If you want to experience the wilds of Scotland, a road trip through the Outer Hebrides is a great introduction. Here’s my itinerary to help you plan your Western Isles adventure.
Go on a road trip to the Outer Hebrides and you’ll avoid the crowds of the almighty North Coast 500, and get to see some of the most open and free parts of Scotland.
I went to the Outer Hebrides with my friend and fellow travel blogger, Helen in Wonderlust. Sounds incredibly stupid now, but I hadn’t quite realised I’d planned a road trip to the Outer Hebrides, as I was going off Instagram pictures I’d seen. Genuinely thought I was going on a road trip to the Western Isles – who knew it was the same thing, hey?
Anyway, confession over, let me guide you through our Outer Hebrides road trip, so you can do the same (one day!).
Click to see the Outer Hebrides Road Trip Route Map
This was our basic route for the Outer Hebrides road trip. I planned it two weeks before – the day before I went to Norfolk for four days – so, it was a skeleton of an idea, which we planned to flesh out while we were there. I’d originally planned more destinations, including Ullapool, but when it came to booking the ferries I realised it was just too much.
Just a warning, booking the ferries for our Outer Hebrides road trip was more complicated than I thought. Knowing the names of the ferry ports, planning the timings and connections, and then, knowing if they had space was harder than I planned. This probably took me about three hours, but with this guide you’ll be able to do it in way less.
More tips on actually booking the Outer Hebrides road trip below.
So, let’s get onto the Western Isles road trip itinerary, shall we?
- Day 1: Driving through Loch Lomond
- Day 2: Oban to Castlebay (Barra)
- Day 3: Vatersay and exploring Barra
- Day 4: Road trip up the Uists, to Harris
- Day 5: Road trip round Lewis
- Day 6: Road trip round Harris
- Day 7: Tarbert to Uig, in Skye
- Day 8: Glasgow, and home
- Tips for an Outer Hebrides road trip
- Cost of the Outer Hebrides road trip
- Advice for wild camping and driving in the Outer Hebrides
- Road trip in the Outer Hebrides
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Day 1: Driving through Loch Lomond
After driving up from Portsmouth, where I live and about 275 miles away, the day before, we actually set off from Preston. Managed to swing by Tebay Services to drop £50 on snacks, as if we could afford it.
And, after a great drive through the Lake District, we were in Scotland. Kinda daunting how Google Maps told me it was just straight for 174 miles on the motorway, but at least it kept the instructions easy to follow.
Loch Lomond things to do
I needed a break, and so we pulled up to Loch Lomond Shores, at the south of Loch Lomond. It’s a small shopping centre with a Sea Life Centre and a park, and a watersports hire place. We had a look round, went to the toilet, and left – weren’t really feeling the vibe.
Instead we drove north, to the village of Luss. It’s known as one of the cutest villages around Loch Lomond, and so we went for lunch at The Village Rest. A popular spot where I enjoyed an amazing jacket potato and veggie curry – delicious. I’d 100% recommend.
We went for a wander around Luss. Ended up buying a Scottish face mask, seeing a stunning rainbow over the pier, and admiring the cute houses, the village is known for. There was also a great gift shop, and a lovely little coffee shop too. Definitely worth a stop off.
We’d toyed with the idea of visiting Loch Katrine around the lock, and going on a Loch Katrine cruise, but the weather was threatening to change and we decided we were too tired. It was in the wrong direction. If you can fit it in though, and it’s not 2020, then take a look. Pack your women’s parka coat to keep you warm if you want to do this – there are some great ones at Trespass!
We stopped at Ardui instead. Took the time for a local beer and a quick go with the drone, and carried on. The scenery was great.
It would’ve been great to explore the Loch more, but with the weather and driving distances, we decided to crack on and get settled for the night. If you did want to do some more driving round Loch Lomond, there are some great scenic drives listed there.
Loch Lomond accommodation
I managed to freak myself out by obsessively reading weather reports, and so ended up booking a ‘mountain hut’ at the Pine Trees Holiday Park at the last minute. Loved it. Seriously. Wasn’t even annoyed that the weather was fine and we would’ve been ok to camp, like I’d planned.
