The largest of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, Skye boasts some of Europe’s most dramatic scenery. From rugged volcanic landscapes to pretty fairy pools, nature lovers always have plenty of things to do in Skye.
The Scottish island is also a favourite with photographers who visit to capture Skye’s abundance of fresh water lochs and scenic limestone grasslands.
While the Isle of Skye’s major draw is its jaw-dropping natural wonders, the island also offers some of Scotland’s best restaurants, beaches, museums and castles.
History of Skye
The isle of Skye has been occupied since the Mesolithic period, and its fascinating history includes a time of Norse rule and extensive domination by Clan MacLeod and Clan Donald.
The 18th century Jacobite risings led to the dismantling of the clan system and later the “Clearances” replaced local communities with sheep farms.
Local resident populations declined from 20,000 in the 19th century to under 9,000 by the end of the 20th century. By 2001, only a third of Skye’s residents spoke Gaelic, an important aspect of the island’s culture.
Today, Syke’s largest city is its capital, Portree, known for its postcard-perfect harbour. There are plenty of accommodation and restaurant options here, but you’ll find most of Skye’s best luxury hotels on estates located in the more rural areas of the island.
How To Get To The Isle Of Skye
The Isle of Skye is one of the top destinations in Scotland. Those on a Scottish road trip can access the island across the Skye Bridge or by car ferry. The best way to explore the island is by renting a car, as the majority of Skye attractions require driving on rural roads.
- Train to Skye: there is not a direct railway onto Skye but there are two train stations on the mainland that are close and connect to local bus routes. Take the train from Glasgow to Mallaig then hop on a ferry to Skye. Or take the train from Inverness to Kyle, then hop on a bus to the island.
- Drive to Skye: drive on the A87 across the Skye Bridge and you’ll arrive onto the island at Kyleakin. The drive from Glasgow to Portree on Skye takes 5-6 hours. Inverness is a shorter 2.5 hour drive to Skye.
- Ferry to Skye: there are three main ports on Skye which are operated by Calmac. The ferry routes to Skye are: Mallaig to Armadale, Sconser to Raasay, and Uig to Lochmaddy/Harris.
- Flight to Skye: the closest International Airport is Glasgow and the nearest local airport is Inverness.
Best Things To Do In Skye
Skye is one of Scotland’s largest islands. We suggest breaking up your Skye itinerary so you can dedicate each day to a different region of the island. Many of Skye’s roads are single lane drives and during the high season from June to September you’ll need to plan for patience.
In recent years many travel outlets have written about over-tourism in Skye. We suggest planning a trip in the shoulder seasons, ideally April/May and October/November. If cooler temperatures and quiet roads are your thing, explore Skye in the off season from late Fall to early Spring and you’ll support the local economy without having to deal with a dizzying number of tourists.
A road trip of Skye, anytime fo the year, will undoubtably feature sips of Single Malt Scotch, magical waterfalls, beautiful beaches, ancient churches, posh luxury hotels and award-winning restaurants.
If you’re planning a holiday to Scotland’s most romantic island you’ll need to research Isle of Skye hotels in advance. Portree has plenty of options and offers a central home base for those looking to road trip around the island each day. Isle of Skye hotels range from luxury resorts to historic boutique hotels and more affordable family-run B&Bs.
- Edinbane Lodge: Skye’s newest luxury hotel is located in a 16th century hunting lodge. The petite boutique hotel features all the trappings of a five-star hotel and is home to 2019’s Best New Restaurant in Scotland.
- The Three Chimneys: best known for its iconic fine dining restaurant, The Three Chimneys also offers elegant accommodation.
- Duisdale House Hotel: a boutique hotel offering luxury accommodation on the Isle of Skye. The 4 star property is a 15 minute drive from Armadale Ferry Terminal.
- Broadford Hotel: this 4 star boutique hotel established in 1611 is famously known as the birthplace of Drambuie liqueur.
- Hotel Eilean Iarmain: a quaint hotel in Skye overlooking the Sound of Sleat channel. Offers classic rooms and suites as well as a separate cottage that can sleep up to six people.
