19 Essential Things to Do on the Isle of Skye in Scotland

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When it comes to places in Scotland that everyone dreams of visiting, there are a few that immediately come to mind; you've definitely heard of the capital city of Edinburgh, the dramatic landscapes of the Highlands, and probably the mysterious lake of Loch Ness. And, in more recent years, the magical Isle of Skye has also become a must-visit part of Scotland.

And this is fair; Skye is absolutely stunning, and is the sort of place that will absolutely make you believe in things like fairies.

I'll never forget the first time I visited the Isle of Skye, pulling around a bend in a narrow road to be met with a view of the Old Man of Storr standing like a sentinel on the horizon with a background of wispy cloud. I can still picture it now, all these years (and several more visits to Skye) later.

Old Man of Storr reflected in Loch Fada on Skye
Beautiful Skye reflections

I've now been to the Isle of Skye not one, not two, but four separate times. And while the island definitely has gotten more popular since I first was there in 2013, it's still one of my favorite parts of Scotland.

What is the Isle of Skye?

As its name suggests, the Isle of Skye is one of the Scottish isles (islands). It's part of the Inner Hebrides archipelago, and is one of the larger islands in Scotland.

The name “Skye” comes from the old Norse for “cloud island” or “misty isle,” reflecting Scotland's Viking past (and Skye's always-changeable weather), while its name in Scottish Gaelic is An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, or “the winged island” due to its wing shape.

The island, like the rest of Scotland, has a long and varied history. It was originally inhabited by people from Celtic tribes like the Picts and the Gaels, followed by the Vikings. It was also home to some large Highland clans for centuries, until post-Jacobite rising laws disbanded the clans and relocated many Highlanders to other parts of Scotland, the UK, and beyond.

Hills on the Isle of Skye
So much history in this land!

The island's website really describes Skye best: “A place where time means nothing, and beneath every footstep lies 500 million years of history.”

Why visit Skye?

Skye is one of the most popular parts of Scotland to visit. And its popularity is justified.

Skye has (in my opinion) some of the best scenery in all of Scotland – and I've seen a lot of it. The Cuillin Hills rise up in the middle of the island, surrounded by heather-covered moors that lead down to sea cliffs and rocky beaches. 

This wild, rugged type of natural beauty is what people come to Scotland to see, and Skye does not disappoint.

Black Cuillin mountains near the Fairy Pools
Black Cuillin mountains near the Fairy Pools
View of the Fairy Glen on Isle of Skye
Fairy Glen views

How to get to the Isle of Skye

Unlike some of the other famous Scottish isles that require a ferry ride to reach, you can actually drive to the Isle of Skye! The island is attached to mainland Scotland by the Skye Bridge, which carries the A87 over the sea to the village of Kyleakin on Skye.

(You can also take a ferry to Skye from Mallaig to Armadale, which is a lovely crossing that can accommodate cars. But you don't HAVE to.)

To reach Skye by car, it takes roughly 2 hours from Inverness, 3 hours from Oban, 4 hours from Glasgow, and 4.5-5 hours from Edinburgh. You can also travel around Scotland by train and bus, however there are no train connections to Skye. If you want to go by bus, Citylink is a good option for getting TO Skye, and Stagecoach is the main bus company ON Skye.

(But having your own car is definitely the way to go on the Isle of Skye, as it means you can get everywhere you want to go, and change your plans on the fly due to weather if you need to.)

Car ferry making the crossing from Armadale to Mallaig
Car ferry making the crossing from Armadale to Mallaig

Need to find a rental car in Scotland? I use Auto Europe to compare prices and book rental cars in the UK and Europe.

19 things to do on the Isle of Skye

Here are all the unique things you can do on the Isle of Skye, based on my own 4 trips there!

(These are roughly organized in order, going counterclockwise around the Isle of Skye.)

1. See Eas a' Bhradain waterfall

Eas a' Bhradain waterfall with purple flowers
Eas a' Bhradain waterfall

One of the first major sights worth stopping to see after you cross over the Skye Bridge is the Eas a' Bhradain waterfall, off to the left hand side of the A87 highway. There's a parking area on the right hand side of the road just past the waterfall (labeled as the Eas a ‘Bhradain Car Park on Google Maps, which has a great view itself), and from here you can walk back to the waterfall – though do be careful as you cross the road.

