So your heading to the mythical Skye – How perfect! Even better, I have all the absolute highlights and top things to do in Isle of Skye right here for you to hunt down on your multi-day trip. How needs crowds and expensive tours after all, right!
But first, for those that have not already hear …What is Skye?
The Isle of Skye, named ‘cloud island’ in Old Norse is the second-largest of Scotland’s islands but surely the most beautiful. A jumbled mess of mysterious moors, jagged mountain peaks, deep lochs and towering sea cliffs that has drawn tourists in for centuries…and today makes it Scotland’s biggest tourist destination after Edinburgh!
The other-worldly scenery here is always center stage but this is a place full of history and legends. The majority of tourists tend to stay in the small towns of Portree, Dunvegan, and Trotternish..but if you have a car (and really you should here!) then freedom camping is a way to get away from it all and have a slice of Skye to yourself!
Populated since the Mesolithic era, there are around 10,000 people currently living on the island, though visiting outside of peak season you would never believe it. Of course, during the summer months, the population explodes with tourists with come in droves thanks to Skye’s extraordinary landscape and easy approachability from mainland Scotland with the Skye Bridge and ferry both being popular options if you hire a car.
You can also catch a train and then bus in from nearby towns, but the wonders here do not reveal themselves quite so easily if you cannot explore on your own. Check out the section at the end for more information on how to get to the Isle of Skye…
Adding to the otherworldly charm is the fact that a sizeable amount of the local population speaks Gaelic – around 30% – and there is a plenty of vibrant local culture and heritage to sink your teeth into. Nature lovers should be on the lookout for the plentiful wildlife including the Golden Eagle, Red Deer, and Salmon, easily spotted amidst the spectacular – if somewhat stark – Isle of Skye highlights.
Barren and windswept is the new sexy, as they say… right?
There is no doubt, this land is magic – You will be drawn in and never want to leave, every inch of this island draws ‘ohhhs’ and ‘ahhhs’ – A land seemingly untouched by the modern world. And let’s all agree to help keep it this way. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
Be prepared, however, as the weather in this parts can change in an instant. You are going to need both wet weather gear, sunscreen, and hardcore insect repellant if you are visiting in the summer. And a good tent, if you plan on visiting the Isle of Skye on a budget.
In the winter, I would not even consider camping – but luckily hotels outside of peak season are very reasonably priced. Scotland is undoubtedly moody, and will likely cause you problems …
But you wouldn’t expect anything less from a worthy lassie now, would you?
A picture says a thousand world, or so they say, so I have presented below for you a visual feast of the best natural sites. All locations can be found easily by typing the names into Google Maps or Maps.Me [a free offline mapping service and one of my travel app you need to plan your next dream trip! ].
Just save their location and download the offline map and you will never get lost. Also be sure not to forget the entire island is one huge, stunning vista, so even if you make a few wrong turns, you will never be bored…
But please drive slowly, pull over often and take in every each of this mythic land!
Located close to the small settlement of the same name, the Sligachan Bridge is a popular camping spot on Skye – being close to the Cuillin mountains and providing a majestic view towards the Black Cuillin mountains when you wake up.
Historically an important junction in Skye, the bridge crosses the River Sligachan and formed part of the only road which lead to the western end of the Isle. In this modern era, it has been superseded by a new bridge but thankfully the glorious Old Bridge has been left as is still crossable on foot. Built in the 1820s its three-arch design is highly photogenic and no matter what time of day you visit there is sure to be a few keen photographers finding their own unique angle of this Isle of Skye icon.
For the extra keen, why not take a dip in the chilling waters below…
No list of things to do in the Isle of Skye could ever be complete without this well-known highlight that includes multiple waterfalls of vibrant blue’s & green’s connected by fridged yet swimmable pools.
Crystal clear and all so clean, the pools and reached by a 2.4-kilometer hike from the car park with stunning scenery out across the bogs and up to the rocky mountains. Keep your eyes out for red deer, rabbits, and sheep – and birds aplenty. Heavily promoted in media (and I guess I am not helping this) it is advisable to arrive either very early, or rather late in peak season if you want to experience these magical pools on your own.