For £20 each a night we got this cool hut, with an intense heater and just a few steps away from a shared bathroom, with great showers. The owner was great here and it backed onto the Wild Hebridean Way, which I totally plan to do one day.
I had a little walk on it here…
I had actually paid for the camping round Loch Lomond already, as you can’t wild camp in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, like you can in the rest of Scotland. We paid £3. The weather scared me though, and staying at Pine Trees meant we didn’t have to drive too far the next day to Oban either.
Here’s a MAP of the spots around Loch Lomond so you can decide if you want to do it or not.
Day 2: Oban to Castlebay (Barra)
I was so happy that I only had an hour’s drive to Oban from our accommodation, rather than the two on the original plan.
We stopped off for breakfast at The Real Food Cafe, just a minute’s drive from Pine Trees. Super clean, tasty breakfast baps, and a dedication to supporting toilets in Malawi, means this is a no brainer. Go!
We were warm, fed, and ready to get to the Outer Hebrides.
When you’re driving round the lochs in this area you’ll see lots of places to park up on the road, and passing places too – take advantage! We stopped off at Glen Lothy to find the reflection of Ben Cruachan on the water was particularly special that day.
Arriving in Oban
We wanted to have time to look round Oban, so we didn’t stop too long. As soon as I arrived in Oban I wished we had longer, but then after three hours, I think that was about right. Unless you’re going in season and not in 2020 – then you could join a boat tour, or visit the distillery.
On our visit in September 2020 we looked round the souvenir shops, admired the restaurants and mooched about the Scottish produce shops. We walked to the North Pier, and then the other pier, and went and took the car to the ferry in good time.
My hot tip for Oban would be the fish market at the ferry terminal. NOT the one with the tartan on but right next to the terminal building. You’ll find it as there’s a huge queue outside. Great price seafood, and super popular. This would be a good place to pick up some Scotland souvenirs to remember your trip by.
The ferry from Oban to Castlebay (which is Barra’s main port) leaves at 13:40 and gets in at 18:25. Don’t be late as it cost almost £100 for a car and two passengers!
Check in closes 45 minutes before it’s scheduled leaving time.
Oh, and it’s not the North Ferry Terminal. It’s much bigger than that and over the other side. If there aren’t road signs, you’re in the wrong place. Also, you can go about an hour early and park up there to avoid paying around the city.
Oban to Barra by ferry
The ferry from Oban to Barra takes 5 hours. My mum had warned me before that it was sickening and rocky, and I shrugged it off. Heading into hour three, and it turned out she was right, as usual.
I was so seasick I couldn’t move.
I’d gone to get a drink downstairs, and Helen was upstairs and I seriously couldn’t muster my legs to go back and tell her where I was. It was rough.
As soon as we arrived I was fine.
But just to warn you.
We arrived onto Barra, to wind and rain, and so went to put up our tent at the Wavecrest Campsite. The guy there gave us the bright idea of camping on the hill, to be more private. We didn’t realise then quite what a mistake of an idea that was.
Tent up by the beach, all proud of ourselves, off we trotted into Castlebay for some food.
We went to Cafe Kisimul, an Indian/ Italian restaurant that comes very highly rated online. I went for a chicken jalfrezi – which was even more delicious considering it was about 8pm, and the rollercoaster of a day we had. We ended up staying till closing, getting as much electricity into our phones, and hot food in our bellies as possible.
Accommodation in Barra
As I’ve said, it was September 2020, COVID times. All hotels I could find online were a two-night minimum, and they said different households weren’t allowed to mix, which is why we ended up camping. There is a hostel you could try in normal times, called Dunard Hostel, which was in a great location.
Wavecrest Campsite was really basic. Three toilets and two showers in an industrial tanker thing, and that was about it. No Wi-Fi. It was by the beach though, and not far from the town, and the two members of staff were lovely.