- Toravaig House Hotel: a country-chic boutique hotel located on Skye’s southern tip.
- Thistles on Skye: a luxurious B&B near Isleornsay featuring two suites offering panoramic views.
- Skeabost Hotel: an elegant country hotel on the Isle of Skye featuring upscale restaurant and golf course.
Best Syke Restaurants
There are plenty of restaurant options on the Isle of Skye. If you’re celebrating a special anniversary or birthday we suggest splurging on the tasting menus at The Three Chimneys or Edinbane Lodge. Portree is a hub for the island’s accommodation so you’ll also find lots of restaurant options from fancy feast to cheap and cheerful Fish & Chips.
- The Three Chimneys: for many years this petite fine dining room has been ranked as one of Scotland’s best restaurants. Arrive early to enjoy a cocktail in the lounge.
- Edinbane Lodge: winner of Best New Scottish Restaurant in 2019 and located in a 16th century hunting lodge.
- Prince of India: located in the heart of Portree, Sky’e best Indian restaurant specializes in creamy curries from Kolkata.
- Harbour Chip Shop: if you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful lunch enjoy classic Fish & Chips at Portree’s harbour.
Skye’s cute capital sits perched over Loch Portree on the island’s north east coast. The towns name comes from the Gaelic Port-an-Right, which translates to “Kings Port.” The name dates back to a visit by King James V and his fleet of warships, in 1540, sent to persuade the island clans to support him.
Portree’s main street, Bank Street, runs parallel to the back of the harbour. The city’s landmark is the Royal Hotel, which is where Bonnie Prince Charlie bade farewell for the last time in 1746 to Flora MacDonald. Portree was a departure point for many Scots in the 1700s, when locals sought to flee poverty by boarding ships to North America.
Today, Portree plays home to some of Skye’s best accommodation and restaurants. Its harbour is lined with colourful houses and offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
Somerled Square, 44-1478-611350
Located in the heart of Portree, tucked away from the main square, Isle of Skye Soap Company is a beauty lovers dream. It’s one of the best gift shops on Skye, featuring hand-crafted soaps, lotions, bath bombs, aromatherapy oils, candles and locally made crafts.
Isle of Skye Soap Company began in 2000. Its founder and aromatherapist Fiona decided to launch a local beauty and wellness business that used pure essential oils, was plant based and was both nourishing to the skin and good for the environment.
All of the company’s signature soaps are glycerin based and hand cut and wrapped in-store. The most popular sud-slathers at Isle of Skye Soap Company are Coriander & Grapefruit, Lavender & Lime, Peppermint, Ylang Ylang and Lemongrass.
MacLeod Estate, 44-1470-521206
Skye’s most famous castle was the seat of the chiefs of the Clan MacLeod for over eight centuries. Dunvegan Castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. Sitting perched over Loch Dunvegan, the castle is unique in that the family still lives here to this day.
While most castles in Scotland feel as though your strolling through a history museum, skipping through the halls of Dunvegan can feel odd as you know you’re a guest in someones home. Be sure to lookout for signs that are marked off limits to guests.
Dunvegan Castle’s architecture offers a unique mix of building styles due to its numerous additions and renovations, which took place from the 13th-19th centuries. Originally designed as a fortress to keep people out, today the castle offers history buffs an icon steeped in clan legend.
The castle also plays home to a wild collection of historic artifacts. Special treasures include Sir Rory Mor’s Horn (a 500 year old celebratory drinking horn), the Fairy Flag (thought to have magical powers), and the ancient Dunvegan Cup (dating back to 1493).
Visitors can delight in Dunvegan Castle’s gorgeous gardens, take a boat trip to the nearby seal colony, stay in a Victorian holiday cottage, or enjoy a Scottish sip and nibble at MacLeod Tables Cafe.
Skye’s oldest distillery overlooks the Cuillins from the shores of Loch Harport at Carbost. Talisker Distillery is famed for its sweet, full-bodied Highland malts, which have been described by locals as “the lava of the Cuillins.”
The distillery was originally founded in 1830 by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill and built in 1831. The malted barley used in whisky production is sourced from Muir of Ord. Today, Skye’s oldest whisky distillery has an annual output of three and a half million litres!