At busy times, the carpark in a chaotic mess and you will question whether you are in quiet Skye or bustling Tokyo…Still, even crowds could not dimish the majesty of the Fairy Pools waterfall phenomenon…
The adorable village of Portree, positioned on the eastern side of Skye, is an unmissable highlight of the Isle of Skye – if only because it is its biggest settlement you will inevitably pass through and stock up on supplies.
Overlooking a sheltered bay and surrounding by soaring hills, Portree is the capital of Skye and offers cute cafes, supermarkets, hotels, tourist information, design stores, petrol stops and more.
Founded around 200 years ago, this fishing village has since shaken off its back-water vibes and comes of age thanks to the influx of tourism, and regular bus services around Skye and to bigger cities in Scotland.
There are also plenty of fun annual events here including the Portree Show and Skye Highland Games, which are a sight to behold! Even if you just plan to pop in for a quick coffee and to grab a map at the tourism office, take your time to admire the windy streets and colorful buildings.
There are other things to do in Skye besides gawking at nature after all…
Yes, you probably know this one from Instagram or Pinterest wish lists, but trust me when I tell you the Old Man of Storr is even more incredible in real life. If you manage to see him on a clear day that is.
The most famous hike on the island, and the most photographed highlight of the Isle of Skye, the Old Man of Storr in a magnificent pinnacle of rock that stands proud and tall – visible for miles around. A combination of ancient lava flows and landslides, the Old Man of Storr is part of the Trotternish Ridge which continues behind it. Be careful when getting in amongst it here however as rock falls are an omnipresent danger and many areas around the base of the landform are off-limits.
The walk up to the best viewpoint takes around 45 minutes one-way, including breaks, and while the carpark is a circus in peak season (thanks to Skye’s rocketing popularity) this is one walk where people did not detract from the ancient landscape.
Everyone just looks like little ants from up there anyway.
When you reach the top – keen fans will recognize the view as that from the opening scenes of Prometheus, which were shot at the Old Man of Storr. My second favorite movie location filming spot in Scotland – after the James Bond Skyfall location, though Harry Potter fans will disagree and place the Harry Potter train in the Scottish Highlands higher…
Now if you are wondering about the name -as I was – local folklore claims that the Old Man of Storr gets its title because the rocky outline and the jutting pinnacle look like the face of an old man. Not sure I can see it personally.
The word “Storr” is actually Norse in origin and means “Great Man”, which is somewhat fitting when you also know this seemingly unclimbable rock was only first conquered in 1955 by English mountaineer Don Whillans, and has only been scaled a handful of times since. Don’t think I’ll be claiming the title of “Great Man” here any time soon and will stick to dominating easier climbs such as Jeju, Tai-shan and Poon Hill.
If you love to enjoy a mountain view while wandering a windswept beach, this Elgol Beach is for you.
Located in a sea loch evocative of the majestic Fjords of Bergen (Scotland is rather Nordic after all), Elgol Beach is a dazzling combination of tranquil serenity and raw natural power. Named one of the best shingle beaches in Britain, up there with those in Devon and Cornwall, there is nothing quite like wandering the shoreline here and starring up at the Cuillin Mountain range which looms across the water.
Along the southern end of the beach, you can also fin Boonie Prince Charlies cave, the famous hiding place used by the prince in his final days.
Somewhat frustratingly the gravel road out to Elgol Beach is long, windy and one-way meaning you need to back-track but makes this highlight of Skye more peaceful and less touristy than other spots. Its southern proximity also means boat trips to destinations such as the Isles of Rum, Eigg, and Canna are possible from the town of Elgol – though the magical Isle of Muck sadly cannot be reached from here.
If you need to warm up after wandering the beach (or perhaps taking a swim – if you are insane) the Cuillin View Coffee Shop is the place to go for a warming drink and a caffientated pick-me-up!
A 2-for-1 highlight both visible from the same observation point, don’t miss these primordial cliffs that somewhat resembling a kilt and it’s waterfall with produces a mesmerizing sound.
