The Best of the Isle of Skye

Any time someone decides to visit Scotland, someone will tell them they must visit the Isle of Skye. These people will say it is magical, life changing, unbelievable, etc. And, honestly…it is all of those things. There were moments when I was driving that I would have to pull over and take in the views. The landscapes are constantly changing and are stunning. It felt like I was traveling through Middle Earth – even though I know those movies were filmed in New Zealand. I kept waiting for the Riders of Rohan to come over the green hilltops. 

Best of the Isle of Skye

Below I have gathered the best of the Isle of Skye – what to do, things to see, and what to eat! Although I am pretty sure you could spend a lifetime enjoying the Isle of Skye, you can see the highlights in just a few days. 

Disclosure: there are some affiliate links below and I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post, but these are all products I recommend. I won’t put anything on this page that I have not verified and/or personally used.

Why visit the Isle of Skye?

The Isle of Skye is a quintessential example of the Scottish Highlands. Everywhere you look there are breathtaking views and it is quite rural. The largest island in the Inner Hebrides, it is just off the west coast of Scotland. If you’re visiting Scotland, I have to assume you like history and/or the outdoors. Well, Skye has plenty of both! 

If you like hiking (or as British folks call it, “walking”), Skye is home to a dozen Munros – mountains over 12,000 ft. There are also countless other trails and paths across the island for any level of hiker. The Dinosaur Museum in Staffin is home to several fossils. Or, if you want to get out of the museum, you can search for fossils and see dinosaur footprints on Staffin beach! Wildlife is also abundant on and around the Isle of Skye. Birdwatchers can seek to view sea eagles, golden eagles, and more! In the waters surrounding the islands live whales, dolphins, puffins, and seals. 

The Isle of Skye is not without its share of clan history! The clan castles of Clan MacDonald and Clan MacLeod are both on Skye. The Bonnie Prince Charles sought refuge on the Isle of Skye for several weeks following his army’s defeat at Culloden. It was from Skye that he was able to board a ship to France, escaping from Scotland with the help of Flora MacDonald

I was mostly interested in visiting the outdoor and natural sights of Skye. Which is why my “best of the Isle of Skye” itinerary mostly includes hikes and outdoor attractions. There is so much more you can do if you have more time and I highly recommend doing some research based on your interests. 

What to know before you go

As with any Scottish destination, there are pros and cons to visiting in any season. Summer brings warm(er) weather with less rain, but many more tourists and midges! Although I’m sure it is beautiful, winter is not an ideal time to visit. Many amenities and attractions (restaurants, lodges, museums) close for the winter and residents use that time to recover from the busy season. If you plan to visit in the winter months, definitely prepare well in advance to make sure you can find lodging! 

Spring and fall are both lovely times to see the best of the Isle of Skye. Although perhaps cooler and wetter than summer, there are far fewer visitors and the weather can be pretty temperate. I visited in early fall and it was very comfortable. Although it rained, it wasn’t too cold so it was bearable with the right clothing.

Scottish Heather
Scottish Heather

Getting to the Isle of Skye

Sorry if you were trying to get around bringing a car – you’re going to need one to see the best of the Isle of Skye. There simply is not any public transportation, or not enough to effectively visit everything. If you’re not driving your own car I highly recommend renting one. Here’s everything you need to know about driving in Scotland!

The nearest airport is Inverness International and is about a 3 hour drive from Portree on the Isle of Skye. Glasgow International Airport and Edinburgh International Airport are both about 5 hours away if you’re driving. 

There are no trains on the Isle of Skye, but you can take a train to either Kyle of Lochalsh or Mallaig. From Kyle, you can take a bus on to the Isle of Skye. From Mallaig, you’ll take a ferry across to Armadale. There are buses that run to the few cities and villages on the Isle of Skye if you absolutely cannot drive. 

The other options would be to hire a private guide or driver for your trip. I would recommend this as the second best option if you cannot drive your own car. Tour companies with larger groups or set itineraries could be fine, but part of the fun of the Isle of Skye is being able to go wherever you want! Making detours or unexpected stops is sometimes how you find those hidden gems. 

