Exploring the Spectacular Isle of Skye: A Guide to the Best Sights and Activities

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Spend time exploring Scotland's spectacular Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s most beautiful destinations. From its rugged coastline to its uniquely formed mountains, it is a place of unparalleled beauty. The Isle of Skye is also home to more than a few amazing sites and attractions. So if you’re planning a trip to Isle of Skye, read on for my guide on the best places to explore on this Hebridean Island.

Introduction to the Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is an island located off the west coast of Scotland. It is the largest and most northerly island in the Inner Hebrides and is a popular tourist destination for its stunning landscapes. Skye is divided into two parts, the Trotternish Peninsula and the Red Hills. The Trotternish Peninsula is the most popular tourist area and is home to the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, the Duntulm Castle ruins, and the Trotternish Ridge. The Red Hills are home to the Museum of Island Life, the Talisker Distillery, the Fairy Pools, Neist Point Lighthouse, Dunvegan Castle, the Kilt Rock, and Mealt Falls.

Destinations to visit on the Isle of Skye

From areas of oustanding natural beauty to eating establishments and even a distillery. The Isle of Skye has a lot to see and do, and this is my list of what I consider the best things to see and do on this Hebredean Island.

1. The Old Man of Storr

The Old Man of Storr is an iconic geological formation on the Trotternish Peninsula. It is a large pinnacle of basalt rock that stands at an impressive height of over 600 feet. The Old Man of Storr is a popular spot for hikers with a rewarding climb to the the Old Man of Storr. From the summit of the walk, you can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding countryside and the ocean and of course a fantastic view of the Old Man rock formation.

While the walk up to the Old Man of Storr is a little steep it is a well made path and the area's where there are steps they are shallow stone steps and are easy to use. The walk can take up to two hours, so make sure you wear suitable footwear and plan for the climb. It is worth knowing that you can't actually see the Old Man of Storr from the car park. You will have to do the walk to get a view of the rock formation.

What type of rock is the Old Man of Storr made of?

The rock column that makes up the Old Man Or Storr is actually a volcanic plug which is basalt rock. The land around the plug is made up of sedimentary rock which is more prone to collapse than the basalt. This is why the Old Man of Storr has survived for centuries when the area around it has collapsed.

  • Location of The Old Man Of Storr Car Park
  • This is the link to the All Trails map of the walk. It is almost 5km long and has an elevation gain of just over 320 meters.
The Old Man Of Storr
The Path Leading To The Old Man Of Storr

2. Discover The Quiraing Isle of Skye

The Quiraing is another iconic geological formation on the Trotternish Peninsula. It is a large landslip of basalt rocks with an incredible view out over the ocean. The Quiraing is a popular spot for hikers and climbers, with plenty of routes to explore, some challenging and some not so strenuous.

From a few points around the hike, you can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding countryside and the sea. The walk up and around the Quiraing can take a few hours, so make sure you wear suitable footwear and plan for the climb. It is also a VERY windy location.

Brad and I stopped here for our lunch picnic and did manage to find a spot down behind a few rocks, but don't leave the car without your warm jacket and rain coat.

  • The Quiraing car park location on Google Maps.
  • All Trails link to the Quiraing Circuit. The Quiraing circuit has an elevation change of almost 400 meters which isn't to be sneezed at. However – if you do the walk around the front of the formation and then return the same way, you can avoid almost all of the elevtion change.  As you get about half way through the walk it turns and goes behind the rock formations to return. The change in elevation is mostly on the return leg so if you are not feeling a decent climb, just turn around and come back the way you came.
  • There are no toilets at the Quiraing carpark so make sure you don't plan for this to be your loo spot. There was a coffee van when we were there but I think that might depend on the season.
The Quiraing, Isle Of Skey
The Quiraing, Isle Of Skye


3. Take a boat tour of Loch Coruisk

Loch Coruisk is a freshwater loch on the Isle of Skye. The loch is around 40m deep and is nestled in the valley of the Cuillin mountains. The loch has long been the subject of local legends and more than a few stories about the loch and its impact on the community abound.  You can hike into and out of Loch Coriusk or you can get a boat trip into this hidden lake. 