I’ll let you be the judge of whether the 90-meter Kilt Rock looks like a pleated kilt, but one thing you cannot deny is its utter magnificence. A rare combination of basalt columns atop a sandstone base, the colors of the rock also seen to be tartan – with a bit of imagination.
The other Skye Highlight visible here is the Mealt waterfall fed by the nearby Mealt Loch, which leaves terrforma here and plummets over the cliff into the icy sea below. When the wind blows just right, there is an eerie – almost haunting – howling, but don’t worry. It is not actually produced by the waterfall but the fencing surrounding the lookout where the wind is allowed into piping and produces an organ of sorts.
Also rather hauntingly, sometimes, when the Skye wind is blowing particularly strong, the Mealt waterfall’s water is simply blown away and doesn’t reach the rocky bottom. It simply…vanishes.
Hmmm, maybe not. But either way, these dual attractions are one of the top things to do in Skye and a popular stopping point between Portree and Staffin
If you hear anyone talking about dinosaurs on Skye or the ‘Dinosaur Isle’… this is what they are talking about!
For you geology geeks out there, most of Skye is comprised of fossil-free basalt rocks, leading to the majestic, strong and enduring landforms here. However, along the broken coast there are a few places where the softer sedimentary layers are exposed providing a quirky little Isle of Skye highlight for amateur fossil seekers.
Staffin is one of the best places to try, with the beach here hosting some outstanding footprints left by a happy little family of Ornithopods dinosaurs – small, bipedal, grazers – some 165 million years ago. Well, at least I imagine they were happy since it was left in the sand and who could ever not be happy at the beach.
Please, don’t ruin the illusion for me!
Exposed to the world thank to the hard work of retreating glaciers in the last ice age, it is truly unique and exceedingly rare to be able to see and touch these dinosaur footprints in real life, an experience to be cherished by adults and children alike. They are also visible in Sucre in Bolivia, but that is a rather long way to go…
Most footprints here are only exposed at low tide and sadly can be covered by sand in summer, so visiting in winter is actually beneficial for this attraction – after a winter storm is better. The main dino prints a short distance from the ramp that runs down to the Staffin Beach, but given the beauty of the beach, it is worth a look any time of year.
Remember, a true dino hunter wouldn’t let anything get in the way of an extraordinary find! But there is always the nearby Staffin Dinosaur Museum, home to an internationally acclaimed collection of dinosaur fossils if you don’t have any luck on the beach.
The truly outstanding Quiraing is an emblem of Wild Scotland and a photographers dream.
Sure, you can simply traverse its windy road and take in the breathtaking views – but for the full experience, you need to head out on the 6.8 km loop track taking around 2 hours to stop. This is without breaks, or photo stops… which you will 100% want to take.
Just on from the Old Man of Storr and still part of the same Trotternish Ridge here you will find soaring cliffs, attractive plateaus, and jagged rock pinnacles await you on a clear day, so be sure to have your camera fully charged for what is surely one of the most impressive landscapes in Scotland.
A bold claim I know, but after you visit, you’ll see its hard to not agree.
Here be, ermmm, fairies?
Yes, this bizarre and enchanting miniature scene of grassy, cone-shaped hills is said to be home to spritely people who remain hidden by day and come out at night to cause mischief. Across Skye, many places are associated with fairies thanks to Dunvegan Castle and their ‘Fairy Flag’ including the Fairy Pools and Fairy Bridge, but this is perhaps the cutest fairy bolt-hole and almost otherworldly.
Wandering around here involved mostly grassy paths are reaching the top with Castle Ewen necessitates an uncooperative scramble, while the somewhat indistinct paths make it easy to get lost. Those dam fairies at work again. This, however, is all part of the charm of the Fairy Glen since exploring on your own is the highlight and the exact route you take does not matter at all.
I should also clarify (since I was somewhat confused) Castle Ewan is not a castle and has (inexplicably) been named as such. It is actually a basalt hill which – like many things here – with a vivid imagination looks a bit ruinesque from a distance. Whether it is home to the Fairy Queen, however, I cannot say.
