Known for its rugged landscapes, picturesque villages and majestic viewpoints, the Isle of Skye is a quintessential destination in Scotland that has practically mythic allure. My husband and I spent a few days driving around the island this summer, exploring the highlights and soaking in the tranquil beauty. Renowned for its breathtaking beauty and dramatic scenery, this ethereal island is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
As the largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago, Skye has a jagged coastline of peninsulas and narrow lochs, radiating out from a mountainous interior. Isle of Skye is a paradise for nature enthusiasts seeking a glimpse of Scotland's wild beauty. It really is quite breathtaking. From ancient castles and stunning coastal cliffs to enchanting fairy pools and picturesque villages, embark on an unforgettable journey through the Isle of Skye's most captivating attractions.
While exploring everything that Isle of Skye has to offer seems like an ambitious feat, fear not! In this blog post, I have curated a comprehensive guide on how to make the most of your time on this mesmerizing island, ensuring you experience the very best of Skye in just two days. With careful planning, you can visit the key highlights of Isle of Skye on a short visit.
How to See the Best of Isle of Skye in 2 Days
Is Skye Right For You?
Most people will tell you that Isle of Skye is a must-visit destination in Scotland, and all first timers need to prioritize going there. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Scotland after all. However, there are a few important things to consider before dedicating your time and money to visiting.
The first thing to be aware of is crowds. Only about 13,000 people live on Isle of Skye throughout the year, but the population swells in summer as the island welcomes 650,000 visitors annually. I have a master’s degree in sustainable tourism, and Skye definitely meets the definition for a place that is burdened with overtourism. Here is a good article discussing the issue as well as some strong alternative islands to consider. While tourism brings essential income to the island, it has several downsides and negative impacts as well.
The second thing is the Instagram effect. Don’t just blindly follow the tourist masses after seeing a gorgeous TikTok featuring the Isle of Skye. In an age of virality, it is important to keep in mind that content you see online features unrealistic, unattainable views of empty natural places shot at ungodly hours in the morning from drones by professional influencers and photographers. That isn’t going to be what your experience looks like. Much more likely, you’ll come across full parking lots, overflowing toilets, single file lines of inappropriately dressed people hiking to a viewpoint, and gas station dinners because you didn’t make a restaurant reservation. Not quite the Instagrammable moment you hoped for.
Please just know this: you can plan a Scotland trip without Skye and still see amazing scenery.
I’m not saying don’t go there. I loved Skye. I am advocating that you choose Skye intentionally. Take a moment to consider whether it is right for you and right for your trip. Skye is beautiful, but it might not be the best Scottish island to visit depending on your time frame, budget, interests and travel style. One way to determine whether Skye is right for your itinerary is reviewing how much time you can dedicate. You need a minimum of two nights on the island to really enjoy it. Three or four nights is even better.
On this blog, I focus on efficient itineraries for busy travelers with limited time off. If you decide that Isle of Skye is indeed right for you, then this itinerary will cover what most people can reasonably see with two nights on Isle Skye, primarily visiting the highlights on the Trotternish Peninsula in the central-north area. Please keep in mind that visiting Skye as a day trip is unsustainable, environmentally destructive, and does not enrich the local economy. If you want to visit, dedicate the time and choose it intentionally.
What to Do in Isle of Skye
I am admittedly not much of a hiker, but it is THE THING to do in Isle of Skye. It is world-famous as a hiker’s paradise with sweeping vistas and viewpoints all around. On only a 2-day visit, there isn’t a ton of time for long hikes. Thankfully, there are a few good options for short hikes appropriate for people of all ages and ability levels.
The two best options for hiking on a short visit are:
- Old Man of Storr
- The Fairy Pools.
Old Man of Storr Hike
Old Man of Storr is one of the most iconic viewpoints on the Isle of Skye. You’ve probably seen pictures in your research! Located in the heart of the Quiraing mountain range, the site gets SUPER crowded, and the parking lot fills up, so you need to arrive early. The 3-mile hike itself is a little bit strenuous. Thankfully, the effort is worth the reward with awesome views out over the island. It is an out & back trail, and you should budget around 3 hours in total. There are toilets in the parking lot.