We barely got a wink of sleep that night though, thanks to the howling gales, our flapping tent, and the worry we were about to be blown into the sea.
All good fun though, right?!
READ MORE: Fun Games for Road Trips to Keep You Busy
Day 3: Vatersay and exploring Barra
Vatersay is a little island off Barra, with a population of just 90 people. It makes for a lovely slow drive to explore the island and see the amazing Outer Hebrides beaches surrounding.
Make Traigh a Bhaigh Beach your first port of call. It’s stunning.
The weather really made it for us, and the fact it was one of the few places in the whole Outer Hebrides road trip that I managed to get my drone up – so enjoy these pictures.
There’s a cafe here that does operate, although not when we were there. Too early. You can park near here though and there are toilets when it’s open.
We just chilled on the beach, had a brew and admired the view. Would’ve loved a swim but also didn’t want to as we were camping. Spend as long as you can here!
We tried to drive round the island but you can’t actually go much further than this. Instead of driving on, you should walk over the dunes to Traigh Shiar Beach on the west coast. Gutted I missed it!
From here head off the island, and make sure you pull into Uidh Beach for pics. Again, more stunning coastline and views.
Back on Barra
Any other time, you can enjoy Barra Surf Adventures Barra surf adventures – sea kayaking . There wasn’t any availability thanks to it being 2020, but just wanted to add it in here for future travels.
For brunch we headed to the Hebridean Toffee Cafe, where unfortunately they didn’t have any toffee ready for us to sample. Instead, we had two bacon sandwiches each. Needed it.
If you do want toffee you can pop into the Buth Barraigh Community Shop. Here you’ll find all kinds of local treats and goodies.
The big thing to do in Barra is to watch the plane come in on the only beach runway in the WORLD. We magically timed it just right and made it for the 12:15 arrival – felt like everyone in Barra was there waiting!
It was pretty impressive coming in. I’m sure the passengers felt like superstars with all of us waiting.
Ferry from Barra to Eriskay
Then we headed to the ferry terminal – a different one to the one we arrived in on, at the north of the island.
Both pretty shattered we ended up having a nap at the terminal, in the car. Was so nice with the sun streaming in.
There was a cafe there, with cakes and coffees, so a scone for an afternoon snack it was.
Barra to Eriskay – departs 15:40 / arrives 16:20
£17 for a car and two passengers
We took the ferry over, and sat in the car missing all the supposedly beautiful views. Blummin COVID meant we weren’t allowed to get out and walk around.
Arriving into Eriskay, we drove up to South Uist, admiring the views as we went. We were desperate for some decent food, and after quite a bit of driving with no map or phone signal, managed to find Charlie’s Bistro.
Lasagne, with chips and garlic bread. TRIPLE carbs. Yes.
The owner, Iain, was lovely. He bought the cafe when it was an old sweet shop, called ‘Charlie’s’. He had fond memories of a childhood popping in there for sweets and so wanted to keep the name, but make it a lovely restaurant.
He was really helpful in our quest to go wild camping in Scotland and directed us to a few beaches to try where no one would mind.
Accommodation on Benbecula, South Uist
We ended up at Cula Bay. It was even windier than the night before and we couldn’t actually even get the big tent up. Thankfully I’d taken a one man one and so I slept in that on the beach, while Helen slept in the car. It was a rough night.
I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about wild camping and though I’d totally do it again, that night was hard.
The beach was amazing though!
Day 4: Road trip up the Uists, to Harris
Up early, it wasn’t good enough weather to properly enjoy the beach, so we packed up as soon as we woke up, and drove up South Uist and North Uist, with a leisurely drive to the terminal.
I was determined to use the camping stove and toastie maker I’d bought and so after managing to find an open shop at the terminal, we bought some bread and cheese. Unfortunately the wind was blowing the flame so much it didn’t cook, and so we had dry cold cheese sarnies for breakfast.
There’s nowhere to eat before 12 on South Uist. At least, we couldn’t find anywhere.