Don’t forget to pack these things!

Everyone who has been to Scotland has experienced the weather variance. My first few days were sunny and warm, then BAM rain. So. Much. Rain. Luckily, I had heeded all those many warnings and had my rain jacket tucked in my bag. If you’re spending any time on the Isle of Skye you should be prepared for wind and rain…but also sun? The weather changes quickly! Below are a few things you definitely should not forget to pack. 

  • Rain jacket – I take this North Face shell everywhere. It fits over sweaters, but is also light enough I can wear it in warm weather and won’t roast. 
  • Waterproof shoes – These Blondo boots were some of my best purchases! They’re great for easy to moderate hikes, are water proof, and look nice enough to wear in cities. I wore them with a maxi dress in Edinburgh a few days after hiking The Old Man of Storr in them! 
  • Sunglasses
  • Print map of Skye 
  • Gloves and a hat just in case!

I drove from Inverness to the Isle of Skye on my third day in Scotland. So, by that point I was feeling pretty confident in my driving abilities. Right side of the car? Check. Left side of the road? Check. Narrow roads with speed limits of 60 mph? Check. However, I was not mentally prepared for miles upon miles of single-track roads…with tourist buses coming every minute! After the first few miles I started to figure out the rhythm and it wasn’t so bad. However, I have to say that some of the narrowest roads I encountered were on the Isle of Skye. Other places in the highlands tended to have larger and more accessible roads. Alas – I am a better person for having persevered through the stressful driving and honestly now it’s no big deal.

A guide to the best of the Isle of Skye

If you get an early start, You can probably see all of these locations in one day. However, it would make for a very long and exhausting day. I spread it out over two days, spending one night on the Isle of Skye. Since you may arrive via car or ferry at different locations, I’m just going to list out the best of the Isle of Skye by region. You can use these tips and ideas to make your own itinerary based on your own start and ending locations.

Northern Skye (Trotternish Peninsula)

The Trotternish Peninsula is the one that goes straight north. A87 runs up the western side and connects with A855 in Uig. In Uig, you can continue on A855 around the northern part and continue down the eastern coast back to Portree. If you start in Portree, you can make the entire loop in about 2 hours without stopping. However you will DEFINITELY want to make some stops. Unless you’re going for some quite long hikes, you can do this loop in one day pretty easily. I drove from Inverness, visited Eilean Donan (more on that below!), then visited most of the places listed below and ended in Uig all in one day. 

Old Man of Storr – The Storr is a large rocky hill jutting up out of the green grass. The Old Man of Storr is one particular rock that stands up and can be seen from miles away. You can hike up and around the Old Man of Storr to get the best views. The hike is moderate to strenuous in my opinion. It is about 3-3.5 miles, depending if you do the loop or the same way up and back. However, it is straight up and straight back down. In fact, one whole portion of the trail is made of stone steps. Not great for the knees! I’d truthfully prefer a steep trail. There is a fair amount of scrambling, but to be honest you cannot get lost. It’s wide open and you can see your destination the whole time, which is a good motivator. The views from the top are incredible. I took a little break at the top and had lunch, which I highly recommend. However, it was pretty windy, so keep a good grip on all of your belongings! There’s a fairly large car park here that costs 3 euros for 3 hours (you can add more time, but that is the minimum). It was busy when I was there on a Saturday midday, but not full. There are also toilets at the carpark which is handy when you’re on such a remote island! Plan to spend 1.5-2.5 hours here if you hike to the top. 

The stop path leading to the Old Man of Storr viewpoint.
The Best of the Isle of Skye
Completely worth the trek!

Kilt Rock – About 15 minutes north of The Old Man of Storr is Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. There is a carpark here (free) – but it isn’t very big. I was lucky enough to get a spot, but it was full when I left. People were parking other cars in, too! Don’t be that person! From the same viewpoint you can see Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls, plus a gorgeous landscape view of the sea! There were several folks there birdwatching and marine-animal watching. If you are patient (and have binoculars), you could spot some eagles, dolphins, and whales from this viewpoint. The water is so clear, it is amazing. It is certainly stunning and worth the quick stop. 