Before you consider doing the hike from either Sligachan or Elgol, you need to be aware that there are scrambling section on both hikes. The walk from Elgol is much shorter but you do have to negotiate the “Bad Step” which is a gnarly shuffle across almost vertical rocks with only a toe hold. It isn't super difficult but you need to be an experienced hiker and have shoes with great grip. Do not attempt it in bad weather. If you decide to walk in from Sligachan you will have to walk both in and out which is around 22km. 

Two local companies offer trips: Misty Isle Boat Trips who have been operating on the loch since 1969, and Bella Jane. Both companies offer one way trips if you do want to hike in and both companies leave from Elgol. The Bella Jane also offers one way out trips if you would prefer to hike in and catch the boat out.

The loch itself is lovely and the hour and a half you get is enough to get a decent look around and to appreciate this remote landscape.

Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye
Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye

4. Go to the Museum of Island Life

The Museum of Island Life is a popular attraction on the Isle of Skye.

The Museum of Island Life is located in the small village of Kilmuir, on the northern end of the Island. The museum showcases the history, lifestyle and culture of the island's early crofting communities. 

There is a collection of artifacts, photographs, and exhibits that highlight the everyday life of the island's inhabitants from the 19th and early 20th centuries housed in a traditional thatched cottage. You can explore the cottage's various rooms, including a traditional kitchen, bedroom, and living area, which have been restored to their original condition. 

On the museum grounds you will find a replica of a typical island blackhouse, a small animal enclosure, and a garden with traditional island plants. The Museum of Island Life offers visitors a glimpse into the island's rich cultural heritage and is a must-visit attraction for anyone interested in Scottish history and culture.

  • Google Maps Location for the Museum of Island Lfe
  • Entry is £5.00 for Adults with children under the age of 15 free. 
The Museum of Island Life on the Isle of Skye
The Museum of Island Life on the Isle of Skye

5. Visit Talisker Distillery

Located about 30 mins drive from Portree, The Talisker Distillery is one of the oldest and most famous distilleries on the Isle of Skye. The distillery was founded in 1830 and is known for its distinctive single malt whisky. They offer tours, where you can learn about the history of whisky-making and about the process the distillery uses. 

At the end of the tour, you will be able to sample some of the whiskies produced at the distillery, and of course purchase a bottle or two. If you are driving, consider going the southern route through Sligachan on the way too the distillery and then return via the northern route which goes through Bracadale and Glengrasco on the return. This way you get to see some different scenery and come away with a good overview of the countryside in this region of Isle of Skye.

  • The tours are quite popular, so make sure to book in advance.
  • Google maps location of the distillery.
  • They start at £15 for a simple tasting with the distillery tours set at £20
Take a distillery tour at Talisker Distillery on the Isle of Skye
Take a distillery tour at Talisker Distillery on the Isle of Skye

Relax on A Full Day Trip From Portree

This day tour from Portree enables you to see sights like the Fairy Pools, Talisker Distillery, Neist Point, Dunvegan Castle, The Quiraing, Old Man Of Stor, Kilt Rock, and Fairy Glen. While that is a lot to see if you aren't doing the driving it's a fairly relaxing day.


6. Explore the Fairy Pools

The Fairy Pools are a series of crystal-clear pools and waterfalls located on the Trotternish Peninsula about a 35 minute drive from Portree. The pools are a popular spot and if you are feeling brave, are a great place to cool off on a hot day. Be warned though – the water is FREEZING! The Fairy Pools are also a great spot for photographers, with plenty of falling water surrounded with a background of stunning rock formations. The walk to the Fairy Pools is quite easy at only 1km long, there is a paid car park & nice bathrooms on site.

If you would like to do a longer walk, the Coire na Creiche and the Fairy Pools circuit which is around 7km long and an overall elevation gain of about 300m. It is a steady climb so it doesn't feel like a huge elevation change and the scenery is gorgeous. All Trails has this walk on their website or app. I would allow around 1.5-2 hours to give you enough time to stop and take in the views. 

