How to Visit the Calanais Standing Stones on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis

calanias standing stones

It just so happened that one of the things in Scotland I was most desperate to see was also one of the most out-of-the-way to get to. Since reading about and seeing photos of the Calanais Standing Stones, I just had to see them for myself. Fortunately, Alex was interested enough in them to get on board with driving to the western edge of the Isle of Skye, boarding another ferry, and spending the night on a small, remote island in the middle of the sea.

You’ll also see them written as Callanish Standing Stones – Calanais is the Gaelic word, Callanish is the English.

We took a CalMac ferry (which transports both people and cars) from Uig on the Isle of Skye to Tarbert on Lewis and Harris (yes, the same Harris as Harris Tweed fame). The crossing takes about two hours, but the boat is quite large; there are multiple seating areas with comfortable, reclining chairs, as well as various little shops and cafes.

We disembarked on Lewis and Harris around 4pm and set off on a windy incline through the hills between Tarbert and the Calanais Standing Stones. Stunningly beautiful, the drive was also terrifying as it consisted mainly of driving at highish speeds around harrowing turns at a decent elevation without any kind of guard rail on the side of the road. We were both relieved when we reached the Calanais parking lot!

Fascinating, awe-inspiring, mysterious, and magical, the stones date back to the late Neolithic era, some 5,000 years ago! Unlike similar stone circles (hi, Stonehenge!) you can get right up to the stones, walk among them, touch them (but don’t touch them too much, we want them to stick around another 5,000 years). It was fantastic. Our timing was perfect too, as the setting sun served as a backdrop to the stones during our visit.

There were a few other people that came and went while we were there, but they were mostly quiet folks who walked around, took some photos, and left. A loud extended family with six or so high-energy kids disturbed the peace for a bit, but we did our best to channel the calming energy of the stones and roll with it.

calanias standing stones

On a traveler’s high and feeling totally justified in making the trip, we bid adieu to the stones and checked in to Loch Roag Guest House in Breasclete, a tiny village two miles north. The B&B offered an evening meal for an additional charge, but we opted to stick with the “just in case” grub we’d picked up at the Co-op in Portree on our way out of town. It was actually kind of nice to just hang out in our room and eat some quick, easy food. We’re lucky to be able to eat out so much on our travels but sometimes it’s nice to avoid the whole process and sit in a quiet room, just the two of us!

easy dinner

As usual, the next day started with a home-cooked breakfast in the dining room. Feeling adventurous, I included traditional British kippers in my order (a kipper is a small, oily fish that’s been dried and smoked). When in Rome, right? They were pretty good actually (if you like fish) and the smoked flavor was really nice, but all my Googling told me I was supposed to eat them whole, bones and all, which was a bit unnerving and made me paranoid that a fish bone was going to pierce one or more of my internal organs (I came out unscathed).

After less than 24 hours, it was time to leave Harris and Lewis, so we made our way back to Tarbert to catch our ferry. We had a bit of time before it was time to board so we stopped into the beautiful Isle of Harris Distillery that sits in the Tarbert harbor. Not quite two years old, the distillery was opened with the intention of creating more local jobs and boosting the struggling Lewis and Harris economy. While the whisky ages, they’re making gin infused with sugar kelp harvested by hand off the coast of the island. It’s tasty and unique, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s packaged in a gorgeous bottle, too. We didn’t have time for a tour of the distillery, but we did have time for a gin and tonic – served with a juicy slice of grapefruit and sugar kelp aromatic water to bring out the flavors of the gin – in the distillery cafe…which got a few chuckles from the wait staff given that it was barely 10am!

isle of harris gin

A couple hours later, we were back in Uig. The brief trip to Lewis and Harris already seemed like a dream…one I can’t wait to have again.

We’re really lucky this excursion worked out so perfectly. Even in the summer busy season, there was only one ferry TO and one FROM Lewis and Harris each day from the Isle of Skye, so an overnight stay was unavoidable (though we really enjoyed it and would do it again). The ferries run even less frequently in the off-season. Had we missed either of our ferries (or not booked in advance), we would have been out of luck. Fortunately, the Calanais Standing Stones are accessible 24/7 year-round, though the visitor center closed at 8pm. 

Next: Into the Scottish Highlands