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The Scottish Isle of Skye is a destination that is on many people’s wish lists. And rightfully so! The place is beautiful. Not for nothing have the rugged landscapes of Skye been used several times as a backdrop for television series and motion pictures. The Quiraing, The Old Man Of Storr, The Cuillin, Neist Point and The Fairy Glen are popular spots for filming. The Quiraing wins by far in terms of popularity. You can see the landscape pass by in MacBeth, Stardust, 47 Ronin, Snow White and the Huntsman and in the King Arthur: Legend of the Sword released last year, among others. Time for a round-up of Isle of Skye sights!
About Isle of Skye
Skye is Scotland’s second largest island with a size of 1656 km² (80 km x 40 km). About 8750 people currently live there. In the early 1800s there were nearly 21,000 but major famines in the 19th century caused many people to move toward the mainland.
The highest mountain on Skye is the 992-meter-high Sgurr Alasdair, part of the Black Cuillin. The Cuillin Hills are located in the south of the island and the area is considered the most challenging mountain range in the UK. The mountain range contains 11 munros (peaks higher than 914 meters) and 16 other peaks. The Black Cuillin are popular with mountaineers, while the lower Red Cuillin lend themselves extremely well to hikers.
The island is very interesting geologically. Especially in Bearreraig Bay (Trotternish), surrounded by 150-meter-high cliffs, many fossils have already been found, including remains of dinosaurs and fossilized footprints.
There is a mild maritime climate on Isle of Skye. The average maximum temperature is 6.5 degrees in January and 15.4 degrees in July. Precipitation is high, about 73 mm per month in May and as much as 152 mm in October. Due to strong winds from the southwest, few plants and trees grow on the island. Wind speeds of up to 128 km/h are measured regularly.
How do you get to Isle of Skye?
The easiest way to get to Isle of Skye is by car. From Inverness it is about 3.5 hours drive, from Glasgow and Edinburgh about 6 hours. We choose Edinburgh as our starting point because we also have a number of Outlander filming locations to see. From Edinburgh, you have 2 options for driving to Isle of Skye: “top along” and “bottom along.” The lower way is the most beautiful way to drive west. Via the A82 you drive through Glencoe and then via Fort William. More about this route through the Scottish Highlands soon!
Skye can also be reached by public transportation. Bus connections are available from Glasgow and Inverness. From Inverness there is also a rail connection to Kyle of Lochalsh (2 hrs / 40 min), after which a bus can be caught onto the island. On Skye itself there are regular bus connections between villages, although going down all the Isle of Skye sights is quite a challenge by public transport (perhaps to be done in combination with hitchhiking).
By ferry or across the Skye Bridge
There are a number of ways to get to Isle of Skye from the mainland. At Fort William, you can choose to turn off onto the A830. From Mallaig, a ferry goes to Armadale on Skye. You will pass the Glenfinnan railroad viaduct on this road, which is featured in several episodes of Harry Potter in scenes with the Hogwarts Express. If you are in Scotland for an extended period of time perhaps a nice tip: The train ride from Fort William to Mallaig on the Jacobite Steam Train, which takes you over the viaduct, is said to be incredibly beautiful!
Further north another ferry connection can be found, the Skye Ferry. This ferry from Glenelg to Kylerhea on Skye is the last turntable ferry in the world. The ferry was built in 1969 and is considered a Scottish National Treasure. The sea width to be crossed from Glenelg is 600 meters and there is a chance of encountering dolphins, sea eagles or otters during the crossing.
We choose the Skye Bridge, opened in 1995. A bridge about which there was a lot of fuss after opening. There was a high toll, while the earlier ferry connection was discontinued. After much protest, the Skye Bridge became toll-free in December 2004. The bridge was built exactly where the distance between the mainland and Skye is smallest (500 meters).
The old bridge of Sligachan
Our first stop on the island is in Sligachan. An old bridge, believed to have been built around 1820, graces the landscape here. A new bridge has been built next to the old bridge. From this bridge you have a beautiful view of the old bridge. Postcards, paintings, prints, photographs … everywhere on the island you can see that this bridge has inspired many people to create beautiful things.
The adjacent Sligachan Hotel dates back to 1830. For decades, the hotel was mostly frequented by mountaineers but today, due to its central location on the island, Sligachan is widely used as a base. You can stay at the hotel, at a hostel, at a campsite and there are also luxury lodges and cottages for rent. It is wonderful place to wake up in the morning in any case.
Sunset at Neist Point Lighthouse
From Sligachan we drive in the direction of Neist Point. It is now the end of the day and we have heard that this is a nice place to enjoy the sunset. Unfortunately, the horizon is overcast so we miss the sunlight but that doesn’t make the view any less beautiful.