There's a rough path down a hill that will let you get closer to the falls – but definitely be prepared for lots of slippery and possibly deep mud if you opt to do this.

2. Visit with Hectors Highland Coos

Blonde Highland cow on Skye
Look at the blonde highland coo!

As you continue on along the A87, you will pass a farm just before the Isle of Skye Golf Club in Sconser where you *might* be able to pull over and visit with some highland cows. Hectors Highland Coos is home to highland cows in a variety of colors, and they often hang out near the fence close to the road.

If you do stop, just be sure to pull off the road safely; don't block any traffic!

3. See Sligachan Old Bridge

Sligachan Old Bridge on Skye
Sligachan Old Bridge

Not much further, you're going to pass a beautiful old stone bridge with fantastic views of the Black Cuillin Mountains in the background. This is the Sligachan Old Bridge, which used to be the main way to cross this part of the River Sligachan.

There's a legend that goes along with this bridge that says the mountain-fed waters that run beneath it are enchanted by fairies (this will become a trend you'll notice as you travel around Skye!). It's said that if you hold your face in the water for a full seven seconds, you'll be granted eternal beauty.

There's a carpark just before the bridge, or you might be able to park at Seumas' Bar next to the Sligachan Hotel, so long as you plan to stop in for a bite or a pint before or after you visit the bridge. You can also see the Collie and MacKenzie Statue nearby, and find a hiking trail that heads toward the mountains if you want to stretch your legs.

Inside Seumas' Bar at the Sligachan Hotel
Inside Seumas' Bar

4. Have a tasting at Talisker Distillery

Scotland is famous worldwide for its whisky, and you can visit the oldest distillery on the Isle of Skye on the shore of Loch Harport not far from Sligachan. Talisker Distillery dates back to 1830, when it was started by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill after they leased the land from Clan MacLeod.

If you haven't visited a Scottish distillery before, then taking a tour at Talisker to learn about the whisky-making process is a good idea. If you're already a whisky connoisseur (maybe you've already visited Islay or traveled the Malt Whisky Trail), Talisker also offers two different guided tasting experiences, including one where you draw whisky straight from aging casks. (Booking ahead is advised.)

PRO TIP: Scotland has really strict drink driving laws; basically one dram of whisky is too much. If you're driving, let them know before your distillery tour, and chances are they'll be able to give you your tastings in take-away “driver's drams” you can take with you to enjoy later.

5. Hike to the Fairy Pools

Fairy Pools waterfall on a sunny day
Fairy Pools on a sunny summer day

One of the most popular places to visit on the Isle of Skye is the Fairy Pools. This site in the southern part of Skye consists of a series of shallow pools and small waterfalls formed as the River Brittle flows down from the Black Cuillin mountains.

A visit to the Fairy Pools requires a bit of hiking from a dedicated parking area (that costs £6 to park at); it's roughly 1 mile from the parking area to the “best” sections of waterfalls, and the whole hike is about 2.5 miles roundtrip. The walk out to the Fairy Pools is very slightly uphill on a gravel trail along the River Brittle, and then it's downhill on the way back – except the very last portion of the trail back to the parking lot, which is very steeply uphill.

You've perhaps seen photos of people swimming in shallow turquoise pools here, but I'd tell you to temper your expectations a bit; the pools are only turquoise-looking on the sunniest, blue-sky days. BUT, the site is still incredibly beautiful and certainly magical feeling.

Fairy Pools waterfall with purple flowers
Fairy Pools waterfall on a cloudy day
Amanda sitting near at waterfall at the Fairy Pools
(And take photos like this at your own risk!)

The Fairy Pools are extremely popular, and you can definitely count on people in swimsuits appearing in the background of any photos you take of the pools. My tip would be to go later in the day, when it's easier to find parking and less crowded (we went just before dinnertime on my most recent trip and it wasn't too bad).