Fairy Pools Hike
For something much easier, the Fairy Pools are a good option. The Fairy Pools are a series of natural pools forming in the River Allt Coir’ a’ Mhadaidh at the foot of the Black Cuillin hills. A relatively flat trail follows along the river with views of the Fairy Pools. It is honestly more of a walk than a hike on a gravel path that is obvious and clear. There is parking here, but it is quite popular and the lot does fill up. You can expect crowds, especially families with kids. There are toilets in the parking lot. Budget around 60-90 minutes here.
In my opinion, the Fairy Pools are a bit overrated. If there was something to skip on this blog post, I would say the Fairy Pools are it. I didn’t find them super impressive or unique. There are similar sites all over Scotland. So why do people visit? Pictures of the Fairy Pools went viral on Pinterest and Instagram, leading to an explosion in visitor numbers. If you still want to go, totally fine. The scenery around is quite dramatic, and as long as your expectations are reasonable, you’ll enjoy it.
Visit Natural Attractions
From majestic waterfalls cascading down ancient cliffs to dramatic coastal formations carved by the forces of nature, Skye's natural wonders are a testament to the island's wild beauty. The natural attractions are what have drawn visitors to the island for generations. Here are some of the best natural attractions to see during your two day visit to Isle of Skye:
- Brides Veil Falls: Just off the road, Brides Veil Falls is one of the easiest waterfalls to see and visit. Nestled amidst the lush greenery of the Fairy Glen area, a narrow stream of water elegantly cascades down a series of rocky ledges, creating a delicate and enchanting "veil" effect. Parking is limited.
- Leath Falls: Tucked away in a valley, Leath Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls on Isle of Skye. There is a large parking lot at the falls, offering multiple viewpoints of the falls. The journey to Leath Falls itself is an adventure, as you meander through scenic walking trails, taking in the sights and sounds of the untouched landscape. Leath falls are a bit hard to see from the further viewpoint, but sea and coast views are spectacular.
- Kilt Rock: One of Skye's most iconic natural wonders, Kilt Rock, stands proudly on the Trotternish Peninsula. This massive sea cliff resembles the pleats of a Scottish kilt, adding a touch of cultural significance to its grandeur. The cliff's vertical basalt columns plunge dramatically into the azure waters of the Sound of Raasay below, creating a captivating spectacle. that draws visitors from near and far.
- Mealt Falls: Adjacent to Kilt Rock, the Mealt Falls cascade over the cliff's edge, adding an extra layer of charm to this awe-inspiring coastal marvel. The cascading waters create a striking contrast against the dark basalt columns. On windy days, the water seems to dance in the air. The viewing platform near Kilt Rock offers an excellent vantage point to witness the falls' thunderous roar and the dramatic coastal landscape, leaving visitors captivated by Skye's raw and untamed splendor.
As of June 2023, access to the viewpoint for Mealt Fall and Kilt Rock was currently closed as they build a new parking lot and visitor center. The only way to see this natural attraction at the moment is from the water on a boat tour.
See Cultural Attractions
Perched on a rock overlooking Loch Dunvegan, Dunvegan Castle is the best-preserved castle on Isle of Skye. Initially built in the 13th century, the castle was last renovated in the 19th century to give it a medieval appearance. Open from April to mid-October, you’ll need to buy an entrance ticket to see the castle or gardens, which are especially lush.
While not technically on Isle of Skye, you are almost guaranteed to see Eilean Donan Castle as you drive to the island, thanks to its advantageous location near the Isle of Skye bridge. I think it makes for a great roadside stop. Unless you’re a real castle aficionado, I think it is totally fine to see the castle only from the outside and skip the paid interior visit. There is easy parking, public toilets and a cafeteria on site.
