The biggest wow factor of my Outer Hebrides road trip were the Outer Hebrides beaches. Honestly, they were just incredible. From the photos I’d seen preparing and planning the trip, I knew the beaches in the Outer Hebrides would be amazing, but from seeing them for real I know that photos just can’t quite do them justice.
It was actually the beaches in the Outer Hebrides I’d seen on Instagram that inspired me to go over in the first place – look at them!
– Traigh a Bhaigh Beach in Vatersay
I tried to capture them – I even naively took my drone hoping to get the best of them – but the wind on the sunny September days I visited was too much for my Mavic Mini and I couldn’t fly it on Harris and Lewis. Did manage a few pics further south in Barra and Varetsay though.
With the state of the world at the time of my visit (September 2020), many attractions in the Outer Hebrides were closed. And so the Outer Hebrides beaches ended up becoming our focus for the trip.
I wanted to show off some of my pictures and locally tried and tested knowledge to help you plan your trip, or even inspire a trip, to what I think are some of the best beaches in the UK. Long white sand beaches await, as do rugged cliff flanked ones too.
And you definitely won’t get the crowds of Cornwall, Bournemouth and Margate up here – barely a soul to be seen!
Best Outer Hebrides Beaches
1. Traigh a Bhaigh Beach
I loved Traigh a Bhaigh Beach, in fact, I think it was my favourite beach in the Outer Hebrides. Just head for the Vatersay Community Hall cafe and walk down, you’ll see it. Great as there are toilets at the cafe too, and food. You can wild camp here.
It was very quiet and a herd of cows came on the beach too.
I didn’t go and look but if you head over the dunes to Traigh Shiar, there’s apparently an amazing beach there too.
This pic was taken from a bus turning area. I’m not entirely sure I was meant to be there, but the views were amazing.
Berneray beaches, South Uist
2. West Coast Beach
Soft white sand runs the entire 20-mile edge of Berneray along the Atlantic coast. Fringed with machair grasslands, it’s one of the most peaceful beaches in the Outer Hebridges.
Not only do you get views overlooking Boreray and certain points that are shadowed by the main summit of Beinn Schleibhe; the beach is crowd-free and at least a mile from the nearest road.
Most people access it via a 20-minute walk from Borve village hall.
Isle of Harris Beaches
This is the drone video I wish I’d been able to make in Harris!
3. Luskentyre Beach
Luskentyre Beach is the most popular beach in the Outer Hebrides. You could easily mistake it for a Caribbean beach with its turquoise waters and white sand on the pics. Although, not quite on the drizzly day we visited.
Being one of the largest expanses of beaches on Harris, your view changes drastically depending on where you’re standing. To the north are vistas of Harris’ hills, while the west looks out to the Island of Taransay.
At low tide, you can actually wander out towards Seilebost Beach – just be careful not to venture too far out since there’s quicksand in the area.
4. Borve Beach
Save the energy to climb back up the grassy verge at Borve Beach. Epic views to the Atlantic Ocean are always appreciated, and the Isle of Taransay is within your line of sight too.
The grassy slant is great for picnics if you don’t want sand in your sandwiches, but the beach itself is pristine and deep enough that the waves won’t reach your lounging blanket. Apart from wildlife, which includes wading birds and dolphins, you can also take in the Macleod Neolithic Standing Stone just off the car parking area.
It does disappear during high tide though, so check the tide times before going!
5. Scarista Beach
From here you can see out to Taransay – the beach used on Castaway. Not only are there great views but you can also enjoy the three miles of golden sands.
Don’t dismiss the large carpet of machair either. The wildflower bloom in spring is absolutely stunning, perfect for photographs. Seals, eagles, and deer are often roaming around Scarista to keep you company in this peaceful scope of land.
While I haven’t climbed up Ceapabhal myself, I’ve been told that the panoramic views up there are great.
