A Guide to 15 of the Best Beaches in the Outer Hebrides, UK.
Updated: Feb 12
Where do you think of when you think about the best beaches in the world?
Is the beach above in the Caribbean, the Maldives or perhaps the Seychelles and where are the palm trees? Actually, this beach is much closer to home and is one of the best beaches in the Outer Hebrides, UK. The Islands of North and South Uist, Barra and Mingulay have many miles of white sand beaches and turquoise sea. In our opinion they offer more than the famous Luskentyre and Seilebost beaches on the Island of Harris.
What do you look for in a beach destination?
We all have our own ideas for what makes the best beach. For me it is a pure white shell sand beach with crystal clear turquoise water which is safe for wild swimming and which I can have all to myself. My husband, who loves running would add that the beach should be flat, firm and stretch for miles!
Do you love relaxing to the sound of the birds and the waves lapping the shore?
Do you prefer good surfing or a calm bay for paddle boarding or kayaking?
You can find beaches to give you these experiences and more here in the Outer Hebrides which can claim to have some of the best beaches in the UK and also the world!
What makes the Outer Hebrides beaches unique?
The Outer Hebrides are a chain of islands off the northwest coast of Scotland. Their location means it is necessary to take a ferry or a plane to get there. While this requires more effort, it is definitely worthwhile in order to reach beaches that are more beautiful and more peaceful than elsewhere in the UK.
The quality of the light is amazing and this draws artists and photographers to our shores. Even on a cloudy day in winter you often need sunglasses and on cloudy days the sea seems to turn from a turquoise to a beautiful sea green colour. The sunsets are spectacular all year round.
What could be better than watching the sun set into the sea?
The Machair is a rare and threatened coastal habitat of stunning wildflowers including many orchids. The Hebridean Marsh Orchid is only found on North Uist. The Machair is particularly abundant here on North Uist, South Uist and Barra. The Machair supports many insects, including the endangered Great Yellow Bumblebee. Many rare breeding birds depend on the Machair for shelter and food. The Machair fringed beaches of North and South Uist, Berneray, Barra and Mingulay are incredibly special places.
Take a walk through the Machair to the beach. Breathe in the perfume of the Machair flowers. Listen to the sounds of the birds. It is a memory you will never forget!
Here are our 15 favourite beaches, scroll down for details or click the links to go to each section.
The beaches at Claddach Kyles and Caolas Phaibeil with views to Kirkibost (Eilean Chirceboist)
Bagh Bhatarsaigh, Vatersay
Bagh Mhiughlaigh (Mingulay Bay)
1. Traigh nam Faoghailean ("Balranald Bay"), North Uist
This beautiful beach is right on our doorstep! Guests can access the beach and shore from the cottage garden.
This beach is a very special place for wild swimming for several reasons. At low tide the water in the bay empties out which allows the sunshine to bake the sand before the tide comes back in. This warms the water in the bay and so it is often warmer than you expect, especially during the late afternoon.
The swimming is fantastic with wading birds flying overhead and beautiful views. The water is crystal clear and turquoise - you can even see shoals of small fish swimming. One of our favourite times to swim is just before sunset when the sea can turn orange all around you.
Sheltered from the weather, the water in the bay is often calm compared to more exposed beaches. The fact that there are no currents or other dangers to worry about means you can relax and feel safe. The added bonus is that within five minutes of walking out of the sea you can enjoy a hot shower or bath in the cottage.
In summer, wild swimmers, paddle boarders and kayakers enjoy the bay. On windy days the conditions are ideal for kite surfers especially if nearby Traigh Iar is a bit too wild and windy. The outgoing tide reveals many rock pools, providing hours of fun for children. At low tide there is a huge expanse of firm flat sand which is easy to walk on.
The sand is white because it is made from shells which have been crushed by wave action and deposited on the beach. Walkers can admire the many beautiful whole shells that have been washed up onto the beach. The Machair behind the beach is part of RSPB Balranald bird reserve with abundant bird life. Hen harriers, Golden Eagles and White-tailed Sea Eagles soar over the bay, sending the wading birds into the air. In spring and summer the Machair flowers form a scented carpet and their perfume drifts over the bay to our garden at Balranald Bay View.
Something for everyone
2. Traigh Iar, Balranald, North Uist
Traigh Iar roughly translates to the west beach. My husband calls it "his running beach" because the surface is very flat and firm at low tide which is absolutely perfect for running. It is possible to run for miles without needing to stop and open a gate or climb a fence. Traigh Iar beach continues around the corner to Port Scolpaig, another long stunning beach which is usually deserted. Traigh Iar can be reached via the track through RSPB Balranald or you can walk round the headland of the reserve in a loop (approximately 5 km). There are wonderful changing views of the rockier coastline and also across to St. Kilda. The walk around the headland takes about 1-2 hrs. If you stop to watch the waves and birds or to have a picnic it can take all day!
