The misty hills and mountains of the Isle of Skye are a place that have long been steeped in local legend, and these days, the Scottish Island has become a legendary destination amongst travellers.
Found off the northwest coast of Scotland, the Isle of Skye is a place that’s as remote as it is beautiful, and the island is known for its spectacular scenery and charming small villages and towns.
There’s great hiking to be had, excellent road trips, and above all, there are few other islands – even in Scotland – that can match the Isle of Skye for sheer dramatic, ruggedness. To inspire your next adventure, here’s our ultimate travel guide to the Isle of Skye.
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How to get to Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides, and being located far north in the west coast, it’s a long way from Scotland’s major cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh.
If you’re wondering how to get to Isle of Skye, then don’t worry too much, because it’s easier now than ever before to visit. The isle is now connected to the nearby island of Eilean Ban by the epic Sky Bridge, a mammoth work of engineering spanning Loch Alsh.
From Eilean Ban, there’s another bridge over to the mainland. That means that road tripping is one of the best ways to get to Skye, and with so much dramatic scenery, you wouldn’t want to go any other way.
Fort William is around 2 hours drive away, while Glasgow and Edinburgh are 4 or 5 hours. There are also regular bus routes connecting Skye to major Scottish cities, and you take a train as far as the Kyle of Lochalsh, from where you can jump on a ferry to cross the Loch. The main town in Skye is Portree, where bus services will terminate.
There’s a small airport on the island, however it’s mostly used for emergencies. The nearest large airports are found at Glasgow and Inverness.
What to expect in Isle of Skye
No matter how much you read about just how dramatic the Isle of Skye is, nothing can really prepare you for its beauty until you finally step foot on the island and see the mountains arrayed ahead of you.
There really are few other places like this in the country, but for that reason it’s such a popular place to visit. The main industry is tourism, but even so, you’ll want to book transport and accommodation in advance to get your spot secured, because with a small population, infrastructure is limited.
The locals are proud of their Gaelic traditions, and the island is still a huge centre of clan culture. While many locals still know how to speak Gaelic, the numbers are dwindling, and everyone will speak English. The accent, as with most places in Scotland, can be difficult to understand if you’re unaccustomed to it however!
You’re unlikely to find money changers, and ATMs are also limited outside of the main town of Portree, so remember to bring plenty of cash with you for your entire stay. Both Scottish and English Pounds will be freely accepted.
How to get around Isle of Skye
If you’ve driven here from the mainland, then you won’t have any trouble getting around Skye, and you’ll find that driving is one of the most beautiful ways to experience the scenery. This is particularly true if you are only here on an Isle of Skye weekend trip and have limited time on the island.
You can walk around the small villages and towns, including Portree, and if you have a few days, then you can also tackle a few hikes. You will need a way to get to the trailhead however, and having your own vehicle will help in this respect too.
If you have arrived by public transport then you can make use of the buses that connect most of the settlements and also have stops at major tourist attractions and hiking points.
This is rural Scotland though, so check the timetables and routes thoroughly before setting off in the morning. Many buses only run on weekdays, some are seasonal and will stop in the winter. Most finish in the afternoon and there are few evening services on the island
The best time to visit Isle of Skye
The best time to visit the Isle of Skye is in the summer months. This is when the weather is almost hot – remember, this is Scotland! – and temperatures rise into the twenties. It’s also when there’s less chance of rain – but again, this is Scotland, and rain should be expected all through the year.
Summer is the best time for hiking and camping, and it’s also when all the businesses are guaranteed to be open, and travel is much easier than in winter.
Summer, from April through to September, is also peak season, and you will need to make sure you book in your accommodation and transport in advance, as things do book up.
Outside of the summer season it’s much more difficult to travel, as many businesses will close down for the off season. It’s cold and when it’s not raining it’s snowing.
But if you brave the bad weather, you can have the island practically to yourself, and if you want to see Skye in all its mythical, misty glory, then the bad weather can actually add to the brooding, dramatic atmosphere too.
Things to do in Isle of Skye
The Old Man of Storr
Of the many dramatic attractions in Isle of Skye, the most impressive of them all is The Old Man of Storr. Steeped in legend, a series of ragged rocks rise sharply towards the sky, and it makes for one of the best day hikes on the island.
Part of the Trotternish Loop, getting to the Old Man of Storr involves a steep, but surprisingly short uphill hike and scramble, although it’s not recommended to tackle it in foul weather.
From the starting point, it’s around 4 kilometres there and back. You’ll reach the dizzy heights of 700 metres and be rewarded with sweeping views over the Isle of Skye.
One of the best Isle of Skye things to do is to take a trip to the Fairy Pools. Found in the Glenbrittle area, the Fairy Pools are a wonderful collection of rock pools and waterfalls that makes for a great short hike.
