Scotland’s Isle of Skye has firmly established itself on the tourist map in recent years and with good reason.
This small Hebridean island is a veritable wonderland of every type of marvel the adventure-lover could ask for.
It offers a bit of everything, from – from tall, rugged mountains and outlandish rock formations to dramatic seascapes, wild lochs, and epic wild hiking trails.
In short, something for everyone!
The Isle of Skye’s Top Highlights
1. The Cuillin Mountains
These dark, moody mountains are among the highest, most challenging, and scenic in all of the British Isles.
They’re the ideal spot for a night or two’s peaceful camping or to explore on the two-day hike from Sligachan to Glenbri.
2. Trotternish Ridge
This wave-like landslip runs almost the full length of the eponymous peninsula and is punctuated by various points of interest.
The most notable of these are the highly popular: the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing (see below).
However, we also recommend visiting dinosaur footprints on Staffin Beach, Duntulm Castle, and Bioda Buidhe – one of the island’s best viewpoints.
The main highlights of the Trotternish ridge can be explored in one or two days by car.
However, for those with more time on their hands, the ridge can be explored on hikes of varying lengths, starting and stopping wherever you choose.
3. Fairy Pools
There might not be any real fairies, but their absence is made up for by the utter uniqueness of this magical little spot at the foot of Sgurr nan Gillean.
The pools are easy to reach from the roadside and a visit to them can easily be combined with a trip to Glenbrittle Beach in an afternoon or morning.
4. The Quiraing
This outlandish geological feature is one of Scotland’s most visited and photographed tourist attractions.
From the carpark, at the foot of Meall na Suiramach the loop hike takes around two hours (4.2 miles).
The easy-going trail wends through a fairytale landscape of rocky pinnacles, steep buttresses, grassy plateaus, and curiously contorted landforms.
5. Old Man of Storr
This isolated, dramatic rocky pinnacle rises 30 meters from the ground below the Storr outcrop.
It can be reached on a 1-hour round-trip hike (2.5 miles) from the parking place on the Portree-Staffin road.
Visiting the Storr can be combined with a trip to the Quiraing, Kilt Rock, and Mealt Falls in a single day from Portree.
6. Neist Point
This remote, windswept headland is home to one of the most dramatically situated lighthouses in all of the British Isles.
Dominated by tall, craggy sea cliffs on the northern flanks, ‘The Point’ is one of the island’s best spots for landscape photography.
Walking out to the point takes around 2 hours there and back.
7. Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
A striking waterfall that tumbles 100 feet to the sea over a cliff with towering basalt columns that resemble Scotland’s national dress!
This duo of attractions is best enjoyed from a small promontory near the parking lot 1.3 miles short of Staffin on the Portree-Staffin road.
8. Rubha Hunish
This wild, lonely headland is the northernmost point on the island and the ideal spot for some downtime from the tourist crowds further south.
The roundtrip loop on the path around Duntulm Bay takes around 3.5 hours (6 miles) and involves a slightly airy scramble between Meall Deas and Meall Tuath.
9. Dunvegan Castle
This medieval-style castle is the area’s second most popular castle after the highly popular Eilean Donan Castle in Lochalsh.
It is perched on a small rocky outcrop overlooking a narrow inlet one mile north of Dunvegan village.
10. Talisker Distillery
If the weather takes a turn for the terrible, there are worse ways to while away your time than at this historic distillery on the shores of Loch Harport.
On daily tours, visitors can kick back and sample fine single malts while gawping at the epic views of the Cuillin Mountains in the distance.
11. Loch Coruisk
Bodies of water don’t come much more atmospheric or scenic than this freshwater lake in the heart of the Cuillin Mountains.
Local legend claims the loch is inhabited by a Kelpie, a mythical creature from Island Folklore.
The 1.5-hour walk from the Sligachan Bridge, however, is well worth it even if this legendary creature doesn’t happen to make an appearance!
Though prone to overcrowding, this delectably cute village merits inclusion on any list of the island’s highlights.
It boasts a picture-perfect harbor, traditional pubs and restaurants, and up-and-coming local arts and crafts scene.
The best views of the town are found on Scorrybreac Road, just to the north of the town center.
Portree also offers opportunities for boat tours and kayaking around the harbor and further along the coastline to the north.
13. Rubha nam Brathairen
This knife-edge headland south of Mealt Falls places you directly above the waves crashing against the cliffs either side of a narrow hiking trail.
A short diversion leads to a handful of dinosaur footprints embedded in the rocky shoreline below.
14. The Red Cuillin
These smaller siblings of the Black Cuillin mountains are no less scenic and offer up stupendous views back across to the mainland.
The Red Cuillin are less steep than the Black Cuillin and offer gentler trekking on much easier going trails.
They can be explored on day trips from Elgol, Sligachan, Broadford, and also offer plenty of thrilling routes for mountain bikers.
Vistors who think this hamlet’s diminutive size means it might not be much to write home about would be sorely mistaken.
In addition to the ancient Cill Chriosd Church, it offers the best views of the Cuillin Mountains on the whole island.
Elgol is located 14 miles southwest of Broadford on the tip of the island’s Strathaird peninsula and is the perfect starting point for forays into the Red and Black Cuillin.
As an added bonus, the village is typically much quieter than the island’s more central tourist hotspots.
Isle of Skye Itineraries
- 1 day –Sligachan Bridge, Portree, Quiraing
This trio of highlights are those must-see attractions that can be reached easily by car for visitors short on time.
