Discover Scotland's Isle of Skye: The Largest Island in The Inner Hebrides

Charlie Ceates | Live the World

May 5, 2023

Take a Diversion from the Highlands and visit Scotland’s Most Beautiful Island.

Here at Live The World, we’ve talked about the Scottish islands before. Separated from the rest of mainland Scotland, these isles to the east and north have their own unique personalities. However, the most famous of these islands is the Isle of Skye. The largest of the islands of the Inner Hebrides, Skye is an island that is very closely connected to the highlands and, thanks to the bridge connecting it, is only a drive from other notable highland locations. With unique geographical features carved into the land by glacial movements, Skye is a hiker and a photographer's paradise.

Skye is unlike any other location in the rest of Scotland. Though you can expect the same Scottish hospitality and rugged natural beauty, Skye stands out from the rest of the country in its uniqueness as the mecca of climbing enthusiasts and the home of unique Scottish clans. You can even sometimes see the aurora borealis from here if lady luck is on your side. Though it’s a fair drive from any of the main towns or cities in Scotland, it is a worthwhile pilgrimage that millions do every year, making it the most popular tourist destination in Scotland after the city of Edinburgh.

Getting to Skye

The closest main airport to Skye is Inverness Airport, but even then, it is a fair trek away. Driving from Inverness airport to the town of Portree, the biggest town in Skye, is a couple of hours at least. There are public transport links to get to Skye - there are bus links from Inverness city, and you can take the train to Kyle of Lochlash from Inverness train station, which terminates pretty close to Skye Bridge. It’ll take even longer by public transport though, so bring a book or something to pass the time. You can also take a ferry from Mallaig to Armadale. You can also take the bus from Buchanan Street Bus Station in Glasgow to Uig or Portree in Skye. If you do start in Glasgow, you might want to consider signing on with a tour group to make the most of your experience.

Skye (Photo by Stefan Krause)

Considering the terrain of Skye, a car might be the best option for getting around, but if it’s the summer and you’re feeling adventurous enough, you can also take your bike or even walk. Wild camping is legal in Scotland, and Skye is 50 miles long, and 25 miles wide, so it’s easily doable. Just clean up after yourself, and bring good walking boots with you, whether you’re driving or hoofing it.

Quick Overview

The northernmost of the islands of the Inner Hebrides, Skye is a must-visit location if you ever find yourself in Scotland. Due to the Skye Bridge connecting it to Scotland’s mainland and its proximity to the North Coast 500 route, it is easily accessible by tourists. Well known for its landscapes, scenic drives, picturesque towns, and opportunities for outdoor sports, whether that be climbing or swimming, tourism is one of the island’s biggest economies, both domestic and international. As is the case for many of the attractions in the highlands, some may be closed/ have reduced hours during the off-season.

Ideally, you’ll want to spend two days to see most of what Skye has to offer. If you’re on a tight schedule, you can easily see most of Skye’s highlights, while three days will allow you to explore all of this island in comfortable time. You’ll have to weigh up the best time to come here. While conditions may be the best in the summer, it can also get really busy during peak season, with accommodations/ restaurants being booked up months in advance. Also, some places don’t accept cards here, so always carry cash with you.

Weather

As is the case for the rest of Scotland, Skye gets a lot of rain. September and January will be the wettest months, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the year is free from downpours either. The warmest months are between May and September, with the summer being the driest months relatively. And I do emphasise relatively, pack a light waterproof and a couple of thick layers. Even if it’s warm during the day, it can get a lot colder at night. If you don’t mind a bit of a chill, April and May will be the best months to visit - the tourists will only just start coming in.

1. Portree

There are a few towns and villages on Skye, but the one you’ll probably want to stay in is Portree. As the capital town of Skye, Portree started off as a fishing village and is a fairly young town by Scottish standards, being founded in the 19th century. Situated on the east side of Skye, its largest town is the perfect place to act as a hub for your travels throughout Skye. There are yearly events in Portree, including being the venue for the Skye Highland games.

Portree (Photo by Joachim Kohler)

For those who aren’t familiar with Skye, the tourist office is a great sport to visit. Here, you’ll find a wealth of information for touring the island, with maps and directions to attractions. If you want to make the most of your experience in Skye, this day trip tour allows you to visit many of Skye’s highlights, starting off in Portree.

Places to Stay

Budget - Portree Youth Hostel

Want to visit Skye on a limited budget? The dorm beds at this hostel will provide a cheap stay with a communal feel for you to make friends.

Mid Range - Rockview

This bed and breakfast offers seaside views and private comforts to make a great start on your adventures on the island.

Luxury - Cuillin Hills Hotel

This luxury hotel offers amazing views of either the Cuillin Mountains or Portree Bay. With an award-winning restaurant with a wide range of whiskeys, this is the perfect spot to stay for a relaxed trip to Skye.

