Skye (An t-Eilean Sgitheanach in Scottish Gaelic) often referred to as the Isle of Skye, represents the largest and most northerly of the Inner Hebrides located off the west coast of Scotland. The capital and largest town on the island is the picturesque port of Portree.
The island can be seen as a series of peninsulas that radiate from the mountainous centre of the Cuillin hills. Occupied since the Mesolithic era, there are currently about 9,200 people living on the island, although the transient population of tourists swells during the busy summer months. Skye's popularity with tourists is largely due to its remarkable landscape and easy accessibility from the mainland, both by car over the Skye Bridge or by ferry; and by bus and train through adjacent mainland towns.
Skye is part of the Highland Council local government area and is now linked to the mainland by a road bridge. The island is renowned for its spectacular scenery, vibrant culture and heritage, and its abundant wildlife including the Golden Eagle, Red Deer and Salmon. It is also one of the most accessible regions in which to hear Gaelic being spoken, with about thirty percent of the local population being fluent and a sizeable Gaelic college in Sleat.
Skye may be understood as a number of distinct peninsulas that extend out from the Cuillin, the mountainous centre of the island. A largely missable central plateau north of the Cuillin separates Portree on the east coast and Dunvegan in the west.
In the north (from west to east):
- Duirnish Peninsula — includes Glendale, Colbost and the scenic lighthouse at Neist Point.
- Waternish Peninsula — has some pretty villages, in particular the village of Stein, but is otherwise often overlooked by tourists. The ruins of Trumpan church are well worth a visit both for the church itself and the fabulous sunsets that can be experienced there.
- Trotternish Peninsula — is the largest and most frequently visited, thanks in no small part to the stunning rock formations of the Old Man of Storr and the Quirang. The A855 road (and 57A / 57C bus routes) circumnavigate this beautiful part of Skye, with plentiful options for walking and climbing, as well as numerous attractive small settlements for overnight stops or holidays bases.
In the west:
- Minginish Peninsula — offers amazing (but cloud dependent!) views south-east towards the Cuillin, as well as a scenic coastline. The Talisker Distillery (see 'Drink' below) is on the tranquil shore of Loch Harport in Colbost.
In the south:
- Sleat — is the gently rolling landscape that includes the southernmost tip of Skye and the pier at Armadale for the ferry to and from Mallaig.
- Armadale - linked to Mallaig on the mainland by ferry.
- Broadford - a village spread around a large bay looking onto the Inner Sound & across to the mainland, about 8 miles from the Skye Bridge.
- Carbost - a clue - think of Talisker - also a very good beach.
- Elgol - small village with a boat service to Loch Coruisk and a walk to the fine beach at Camasunary.
- Glenbrittle - a good walking and climbing base for the Cuillin, Skye's best known mountains.
- Kyleakin - original ferry landing from Kyle (before the Bridge), now a picturesque and peaceful fishing village with views of the harbour/loch/mountains & Castle Moil.
- Sconser - location of the Isle of Skye Golf Club & ferry link to the Isle of Raasay, great views.
- Sligachan - Located between Portree and Broadford, close to the Cuillins.
- Portree - the attractive capital of the island.
- Uig - ferry link to the Outer Hebrides, great brewery, the Fairy Glen and close to the Skye Museum of Island Life.
There are two main roads to Skye: the A87 and travels west from the A82 Fort William - Inverness road at Invergarry (the A887 provides another connection to the A87 further north towards Inverness). The A87 reaches Skye over the bridge from the Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland to Kyleakin on Skye.
Now that the Skye Bridge is open (and free of charge since 2004), it is no longer essential to travel to Skye by boat, but it is still an enjoyable ride.
For the Outer Hebrides, Calmac run from Uig in the north of Skye to Tarbert on Harris and Lochmaddy on North Uist. Many travellers bound for the Outer Hebrides will travel through Skye en route to Uig, usually on board the multiple daily Citylink buses from Inverness or Fort William and Glasgow.
A Calmac ferry also operates from Sconser on Skye to Inverarish on Raasay.
- Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom
There are two railway stations that serve Skye from the mainland, with the terminus of the West Highland Line in Mallaig (MLG) and the Kyle of Lochalsh Line terminating in its eponymous destination (KYL).
From Glasgow and Fort William
During the summer months, a restored vintage steam train hauls a rake of restored carriages on a daily round trip between Fort William and Mallaig. Fares are slightly higher than regular ScotRail services, but offer an additional connection.
From London and the south
Connections with overnight sleeper trains to/from London Euston are possible six nights a week in both Fort William and Inverness, as well as the daily 'Highland Chieftan' intercity train from Inverness to London King's Cross. For train times and fares contact ScotRail or National Rail.
