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“Sing me a song of a lass that is gone…say, could that lass be I?” – Skye Boat Song
A magical place I have been wanting to visit for years was the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis.
It’s a mysterious Neolithic stone circle that dates back over 5,000 years which makes it even older than Stonehenge.
As well as the draw of ancient history, I’m a huge fan of Outlander and this stone circle was the inspiration for Craigh Na Dun.
Although I can’t guarantee you’ll be able to transport through time and find Jamie Fraser here. I would still recommend visiting this magical place all the same.
Here is how to visit the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis, Outlander inspiration for Craigh Na Dun!
How old are the Callanish Standing Stones?
It is thought that the Callanish Standing Stones were planted here in the Neolithic era over 5000 years ago.
They overlook the impressive Loch Roag and you can see the hills of the Great Bernera in the backdrop.
They were used through the Bronze Age for ritual activity but the exact use remains a complete mystery that has been lost to the chapters of time!
The Callanish stones are made out of Lewisian Gneiss and there are 13 stones in a circle with a monolith in the middle. Beneath the monolith are the remains of a chambered tomb.
The stone circle is designed in a cruciform pattern and there are five rows of stones that lead to the centre.
These stones are also known as Fir Bhreig in Gaelic or the’The False Men’.
Callanish Stones legends
There are many legends associated with this stone circle including that these stones are petrified giants who wouldn’t convert to Christianity.
The giants refused to build a church for St. Keiran and so they were turned to stone as punishment.
Also, there is the legend of the ‘shining one’ that can only be seen at sunrise on midsummer morning. He appears and walks the length of the avenue.
You’ll know he’s here when you hear a cuckoo, a bird of the Celtic otherworld Tír na nÓg. Locals used to visit these stones on May Day as a tradition.
The last is about the White Cow of Lewis. The story goes that there was a famine on the island and a woman was so hungry that she was going to drown herself.
The moment she entered the sea, she saw a white fairy cow who spoke to her. It told her and her friends to bring milk pales to the Callanish Stones that night.
They did so and each of them left with a pale of milk. This continued every night until a witch brought a sieve instead of a pale.
As the sieve could never be filled, the cow was milked dry and was never seen on the island again.
Callanish Stones Outlander connection
Outlander fans will love visiting the Callanish Stones as they were the inspiration for the Craigh Na Dun stone circle in the Outlander Starz TV show.
Craigh Na Dun is an entirely fictional place in Scotland and, unfortunately, only exists in the pages of Diana Gabaldon’s time travel book series.
But, they did use the standing stones at Calanais as inspiration for building the Craigh Na Dun set in Scotland.
That’s right, the stone circle in the show is completely fake. If you can believe it, the stones were made of painted styrofoam!
If you did want to visit the exact location in Scotland where they filmed the Craigh Na Dun scenes then you can easily do this in Perthshire at Kinloch Rannoch Moor.
I’ve been myself and you can read my detailed travel guide on how to visit where they filmed Craigh Na Dun here. The stones won’t be there but the amazing landscape and views will be!
I’m a massive fan of the series and have visited nearly all of the Outlander Scotland filming locations now. So, visiting the Calanais Craigh Na Dun was such a special experience for me.
Unfortunately, the stones didn’t let me travel back in time *sniff*. But, maybe you’ll have more luck.
Love Outlander? Click here to read all my Outlander travel guides!
Where are the Callanish Standing Stones located in Scotland?
The Callanish Stones are located in the village of Calanais which is on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. This is in the Western Isles on the Outer Hebrides.
You cannot drive from the mainland of Scotland to the Isle of Lewis like the Isle of Skye. You must take one of the CalMac car ferries from either the Isle of Skye (Uig) or Ullapool.
Once you’re on the Island, Calanais is on the west coast in the parish of Uig. It’s 12 miles west of Stornoway Harbour.
The address is Calanais Visitor Centre, Calanais, Isle of Lewis, Eilean Siar, HS2 9DY. Click here for a Google Pin!
How to visit the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis
There are many ways to visit the Callanish Standing Stones on Lewis. It completely depends on your preferences and how much time you have.
The easiest way would be to drive as part of a road trip but there is the option of using public transport and walking/cycling.
Driving to the Callanish Stones
By far the easiest way to visit the Callanish Standing Stones would be to drive there on the Isle of Lewis.
The Outer Hebrides does have public transport but it is limited. I would highly recommend renting a car to explore the island to make the most of your time.
From Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, the driving distance to Calanais is 17 miles which will take around 30 minutes.
