As soon as you behold the dramatic landscapes, fairytale-like settings, stunning waterfalls, and imposing coastline of the Isle of Skye, you are going to be captivated. It is no wonder that this large island in the Inner Hebrides is so popular with visitors. You could easily spend a week exploring its nooks and crannies, but even if you have only two days on this magical isle, you can fit in the highlights of the best things to do on the Isle of Skye.
Whether you are traveling all through Scotland or just extending a visit from Edinburgh, make sure to include Isle of Skye on your itinerary. Before I jump in to what to do on the Isle of Skye, here are some practical tips:
- You are going to need a car to get around unless you book a multi-day tour if you don’t want to drive (I don’t blame you, more on tour options later…)
- It is a five-hour drive from Edinburgh to Isle of Skye. Plan your days accordingly to give you at least two nights on the Isle of Skye.
- Summer is high season and accommodations will fill up months in advance. Plan ahead! More on where to stay below.
- If you can visit in June or early July before schools in the UK get out for summer vacation, it won’t be as crowded.
- Be prepared for all kinds of weather, especially rain!
3 Very Best Things to do on Isle of Skye
I know many people try to “do” Scotland in five or seven days (I have itineraries for this in my Scotland road trip itinerary), so if you have really limited time, here are the very best things to do in Isle of Skye that it would be a tragic shame to miss:
- Quiraing or Old Man of Storr – if you are enchanted by dramatic landscapes and peculiar and rugged rock formations, you need to squeeze in a hike at either the Quiraing or Old Man of Storr. Both offer gorgeous views and otherworldly landscapes (and they aren’t far from each other if you want to see both.)
- Fairy Glen – if you want to believe in fairies (the friendly kind), hobbits, elves, or any other sort of magical creature, visit the Fairy Glen and the landscape will convince you that they could live there. The lightly-terraced hills and rocky outcroppings truly look like something out of movie set.
- Neist Point – at Neist Point you feel like you are standing at the edge of the world, even though the Outer Hebrides still separate Skye from Canada across the Atlantic Ocean. This dramatic peninsula takes some effort to get to but it is worth it, even if you don’t walk all the way out to the lighthouse.
Map of Places to Go on Isle of Skye
I’ve created this map using Google MyMaps. You can click the icons on the map to get more information about each destination or attraction. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. Then open Google Maps on your desktop/laptop, click the menu button, go to “Saved,” click the Maps tab, and you will see this map on your list. From your mobile phone, click on Saved in the bottom tabs, then scroll down and click on Maps. You will then see this list in your list of saved maps.
What to do on the Isle of Skye
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If you follow these things to do on the Isle of Skye in order, it starts in the middle of the island in Portree and then loops around the Trotternish Peninsula to the north, then heads west to the Duirinish peninsula and Neist Point before turning south.
However, I would NOT recommend trying to squeeze this into one day. That is too much to do and it would be a lot of driving and not give you the time you need to enjoy each stop. Instead, break it up over two days (I have specific recommendations in my Scotland road trip itinerary if you need help.) And if you have more time, great! That just means you can fit in other sites like Armadale Castle, Talisker Distillery, Camas Daraich beach, and more.
As the largest town on the Isle of Skye, Portree is the ideal spot for a home base for at least one of your nights on Isle of Skye (I have recommendations on where to stay below.) Even if you don’t stay near town, you will find yourself here as you make your journey along the coast and up to Old Man of Storr.
The town is centered around Portree Square, where you can also find a pay parking lot if you want to stop and explore the shops and restaurants. Just across from the square you should stop into MacKenzie’s Bakery for pastries. I’ve heard they have amazing scones but, unfortunately after waiting in line for 15 minutes the woman in front of me bought out the store, so go early! (But the pastries we did try were quite tasty too.)
Make sure you walk down to Portree Harbour, where you will find a colorful line of houses and shops. This is where you will find the active marina and good seafood restaurants like the Lower Deck Seafood Restaurant and Sea Breezes.
If you are looking for a meal, some other spots to try include Dulse & Brose, Cafe Arriba, and Fraser’s at the Bracken Hide.
