In the further reaches of bonnie Scotland, you may be surprised to find this island paradise. A paradise of white sand beaches and crystal blue waters, paired with wild rocky landscapes and a good dose of fresh Scottish air.
People imagine rocky crags and chilly winds when thinking of the more distant regions of Scotland, however the beautiful Isle of Harris will surprise you at every turn, making this a unique and special holiday destination to all who visit. It’s the kind of scenery you might expect down on the southern coast or on the other side of the world in some tropical destination, but the Isle of Harris is a unique and breathtaking island, perfect to add to your bucket list and ideal for your next holiday to Scotland.
This guide shares with you all the secrets and hidden gems of Harris, and lots about the friendly locals too - not all of them are orange and fluffy! Read on to discover this romantic and dramatic Scottish isle, you won't find anywhere else like it.
About the Isle of Harris
Where is the Isle of Harris? Harris is the southern island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, Harris and Lewis. It is set off the north west coast of Scotland. Although the same island, they are very different in terrain, with the rocky landscapes of Harris challenging the gentler moorlands of Lewis. The most common way to travel to Harris is to get a ferry from the fishing town of Ullapool on the west coast of mainland Scotland. Here you get shipped across the ocean to Stornoway on Lewis, and you can travel south from there.
Despite being the third biggest island on the British Isles, Harris and Lewis has a population of around 20,500 people and around 550 of the population lives in the small village of Tarbert. As well as visitors from all over the world wanting to visit, the locals welcome them with open arms, inviting them to discover the wild terrain of their island, and the many attractions it holds.
A breadth of scenic shorelines, stunning mountaintops and charming places to eat and drink await on this island. Discover pretty villages where you can spend the day in cafes down by the seafront or delve into the more remote places of the Island of Harris for wonderful walking opportunities and far-reaching views of the unique landscape.
Breathtaking beaches on the Isle of Harris
Crystal-clear shallows and white sandy shores provide miles and miles of epic coastline bordering this large Scottish island. The two top beaches on the Isle of Harris have got to be Luskintyre Beach and Hushinish Beach, although all of the island’s beaches have an effervescent quality created by the incredible turquoise colour of the water. Feel as though you’ve stepped out of the modern world and into a land of Scottish legend and myth when you walk down to these sandy shores.
Luskintyre Beach sits on the north coast of South Harris and is protected by the island of Taransay, which you can see across the water, and it’s possible to spot dolphins, seals, otters and sea eagles during a walk here. Meanwhile, Hushinish Beach is further north and sits in a bay on North Harriss’ western coast.
Other popular beaches on the Isle of Harris include:
- Seilebost Beach
- Horgabost Beach
- Borve Beach
- Northton-Scarista Beach
If you’re thinking of bringing your dog along on your holiday to Scotland (a perfect excuse for a pup holiday!), take a look through our guide to the best dog-friendly beaches in Scotland.
Characterful villages: Tarbert
The community centre of Tarbert may be just a village, but it’s the largest on the island and the cultural hub of the Isle of Harris, centrally located on an isthmus that connects the South Harris and North Harris and Lewis together.
There are attractions, eateries and walking routes in this pretty locale, and as it sits on the edge of beautiful Loch Tarbert, there’s the opportunity to go sailing or kayaking on the beautiful clear waters.
Other pretty villages on the Isle of Harris include:
- Leverburgh – this is the second biggest village on Harris where there’s a ferry port, mini market, salon, medical practice, three churches, post office and gift shop.
- Hushinish – a tiny village where a hamlet of just four family homes overlook one of the island’s exquisite beaches.
- Northton – Here you will find a visitor centre offering a little insight into the islands history. You will also find a café and a beach with beautiful sand flats.
If exploring coastal villages is your thing, getting immersed in the local culture of a new place, the take a look at our guide to charming coastal villages in Scotland.
Find a wonderful getaway on the island and start browsing our holiday cottages and lodges on the Island of Harris.
Things to do on the Isle of Harris
Set sail in a kayak or canoe and you could explore the many lochs, caves and sea stacks that make up the coast. Rent a kayak or enjoy a guided tour of the spectacular coastline.
Surfing is an unexpected pastime to be found upon this northern island. Catch a wave against Harris’ mountainous backdrop with Surf Lewis. Based in Stornoway up on the Isle of Lewis they offer SUP, open water swimming and snorkelling activities too. Beach time also welcomes seaside swims, make sure you take a dip so you can say you have swam in the sea on a Scottish northern island!
Walk, roam and hike your way across the island
The biggest challenge would be to summit the highest mountain in the Outer Hebrides, Clisham centrally located on North Harris. Walk to the top of Beinn Dhubh for breathtaking views down to Luskentyre beach, a sight you will not forget.
Pull on your hiking boots and follow this Rubh' an Teampaill Route, that takes you out to the far west of South Harris, past beautiful beaches and to the ruins of a medieval chapel. Head to Bunavoneader Whaling Station (Bun Abhainn Eadarra) to explore the landscape and see one of the most intact examples of a whaling station in the northern hemisphere.