- 2 days –add: Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, Mealt Falls, Fairy Pools
With an extra day, visitors can combine their Quiraing visit with a trip to the Storr, Kilt Rock and Mealth Falls before heading to Portree and the Fairy Glen on day two.
- 3 days –add: hike to Glenbrittle from Sligachan Bridge (via Loch Coruisk, time permitting)
Adding a short, overnight hike to the above 2-day itinerary allows you to indulge the island’s most quintessential and appealing feature in the
Black Cuillin – its wildness!
- 5 days – add: overnight camp on Trotternish Ridge and Rubha Hunish
Instead of driving between the island’s top attractions, this itinerary allows you to enjoy its wild scenery at more leisure and escape the crowds and traffic.
After visiting the Storr, simply head north on the Trotternish Ridge until land’s end, wild camping above the Quiraing and at Rubha Hunish.
- 7 days – The Skye Trail (see below)
Isle of Skye Itinerary: Our Top Pick(s)
Skye packs a lot of highlights into a relatively small island. Personally, however, the island is never better than in those lonely spots where tourist traffic is at a minimum.
My recommendations to those with the necessary skills, time, and experience, therefore, would be to take on one of Skye’s two most challenging routes: the Cuillin Ridge or the Skye Trail.
If you happen to have a day leftover at the end of either outing, or foul weather makes a retreat to civilization necessary, then the more popular tourist attractions can be easily reached from either location.
The Cuillin Ridge
This epic route atop the often razor-thin ridge of the Black Cuillin requires mountaineering experience, great navigation skills and, for most, an overnight bivouac somewhere on the ridge.
The route begins in Gars-bheinn in the south and finishes on Sgurr nan Gillean, passing a total of 20 peaks along the way.
Upon completion, most hikers/scramblers descend to the Sligachan Hotel, where you can find hearty meals, a roaring fire, and much-needed rest!
While the trickiest sections of this route can be easily bypassed, we highly recommend undertaking it with an experienced partner or a local guide.
- Distance: 12.5 kilometers (7.8 miles)
- Days Needed: 2-3 days
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,000 meters (9,842 feet)
- Best Travel Time: June – September
- Permits: Not required
- Difficulty: Very Difficult
The Skye Trail
A 6/7-day long-distance (81-mile) hiking route from Broadford in the south to Rubha Hunish in the north.
This wild, underdeveloped trail takes in most of the island’s highlights and rewards those bold and hardy enough to take in on with ever-changing scenery and true wilderness experience.
Some of the sights encountered on this route include Rubha Hunish, the Quiraing, the Storr, Portree, Sligachan, the Red and Black Cuillin, Elgol, and Broadford.
Wild camping is permitted everywhere along with the route and bus services run from Portree to both the trailhead at the Duntulm Hotel and its terminus in Broadford.
- Distance: 128 kilometers (80 miles)
- Days Needed: 6/7 days
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,946 m (16,227 feet)
- Best Travel Time: Early May – September
- Permits: Not required
- Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult
How To Get To The Isle Of Skye
The Isle of Skye can be accessed:
- From the Isle of Lewis (for those Hebridean Island-hoppers who have started their journey in Oban and made their way to Lewis by way of Barra, Uist, and Harris)
- From Glasgow – on the A82 and A87 (3 hours)
- From Edinburgh – on the A9, A86, A82, A87 (4 hours)
- From Inverness – on the A82 and A87 (1.5-2 hours)
Citylink serves Skye from the following locations:
- From Glasgow (7 hours)
- From Edinburgh (8 hours)
- From Inverness (3 hours)
Where to Stay On The Isle Of Skye
One of the problems most frequently cited by visitors to the Isle of Skye in recent years has been the lack of accommodation relative to demand.
The take-home from this fact is that if you plan on visiting Skye, be sure to book your accommodation early.
- Camping in a tent
To get around this problem, we highly recommend that you consider camping in a tent, even if it means increased exposure to the notoriously fickle (and often foul) Scottish weather and the dreaded midges, which happen to be found in high concentrations almost everywhere on the island in summer.
- Suitable accommodation
Another alternative is to search further afield for suitable accommodation…
While Portree is an attractive destination owing to its centrality and charming appearance, further-flung villages like Elgol, Broadford, Dunvegan, and Carbost are never more than an hour’s drive from any of the island’s main attractions.
Our pick of the bunch as regards hotels on the island have to be the Kinloch Lodge Hotel for an upmarket experience and the Sligachan Hotel for something slightly more affordable.
The bed and breakfasts on the Isle of Skye offer an attractive and often cheaper alternative to the island’s hotels.
Our favorites are The Cottage Stein and The Mint Croft.
The best-established campsite on Skye is found at Glenbrittle Campsite and Cafe.
This is situated just yards from the Loch Brittle Beach, directly in the shadow of the Cuillin Mountains and within easy walking distance of the island’s famed Fairy Glen.
The campsite boasts a shower block, laundry room, toilet facilities, free parking, a shop, and a café that sells freshly baked goods and hot drinks.
Isle of Skye Travel Tips
Few islands around the globe pack quite so many features into such as small space as The Isle of Skye, for adventure-seekers and leisurely vacationers alike.
If offers a wealth of natural, cultural and historic highlights, all of which are truly one-of-a-kind.
Combined, they make this a must-visit destination for anyone keen to see the very best Scotland has to offer.