic hub in Scotland. One of Britain's best standing stone sites can be found on the Isle of Lewis: the iconic Calanais (Callanish) Stones. While a few Stone Age structures are to be found here, the Calanais Standing Stones will wow everyone who visits. Buried under layers of peat for 5,000 years, these stones weren’t uncovered until the mid-nineteenth century. Thousands of years older than Stonehenge, folklore states that these stones are petrified giants who refused to convert to Christianity.

Dun carloway broch Lewis Scotland

© Liz Carlson

Dun Carloway Broch

Not far away from the standing stones is another fascinating ancient site: Dun Carloway Broch (Dùn Chàrlabhaigh). An Iron Age circular stone building probably used as a fort, brochs can be found all over Scotland, though Dun Carloway remains one of the best preserved, clocking in at over nine metres tall on one side. Situated high on a steep rocky cliff, the views are exquisite.

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

© Liz Carlson

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Nearby is another unique must-visit spot on the Isle of Lewis—the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. A blackhouse was a type of home common in the Hebrides, Scotland, and Ireland with stone walls and thatched roofs. The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village was a traditional blackhouse village by the sea on Lewis that was abandoned as people transitioned into more modern housing; some people lived in them up until the 1970s. It’s been painstakingly restored and recreated to give visitors a glimpse into the past—you can even stay in them!

lewis scotland coastline landscape

© Liz Carlson

The Isle of Lewis has another claim to fame—the Lewis Chessmen. Incredibly famous, a farmer stumbled across a box of intricately carved twelfth-century chess pieces in Lewis. Made from mostly ivory from walrus, these remarkable pieces make up an almost complete chess site, likely made in Norway. A few years ago, a rook was discovered in Edinburgh, fetching nearly a million pounds. Three rooks and a knight are still missing. You can see six of the chess pieces on display in the museum inside Lews Castle in Stornoway, the capital of Lewis and Harris.

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Lews Castle

A Victorian-style castle, Lews is a beautiful place to visit while in Stornoway, even just wandering through the gardens. Overlooking the town, it was built in 1847 when Sir James Matheson bought the Isle of Lewis. Yes, he bought an island. Now home to a cafe, hotel, and museum, it’s a bit of a hub for those exploring Stornoway. Stornoway, the largest town in the Outer Hebrides, is cute and charming.

town of stornoway isle of lewis scotland

© Liz Carlson

The town of Stornoway

Originally founded by Vikings over a millennia ago, nowadays, it’s a base for those exploring the islands. It has a creative, youthful, and artisanal vibe, home to many delightful cafes, art galleries, and interesting independent shops. But finally, the main claim to fame that Lewis has worldwide? Tweed. Home to Harris Tweed, you can find many shops here that sell the iconic woollen cloth. Exclusively handwoven here, Harris Tweed is the only fabric in the world protected by an Act of Parliament—the Champagne of the Western Isles, if you will. You can’t miss it while in Lewis.

About the Author

Liz Carlson

Liz Carlson

Expedition Team

Liz runs one of the biggest travel blogs in the world, Young Adventuress. She is American but has been based in the mountains of Wānaka, New Zealand for the past decade. She is a writer and photographer, focusing on solo female travel, wildlife, and our connection to nature.