Old Man of Storr
If you have ever seen a guidebook from Isle of Skye, it probably had a photo of the iconic Old Man of Storr on the cover. It is the most well-known image of the Isle of Skye. So where is my photo? Well, after two attempts to try to go see the Old Man of Storr, we sat in the parking lot and surrendered to the weather gods and admitted defeat. In Scotland, you need to be prepared for some wind and rain and it isn’t unusual for this spiky rock pinnacle to be shrouded by clouds or fog.
The Old Man itself is a a 55-meter-high pinnacle of basalt rock that is the remnant of an ancient volcanic plug. To get the best view, you are going to need to hike up and look down at the Old Man, but if you aren’t up for the hike, you can also see it (on a clear day) from Loch Fada on A855 just south of the car park.
The carpark for the Old Man of Storr is located about 15 minutes drive north of Portree on A855 on the Trotternish loop. Because this is such a popular spot, the car park can fill up very quickly, so it is important to get there early or go late in the day. Otherwise you will need to park along the road and walk even further. Just remember that most of the carparks on the Isle of Skye are pay lots and they do check. Don’t learn the hard way (trust me, the parking tickets are expensive and the receipt from one car park isn’t valid at another, even if it is still within the time paid for.)
We didn’t bother hiking up to Old Man of Storr because we knew we weren’t going to see a thing and all we would achieve is getting soaked. Tip: bring a good rain jacket and rain pants when visiting Isle of Skye!
If you do get a chance to climb up to Old Man of Storr, it is a 3.8 km up and back hike that is rated as moderate but it is fairly steep. I’d suggest making sure you have good non-slip, supportive (and waterproof) footgear and if you plan on doing more hiking, trekking poles can be a big help. The climb up will take about 45 minutes, plus you will want to leave time to take pictures, take in the view, and marvel at the rock formations. For the best photos, continue past the rock formations on a narrow path to Photographer’s Knoll.
An Leathallt Viewpoint
As you make your way around the Trotternish Peninsula, you are going to pass so many gorgeous viewpoints, including An Leath allt, Kilt Rock, Brother’s Point, and the Staffin Dinosaur Museum. Unless you are spending many days on the Isle of Skye, you aren’t going to have time to stop at them all and even when you do stop, you probably won’t want to linger too long.
The viewpoint of An Leath allt provides a gorgeous view of the coastline. There is a large parking lot and you can walk out to a viewpoint with some interpretive panels that describe how the area was once a busy workplace for cleaning and drying diatomite, a white clay that was found inland.
From here, it is possible to walk down to the beach for a better view of Lealt Falls. It is a long way down and not a great path so I didn’t think it was worth the effort (especially climbing back up.)
Kilt Rock, so named because of the 90-meter high sea cliff made of basalt columns that resemble the pleats of a kilt, is one of the most popular scenic stops on the Isle of Skye. Unfortunately, when we visited the public car park was closed for repair and we had to skip this sight. However, I have a friend who visited a few months later and it had been reopened.
From Kilt Rock, you can also see Mealt Falls, which cascades over the cliff near Kilt Rock. Getting to Kilt Rock is a short five-minute walk from the car park, making this a short stop for an epic view.
The Quiraing is one of the most dramatic landscapes on the Isle of Skye, known for its towering pinnacles, deep valleys, and jagged cliffs that have formed over millions of years. To get there, you will need to turn off the main road near Staffin and follow the single track road through the interior toward Uig. To me, the view of that curving road and the sweeping green landscape down to the sea is just as beautiful as the mysterious-looking rock formations themselves.
To visit the Quiraing, park in the car park (don’t forget to pay!) and walk across the street to the viewpoint. If the car park is full, there are some turnoffs on the road coming up that you can try instead. The most popular trail for hiking is the Quiraing Loop, which takes you on a 4.5-mile circuit through the heart of the landslip.
However, if you don’t want to take that much time or the weather is inclement, you don’t have to go far to get great views. I’d suggest just walking far enough to immerse yourself in the landscape, maybe 15-20 minutes along the main trail. We got quite soaked and wind-blown on our short time at the Quiraing, but it was totally worth it.