  • The water is very cold
  • There is a good carpark but it is £6 per car.
  • Clean toilets at the car park but no coffee van at all. cry
  • While the pools are pretty, I didn't think they were stunning like everyone was telling us. The scenery is worth it for sure, but I was a little underwhelmed with the pools if I'm honest. 
Fairy Pools Isle of Skye
Fairy Pools Isle of Skye

Jenny Marsden - Charge The Globe
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Meet Jenny, a passionate Australian travel blogger who has explored 103 countries to date. With over 30 years of travel experience, Jenny has a wealth of knowledge to share with her readers about the cultures, landscapes, and people she has encountered on her journeys. She's always battling unfashionably frizzy hair and you will never catch Jenny in anything but comfortable shoes. Learn more about Jenny and her travels.


7. Explore the Neist Point Lighthouse

The Neist Point Lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction on the Isle of Skye. The lighthouse is located on the most westerly point of the island and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside and the sea. The lighthouse is open to the public and can be accessed by a 15 min walk from the car park, however there are stairs and you can't actually see the lighthouse until you are over the main hill. 

There are some stunning views taking in the bluff you are walking toward so be sure to stop and get photos along the way. There is a carpark but its not large so go early to get the best park. While you would assume that considering the fact that it faces west that sunset would be the best time to go, sunrise is actually better in my opinion. 

We stayed close by for a few nights of our Isle of Skye trip and I couldn't sleep one night and got up super early and went down with my camera and the sunrise was gorgeous. Sadly that card is now corrupted so all I have is the small file sizes from my phone sync, but just being there for the sunrise was worth it.

  • Free carparking but no facilities
  • The lighthouse is at least a 15 mins walk from the carpark and there are stairs
Neist Point And Lighthouse
Neist Point And Lighthouse

8. Visit Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle is one of the oldest continuously inhabited castles in Scotland, with a history dating back more than 800 years. It has been home to the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for generations and has played a significant role in the history of the island. 

Overlooking Loch Dunvegan, the castle is surrounded by beautiful gardens which are very well known and the reason for some visitors coming to the castle. The castle is open for viewing and you can explore various rooms throughout the building including bedrooms, the dining room and of course the Grand Drawing room. 

During the summer season you can on occasions witness falconry displays and participate in boat tours on the loch. There is a quality café on site and restrooms are available inside the café. Try the scones! 

Tickets for the Castle and gardens are £16.00 for adults and £11.00 for children. Check their website for updated info and pricing.

  • The cafe is open from the 1st April to the 15th October over the busy summer period.
  • Seal trips are available from the 1st April to the 30th Sept departing from the jetty. Prices ADULT £12.00 &CHILD £9.00 (with a valid castle entrance ticket).
  • There are also holiday cottages for rent available on site. 
Dunvegan Castle Home of the Clan MacLeod

9. See the Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls

The Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls are two popular photo spots on the Isle of Skye. The Kilt Rock is a large sea stack that said to resemble a kilt. I couldn't see it. It just looked like cliffs to me, but then again I'm not always the most imaginative with natural formations. 

Mealt Falls is a 200 foot tall waterfall located near Kilt Rock. The waterfall spills over into the sea below with the stream that feeds it deceptively small. There is a good stream of water that falls over the rocks but the stream that feeds it seems like it couldn't possibly supply that quantity of water. 

There is a decent size carpark that is often used by tour buses so it can be busy. It is really only a 10 minute stop on your trip around the northern part of the island but it is worth seeing.

  • Google Maps Location
  • It does get very busy and while the car park is designed to be a drive in, drive out setup, people do ignore it and park in very strange places.
  • No facilities and of course its just a viewpoint so it is free. 
Mealt Falls, Isle of Skye
Mealt Falls, Isle of Skye

10. Explore the Town of Portree

Portree is the main town on the Isle of Skye and is home to a variety of hotels and guest houses, shops, restaurants, and pubs. Most visitors tend to stay in and around Portree as the island is small and you can easily drive to either end in only an hour or two. 

The colored houses that line the water along the harbour are popular with photographers are best viewed from the viewpoint on the other side of the bay. Parking can be a challenge in and around the centre of town but the Portree Carpark on the lower level of the city has good rates for overnight parking. 

Portree is also a great spot to pick up some souvenirs. Consider walking the Scorrybreac Trail for some great views of the coastline. At only about 3km long its a nice walk. 

The coloured houses of Portree from the viewpoint.
The coloured houses of Portree from the viewpoint.

