10 Things You Need to Know about the Isle of Barra

Isle of Barra

10 Things You Need To Know

About The Isle of Barra

We’re all going on a summer holiday. We’re all going to… the Isle of Barra.

Okay, so maybe this isn’t your plan right now, but I hope it will be. When I first visited this Hebridean gem, it was the first time ever I’d chosen a destination in Scotland as my summer beach holiday. I blame that great ball of fire in the sky; if only it made an appearance more often, us Scots would be far less inclined to venture off abroad.

Barra was my tenth Scottish island, and it was my trip there that really accelerated my desire to see more of the islands. My adventures have since been focused around island-hopping, so much so that I challenged myself to visit thirty islands before my thirtieth birthday and… I DID IT.

Despite racking up a number of new additions to my list of Scottish islands, Barra remains is my top three, and I very doubt it will ever be shifted from this spot.

Wondering why I loved it so much? Here are ten things you should know.

10 Things you Need to Know about the Isle of Barra

1. It is the epitome of ‘good things come in small packages’

Us Scottish folk have a tendency to throw around the word ‘wee’, even in instances where something isn’t all that small. I can assure you however that Barra definitely falls into the ‘wee’ category.

At just 8 miles x 5 miles at the widest point, it’s certainly not one of Scotland’s larger islands, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in beauty and character.

Barra supplies infinite scenic stimulation, fantastic local produce, and an enviable and palpable sense of community, all rooted in a rich clan history.

Still not convinced? Read on.

2. You’ll fly into the most beautiful airport in the world. 

Gliding down onto the shimmering sands of the beach at Barra Airport is not your everyday aviation experience and should feature somewhere on every travel wish-list. It is the only commercial beach landing IN THE WORLD and the flight times are, of course, dictated by the tides.

The flight itself is the stuff that scenic dreams are made off. Look down upon the wild beauty of the Highlands, the iconic colourful facades of Tobermory, and coastlines so beautiful they will pull on your heart-strings.

Isle of Barra

The approach to Barra really would have you convinced it was somewhere far more exotic. Famous as it is, the flight is always met by a crowd of spectators eager to capture the pocket-sized plane on its decent.

Post-landing, I have never been so charmed by an airport in my life; witnessing such a unique, small-scale operation was a real novelty. I particularly enjoyed watching my baggage come off the flight at the same time as me, before being deposited in a bus shelter – sorry the ’Baggage Reclaim’ – outside the wee dinky building.

Isle of Barra

I would urge everyone and anyone to do this flight in their lifetime. My thoughts throughout the journey were variations of…

“Why the hell haven’t I done this before?!”

You can fly directly from Glasgow to Barra with Loganair. For prices and to book visit the Loganair website.

3. OR you will sail towards a castle in a beautiful bay. 

If low flying, miniature propellor planes are not your thing, you can instead enjoy a sea-based journey to Barra on the ferry from Oban.

When dry land comes into sight and you see an ancient castle rise from the surface of the water, and don’t worry, it’s not that you’ve just had too many ‘Malts of the Month’ on the CalMac ferry!

Isle of Barra

Kisimul Castle (pronounced Kish-imul) is an emblem of the island, and gives the main town of Castlebay its name; a reminder that us Scots were traditionally fond of a say-it-as-you-see-it naming approach.

You can visit the castle via a short boat transfer, or just enjoy it’s prominence on the liquid horizon from almost anywhere in Castlebay.

The ferry from Oban to Barra takes four hours and fifty minutes. Check out the timetables, prices, and how to book on the Barra destination page on the CalMac website  

4. After a visit to Cafe Kisimul, fish curry will never taste the same again. 

Yup, you’ve guess it – this island eatery is also named after the aforementioned castle. AND, if you choose to eat alfresco you can gawk at said castle while you savour your seafood. Do expect some souvenir midge bites for the pleasure however!

Cafe Kisimul is an island institution, and one which I had high expectations of based on some strong recommendations from fellow Scottish travel enthusiasts.

Isle of Barra

Glancing over the Indian/Italian menu, a wave of indecisiveness washed over me as I struggled to commit to any of the seriously seductive seafood dishes; first world problems.

Less than an hour later, I congratulated myself on two outstanding choices – the scallop pakora, followed by a cod & monkfish, tuna based masala.

Isle of Barra

Scallop Pakora.

Isle of Barra

Cod & monkish in a tuna masala.

The meal was so good, we put down our cutlery and immediately rebooked for the following evening. Enough said.

Opening hours are “Morning ’til late”
Call the restaurant on 01871 810 645 / 01871 810 870 or email info@cafekisimul.co.uk
View the Sample Menu on the Cafe Kisimul website

5. The weather forecast is as accurate as Scotland’s myths and legends. 

Lets be honest, I may have had a series of internal hissy-fits every time I checked the weather forecast before my ‘summer holiday’ to Barra. Four days of incessent rain, with a cheeky thunderstorm also thrown into the mix. Great!