If you have a lot of time, you can head back to the main road and continue to loop around the peninsula with stops at An Corran Beach, Staffin Harbour, Flora MacDonald’s Grave, and the Skye Museum of Island Life. You can stop in Staffin or Idrigil on the other side of the island for lunch if you need (although you may want to pick up some food in Portree before you leave and have a picnic along your route.)
However, if you are short on time, continue along the single-track road that cuts across the island to Idrigil to shorten your drive to Fairy Glen. Just don’t skip the Fairy Glen! Maybe it was the light mist that clung to the hilltops or the terraced hills that gave this place such a mystical quality, or maybe it was the power of suggestion of the name. But whatever the reason, I was entranced!
The hills in Fairy Glen are known as cone karsts and they are now covered in a lush green carpet. One legend says that the fairies created the landscape themselves, and that they still live there today. Another legend says that the Fairy Glen is a place where wishes come true.
To visit, there is a small car park with a self-serve pay station (it helps if you can get there early) and some small pull offs along the road, but you may need to park down in Uig and walk up. The walk from the car park to the main section of the Fairy Glen with the Fairy Castle (said to be the home of the Fairy Queen) is about a mile, but it is a fairly easy walk and honestly the whole path is just beautiful with stunning views. You are going to want to spend at least an hour here to soak up the magic.
Dunvegan Castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland, and it has been the home of the MacLeod clan for over 800 years. The castle is thought to have been built in the 13th century, and it has been added to and modified over the centuries.
The oldest part of the castle is the keep, which is a square tower that dates back to the 14th century. You can purchase tickets to visit the castle and/or the gardens. On a self-guided tour of the castle you can see these various sections of the castle including the formal rooms and the lower rooms where the servants worked.
Outside, you can wander through the five acres of lush 18th-century gardens. These award-winning gardens include the Water Garden, Rose Garden, Walled Garden, and woodland walks. In addition, the castle overlooks the bay of Loch Dunvegan and they also offer short boat trips to a nearby seal colony for an additional fee.
Dunvegan Castle is about a 45-minute drive from Fairy Glen, but you may want to save your visit for a second day on Isle of Skye. If you are hungry when you arrive, there is a cafe on site that can make a good spot to stop for lunch. Three Chimneys, a Michelin-starred restaurant that serves modern Scottish cuisine is also a short drive away in Colbost.
Neist Point is a spectacular spot on the Isle of Skye. Getting there is a bit of a slog over small, single-track lanes, but it is worth it. Neist Point Lighthouse is the most iconic on the Isle of Skye, but it isn’t just about the lighthouse.
This dramatic headland on the westernmost tip of the Isle of Skye is both rugged and beautiful. The dramatic cliffs and jagged rocks were formed by formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago and are home to a variety of seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, and razorbills. The waters around Neist Point are also home to dolphins, whales, and seals.
At the very tip of Neist Point you will find the Neist Point Lighthouse, a whitewashed lighthouse that was built in 1909.
To visit, there is a small car park as well as parking along the road. It takes about 45 minutes to walk the 2.2 km along the point and out to the lighthouse. It starts by climbing down a steep set of stairs and then it is a fairly flat walk out to the Point. Just keep in mind though that you need to climb back up those stairs on your return!
To get the best view of the entire Point, including the lighthouse, you will want to walk along the cliffs to the right of the car park. Further up, you can get a view of all of Neist Point and the waters surrounding it. Just watch your step and stay away from the edges. Also, keep in mind that it is very windy out on that point so bring layers and a good hat that won’t blow off!
Sligachan Bridge is a picturesque stone bridge that crosses the River Sligachan near the Cuillin Hills. According to legend, if you put your face in the water under Sligachan Bridge for seven seconds and let it dry off naturally, you will be granted eternal beauty. In case you haven’t guesse, I didn’t stick my face in the water to give it a try.
The legend is said to have originated from the story of Scáthach, a legendary female warrior who lived on Skye. Scáthach was known for her beauty and strength, and she was said to be able to defeat any man in battle.
One day, a male warrior named Cú Chulainn challenged Scáthach to a duel. Cú Chulainn was known for his own strength and skill, and the two warriors fought for days on end. In the end, Scáthach was victorious. However, she was so tired from the battle that she could not wash her face.