2. Uig

Another good spot that would make a good travel hub is the town of Uig. Situated in the north of Skye, Uig is one of the smaller towns on the island, but it is also a ferry town, where you can take a boat to the Outer Hebrides. so should you decide to venture beyond Skye and see other islands in Scotland, this is the town for you.

Uig (Photo by John Allan)

There are many sights worth seeing for yourself on the isle of Skye. However, should you want to go beyond Skye to the Outer Hebrides, there is a tour leaving from Inverness that takes you to the isles of Lewis and Harris.

Places to Stay

Budget - Skye Holiday Chalet C1

While there aren’t many budget locations within the town of Uig, these chalets provide a private location to rest your weary head.

Mid Range - Taigh Pa

This property is perfect for those who want an overnight stay, with plenty of luggage storage space and free parking.

Luxury - Harbour View

This accommodation is just the perfect spot for a family to sleep before exploring the rest of Skye, or venturing to the Outer Hebrides.

3. Fairy Glen

Just above Uig is one of the most bizarre sights that Skye has to offer. The Fairy Glen is a geographical wonder that is between the towns of Sheader and Balnacnoc. The Isle of Skye has a lot of stories and myths linked to fairies, and though there aren’t any real traces linking the place to fairy legends, its unusual nature is how it got its nickname.

Fairy Glen (Photo by Neil Howard)

Though you might be encouraged to touch some of the stones around here, please don’t. You won’t be cursed or anything, but tourists have been known to adjust the stones in recent years. Meanwhile, the locals want to keep the glen in its natural state, so don’t be that guy. Parking around the Glen is very limited, so if you do want to visit and you aren’t part of a tour group, park in Uig and walk the rest of the way.

Quiraing

A hike you can incorporate into your visit to the Fairy Glen is the Quiraing walk. A formation at the summit of Trotternish to the north of Skye, the full trail is about 4.5 miles and offers amazing views of the surrounding countryside. To get here, take the minor road from Uig to Staffin, which can be busy, especially during the late morning and early afternoon.

Quirang (Photo by N. Chadwick)

Compared to other walks in Skye, it can be a bit tricky at points, especially when weather conditions aren’t the best. It is still a beautiful walk to do, but if you do decide to go for it, you should take your time even on a good day, or save it for another occasion if the weather looks bad. Heck, if you’re patient enough, you can wait in your car, and try the route when the rain clears and other walkers have abandoned the trail.

Talisker Distillery

It isn’t a holiday around Scotland without sampling some of the local whiskey. While tourism is one of the biggest forms of income for the Isle of Skye, they also have their own whiskey trade. Located off the edge of Loch Harport and within view of the Cullin mountains, the Talisker Distillery was founded in 1830 and is the oldest working distillery on Skye.

Talisker Distillery (Photo by Steffen Abel)

As an established distiller, there are many different kinds of whiskey on offer, from the standard ten-year-old to much older limited bottles. Believe me, as Scottish whiskeys go, Talisker 10-year-old is as strong as the sea surrounding Skye. It’s not for everyone, but worth trying at least once. You can book a tour of the distillery here.

Talisker Bay

A few miles away from the Talisker Distillery is Talisker Bay. Though it is in Northern Europe, you could be mistaken for thinking you were in the tropics. Surrounded by jagged cliffs, Talisker Bay curves into a horseshoe, and the beach of Talisker Bay is one of the most beautiful in the whole country.

Talisker Bay (Photo by Joachim Kohler)

Talisker Bay is about a half-hour drive from Portree, and there is a car park, though it quickly fills up during the summer. The walk is best enjoyed at low tide, as the tide covers up the sand as it rolls in. It makes for a nice romantic walk or even go for a wee dip if it’s warm enough. It does make for a good dog walk, though I recommend that you keep your furry friend on a leash, just in case there are any sheep nearby.

The Old Man of Storr

Skye is famous for its unique geographical features, and one of them is the Old Man of Storr. It’s one of the best walks to do on Skye, but this also makes it one of the busiest. And For good reason. Though it’s a fairly quick walk, maybe taking just over an hour without any breaks, it has some of the best views on the whole island. Close to the top, it can make a difficult climb, so be wary.

Old Man of Storr (Photo by Giuseppe Milo)

You may have read me saying that it gets busy in the summer and think, “that’s ok, I’ll just visit Skye when it’s quieter.” You can try and do this walk outside of peak season. Like Talisker Bay, its car park can fill up quickly in the summer, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. The rain will make it muddy, while the wind will hinder your progress at best.

Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls

Near the Old Man of Storr are cliffs which look like a kilt. No, I’m serious! The sea cliffs of Kilt Rock are giant basalt columns which have been eroded over time to give it its unique look. The name comes from the fact that the columns kind of look like the pleats in a tartan kilt. To reach Kilt Rock, you’ll need to drive south from Staffin.