6. Seilebost Beach
This award-winning beach has been voted as one of the top 10 beaches IN THE WORLD, never mind just beaches in the Outer Hebrides. From here you can enjoy amazing views out to other beaches and hills. It’s also a great spot for wild camping in the Outer Hebrides.
Isle of Lewis Beaches
7. Valtos Beach
One of the most magical Outer Hebrides beaches I’ve been to is Valtos Beach. The crescent curve of this mile-long paradise features white sand, turquoise waters and a backdrop of flower meadows.
It’s quite sheltered too, meaning you can safely swim and splash about.
8. Bostadh Beach
One of the coolest and most private Isle of Lewis beaches is situated on the small island of Great Bernera, connected to the mainland by a short bridge. Sheltered by the numerous islands in the bay, Bostadh Beach is a triangular pocket within a valley.
The wildflower patches and flanking hills are beautiful to see. There’s also an Iron Age village here which unfortunately was closed when we were there. It was unveiled from the sands after a storm. Now, a replica house watches over the beach.
9. Tolsta Beach
Tolsta Beach is all about open skies and seas but sometimes the tide comes in rather deep, but for most part, it’s a lovely and sheltered spot along the remote coast. Smaller than Traigh Mhor and Garry Beach, Tolsta is perfect for those who want some quiet.
There’s also a small stone pier but you’ll have better views from the top of the sloping trail.
10. Beach at Ness
The pretty port of Ness has one of my favourite Outer Hebrides beaches, lying just behind its picturesque harbour.
The sand glows gold under the sun, which looks even more amazing thanks to the low lying cliffs surrounding it. On one end, you’ll find some blackened rocks that you can climb. These, combined with the sheltered and shallow waters, make it a great place for families with younger kids.
You can access most of the amenities you would need at the village of Ness, which is directly above the harbour.
11. Traigh Dhail Mhor (Dalmore)
Dalmore Beach is a favourite for photographers and surfers, and I can see why!
Sitting along the exposed north coast, the beach is besieged by Atlantic swells. Surfers can drop their gear on the golden stretch of sand before hitting the water.
I liked trailing along the edge where rugged cliffs flank the bay. By the northeastern end are a cluster of sea stacks that stand out dramatically from the ocean blue. Nature photographers love this spot.
12. Reef Beach / Uig Beach
Looking like something out of the Maldives, Reef Beach is such a glorious stretch of white. The rocky little islets offshore add depth to the landscape, but typically, you’d be captured by the pristine sand and machair accents.
I walked all the way to the end where there’s a small hill; the views back along the beach are great at the top.
It’s a relatively long beach and the various car parks (and toilets) make it the perfect afternoon itinerary. You can swim and picnic here; wild camping is another option if you have the time.
I combined this with Valtos Beach for a circular drive around the peninsula to enjoy the amazing beaches in the Outer Hebrides.
View this post on Instagram
Errrmm, did YOU know the beaches of the Outer Hebrides looked like this? Absolutely LUSH. Loving this Scotland road trip with @helenwonderlust. So cool being somewhere we know very little about, and just exploring as we go. Means all the more surprises! 🏴 Bit chilly for us to go in the water but there were some brave souls out and about! Perfect for a blustery walk along the coast though. 🥰 #ReefBeach #outerhebrides #visitscotland #explorescotland @visitscotland #harris #scotlandadventure #westernisles #scotlandexplore #scottishbeaches
More incredible Outer Hebrides beaches
Obviously with only a week in the Western Isles I didn’t get to see all the Outer Hebrides beaches I wanted to. There are still more that I wanted to mention here, but haven’t actually seen for myself.
13. Huisinis Beach on Harris
Huisinis Beach comes very highly rated. Protected from the rougher Atlantic swells, this beach would be flooded with tourists if not for its remote location. The near-white sand is framed by grassy slopes and crofters cottages behind them. When you can tear your eyes off the landscape, take the opportunity to surf, kayak or go fishing.
There’s a sailing-specialised water sports centre nearby.
