Stornoway (Gaelic Steòrnabhagh) is the main town on Lewis and the admin centre for all of Scotland's Outer Hebrides. Indeed it's the only town in these islands; it has the best amenities and transport links, and it's the obvious base for exploring both Lewis and Harris.
1 Stornoway Airport (SYY IATA) (2 miles east of town on A866). Stornoway has flights across Scotland by Loganair, in twin-prop aircraft. These are not cheap, around £250 return and more at the weekend, but it's a full-service airline so a checked bag is included in the fare. (And think what petrol alone will cost if you drive then take the ferry.) There are four flights M-Th and two F-Su from Glasgow GLA taking an hour, one or two from Edinburgh, 1-3 from Inverness, and M-F one or two from Benbecula. Check-in an hour before flight is soon enough at Stornoway; allow the standard two hours at busy Edinburgh or Glasgow. The airport has toilets and a lounge but the cafe remains closed. There's car hire but you need to book ahead. Bus W5 runs between town and airport five times M-Sa, taking 15 min, fare £1.20. Another five buses M-F pass nearby on the highway out to Point. All the local taxi firms serve the airport, see "Get around".
Calmac ferries sail to Stornoway from Ullapool on the mainland, taking 2 hr 30 min. There are two sailings year-round M-Sa, and on Sunday two Apr-Oct and just one Nov-March. Return fares are £108 per car and £20 per adult including driver; bikes go free on all Calmac routes (valid for 2020).
It's also possible to sail to Lochmaddy on North Uist, or even to South Uist or Barra, then work your way north by road and ferry. It's not the obvious route to Stornoway but could be part of a grand tour of the Hebrides.
See Lewis for buses around the island, which all converge on Stornoway.
A linked bus / ferry service runs up the Western Isles through Barra, the Uists and Harris to Stornoway, so M-Sa it's possible to go the whole way in one day. There are half-a-dozen services part-route, but for the full route you need to set off from Castlebay Barra at 06:20, Lochboisedale South Uist at 09:00, Benbecula at 11:10, Lochmaddy North Uist at 11:30 and Tarbert Harris at 16:20, to reach Stornoway by 17:30. Going south, you leave Stornoway 09:30 to reach Tarbert at 10:45, Lochmaddy at 13:45, Benbecula at 14:25, Lochboisdale at 15:25 and reach Castlebay at 17:35.
By bus: see Lewis for routes around the island, which all converge on Stornoway. They're sparse M-Sa with nothing on Sunday. The bus station is next to the ferry terminal.
The town is small and the only bus you're likely to use is W5, which runs east along A866 to the airport and away out to The Point. Northbound it runs along B895 up the east coast past the hospital towards Tolsta. About a dozen M-F and five on Saturday.
Bus W1 (for the north tip of the island) and Bus W2 (west coast loop) run through town along A857 to Perceval roundabout and the hospital before heading off into the countryside.
Car: There are no national car hire companies on the islands. There are a number of small local operators, see the Car hire section of Outer Hebrides article for details.
Taxi: the Stornoway airport website lists 14 local operators.
- 1 An Lanntair Art Centre, Kenneth Street, HS1 2DS, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 10:00-00:00, last Su of month 13:00-17:00. Arts centre offering exhibitions, concerts and films.
- 2 Lews Castle (Museum nan Eilean). Museum Apr-Sept M-W F Sa 10:00-17:00, Oct-Mar M-W F Sa 13:00-16:00. The castle was built in the 1850s for Sir James Matheson who made his fortune in the far eastern opium trade. To build it he demolished the remnants of the preceding medieval castle, whilst losing the "i" from Lewis. It was later sold to Lord Leverhulme the soap tycoon. In the 20th century it was used as a navy air base and as student accommodation then fell into disuse, but was refurbished from 2011. It now houses Museum & Tasglann nan Eilean, the museum and archive of island life. The ballroom is used as a ritzy event space, and there's expensive self-catering apartments available. The extensive castle grounds are always open to stroll. Free.
- 3 Old Gun Battery (At the main entrance to the power station.). Two Royal Naval Reserve 6-inch guns, which were taken out of use in 1919. The power station next the guns overwhelms the impression, and somewhat spoils the setting.
- 4 Stornoway Historical Society, Old Town Hall, 2 Cromwell Street. Summer: M W & F 11:00 -16:00. One room changing exhibition on Stornoway History donation requested.
- 5 Iolaire Memorial: in the early hours of New Year's Day 1919, HMY Iolaire was bringing home sailors demobilised at the end of the Great War, but she struck a rock at the entrance to Stornoway harbour and sank. The official death toll was 205, mostly local men, but the boat was overcrowded and it may have been higher. The memorial is at Holm east of town, follow the lane south just before the airport entrance. The centenary on 1 Jan 2019 was marked by the unveiling of a new memorial nearby.
- Hebcelt Music Festival is held in mid-July, multiple venues but mostly in the grounds of Lews Castle and at An Lanntair in town. Flights, ferries and accommodation are booked solid while it's on; there's no camping within the venues, and no dogs allowed. The next event is W 14 - Sat 17 July 2021.
- Lews Castle Grounds Mountain Bike Trails. About 30 km of mountain bike tracks in the woodland around the castle. The paths are graded by difficulty and require a rugged mountain bike. There are also 24 km of surfaced or gravel tracks which are suitable for road bikes or walking.
Never on a Sunday. Lewis has a stern Sabbatarian tradition that is fighting a bitter rearguard action. They've been unable to resist the ungodliness of flights and ferries on a Sunday, but all shops remain closed except Engebret's filling station, and the majority of eating and drinking places. On Saturday night, pubs and entertainments halt by midnight.