Scottish Citylink operate two routes in and out of Skye:
- 914 / 915 / 916 /917 run from Uig or Portree to Kyle of Lochalsh, Fort William, and Glasgow (about six and a half hours from Portree)
- 916 / 917 run from Uig or Portree to Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness (about three and a half hours from Portree)
Limited numbers of discounted advance purchase tickets are available on their webpage. It is advisable to reserve a seat during the summer or around holidays.
Local buses 51 & 52 connect Armadale pier (for the ferry to/from Mallaig with Broadford and Portree several times a day (fewer in the winter). Buses 50 & 55 run every 30 minutes over the Skye Bridge between Kyleakin and Kyle of Lochalsh.
North Skye routes include the following services (see Stagecoach Highlands timetable for North Skye routes 54, 56, 57A/57C, 58/158 and 59):
- 54 - Portree / Carbost (and the Talisker Distillery) / Fiscavaig: only operates once a day per direction from Mon-Fri (on schooldays) leaving Fiscavaig in the morning and Portree in the afternoon.
- 56 - Portree / Dunvegan / Lonmore / Glendale: operates Mon-Fri and Sat, no service on Sun.
- 57C (clockwise) & 57A (anti-clockwise) - Portree / Uig / Flodigarry Peninsula / Portree: operates Mon-Fri and Sat, no service on Sun; for Old Man of Storr, the Quirang, Kilt Rock and Uig
- 58 - Portree town service & 158 - Portree School bus: operates only Mon-Fri.
- 59 - Portree / Peinchorran: operates only Mon-Fri.
- 60X (morning) - Portree / Sligachan / Dunvegan Castle / Portree: operates in summer only (about end-June till the beginning of September); daily (except Wed) at 10:45 (duration: 3h) with a 1h break at Dunvegan Castle and a 20min break at Sligachan.
- 60X (afternoon) - Portree / Kilt Rock / Portree: operates in summer only (about end-June till the beginning of September); daily (except Wed) at 14:45 (duration: 2.5h) with a 10min break at Kilt Rock.
South Skye routes include the following services (see Stagecoach Highlands timetable for South Skye routes 55, 152, 155, 164):
- 49, 49B Portree / Elgol
- 50, 55 Portree / Kyle of Lochalsh (for coach and train connections to Inverness, and coach connections to Fort William and Glasgow),
- 52, 52C Portree / Broadford / Armadale (for ferry connections to/from Mallaig and trains to Fort William and Glasgow)
- 164 - Ardaneaskkan / Lochcarron / Plockton / Kyle of Lochalsh: operates once a day per direction Mon-Fri (on schooldays); leaves Ardaneaskan in the morning and Kyle of Lochalsh in the afternoon.
Fares rise by distance travelled, with a half-hour journey usually costing around £3. There is an £8.25 dayrider ticket (which will normally make sense if you are using more than two buses in one day) and a 7 day megarider ticket for £32. Both types of tickets are only valid on Stagecoach Highlands buses on Skye and Lochalsh. Ask the bus driver for your best option. For an overview of ticket options for the general Stagecoach Highlands area check online.
An area guide for Skye and Lochalsh lists all bus times, and is issued twice annually for winter and summer seasons. It can be downloaded in pdf format from Stagecoach Highlands by clicking on 'Timetables' and then scrolling down to 'Skye and Lochalsh' or picked up in paper form from buses and tourist information centres. It is strongly recommended to check times in advance, paying special attention to any timetable notes relating to days when the bus runs or does not.
Although they are listed alongside local buses in journey planners and at bus stops, passengers should avoid taking Scottish Citylink coaches for journeys wholly within Skye or across the bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh since fares are substantially cheaper on local services.
During winter time, MacLean Coaches (tel: +44 1599 566766), a private company, runs service 601 (Portree / Kyle / Armadale). Check before using this service.
Use Travelline Scotland to plan your journey and get timetables.
Although substantial European and Scottish funding has been made available to improve and widen certain key routes (most recently the southern section of the Armadale to Broadford road), major roads are still quite narrow and can get congested in high season. However in low season driving in Skye is a delight with only the occasional sheep wandering onto the tarmac to concern you. On narrow single track rural roads pay attention to passing places and drive courteously, being ready to pull over to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass.
Car hire is available in Portree and Kyle of Lochalsh, but can be expensive. When travelling to the island in the high season, call ahead for availability:
- Skye Car Hire and Kyle Taxi, 4B Station Road, Kyle of Lochalsh, ☎ +44 1599 534323, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Starting from £40 per day and £240 per day per week..