I needn’t have bothered with an alarm on my first morning in Barra – the force of the rain against my garden cabin was like nature’s equivalent to a brass band. It wasn’t to last however…

Isle of Barra

My garden cabin at the Dunard Hostel

By the time we had washed our breakfast dishes in the hostel kitchen, lazer beams of sunlight burst through the sky over Castlebay, triumphantly defeating the cluster of rainclouds and clearing the way for a day of exploration.

A pattern emerged during the trip; intermittent downpours, wild gusts of wind, but overall dry conditions with ample sunshine and blue skies.

The weather is a tease, and the forecast was as useful as a chocolate teapot.

6. The hilly cycle to Vatersay is SO worth it.

Vatersay is an idyllic little isle – the most southernly in the Outer Hebrides – and is conveniently connected to Barra via a short causeway.

“The cycle there is easy”, they said. “It’s only a few miles”, they said.

Okay so it wasn’t a particularly long cycle, but it involved an unexpected series of rollercoaster inclines and dips – far more than my average level of fitness appreciated.

The dreamy coastine quickly quelled any temptation to moan, and distracted me to the point that I nearly fell off my bike.

Isle of Barra

Isle of Barra

The beaches were sublime and serene, the kind that provoke a “NO WAY! Is this really Scotland?” reaction.

Even the local cows couldn’t resist an afternoon at the seaside.

Barra Bike Hire is based in Castlebay and prices start at £6 for up to 3 hours. For full details visit the website here.

Isle of Barra

7. Honesty really is the best policy. 

Honesty jars and boxes; not something you’re ever likely to see in a city. It just wouldn’t work, would it?

On the Isle of Barra, the first honesty jar I saw was in the entrance to our hostel; accessed through a permanently unlocked door. The Dunard Hostel promotes a come-and-go-as-you-please vibe, and you might not even encounter the hostel owners during your stay.

Isle of Barra

The solution? A blackboard with your name and room on it, a system requiring no room keys/cards, and an honesty jar to leave your outstanding balance. Talk about trusting!

The shower room is available to non-guests, again in exchange for a donation in the honesty jar. AND, if you’re a fan of mackeral, look no further than the hostel fridge, where local youngsters catch it fresh from right outside. Your donations = well earned pocket money.

Isle of Barra

This system of honesty and trust is one of the things I loved most about Barra.

The Dunard Hostel is located in Castlebay. It was clean, comfy and cosy, with sea views from the communal lounge. Check out their website here 

8. The Castlebay Bar is good for your soul, and bad for your health! 

You will inevitably end up in the legendary Castlebay Bar, whether you like it not. The simple task of walking in a straight line will become a challenge when you succumb to a night in this renowned establishment.

This aint no pretty pub, and chances are your pint will taste funky. What can be guaranteed however is a night of top banter, drunken shenanigans, and if you’re lucky, a performance from the notorious Vatersay Boys.

An authentic Barra experience relies upon a visit to this pub. It’s your duty.

9. The locals will welcome you with…. an open door to their vehicle. 

Picture the scene, you walk into a local bar to be met with a wild-west style silence and unwelcome glares, tumbleweed cartwheeling across the ground you desperately want to swallow you up.

That is everything that Barra is NOT.

Cast aside any preconceived ideas of insular islanders when you visit this island, and expect curious glances, followed by new-found island friends.

When you’re out walking, be prepared for vehicles to slow down beside you, and offer you a lift to wherever they are going. You have no idea how grateful we were for this simple act of kindness during a sudden downpour.

The people really do make a place, and I’ve never experienced this more than on Barra.

10. There’s a reason it’s called Barra-dise and Barra-bados. 

Barra really is a wee slice of paradise. It often resembles a far-flung tropical land, and the island experience is guaranteed to detox your mind and feed your soul.

Whether you arrive by sea or air, explore by foot or bike, indulge in scenery, seafood or whisky (I’ll take all three please), this island will leave an irrevocable imprint on you.

It’s a simple kind of paradise, and it’s right here in bonnie Scotland. Slainte to that!

Isle of Barra

Isle of Barra

 Would YOU like to holiday on the Isle of Barra?


  • Peter Colledge says:

    Hi Kay, thanks for this.

  • Pat Andrew says:

    I really enjoyed your post on the isle of Barra. I was lucky enough to fly there a few years ago and I wasn’t disappointed. I had to smile when the co pilot opened the door and helped us out onto the sandy beach saying “watch you don’t slip on the seaweed”! Our bags were waiting for us in the car park!. The island is all you say it is plus a little bit of magic. The wild flowers, the wild life the beautiful beaches and amazing views no matter where you are on the island. I’m proud to say my dad is from Barra, and the Barra family are the kindest friendliest folk you’ll ever meet. Had an amazing holiday there, and quite an adventure.