Keep an eye out for the otters along the coastline here.
Traigh Iar has a wilder feel than Traigh nam Faoghailean. The prevailing south west wind can send large waves rolling in. I love to sit in the dunes or rocks watching the Sanderlings and Dunlin running around to avoid the waves. If the wind is strong and from the south west the waves can be dramatic. Kite surfers enjoy the conditions here.
There are spectacular views out to the uninhabited Monach Isles and looking south you can see the hills of South Uist. This is great place to watch the sunset.
3. Traigh Stir, Hosta, North Uist
Hosta has a reputation as a great beach for surfing. You can see the Monach Isles and St. Kilda form here on a clear day. There are lovely walks along the coast in either direction. You can walk to Hosta from Balranald Bay View self catering cottage or alternatively drive there in five minutes, park the car and walk over the dunes to the beach. Hosta is beautiful and the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks is fantastic. Swimming is not advised here because of strong currents.
4. Baigh Scolpaig
Baigh Scolpaig offers a different experience to the beaches above. It is a quiet beach which feels more like a secluded cove. A favourite place for us to picnic and sit and watch the waves crashing in.
To get to the beach walk down the path past Loch Scolpaig and Scolpaig Tower. This is a really photogenic spot, if you time it right you could capture the sun setting behind the tower. In summer the Loch has amazing water lilies. We have often seen both Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles here. Hen Harriers and Short- Eared Owls also enjoy hunting here and Otters also visit this Loch. Scolpaig is historic and well worth visiting while you can, before they build the proposed spaceport on this site.
You can read more detail about Baigh Scolpaig in our blog about Scolpaig and the Tower
5. The beaches at Claddach Kyles and Caolas Phaibeil with views to Kirkibost Island (Eilean Chirceboist), North Uist
The beaches here are wide and expansive at low tide. There are several islands here, the largest is Kirkibost Island. The whole area is great for enjoying the views to Kirkibost and for walking. I would urge caution and advise walking along the beach rather than out into the bay. The tide comes in extremely quickly and you can be cut off from the shore easily if you are too far out. There are also strong currents and we would not advise swimming here. Nevertheless the scenery is stunning and it is a gorgeous spot.
The colours of the sea between the shore and Kirkibost are the most colourful I have seen anywhere. I believe this is due to the shallow water in places and the different depths of water. It is hard to do justice to the colours with the camera, you really do have to see it for yourself! There are areas that are turquoise, sea green and a beautiful pinky mauve colour.
6. Traigh Ear (East beach) Greinetobht, North Uist
Further along the northern coast of North Uist is Grenitote (Greinetobht) and the Udal peninsular. A Viking fort was excavated here in the 1960's. It is possible to walk in a circular loop here either on the beach at low tide or on the paths over the dunes. The East beach has a really wide expanse of sand and interesting views across the bay to Bhein Mhor and out across the open sea to Boreray.
There are also far reaching views of the hills of Harris and the Cuillins on Skye. These pictures were taken in December when we spent a glorious day exploring here. It was even warm enough for a picnic!
You can read more about this day in our earlier article
7. Traigh Iar (West beach) Greinetobht, North Uist
A beautiful long beach with sand dunes which is often deserted. Dogs love running on this beach! This was our picnic spot with great views across to the islands of Hirta and Boreray in the St. Kilda archipelago.
8. Berneray - East Beach
We spend most of our time on the beaches that we can walk to from the cottage as they offer so much. It is also nice not to have to drive in the car. If we do decide to go further afield, a favourite choice is East or West Beach on Berneray. While writing this I realised how many pictures of Berneray we have! I have made a note to do a further blog just about Berneray where I can show you more.
East Beach is great for walking and also for wild swimming. Birdwatchers will enjoy the waders feeding here on the outgoing tide and the swallows and swifts flying across the dunes. We often see lovely murmurations of Knot flying along the beach.
There are fantastic views over the Sound of Harris and the small rocks and islands in the sound. In the distance are the hills of Harris. The view changes constantly as the Harris hills draw the dramatic clouds and weather towards them whilst the weather on Berneray can still be sunny. The sand is white and and the sea is a pale turquoise. As the tide goes out sandbanks are revealed and the wet sand is a pinky mauve colour.
At the north end of the beach are the hills of Beinn Shleibhe and Beinn Ghaioche. If you are feeling energetic and walk up the small path by the graveyard to the top you are rewarded with amazing 360 degree views.
9. Berneray - West Beach
The west beach of Berneray is a stunning 3 mile long white sand beach with beautiful views and turquoise sea. The path to the beach crosses superb Machair with masses of flowers including Orchids and Harebells covered in butterflies - very beautiful.
