Tourism in Scotland seems to have exploded a bit over the last few years. Whether that’s because of the Harry Potter films, shows like Outlander or the ever increasing amount of romcom books taking place in Scotland, fact is; it’s popular. And rightfully so! The lochs and highlands have massive appeal and the rough environment almost feels un-European. Cute villages with pubs where the fire burns and the air is salty, we want to experience it all.
Scotland’s highlight for us was the Isle of Skye. You might be a nature loving hiker or enjoy culture and history, Skye has it all. From mountains to the coast and waterfalls, and castles to history. There is plenty to do on Skye to fill a couple of days, so we have compiled a list of 9 unmissable things to do in Isle of Skye for your bucketlist!
How do you get to Skye?
Are you renting a car? Then Isle of Skye is probably on your itinerary. It’s a 5 hour drive from Edinburgh if you were to do it in 1 go. The bridges connecting Skye to the mainland are free.
Public transport is a little tricker, but definitely doable. There is a direct train from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, a small village just before the bridge. From there you can take one of the many buses going to Skye. If you’re coming from Glasgow you’ll have to change in Mallaig.
Rather take a bus? There are a lot of connections (check them here) and there are buses on Skye as well.
9 Unmissable things to do in Isle of Skye
Old man of Storr
Let’s check off the most famous one right away: the Old man of Storr. This rock formation is very recognisable due to its pointy peaks and is the most photographed spot on Skye. Makes sense, because it’s beautiful! According to an old legend the Old Man is a giant that lived on the Trotternish Ridge. After his death, a thumb remained above ground. In reality is the basalt rock a leftover of lava that that formed in the pipe of a once active volcano.
Do plan a hike up to the top, because it is not nearly as impressive from the ground, and you won’t see as much. These are some things you should know:
- Go when skies are clear. If they’re not, it’s worth a wait as the weather on Skye changes often and quickly.
- There are 2 different routes, but the one on the right side will take you up.
- To go and come back is around 6km, it took us 2.5 hours including photostops.
- You will climb 640 meters.
- Wear good shoes and bring a wind jacket, it’s pretty windy up top.
After parking the car, you will walk through the gate and start the first half up on a gravel road. After a while you’ll come to a fork and you can choose which way to go. The left, yellow route is a loop that doesn’t go all the way up (an easier route) and the blue one on the right will take you all the way up.
After the next gate, the gravel road will change into grass and after into stone stairs and another grass path. Don’t forget to look back during the last part, because you won’t really notice what you’re walking through if you’re too busy panting! The last bit will land you at the top, from which there are phenomenal views of the Old Man.
The hike is classified as ‘challenging’, and we agreed. Even though we like hiking, our fitness levels are ‘meh’. Especially during the first part we needed quite a few stops to catch our breath. The first half of the hike was the hardest in hindsight, once we made it to the rocky stairs, we ascended quickly. That will be different for everyone though.
The way back down took us almost an hour. Because if a drizzle everything became slippery, and it was tough on the knees as well.
We started at around 2pm, usually the busiest time of day. Because of the rain and it being October, it wasn’t too bad. We were not alone, but we didn’t have to climb in a line either. If you’re coming in peak season, the earlier the better.
The Fairy Bridge & Stein
We passed by here by accident, just by taking a random exit. The fairy bridge is a small stone bridge from the 19th century, but the legend of course is older. The story goes that a chief of the MacLeod clan married a fairy, but they were only allowed to be together for a year and a day before she had to return to her own people. By then, they had had a son. Upon her departure, she had to leave him behind and wrapped him in a silk scarf.
This scarf, the Fairy Flag, would protect or defend the clan 3 times. She left from the fairy bridge and left everything behind. Interestingly enough, you can see the actual flag at Dunvegan Castle.
We continued down the road to see where it would lead us, and that was Stein. Admittedly, we were drawn to the signs ‘oldest inn on Skye!’, but sometimes that’s all you need! The inn is indeed the oldest on Skye, but unfortunately closed the day we were there.
The village, that consists of nothing more than a street with cute houses by the sea, was very photogenic. Picturesque white houses by the bay with a gorgeous view. We struck up a conversation with an old man that had been living in his self built house there for 40 years. He had mixed feelings about the rising amount of tourists, but counted himself lucky with his seaside spot. After Jochem told him a joke that made him laugh so hard he had to sit down, we were approved and moved on with our day.
If you visit one castle on Isle of Skye, Dunvegan Castle is the one that you should not miss. It lies on the banks of Loch Dunvegan and is an impressive symbol of centuries old history and tradition. It’s seen as the oldest continually habited castle of Scotland and has been the seat of the MacLeod clan for over 800 years. Dunvegan Castle is especially known for the Fairy Flag we mentioned and its beautiful location, but the castle itself is still in good condition.