Kilt Rock (Photo by Alex Berger)

From the top, you can see Mealt Falls, a high waterfall where the water from Loch Mealt drops down the Kilt Rock into the sea. Compared to other walks on Skye, this is a relatively short one, only taking around 5 minutes. It offers stunning views of where Skye meets the Atlantic Ocean, but maybe don’t look down if you get vertigo.

Fairy Pools

Outside of the walks and beaches, there is another unique feature on Skye that makes for a great tourist attraction. The Fairy Pools are springs of mountain water fed by waterfalls near the town of Carbost, and the walk to the pools is along the road to Glenbrittle. The hike towards the pools takes about 40 minutes and is a relatively easy walk to reach.

Fairy Pools

You can go for a dip in the Fairy Pools, but the best time to do this is in summer, and since this is when tourism in Skye is at its height, I suggest getting up really early. Nothing like a fresh morning dip as the sun comes up to get you started for the day. If you’re not feeling adventurous though, it is still a lovely place to take photos. If you want to make the most of your fairy pool experience, there are guided tours that you can book yourself with.

Dunvegan Castle

If you’re going to be coming to Scotland, you’re going to see a lot of castles, and Skye is no different to the rest of the country. We’ve talked about the nearby Eilanen Donan Castle before, but as for Skye itself, there are seven castles in total on the island, and one of the most notable examples is Dunvegan Castle. Dunvegan Castle is the seat of the MacLeod clan. No, not the Christophre Lambert ‘there can be only one’ Highlander MacLeod. The MacLeod clan are one of the most notable Highland clans from this region. There are two branches of the MacLeods - the MacLeods of Lewis, and the MacLeods of Dunvegan.

Dunvegan Castle (Photo by John Allan)

Built-in the 13th century, Dunvegan Castle is the only highland castle to be continuously inhabited by one family. 800 years, to be exact! Considering their clan motto is ‘hold fast’, the MacLeods certainly have conviction behind their words. The castle itself has been rebuilt throughout the ages, and the family still continue to call it home, so while some of the apartments are open to the public, there are a few rooms on the top floor which are private, and photography isn’t allowed within the castle’s interior. As well as the ancient halls, you can visit the gardens or take a boat trip to a nearby seal colony.

Neist Point Lighthouse

On the western tip of Skye near Glendale is the Neist Point Lighthouse. First lit in 1909, it was designed by David Stevenson, an engineer who built lighthouses throughout Scotland. The name Stevenson sound familiar? Well, David Stevenson was the cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson, the novelist who penned Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Treasure Island. The lighthouse used to be manned but went automatic in 1990.

Neist Point Lighthouse (Photo by Lionel Ulmer)

This location offers some stunning views, with the lighthouse positioned on the edge of sheer cliffs, and if the day is nice enough, you can get a good view of the distant islands of the Outer Hebrides. The walk to the lighthouse is also an easy one, taking only about 45 minutes to reach. It can get steep at some points, so be careful if it gets a bit rainy. As an old manned lighthouse, there are nearby cottages. Sadly, while they used to be available to rent, that is no longer the case. It still is a spectacular place, and a great location for nature watching.

The Fairy Bridge

Another landmark with links to fairy mythology is the Fairy Bridge. It got this name from a story about a chief of the MacLeod clan and a faerie princess. This bridge is where the couple are said to have last seen each other. In some versions of the story, the faerie princess left a silk shawl for her son, one which had magic properties that meant it could be used three times whenever the MacLeod clan was in danger. This shawl, also known as the Fairy Flag, is preserved at Dunvegan Castle, and one use remains.

The Fairy Bridge (Photo by Alex Brown)

To get to the Fairy Bridge, you need to take the A850 north from Dunvegan, and then go onto a single track of road called the B886 which leads you to Waternish. The Fairy Bridge is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it attraction, and it’s the tale behind the bridge which makes it interesting. Still, it’s nice to put a visual to a story.

The Cullins

The most imposing of Skye’s geographical features is one which attracts mountaineers and adrenaline junkies from around the globe. The Cuillins are a mountain range that juts out from Skye, and they are actually split into two sections. There is the Red Cuillin, which is gentle and sloping, making it ideal for hillwalking. These routes vary in difficulty and have their own attractions. For example, the Rubh’ an Dùnain walk has the remains of a Neolithic settlement along the route. Do your homework on each trail before undertaking these.

Cuillin Mountain Ridge (Photo byJohn Allan)

Then there’s its sibling, the Black Cuillin. Thanks to glacial movements in the past, these mountains are sharper and much more jagged. This has turned it into the mecca of climbers. Compared to the other places on the island, the Cuillins get windier and wetter weather than the rest of Skye, making it much more challenging. The differing terrain also makes it more of a challenge in wetter weather, so maybe start off with the Red and come back to the Black after a bit of training and experience.

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