A modern trend has been for tourists to create rock spirals on the ground, and there are even a few rituals encouraged by tour guides to receive a fairy blessing – but locals on Skye seem unhappy about this and continually remove said rock spirals in order keep the Glen in its natural state. While I always want to encourage leaving nature as pristine as possible, these spirals do seem quite harmless and are rather photogenic…
Unlike most things to do in Skye, there is no parking here so be careful and don’t block the narrow road. Word is out amongst avid fairy hunters – and the odd unicorn enthusiast – so the roads can get very crowded in peak season. Why not choose a misty day to explore the ethereal spirit here… trust me, low cloud and a slight dampness in the air makes it all the more magical.
Probably the most beautiful lighthouse in Scotland, regally guarding the most western tip of Skye close to the town of Glendale. The lighthouse itself is unmanned and owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board, built back in 1909 and fully automated since 1990.
An easy concrete walk leads you to jaw-dropping views of the surrounding cliffs and the lighthouse, but if you can time your visit for sunset – all the better! On a clear day, you can even see out over the Minch to the Western Isles. Be careful to follow the safe route, as some more…death-defying travelers go off the path but the cliff is steep and often slippery.
Those Instagram shots are not worth it guys!
The point is often deemed as the best place on Skye to see whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking shark, but you will have to look super hard to maybe organize a tour from the nearby town. Spotting sea-birds such as gannets, black guillemots, razorbills, and shags is a lot easier from land. There is also plenty of sheep to try capture for a photography, but trust me…They do not like it!
Yes, we are back on the fairies….
At this point, I have done some research since I am curious…Whats with all the faires. Well, local folklore goes that one of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod married a fairy but sadly, after 20 years she had to leave him and return to fairyland (sidenote: how do I get there, and can we please name a gay bar this..).
Apparently, she said her final good-byes to the chief at Fairy Bridge (around 4.8 km from Dunvegan) and gave him the flag as a parting gift. The fairy when promised that is the flag was ever to be waved in times of danger or distress, help would be given. The trust, however, goes that while the flag has the power to save the MacLeod clan, whoever waved the flag would later be dragged away from this world by an invisible being, never to return.
So, if you do happen to find a flag lying around while completing these things to do in the Isle of Skye, it is probably best not to wave it!
Either way, the somewhat modest Fairy Bridge at Waternish Point is worth a visit and the ideal place to have peace, quiet and tranquility in the absolute middle of nowhere! Sure, it might not be a top highlight of Skye, but it sure is cute…
I have to be honest with you, seeing the best things on the Isle of Skye necessitates hiring a car – or if you are super eco-conscious you could consider biking around….
The main road into Skye is the A87 towards Uig, which takes you over the bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland to Kyleakin on Skye. The bridge opened since 2004, is free and has made Skye accessible without needed to get on a boat.
If you want to take an equally scenic route in-or-out to mix things to try the famous “Road to the Isles” aka the A830, from Fort William to Mallaig and then just ship yourself and your car over by ferry (the Caledonian MacBrayne, also known as “CalMac”) to Armadale.
In peak summer, there is also a boat crossing from Glenelg and Kylerhea, which you can reach from the A87 on both the mainland and Skye via minor roads. Though it is a bit of a hassle and only worth it for the adventure.
CalMac also runs ferries from Uig on Skye to Tarbert on Harris and Lochmaddy on North Uist, if you want to continue on to the Outer Hebrides.
Buses and trains also each Skye from most major cities in Scotland, but if you are planning on following this list of things to do In Skye – you really, really will need your own wheels so I won’t bother outlining the options here.
Yes, there are bus services around Skye – but just bite the bullet and hire a car in Scotland…
A luxurious country house sitting on a hill and offering sea views. The hotel and 18th-century cottage are surrounded by ancient woodland and gardens on the Quiraing. –> Check it out
Spoil yourself a little and mix rugged nature with refined elegance. All the comforts of staying at home, and then some. A must-stay – and it won’t break the budget! –> Check it out
Portree SYHA Hostelling
Affordable dormitories and private rooms. Probably the cheapest place to stay on the island. Heating throughout and close to Portree’s small port and its colored houses –> Check it out
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