The Isle of Skye is Scotland’s best-known island with great reason!
With soaring mountain ranges, a dramatic coastline and a fascinating history, the island is bound to enchant you.
Read on to discover everything you need to know about Skye – from those who know it best.
Travelling to the Isle of Skye
Staying in the Isle of Skye
Sightseeing in the Isle of Skye
Skye is located on the west coast of Scotland and is the largest and most northerly of the Inner Hebrides.
The island is one of the most visited places in Britain. It is also perhaps the most accessible of Scotland’s islands thanks to the Skye Bridge which links it with the mainland.
Skye was first settled by Gaelic-speaking Scots who came from Ireland during the first centuries BCE, although the history of the island dates back to the Neolithic period. Ancient remains such as Iron Age forts suggest that the island was occupied in prehistoric times.
Norsemen ruled the island from the 9th – 12th centuries, and Viking shipyards and canals have even been discovered in the island! The Lords of the Isles maintained independent control of the Hebrides until the 15th century. Thereafter, the island was officially claimed by the Kingdom of Scotland.
The most prominent of Skye’s clans were the MacLeods. Dunvegan Castle, home to the clan, can be visited and famously holds the title of being occupied longer than any other house in Scotland!
Skye’s rich social and natural history can be witnessed all over the island, from fossils of dinosaur footprints to ancient castles, churches and brochs (these uniquely Scottish round towers were built 2,000 years ago by Pictish communities).
The history of Skye is mystical, haunting and magical, and can be felt by the many ruins amid the dramatic coasts and mountains.
As well as its history, Skye is famous for its striking scenery, world-class walking opportunities, bird watching, distilleries and breweries, stunning beaches and vibrant fishing villages, to name but a few!
The abundance of attractions on Skye makes it one of Scotland’s most desired tourist destinations, attracting history and nature lovers from all over the world.
The Isle of Skye truly is a wonderful place to visit in all seasons. Visiting between the months of March and October will offer longer daylight hours to explore. In spring, the weather begins to brighten and seasonal businesses start to open up.
If you’re keen to spot some local wildlife, then we recommend visiting in spring or summer. However, if you’re keen to avoid the infamous Scottish midges, early spring and late autumn are the best times to visit.
The best time of year to visit will wholly depend on your preferences. Whether you’re looking for better weather, more activities, a chance to spot the local wildlife or a more peaceful experience, our Travel Specialists would be delighted to discuss the best dates for your perfect Isle of Skye experience.
For an island, travelling to the Isle of Skye couldn’t be simpler. You can get there by car, ferry, bus or train.
The island is served by ferry and there is also a road bridge. If you wish to follow the lyrics of the Skye Boat Song, you can take the CalMac ferry from Mallaig to Armadale and witness the beauty of the island from the sea.
Alternatively, the Skye Bridge spans Loch Alsh between the mainland village of Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin on Skye. Since 2004, travelling across the bridge has been free of charge.
Skye is a 5-hour drive from the Scottish central belt. From Edinburgh, you can head north to Dalwhinnie, then northwest through the heart of the Highlands to the Kyle of Lochalsh before crossing the bridge onto Skye, or continue west to Mallaig to sail to Skye via the ferry.
From Glasgow, you’ll hug the ‘bonnie banks’ of Loch Lomond before heading through spectacular Rannoch Moor. From here, you can either head west to Mallaig, or continue your journey north to Skye.
You certainly can!
Citylink buses run from Glasgow and Fort William to Skye, with a journey time between 3 – 5 hours.
Kyle of Lochalsh, on the mainland just across from Skye, is also served by Scotrail – Scotland’s rail service – with three daily trains to Inverness. From here, there are services to Edinburgh, Glasgow and the rest of the UK. From Kyle of Lochalsh, there is a bus service to Portree, Broadford, and Uig.
There are several tour operators that run day trips from Inverness and Fort William, including Rabbie’s. However, we think that Skye has so much to offer that a day visit will leave you wanting more.