No visit to Isle of Skye would be complete without a whiskey stop. You’re in Scotland after all! Nestled on the picturesque shores of Loch Harport, the Talisker Distillery stands as a beacon of tradition and craftsmanship, creating one of Scotland's most renowned single malt whiskies. My husband Sam is a bit of a whiskey aficionado, and Tallister was one of the top distilleries he wanted to visit during our 1 week holiday in Scotland.
As you approach the distillery, the salty sea breeze and majestic Cuillin Mountains set the stage for a captivating journey into the world of whisky-making on the Isle of Skye. Established in 1830, Talisker is a storied brand that really understands itself and its customers. Stepping into the heart of the distillery, visitors are greeted by the welcoming aroma of peat and malt, a distinctive characteristic of Talisker whisky. The guided tour takes enthusiasts on an immersive experience, unveiling the secrets of the whisky-making process, from the mashing and fermentation to the copper pot stills, where the spirit transforms into liquid gold.
If you’re looking for a quicker visit, you don’t need to do a full tour to enjoy the experience. Simply grab a whiskey flight at the Talisker bar, and sample some of the best whiskey Scotland has to offer. Of all the distilleries we visited, I think Tallisker had the best guest experience. The visitor center showcases the brand's history through memorabilia and exhibits, allowing guests to delve into the rich heritage and cultural significance of Talisker on the Isle of Skye. From the massive shop to the friendly staff, a visit to the Tallisker distillery is a must-do experience on Isle of Skye.
BONUS! Isle of Raasay Day Trip
If you’ve got a bit of extra time, I can highly recommend a day trip to the Isle of Raasay. We even stayed a night on the island at the Isle of Raasay Distillery. It was a highlight of our 1 week in Scotland! The Isle of Raasay is a small island just east of Isle of Skye with only about 150 residents. There are only two businesses on the island, and it is only accessible by ferry. It is an excellent off the beaten path stop with unmatched views of the Isle of Skye. You’re mostly coming here for remote scenery, pristine hiking trails and a quiet, slow pace of travel.
I especially liked the distillery tour at Isle of Raasay. Some whiskey tours can be so high-brow and pretentious, raving about their process and awards. Contrastingly, Isle of Raasay has a fun and lighthearted approach. It feels like a new take on whiskey production with a start-up kind of vibe. I found it unpretentious while still offering great quality. Plus, the bar is stylishly designed with cocktail options for those who don’t love to drink whiskey or gin neat.
Practical Travel Details for Isle of Skye
How to Get to Isle of Skye
The Skye Bridge connects mainland Scotland with the Isle of Skye, making car travel much more practical than the past. There is no toll, although traffic is metered. While the Isle of Skye is easy to get to, it is far away from Scotland’s big cities. If you plan to come from Edinburgh or Glasgow, I recommend spending a night about halfway. The Glencoe area is where we stayed. Below are some of the travel distances and times required to access Isle of Skye:
- Edinburgh to Isle of Skye: 235 miles (380 km) through Perth and Pitlochry (A9), Loch Laggan (A86, A82) and finally from Invergarry out west on the A87. 5+ hours total.
- Glasgow to Isle of Skye: 216 miles (350 km) taking route along Loch Lomond to Glencoe, Fort William and Invergarry (A82). The traffic around Fort William can get heavy, so plan for slowdowns. 5+ hours total.
- Inverness to Isle of Skye: 115 miles (180 km) along Loch Ness. Take A887/A87 west at the end of the loch. This is the shortest option at 3+ hours total.
How to Get Around
You can only get around Isle of Skye by driving, so you need to decide whether a public bus, self-drive, or organized tour fits best for your plans. There are some public buses connecting major villages, but they aren’t super timely and only stop at major sites like Dunvegan Castle, Elgol, Talisker Distillery and Armadale Castle.
There are plenty of companies offering tours of the island. Most leave from Portree, so you should use the town as a home base if you’re traveling to Skye without a car. Most scheduled group tours focus on the “best of” itinerary on Skye and stick mostly to sites in northern Skye + Fairy Pools.