Staffin – Leaving the Kilt Rock parking lot and heading north on A855, you’ll pass through Staffin. Staffin is home to The Dinosaur Museum. I didn’t stop, but I know there are several places to visit in and around Staffin including the museum and beach. 

Driving A855 around the north/northeastern coast – Ok, this isn’t really a destination as much as just enjoying the drive. Once you get a bit north of Staffin, the road turns to single-track and continues that way for about 18 miles. I thoroughly enjoyed driving through the farms, tiny villages (I mean, tiny), and along the coast. There were not many other cars and plenty of passing areas. It all seemed so quaint. I even passed through a few herds of sheep! There are a couple viewpoints along this road and several bed and breakfasts if you wanted to spend the night. 

Kilt Rock - the best of the Isle of Skye
Mealt Falls with Kilt Rock in the distance.
The Fairy Glen
The Fairy Glen

The Quiraing – Northwest of Staffin you’ll find the Quiraing. It is probably one of the most iconic images of the Isle of Skye. I did not make it to the Quiraing (and also have no clue how to pronounce it), but plan to go on my next visit! I’ve heard the best way to experience it is to hike and I was a bit tired and didn’t have much time. To get there, you can take the A855 north from Staffin and then turn left (west) onto a road that I think is just unnamed. GoogleMaps does not show a road name, but there are signs and your GPS should get you to the parking lot with no problems. I have also heard that the road is narrow (single-track) and windy, so just be prepared for that. There is a parking fee, but I’m not sure what it costs. 

The Fairy Glen and Castle Ewen – just about a mile or two outside Uig you’ll find the Fairy Glen and Castle Ewen. Castle Ewen is just some rock formations, not an actual castle, but pretty nonetheless. The Fairy Glen is honestly just like what you’d imagine – a bit of magical green glen. There are some conical hills and paths through them. There are also some stone circles where legend has it you can summon fairies! Although you could wander through here for a long time, I only spent about 20 minutes. There is a carpark and I think it was 1 or 2 euros for a few hours. 

The Fairy Glen
The Fairy Glen - the best of the Isle of Skye
Castle Ewen

Northwestern Skye (Waternish Peninsula & Dunvegan) 

Unfortunately I did not get to visit any of these locations, but including them here for you in case you have time! They will for sure be on the list for the next trip. 

  • Dunvegan Castle & Gardens Dunvegan Castle has been continuously inhabited by the same family for 800 years. EIGHT. HUNDRED. YEARS. That is so long. As an American, I am always blown away by things that are old. It’s hard to fathom. You can also visit the gardens. There are also cottages you can rent, which look absolutely charming. They appear to be a bit pricey, though. 
  • Coral Beach – North of Dunvegan Castle is Coral Beach. There is a car park at the end of the road, then it’s a quick walk down to the beach. The beach is made of crushed white coral. When the sun comes out, the water is a lovely turquoise. You do have to walk through farmland, though, so just be warned there may be animals! 
  • The Fairy Bridge – Just east of Dunvegan is the Fairy Bridge. It’s not overly picturesque, but the legend behind it is why it is special. According to folklore, a Chief of the clan MacLeod married a fairy. Her people only allowed her to be with him for one year until she had to be returned. The Fairy Bridge is where she said goodbye to her husband, wrapping her son in her shawl. According to the stories, the shawl – known as the Fairy Flag – she used to wrap him could be used three times to save the clan. The Fairy Flag can be seen at Dunvegan Castle.  
Let this be your reminder to pack a rain jacket - it started POURING on me during my Fairy Pools hike.

