Off–Season Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland Tours

Off-Season Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland Tours

Private tours to the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland are generally advertised for travel between May and September when ferry sailings are least likely to be disrupted by weather. That is not to say they shouldn't be visited over the off-season months (from October to April) – they are particularly special to experience over the late autumn and winter months when the weather shows them in their true light as the 'islands on the edge'. However, a number of challenges require a little more planning and flexibility to make the most out of an off-season visit to the Hebrides and Northern Isles.

Challenges:

  • Reduced Daylight Hours – from mid-October until mid-March, daylight hours are reduced, with November and February averaging around 8 hours per day, and December and January averaging around 6-7 hours per day. Additionally, a number of attractions offer reduced opening hours (or close over the winter months).
  • Inclement Weather – wind and rain are more common during the off-season. The islands, in particular, can be windy and wet so having appropriate clothing including a water and wind proof jacket is recommended (especially as most of the attractions we visit are outdoors). On windier days, the ferry crossings can be choppy, and occasionally poor weather conditions can lead to ferry delays or cancellations.
  • Ferry Disruption – we normally have some advance notice of any impending ferry delays or cancellations as the ferry companies try to issue alerts at least 12 hours before, giving us the opportunity to consider alternative options in advance. Below are the latest ferry sailing performances over the winter months on the three main routes used for tours to the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland:
Ullapool–Stornoway (Outer Hebrides)
October 2021     – 181 sailings of 198 completed
November 2021 – 143 sailings of 166 completed
December 2021 – 148 sailings of 163 completed
January 2022     – 137 sailings of 161 completed
February 2022   – 112 sailings of 152 completed
March 2022        – 154 sailings of 172 completed

Scrabster–Stromness (Orkney)
October 2021     – 130 sailings of 130 completed
November 2021 – 106 sailings of 120 completed
December 2021 – 116 sailings of 116 completed
January 2022     – 104 sailings of 112 completed
February 2022   – 54 sailings of 60 completed
March 2022        – 120 sailings of 124 completed

Lerwick–Kirkwall–Aberdeen (Shetland)
October 2021     – 62 sailings of 62 completed
November 2021 – 56 sailings of 60 completed
December 2021 – 53 sailings of 56 completed
January 2022     – 48 sailings of 52 completed
February 2022   – 46 sailings of 53 completed
March 2022        – 48 sailings of 49 completed

Rewards:

  • Quieter – visitor numbers to the islands are far lower over the off-season than the peak summer months and so it is much easier to enjoy a stunning Hebridean beach all to yourself!
  • Nature – while you are walking along that beautiful Hebridean beach, you can feel the full (wild and windy) force of nature!
  • Attractions – winter festivals such as the Dark Skies Festival in the Outer Hebrides and the Up Helly Aa Fire Festivals in Shetland provide a wonderful backdrop to an off-season tour.
  • The Sky! – long winter nights and the lack of light pollution make the islands a fantastic location to explore the stars (the photo above of the Callanish Stones was taken on a winter's night in the Outer Hebrides).
  • And just maybe... the Northern Lights – the Aurora Borealis is not uncommon in the evening skies across the Hebrides and the Northern Isles over the winter months, though when they appear does require a bit of luck!

Planning and Flexibility:
The itineraries for off-season tours to the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland are more flexible to reflect the weather conditions. Whilst we visit the vast majority of sites advertised in the standard tours, we may start earlier, have slightly shorter breaks and amend the daily routes to make the most of our time on the islands. Additionally, we may explore in the late evening (if the skies are clear) for those interested stars or photography.

Tour quotes will include a number of options in case of ferry delays and cancellations. Ferry changes will add no additional charges to the tour price paid to The Hebridean Explorer. The additional costs you may encounter are any lost deposits for your pre-booked accommodation in the event of delays or cancellations (and any additional accommodations bookings).

For off-season tours, I automatically block off the day after an island tour and do not sell it – as a precaution, just in case there are delays and to make sure we have some extra options available to us. I recommend that clients have a flexible day available to them after the tour.

Whilst I cannot be responsible for any extra accommodation, food or other costs that clients may incur due to ferry delays and cancellations, I will make every effort to adapt the tour to minimise disruption. Please note that no refunds will be given for tour and itinerary changes due to ferry changes and cancellations.

It might read as if I’m trying to scare you off a trip to the Outer Hebrides or the Northern Isles during the off-season – I’m really not. These islands are particularly special to experience over these months, however, travel to them during this period requires a little more planning and flexibility and I would not be doing my job if I did not inform clients of this. Visiting the Outer Hebrides, Orkney or Shetland during the off-season will not disappoint anyone who travels with an adventurous spirit!

I'm interested in an off-season tour – what next?
Great! Please find the standard advertised tour on our website that interests you the most and send a tour enquiry form with your travel dates. I will then forward a tour quote based on your travel dates (and include extra information about travelling over the off-season and options available in the event of ferry delays). Please note that off-season ferry timetables may alter the available start days for tours. With regards to tour prices there is a discount of 10% (excluding travel over the festive period) as ferry tickets and guide travel costs are a little lower.