Neist Point is the westernmost and perhaps the most photographed spot on Skye, in the Durinish region. From Dunvegan you can get to the parking lot in just under half an hour by car. The roads are narrow, winding and there are many potholes in the road: perhaps something to consider, especially when driving back after dark. From the parking lot, you can take a hike to Neist Point 3 kilometers to the lighthouse. A hike is not recommended in foggy or rainy weather because the trails are right along the cliffs. If you take the hike in the summer months, there is a chance you will see whales swimming by.
Airbnb lodging in Dunvegan
By the time we get back to Dunvegan, it is dark. We dine at restaurant The Old School and then we drive toward our Airbnb accommodation. By the way, on Skye you will find lots of Airbnb’s and B&B’s. And cheap! Our Airbnb costs €57.00 per night per room, including breakfast. The room is spacious and it’s all very neat and clean. So is the bathroom, which we do share with 1 other room. But that doesn’t cause any problems, we don’t even see the other guests. There are also nice cottages and pods for rent through Airbnb.
The next morning we are at breakfast at 7 a.m., wanting to make the most of the day. The weather is beautiful: clear blue and windless. Who would have thought! At 07.30 we are in the car and we are on our way to Portree. Because we want to see a lot of other things on Skye, we don’t get around to exploring Dunvegan. We hear good stories about Dunvegan Castle and especially about the castle gardens. We’ll save that for next time :-)
Largest place on Skye, Portree
Portree is Skye’s largest town with a population of 2,000. It is also the place where you find the bus connections to the mainland and the other villages on land. Skye’s only secondary school is in Portree, as well as the tourist office and hospital. It is also quite touristy. The more you approach Portree the more hitchhiking backpackers you see on the side of the road. We drive through it to continue immediately in the direction of Trotternish, the northernmost peninsula.
Old Man of Storr
Driving along the A855 from Portree toward Staffin, we pass Loch Leathan, from where you can already see Old Man of Storr well off in the distance. Old Man of Storr is one of the rock pillars on a steep wall: The Sanctuary. Old Man of Storr is the largest and stands out the most because of its unusual shape. The rock pillars are remnants of ancient landslides and they dominate the landscape of Trotternish from almost all sides. You can take a scenic walk to Old Man of Storr for 4.5 kilometers. Park your car in the parking lot at the beginning of the hike. Keep in mind that in the main season it can be very crowded, so it is convenient to arrive early.
Mealt Waterfall and Kilt Rock viewpoint
Continuing on toward Staffin, we arrived at Mealt Waterfall and Kilt Rock. Mealt Waterfall here plunges 60 feet down into the Sound of Raasay (read here what a sound is). Further along the coast you will see Kilt Rock: a huge cliff that indeed looks a lot like a kilt. An incredibly beautiful vantage point! It is very quiet at the moment. Almost windless and a calm sea. Because of this, it is immediately noticeable that many birds reside along the cliffs and we hear from a birdwatcher that nesting bald eagles were spotted a few days earlier.
This is also the place on Skye where many archaeological finds are made. Among them are fossil prints of dinosaurs have been found in this region. A few decades back, a large rockfall came down so many remains are found even now. The Staffin Dinosaur Museum, where these finds are on display, is located a little further along the A855.
Staffin Bay, cows on the beach
What is worthwhile is a little past Staffin, shooting down the A855 toward Staffin Bay, at The Old Inn Staffin. Follow the narrow road to the beach and drive all the way past the bend. You’ll come to a pier here where you can turn the car around and drive back. Why? Because it’s just a beautiful stretch of coast! On the beach we see cows and we decide to walk there for a while. These cows even drink seawater we see, which is pretty weird isn’t it? Anyway, it provides some nice images, cows are always incredibly curious.
Quiraing hiking trail
We drive back up the road and follow the A855 until we see a sign indicating Quiraing. According to Google Maps, this is an “unnamed road,” but it can hardly be missed because it is the only road that leads from Staffin to the other side of Trotternish, to Uig. On this road you pass the Quiraing parking lot, where we park the car and begin the hike. Unfortunately we have no coverage with the phones and I can’t open the links of several walks I had saved.
We embark on the only hike indicated on a sign and decide to see where it will take us. Along the way we ask people if the hike is a round trip or back and forth; unfortunately, after every question we get back that it is back and forth. Taking our time to photograph and film, we walk to Needle Rock in about 1.5 hours. We relax here and walk the same route back again. Later, when I do have coverage, it turns out that there is a round can be run… too bad. It doesn’t make the hike any less special. The views are beautiful and the Quiraing is impressive. Nice also to see that the colors are so different now than in the middle of summer. Even without plants and trees you can see the differences between the seasons!