The weather on Skye can change very abruptly, so even if it's sunny when you start this hike, I would recommend still packing a raincoat, just in case.

6. Explore the town of Portree

Portree village on the Isle of Skye
Portree viewed from “The Lump”

Portree (Port Righ in Gaelic) is the “capital” of the Isle of Skye. It's the largest town on the island and makes a good base for exploring the Trotternish Peninsula (the most popular part of Skye). It also has a gorgeous harbor with colorful buildings and some fantastic seafood restaurants. (Even the takeaway fish and chips shop is amazing.)

Portree is a fairly small town, but a few things you can do there include:

  • Shop at the Isle of Skye Candle Company just outside of town (they are locally-owned and make some fun Scotland-inspired scents).
  • Try shortbread from MacKenzie's Bakery on Portree Square.
  • Walk up “The Lump,” a hill overlooking the harbor where you'll find an old watchtower and some incredible views on a clear day.
Outside MacKenzie's Bakery in Portree
The line at MacKenzie's Bakery is typical!

PRO TIP: Parking in Portree is limited. You might be able to find a spot in Portree Square, but your best bet is to head down the hill and park at the large Portree Car Park. Both options are paid; the larger parking lot is cheaper, and is walkable (up some hills, mind you) to all of Portree.

7. See Bride's Veil Waterfall

Bride's Veil Falls on Skye
Bride's Veil Falls up close

We're going to deviate off the A87 now and head up the A855, which circles the Trotternish Peninsula. You'll pass Loch Fada (which on a calm morning can reflect the Old Man of Storr incredibly well), and then you may want to stop at another roadside waterfall: Bride's Veil Falls.

There's a small car park just off the road, and if you climb through the boggy grass alongside the waterfall to the top, you'll have a fantastic view of the Old Man of Storr (waterproof boots are recommended here). It's also supposed to be lucky if you drink from the falls.

8. See the Old Man of Storr

Old Man of Storr rock formation on Skye
The Old Man of Storr (on the far right)

Speaking of the Old Man of Storr, the Storr is a big slab of rock on the Trotternish Peninsula. At one end of the slab, there's a lone, tall pillar of stone. This is the “Old Man.”

There are a bunch of different legends about this pillar of stone. One suggests it's the thumb of a giant buried beneath the Storr. My favorite, though, is that of a little old man who used to walk up to the Storr frequently with his wife to look out at the ocean. After his wife died, the old man walked up to the Storr one last time and found himself wishing he could stay there forever because it was the only place he could remember his wife and be happy. The mischievous fairy king heard the old man's wish and granted it, turning him to stone.

Whichever legend you like best, there's no denying that this part of Scotland feels magical.

Storr on the Isle of Skye
These views are amazing any time of year! (Though the Old Man can sometimes be hidden in clouds or fog.)

There are several places to park along the road and in dedicated small parking lots in order to get a better view of the Old Man of Storr, and there's also a popular hiking trail here if you want to get closer. (Just note that even street parking carries a fee here; it's £3 for up to 3 hours.)

If you want to hike, the entire hike up to the Old Man is a little over 3 miles round trip, and does have some steep uphill portions (and can get muddy at the top). You can also hike just part of the way and still get some cool views, though.

9. Walk to Lealt Falls

View of Lealt Falls from above
View of Lealt Falls from the viewing area

The Old Man of Storr hike, like the Fairy Pools, can get pretty busy during the high season. If you'd like to get a nice hike in on a slightly less-busy trail, head over to Lealt Falls.

There's a dedicated parking area here and a new-ish viewing platform that offers up glimpses of the upper and lower sections of Lealt Falls. But you can also hike down to the lower section of the waterfall.

The hike (which is about .7 miles roundtrip) will take you on a gravel path down the side of a grassy cliff (with stunning coastal views) to where you can walk right up to the waterfall. Just note that even though this hike is short, it's tough and steep in parts on the way back up.

Lower Lealt Falls
Lower Lealt Falls

During the summer months, you can also usually find a little coffee truck in the (free!) parking lot here.

