Updated on March 22nd, 2023
Many visitors rush the Isle of Skye on a day trip but to truly experience this magical island you need to take your time. Skye was one of the highlights of my time in the Scottish Highlands. Here are my top 15 picks for your perfect Isle of Skye itinerary. My list includes Old Man of Storr, Fairy Glen, Fairy Pools, Portree, legendary castles, jaw-dropping landscapes, fantastic walks, beautiful beaches and much much more.”
Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye is the 2nd largest island in Scotland and, after Edinburgh and Loch Ness, the countries third most popular tourist attraction. It is also home to some spectacular landscapes, miles of beautiful coastline, dramatic mountains, amazing wildlife, legendary castles and some very friendly locals.
Many visitors do an Isle of Skye day trip to tick off the sights. Anyone who has read my previous posts will know that I like to take my time while travelling. I spent 3 days and 3 nights on Skye. As with the rest of my Scottish road trip, the journey, incredible views and breathtaking stops were the most memorable part. I read that Skye is best experienced slowly, on #skyetime & I couldn’t agree more. I hope you choose to savour the experience too.
I visited in August 2020, when things were just opening back up after COVID-19. This meant that many attractions were still closed. I wanted to spend most of my time outdoors & was incredibly lucky with the weather I experienced. It’s not many people who can say they returned from Scotland with a tan!
Top 15 Picks for Your Perfect Isle of Skye Itinerary
Here is my list of Isle of Skye must-see attractions
Although not officially on Skye, no visit here would be complete without a stop en route at Eileen Donan Castle. The castle was built in the 13th century and sits in a unique position on an island at the meeting of 3 lochs. It’s hard to find a more iconic castle, accessed by an arched bridge. We chose to just stop for a picnic lunch with a view, but why not consider exploring further and learn more about the legends that surround this legendary landmark?
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The Old Man of Storr is the most popular of all the Isle of Skye walks. I began the hike in thick cloud before the Old Man started to make an appearance, with blue skies clearing as we reached the top. However, as the rock formations danced in and out of the mist it only added to the atmospheric nature of this iconic pinnacle. The rocks seemed to change shape as we moved into different angles with alternate views of the landscape and the clouds constantly shifting.
The Old Man is a tooth of basalt rock which was created during a massive ancient landslide. A dramatic start for a very magical landscape.”
It took us around 3 hours in total (perfect for our £3 parking choice!). It does get busy though so go early to find easier parking.
There are many other places to enjoy your Isle of Skye hiking. It is said that Skye offers some of the best walking in Scotland. Five of these walks are already featured in this guide.
3. Trotternish Peninsula
The Trotternish Peninsula is apparently one of the most striking landscapes in Scotland. It is a 20 mile stretch of remarkable rock formations between Portree and Staffin. The Ridge was formed by a massive landslip creating high cliffs, hidden plateaus and pinnacles of rock. On the day I visited, the clouds were playing games as they sat low around the coastline all day.
Stop as many times as you like, everywhere is stunning, but don’t miss Mealt Falls, plunging 55m straight into the sea. In addition, Skye is a major focus for research into dinosaur evolution after many remains have been discovered here. If you head down to the shore at Staffin you can see dinosaur footprints.
4. The Quiraing
Apparently, this is a dramatic basalt escarpment with cliffs and pinnacles which are one of the most remarkable landscapes on the Isle of Skye and Scotland itself. They have names such as ‘the Needle’ and ‘the Prison’. Dramatic stuff! There is a big car park and you can access the Quiraing by walking for half an hour. However, when I visited, we literally drove into a section of low cloud which sat on top of this stunning vista. I couldn’t see anything.
The photos (from other people) look very impressive though & I have read that it is a photographers paradise! Check out the video above to see the view we had as we approached.”
5. Fairy Glen
Although not signposted, Fairy Glen sits in contrast to all the big and bold scenery on the Isle of Skye. Here you will discover small hills, covered with ferns and a grass circle, obviously created by the fairies ;). It’s a great place to explore and the perfect antidote to all the drama that encapsulates the rest of Skye. However, it’s not easy to find. If you head out of Uig, pass the Uig Hotel on your left and then take the first left. Follow the road for approximately 1 ½ miles and you’ll find a place to park and explore from there.
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6. Dunvegan Castle
The most visited of all the Isle of Skye castles & home of the chief of the Clan Macleod for over 800 years. Dunvegan is the oldest continuously-inhabited castle in Scotland. Along with Portree and Trotternish, it is also one of Skye’s most visited attractions. The castle is situated on a rock, surrounded by sea so if you drive beyond you can see it by looking back. The setting is beautiful, so well worth a visit even if the castle itself is closed (thank you COVID!).
7. Armadale Castle
If you are a lover of castles, you can also visit magnificent Armadale Castle and its 20,000-acre estate.
Armadale is home to Dunvegan’s bitter rivals the Clan Donald, the largest & most powerful clan in Scotland.”
The castle has some beautiful gardens with magical trails through the woodlands.
Want to try an epic train ride? Check out Everything you need to know to ride the Hogwarts Train, Scotland.
8. Neist Point Lighthouse
Neist Point is well worth a drive for the stunning lush green headland, never mind the dramatic cliffs guarded by the lighthouse. When we visited, we were told that dolphins, basking sharks and a minke whale had been spotted in the water that week. I was convinced we saw the whale, so keep your eyes peeled. Even if the lighthouse itself doesn’t interest you, the view is exceptional.