Southern Skye 

Fairy Pools – This is a lovely hiking path to spring-fed pools. The pools themselve are beautiful but the surrounding area is gorgeous, too. It is a fairly simple hike. There’s a steep hill at the beginning, but it’s very short. Then there it’s a wide rocky path straight back along the stream. You’ll come to the lower Fairy Pools first, then about 20 minutes later you’ll reach the upper Fairy Pools. I was short on time and only made it to the lower pools, but it was still worth it! The water is crystal clear and a bright blue with colorful rocks at the bottom. It was raining when I was there (and actually started POURING) but the sunlight would make it breathtaking. You’ll need to pay to park, but there are toilets and a nice parking lot with an attendant. If you’re feeling brave, wear your bathing suit and take a dip!

Fairy Pools
Fairy Pools

Sligachan Bridge – If you’re driving anywhere on Skye, then you’ll probably pass the Old Sligachan Bridge. It is right off the A87 at the intersection where you turn to go to the Fairy Pools. There is a hotel, restaurant, and brewery right there, too. The bridge itself is just an old stone bridge (I think??), but there is some folklore surrounding the water. All of it has to do with fairies – of course! This area offers some beautiful views of The Cuillin and surrounding areas. It is also the starting point for several walking trails.

Armadale Castle & Gardens – Ancestral Isle of Skye home to the Clan Donald, the ruins of Armadale Castle date from the late 18th century. Older homes existed on the estate back 500 years, but are no longer standing. You can visit the castle, museum, and gardens on the southern coast of the Isle of Skye. 

Where to stay: 

I stayed one overnight on the Isle of Skye, in the village of Uig. I booked this room through Airbnb in a bed and breakfast. There was a public parking lot right across the street and a view of the bay from my room. Self check-in was simple. Breakfast the following morning was included and so filling! Honestly, something I didn’t really plan on in my itinerary building for my Scotland trip was breakfast. Many places I stayed offered it but not until 8am and I was always trying to get going first thing. In the future, I would plan my days to start a little later to enjoy the full breakfast! 

Since it is an island, lodging is inherently limited. I highly recommend booking well in advance for your trip to the Isle of Skye. Particularly if you’re going during high season. There are plenty of options if you plan ahead. There are hotels, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnbs in all parts of the island.

The best of the Isle of Skye bonus!

If you are traveling to the Isle of Skye by car (and not a ferry), you’ll pass through Kyle of Lochalsh. Eilean Donan is one of the most iconic castles in Scotland and definitely worth a visit. Definitely book entry in advance, and the earlier the better. The castle itself is not very large and gets “full” quickly. I was the second group (well, third person…) in and it made for a very enjoyable visit. 

Just across the bridge from Eilean Donan you’ll find Manuela’s Wee Bakery/Takeaway. I actually saw someone post about Manuela’s and Visit Scotland shared it – so I added it to my list! I stopped in for breakfast and a coffee before Eilean Donan. They offer a wide variety of sweet and savory baked goods along with excellent coffee. Plus, it’s an adorable little whimsical village! 

If you are traveling to the Isle of Skye by car (and not a ferry), you’ll pass through Kyle of Lochalsh. Eilean Donan is one of the most iconic castles in Scotland and definitely worth a visit. Definitely book entry in advance, and the earlier the better. The castle itself is not very large and gets “full” quickly. I was the second group (well, third person…) in and it made for a very enjoyable visit. 

Just across the bridge from Eilean Donan you’ll find Manuela’s Wee Bakery/Takeaway. I actually saw someone post about Manuela’s and Visit Scotland shared it – so I added it to my list! I stopped in for breakfast and a coffee before Eilean Donan. They offer a wide variety of sweet and savory baked goods along with excellent coffee. Plus, it’s an adorable little whimsical village! 

The next time I visit I hope to add a few more places, but I hope my best of the Isle of Skye list gives you some ideas for planning your next trip. Have you been to the Isle of Skye? What did I miss? 

You can read about my favorites of Inverness here. If you’re staying stateside or coming to the US now that borders are reopening, check out my itineraries for Bryce Canyon & Zion National Parks, Grand Tetons & Yellowstone National Parks, and a perfect day in Hot Springs. You can find my ultimate list of carry-on items here to help while you start to pack for your next trip. 

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