Beneray to Leverburgh to Harris Island –
Departs 11:10 / Arrives 12:10
There’s loads of cool stuff to do on Lewis and Harris, but after two nights of camping, gawd we were tired.
We decided to head north to our Airbnb and just see what we saw on the way.
We accidentally happened upon the food truck, Taste n Sea, which actually ended up being my favourite food experience of the whole Outer Hebrides road trip. We didn’t know at the time, but they’re actually pretty highly regarded around the Hebrides.
I went for cod pieces, Cullen Skink soup, and a tea. All tasted soooo good, and even better with this impressive view to look out on as we ate.
That gave us a good feed for the day, as we hadn’t realised the portions were quite so big.
We pootled on to our Airbnb in Cromore, admiring the stunning scenery as we did. If the weather had been better I wanted to go in the wild swim.
Accommodation in Harris
We got to our Airbnb in Cromore, showered and just fell asleep. SO nice to relax in a comfortable Scottish home.
We had a room in a lovely couple’s home, but they had to go to the hospital in Glasgow for a check up so, along with another couple who’d got a room on Airbnb, we had the place to ourselves. Hot shower, lovely kitchen, and a massive DVD collection with a big lounge meant we were very happy to be there.
Check the latest prices here. We paid around £21 each per night.
Day 5: Road trip round Lewis
Up and ready, finally refreshed. We wanted to see as much of Lewis as possible. Big day ahead.
The top things to do in Lewis include hiking, exploring the beaches, enjoying the Circular Scenic Route (which included the impressive Reef Beach), going to see the Callanish Stones, learning about the chess pieces of Lewis, and enjoying the Old Village (wasn’t open).
We had a great day driving round, BUT, the one thing that was missing, was food. Couldn’t find an open restaurant anywhere (this was Sept 2020). We managed a cup a soup at the Lewis Community Shop (great place), and that was it all day.
So by 5pm we headed to Stornoway – the main town of the Western Isles and the capital of Lewis and Harris in Scotland. Had to be some food there!
We went for a pint and a packet of crisps at McNeills pub, and waited for the Harbour Kitchen to open. And when it did, wow. Managed an amazing meal. I ordered mussels and they gave me 71.
I counted them. Staff were lovely, and the bread they gave alongside was an absolute taste sensation.
Accommodation in Lewis
We stayed at the Airbnb again, on Harris, and watched Braveheart. Lovely evening!
It was a bit of a drive but there weren’t any other option tbh.
Day 6: Road trip round Harris
Today it was Harris’ turn. What could we find on our big day in Harris on our Outer Hebrides road trip?
After leaving our Airbnb we headed into Tarbert, where we’d be getting our early ferry from tomorrow, and the most populated area on Harris.
First stop, breakfast.
After getting some petrol (they do it for you, it’s great) we saw a sign for breakfast at the Harris Hotel.
Best bacon and egg sandwich ever. It was so hot inside, how did they do it? That set us up, and made us book into the hotel for that night too. As we still hadn’t planned any accommodation for our final night of the Outer Hebrides road trip.
Day in Harris
We spent our day in Harris exploring Seilebost Beach, Luskentyre Beach, walking out to the Eilean Glas Lighthouse on the Island of Scalpay, shopping in Tarbert, wishing we could go in the Harris Distillery, and generally having a lovely time.
We had dinner in the hotel – cod and chips, with a herring starter – and drinks in the bar after. It was a great last night on the Outer Hebrides!
TOP TIP: Watch out for which Tarbert you book your hotel in. There’s another one in Argyll, where the Loch Lomond Park is and you don’t want to get muddled.
Accommodation in Harris
The Harris Hotel was very ‘Scottish’ looking, and traditional. I thought it was great and we were both impressed with our room. It was definitely bigger than the average, we had a sofa and TV, and of course a private bathroom too.
It was about a two-minute drive from the port, and walkable to the famous Harris Distillery. There was plenty of parking out front, and the staff were lovely too.
In fact, everyone we met in the Outer Hebrides was definitely nicer than the average!