The gardens are worth a visit as well. There is a water garden with waterfalls, exotic trees and the walled garden where the vegetable garden used to be is now full of flowers and greenhouses. Across the water, where you can do seal trips as well, there is a nice view of the castle.
At the The Dunvegan around the corner you can get good cakes or have a glass of wine at the bar.
The Scottish Highlanders
Not really a sight per se but fun anyway: the Scottish highlander cows. The easiest place to find them is around Sconser. Lots of people will stop by the side of the road to pet and take photos of them, but there is a parking lot just a little bit down the road so you don’t have to block traffic.
You can’t go to Scotland without visiting a whisky distillery! There are a few on Isle of Skye, and we chose a tour at Talisker. For 20 pounds you get a 1 hour tour to see how whisky is made, and a tasting of 3 whiskies. Talisker is quite a big name and sits under the Diageo umbrella, but we still enjoyed it being whisky lovers.
However a few days later we did a tour at Tomatin Distillery in the Cairngorms, and we liked that one more. It’s a smaller distillery, the tour was better and so were the whiskies! It pays off to do some research in advance if you’re planning a visit to make sure you get what you want. Do book in advance, they are usually full days before.
Going for Talisker and looking for a bite to eat after? At The Old Inn across the street you will find yourself among local fishermen in a cozy and warm bar.
→ Tip! Take the ferry from Sconser to Raasay. This island at a 25 minute ride from Skye houses the Raasay Distillery, a very young distiller. They make excellent whisky and gin since 2017, with a small team of young, enthusiastic people.
Yup, more hiking! The Quiraing is a spectacular, mountainous and extensive area made by landslides and volcanic activity millions of years ago. The views are dramatic and photography lovers will never want to leave!
You will start from the parking lot into a 7km loop, which is also ‘challenging’. From muddy paths to climbing over rocks, some level of fitness comes in handy, as well as decent shoes. Don’t try this in your nice summer sneakers. You will ascend and descend around 400 meters. Don’t feel like doing the whole hike? There’s great views just a couple hundred meters from the parking lot already.
→ Tip: book your tours here!
Portree is the capital of Isle of Skye and mostly famous for its coloured houses by the harbour. Portree also has nice pubs, local stores and restaurants to enjoy Scottish hospitality and its kitchen. With the Cuillin mountains in the background, Portree offers stunning views and it’s a great starting point for your trip around Skye.
Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
An easy stop from the road and a must do are Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. Kilt Rock, named after the traditional Scottish skirt, the kilt, is known for its impressive cliffs that look like the pleads of a kilt. This basalt formation rises up from the sea and offers panoramic views over the rugged coast of the island.
The Mealt Falls, next to Kilt Rock add an extra dimension to the beauty of this location. Its water rushes down from great heights into the sea below, making it a spectacular waterfall. Together, Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls are an iconic sight.
Where to sleep on Isle of Skye
Looking to stay in Portree, with all the comforts of a small city and take day trips from there? These are good options:
→ At The Rosedale rooms start at $85 for a harbour view (and if you’re lucky even the coloured houses) and breakfast.
→ A little more luxurious? The Cuillin Hills Hotel offers, like the name suggest, views over the Cuillin hills. the rooms are modern classic, and a good breakfast is included!
Or looking for something special or a bit remote?
→ The Edinbane Lodge is a beautiful hotel close to Dunvegan. It’s not cheap, but you’ll find yourself in fancier times. The service is fantastic, and even vegan meals are no problem.
→ Close to Sconser is the Sligachan Hotel. Beautiful rooms, breakfast is always included, and they even have their own micro brewery! Of course they have a great bar, and even your dog is allowed in.
Unmissable things to do in Isle of Skye: FAQ
What’s the best time to go to Isle of Skye?
The quietest time is the periode between mid January and mid February. Not exactly the best weather wise, but the least amount of people for sure. From the end of May until mid October it’s very busy, with a peak in July and August. The Christmas break is quite busy as well. Book your hotels and restaurants far in advance!
Do I really need a car?
The short answer is no. There are buses on Skye, that stop at all the main sights and attractions, but often you will have to walk a bit. Also, you will be less flexible and you’ll have to build waiting times into your schedule. In all honesty: we would not have wanted to do it without a car.
How many days do I need on Skye?
Ideally, 3 to 4 full days. That will give you enough time to see everything, especially if you’re planning on hiking.
This is not everything, right?
Absolutely not! We visited the Fairy Glen and the Neist Point lighthouse as well, but found both the effort and time to go out of our way not really worth it. They’re cool if you have time left, but if you need to skip something because you don’t have enough time, we think these are good candidates!
Traveling during low season?