The town's population is approximately 8,055, out of a total population of 26,370 for the whole of the Western Isles. The civil parish of Stornoway, including various nearby villages, has a population of approximately 12,000. Stornoway is an important port and the major town and administrative centre of the Outer Hebrides. It is home to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the Western Isles Council) and a variety of educational, sporting and media establishments. Christian observance of the Sabbath is an important aspect of the town's culture.
The castle was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell's forces in the aftermath of his Scottish campaign in the mid 17th century, and the ownership of Stornoway - and by extension, Lewis - passed from the MacKenzies of Kintail through the Seaforth family and Sir James Matheson (and his descendants) to William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme. Lord Leverhulme finally gifted the town's parish to the Stornoway Trust, whose ownership remains to this day.
A lighthouse, seaweed processing plant and a renewable energy manufacturing yard are situated on Arnish Point at the mouth of the harbour and visually dominate the approaches. Arnish Point is also earmarked by AMEC as the landfall for its proposed private sub-sea cable which would export the electricity generated from the Lewis Windpower wind farm with a planning application for 181 turbines submitted to the Scottish Executive. In 2008 the Scottish Government rejected the plans - the company responsible are currently planning their next move.
The manufacturing yard was originally established in the 1970s as a fabrication plant for the oil industry but suffered regular boom and bust cycles. The downturn in business from the North Sea oil industry in recent years led to a move away from serving this market. The yard is now earmarked as a key business in the development of the whole Arnish Point industrial estate and has received large amounts of funding in recent years.
In 2007 the Arnish yard was taken over by its third tenant in as many years. Cambrian Engineering fell into liquidation as did Aberdeen-owned Camcal Ltd with relatively large scale redundancies. Both firms were affected by the absence of a regular stream of orders and left a chain of large debts impacting upon local suppliers. Altissimo Ltd is a new firm backed by a group of Swiss and Dutch investors, and has purchased the Camcal name from the previous operator. In December 2007, the yard won a contract to construct 49 towers for wind turbines in Turkey. This will ensure employment for around 70 employees for over six months.
A Caledonian Macbrayne operated ferry (MV Isle of Lewis) sails from the harbour to Ullapool on the Scottish mainland, taking 2 hours 45 minutes. There are an average of two return crossings a day, with an increase and reduction in frequency in summer and winter months respectively. As ferry traffic has increased, a second ship (MV Muirneag) now provides a single early morning sailing to carry most of the island's freight lorries.
Suggestions for the possibility of an undersea tunnel linking Lewis and Harris to the Scottish mainland were raised in early 2007. One of the possible routes, between Stornoway and Ullapool, would be over 40 miles long and hence become the longest road tunnel in the world.
Stornoway is also the public transport hub of Lewis, and bus services provides links to Point, Ness, Back and Tolsta, Uig, the West Side, Lochs and Tarbert, Harris. These services are provided by the Comhairle and several private operators as well as some community-run organisations.
Stornoway Airport is located next to the village of [[Melbost], two miles away from the town itself. From here services operate to Aberdeen, Benbecula, Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow, with flights from British Airways franchisee Loganair, Eastern Airways and Highland Airways. The airport is also the base of a HM Coastguard Search & Rescue Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, and was previously home to RAF Stornoway.
Stornoway is home to a small campus of the University of Stirling, teaching nursing, which is based in Ospadal nan Eilean (Western Isles Hospital).
The Nicolson Institute is the only secondary school in Lewis providing a six year course, with a roll of approximately 1,100 pupils.
The Lews Castle Grounds is the home of Stornoway Golf Club (the only 18-hole golf course in the Outer Hebrides).
Attached to the Nicolson Institute is the Ionad Spors Leòdhas (Lewis Sports Centre), which has a Sports Hall, Fitness Suite, Climbing Wall, Swimming Pool and various other facilities. It also boasts an all-weather pitch and a running track.
There is also the Stornoway Karate Club, a member of the International Japan Karate Association. The club has run for over thirty years, under the teaching of Sadashige Kato.
It is also home to a studio operated by BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, and Studio Alba, an independent television studio from where the Gaelic TV channel TeleG is broadcast. The new gaelic language public service broadcaster BBC Alba launched on on 19th September 2008, is based in Stornoway.
Other attractions include a museum and the Lewis Loom Centre.
Stornoway, and the northern (Protestant) Western Isles as a whole, is known throughout Scotland for its adherence to the Sabbath (Christian observance - on Sundays). While some believe this to be simply a lack of amenities and facilities for locals and tourists, others believe it to be a vital aspect of island life, a link to tradition and an alternative to the more active lifestyle prevalent on the mainland. As Stornoway, with the majority of the island's services, shops and businesses, undergoes the most visible change on a Sunday it is often seen as a focal point for the whole issue.
In recent years an increasing number of transport services have begun operating on a Sunday. The first Sunday air service began in October 2002 and was met by protests from church groups under the banner of the Lord's Day Observance Society. The Sunday air services have expanded and there are now two return flights to Inverness and one to Glasgow as well as becoming generally more accepted. Ferry travel on Sundays from Lewis and Harris is now possible after Caledonian MacBrayne introduced such a service to the timetable of the Sound of Harris ferry. The introduction of this service was not directly met with protests, but an opposing petition was signed by a significant majority of the local (South Harris) population.
The introduction of extra and new forms of service is perhaps a sign of those in favour of stricter observance's fear that each change to Sabbath lifestyle and new service introduction is eroding general Sabbath observance. Regardless, there are still marked differences between Sundays on Lewis and Harris and those else where in the UK and this particular example of Sunday observance only survives here, with the Sabbath continuing to be considered a day of rest. Opposition to a more cosmopolitan Sunday is not exclusively for religious reasons, though the strong Presbyterian (mainly Free Church) makeup of the island undoubtedly is a major force behind campaigns to retain Sunday's peaceful nature.
Hotels and restaurants are generally open along with most bars (some with shorter opening periods). A single petrol station, Engebrets, and its associated shop is open from 12 noon – 4 pm, but no other shops are open and Sunday newspapers are not available as the scheduled flights are too late in the day.