Whisky lovers should make a point of booking a tour and tasting as its the only Single Malt produced on the Isle of Skye. Tours of Talisker Distillery offer guests the opportunity to see five copper pot stills, traditional worm tubs, a choir of casks in the warehouse and enjoy Single Malt sips in the Visitor Centre.
Fun Fact: Talisker was the favourite whisky of celebrated writers Robert Louis Stevenon and HV Morton. In his poem “The Scotsman’s Return From Abroad”, Stevenson chirps “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet.”
The Isle of Skye offers plenty of beautiful beaches to discover. After asking a handful of locals on the island it became clear that the favourite for a romantic stroll was Talisker Bay Beach.
After enjoying a few drams of whisky at Talisker Distillery take the short drive along winding rural roads to the small car park for Talisker Bay Beach. The walk to the beach takes 20 minutes and you’ll likely have the opportunity to meet local sheep who graze here during the day.
The grey sandy beach is surrounded by majestic cliffs, offering an idyllic landscape for photographers. On a warm day take your socks and shoes off and go for a paddle. Or if you’re a brave enjoy a refreshing plunge.
Looking out to sea, on the left hand side of the beach you’ll find a large sea stack, which can be accessed by climbing along the shore line during low tide. On the right hand side there are high cliffs and a waterfall.
The Skye Museum of Island Life is located on the northernmost tip. It’s considered the best museum on the Isle of Skye, taking visitors back in time to stroll through an old Highland village.
The Skye Museum of Island Life features a preserved series of thatched cottages and an award winning museum showing how life was once lived 100 years ago.
Start your visit by exploring The Skye Museum of Life’s outdoor architecture, which include a croft house, barn, Weaver’s Cottage, Old Smithy and Ceilidh House. Begin your tour in the largest building, the croft house, and you’ll find mannequins dressed in period costume, an old-fashioned boxed bed, vintage crockery, Gaelic bible, bagpipes, fiddle and harp.
Inside the barn you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the unique agricultural system on Skye. Skip inside the Weaver’s Cottage and you’ll find a busy workshop producing tweed for a variety of traditional Scottish garments such as blankets and plaids. In The Old Smithy visitors learn all about the importance of farriery, a metalwork specialty for horse hoof care. Lastly, Ceilidh House contains a collection of old documents and photographs, offering endless insight into what life was like on Skye one hundred years ago.
One of the most popular things to do in Skye is hike to the island’s Fairy Pools. One of Skye’s most photographed attractions, the Fairy Pools are a collection of wee waterfalls, seemingly vibrant blue and green that flow into cold swimmable pools. Skye’s famous Fairy Pools are located in the centre of the island in Glen Brittle, on the Allt Coir’ a’ Mhadaidh.
The Fairy Pools on Skye are located on the River Brittle and can be accessed by a 2.4km path, which takes approximately 40 minutes to walk. Start your visit by parking at the Forestry Commission gravel carpark. It is located on a single track road that leads to Glenbrittle from Carbost.
From the Fairy Pools carpark you’ll enjoy a hike featuring impressive views towards Black Cuillins. The short walk to Skye’s famous pools follow a gravel path that is normally in good condition. If it has recently rained it’s best to wear waterproof hiking boots as the area can get muddy. Leave your high heels at home as you’ll be required to hop across a river via stepping stones.
Once you’ve reached the first waterfall you’ll spot the magical Fairy Pools. Be sure to schedule some free time to walk your way up the river and explore the various pools. On a hot day in the summer you’ll likely spot tourists dropping in for a dip, but the Fairy Pools rarely warm up so bring a wetsuit or prepare to gasp with glee.
The local habitat of the Fairy Pools hosts a variety of wildlife so be on the lookout as you may spot red deer, rabbits, sheep, ravens, gulls and grey herons.
Skye’s most photographed natural landmark is also one of the island’s most popular hikes. Erosion of a basalt plateau on the island’s Trotternish ridge has resulted in The Storr’s out-of-this-world rock formations. The Storr was created by a massive ancient landslide, leaving one of the most photographed landscapes in the world in its wake. The hill presents a steep rocky eastern face that overlooks the Sound of Raasay, which beautifully contrasts with grassy slopes to the west. The Old Man of Storr, a monolith rising 160 ft, is the highest of these jaw-dropping rocky structures.