You could also try the Hotel Harris, which was a bit more modern and even closer to the ferry terminal. Click here for more photos, prices and availability for the Hotel Hebrides.
Day 7: Tarbert to Uig, in Skye
We were up and out, and managed to get the price of breakfast off our hotel as we didn’t have time to eat it. Pretty happy about that. So useful being about two minutes from the terminal too, glad we invested in the Harris Hotel!
Tarbert to Uig
Departs 07:30 / Arrives 09:10
Ferry was pretty chill. Had a gross ‘sausage patty’ sandwich though – if they ask if you want ‘links’, say yes.
Unfortunately for us, the weather was terrible in Skye. My mum had been warning me all week about the weather warnings on breakfast TV. Well, it hit in Skye.
We’d been so excited to explore but the rain really stopped play. Driving was awful, and we couldn’t see the stunning views we knew were beyond the fog.
We drove round Quiraing, and managed a few pics and vista points before the heavens opened.
We sat and had cake in Portree, hoping it’d change. I have been to Skye before, on January 1st and weather was actually way better than in September, just to note.
We gave up and didn’t even look round Portree in the end. Such a shame as we’d so been looking forward to exploring Skye.
Still determined, we drove up to the Fairy Pools, which look amazing online, but found they weren’t even open thanks to the torrential rainfall.
Driving through Glencoe
We drove south, through Glencoe, stopping at a Tibetan market we happened to see along the way.
Glencoe is one of the most stunning places in the Highlands, but unfortunately we could barely see past our hands. So, we just decided to head back.
I had a LONG drive to do and wanted to get some of it over with.
We passed Ben Nevis somewhere in the fog, and stopped at Eilean Castle, which was featured in James Bond.
I just carried on driving past Loch Lomond and Pine Trees, through the rain, to Glasgow.
We arrived into Glasgow at around 6pm, to lovely sun. Forgot what that felt like.
Everything looked great and I’d love to go back to see Glasgow, but for that night, I just wanted dinner and a drink. We went to MacSorley’s next door, and had mac and cheese with pulled pork, and a few gin and tonics.
Accommodation in Glasgow
We stayed at the Jury’s Inn Glasgow, which was in an incredible location, and only £40 for the night. The duvet and pillows there were just AMAZING. Click here to book a bargain at the Jury’s Inn in Glasgow.
6 hours 31 minutes drive – probably took me longer
Day 8: Glasgow, and home
If you have the time, enjoy looking round Glasgow. It was wonderful weather for it, but I needed to get to my parents in the Midlands. We left, stopping at Tebay Services on the way back for breakfast, and then, home.
A great week road tripping in the Outer Hebrides!
Tips for an Outer Hebrides road trip
– I’d definitely recommend dividing up that last day. It was just too much driving and I couldn’t relax and enjoy the morning.
– Pack some healthy food in the car as it could be hard to find when we wanted it. Barely ate a vegetable all week.
– The roads are unbelievably well kept, especially compared to down where I live in Hampshire!
– If you want to wild camp, read my guide.
– You need to adhere to the rule of passing places – and be courteous.
– Let other drivers pass, as they might be on their way to work while you’re chugging along admiring the view.
– Keep your petrol topped up.
Cost of the Outer Hebrides road trip
Outer Hebrides Ferries
This is what we spent on ferries for the Outer Hebrides road trip, each.
- Oban to Castlebay = £100
- Eriskay to Barra = £17.15
- Ferry = £21.30
- Tarbert to Uig = £44.65
= £183.10 / 2 = £91.55 each
Outer Hebrides Accommodation
This is what we spent on accommodation for the Outer Hebrides road trip, each.
- Wavecrest Camping x 1 = £10
- Airbnb house x 2 = £50
- Harris Hotel x 1 = £60
- Jury’s Inn, Glasgow x 1 = £22
= £142 each
Outer Hebrides food
This is what we spent on food for the Outer Hebrides road trip, each.
