Situated at the northwest edge of Europe between 56 & 59 degrees north, the Hebrides is a world-class natural resource for adventure, an incredible playground in an unspoilt wilderness. The sheer variety of activities available is mind-boggling for such a compact area and can be attributed to the diverse range of landscapes in the archipelago. From the seasoned adventurer to the absolute beginner, there are experiences and activities that will cater for all. This is a place of incredible empty waves, silent hills and deserted beaches, where the peace and tranquillity of a truly ‘wild’ environment is unforgettable to any adventurer.
The Hebrides are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and etched with deep sea-lochs. There is a lifetime’s exploration by sailing boat and it is the perfect place for sea-kayaking with paddling to rival the best in the world. Year-round swells onto outstanding reef breaks and beaches provides the most consistent surf in Europe, making the Hebrides a world-class location for surfing, windsurfing and kite-surfing. Fast boats explore the myriad islands and coves. Under the waves divers find a paradise of reefs, caves and forest kelps, in clear, clean water. Out west lies the World Heritage Site of St Kilda, with its incredible variety of marine life – one of the most famous and demanding locations for serious divers.
On land, the oldest rock in the world dots the surface in a landscape awesome in its emptiness. Where else in Britain is there so much unclimbed rock? From sea cliffs to mountain crags, it is all waiting to be discovered, and named! World-class events held on the islands prove how important the Hebrides’ adventure resource is. The Hebridean Challenge, one of Europe’s toughest adventure-races, is a week long race the length of the island chain in kayaks, bikes, and by swimming and running. Four half marathons and two challenging hill races take place every year. September 2001 saw the first international Hebridean Surf festival with professional world champion surfers competing on the Hebridean waves. The Sea and Surf Kayak Symposium in North Uist is known as the friendliest symposium in the UK.
Callanish stone circle by Marta Gutowska – Own work, CC BY 2.5
Planning Your Trip
- Decide what you want to do. Here are some ideas: Walking, hiking, cycling, hill walking, mountain biking, coasteering, wildlife watching, wild camping, beach hopping, horse riding, wild swimming, glamping, sea kayaking, snorkelling with seals. Or why not walk or cycle the Hebridean Way? This is a 155m route finishing at Lews Castle on Stornoway taking in 10 of the Outer Hebrides islands – Vatersay, Barra, Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, Grimsay, North Uist, Berneray, Harris and Lewis. If you fancy taking on your own long distance trek, Watch Me See has a comprehensive Hebridean Way Guide.
- Decide how you want to do it – going it alone or with a trained instructor or guide, see below for suggestions.
- Be safe – read our safety section below before you decide on your outdoor adventure activities.
- Decide where to do it – this might be determined by the activity(ies) you want to do.
- Plan your route: pick the route that’s best for you and book flights and ferries online directly with the providers.
- Plan your timing: find out when you are likely to get the best weather conditions for your holiday / activities. It’s also worth checking for local events to find out if there’s an event of interest that you’d like to time your holiday around.
- Choose your accommodation: there is a wide range of accommodation to suit all preferences and budgets.
- Look forward to your holiday – it’s half the adventure!
Take the stress out of planning with some of the companies recommended below.
If you’re looking for some help in planning your activity holiday to The Hebrides why not check out the deals available from the groups below. You can choose what type of vacation you wish to take and link to our advertisers below for more information.
Scottish Cycling Holidays
Scottish Cycling Holidays are specialists in cycling tours of the Hebrides and throughout Scotland. Our Edge of the Sea tour departs from Oban for an exciting visit to the islands of Barra, The Uists, Benbecula, Harris and Skye. It includes nine nights B&B accommodation, maps and route, bike hire and optional luggage transfer. The itinerary has the option of a return to the mainland via Stornoway or it can be customised to suit your individual requirements.
Wilderness Scotland offers walking, sailing, mountain biking, sea kayaking and canoeing holidays in the Outer Hebrides and beyond. Our sailing holidays include a 10 day Island Odyssey to St Kilda, visiting many other islands en route. Or perhaps join us on our Mountains & Sea Expedition, sea-kayaking in the Sound of Harris and walking in the remote glens and high summits of the North Harris hills. Our walking holidays enjoy some beautiful hikes while staying in Guesthouses, while our mountain biking trips explore the untapped biking potential of these islands. We also specialise in tailor-made wildlife holidays, ancestral holidays, honeymoons and self-guided walking holidsys. Please see our website for full details or call us to discuss some options for your holiday.
