Guide to Scotland's Isle of Skye: Land of Mist, Mountains and Myth

See why this misty Scottish island should be the next stop on your travel bucket list.

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Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Welcome to Isle of Skye

The dramatic landscapes of this large island off the northwest coast of Scotland are not to be missed if you're visiting the highlands. Filled with distinctive ridgelines, fog-laden hillsides covered in heather, mystical pools of turquoise water and waterfalls plunging off cliffs, Isle of Skye is the perfect remote destination for the nature lover who doesn’t mind getting a little muddy on a trek.

Getting to Isle of Skye

There's a small airport located on the southeast end of Skye, but it's best to get to the island via rental car picked up in a larger city like Inverness. If you're approaching on the A87, then you can take the Skye Bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh to the island. If you're approaching from the south, there's a ferry that runs from Mallaig to Armadale which gives you an opportunity to take in some incredible views as you approach the island. Pictured is the southern coast of Skye as seen from the ferry.

Getting Around Isle of Skye

While there are some buses that operate on the island, renting a car is the best option for traversing between the remote towns and landmarks. If you're unfamiliar with driving on the left or what the etiquette is when driving/passing on single-lane roads, you may want to brush up before you head to Skye.

Set Sail

Whether you’re sailing, paddling or fishing, there are endless stretches of coastline to explore. Keep an eye on the water and you may spot a pod of dolphins skimming the surface.

Walk the Hills

The draw of the island is its natural beauty, and what better way to access that than by lacing up your boots and heading into the mountains. No matter how difficult or long a trek you're on, be prepared for some rain, mist and a lot of mud as you explore the sights on Skye.

Ride the Rocks

Isle of Skye’s rank as a top destination for mountain-biking enthusiasts was solidified when pro mountain biker Danny MacAskill made the epic short film The Ridge, which captured his death-defying descent from the steep summits of the Cuillin Mountains along the Elgol Peninsula.

Old Man of Storr

Located in the northeastern region of the island is the Old Man of Storr. It's less than three miles roundtrip for visitors to hike up to this jagged crag and natural monolith with unique features that can be attributed to a landslide.

Quiraing

Located in northeastern Skye, the Quiraing is the northernmost summit of the Trotternish Ridge. A series of trails run through the labyrinth of lush, jagged features that make up this one-of-a-kind landscape, which is a result of a series of landslips that occurred in the area. You’ll likely encounter a few sheep who are roaming the hills with you.

Cuillin Mountains

The Cuillin is a craggy mountain range in the south of Skye. It's divided into two areas — the exposed rocky peaks of the Black Cuillin and the lower hills of the Red Cuillin. With 12 Munros (Scottish peaks over 3000 feet) located throughout the range, many of these trails are intended for more experienced hikers and mountaineers. Pictured is the access to the Cuillin from the east at Glen Sligachan.

Black Cuillin, Egol Peninsula

You can access the Black Cuillin from the southwest at the Elgol Peninsula. It's a less crowded but stunning region of the island where the blue coast abuts the steep, isolated mountains.

Red Cuillin, Marsco

Marsco is a summit reached via the access to the Red Cuillin from the east at Glen Sligachan. A beautiful but marshy trip leads up to its cone-like peak which overlooks the mountains and ocean below. 

Fairy Pools

It’s no wonder as you walk along the bright blue cascades of the Fairy Pools in Cuillin Mountains why they have long been associated with magic and myth. On a nice day, the crystal clear pools are perfect for a quick dip for those brave enough to expose themselves to the icy temperatures.

Fairy Glen

The Fairy Glen has a little-visited cluster of mossy knolls and formations tucked away in the hills near Uig that's worth exploring if you’re in the area.

Sacred Healing Spring

Fed by two pure springs, the small, bright turquoise Loch Sheanta has long been thought to have holy healing properties for those who drink its water. There's a tiny parking lot just past the town of Digg that will give you access to the short trail down to the vibrant water. 

Eilean Donan Castle

While not technically on the Isle of Skye, Eilean Donan Castle is just across the bridge from the island and worth a stop if you're driving the A87 to get to Skye. Built on a small tidal island, it's a picturesque stop along the way. Or if time permits, you can tour the stone fortress for around a $5 admission fee.