- Morrison Car Hire, ☎ +44 1478 612688. Starting from £40 with insurance excess of £250. Car pick-up points can be arranged at various locations..
- Morar Motors, ☎ +44 1687 462118. Available in Mallaig or Kyle of Lochalsh.
Many of the roads in Skye are well cyclable, although traffic can be a problem in late summer. If you're cycling, make sure you have good raingear; Skye is wet even by the drizzly standards of Scotland. The ferry from Mallaig accepts bicycles, and the ride from Armadale north to the bridge is pleasant.
Hitching is never one hundred percent safe, but residents of Skye are generally very open to giving rides in remoter areas (especially if you've missed the last bus of the day or it's raining).
- Old Man of Storr. One of the famous sights. Expect a 2-3 hour walk, from the carpark to the Old man and back down.
- Dunvegan Castle & Gardens, Dunvegan. Is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. Experience an extraordinary castle and Highland estate steeped in history and clan legend, delight in the beauty of its formal gardens, take an exhilarating boat trip to see the seal colony, enjoy a meal at the MacLeods Table Cafe or browse in one of its four shops.
- Clan Donald Centre, Armadale. Set on a large estate and preserves the ancestral home of the MacDonalds at Armadale Castle. Facilities open to the visitor include the castle grounds (attractive gardens), several hiking trails, and a new museum, the Museum of the Isles, covering the history of the area (extending back as much as 1500 years). The grounds and museum are open during the summer 7 days, 9:30-5:30; the grounds are open for outdoor visits year-round, while hours at the museum during the fall are Wednesdays only, 11-3, and it is apparently closed during the winter months. Admission £4.90 for adults, £14.00 for families; admission covers both grounds and museum.
- There are other castles on the island that are in a state of disrepair, if not outright ruins, but still scenic:
- Kilt Rock and Waterfall.
- Loch Coruisk. To many people the very finest loch in Scotland - surrounded by shapely peaks. Accessible by boat from the village of Elgol (see Do section) or by walks from Sligachan (long but not hard) or from Elgol via Camasunary (but this involves a 'bad step')
- MacLeod's Maidens - Skye's magnificent coast off the Dunvegan road is often forgotten in the allure of the Cuillin. The UK's highest cliffs are to be found here. The 'Maidens' are very striking sea stacks and give a target for a walk.
- Neist Point Lighthouse.
- Learn Scottish Gaelic at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Skye's famous Gaelic college. Attend one of their short courses or do a full degree. Visit Sabhal Mor Ostaig .
- Go walking in the Cuillin, Skye's most famous group of mountains, or enjoy the coastal treks elsewhere on the island. Visit Walkhighlands (Isle of Skye walks), a free and independent guide to walks on the island.
- Walk/climb the Quiraing.
- For the less adventurous, there are boat tours of the Cullins during the summer months leaving from the remote village of Elgol. The views are stunning and you'll get to see some seals too:
- Go to the Skye Silver shop in the north.
- Woolen goods are a noted product of Skye. Look for them at the gift shop at the Clan Donald Centre (above) or in Portree or Armadale.
- Self catering Most of the larger villages on Skye have some kind of small shop, but don't expect a broad range or supermarket prices. If basing yourself in Portree you will have a choice of local shops and supermarkets, including:
- Co-Operative, Woodlands Road (on the A87 out of Skye towards Uig), ☎ +44 1478 612483. Portree's only large supermarket is - luckily - one of this large chain with a wide range, including excellent organic, fairtrade and ethically sourced produce.
- Somerfield, Bank Street, ☎ +44 1478 612855. Centrally located small supermarket; more convenient than the Co-Operative but noticeably more expensive on many items. Note that Co-Operative acquired the Somerfield chain in 2009, and it's possible that this will close or change hands in the near future.
- Portree Butchers, Wentworth Street, ☎ +44 1478 612551.
- The Waverley Restaurant, Kyle of Lochalsh (Opposite the Kyle Hotel), ☎ +44 1599 534337. Specialises in home cooked highland fare. A favourite with the locals!
- The Waterside Restaurant, Train station platform, Kyle of Lochalsh, ☎ +44 1599 524813. Specialises in simple, fresh seafood.
- The Taste of India, Kyleakin, ☎ +44 1599 534134. Traditional Indian cuisine. Very popular with the locals.
- Red Skye Restaurant, Breakish (near Broadford), ☎ +44 1471 822180. Specialises in home cooked highland fare. A favourite with locals!
- Creelers Seafood Restaurant, Broadford, ☎ +44 1471 822281. French country dishes alongside Cajun style seafood.
