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Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye’s dramatic landscapes are some of the most scenic in Scotland. The best way to experience its epic mountains, waterfalls, and sea cliffs is on a road trip.
When most people think of visiting Scotland, Edinburgh and Loch Ness are the first spots that come to mind. While both are nice, I think a road trip up through the Highlands to the Isle of Skye is far better.
The scenery on Skye is rugged, breathtaking, and raw.
Free to explore at your own pace, you’ll be stopping around each bend of Skye’s notoriously narrow and winding country roads for one incredible photo opportunity after another!
I recently road-tripped around the Isle of Skye in Scotland to experience one of the United Kingdom’s most adventurous and scenic travel destinations for myself. It didn’t disappoint.
In this travel guide I’ll help you get the most from an Isle of Skye adventure.
Exploring The Isle Of Skye
If photography and exploring mountain landscapes are your thing, then you’ll love road tripping around the Isle of Skye. The area is steeped in myth and legend — a place where giants and fairies roam. Bloody clan battles were fought here, and ancient castles still stand.
You’ll feel like you’ve been transported into an epic fantasy novel.
The island is split up into a series of peninsulas. For the purposes of this guide, I’ll cover the Trotternish Peninsula in the East, the Waternish Peninsula to the West, and the Black Cuillin Hills region of the South.
Shimmering lochs (lakes) dominate the Waternish Peninsula, while jagged volcanic formations left over from landslides from the Trotternish Ridge. Windswept Red & Black Cuillin mountains rise to meet the clouds in the South.
Landscapes on Skye are some of the most impressive in all of Britain.
Planning Your Road Trip
How Long Does It Take?
You can drive around the island in half a day without stopping. But because there’s so much to see, I recommend spending at least 2 full days on the Isle of Skye. Plus you should schedule an additional half day to drive up from Fort William, and another half day to get back.
Combine your Skye road trip with a few days in the Highlands near Fort William, plus a full day in Edinburgh or Glasgow, and you’ve got yourself a wonderful week-long vacation in Scotland.
This is if you don’t plan on any really big hikes or other longer excursions.
When Should You Go?
You’re bound to get some rain whenever you go, but the best season for traveling to the Isle of Skye is summer. There’s a slightly better chance for dry weather between April and mid-June.
However, summer is also high-season. The roads will be more crowded, and accommodation is more difficult to find.
The island is small. You should be able to fit a 2-day road trip in on a single tank of gas starting from Fort William. However, there are 4 different gas stations on the Isle of Skye just in case you need to fill up.
In the main towns, you’ll find plenty of cozy pubs and cafes, with a few dedicated restaurants too. However, most of the towns are spread out from each other. So make sure to stock up on sandwiches and snacks at a local grocery store each morning. Sausage rolls are a big deal in Scotland, and while not exactly healthy, they are perfect for road trips.
There is a wonderful pub & traditional Scottish restaurant at the Sligachan Hotel called Seumas Bar if you’re craving some neeps & tatties. Or my personal favorite, haggis! Mmmmm. Sheep guts…
Mobile internet on the Isle of Skye is pretty bad. In Broadford and Portree you’ll have 3G, but outside the major towns there’s a good chance you won’t have a signal at all. Vodafone and O2 seem to have the best coverage.
Getting To Skye
The most common way to get to the Isle of Skye is to fly into Glasgow, rent a car, and drive up through the highlands from there. It takes 5-6 hours. I flew into Edinburgh, took a train to Glasgow, and then started driving. Fort William is a great place to stop for a night in the highlands to help break up the drive.
From Fort William, drive 1 hour West on route A830 to the small fishing town of Mallaig and catch the 30 minute long Skye Ferry to Armadale.
From Fort William, head North on routes A82 and A87 to the Skye Bridge, a trip that takes about 1.75 hours non-stop. But you will certainly want to stop with so much to see on the route. Like the incredible Eilean Donan Castle.
To mix it up a bit, I recommend trying them both. I started my road trip riding the Mallaig ferry over and finished it driving back on the Skye Bridge.
Cars are super reasonable, starting around $26 USD per day for an economy rental out of Glasgow Airport. The car we used for our Isle of Skye road trip was from Arnold Clark Rental.
The big benefit to waiting to rent your car on Skye is that it allows you to take the famous Jacobite Steam Train (aka the Harry Potter train) from Fort William to Mallaig, voted the most scenic train ride in the world.
Southern Skye Highlights
Sligachan is a small village located at the base of the Black Cuillin mountains. It’s been a hub for climbers and travelers to Skye since 1830, forming a major crossroads to other parts of the island.
The old stone bridge at Sligachan is probably the most photographed spot on Skye. Legend has it the cold waters beneath the bridge grant eternal beauty to whoever dips their face in for 7 seconds…
The Fairy Pools are a long series of small waterfalls and beautiful crystal blue pools cascading down from the Black Cuillin range. Hiking from the car park takes 30-40 minutes depending on high up you decide to venture.
If you want to go for a swim, feel free to jump in! The icy cold water might just take your breath away — but so will the views.
A series of 36 imposing peaks huddled together at the southern end of Skye, the Black Cuillins have been a hiking and climbing mecca for 150 years. Dark rocky formations that seemingly rise straight out of the sea. A narrow 12km ridgeline scramble called the Black Cuillin Traverse can be tackled in 2 days with equipment.
We decided to take the Bella Jane Ferry from Elgol to the base of the mountains and spent a morning hiking around Loch Coruisk. When the weather is clear, you can hike to the summit of Sgurr na Stri for the best view in the United Kingdom.
Old Man Of Storr
You can’t visit the Isle of Skye without hiking up to the Old Man of Storr. Large pinnacles of rock that rise from the ground, this location has been used as a backdrop for many movies, including the sci-fi thriller Prometheus. Legends say the rocks are fingers of a dead giant.