In the shadow of the Cuillin Mountains lie this gem of small, crystal clear pools and waterfalls along the path of the River Brittle. On a warm day, or if you’re feeling brave, they are the perfect place for a wild swim or dip. There is a large car park (£5) from where you can access a path which takes you the length of the pools. It takes 15 minutes to reach the first but to go to the end and back is around 3 miles and 1 ½ hour walk. The first few are busy but the crowds thin as you head further along. Don’t miss the horseshoe falls towards the end.
We were advised that the best time to visit is later in the day, around 5pm when the sun is on the pools & the crowds have subsided.”
This is Skye’s largest town with a picture-postcard harbour surrounded by colourful houses. As you drive in, if it’s a clear day, you can see the legendary Old Man of Storr making his presence felt as he overlooks the town. Portree is the perfect, central location for your stay and has many excellent restaurants to choose from to sample the local produce. More on those later.
11. Broadford to Elgol drive
If you are lucky & have a clear day then I would highly recommend taking this stunning drive. There are 3 particular spots where you can get a spectacular panoramic view of the island and the dramatic backdrop of the Cuillin Mountains.
I guarantee you will have numerous reasons to stop the car for your photo opportunities along the way before you reach you end of the road at Elgol pier.”
Grab an ice cream from the van, sit above the dock, in amongst the heather and admire the view. If you’re feeling brave the water here is crystal clear, perfect for a dip!
12. Loch Coruisk
One of the activities that we discovered but just ran out of time for was a visit to Loch Coruisk. The loch sits in the heart of the Cuillin mountains and was featured as one of the top 16 views in Britain. If you are interested in the Isle of Skye wildlife, then this is also the place for you. The boat trips depart from Elgol (perfect for you to take the drive above!) & are usually 3 hours in total.
You may be lucky to see some rare species of birds such as oyster catchers, golden eagles, puffins and maybe even a sea eagle. If you’re less interested in birdlife then you could also spot dolphins, basking sharks or the occasional minke whale.”
However, the loch is most famous for its seals, which are pretty much guaranteed. Check out the website for Misty Isles Boat Trips for all the information and to book your place.
13. Coral Beaches
We had plans to visit Coral Beaches but with everything else we wanted to do, the drive was just too long in the end. If you get chance though it is home to stunning white beaches made of coral which create clear turquoise water in the sunshine. Head here for swimming and some great walking trails.
14. Talisker Distillery
If you want to sample some local whiskey, then look no further than the Talisker Distillery as they have been producing the ‘water of life’ in the same way here for 175 years. You can take a tour and also enjoy a tasting session. Just past the distillery is The Oyster Shed which I hear is an excellent stop with delicious oysters available to sample.
15. Dark Sky
The Isle of Skye has some of the darkest skies in Europe and as such has 9 designated Dark Sky Scotland discovery sites. It is one of the best places in the UK to view the legendary Northern Lights.
How to get to the Isle of Skye?
We chose to drive over the Skye Bridge to access the Isle of Skye. It was a great introduction to the moody weather we would experience throughout our time on the island. The peaks of the mountains were obscured by the clouds, but we were driving in blue skies and sunshine. The other alternative from the mainland is to take the ferry from Mallaig.
Where to stay on the Isle of Skye?
We chose to stay in Portree at the Oronsay B&B. It was immaculately clean and run by Gordon who is a font of all knowledge and enthusiasm about the Isle of Skye. Find your perfect bed for the night here:
Where to eat on the Isle of Skye?
My top advice for restaurants is to book ahead. We visited when the Isle of Skye was very empty in comparison to normal years but still struggled to get a table for 2 out of 3 nights. In terms of recommendations:
If you are looking for something more special, then why not try the Three Chimneys Restaurant? Here you can dine in a 100-year-old crofters’ cottage on award-winning food.
The weather can change depending on where on the island you are and can then change quickly from there.
We were lucky to have glorious sunshine on most days. However, on our trip around Trotternish, we literally drove into cloud and back out again. In the mist, with a sea breeze it can be very cold, & in the sunshine, hot. Bring layers.”
Wild swimming in Scotland is something to try at least once. Always make sure you bring an easy quick-change costume. This comes from experience after being without one many times! I went swimming in my underwear once and when I did have it, it was too tight for an impromptu change. I ended up half in my costume & half in my sports bra. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a dip!
The Isle of Skye is best experienced at your own pace, with your own transport. If you choose to drive, then make sure you fill up with petrol before you arrive on the island. There are opportunities to buy more, but they are not frequent. In addition, as with all my Scotland posts, here are my tips for driving on a single-track road:
- Keep left.
- Stop to let vehicles pass.
- Stop and wait at the designated ‘Passing Places’ if you see any traffic coming.
- Look out for ‘Passing Places’ so you know where they are if you need to reverse.
- Cross to the right, even if there is a ‘Passing Place’ there.
- Create a queue. Pull in to let others pass (that way you enjoy the drive so much more too!).
- Park or drive on the verge or park in ‘Passing Places’.
- Make others reverse a long way back.
The Isle of Skye boasts some of the most spectacular & dramatic scenery I have seen anywhere. Take your time & enjoy. And please come back next time for more of my Scottish adventures in Fort William…
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