    • Kay says:

      Hi Pat! Thanks for reading 🙂 It’s definitely a very unique flight experience isn’t it? There’s so much to see on such a wee island! What a great place to have heritage from – and I agree, the people are lovely. I’m hoping to return before too long 😀

  • Lyndon says:

    What’s the best time of year to visit these islands? Weather and insects?

    • Kay says:

      You can never predict the weather in Scotland, especially on these wee islands. I would avoid the winter months if you don’t like the cold, and if you want to actually sit on one of the lovely beaches.

      I always think Easter time is nice in Scotland – it’s not too busy and it’s usually sunny and fresh. Midges are out all summer, but the wind can keep them away depending on where you’re going! 😉

  • Christine Rawson says:

    I have some friends who flew to Barra at the weekend and as I was looking at their fabulous photo’s which they post daily on fb, I came across your blog which I’ve really enjoyed reading. It looks amazing, now I feel that I really must go there one day. But when is the best time to go? Is there ever a month when it doesn’t rain much? Guess that’s a silly question! When were you there Kay? Thanks for reading. Christine

    • Kay says:

      Hi Christine! I’m sure your friends will have loved the experience too. I was there from the 30th July for 4 nights and the weather was very mixed. It really is a mixed bag on the islands, and you can never predict the weather. I like travelling in Scotland around April, as I always remember it as being a sunny month.

      I’ve just been on Mull, Iona and Staffa and the weather has been gorgeous! You’ve just got to take a chance and hope for the best 🙂

  • Joan Wells says:

    I come from the beautiful island although I have been away for 50 years. I was home “I still call it home” at Easter and the weather was beautiful. God’s little paradise. The best people in the world.

    • Kay says:

      What a lovely place to call home (and you will always call it home!). It’s definitely a wee slice of paradise and the people were wonderful 🙂

  • Gareth says:

    My wife and I honeymooned on Barra last year….we’re Glasgow based.

    Best decision ever.

    You’ve done the island proper justice with your article!

    • Kay says:

      Hi Gareth! What a brilliant choice for your honeymoon.

      Thanks very much, I’m glad I managed to do it justice – it’s hard to describe how much I loved it. 🙂

  • Patsy says:

    What a lovely blog about beautiful Barra. I had a holiday there mid October and the weather was beautiful. The beaches are stunning and no midges! My father was from Barra and it’s a long time since I last visited. The flight was stunning due to the fab weather.

    • Kay says:

      Thank you Patsy! How nice that you have family heritage from Barra.

      Sounds like you had a lovely visit there in October. I’ll definitely be back – just got a few more islands I want to see first 😉

  • Sandra says:

    Hi Kay nice to see a blog about Barra. I live in Canada and have been to Barra 3 times with different members of my family each time. My mom was born there and we came together in 1971. Her first trip back since 1926 when she was just 5. I am hoping to make another trip soon but will probably be on my own this time so it was nice to hear how you managed without a vehicle and on your own. My cousin in Glasgow has yet to visit Barra and I think it is time he did 🙂

    • Kay says:

      Hi Sandra! Thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment 🙂

      I’m glad you liked the blog. I absolutely loved Barra and can’t wait to go back. How nice that you have a family connection there. Did you Mum enjoy the trip?

      I actually did the trip with 2 friends, and we had no trouble doing it without a car. We stayed in Castlebay and used the airport bus to get around. There’s also a bus to Vatersay, or you could give the cycling a go. I’ll warn you that it’s really hilly though. We also took a day trip to Eriskay, and just booked a taxi to the ferry port for that.

      You definitely need to give your cousin a gentle nudge to visit with you 😉

  • Wow! Barra is on my ever-growing list of Scottish destinations to visit. I’ve heard great things about the Barra curries too.

    • Kay says:

      Oh you must must must visit Barra! 😀 I love it so much. I really need to go back soon, but am currently working my way around some other islands which I haven’t visited before. Thinking about the Cafe Kisimul curry is making me hungry…

  • Gerry Morrow says:

    making a return trip to Barra after 50 plus years, I am. glad I read your Blog,looking forward,all the more to my trip good pointers and advice.

    • Kay says:

      Hi Gerry! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the blog and found my tips useful 😀 That’s amazing you’re making a return visit after all these years. I’d love to hear how you get on!

  • Gerry Morrow says:

    I plan to go in June ,I will bring midge repelant as advised,.

  • Jill Harvey says:

    Thanks for this Kay. Lots of useful info. We’re going at the end of June and after reading this I’m even more excited about my first trip to the Island to wild camp. I’m hoping the midges will be blown away by a light warm breeze ……..if not the local pub sounds like a great evenings entertainment to escape the little blighters!

