St Kilda Day Trip: A Visit to Scotland’s Remotest Island

A day trip to St Kilda is an incredibly rewarding experience for the more adventurous day tripper. To journey here is to step back in time and glimpse at what life must have been like on Scotland’s remotest island. Learn about the history of the St Kildans and their unique way of life until their evacuation in 1930.

The archipelago of St Kilda is situated 45 miles off the off the coast of Harris, an already remote island by UK standards in the Outer Hebrides. The Island has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site but due to its inaccessibility only receives 2500 visitors a year.

Approaching St Kilda in Scotland by boat in a heavy sea

Approaching St Kilda in heavy seas and rain

The Journey

This trip is is not for the feint hearted. It involves a 2.5 hour boat trip crossing the open Atlantic ocean which is subject to big swells and adverse weather. Once landed on Hirta there is little shelter from the elements.

I arrive at Leverburgh pier in Harris at 07.30am. Overnight the weather conditions have turned and the wind has picked up. There is some talk the boat may not run today. The captain informs us that as the wind is blowing offshore it is possible to make the crossing although it will be bumpy!

After two and a half hours the imposing cliffs of St Kilda becomes visible through the fog and rain. The boat drops anchor in Village Bay and we are transferred to the shore by a small tender.

Exploring St Kilda

As you step onto the cold, slippery pier it’s hard to believe you are still in the British Isles. A low lying fog masks the steep hills that surround Village Bay adding another layer to the ghostliness of the Island. Until the St Kildan’s departed in 1930, Hirta was the remotest inhabited Island in the UK. This title is now belongs to Fair Isle, another National Trust owned island belonging to the Shetland Islands.

The abandoned Street on Hirta, St Kilda

The abandoned homes of the St Kildans on the main street on Hirta.

I walk through the rain along what would have been Hirta’s only street. Today most of the St Kildan’s homes are nothing more than ruins and you are free to explore. For added contemplation, each house has a plaque detailing the last family to live there and the date they left the island forever.

The National Trust which owns the island is actively conserving the buildings. Several have been repaired and offer accommodation for researchers visiting the island. A small but detailed museum exists in one of them and offers a brief history of the St Kildans and their unique way of life – a perfect place to escape the rain.

Cliffs on the remots island of St Kilda in Scotland

The sea cliffs of St Kilda are the highest in the British Isles.

A day trip usually gives you around four and a half hours ashore which is enough time to explore the remains of the village and then take a walk up the steep hills which surround village bay.

Conachair, the hill directly behind the pier, offers dramatic views out across the sea stacks. Due to the howling wind and poor visibility, I take a different route and walk up the narrow road which leads to the top of the island. As the cloud cover shifts I am greeted to staggering views of the cliffs all around me. It also offers great elevated views of village bay and the ruins of the houses below.  

A beautiful view from Hirta on St Kilda

The cloud parts to reveal St Kilda’s stunning scenery. 

st kilda scotland

The abandoned settlement on Hirta viewed from the hills above. 

The Return

Departing Hirta, the boat takes us on a detour to Boreray and the two impressive granite sea stacks, Stac Lee and Stac an Armin which jut out of the ocean like giant monolithic structures reminiscent of a Tolkein fantasy novel. Stac an Armin is the highest sea stack in the UK and towers vertically 564ft above the rumbling ocean below. Gazing up at it’s almost sheer sides it’s incomprehensible that the St Kildan’s would climb the stacks with basic ropes to hunt seabirds. Today the stacks serve as a badge of honour to their survival and climbing abilities. Find out more about their incredible survival story here.

Boeray and Stac an Armin

Stac an Armin towers out of the ocean with Hirta in the distance on the left

As we depart back towards Leverburgh I am left with nothing but admiration for the St Kildan’s and their ability to survive in the toughest conditions. The tradition is to drink a glass of brandy on the approach to Harris. I drink to the St Kildan’s with mixed feelings knowing that their unique way of life that survived for thousands of years is no more.

If you’re interested in visiting St Kilda please check out my free destination guide on how to to get to St Kilda with lots of useful information for your trip. 

I highly recommend joining the National Trust as a member here to support the fantastic conservation work they do on St Kilda. You will also get free entry to properties all the over the UK as a member so it is well worth it.

You can watch my experience of travelling to St Kilda on this episode of the Remote Travel Vlog

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andy marsh

Hi, I’m Andy, a professional filmmaker and photographer travelling to the remotest places on earth.

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