You can head there on the main road A859 which snakes through the island. Just turn when you see the signs.
From the Tarbert on the Isle of Harris, the drive to Calanais village will be around an hour.
Callanish Stones parking
When you arrive at the Callanish area, the brown tourist signs will point you in the direction of the visitor centre parking to the left.
But, at the bend in the road next to the sign, you can turn right and follow the narrow single lane upwards (this is not suitable for coaches).
At the end of this road, there is a free gravel parking area right next to the Callanish Standing Stones site and you can enter through a kissing gate opposite the parking lay-by.
This is where I would recommend parking to save you a bit of a walk and some time on your visit.
You will be driving along single lanes with passing places so I would take your time approaching the stones this way.
If you would rather, there is a free car park right next to the visitor centre and then it’s a short walk to the standing stones from there (300 metres).
The walk from the visitor centre is informative and you can read information boards as you go. It’s good to note though that the walk is a little uphill if you require accessibility.
It is a very small car park with limited spaces and you can park here even when the visitor centre is closed.
I would recommend visiting here early in the morning to guarantee a car parking space.
Callanish Stones by public transport
If you’re not driving around the Isle of Lewis and Harris, it is possible to visit the Callanish Stones by public transport.
You can take the W2 bus from Stornoway bus station at Platform 1 which is heading towards Kirivick.
You’ll be dropped off at the North Road End bus stop and then it’s a 10-minute walk to the standing stones from there.
There are regular services throughout the day and the bus journey will take you around 45 minutes. I’d allow an hour each way for the entire journey.
Alternatively, you could cycle or walk here and it makes a great stop on the Hebridean Way.
When do the Callanish Standing Stones open?
Many people make the mistake of thinking that the Callanish Standing Stones are only open when the visitor centre is open.
But, the great news is that the Callanish Stones are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so there are no restrictions on when you visit.
It’s always a special time to visit these stones at sunrise and that’s one of the best ways to avoid the crowds.
Although the Isle of Lewis doesn’t see as many visitors as the Isle of Skye, the Callanish Stone are the main attraction on this island and so it can get quite busy at peak times! Especially in July and August.
It’s also a great place to go stargazing at nighttime as there is limited light pollution on the island. You may even get to see the Northern Lights.
Note: If you are interested in exploring the visitor centre, exhibition and the café for some refreshments, I would avoid visiting on a Sunday as both facilities are closed that day (including the toilets).
Is it free to visit the Callanish Stones?
Yes, the great news for Outlander fans is that it is completely FREE to visit the Calanais Stones on the Isle of Lewis.
So, you can travel through Craigh Na Dun to visit Jamie anytime and not spend a single penny haha.
All jokes aside, many of the attractions on the Isle of Lewis & Harris are completely free.
When is the best time to visit the Callanish Standing Stones?
Although the Outer Hebrides sees fewer visitor numbers than the Scottish mainland it still can get quite busy at this stone circle, especially in the summer months.
Personally, I would try to visit during a weekday and as early as possible in the morning. That way you can enjoy a peaceful visit and have it mainly to yourself.
An amazing time to visit Calanais would be on the 21st of June for the Summer Solstice.
Like many other Neolithic stone circles, this one is perfectly aligned with the rising of the sun on the longest day of the year!
Callanish Stones visitor centre, exhibition & gift shop
After you have explored the stones and taken as many pictures as you can handle. I would recommend visiting the Callanish Visitor Centre afterwards.
It is a friendly, warm and informative place that gives you a bit of context behind the standing stones.
They have a small museum that you can enter for £4 to learn more about the mysteries, history and legends of Calanais. I did this and it was really interesting!
Plus, there is a small Calanais gift shop that sells some gorgeous Celtic jewellery, Harris tweed and Hebridean souvenirs like miniature Uig chess pieces.
For my fellow magnet collectors (I see you and you are valid), they had some beautiful pieces here with the Callanish Stones on!
The visitor centre is open 6 days in the summer months until September. But, there may be limited opening times in the off-season. Click here to check if it’s open on your visit.
Where to eat at the Callanish Standing Stones
When the visitor centre is open, there is a small Callanish Stones Café that you can visit throughout the day.
They serve up hot drinks, breakfast, lunches and homemade treats to indulge in before/after your visit to the stones.
After my sunrise photography mission to Craigh Na Dun, a caffeine fix was definitely needed and so I ordered the strongest coffee I could get.