Hikers arrive here in droves every day to march up the 3.8 km Storr Ascent, accessible from the main road from Portree to Staffin. The Storr walk uses the same path, starting and returning at the carpark below. The route takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete if you don’t include sightseeing and “catch your breath” stops.
The raw landscape of The Storr and its popular hiking circuit known as the Quiraing, have landed the The Old Man several Hollywood film features, including The Wicker Man, Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman.
Hiking the Quiraing is one of the best things to do in Skye if you’re looking for an active adventure. The Quiraing is known for offering some of the most spectacular landscapes in all of Scotland. The scenic trail is a photographers dream with hikers traveling from all over the world to check it off their bucket list.
The name Quiraing comes from Old Norse ‘Kví Rand’, which means “Round Fold”. Within the fold is The Table, an elevated plateau hidden amongst the pillars. It is said that the fold was used to conceal cattle from Viking raiders many years ago.
As part of the Trotternish Ridge it has been formed by a massive landslip which has created high cliffs, hidden plateaus and pinnacles of rock. Try and choose a clear day for your hike and bring your camera to capture the jaw-dropping scenery.
The Quiraing trail is a loop, returning hikers to the same point. The total a distance is 6.8km, typically taking 2 hours without stopping.
If you’re a photographer keen to capture one of Skye’s most celebrated panoramas, visit Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. It’s one of Skye’s best viewpoints, accessed by a car park near Elishader on the road between Portree and Staffin.
The ancient cliffs are said to resemble a Scottish kilt, with vertical basalt columns forming the pleats and intruded sills of dolerite forming the pattern. Look north up the coast and you’ll spot Kilt Rock. Closer by is Mealt Waterfall, which majestically freefalls off a cliff for 60m into the Sound of Raasay. Mealt Falls makes magical music; when strong winds blow many visitors report a haunting and beautiful sound.
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Sligachan is located where the Black Cuillin meets Skye’s western seaboard. This is where photographers come to capture one of the island’s most famous views. Gift shops on Skye sell plenty of postcards of the iconic view, which features the Red and Black Cuillin with Glen Sligachan between them.
There is an enchanting 19th century stone bridge under which the River Sligachan flows freely. Most photographers capture the magical stream with the ancient bridge sitting quietly in the foreground.
You’ll likely find tourists splashing in the water by the bridge as local folktales offer a nod to its magical powers. The ancient Scottish story features a warrior woman, magical fairies and epic battles. It is believed that if visitors dunk their face in the river by the Sligachan Old Bridge in Skye, they transport a part of themselves into the underworld and attain eternal beauty
Cuillin Brewery is located directly across the street from Skye’s famous Old Bridge. The tiny Scottish microbrewery features a brewhouse and tiny bottle shop, tucked inside the Sligachan Hotel.
The Cuillin craft brewery first opened in September 2004. The water used in Cuillin Brewery’s ales are drawn from the river who’s source is just above Coire a Bhasteir.
The brewery produces four cask ales regularly as well as various seasonal bottlings. The beers are available at Seamus’s Bar at the Sligachan Hotel, local bars and pubs on the Isle of Skye and award-winning restaurants such as The Three Chimneys and Edinbane Lodge.
Cuillin Brewery’s signature ales include the flagship Skye Ale, Black Face dark stout, session style Eagle Ale and Pinnacle amber ale.
The walk down to the lighthouse is easily done on a marked concrete path. Take the 45 minute stroll and you’ll enjoy stunning views of the surrounding high cliffs. Photographers should plan to visit Neist Point Lighthouse just before sunset. The last light offers a warm and magical landscape.
If front of Neist Point Lighthouse you’ll find a field of stone towers, all built by visitng hikers. On the left is a landing point where supplies used to be delivered by boat. The rocks by Skye’s famous lighthouse are especially good for fishing. In the summer months whales and Basking Sharks can also be regularly seen off the point.
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