Travelling the Isle of Skye by car is a delight with well-kept roads and stunning vistas guaranteed. Many of the roads are single-track, which means if you come across another vehicle approaching, you should pull over in a passing place on your left, or opposite a passing place on your right, to allow approaching traffic to pass. Be prepared to give way to traffic coming uphill towards you.
Public transport is available and fairly reliable between Portree, Broadford and Glendale. Timetables are available from Stagecoach.
We think that between 3 nights and 7 nights will give you a good amount of time to discover Skye as a visitor.
We would recommend spending at least 2 full days in order to see the highlights of this magical island and make the most of the variety of activities and landmarks it offers. And by all means, stay longer!
Most accommodations in Skye are B&Bs and guest houses where you can expect warm welcomes and experience an authentic Skye home.
There are also a select few hotels, such as in the capital Portree and Sligachan.
You can also find many unique self-catering options, as well as some campsites if you are opting for a wilder experience in the island.
Not sure what to expect when staying at a B&B? Read our blog: What is a Bed & Breakfast? (And Why You Should Stay in Them!).
For an extra special experience, we would recommend staying at the Three Chimneys in the secluded hamlet of Colbost, near Dunvegan. As well as the world-class restaurant, they also have luxurious 5-star accommodation. Each room is calming and elegant with stunning sea views.
Another luxurious option in Colbost is the contemporary Hillstone Lodge. All their rooms are en-suite with spectacular views over Loch Dunvegan and Dunvegan Castle. Enjoy a delicious breakfast in their relaxing guest lounge with panoramic views of the loch.
If you’re looking for high-end accommodation closer to Skye’s capital, we recommend Canowindra B&B. This luxury bed and breakfast has spectacular views of Ben Tianavaig and the Cuillins. Each room has been individually designed with comfort and luxury in mind.
We understand how exceptional hosts can make a huge difference to having an enjoyable stay. Aileen and Thomas at Medina B&B always go the extra mile for their guests to ensure a relaxing stay in their home. Situated just a 10-minute walk from the centre of Portee, this modern bungalow boasts wonderful views over Portee Harbour.
Situated on the southern outskirts of Portee, is the charming The Gables B&B. As this accommodation is owned by the lovely Margaret, who is native to Skye, you can be sure of the best local tips for exploring the island.
Find the perfect place to stay for you in our blog: 10 Amazing Places to Stay on the Isle of Skye.
In Portree, we would recommend Scorrybreac, an intimate restaurant delivering modern Scottish cuisine with French influences, located on the harbour. Here the focus is on local and seasonal produce.
The Bosville Hotel has an upmarket bistro restaurant where tasty starters, delicious market fish, steaks and pasta dishes are served.
Alternatively, The Isles Inn offers good pub grub such as Scottish beef and venison, or why not try the local haggis, neeps and tatties? After dinner, sit in their traditional Skye Black Croft House Bar in front of the roaring open fire and contemplate your day. The Isles Inn typically does not take reservations in advance for non-residents.
In the beautiful Waternish Peninsula, you will find Loch Bay Seafood Restaurant. Set in a little crofter’s cottage with a welcoming wood-burning stove and Harris Tweed-covered chairs, the esteemed Michael Smith skillfully prepares elevated Scottish dishes with French touches. Advance reservations are essential at Loch Bay.
Nearby, the historic Stein Inn – the oldest inn in the island – offers light lunches and traditional bar meals in a cosy setting.
No visit to Skye is complete without a visit to the aforementioned Three Chimneys, one of Scotland’s favourite restaurants. You will find the owners Eddie and Shirley Spear and their candlelit crofter’s cottage, close by the sea on the shores of Loch Dunvegan. As a leading Scottish chef, Shirley Spear has won many top awards over the past fifteen years, including a Michelin Star. It is essential that you make a dinner reservation in advance at the Three Chimneys. This is probably the best restaurant in the islands. You could also stop here for lunch during your time sightseeing in the island, although booking in advance is still essential.
Between Portree and Dunvegan, you will find Edinbane Lodge, specialising in a 10-course tasting menu which highlights Head Chef Calum Montgomery’s passion for the fresh local produce of the island. Enjoy delicious food served in the setting of a restored 16th-century Highland Lodge. The Lodge is open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday, and we would advise pre-booking online.