You can sail across to the long-abandoned Island of Scarp to the north, which has a fine machair that’s ideal for birdwatching. Spot lapwing, skylark, dunlin, redshank and golden eagles, the latter of which is thriving in this region, with the highest density of golden eagles in Europe being found in the Harris Hills.
Take road trips
Scotland is known for its spectacular road trip routes so make sure you go for a drive to see the best of this beautiful island. You could drive through some of Scotland’s rockiest low-level scenery on The Golden Road, apparently named for the high cost of building along the treacherous rocky landscape. The Outer Hebrides are like Disneyland for geologists thanks to their ancient rocks, some of which date back three billion years. The rock is so rare, its composition bears a close resemblance to that of the moon.
Take a driver to the southern island, Scalpay, connected to Harris via a single track bridge. Home to a lively population, harbour and lighthouse, it’s perfect walking territory with things to see and places to eat when you’re done exploring.
We’ve already mentioned the island’s incredibly high density of golden eagles; well, keen birdwatchers can spot these magnificent birds from the North Harris Eagle Observatory.
There are few manmade attractions on the island but that’s not why people travel here. They come for the chance to escape and retreat into nature, that’s why this island draws artists, adventurers and nature enthusiasts year-round. Love nature? Check out our guide to the best wildlife centres in Scotland.
Highlight attractions whilst on the Isle of Harris
The beauty of the Isle of Harris is that you can venture north to the Isle of Lewis easily. There are some attractions on both that you should try and fit in if you have the time.
Here are some of our favourites:
- Calanais Standing Stones - These are an extraordinary cross-shaped setting of stones erected 5000 years ago. It is thought that they were a kind of astronomical observatory and they are said to be older than Pyramids of Giza!
- Harris Tweed - Find out all about the fabric that has made the island so famous. The shop is tucked under the hillside at the mouth of the harbour and will probably be the first shop you notice as you drive off the ferry in Tarbert! Location:HS3 3DJ
- Stornaway - This is the main town of the island. It's vibrant harbour is a point of interest for many who are keen to explore the traditional methods of Scottish fishing, and the shopping isn't bad either.
- Bosta Iron Age House - The Iron Age Village was discovered at Bosta - only in 1993 when after severe gales the remains were revealed. A long excavation then followed which revealed the very important archeological finds. A reconstruction of an entire house was then carried out and that iron age house is open for visitors to see today.
- Gearrannan Blackhouse Village - Here you can see traditional activities, including the weaving of the famous Harris Tweed. There is a small shop where you can buy mementoes of your visit, and you can relax in the cafeteria where you can enjoy the best of home-made fare.
- St Kilda - St Kilda is an isolated archipelago situated 40 miles west-northwest of North Uist in the North Atlantic Ocean. You can take a boat trip here from the Isle of Harris which makes for a spendid day out.
Food and drink on the Isle of Harris
Keeping time-honoured Scottish traditions alive, this northern island has it’s very own whisky distillery with a 'Social Distillery' ethos – this essentially means it’s open six days a week to welcome visitors. You can visit their restaurant for a bite to eat and to sample a dram of their world-famous whisky. If you’re not a whisky lover, no worries, as they also specialise in a gin infused with sugar kelp, which has inspired their ‘Seafood Project’.
Are you a true whisky connoisseur? During your time in Scotland, you may want to consider a visit to the distilleries on the Isle of Skye.
Isle of Harris restaurants
There’s a variety of cafes, restaurants and eateries across the island, you just need to know where to look! With so many establishments offering the best of local produce served up on a plate, you can spend your entire trip eating out and sampling some of the best seafood in Scotland.
Here are just a few options for your time in the Outer Hebrides:
- The Machair Kitchen - a rather beautiful cabin-like venue by one of the Isle of Harris’ stunning beaches.
- Butty Bus - Leverburgh local favourite, ideal for walkers or hikers passing by this incredible beach and fancy a traditional tasty chip butty.
- The Anchorage Restaurant, Cafe and Bar – locally-sourced seafood, fish and chips and home baking; visit for a light lunch or a special dining experience of lobster and champagne.
Looking for a caterer? Flavour do dinner parties and special events, you’ll dine on a Hebridean fusion menu with locally sourced produce that can be tailored to your guests' requirements and - the best bit - no washing up! This might be the perfect solution for you and your family to avoid having to cook whilst staying in one of our Harris cottages.
Holiday cottages and lodges on the Isle of Harris
We have a selection of holiday cottages, lodges and log cabins throughout Scotland and its scattered islands. Visit the glistening beaches, kayak through the turquoise water and climb the highest mountain in the Outer Hebrides before returning home to your own cosy cottage on the Isle of Harris. Start planning your trip by browsing our holiday cottages on the Isle of Harris.