10. Hike to Brothers Point

A much-less trafficked hike is the walk out to Brothers Point, or Rubha nam Brathairean. This walk is roughly 2.1 miles roundtrip, and takes you out to a pretty little peninsula with beautiful views. (There are also some fossilized dinosaur tracks to spot along the coast if the tide is low enough.)

There's a small parking lot for this hike just off the A855 past The Glenview hotel (look for Brothers Point Parking on Google Maps). The hike starts down the driveway across the street, passes through a fence, and then traverses through some boggy land until you reach the rocky coastline (waterproof shoes are a must for this one!).

Follow signs for Rubha nam Brathairean. You can walk all the way out to the plateau on the small peninsula if you want.

11. See Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls

Kilt Rock on the Isle of Skye
Kilt Rock really does resemble a kilt

This next site is a 2-for-1 deal, as you can see both Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls from the same viewing area.

If there's one fashion statement that Scotland is known for, it's the kilt. And this rock formation on the coast of the Isle of Skye looks ridiculously similar to a pleated kilt. Kilt Rock is actually an entire cliff of basalt columns that rises 90 meters (295 feet) out of the sea.

The downside to this site is that the parking lot is a paid one, but you'll probably only spend about 15 minutes here to take some photos.

Mealt Falls cascading into the sea near Kilt Rock
Mealt Falls cascading into the sea near Kilt Rock

12. Visit the Staffin Dinosaur Museum

Not far from Kilt Rock, a quirky little spot to stop at is the Staffin Dinosaur Museum. It was founded in 1976 by Dugald Ross to showcase some of the evidence of dinosaurs he's found on the Isle of Skye. You can see various fossils, bones, and footprints, and maybe even get to chat with Dugald about archaeology on Skye.

A visit here just costs a couple pounds, but it's interesting enough to warrant a short stop. (Just note that it's only open April-October.)

13. Enjoy views and a walk at the Quiraing

Quiraing viewpoint on Isle of Skye
A clear-ish day at the Quiraing

When you near the top of the Trotternish Peninsula, there's a narrow, nearly one-lane road that cuts across the peninsula. It's called the Quiraing Road, and it traverses through some of the best landscapes on the Isle of Skye.

Make for the Quiraing Car Park (a new, large paid parking lot that didn't exist on my first visit), and from there you can either just enjoy the views out over the Quiraing area, or you can go for a walk along a dedicated hiking trail.

The deep valleys and craggy cliffs in this part of Skye were formed thanks to great landslips, and there are rock formations with names like The Needle and The Table and The Prison. The Quiraing can be incredibly windy and wet, but it was here that I originally fell in love with Skye.

Quiraing walk on a rainy day
Quiraing walk on a rainy day

On my most recent trip, it was rainy and windy and rather cold (in July!), so I did less than half an hour of the walk here. The entire loop is about 4.3 miles long and challenging in parts if you do the whole thing, but you can get excellent views even just from the start of it.

14. Visit the Skye Museum of Island Life

The Skye Museum of Island Life gives visitors a look into what life was like on Skye 100 years ago, through a series of thatched crofters cottages set up to look how they would have a century ago.

Explore the different cottages from April-September, and keep an eye out for the highland coos in the nearby fields!

15. Hike to the Fairy Glen

View of the Fairy Glen
View of the Fairy Glen

While the Quiraing is the place where I first fell in love with the Isle of Skye, the Fairy Glen is perhaps my favorite place on the island. To reach it, you park in a small (paid) parking area (marked as Fairy Glen Parking) not far from the town of Uig, and then follow a short trail into the “fairy glen” itself.

The Fairy Glen is known for its bumpy hills and otherworldly feel, with a high point at at rock formation known as “Castle Ewan” for its resemblance to castle ruins. The whole area was formed by a landslip, and further shaped by years of livestock traversing the little hills and valleys.

Walking to the Fairy Glen
Walking to the Fairy Glen

The glen is incredibly green during the spring and summer months, and the jaunty hills definitely feel like they could be home to fairies. (The stone “fairy circle” below Castle Ewan, however, is NOT a natural part of the landscape here, and is frequently removed by locals; please don't stack or arrange rocks or leave coins or gifts for the Fae here.)