Scáthach’s daughter, Uathach, was worried about her mother’s appearance. She went to the River Sligachan and prayed to the fairies for help. The fairies told Uathach to put her face in the water for seven seconds and let it dry off naturally. Uathach did as instructed, and her face was immediately transformed. She was even more beautiful than before.
If you need a bite or a drink (or to use the loo), Seumas’ Bar is just across the street by the Sligachan Hotel (and the cutest Little Free Library in an old British phone booth.) From Sligachan, you may also want to pay a visit to the Talisker Distillery before heading to the Fairy Pools.
The Fairy Pools are a series of small waterfalls and natural pools located on the River Brittle in the southern half of the Isle of Skye. It is a popular destination because, on a clear day under the right conditions, the pools have an aquamarine color, giving a mystical appearance. Of course, a clear day on the Isle of Skye can be a bit challenging. But even if it is a bit rainy, this is still a beautiful spot in a stunning valley of the Cuillin Mountains.
It is also a popular spot for wild swimming for those willing to brave the cold waters, so bring your suit and towels if you dare! There are a number of legends surrounding the Fairy Pools. Some say the waters attract selkies, others say the pools are home to fairies who bathe in the water at night.
The walk from the car park along the Fairy Pools is about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) and it takes at least an hour to visit, more depending on how many photos you take. It is a relatively easy path and you will want to stop at many of the waterfalls to enjoy the views. Save some energy for the return to the car as the last section is a bit of a steep uphill. The car park is fairly large (and there is a bathroom), but if it is full, there is an overflow lot a bit further up the road.
Tour vs Self Drive?
Driving on the Isle of Skye is not always for the feint of heart. I admit, I let my friend Keryn do all the driving on our Scotland and Wales road trip (thank you, thank you, thank you!!) And I let out a HUGE sigh of relief when she successfully backed down a narrow one-lane road alongside a cliff to let another car pass, as that might have given me a breakdown. It isn’t TERRIBLE, but it can be stressful if you don’t like driving on narrow, winding roads or dealing with slow traffic caused by constantly having to pull to the side to let a car coming in the opposite direction pass. So, if the thought of that makes you sweat, you may want to consider taking a group tour instead.
There are a LOT of big bus tours around Scotland and frankly, none of those excite me. But, we did see the smaller vans/mini busses from The Hairy Coo and Rabbie’s on Isle of Skye and on those, people seemed like they were having fun. In fact, the first time I visited Scotland I can very close to booking one of their tours but ended up staying in Edinburgh instead. So you can definitely find a multi-day tour operator, some of which include a visit to the Scottish Highlands, (go for one that has smaller group sizes) and see the Isle of Skye that way instead.
Where to Stay on Isle of Skye
Remember that if you are visiting Isle of Skye in the summer or early fall, hotels and B&Bs will fill up fast. There are not any huge hotels on the island and the hotel inventory is rather limited. You really need to book at least three months in advance.
When I visited with friends in July, we stayed at the ultra-cool Bracken Hide Hotel. This is a “wilderness hotel” with individual cabins in a natural, hilltop setting. The lodge has a great restaurant, cocktail bar, and lounge too. But here is a tip: request a room on the lower tiers closer to the main lodge, otherwise it is a long (and steep) hike up to your cabin on top of a bit of a trek from the parking lot. Also, watch your step as sheep roam freely throughout the property and leave behind presents. You may want to bring a flashlight for the path at night.
Some other good options that we considered (but were already booked) include:
Find other places to stay on the Isle of Skye:
How to Get to Isle of Skye
Yes, Isle of Skye is, in fact an island. But no, you don’t have to get there by boat. The Isle of Skye is connected to mainland Scotland by a free bridge called the Skye Bridge. Alternatively, you can take a ferry from Mallaig on the mainland to Armadale on the Sleat Peninsula on Skye. The ferry ride takes about 45 minutes, but if you are traveling with your car, you need to make reservations for a specific ferry well in advance. We drove to Isle of Skye via the bridge and returned via ferry. Both have their advantages so it really just depends on where you are coming from and where you are going to.
Unfortunately, there is no train that goes to Isle of Skye, so you would need to travel to either Glasgow or Inverness (or Edinburgh but that is further) and pick up a car or tour from there.