- Shores Restaurant, Plockton, ☎ +44 1599 544263. A favourite with locals!
- Café Arriba, Quay Brae, Portree, ☎ +44 1478 611830. A must for any visit to Portree. Broad and constantly changing menu of Mediterranean style snacks and meals, with good coffee and plentiful vegetarian choices. Also the perfect spot to sit out a rain shower, with views over the harbour.
- Lower Deck Restaurant, Portree (on the harbour), ☎ +44 1478-613611. Specialises in simple, fresh seafood dishes, e.g. fish and chips £7.50.
- The Old Inn, Carbost, ☎ +44 1478 640205. Adjacent to the bunkhouse and B&B of the same name, take caution from guidebooks that report superb meals and snacks: the professional chef is only employed during the summer season so expect pretty average pub grub between autumn and Easter.
- Flodigarry Country House Hotel, ☎ +44 1470-552203. Was apparently once very good, but now past it: food is unimaginative, overcooked, and poor value at £36/head for three courses and coffee.
- Loch Bay Seafood Restaurant, ☎ +44 1470-592235. Stein (at the end of the loch front road in the village)
- The Old School House, Dunvegan, ☎ +44 1470 521421. Perhaps the greatest surprise to be found in Dunvegan: behind a modest facade sits one of Skye's finest restaurants, with a small but confident and ever changing menu of superb dishes. Much of the meat and fish is locally sourced, although vegetarians should expect no more than one or two main courses to choose from. Mains from £9 - £20.
- The Three Chimneys, Colbost, Dunvegan, ☎ +44 1470 511258, fax: +44 1470 511358, e-mail: email@example.com. Was voted one of the 50 Top World Restaurants by "Restaurant" magazine. Book well ahead!
Breweries and distillery
- Cuillin Brewery, Sligachan, ☎ +44 1478 650204. Easily found adjacent to the Sligachan Hotel & Restaurant, at the junction of the A87 Broadford - Portree Road and the A863 to Dunvegan. Micro-brewery that also offers tours. Officially started brewing in 2004.
- Isle of Skye Brewing Company, The Pier, Uig, ☎ +44 1470 542477. Brewery tours and a shop open from Easter to mid-October. The breweries most popular bottled beers Black Cuillin (a dark porter), Red Cuillin (an amber) and Hebridean Gold (a golden ale) are available in most pubs throughout the island.
- Talisker Distillery, Carbost, ☎ +44 1478 614308, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Nov-Mar: Mon-Fri; Apr, May, Oct: Mon-Sat; Jun-Sept: daily. On the shores of Loch Harport in Carbost, on the west coast of Skye (and not in the village of Talisker itself) Talisker is Skye's only distillery. Producing a hefty, aromatic and distinctly peaty whisky that is similar to those from Islay. Tours of the distillery are offered at intervals throughout the day by friendly and informative guides. Reservations recommended, especially during the summer. The standard tour takes about 45min. Standard tour: £7 (includes a discount in the shop).
Note that Isle of Skye is a blended whisky produced near Edinburgh, with no extant connection to the island.
- Basement Bar, Dunvegan (Beneath the Dunvegan Hotel), ☎ +44 1470 521497. A spacious pub with several pool tables and views across the water to Macleod's Tables, usually quite spectacular at sunset. Note also the more refined surroundings of the lounge bar in the hotel upstairs.
- The Old Inn, Carbost, ☎ +44 1478 640205. Note the words of caution with regard to the menu above, but this is a friendly and cosy pub that - while busy with tourists during the summer - is a charming local during the winter with a stunning view along Loch Harport from the patio.
- Pier Hotel Portree Harbour 01478 612094. A haven from the tourist crowds, the tiny bar of the Pier Hotel is predominantly frequented by locals. Visitors should expect to be part of the conversation the moment they enter the bar.
Skye's busiest tourist season is from Easter until the end of September, when accommodation usually requires reservations and when some prices rise. Some places close during the winter.
- Bayfield Backpackers, Portree, ☎ +44 1478 612231. A basic hostel just minutes from Portree's main square. The hostel is small but features a modern kitchen and dining area.
- Broadford Backpackers Hostel, High Road, Broadford, ☎ +44 1471 820333. A cheap and cosy hostel conveniently located near close to the main bus stops for Broadford. Has a kitchen and dining room as well as a separate lounge area with free internet access.
- Portree Independent Hostel, ☎ +44 1478 613737. Is where you're most likely to end up staying if on a budget in Portree. Formerly the town's post office, the unmissable bright yellow building is just off the town's main square (where all local and long distance buses stop). Small lounge, drying room and large well equipped kitchen / dining room. £12.50 - £14 per person per night..
- Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Halls of Residence (near Armadale in Sleat), ☎ +44 1471 888000. Stay at Skye's famous Gaelic College, Sabhal Mor Ostaig. Bed and breakfast; individual en-suite rooms and good breakfast. Book the penthouse in the tower for the most spectacular views. Evening meals available too (check serving times).
- Scottish Youth Hostels Association have three hostels on Skye and one on Raasay. They are a cheap alternative to expensive hotels or B&B's. They are very busy during the summer and some can be closed or only available to groups during the winter. Call ahead or check online for details. They are:
- Broadford Hostel, ☎ +44 1471 822442. Perhaps Skye's least attractive hostel, but conveniently located in this practical town, an ideal base for exploring.
- Glenbrittle Hostel, ☎ +44 1478 640278. The remotest of Skye's hostels, some distance from the nearest bus but accessible on foot, bicycle or by car.
- Uig Hostel, ☎ +44 1478 542746. Convenient not only for the north of Skye but also ferries to the Outer Hebredes. The daily Glasgow - Uig bus stops near-by.
- Raasay Hostel, ☎ +44 1478 660240. Open from May to September.
- Camping is very popular with visitors to Skye, and there are numerous camp sites dotted around the island, some in extremely picturesque settings. The campsite at Sligachan provides a good base for waling into the Cuillin.
- Dunvegan Hotel Bunkhouse, ☎ +44 1470 521497. Two small rooms with bunks adjacent to the Dunvegan Hotel (see below). Linen provided, small bathroom but no kitchen facilities. £12.50 per person per night.
- The Old Inn, Carbost, ☎ +44 1478 640205. Five multiple occupancy bunk rooms in this excellent hostel, recently built overlooking Loch Harport in the small town that is also home to the Talisker Distillery. Large kitchen / lounge upstairs with balcony and views up and down the loch. Adjacent to the Old Inn for food and drinks. £14 / £16 en suite. Bed & breakfast accommodation (£37 / £42) and self catering family chalet (£110 per night) also available.
- Flora Macdonald Hostel, ☎ +44 1471 844272. Located a couple of miles from the pier at Armadale (with a free pick-up from the ferry available with advance notice) this modest hostel has a number of self catering rooms in its main building and newer lodge. Tranquil setting but with no local amenities accessible on foot, so bring supplies. £15 per person per night..
- Dun Flodigarry Hostel (5 km north of Staffin), ☎ +44 1470 552212, e-mail: email@example.com. Offers 6/8 bed dorms, camping, and twin or double bed ensuites. 19£.
- White Heather Hotel, ☎ +44 1599 534577. Small & friendly, family run hotel, B&B £37 pppn. Views onto Loch Alsh, Kyleakin harbour & Castle Moil.
- Kinloch Lodge, ☎ +44 1471 833214. Located at Sleat, cozy, seven room lodge for when you need to get away from it all.
- Clan Donald Centre includes a limited number of cottages; see link above under "See".
- Self Catering Cottages are available at various locations over the island - e.g. Staffin Bay Cottages .
- Glenview Hotel, ☎ +44 1470 562248. Offers comfortable accommodation just ten minutes from the Old Man of Storr.
- Dunvegan Hotel, ☎ +44 1470 521497. Small family run hotel in the quiet town of Dunvegan. Lounge bar and restaurant and pub downstairs. Stunning views (especially at sunset) west towards the Macleod Tables. £80 / £90 a night (more expensive with a view).
- Sligachan Hotel, ☎ +44 1478 650204. Is a famous gathering place for climbers and walkers. Pricey (£90 and up for twin room with breakfast, at least during peak season), but you can't beat the location. There is also a bunkhouse.
- Duntulm Castle Hotel, ☎ +44 1470 552213. Is near the ruins of Castle Duntulm north of Portree. A 19th-century shooting lodge in an attractive setting.
- Small Isles — The four Small Isles of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna are accessible by Calmac ferry from Mallaig on the mainland, although note that during the winter service is limited and that throughout the year the daily timetable changes, so overnight trips are often necessary.
- A great deal of beautiful and historic country is on the Scottish "mainland" side of the Skye Bridge, beyond Kyle of Lochalsh. Eilean Donan Castle (very picturesque and well maintained) is near the tiny village of Dornie not far beyond Kyle of Lochalsh and is well worth a visit.
- Outer Hebrides — notably Harris (via Uig); the Calmac ferries connect from Skye to points in the Outer Hebridies. See Get in for more information.
- Pitlochry — a fantastic village on your way back to Edinburgh.