13. Horgabost Beach on Harris
Amble past the small camping area to reach the cozy, stunning Horgabost beach. I recommend this destination for group travel since it’s easily accessible. You can also camp on the sand (small fee required) and indulge in the summer-only burger bar.
15. Hosta Beach
If you’re into surfing, Hosta Beach treats you to huge swells that roll in from the North Atlantic. As you come up to the water line however, the waters are shallow enough for a paddle. The beach then backs into gentle sand dunes that come alive with orchids in the summer.
16. Hallaman Bay, Barra
Hallaman Bay is a magnificent and immensely popular beach on Barra for various reasons. The sand is incredibly soft, and the bay itself is hemmed by machair fields. On the far end is a modern hotel, which overlooks the ombre waters. Better yet, it’s part of a beautiful coastal walk. Not too far off are the iron-age Dun Ban Fort and Loch Tangasdale.
Tips for Visiting the Outer Hebrides Beaches
To make sure your Outer Hebrides travels are as wonderful as you imagine them to be, here are some tips on visiting its beaches. Their rather isolated location means you need a little bit more planning before setting off.
1. Bring or hire a car. While there are public buses, you want the freedom to stop whenever something catches your eyes. Some beaches are only accessible via the road too. You can read more about how we did an Outer Hebrides road trip here.
2. Rent a bicycle. Get sightseeing and exercise done at the same time by renting a bicycle! You can easily ride to any beach within stone’s throw of the larger villages and not have to worry about parking. We met quite a few people along the way who were cycling.
3. Ferry and flight times are subject to the weather’s whims. The Outer Hebrides is connected to the main Scottish cities via ferries and short flights, but they’re subject to weather conditions. Barra in particular, uses a beach as their commercial runway. The flight schedule changes depending on the tides. Make sure to book ahead and keep your eye on any updates.
4. You’ll experience every season in a single day. Prepare for weather changes throughout the day by packing layers and wearing practical shoes. Umbrellas and rain jackets could come in handy, although it’s more important to have a change of clothes when you’re visiting the beaches in the Outer Hebrides.
5. The best time to visit is during summer. The summer months (including April and May leading up into it) are best for clear skies and longer café opening hours. That being said, the crowds will likely increase too.
6. Life guards are not guaranteed. Most (if any) Outer Hebrides beaches don’t come with lifeguards, so stay alert when you’re in the water. Keep in mind that the coastline facing the Atlantic comes with larger waves. If you have young kids with you, choose more sheltered bays that curve inwards and don’t swim if the waters look rough.
7. Strolling vs Sunbathing. There’s an instinctive association of “beach” and “sunbathing” that doesn’t quite apply to countries like Scotland. You’re more likely to stroll along the sands and pick up shells than bask in the sun. Temper your expectations because Scotland isn’t famous for warm or stable weather.
8. Bring practical footwear. It’s tempting to slide into a pair of sandals and call it a day, but you’ll be doing more walking at Outer Hebrides than a regular beach. Hiking is definitely a must if you love unspoilt landscapes.
9. Eat local. There’s no need to pack your own groceries as the Outer Hebrides have their own collection of cafés, eateries and grocery stores. In fact, more popular beaches come with cafés or mobile food stalls.
10. Don’t visit just for the beaches. The beaches in Outer Hebrides are stunning and tropical-looking, yes, but pair your visit with a proper island exploration. Most are within walking distance of a village, and are interconnected with coastal trails.
The best Hebridean beaches
I hope this has helped you if you want to go beach hopping in the Hebrides. As you can see, there’s loads to see and do on the islands if you like your beaches sandy and your seas turquoise. Many of the Outer Hebrides beaches are surrounded by Machair – a low lying grass that flowers beautifully in season, only found here. It adds colour and Scottish beauty to all your pics.
Visit these ‘secret’ Atlantic Islands and you’ll experience some of the most stunning beaches in the British Isles, you just need to time that weather just right!