10. Traigh Lingeigh, Clachan Sands, North Uist
Clachan Sands is a huge expanse of sand accessed from the Uist to Berneray road (the B893). In summer it can be a bit busier than other beaches and it is a camping spot with a water tap and refuse bin. There is an honesty box for the suggested £10 camping fee. Out of the summer season it is usually much quieter.
11.Traigh Bhatarsaigh, Vatersay
Vatersay is linked to the island of Barra by a causeway and is the most southerly and westerly inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides. It has an isthmus with Traigh Siar on the west side and Traigh Bhatarsaigh on the east.
We have very special memories of Vatersay and the beaches of Traigh Siar and Traigh Bhatarsaigh. We first discovered them many years ago during a cycling trip through the Outer Hebrides. The moment we cycled over the hill and saw these beaches before us was breathtaking. We enjoyed a well earned rest on the beach before cycling back to Barra. The bay is stunning and there is always something to watch - ships and boats coming and going and kayakers enjoying the water. The bay is a great spot for wild swimming as it is sheltered from the prevailing wind.
It is also a good place for spotting Golden Eagles - nearly every visit we see at least one soaring high over the hill behind the beach.
12. Traigh Siar, Vatersay
Make time to walk over the dunes to the quiet west facing beach of Traigh Siar. You can sit and enjoy watching the sunset here.
Mingulay is such a wonderful island and it is a memorable experience to come here and explore. The island is a special site of scientific interest and is just south of Barra. It is only reachable by boat.
For more information about who runs boat trips to the island please visit our boat trip page
If you love wildlife and birdwatching then it would a wonderful trip to do while you are on holiday in the Outer Hebrides. The boat trip itself offers the chance to see Dolphins, Minke Whales, Grey Seals and Porpoises as well as many sea birds. Photographers will enjoy the chance to photograph Gannets diving into the sea and Puffins flying past on their way to catch sand eels.
The island itself has 3 sea stacks and high cliffs on which many birds nest. It is an important breeding site for birds such as Puffins, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags, Terns, Bonxies and Storm Petrels.
To see the Puffins, take a short walk from the bay up to the grassy hill side. This brings you level with the Puffin nests which are in the grass. I sat here to watch the Puffins emerging from their nests and then flying out to sea. They return with sand eels - running the gauntlet of the Skuas and gulls before diving into their nests.
We also saw our first queen Great Yellow Bumblebee here on Mingulay. We were lucky in having a bee expert on our boat trip who was happy to teach us about them.
Mingulay was inhabited until 1912. We met a couple on our boat trip who in 1977 camped alone for 10 days on Mingulay with only their two small children for company (more about them and their story in a forthcoming blog). The derelict old village with schoolhouse and church are still here, as are remains from the Iron Age. The National Trust for Scotland has owned the island of Mingulay since 2000.
14. Seilebost and Luskentyre
Probably the most famous (and busiest) beaches in the Outer Hebrides are Seilebost and Luskentyre on the Isle of Harris. These beautiful beaches can be reached on a day trip from North Uist if you are wanting to see them. They are beside the main A859 road from Leverburgh to Tarbet.
However, in our opinion (OK we may be a bit biased!) we have much better beaches here on North Uist, South Uist and Berneray. One of the good things about the Uist's and Berneray is that the beaches are much quieter and you can walk (or run) for miles along the coast or the beach without being impeded by fences that have been put up by landowners. The islands of North Uist, South Uist, Benbecula and Berneray have less fences, more coastal paths for walking and very long stretches of uninterrupted beach.
Another famous beach on the Isle of Harris is at Huisinis. It is a lovely and quite sheltered beach, though much smaller than many of the other beautiful Outer Hebridean beaches. It is reached via the B887.
And Finally !
Remember there are no lifeguards anywhere on these beaches and you enter the water at your own risk. If you have any doubt about whether a beach is safe for swimming then ask a local person.
Wow that was a long article, if you have made it this far then thank you for reading. We hope we have inspired you to come and see these and many other stunning beaches (there were too many to list in one article!) in the Outer Hebrides.
Getting to the Outer Hebrides
Calmac operate ferries to the Outer Hebrides from mainland Scotland and there are also flights from mainland Scotland.
For more details and links please visit our Getting Here page
The Outer Hebrides is famous for fantastic seafood, smokehouses, distilleries and also Machair fed lamb and venison. There is much more information on our website. Please visit the pages linked below to find out more.
For information about where to eat and drink on North Uist please visit our food and drink page
To find out what else you can do while on North Uist please visit our See and Do page
In our next article we will share some images of our "secret" Outer Hebridean beaches . We hope to inspire you to explore the islands of the Outer Hebrides and find your own "secret" beach. If you are happy to use a map and enjoy a short walk there are deserted, unspoilt, spectacular beaches right here in the UK just waiting for you to find them.
Here is a preview of one of our favourite 'secret' beaches on North Uist.
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