    • Kay says:

      Hi Jill! That’s great you found my blog useful in planning your trip. Apologies for my super-late reply! How did you get on? Where did you camp? I hope you managed to escape the midges, and had fun in the pub! 😀

  • Gerry Gilroy says:

    Hi Kay, my wife has a yearning to visit Barra and I would like to take her there and looking at early August 2017. We are in our later years and she has difficulty walking and would prefer travelling by sea and take our car to the Isle to get around. From your piece on Barra travel by bus, cycling or walking seems to be what most fit and able-bodied visitors do. My question is, are there any drawbacks or local impediments to taking one own car onto the island?

    • Kay says:

      Hi Gerry! Thanks for getting in touch. I love travelling by ferry, so I’m sure the journey by sea will be wonderful. The approach to Castlebay with Kisimul Castle rising from the water will be an experience too. I think having your car will be perfect for getting around and exploring, and I’m not aware of any hinderances in doing so. You’ll be able to visit Vatersay with ease, and do a sightseeing loop of the island. Let me know how you get on, and if you have any tips for me. My email address is hello@thechaoticscot.com. Have a brilliant time 🙂

  • Brian Evans says:

    I am planning a trip to Ireland sometime in the next year and saw how close Barra is. My family ancestry points to Barra as the place where some descendants came from. I think this is a must-sidetrip! Other than the hostel other recommended accommodations? -Brian

    • Kay says:

      Hi Brian. Thanks for your comment. Where is it that you’ll be travelling from? I agree that Barra is a must-sidetrip for you, particularly with your family connections. I’m not sure if you can fly direct from Iceland to Glasgow, but you can definitely fly direct to Edinburgh. You could spend some time in the city, then take the train to Glasgow where you can fly to Barra and do the famous beach landing. I’ve only stayed in the hostel so can’t personally recommend anywhere else. I would advise staying in – or close to – the main town of Castlebay. Hope that helps! Kay 🙂

  • Kay Gaff says:

    Hello Kay. I too am Kay! I used to live on Barra many years ago in the white house beside the airport. My father was the manager of the Cockle Shell factory where they made harling for houses from the cockle shells on the beach. You did the island proud with your description and your enthusiasm will entice other people to go. I haven’t been back for over 40 years but still have very fond memories. It’s still on my bucket list though!!

    • Kay says:

      Hello fellow Kay 🙂 It’s very rare that I come across another one, especially with the same spelling! That’s AMAZING. I will think of you next time I’m there, and I spot the wee white house. Where do you live now? You should definitely make a visit to Barra one of your new year’s resolutions 😉 I’m so glad you liked the blog. I’ve visited thirty Scottish Islands now, and Barra is still in my top three. I’m hoping to get back next year if I can. Thanks for getting in touch!

  • Veronica Wilson says:

    Hi Kay,
    I enjoyed reading your blog. Barra is a very special place to me and my family. We first went there in 1976 when I had just done my O-levels. It was the summer of the heatwave. We travelled the long journey to Barra, arriving in Castlebay on the MV Iona after a fantastic sail, spending the time wildlife spotting. It was very mysterious looking as my dad drove to our caravan in Eoligarry. The sun had disappeared behind Heaval. I seem to remember it was misty and there were rabbits everywhere. The next morning was dry and sunny, we walked down the road, then we were presented with the most incredible view of the beach. I had never seen anything like that before, white sand and turquoise sea.
    We didn’t go again until 2012 when my Dad organised a fortnights holiday for the family and my brother even came over from Canada with his family. My husband and I have been every year since then. It’s very addictive. Beautiful island and beautiful people

    • Kay says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment Veronica!
      Sounds like you have such wonderful memories of Barra. That’s amazing you’ve returned time and time again. For being a relatively small island, there’s just so much to it. I’m hoping to get back there this year, but as always I have a travel-wish list the length of my arm! I’ll be sure to write another blog about it when I do

  • Wendy McLean says:

    Hi Kay, I was looking for information on Barra and came across your blog, lots of fabulous info. I am going there in August. My grandfather was born there, he was a merchant seaman and jumped ship in Sydney, Australia, in the 1920s and stayed here. I am so looking forward to the whole experience, by the way we, my son and myself are flying in. I will write again after our trip. Regards Wendy

    • Kay says:

      Hi Wendy! Thanks for your comment ☺️
      Glad you liked the information in my blog.
      I absolutely LOVE Barra. I’m thinking of going back later in the year!
      That’s so amazing your grandfather was born on Barra there. The trip will be even more special for you.
      The beach landing is one of the best experiences ever.
      Definitely let me know how you get on.
      Take care, Kay.

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