Dunvegan Castle

Situated atop a rock on the northwest coast of the island is the imposing Dunvegan Castle, which dates back to the 13th century. Tours of the castle's interior provide a glimpse of historical architecture, furnishings, art and other artifacts like a display of items pertaining to Bonnie Prince Charlie. Tickets to tour both the castle and gardens are about $15 for adults. Additionally, you can take a small boat out to the surrounding rocks to see the seal colonies that live in Loch Dunvegan.

Dunvegan Castle's Gardens

A labyrinth of gardens surrounds the inland side of Dunvegan Castle which is a welcome contrast to the cold, stone interior of the structure. If you’re stopping to tour the castle, give yourself time to wander the woodland trails and take in the five acres of meticulously designed flowering gardens.

Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock

A quick detour if you’re driving along the A855, this beautiful stretch of cliffs is worth a visit. The overlook has some interpretive signage that provides information on the geology of the area. If you’re lucky, you can find a small food truck in the parking lot.

Staffin Dinosaur Museum

This small, one-room museum is located just down the road from Mealt Falls and is crammed with fossils and artifacts collected from around the island. For a small fee, you can check out the displays and chat with the museum’s operator if you want to find local spots to do some fossil hunting of your own.

Fossilized Footprints

Walk the coast at An Corran Beach in Staffin during low tide, and look for the fossilized tracks of Ornithopods embedded in the rocks. Sauropod footprints were also recently discovered in Duntulm.

Lodging

You’re not going to find much in the way of large hotels on Skye. Most of the lodging options will involve staying the night in small inns and bed and breakfasts or renting a house. There are also a few established campgrounds around the island.

Sligachan

While there are a number of campgrounds around the island, Sligachan is probably the most centrally located and scenic spot to camp without backpacking. Situated along the mountainous coastline and across from the Sligachan Hotel and Seamus’ Bar, it's a cheap lodging option that gives you impeccable access to the surrounding trails in the Red Cuillin.

Glen Brittle Beach

Situated next to the beach at Loch Brittle is a remote campground sandwiched between a small stretch of coast and the mountains. It's in close proximity to the fairy pools and is a good option if you're looking for an isolated spot to spend a night.

Weather on Skye

The weather on the Isle of Skye is similar to the rest of Scotland — unpredictable with a chance of mist. With an average summer high of only 60 degrees F and high annual rainfall, you should come prepared for wet, cold and windy conditions. If you're spending time on the trails, know where you’re navigating, because you'll likely encounter fog which can be disorienting.

Numerous Waterfalls

With an average rainfall of 70 inches each year, you’re bound to encounter waterfalls both large and small as you tour Skye.

Wild Blooms

There are few trees to be found on in the marshy landscapes, providing amazing, uninhibited views. The terrain is covered in low brush, so depending on the season you visit you may be lucky enough to see vibrant purple blankets of flowers across the slopes.

Wildlife

The wildlife you'll probably become most familiar with during your visit are midges, tiny biting flies that have the ability to drive you to insanity. The island also has a large population of land and water fowl, including some colonies of Puffin. Surrounded by the North Atlantic, you could also see animals such as seals, dolphins or whales. 

Free-Range Farm Animals

The grassy hillsides of Skye provide perfect grazing land for cattle and sheep, both of which you'll inevitably encounter while visiting. While some of the animals are restricted by fences, a large population roam freely, so be cautious while driving and hiking.

Fishing Industry

Fishing is a huge local industry, so be sure to try fresh, local salmon, or charter a boat and try to catch some yourself. 

Idyllic Coastal Towns

With a population of only around 10,000 on the entire island, there are no major urban areas. There a few towns scattered throughout the island where you can find lodging, restaurants, groceries and gas, the largest being Portree located on the east central coast.

Distilleries, Breweries and Bars

For those visiting the highlands intent on sampling the local libations, Skye is home to a couple Scotch distilleries and breweries. Stop in the coastal town of Carbost to do a tour and tasting at Talisker Distillery, which was founded in 1830. For a more diverse tasting, swing by Seamus’ Bar in the Sligachan Hotel and sample from their impressive collection of more than 400 malts from around the country. If beer is more your style, grab a pint at Isle of Skye Brewing, located in the northern town of Uig.