They have a large restaurant with plenty of tables and windows so you can admire the views of Loch Roag! In the summer, there are outside tables if the weather is nice.
It was a bit early for me on my visit but I have heard that their Guinness chocolate cake comes highly recommended.
How long do I need to visit the Callanish Stones?
This entirely depends on you, your interests and how much time you have on the Isle of Lewis.
You could easily park up and visit the stones in less than 20 minutes if you wanted to. It’s a small place and you don’t need long to explore the stone circle.
But, if you wanted to explore the stones, take lots of photos, visit the museum, shop for souvenirs and have a coffee/food, I would leave around 1-2 hours to make the most of your visit.
There are also stunning views of Loch Roag and the Great Bernera from the stone circle and you may even get lucky and see a Golden Eagle here.
I spent 4 days on the Isle of Lewis and came back to visit this place every day. I would make the most of it whilst you can!
I’m a massive Outlander fan and so I couldn’t resist visiting the inspiration for Craigh Na Dun from the books.
Also, I’m quite a spiritual person and there’s such mysterious ancient energy about this place that I could feel in my soul.
I visited in the rain, in the mist, when it was sunny and at both sunrise and sunset. Every visit was completely magical and provided a different atmosphere.
It wasn’t clear enough for a stargazing session on my visit but I guess that’s a reason to go back!
Visit the other Callanish Stone circle sites
Did you know that there is more than just one Callanish Standing Stone circle on the Isle of Lewis?
Calanais I is the main stone circle site. But, there are 16 official Callanish sites and another 3 possible stone circles dotted around!
You don’t have to visit them all. I would say that there are 8 stone circles worth visiting on the island if you’re interested in standing stones. These would be Calanais I through VIII.
Although they are on a much smaller scale, they are still very beautiful if you have the time. All of them are marked with Google Pins and most have signboards with more information.
The closest ones to the main attraction would be Callanish II & Callanish III. You can either walk over to them or drive and park nearby.
Callanish Standing Stones FAQs
- Can you touch the Callanish Stones? Yes, unlike Stonehenge, the Callanish Stones are free to touch on your visit.
- Are the Callanish Stones older than Stonehenge? Yes, they are 5000 years old which predates Stonehenge by around 2000 years!
- What do the Callanish Stones mean? No one knows for sure, all we know is that it was used for ritual activity during the Neolithic & Bronze era. There are theories but it’s a mystery that people have tried to work out for centuries!
- How far is Stornoway to Callanish Stones? It’s a 17-mile drive so I would allow around 30 minutes to get there. The roads on the island are often single with passing places!
- Are there toilets at Callanish Standing Stones? Yes, there are some loos in the visitor centre but be warned that this is closed on Sunday!
- Are the Callanish Stones dog friendly? Yes, but they must be kept on a lead at all times.
- Did they film Outlander at the Callanish Stones? No, but they did use the standing stones as inspiration for the Craigh Na Dun set for the TV show!
Where to stay near the Callanish Stones?
There aren’t many hotels near the Callanish Stones as it’s a remote area. But, they do have some holiday cottages and luxury pods to stay in.
Most people visiting the Isle of Lewis tend to base themselves in Stornoway which is the main town nearby.
I stayed at the Caladh Inn which was ideal as it had some single rooms for solo travellers as well as comfy double rooms as well!
They had a cosy restaurant and bar onsite as well as a delectable continental breakfast included.
But, there are plenty of hotel choices in the town to suit any type of budget if you’d prefer to stay elsewhere.
Looking for more things to do on the Isle of Harris & Lewis?
There are plenty of historic attractions on the Isle of Lewis to visit after the Callanish Standing Stones.
If you’re interested to see more history, I would recommend visiting the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village which looks like something from a movie set. You can visit the Arnol Blackhouse which is a few miles down the road from Gearrannan.
You can visit the Norse Mill & Kiln which are FREE to visit on a short walk from Shawbost.
Bosta Beach on the Great Bernera is home to an Iron Age hut and you can visit Uig Bay where they found the famous Lewis Chessmen. Potterheads will recognise these as the inspiration for Wizards Chess pieces.
Or, you can drive to the very top to visit the Butt of Lewis with the lighthouse, Port of Ness, and Eoropie Beach!
On the Isle of Harris, you can stroll along the famous white sand beaches of Luskentyre or Seilebost. Also, the historic St Clement’s Church is very impressive.
Eilean Glas Lighthouse is a walk I wouldn’t skip on the Isle of Scalpay. It has spectacular views towards the Isle of Skye and there’s a small tearoom.