A muddy trail leads up to the rocks and takes about 45 minutes (one way) from the parking area below. The Old Man is often covered in clouds, but it’s not too far from Portree, so you can always come back later in the day and try again when it’s clear.
Definitely, my favorite location on the Isle of Skye, the Quiraing is an other-worldly landscape where huge landslides have created a series of strange cliffs, jagged pinnacles, and plateaus. Trails crisscross the area, and it’s a great spot for hiking.
A steep winding road leads up to the top of the plateau, with excellent views of the coast below. On a clear day, you’ll see the Islands of Raasay and Rona too. Take a stroll along the steep cliffs, but be careful, it’s a long way down!
Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls
Located off the A855 coastal road, there is a viewpoint on the edge of the cliffs here called Kilt Rock. The massive Kilt Rock Cliffs sort of resemble a Scottish kilt, hence the name. Mealt Falls is a long waterfall that cascades off the cliffs into the ocean below. You need to lean your head out to get a good photo (or bring a drone!).
The Fairy Glen
A strange and magical place, the Fairy Glen is hidden away off the main road near the village of Uig. It’s a miniature green valley with odd, perfectly conical hills, gnarled dwarf forests, and packs of grazing sheep. Whoever named this place couldn’t have picked a better one.
Hiking the maze of trails, you’ll find a new wonder around every bend. Like white stones arranged in concentric circles on the valley floor. A lone rock tower rises above it all, with excellent views of the enchanted landscape below. If fairies do exist, this is their kingdom for sure!
Neist Point Lighthouse
Located on the most Westerly point of Skye, Neist Point is a finger of land stretching out into the sea with a powerful 480,000 candle powered lighthouse on the tip. Massive cliffs ring the coast here, and it’s a wonderful photography spot, especially around sunset.
A walking path takes you all the way to the lighthouse if you want some exercise. It gets very windy on these cliffs, and there have been cases of tourists falling to their deaths. So be very careful near the edges.
A magnificent castle perched on the edge of a lock, Dunvegan has been the ancestral home to the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years. Still owned by the MacLeods, it’s pretty cool that you can walk through their home, and it’s full of old heirlooms and paintings.
One of the treasures on display is the mystical Fairy Flag, a sacred banner with miraculous powers. Supposedly given to the clan by the queen of fairies, legend says when unfurled during battle, the MacLeods would always defeat their enemies.
The Talisker Distillery has been on the island since 1831. Scotland is famous for its whisky around the world. The flavor of a whisky changes depending on where in Scotland it was distilled and whiskeys like Talisker brewed on the islands have a strong, peaty taste.
This is my personal favorite type of whisky, and it seems writer Robert Louis Stevenson agreed. In one of his poems, he says “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet.”
Best Places To Stay
The Isle of Skye is a small island, so it doesn’t have a ton of accommodation options. During the summer high season, hotels and B&B’s can all be sold out. It’s very important to book your accommodation in advance!
If you’re wondering where to stay on the Isle of Skye, here are my recommendations:
Portree SYHA – More like a guest-house than a hostel. Clean, close to everything in town, and comfortable.
Broadford SYHA – Basic, clean, and friendly hostel with a great sea view from the common area. Perfect for hikers/walkers.
Royal Hotel – Friendly staff, nice hot shower, great location in Portree. Nice place to base yourself on Isle of Skye.
Broadford House Skye – Comfortable B&B close to supermarket and restaurants. Nice views from property.
Here is a good list of official campsites on the Isle of Skye. Wild camping is allowed, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.
We spent one-night camping on the coast at Camas Malag, and another night at the Rubha Hunish bothy on the edge of a massive coastal cliff.
Hiking & Cycling
Accompanying me on my road trip around the Isle of Skye was Scott from Wilderness Scotland. Working as a guide in the Highlands for years, he showed some of his favorite spots. If you’re looking for a bit of adventure during your trip, check out their Isle of Skye tours.
Whether you’re into short walks or long-distance hikes, Skye has it all. The Skye Trail is a 128km route that covers incredible mountain & coastal scenery. It takes about 7 days to complete.
Road cycling tours are very popular on Skye due to the island’s paved winding roads and amazing scenery. A support vehicle can take your gear to the next town where it’s waiting when you arrive to spend the night.
Isle Of Skye Driving Tips
Google driving times are not what they seem, due to all the scenic stops, it can take 2-3 times as long as you think. Remember to park frequently and explore areas on foot, you never know what you’ll find!
The weather changes quickly on the Isle of Skye. So just because the famous “Old Man Of Storr” happens to be covered in clouds at 9 am doesn’t mean that will be the case an hour or two later.
For the same reason, it’s wise to keep some waterproof gear (jacket, pants) in a backpack with you at all times when you’re outside of the car.
The roads here are narrow, often without shoulders, and most back roads are single lane. If you’re not used to driving these, it can be nerve-wracking. We saw at least 2 rental cars off the road in a ditch.
The single lane tracks have special passing areas every 400 meters or so. Proper etiquette is the car closest to the turn off pulls over and lets the oncoming vehicle(s) pass. ★
Traveling To Scotland Soon?
Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.
Watch Video: Scotland’s Isle Of Skye
(Click to watch The Land Of Fairies – Isle Of Skye on YouTube)
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland
Adventure Tours: Wilderness Scotland
Useful Notes: The Isle of Skye is a small island, so accommodation must be booked well in advance. It can rain a lot too, so bring waterproof gear.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Highlands & Islands
Suggested Reading: Scottish Fairy & Folk Tales
READ MORE FROM SCOTLAND
Have any questions about traveling the Isle of Skye? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!