The walk up to the Fairy Glen can be steep and muddy in sections, but it's a short (less than 20 minutes) walk, and definitely worth seeing.

Steep section of the Fairy Glen trail
The steepest section of the Fairy Glen trail

GOOD TO KNOW: Nearly every major site on the Isle of Skye charges for parking in its own parking lot. And no, paying for parking at one site doesn't carry over to another, even if you don't use all the time you paid for. (How do I know? Some friends and I learned this lesson the hard way, and had a parking ticket to show for it. Oops!)

16. Tour Dunvegan Castle & Gardens

Located on the northwestern side of Skye, Dunvegan Castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. It was the seat of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod for more than 800 years, and today is open to visitors.

Study inside Dunvegan Castle
Study inside Dunvegan Castle

On display inside the castle are beautifully furnished rooms, artwork, and clan treasures. One of these treasures is the Fairy Flag – a tattered banner that is said to have been given to the MacLeods by the fairies and that, when raised in battle, would always ensure the clan's victory. You'll also find clothing items worn by Flora MacDonald, and a lock of hair said to have belonged to Bonnie Prince Charlie.

A self-guided tour through Dunvegan Castle also gets you access to the acres of formal gardens, which are also incredibly beautiful (the Walled Garden is my personal favorite).

Rose garden in the Walled Garden at Dunvegan Castle
Inside the Walled Garden

The castle and gardens are open from Easter through mid-October, and MacLeod Tables Cafe near the parking lot is a decent spot to grab lunch.

17. Take a seal tour

If you visit Dunvegan Castle and have some extra time, the castle also offers boat tours out onto Loch Dunvegan to visit the local seal colony. These seal boat trips are short (only 25 minutes long), but are a great way to see some unique wildlife.

18. Visit Neist Point

Neist Point on the Isle of Skye
Neist Point

This spot is a bit out of the way, all the way at the far western tip of the Isle of Skye. To get there requires driving on some very narrow (and some might say harrowing) roads, but the views are very much worth the drive.

There's plenty of (free!) parking near this small peninsula, and then you can either follow a trail down a lot of steps and out to the Neist Point Lighthouse, or walk along the cliffs a bit to the right of the peninsula for the “famous” views of this area.

Whatever you do, just prepare for it to be super windy here!

19. Visit Armadale Castle

Armadale Castle ruins
Armadale Castle

In stark contrast to the seat of Clan MacLeod at Dunvegan Castle, Armadale Castle in the southwestern corner of the Isle of Skye is nothing but a former shell of the grand mansion it once was. Armadale Castle is the former home of Clan MacDonald and the Lord of the Isles. A great mansion was built here in the 1790s, but was damaged by fire in 1855 and eventually abandoned in the 1920s.

The gardens at Armadale are still maintained by the Clan Donald Skye Centre, however, which also operates the Museum of the Isles here. The museum traces the history of Skye and the Highlands from the Vikings through the Jacobite risings to the present day. There's a lot to read, but it's a comprehensive look at the history of this part of Scotland.

(If you plan to take the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig, this is a good spot to visit before you sail. Otherwise it's kind of out of the way from all the other sites on this list.)

Isle of Skye map

Here's a map of all the sites listed in this post! Click on each pinpoint to see the name of the site.

To save this map to use later, click on the star ⭑ next to the map’s title when logged in to your Google account. To use it, open Google Maps on your phone, click “Saved,” then click “Maps.”

How long to stay on the Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye views

The Isle of Skye is bigger than many people think – you can't see it all in just one day! I recommend at least 2 days on Skye, but 3 days is even better if you want to do any hiking or allow for any flexibility for less-than-ideal weather.

You can see everything on my list with 2-3 days on the Isle of Skye. Check out this 2-day Isle of Skye itinerary for all my suggestions!

Where to stay on the Isle of Skye

While there are other options on Skye, I recommend staying in Portree and exploring from there. It makes a good base both for its location, and because it has everything you need including restaurants and a grocery store.