For a relatively small island, Skye is packed with stunning attractions and iconic natural landscapes. It’s no wonder that the island was used as the filming location for so many films, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The BFG and Macbeth.
The bustling harbour town of Portree is the island’s capital and cultural hub. The town acts as a fine base for sightseeing and visiting the more remote areas of the island, and from Portree, you may wish to take to the seas and explore the abundant wildlife spotting opportunities and stunning views just beyond the island’s shores.
There are many boat trips which offer daily wildlife-watching tours of the Strait of Raasay, which is home to seals, golden eagles, otters, dolphins, and sea eagles.
North of Portree, you’ll find one of the island’s most iconic landmarks; the Old Man of Storr. This unique geological feature is made up of distinctive rocky peaks that create a rugged and dramatic landscape. It is the highest point on the Trotternish Ridge which was formed by an ancient landslide.
Continue north to discover another beautiful result of this landslide, the weird and wonderful rock formations of The Quiraing. However, unlike the Old Man of Storr, there is still some movement in the land here as it still shifts a few centimetres each year. This unique landscape is a highlight of the Skye Trail – a long-distance walking route across the island.
The village of Carbost is home to Skye’s most famous whisky distillery, Talisker. Take a tour of the distillery and discover how they produce their wonderfully robust and award-winning malt.
Nearby you’ll find the magical Fairy Pools. Situated at the bottom of the Cuillin Mountains, these are a series of spectacular waterfalls and beautiful crystal-clear pools. The pools are best visited on a day with blue skies or sunshine as the water will look magical as it shimmers and reflects the light.
Skye offers activities to suit every taste and here we’ve curated a list of a few lesser-known things to do and see.
Have you ever stood on a cliff by the sea and thought ‘I’d like to see what the world looks like from down there?’ Well, why not don a wetsuit, life jacket and helmet and jump into the latest adventure sport of coasteering?
Skye is one of the best places to practice the sport with plenty of incredible coves, sea stacks to clamber onto, and local seabirds to greet. Your adventure will include swimming, climbing and plenty of jumping as you journey around a spectacular area of the Scottish coastline.
Historically the whole of Scotland, or Alba as it’s known by Gaelic speakers, spoke the Celtic language of Gaelic. ‘Ciamar a tha thu’ or ‘How are you’ in English could be the first phrase you learn on one of the short courses run by local company Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.
The courses are 4 days long and are aimed at those who have an interest in the language and culture and fancy learning some Gaelic for the sheer fun of it.
Dun Beag Broch
One of the best-preserved brochs in Scotland, Dun Beag is an excellent example of an Iron Age round stone tower (or broch) which is only found in Scotland.
The broch stands at the top of a rocky knoll on the northwest end of the island, overlooking Loch Bracadale and commanding excellent views of the surrounding landscape. The broch would have been built around 2,000 years ago and it appears to have been occupied for a very long period of time.
Skye has some of the most beautiful and varied beaches in Scotland. Whether it’s sandy, rocky or even beaches with dinosaur fossils, discover some of our favourites:
Glenbrittle: This dark volcanic sandy beach is situated at the head of Loch Brittle and at the base of the famous Cuillin Mountains. Glenbrittle is a must-see destination, just a few miles down the road from the Fairy Pools.
Staffin Beach: An ideal place for families, this is famous for the dinosaur footprints which were discovered here in 2002. They remain the largest of their kind in Scotland!
Coral Beach: This beach holds a special place in one of our team member’s hearts as it is where her partner popped the question – a fittingly beautiful location for such a grand question!
The island is a great destination for wildlife watchers, with sea eagles, dolphins, puffins and otters just some of the animals which call Skye home.
If you’re keen to see as much as possible during your stay it would be worth joining a wildlife tour. From Portree, there are daily boat and land tours. Some of these are whole-day trips with lunch and fizz included, while others take you on an exhilarating speed boat ride straight to well-known sea life sighting spots.
The beauty of Skye’s landscape will make you want to put your hiking boots (or wellies) on and go exploring every corner of the island.