Walking with Easyways is THE way to relax, de-stress, and discover the diversity of Scotland’s natural heritage and landscapes…With Easyways it’s easy – the very best of qualified walking guides, awesome landscapes, wonderful food, wildlife at easy in their natural setting, always with a thought to enjoying Scotland’s wildlife and wild places by the most sustainable way – walking… Scotland truly is a walker’s paradise – here is the door to that paradise…
North West Frontiers
North West Frontiers Walking Holidays was established in 1986 and has since been one of the leading holiday organisers for walkers of every fitness level throughout the Northwest Highlands & Islands. Qualified, enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides offer expert walking and ensure that your holiday will be a wonderful experience of the unspoilt. We also offer a range of special interest and independent trips.
Be Safe in the Great Hebridean Outdoors: Look After Yourself!
The Hebrides is a haven for the adventurous, a veritable playground of outdoor activities. But any adventure entails a certain amount of risk. Here are some guidelines to help make sure that you have a safe time as well as a fun time…
Going it Alone
If you are going it alone or with friends / family, then here are some guidelines for you:
Whether you are walking, surfing, climbing or diving, be sure to tell someone where you are going, what you’re doing and when to expect you back.
Don’t Get Blown or Washed Away….
Don’t go too close to cliff edges on a windy day or you’ll be soaring like a seagull before you know it. Erosion also means that you should not go too close to a cliff edge even when it’s perfectly calm.
Four seasons in one day…
The weather can change quickly – check the forecast before you venture out to sea or on to the hills or cliffs and make sure that you have all the safety equipment you might need if you get in difficulties.
Trying something new?
If you’re trying out a new outdoor activity for the first time, think carefully about whether you are properly equipped and prepared. If not, then seek advice, take an experienced companion, or consider starting off with an organised group with a qualified teacher or guide.
Dress for the occasion…
Don’t venture out without the right equipment and clothing. With changeable weather conditions, a clear sunny day at the foot of a hill can turn in to a nightmare of gale force winds, and zero visibility with clinging fog. Don’t take any risks – take compass, layers of clothing (always include a waterproof, and hat, scarf and gloves for higher hills) and some extra foods to keep you going. If you think the weather could be turning for the worse, turn back and head for home.
Beware of the sunshine….
The Hebrides has a lot more sunshine than you might expect, so don’t get caught out and ruin your holiday with dangerous sunburn or sunstroke. Even on a cool or overcast day, the sun burns your skin. Outdoor enthusiasts need to be extra careful – the higher you climb the more intense the sun’s rays; likewise sand and sea act as reflectors and shine the sun back on to your skin from the ground as well as the sky… Avoid being out when the sun’s at its strongest, between 11am and 3pm, apply good sunscreen of at least SPF 15 (SPF 50 is better….) before going out and reapply often, particularly if you are perspiring or in water.
A harmless dip?…
Water may look safe, but is can be dangerous. Some beaches have dangerous rip tides, some have unseen rocks. Pools and lochs can be extremely cold, even on a warm day. Learn to spot and keep away from dangers. Remember it’s a lot harder to swim in cold outdoor water than in a warm indoor pool.
Skating on thin ice…
We don’t get a lot of ice in the Hebrides with the warm current of the Gulf Stream keeping our average temperatures well above zero, even in the middle of winter. So when there is ice on our lochs, it tends to be very thin – so simply don’t go there!
Don’t upset the locals…
Gulls, terns and particularly skuas are very protective of their nests, dive-bombing anyone venturing too close and even hitting you on the head…
Make sure you take plenty of water with you – the average human needs 2 litres a day, and that’s for a sedentary lifestyle in cool weather. Dehydration is dangerous, so even if it’s heavy, take plenty of water when you are out and about.
Don’t rely on your mobile phone…
Reception can be patchy in remoter parts of the islands, so make sure that you have suitable safety equipment for your activity.
Especially for windsurfers…
When you come here to windsurf come prepared to sail on your own, bring a flare-pack, spare ropes and a bum-bag to hold them in. There might be someone on the beach to see you in trouble, then again it might just be sheep watching. If there’s two in the water, that’s a crowd, make sure you know all the self-rescue techniques.
Especially for climbers, cyclists, kayakers…
If you have a brain, you really must wear a helmet – roads and rocks are hard, heads are soft – it’s generally the head that fares worse when the two meet.
Going it with an activity provider?
If you decide to book a holiday or a session with an activity provider, make sure that you are satisfied that the company has the appropriate health and safety measure and licenses in place and that they comply with the required UK and European legislation.
Follow the guidelines given in Going it Alone above.
Originally for outdoorhebrides.com – updated. Featured image is the entrance to Fingal’s Cave, Staffa – available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsc.07617.