It’s just over a kilometre from the start point to the pools, but in summer you might just find that you’ve worked up enough of a sweat to take a dip in the crystal clear, and ice-cold water.
The Fairy Glen is another of Skye’s most mystical places, and it again makes for a great short hike. Located along the Trotternish Loop, in the north of the island, this serene place is said to be the domain of the fairies, and other legendary creatures that are found in Gaelic mythology.
These days, it’s more the realm of hikers and tourists, because the scenery is almost otherworldly. The Glen is known for its basalt rock columns and unusually shaped hills and mounds.
Legends of these mythical Fairies also surround the famed Dunvegan Castle, which is found at the centre of the MacLeod Clan estate on the Isle of Skye.
Overlooking a loch, the castle can trace its origins back to the 13th century, although, given the fortified hilltop locations, it’s thought that were defences here long before that too. The castle is the home of the iconic Fairy Flag, a supposedly magical flag that has connections to the Fairies of Skye.
You can’t visit a Scottish isle and not call into the local distillery, and Skye is no exception. This is the home of Talisker, one of the finest Scotch Whiskeys to be distilled in the country.
You can take a tour of the Talisker Distillery to learn about the whiskey’s long history and heritage, and of course, at the end of the tour, there are plenty of tastings to go around.
Neist Point is a dramatic spur of land that juts out abruptly into the ocean, and it’s one of the most scenic landscapes on the island.
The point is home to a lighthouse, much needed given the jagged cliffs and stormy seas, that has been here since the early 1900s.
Near Glenbrittle, you can find the beautiful shores of Loch Coruisk. This is the heart of the Cuillin Hills, and there are plenty of excellent hiking opportunities to be had in the area.
If you’re not up for hiking though, then you can also take a boat across the still waters of the Loch for magnificent views of the surrounding scenery.
One of the best travel tips for the Isle of Skye is to visit the Mealt Falls. Found along the northeast coast of the island, Mealt Falls is an epic waterfall that hurtles over the edge of the cliffs and right into the ocean below.
There are viewing points all along the cliffs in either direction, just don’t get too close to the edge. The cliffs where the water plunges over, are known as Kilt Rock.
What to eat in Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye has a great selection of restaurants, particularly in Portree and other tourist hubs such as the Kyle of Lochalsh.
The most traditional fare on the Isle is pub food, and there are plenty of pubs on Skye serving up hearty local food. You can get everything from pies swimming in gravy to big portions of the Scottish classic, Haggis and Neeps.
Being an island, Skye is also well regarded for its seafood, and you can find some excellent battered fish and chips, as well as more up market seafood dishes served in a more gourmet atmosphere.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, then there’s even a curry house on the island, serving up some spicy British-Indian classics.
Where to stay in Isle of Skye
Budget – Prices can seem to be quite high on Skye especially in summer, but there are still a surprising number of hotels available. The Portree Independent Hostel is a great choice in Portree while the Scottish Youth Hostel Association has multiple hostels across the island. In summer, there are a great range of campsites open across Skye too.
Midrange – If you’re looking for a step up from a hostel, then the best option is a locally run Bed and Breakfast. Each town and village has several, and you’ll feel more at home here than anywhere else.
Luxury – Skye’s most luxurious offerings can book up fast in summer, but if you can get a room, then the Duntulm Castle Hotel is found on a landed estate and embodies all the trappings you would expect from such a location.
Tours to do in Isle of Skye
Multi Day Tour
If you don’t have your own transport, then the Isle of Skye can be tricky to travel around once you get there, public transport is limited.
A great way to see the best that island had to offer, is to join a multi day tour that takes in the best sights. Often, these will depart from major cities too, such as Inverness or Glasgow, making your trip even easier.
There are hundreds of hiking trails across the island, but one of the best things to do in Isle of Skye if you want to get to those hidden gems, is to join a hiking tour.
While providing extra security and safety in this wild part of Scotland, the local hiking guides will get you to places that only they know how to reach.
Day trips from Isle of Skye
Fort William is the centre of the Scottish Highlands, and as it’s just two hours away from Skye, it makes for a great day trip.
The historic town is located in dramatic surroundings, close to Lochs and close to Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain peak in the UK.
The Hogwarts Express, a classic steam train that officially is called the Jacobite Express, is one of the greatest train rides in Scotland.
The train featured in the Harry Potter films, and in summer you can ride it through dramatic scenery and mountain passes from Fort William to Mallaig.
Eilean Donan Castle
Located across the water on the mainland, the Eilean Donan Castle makes for a lovely day trip from the Isle of Skye.
This former stronghold dates far back to the 13th century and has been the scene of countless clan wars and clan feuds over the centuries. It’s dramatic, and it’s beautifully historic.