However, the more avid walkers among you may fancy bagging a couple of Munros in the Southern Cuillin range, or even better still – completing the Skye Trail. This 80-mile long, 7-day trail is not for the faint-hearted. Following alongside the beautiful Trotternish Ridge, the Skye Trail also passes beneath the very shadow of the Cuillin and right to the foot of The Storr.
Are you up to the challenge? Find out more in our blog: Is the Skye Trail the Best Walk in Britain?
Unfortunately for visitors (and locals!), midges are found in Skye, though it’s important to note that they aren’t a year-round pest. You’re most likely to find midges in the summer months, and even then, the conditions need to be just right for them.
If you are keen to avoid midges at all costs, early spring and late autumn give you a happy balance of decent weather and less chance of being bothered by those pesky midges.
For a better chance of exploring the serenity of Skye, opt for a winter escape. During the months of November to early March, the Skye scenery can really sparkle under dustings of snow. Wintertime is also the best chance of spotting the iconic red deer as they will be on lower ground in search of better grazing away from the snow.
If you don’t mind the chilly weather and enjoy cosying up by the fireplace with a whisky or hot chocolate in the evenings, then you’ll love our Isle of Skye & Scottish Highlands Winter Escape.
Talisker Distillery in Carbost is the oldest operating distillery in the island and one of the most renowned distilleries in the country. You can tour of the distillery and discover how they produce their award-winning malt whisky. As well as a distillery, Talisker also has a brewery that creates beer by milling its own grains and uses local produce to make a unique taste of Skye in a beer.
Another good option is Torabhaig Distillery, which is the second-ever licensed single-malt Scotch whisky distillery in the Isle of Skye. Located at the old farmstead at Torabhaig, the site already possessed all the elements needed to make good, traditional island whisky, with the Allt Breacach burn feeding the purest island spring water in an incredible natural setting.
If you would like to opt for something different or stay closer to Portree, Isle of Skye Distillers are an independent, family-run business located in Portree. As well as whisky, they produce craft spirits such as their award-winning Misty Isles gins and vodka.
While not located in the Isle of Skye, whisky aficionados shouldn’t miss taking the short ferry journey to the nearby Isle of Raasay. Here you’ll find one of Scotland’s newest distilleries – Raasay Distillery. They offer tours and tastings where you can enjoy sublime views back across to Skye.
There are seven castles located in the island. They range from ruined remains to grand houses filled with historical artefacts. Read on to find out about a few of the most popular castles to visit in Skye:
Dunvegan: As previously mentioned, this castle was famously the home of clan MacLeod and is the only Highland castle to have been inhabited by the same family for over 800 years. Dunvegan features incredibly well-kept rooms and magnificent paintings, fine furniture, clan treasures and even rare Jacobite relics!
Duntulm: This ruined castle in the far north of the island sits high above the seas. Thought to date from the Iron Age, it was initially occupied by the MacLeods of Skye, who entertained King James V of Scotland here when he visited Skye in 1540.
Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum: This grand Highland estate has connections to one of the most powerful clans of West Scotland, Clan Donald, where you can learn about their story and the Highland’s history in the Museum of the Isles. As well as the museum and castle, you can explore the beautiful gardens and enjoy picturesque views over the Sound of Sleat.
Castle Moil: This makes our list due to its Norse connections. It is thought that a castle has sat on this site since before the 10th century. The Viking King, Haakon gathered his vast fleet of longships here in 1263!
Special mention: Eilean Donan: While this castle isn’t technically in the island, we couldn’t miss mentioning this famous and iconic castle. Don’t miss stopping to explore Eilean Donan in the village of Dornie in the mainland as you approach the Skye Bridge.
If you are planning a trip to Skye, whether it be for walking or sightseeing, why not let us arrange your holiday for you? Our packages include hand-picked accommodation, a personalised information pack, and 24-hour support from our dedicated team.
All of our holidays are tailor-made to your individual requirements, so don’t hesitate to get in touch and our Travel Specialists will make your perfect trip happen.
Katie Rogen & Josephine Dair