Hiking in mainland Scotland? Then a hike to the top of Ben Nevis is highly recommended. This hike starts at Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, near Fort William. By the way, in nearby Glen Coe you can also do some wonderful hiking!
The fairy tale Fairy Glen
Another place I would like to visit on Skye is Fairy Glen. It is right on the route we are driving today so that works out nicely. It is a bit of a search when we take the wrong exit. On the A87 you should not take the first exit but the second.
Fairy Glen is a relatively unknown place on Skye. At least, it is not yet as crowded as the other sights. When you drive up, you see right away. Pyramid-shaped hills adorn the landscape here, with ponds enclosed here and there. It is April now and the grass is still short and yellow, but in summer it seems to look like the whole area here is covered with a blanket of “woolly” soft, fresh green grass.
The name Fairy Glen was given to the place simply because the place is very unusual. No legends about Fairys here, like in some other places on the island (Dunvegan, Fairy Pools). Although you can almost imagine that they do haunt here when everyone is gone at night :-)
You can take a nice walk through Fairy Glen Fairy Glen for 2 kilometers. You will be on the trail for about an hour, with stops in between, of course, to enjoy the views. The hike leads over hilltops, past ponds and through small valleys.
What at first glance may give a magical feeling but which on closer inspection degrades the natural landscape are the stone circles laid down here by tourists. Several times already the circles have been removed by locals. But apparently tour guides still like to make visitors believe that it brings good luck when you walk along the lanes into the circle and leave money coins in the middle.
Cill Chroisd, church from the 16th century
Heading south after our visit to Fairy Glen. I really wanted to go to Elgol and although we had scheduled this for the day before it didn’t work out. Elgol is on the Strathaird peninsula, in southern Skye. From the A87, we take the turnoff at Broadford toward Torrin and Elgol. The 23-kilometer road is narrow and winding all the way to Elgol.
Soon we pass remnants of a 16th century church with cemetery, Cill Chroisd. There is a flock of sheep grazing among the headstones and we stop to take a look. Sites like this never cease to fascinate me. What did it look like hundreds of years ago? How many people have not walked up the steps here toward the entrance to the church over all these years?
The Blue Shed Cafe, Torrin
We drive on toward Torrin, where we stop for a drink at The Blue Shed Cafe. What a beautiful view from the terrace over Loch Slapin! We are enjoying this unusually nice weather for the time of year on Skye. The mercury has now risen to 18 degrees; even in summer, days with these temperatures are scarce. The Blue Shed Cafe serves sandwiches and delicious, homemade cakes and pies. Definitely worth a stop on the way to Elgol.
Reportedly, The Blue Shed Cafe is currently closed and for sale.
Beautiful view of Cuillin Hills from Elgol
And then around 4:30 p.m. we arrive in Elgol, at the very tip of the Strathaird peninsula. It is windless, the sun is shining profusely and it is quiet. We walk along the cobblestone beach to the huge cliff at the corner. Here you have a beautiful view of Loch Scavaig with the Cuillinson the other side. We sit here for about an hour and a half just “sitting”. We enjoy the weather and the boats that occasionally go out or return. And the view. What a wonderful place! Read more about our visit to Elgol here.
Impressed by all the Isle of Skye highlights
Wow, what a cool place to spend a few days on Skye. Beautiful scenery, nice people, beautiful places to see…. We did notice that even in April, some places are pretty crowded. Especially at the Quiraing and at the Fairy Pools it was already quite crowded with cars in the parking lot.
Ever return to Skye again?
Unfortunately we did not get to two places that were on my list: Glen Brittle Falls and the Fairy Pools. At the latter we spend some time in the parking lot but we think we won’t make it to Neist Point if we do the hike to the Fairy Pools. In fact, we are just half a day short! This may leave Isle of Skye on my wish list after all, perhaps in combination with one or more of the other islands :-)
Other tips Isle of Skye
In addition to the above tips wbt Isle of Skye sightseeing, we have a few more tips. For example, on most of Skye there is hardly any cell phone coverage. So almost a must to print out walks in advance or put them offline on your phone. Get to the attractions early, especially in high season. It will otherwise be a huge challenge to find a parking spot for the car. The main roads on the island are passable, however, the inner roads are very narrow and in many places you will encounter seriously large potholes. Something to keep in mind, especially in the dark :-) Booking restaurants is also recommended, as there are often only 1 or 2 restaurants in a place.
Tip for worry-free car rentals
Not rented a car yet? Take a look at Sunny Cars. We have never rented a car anywhere else for several years now. Sunny Cars uses an all-in formula, so you are insured for everything. In the unlikely event of damage? Even your excess is refunded. So you drive through the Scottish Highlands to Isle of Skye with a carefree feeling!