I distinctly remember learning a collection of Scottish folk songs in my elementary school chorus, and my favorite was always “The Skye Boat Song”. (Yes, it’s now used as the theme song in Outlander, with reimagined lyrics.)
Skye just sounded like a magical fairyland and I vowed to visit one day. It took me twenty years, but I finally made it, and it did not disappoint! However, how to squeeze in twenty years of anticipation into one day on Skye?
The Isle of Skye is, in fact, an island connected to the west coast of Scotland by bridge. One of the oldest archaeological sites in Scotland, Skye has weathered everything from the Bronze Age to the Vikings. They’ve even found evidence of dinosaurs there! (And while there’s no “evidence” of fairies, I believe they could be there too.)
The rugged landscape is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and it feels like the very edge of the world. Be prepared for wind and rain! I visited on a wet day in autumn and got possibly the most drenched I’ve ever been in my life (despite my raincoat)…and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
There are two options when it comes to getting to the Isle of Skye: by bridge or ferry. The closest airports are in either Glasgow or Inverness, and there is no railway on the island. (If you are traveling by train, get off in Mallaig and then take the ferry.)
- By bridge: take the 1.5 mile-long Skye Bridge (part of A87) from Kyle of Lochalsh
- By ferry: take the 45 minute long ride on the Armadale Ferry from Mallaig
Having a car on the Isle of Skye is highly recommended. (There are some local Stagecoach busses, but they are infrequent.) A car can be rented from one of the larger cities like Glasgow, or out of the town of Portree once you get to Skye.
As is the custom in the UK, you’ll be driving on the left side of the road, and can use the pull-off spots to let others pass. Go slowly! The more rural roads are narrow and not always paved. (And watch for sheep!)
Where to Stay
- Portree: the capital of Skye, and named one of the most beautiful villages in the UK
- Other affordable options are villages along A87, such as Breakish or Broadford
- If you have more than one day, try Dunvegan on the west coast
I wish I’d had more time on the Isle of Skye. One day on Skye isn’t enough to see everything, but if you’re strapped for time, stick to the Trotternish Peninsula to hit the highlights. Here are the things you can’t miss on the Isle of Skye…
Old Man of Storr
You’ve probably seen the unique rock formation on a screen saver or desktop. The large pinnacle jutting out of the hillside can be seen for miles around. Different legends try to explain why it’s called the “Old Man”, one of them being that it’s where a giant is buried, with his thumb sticking out of the earth.
The car park is located just off the main road, about a 10-minute drive from Portree. Head through the wooden gate at the edge of the parking lot. The hike to the Old Man will take about 45 minutes and is rated as “medium” difficulty. (Round trip is a little over 2 miles.) Be aware, it may be muddy and steep in places.
Lealt Falls and the corresponding gorge are just really lovely. Again, the car park is right off the main road. It’s an easy walk to two viewing points, overlooking green cliffs, ruins of an old factory, and the water as it rushes out to sea.
Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock
Just up the road from Lealt Falls is Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock. (The latter being aptly named as the rocky formation looks like pleats in a kilt.) There is a large viewing spot here, with metal railings to keep folks from falling off the side of the cliff. Weirdly, when the wind blows through small holes in the metal pipes it creates an ethereal sound!
This hike was an adventure, to say the least, and my favorite part of our day on Skye. Of all the things to do on the Isle of Skye, this should be at the top of your list.
At times the terrain makes it feel like you are trekking through Middle Earth, and the views are just stunning. The cliffed green hills really do feel like another world. (We lost track of how many rainbows we saw!)
However, use extreme caution when hiking the Quiraing. The road to the car park is narrow and sharp. The hike itself is considered “hard” and is a little over 4 miles total. Be sure to read up on the route and its various stages here, as it is not always clearly marked, and the path becomes unclear when it is wet. Look for different landmarks like The Prison and The Needle.
Grab a snack from the food truck in the car park, you’re going to need it!
Pro tip: Wear good hiking boots! You will be crossing over/through streams, rocks, and mud. (Don’t be like the college-age kids we teamed up with along the way who were in soaked-through sneakers and hadn’t looked up the route directions.)
Bonus Stop: Eileen Donan Castle
On your way to or from Skye Bridge, you won’t be able to miss Eileen Donan Castle. Located on a small tidal island, it is a reconstruction of the 13th Century castle that once stood there. (You might’ve seen it used in the films Highlander or Made of Honour.)
You can just pull into the parking lot for photos, or take a tour inside!
Due to time, we weren’t able to see these other well-known spots on Skye. However, when I return someday and have more than one day on Skye, I’ll want to visit these places!
- Fairy Pools: you’ve probably seen photos of these famous waterfalls into clear, turquoise pools. (Please be respectful of the land! This has become such a popular tourist area that erosion has become a problem.)
- Neist Point Lighthouse: a beautiful spot to watch the sunset, as this lighthouse sits on the edge of a cliff at the most western point of Skye.
- Dunvegan Castle and Estate: the seat of Clan MacLeod, and one of the oldest occupied castles in northern Scotland (though it has been remodeled). It is home to the Fairy Flag, a magical heirloom said to have been gifted to the clan chieftains by fairies.
As I said, the Isle of Skye did not disappoint. Even the weather couldn’t dampen my excitement to be there, and I can’t wait to visit again!
Have you been to the Isle of Skye? What were your favorite spots?
Are you planning a one-day trip to Skye? Pin this post for future planning!