Exploring Stornoway: Capital of the Isle of Lewis

Discover the top tourist attractions in Stornoway for your next trip. From must-see landmarks to off-the-beaten-path gems.

If you are visiting the Outer Hebrides, you are certain to spend some time in Stornoway. After all, Stornoway is the main town on the Isle of Lewis, the third largest island town in Scotland, and by far the largest town in the Outer Hebrides. This bustling place is the capital city of the entire Western Isles, and in Stornoway, things to do are plentiful and varied. From cultural attractions and existing activities to sites that immerse you in history to breathtaking landscapes with spectacular natural beauty, Stornoway has it all. Here, Together Travel offers some suggestions for exploring the historical landmarks, local markets, and natural wonders, making Stornoway your base of operations as you enjoy excursions throughout the Outer Hebrides.


The Historical Roots of Stornoway

One of the things that makes Stornoway such a fascinating place to visit is its historical significance. There is evidence of Neolithic activity near the town, but what we know for sure is that it’s been settled since the days of the Vikings. In fact, the name Stornoway derives from an Old Norse word, Sjornavagr, meaning steering bay. Over the past millennium, the town has evolved, moving on  from its Viking origins to become, at different times, a medieval castle, a colonial settlement, a Cromwellian fortification, a major fishing port, and the centre of the Harris Tweed industry. For an in-depth look at the city’s rich history, don’t miss the Museum nan Eilean. Opened as part of Lews Castle, the museum houses a wide array of artefacts, going all the way back to the origins of Stornoway. Among other Stornoway attractions that provide opportunities to explore its history are Lews Castle itself, the Arnol Blackhouse, Stornoway Old Town Hall, and the Harris Tweed Story Room. Additionally, do not miss the Isle of Lewis First World War Memorial, honouring the heritage of the Isle of Lewis as well as those lost in the war.

Cultural Experiences in Stornoway

In addition to the Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway has plenty to offer in terms of cultural experiences. At the An Lanntair Arts Centre, you’ll find a wide variety of creativity, in the form of music, theatre, and visual arts. Located right next to the harbour, An Lanntair features award-winning venues, including a contemporary art venue, theatre, cinema, and concert hall, making it one of the most visited places in Stornoway and the absolute hub of culture and activity. You can enjoy festivals in Stornoway, too, like the HebCelt Festival, which takes place in July and features local and international music celebrities, or The Mòd, which celebrates Scottish Gaelic poetry, music, song, arts, and culture. 

Outdoor Adventures May Be the Best Part of Stornoway

The Outer Hebrides region is known for its stunning natural beauty, with its rugged coastlines, pristine beaches, and abundant wildlife. If you just want to get out and walk, you can do this on the grounds of Lews Castle, where a series of woodland walkways allow you to admire the beauty of the castle’s well-maintained grounds. For the truly adventurous walker, though, there’s no experience quite like walking the Hebridean Way. This 252 kilometre journey begins at Vatersay and ends in Stornoway, providing adventure as you make your island journey. Not feeling quite up to such a journey? Relax on the sublime white sands next to gorgeous blue water at Gress Beach, or take a cruise or safari to discover the thrilling wildlife in the area.


Day Trips and Excursions from Stornoway

Of course, staying in Stornoway does not restrict you to the borders of the town. Rather, there are all sorts of things to see and do, just a short trip away. Visit the Arnish Point Lighthouse, which has served as a guardian for the Outer Hebrides since 1852, and enjoy the incredible views from Arnish Point. A short trip from Stornoway by car or by bus stand the Callanish Stones, erected by Neolithic people around 5,000 years ago. This makes them even older than Stonehenge, and this stone circle, made of rows of monoliths, has given rise to many legends. Drive over the “Bridge Across the Atlantic” to reach Great Bernera, and you can visit the small villages that make up this beautiful island, taking in the unique sights it has to offer. Step back in time at the Iron Age House in Bosta and you can visit the beautiful Bosta Beach while you are there. If you are fit and healthy, you can take the circular walk that starts at Breaclete and enjoy gorgeous views and wildlife spotting along the western coast. Another excursion, to Blackhouse Village, takes you to the southwest edge of the Isle of Lewis, where the village is set in a deep cove for protection against the crashing Atlantic waves. In this village, you will find a number of traditional thatched stone-walled dwellings known as blackhouses, where you can envision life for the crofters and tradespeople who lived there. There is also a café and gift shop, as well as scenic coastal walks.

Insider Tips for Visiting Stornoway

No visit to Stornoway would be complete without a visit to Stornoway Harbour, the heart of the town. It is a great place to sit, and people watch while eating at one of the many amazing restaurants. From there, you can also catch a guided boat tour and explore the Outer Hebrides, Steering Bay, and the Isle of Lewis from the water. Another must-do in Stornoway is trying the infamous Stornoway black pudding. There is a debate over whether the best black pudding can be found at Charlie Barley’s, Willie John’s, or MacLeod & MacLeod, so you might want to plan to try them all! It is important to note that the weather in Stornoway is rather cold and damp, so the best time to visit is from late June to mid-August, when highs reach 64.2°F (17.9°C), overnight temperatures rarely drop below 49.2°F (9.6°C), and there is a lower chance of significant precipitation.


Together Travel Offers Unique Lodgings in Stornoway

When you visit Stornoway, Together Travel offers a spectacular stay in Lews Castle.  Towering above the blue waters of Stornoway, perched on an ancient slope, the gorgeous, gothic-revival style Lews Castle was built in the mid-1800s. Having been through many different phases, as a home for nobility, a WW2 hospital, a college, and a school, it has been lovingly restored and reimagined as self-catering apartments and contemporary suites. Modern amenities and luxurious creature comforts within the halls of a castle, with sweeping views of the harbour make this the perfect place for a memorable holiday. In Stornoway, and across the UK, Together Travel Co. is here to bring your holiday dreams to life, with luxurious, comfortable, unique properties located wherever you want to be. Find out how we can make your trip amazing by contacting our expert concierge team at +44(0)1625 416430 or emailing us for more information.