My picks for where to stay in Portree include:

  • The Caledonian HotelThis charming hotel right in downtown Portree includes a free Scottish breakfast with every stay, and even has its own parking.
  • Marmalade HotelThis contemporary boutique hotel in a garden-like setting offers up nice views of Portree and the Cuillins.
  • Cuillin Hills Hotel – If it's luxury you're looking for, this hotel with its great harbor views should be at the top of your list. (It's also the top-rated hotel in Portree.)
  • Portree Hotel – A good mid-range option located right on the main square in the center of town.
  • Bracken Hide If you want to stay at a unique property a little further outside of town, Bracken Hide offers accommodation in cozy rounded cabins with all the amenities you need. (They also have a very nice restaurant and bar.)
Bracken Hide cabin interior
Cabin at Bracken Hide

Best time to visit the Isle of Skye

You can visit Skye year-round (the Skye Bridge makes it easy to reach, no matter the season), but you'll have noted above that some attractions and museums are only open from April-September or October.

The most popular months to visit the Isle of Skye are July and August, so if you want to avoid the busiest times, plan your trip for May-early June, or in September. (But even a visit during the busiest months can be lovely; just prepare for super popular sites like the Fairy Pools, Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, etc. to be busy during the middle part of the day.)

Isle of Skye tours

In order to do all of the things on this list, you'll need to have a car to drive yourself around Skye. I realize that not everyone feels comfortable driving in Scotland, however. So there are also some tour options (though note that you definitely won't visit every spot on this list on most tours!).

Some good Isle of Skye tour options include:

What to pack for the Isle of Skye

Amanda, Keryn, and Tamara at the Fairy Pools
Top tip: waterproof layers!

The Isle of Skye isn't known as the “Misty Isle” for nothing. You could very well come to Skye and get sunburnt (it's happened to me!), or you might be faced with low clouds and drizzle for days (it's also happened to me!). It's important, then, to pack for all Scottish weather eventualities.

Layers are a must. Summer temperatures usually top out in the 60s (F) (though I have been on Skye when it got up into the 70s and felt warmer with the sun!), and tend to be cooler at night. A good pair of waterproof shoes and rain gear are also recommended – along with that sunscreen!

A few things you definitely need to bring include:

  • Clothing you can layer (I'm a fan of Unbound Merino for base layers)
  • Waterproof shoes (hiking boots recommended for hikes, especially the ones that can get muddy)
  • A good raincoat (I like this Columbia one)
  • Rain pants you can quickly pull on over whatever else you're wearing
  • A light hat and gloves (yes, even in the summer!)
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses, in case you run into days like the ones in some of my photos
  • A day pack for hiking, sightseeing, or shopping
  • A reusable water bottle (tap water is safe to drink in Scotland)

You might also want to read about these other Scottish isles:

Who's ready to visit the Isle of Skye?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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6 Comments on “19 Essential Things to Do on the Isle of Skye in Scotland

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  1. Great blog! I’ve only wanted to visit Scotland for its castles and ruins, but reading this gives me a lot more ideas on what to do when in Scotland. Keep these blogs going!

    Were you able to hear the singing water at Mealt Falls? It’s one of my favorite memories from our trip to Skye!

      I can’t say I’ve ever heard it sing! (But it’s also been a long time since I last saw that specific waterfall, as the viewing area was closed last year!)

        Definitely check it out if you’re there again. It’s something with the pipes/railing there, and on particularly windy days, it sounds like music. It’s so magical!

    You always have the best posts! We’re headed to Scotland in May, and excited for Isle of Skye. I love your seal boat idea and am immediately adding that to our agenda! My one concern is eating dinner in Portree. It sounds like things fill up quickly and it’s not always easy to snag a reservation. Did you have any issues or have any tips? Thanks!

      Yes, restaurants in Portree definitely do fill up, especially in the summer months. If you can make reservations in advance, I definitely would! No real tips other than just try to do it early, and maybe consider an earlier or later dinnertime. Otherwise you can rely on takeaway spots for fish and chips (there are a few) or even pizza (Pizzaway is pretty good).

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