Personally, I really enjoyed the self-drive option. We heard the road conditions can be difficult, so I was nervous we might have car issues. But thankfully, everything was super smooth! The biggest things to consider with self-drive are parking and narrow roads. Most of the popular attractions have parking lots, but they fill up quickly. You are not allowed to park on the main roads, so if the lots are full, you’ll have to wait or come back later.
Isle of Skype is full of single lane roads. These one-lane roads are only wide enough for one car. You can’t avoid them – they’re all over the island. Thankfully, frequent passing places are available where the road has been widened for two cars to pass. At times, this may require that you put your car in reverse, backing into one of these spots, to let oncoming traffic pass.
The island is much bigger than it looks on the map. Driving times are longer than you’d expect, mostly because the roads are narrow and winding through mountainous terrain. Thus, it is important to intentionally organize your itinerary to maximize your time on the island and minimize unnecessarily long drives.
When to Visit
Ideal weather conditions grace the Isle of Skye in April - June and September. These months offer less rain with warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours. We visited at the end of May and got incredibly lucky with sunny days and unseasonably warm temperatures. Plus, the crowds hadn’t swelled yet, so it didn’t feel super crowded.
You might be wondering why I didn’t include summer months like July and August in my recommended time frame. There is one reason for that – midges. These tiny insects bite like mosquitoes and are practically invisible to the human eye. They swarm your face, evade window screens, and only one brand of bug repellent works to stop them. As you could have guessed, the midges are out in full force in summer with peak numbers in July and August. We experienced a small amount of them in May and that was more than enough for me. They are super annoying and the itch from the bites lasts for days.
Where to Stay in Isle of Skye
If there is one important piece of advice I can instill in you for Isle of Skye, it is this -- book accommodation VERY far in advance. Like at least 3 months ahead of your trip. The further ahead the better. One hotel I contacted said that they were booked for all of 2023 by April, and they were already accepting 2024 bookings. Supply is quite limited and based on the overtourism situation I described above, demand is exceptionally high.
For reference, I booked our hotels for our trip at the end of May in the middle of April (essentially 6 weeks ahead). Practically everything was sold out. No seriously, booking.com told me 98% of accommodation was fully booked. I am convinced we snagged the last room on the island, and we paid a pretty penny for it! So please learn from my “mistake” and plan well in advance.
In the end, we stayed at the Flodigarry, which turned out to be fantastic. Offering sweeping views of a secluded bay, this stylishly designed historic hotel has tip-top service in a casual luxury environment. We stayed in the Laird suite with a massive shower, private patio and in-room soaking tub. It was very romantic!
Where to Eat in Isle of Skye
- Hungry Gull - the name alone drew me in. We literally pulled off the road to stop! The coffee was good, and baked treats are all homemade. It's a cozy and cute spot for breakfast. It has a small town local vibe.
- Gasta Pizza - This cavernous pizza restaurant has a beautiful modern design. Very aesthetic spot! And wow, truly lovely views over Loch Portree. The menu features a number of pizzas, ranging from classic to creative. The sourdough crust was especially good!
- The View Restaurant- Offering unparalleled views over Portree bay, the View restaurant is a great spot for lunch. You'll need to make a reservation because groups come here. If you can't get one, enjoy a drink on the lovely lawn, especially on sunny day. Food was nothing inventive, but exceptional quality.
My favorite meal on Isle of Skye was at the Flodigarry Hotel's Skye Restaurant. It was the highlight of our stay! Hand-picked oysters were grown in the bay in front and prepared in a variety of ways. We ordered 12 oysters with 4 different preparation methods, such as natural, gin & apple topped, prosecco granita and cooked with a parmesan bread crumb. These were the best oysters I’ve eaten in my whole life. Seared scallops were another menu highlight, served with pea shoots, black Pudding, Prosciutto, and a parsnip purre.
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