Accommodation on the Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is home to a variety of accommodation options. There are plenty of hotels in the area, as well as bed and breakfasts, guest houses and self-catering accommodation. The island also has a variety of campsites if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option.  

No matter what type of accommodation you’re looking for, you’re sure to find something to suit your needs, however make sure to book your accommodation in advance. If you are visiting out of season it is still necessary to book ahead of time as a lot of guest houses and smaller boutique hotels close during the off season. 

Booking.com

Getting Around the Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is quite large, so the best way to get around is by car. There are plenty of car rental companies in the area, so make sure to shop around for the best deals. If you don’t want to drive, there are also public buses that run throughout the island.

While you can get from village to village, bus services to the tourist spots are not available. You will need a hire car to visit almost all of the locations I've mentioned here. Don't forget to use Rental Cover to reduce your excess WAY cheaper than what you will pay at the hire desk.

The Isle of Skye also has a variety of taxi companies if you need to get around in a hurry. The taxis are quite expensive, so make sure to shop around for the best deals.


Getting To the Isle of Skye

You don't have to get a car ferry to visit the Isle of Skye. You can drive up through Dornie and over the Skye Bridge. If you are planning on venturing further into the Outer Hebredes, you will need to book a car ferry.

From Inverness you can get the train to Kyle of Lochalsh and then the bus from there to Portree. Check out Rome2Rio for the best route. 

There are many tours that operate from Edinbugh, Glasgow and Inverness as single or multi day trips to and around the Isle of Skye. When you compare hire car expenses, insurances and accommodation, a day or multi day trip might be better for you.

The unmistakable Skye Bridge
The unmistakable Skye Bridge

Multi Day Tours Visiting The Isle of Skye

Sometimes its just easier to jump on a tour! Check out these 3 tours departing from Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow.


Insider Tips and Advice for Exploring the Isle of Skye

When exploring the Isle of Skye, make sure to bring a waterproof jacket and suitable footwear. The weather on the island can be unpredictable, so make sure to be prepared for rain. You can leave your accommodation in Portree to a stunning day and end up getting drowned at the Old Man Of Stor.

Also, as I previously mentioned, make sure to plan ahead and book any accommodation or tours in advance. The Isle of Skye is a popular tourist destination, so it can be difficult to find last-minute accommodation or tours.

Finally, make sure you account for how busy things can be. The beauty of visiting from another part of the world is the super long days during the summer, but be aware that getting back into Portree at 10pm might mean nothing is open for dinner.  We were both surprised at how early some of the restaurants and pubs closed.


The Best Restaurants and Pubs

The Isle of Skye is home to a variety of restaurants and pubs.

  • If you’re looking for a traditional pub experience, then make sure to visit the Old Inn in Portree. This pub has been around since the 18th century and is a great spot for traditional pub food.
  • The Lower Deck Seafood restaruant was great. Along with their regular menu their specials board had a vegetarian dish and a meat dish so its not 100% seafood.
  • If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, then make sure to visit Dulse and Brose. The meals are very affordable but the food is wonderful. Try the Oak Smoked Haddock Fillet served with gnocchi. OMG – I wanted to go back the next night!

Of course there are many cafes in and around the town center. If you aren't planning a super early start, try MacKenzie's Bakery for something sweet for breakfast and also grab a sandwhich to take with you for lunch. They don't open until 9am but if you are ready to get in the car and go straight away, that's not too late to start your day.


Shopping on the Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is home to a variety of shops, selling everything from traditional crafts to souvenirs. The towns of Portree and Broadford are home to a variety of shops, selling primarily locally made products and souveneirs. Brad bought an amazing knitted jumper that is like wearing a hug. Its very heavy but so warm.


Conclusion

The Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s most spectacular destinations. From its rugged coastline to its majestic mountains, it is a place of unparalleled beauty. You will need to have your hiking shoes to see the very best things the island has to offer, but you would expect that.  From exploring the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing, to visiting the Duntulm Castle ruins and the Fairy Pools, there is plenty to see and do. Inverness is the closest big city and you would expect it to take between 2 and a half and 3 hours to drive to Portree from there.

So there you have it. My 10 best things to see and do on the Isle of Skye.


Brad and I on the Bothy Hike on Isle of Skye
Brad and I on the Bothy Hike on Isle of Skye

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