The Isle of Skye is probably Scotland's most popular island and for good reason, it's a stunningly beautiful island with a long and fascinating history. The largest island in the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, has a romantic and mystical reputation too with fairies and giants believed to be roaming the hills and glens. The famous Skye Boat Song, which tells the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie's escape to Skye after the Battle of Culloden, help to invoke a longing in travelers from every corner of the world. It's an island at the very top of many Scottish bucket lists but what exactly do you do when you get there? Read on to discover my top things to do in Skye and find out why this stunningly beautiful island is so magical and why you should visit.
The Cuillin Mountain Range
The Black Cuillins consist of 11 munros (mountains over 3000 feet) and 16 other summits. Not for the faint hearted these mighty hills should only be attempted by the experienced or under the guidance of a qualified instructor. In the centre of the island, they are a spectacular sight being both dark and dramatically shaped with sharp peaks and steep drops. If mountain climbing is your thing this range will test you and give you a thrill like no other (I'm told, as I wouldn't dream of it!)
The Red Cuillins on the other hand are far gentler and therefore far more popular. Whereas The Black Cuillins is an alpine mountain range and not suitable for hill walking the Red Cuillins can be hiked if you know what your doing. I highly recommend hiring a local guide who will make sure you have a fantastic day and will keep you safe in the hills.
The Old Man of Storr
One of the top Isle of Skye attractions and one of the most photographed spots on the island, this giant rock formation juts out of the cliff and is so distinctive that you can't miss it as you drive north. Part of the Trotternish ridge its surrounded by the kind of landscape that makes Skye so appealing. It's said by some that when a giant was buried on the cliff his thumb was left pocking out the ground. It's more likely the landscape was created by a massive ancient landslide but it's myths like this one that draws crowds to this stunning island. You can walk to the rock from the nearby car park, there is a well maintained path and it should only take between 1-1 1/2.
Another must see sight in Skye, Kilt Rock is a majestic cliff face with vertical columns and horizontal sills which give the appearance of a kilt, the columns and sills resembling a checked tartan. The easy to reach car park just south of the cliff gives the best view, which is 17km north of Portree. Kilt Rock stands at 90 metres tall and the Mealt Waterfall, a little closer to the viewing area, plummets onto the rocky coast below. Imagine the photos!
Neist Point is an iconic location and is situated at the most westernly point on Skye. The lighthouse, built in 1909, is perched on the Duirinish peninsula surrounded by dramatic sea cliffs and views of the Outer Hebrides. The lighthouse is one of Scotland’s most famous and it’s a photogragher’s dream. The photo opportunities begin in the car park, from here the sea cliffs can be seen and if you walk to the right the lighthouse comes into view. The concrete path that leads down to the lighthouse offers spectacular views which are even more outstanding at sunset but although it’s an easy 45 minute walk to the lighthouse it is very steep in places so be careful! The area is also famous for its wildlife, dolphins, whales and basking sharks can often be seen in the waters while seabirds such as Black guillemots and gannets nest on the cliffs.
This magical landscape was formed due to landslips and is still active, the road below is repaired yearly but the resulting scene is unique and breathtaking. The Old Man of Storr begins this mystical journey into a scene straight from a fantasy film. Explore “the prison”, a sheer face of slab left many centuries ago, “thread the needle” a massive spiky rock and scramble onto the table, a weird flat elevated grassy area. You can explore this strange and enchanting scene until your hearts content and it offers glimpses of the surrounding islands and azure waters from the gaps between pinnacles. You can park in the car park across the road and head up from there.
"The Quiraing is awesome. It is supernatural. It is a place of wonder and amazement. It is outstanding by any measure"
The Skye Guide
The Museum of Rural Life
This village of thatched cottages have been preserved as they were 100 years ago. What were once dotted all over the Highlands these rustic cottages have all but disappeared. Luckily we can see what life was like in the 19th century at the Museum of Rural Life in Kilmuir. Visit the kitchen to see where families met to eat meals, see the peat fire and fish-oil burning lamp. See the chair where the man of the house would sit and see the bagpipes and fiddle they used and taught their sons to use, which no self respecting family would do without. You can visit the Ceilidh House where families got together on long, winter nights and sung Gaelic songs, telling tales of folklore and mystery, stories that have been passed on through the generations. See the boxbeds made of straw in the bedroom then visit the other cottages including the Old Smithy and the Weavers Cottage where the weaver wove tweed and blankets on the huge wooden loom. There is a small charge (£2.50 Adults, 50p children).