Stornoway is the only place in the Outer Hebrides where you will find a selection of shops like in a mainland town. There are both multiples and several independent stores including bakers, butchers and a bookshop. The local delicacy is Stornoway Black Pudding, a blood and oatmeal savoury sausage product. There are several shops selling Harris Tweed, either by the metre or made into clothes and bags.
A dwindling fishing fleet provides fresh fish and shellfish which can be bought fresh from the local fish shops.
- Stornoway Fish Smokers, Shell Street, ☏ . A good, traditional smokery cures the local fish
- 1 Co-op, 8 MacAulay Road, HS1 2HU. M-Sa 08:00 - 22:00. The largest supermarket in the Outer Hebrides. Also a smaller store in the centre of town in Cromwell Street.
- 2 Tesco, Ferry Road, HS1 2QY. M-F 06:00-00:00, Sa 06:00-22:00.
- 3 Engebret Filling station, Sandwick Road, HS1 2SL, ☏ . M-Sa 06:00-23:00, Su 10:00-16:00. Filling station & convenience store.
- 4 Iceland, 63 Cromwell St.. M-Sa 08:00 - 20:00. Branch of the frozen food chain.
- 1 Digby Chick, 5 Bank Street, HS1 2XG, ☏ . M-Sa 12:00-14:00 & 17:30-21:00. Good seafood and steaks, often gets booked out.
- 2 Fusion, Perceval Rd S (Manor roundabout), ☏ . Tu-Th 12:00-14:00 & 16:00-22:00, F Sa 12:00-23:00, Su 13:00-21:00. Chinese & Malaysian takeaway at north edge of town.
- 3 Peking Cuisine, 30 Church St, ☏ . Daily 16:00-21:00. Chinese take away.
- 4 Thai, 27 Church St, ☏ . M-Sa 12:00-23:00. Thai restaurant also does takeaway.
- 5 Woodlands Centre, Castle grounds, ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-17:00. Coffee & snacks.
- HS-1 Cafe Bar, within Royal Hotel, Cromwell St, ☏ . Daily 12:00-16:00, 17:00-21:00. For light bites or dining.
- Eleven, Caladh Inn, 11 James St. M-Sa 07:00-09:30, 12:00-14:30, 17:00-21:30; Su 08:00-10:00, 12:00-16:00, 17:00-20:00. Traditional restaurant with a buffet and carvery. The buffet is also available as a takeaway. Buffet £13, dinner £25.
Stornoway has a high density of pubs which reflect the absence of them around the rest of the island. Around half of them open on Sunday and the licensing hours are generally till 23:00 on weeknights and up until 01:45 on Fridays and 01:00 on Saturdays.
Lewis's only distillery, Abhainn Dearg, began production in 2009 so it now has a ten-year malt whisky. See Lewis#Drink for tours: it's on the far northwest of the island.
Advance booking is essential June-August, and advisable any time of year.
- Wild camping is mostly permitted and safe.
- 1 Laxdale Holiday Park, 6 Laxdale Lane, Laxdale HS2 0DR (off A857 a mile & half north of Stornoway), ☏ . Open April-Oct, with 35 pitches for tents and 19 hook-ups for caravans, plus static caravans, wigwams (accept dogs) and bunkhouse. Tent pitch £10.
- 2 Heb Hostel, 25 Kenneth Street, ☏ . Friendly well-run central hostel open April-Oct. No pets. Dorm £19 ppn (cash or cheque only).
There are no national chain hotels. If possible, always choose somewhere that is assessed and graded by Visit Scotland for Quality - there is a good listing on the Visit Hebrides website. There are other places to stay in and around Stornoway, but if they are not members of the Quality scheme, there's probably a reason.
- 3 Jannel B&B, 5 Stewart Dr (near hospital and golf course), ☏ . Friendly comfy B&B at north end of town. B&B double £120.
- 4 Crown Hotel (Crown Inn), Castle St, HS1 2BD (entrance on Point St), ☏ . Small hotel, dog-friendly. With a public bar and upstairs restaurant. This is the bar where the 14-year-old Prince Charles (HRH Prince of Wales) came on a sailing outing from his school Gordonstoun. Locals recognised the boat and crowded round. The prince fled in here and ordered the only drink he knew the name of: a cherry brandy. His forebear Bonnie Prince Charlie could have drained the bottle in a trice, but the young prince was under age. His bodyguard was sacked, his only friend and confidant, and Charles was henceforth closely confined to his school regime of cold showers, dawn runs, and bullying, bullying, bullying. B&B double £100.
- 5 County Hotel, 12-14 Francis Street, Stornoway HS1 2XB, ☏ . Small central 2-star. B&B double £140.
- 6 Caladh Inn, James Street, HS1 2QN, ☏ . Simple 3-star with 68 rooms, handy for the ferry and the bus station. Part of Cala Hotels chain. B&B double £120.
- 7 Royal Hotel, Cromwell St, HS1 2DG, ☏ . Comfy hotel on waterfront with 24 rooms and Boatshed restaurant. Part of Cala Hotels chain. B&B double £180.
- 8 Cabarfeidh Hotel, Manor Park, HS1 2EU (North edge of town, 1 mile from ferry pier), ☏ . Four-star with 46 rooms and Solas restaurant. Part of Cala Hotels chain.
- Lews Castle. Luxury self-catering rooms and apartments upstairs in Lews Castle. The castle has coffee shop open during the day, and a bar open in the evening, but evening meals are only available occasionally. The ground floor rooms are used for functions, but may be open for viewing in the daytime. From £170 per night.
Stornoway has plenty to see and do for the visitor on foot, but travels further afield require bus or car transport. There are no railway lines on the island.
The Callanish Stones are around 30 minutes' drive from Stornoway and are the island's most popular outdoor tourist attraction.