- We didn’t eat particularly well on this trip, and did actually eat chocolate bars for lunch on two days. Sad times. Had some lovely fish and chips at the Harris Hotel, enjoyed my mussels, and the lasagne and chips were just what I needed.
I’d estimate I spent about £150 on food for the week.
= £150 each
Outer Hebrides petrol
This is what we spent on petrol for the Outer Hebrides road trip, each.
Petrol was one of the biggest expenses on the trip, and from Preston to Preston again, it cost about £130 between us.
= £65 each
Total cost of the Outer Hebrides road trip = £449
More European road trips for you to try
Advice for wild camping and driving in the Outer Hebrides
Wild camping in Scotland is perfectly legal, but there are rules to keep it fun and open to all. If you’re feeling inspired by my wild camping adventure and want to give it a go in the Outer Hebrides, make sure to follow the Scotland wild camping rules to keep it free and open for all.
The main rules are:
- You won’t stay longer than three nights in one place.
- You’ll leave the spot how you find it (or better!).
- No fires.
- Respect animals, nature and other people.
Top tips for wild camping
You need to be prepared for wild camping in the Outer Hebrides. Let me take you through a few lessons learned the hard way, so you don’t make the same mistakes!
– When you choose a spot to camp, look for some sort of shelter. At least from one direction. But, don’t camp between two high points as the wind will funnel through to you. That fresh coastal air can become a howling gale very quickly!
– Getting the tent up is one thing, but getting the pegs to stay in the ground is another. So much of Scotland is either boggy, or dry – so you may have trouble with the tent pegs. I’d recommend getting some storm pegs for extra resilience.
– Don’t camp next to a stream, or any body of water, as little brooks can easily turn into torrents. You do NOT want to wake up to a river in your tent.
– Don’t move rocks or dig ditches to make your camping spot better. That’s not how wild camping in Scotland works. And don’t camp near people’s homes, or within view from their house – they won’t like it.
– My tent was too high, too hard to put up, and there was too much fabric to cope with in the wind. When it comes to choosing a tent, go small, basic and as minimal as possible.
– No matter what the time of years, expect the nights to be cold and pack extra warmth for your tent and sleeping bag.
– Arrive in good time to your spot, so you have the time to pick an exact spot before nightfall.
Top tips for driving
– Don’t worry about the islands’ road conditions. The roads were amazingly well kept and other motorists were very courteous – we didn’t have a problem.
– You need to adhere to the rule of passing places and pull over if the passing place is on your side of the road.
– Let other drivers pass, as they might be on their way to work while you’re chugging along admiring the view.
– Keep your petrol topped up as it could be some time between stops.
– Download your maps to your phone before you start as you might not have phone reception for your trip. Any cafe or restaurant we asked was happy to give out their Wi-Fi code with a purchase so we were ok.
– Spend some money locally rather than taking your own food or using supermarkets. Try the fish market for lunch in Oban, pick up some treats from the community shop in Harris, try the Hebridean Toffee and eat out to taste the local cuisine. It’s tempting to be 100% prepared, but it’s fun to sample local produce and really helps the local communities too.
Packing list for your trip
A lightweight tent that’s super easy to pitch, and light.
Take a good quality all season sleeping bag, and an insulated mat too. Maybe some sort of pillow? Up to you whether you can be bothered to carry it or not.
You need a way to get water. I was fine with two bottles kept filled and kept in the car but you can get water treatment tablets from Boots easily enough.
Camping stove, with a gas cartridge.
Take a phone power bank, and the midge repellant.
You might want to bring a First Aid Kit, a repair kit for the tent, and some hand sanitising gel too. Make sure your toiletries are all biodegradable.
Some sort of picnic mat to sit out at night. If you’re in little hiking tents there’s no space to sit up.
Road trip in the Outer Hebrides
If you want to go road tripping round the Outer Hebrides I wholeheartedly recommend it. I feel like we had a real adventure, at a time when adventures were hard to find. We barely saw a soul out and about, and it was the perfect trip to get away from it all.
If you have any questions about going on a road trip in the Outer Hebrides – let me know in the comments below.
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