The ancestral home of Clan MacLeod has been occupied by the same family for over 800 years and is situated 1 mile from Dunvegan Village in the north west of the island. The building itself includes architecture from 10 building periods, spanning from the 1200’s to the 1850’s. Visitors can take a guided tour or explore the castle at their own pace and seeing the rooms including the elaborate entrance hall and state rooms as well as have a peaceful walk through the extensive wooded grounds. The mysterious Am Bratach Sith” or Fairy Flag is kept here and adds to the rumours that wee fairy folk do indeed abide on the island. The flag is said to have mystical powers because every time it was unfurled in battle it ended in victory. The idyllic location of the castle, on the bank of Loch Dunvegan, offers guests the chance to take a boat trip out to see the Clan MacLeod seal colony or take a wildlife cruise or fishing trip. There is a charge (Adults £14 Children £9).
The Talisker distillery, on the shores of Lock Harport in the village of Carbost, is the oldest working distillery on the island. The whisky produced here has won dozens of awards such as Best Single Malt in the World for it’s 18yo in 2007 and gold medals for it's 10, 15, 25 and 30yo at the World Spirits Competition. The team offer several tours, the classic tour costs £10 for adults and £5 for children and lasts for 45 minutes and the taster of the 10yo at the end is perfect after a day climbing the hills.
“The King o’drinks as I conceive it.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
The Fairy Pools
Also near Carbost is the famous Fairy Pools, known world wide and adorning the covers and pages of many a postcard, book and calendar. This series of stunning fresh water pools, with crystal clear water, under the shadow of the colossal Black Cuillins, can be reached from the road to Glenbrittle. A hike of 45 minutes means you could be wild swimming in no time, if you’re brave enough. The pools and waterfalls are freezing!
The path is well made and runs alongside the river from the car park.This is another pretty special place.
The Three Chimneys
Although there are plenty of good restaurants on Skye The Three Chimneys is the one everybody talks about, the one everybody wants a table at and the one that has been written about time after time in magazines and newspapers. The restaurant is the 2018 Good Food Guide’s Editor Choice as UK Restaurant of the Year so if you want a table at this world class eatery make sure you book as early as possible. You can also stay over in one of their six luxury suites just across the courtyard, where you are treated to a full Scottish breakfast and an afternoon tea tray every day. Worth every penny I’d say, especially as each room is modern, luxurious and has amazing sea views, if anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas, wink wink.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip out on the Seaprobe Atlantis, a glass bottom boat where we saw a World War II shipwreck and a whole dose of wildlife including seals, otters and seabirds. It’s such a unique experience and leaves from the Lochalsh Marine special area of Conservation. There are lots of boat trips on Skye including on a high speed RIB with Wild Spirit or on a 1940’s rind netter fishing boat with Skye Cruises, you could cross onto the mainland on the last turntable ferry in Scotland on the Glenelg or take a trip to St Kilda, the UNESCO World Heritage site teaming with seabirds such as Puffins, Gannets and Fulmers.
If you want to take a break away from Skye, another island often visited is Raasay which is situated between Skye and the mainland and only a short 25 minute boat ride away. With a population of only 170 this really is a world away from normal life, my normal life anyway. Peaceful, quiet and remote, with spectacular views and a real community spirit which you’ll discover if you do happen to bump into any of the residents.
As you can see, this island is a pretty special place to be and there are many things to do in Skye. If you've been researching Skye you may have read about the crowds and the traffic. Is it busy? It can be busy, it's a large island though so some places you might have to yourself no matter what time of year you visit. I wouldn't personally go in the height of summer, the main sights like Kilt Rock and the Fairy Pools get crowded, the car parks fill up quick and some visitors park irresponsibly on kerbs or on single track roads. I would definitely prefer to go during the shoulder months when the majority of the tourists have left. If you do happen to visit in the summer please have respect for the inhabitants of the island. Drive carefully, park properly and take any litter away. Please also don't go without booking accommodation (if you plan to stay overnight), hotels and B+B's fill up fast and once they are filled nothing more can be done. Book your accommodation as far in advance as you can. You can use Booking.com to book your place to stay on Skye or there are many other websites, make sure to read the reviews first and enjoy every minute of this magical island.