Skye (Gaelic: An t-Eilean Sgitheanach) is the largest and most northerly of the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, linked to the mainland by a toll-free bridge. It's a rugged mountainous island with spectacular scenery. Portree is the main settlement, with a tourist information centre, and the main concentration of accommodation.
Gaelic is spoken by 30% of the population, and there's a college teaching entirely in Gaelic in Sleat. On road signs in Skye, the Gaelic version of the place name is given first followed by the English version.
Sleat is the gently rolling southern part of Skye where almost all visitors first arrive. Most use the road bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh to 1 Kyleakin. Once the main ferry port, it's now a quiet place with a small castle. Towards the southern tip of Sleat, 2 Armadale has ferries from Mallaig on the mainland. Both routes converge on 3 Broadford.
Minginish is the central body of Skye, grouped around the dramatic Cuillin mountain range. A lane runs west from Broadford to 4 Elgol from where you can take a boat to Loch Coruisk and walk to the fine beach at Camasunary. The main road hugs the north / east coast, passing through Sconser (with ferries to Raasay) and 5 Sligachan. From here a road branches west towards 6 Carbost on Loch Harport, home of the Talisker whisky distillery. Side lanes wind inland to 7 Glenbrittle, a good base for climbing the Cuillin.
Trotternish is the largest and most frequently visited of these, having the stunning rock formations of the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing. The A855 (and buses) circumnavigate this beautiful area, with plenty of options for walking and climbing. You also come this way to reach 9 Uig, ferry port for the Outer Hebrides. Uig has a notable brewery, the Fairy Glen and the Skye Museum of Island Life.
Duirnish is the peninsula west of 11 Dunvegan, best known for Dunvegan Castle. Further up the lane are Glendale and 12 Colbost. The lane ends at Milovaig but you can hike to the lighthouse at Neist Point.
Skye has no air service. The nearest mainland airports are Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The main road to Skye is the A87, which branches off A82 (Fort William-Inverness road) at Invergarry, to run west via Shiel Bridge (for Glenelg), Dornie (for Eilean Donan Castle) and Kyle of Lochalsh, crossing the toll-free bridge to Kyleakin. It follows Skye's north coast via Broadford and Portree to Uig.
Scottish Citylink Bus 914 / 915 runs twice daily between Glasgow and Skye. The route north is from Buchanan St Station via Glasgow Airport, Dumbarton, Loch Lomond west bank, Crianlarich, Glencoe, Fort William, Invergarry and Kyle of Lochalsh. The route continues across Skye via Broadford, Sligachan and Portree to Uig, about 7 hours in total.
Bus 916 / 917 runs twice daily from Inverness via Loch Ness and Kyle, then via Broadford and sligachan to Portree; 3 hours 30 mins.
Stagecoach Highlands Bus 55 runs three times M-F from Kyle to Kyleakin and Broadford, with two continuing to Torrin and Elgol.
Bus 51 / 52 runs from the ferry pier at Armadale to Broadford and Portree several times a day.
There is no railway on Skye. The two mainland stations with connections to Skye are 1 Kyle of Lochalsh and 2 Mallaig. From London they're both about 11 hours by daytime train, 13 hours via sleeper. Kyle has trains from Inverness, and is the better linked, with buses onward to Skye. Mallaig has trains from Fort William and Glasgow; from Mallaig you take the ferry to Armadale as described below, then a bus.
Calmac car ferries ply between Mallaig on the mainland and Armadale near the south tip of Skye. They take 45 mins and sail daily, every hour or two Apr-Oct but only a couple per day Nov-March. Fares are about £10 per car plus £3 per person.
The tiny Skye Ferry runs April to mid-October between Glenelg on the mainland and Kylerhea, which is up a minor road south of Kyleakin. It's an odd contraption, with a swivelling deck, and its capacity is only six cars per trip or 18 per hour; there's no bus from Kylerhea. This ferry is best regarded as a tourist sight, not a practical transport option.
From Uig in the north of Skye, Calmac car ferries sail to Tarbert on Harris and Lochmaddy on North Uist - buses from Glasgow and Inverness traverse Skye to connect with these ferries. Those Outer Hebrides can be reached by other routes from the mainland (chiefly Ullapool to Stornoway, and Mallaig to Lochboisdale - see relevant pages "Get in" for details); so you could reach Skye that roundabout way.
There's also a ferry between Sconser on Skye and the little island of Raasay. But there's no other way on or off that island so you have to double back.
Buses run along the main highways between the bridge, Armadale, Portree and Uig as above.
Stagecoach Highlands Bus 57 circles between Portree, Uig and the Trotternish peninsula. Bus 57C is clockwise, Portree > Uig > Flodigarry > Staffin > Portree and 57A is anti-clockwise the reverse route. It runs every 3 hours or so Mon-Fri plus Sat in summer.
Bus 56 runs 3-5 times Mon-Sat from Portree to Dunvegan, with a couple continuing west to Colbost.
And that's about it. Individual village pages describe some other buses but they're of limited use to the visitor. Many are in effect school buses: anyone can use them, but they only make one run early morning then in late afternoon, Mon-Fri in termtime, so they don't run in the summer holidays. A good example is Bus 154 from Portree to Carbost.
The main road A87 and the roads to Armadale A851 and Dunvegan A850 are undivided highways, in good condition though winding and very busy in summer, so overtaking is hazardous. Almost everything else is a single lane with passing places, although the Trotternish road A855 section between The Storr and Staffin has now been widened. Always have in mind whether your nearest passing place is ahead or behind you, and be prepared to respond to other vehicles accordingly. Out of season the roads are very quiet, but some of those sheep ought to be made to attend road safety awareness training.
Car hire is available in Portree and Kyle of Lochalsh, but can be expensive. Book well ahead as their fleets are small. If you flew into, say, Glasgow, you'd do better to hire from the airport.
- Skye Car Hire, 4B Station Road, Kyle of Lochalsh, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Based at Kyle of Lochalsh, can pick up / drop off at many Skye locations plus Inverness airport and railway station. From £45 per day.
- Morrison Car Hire, ☏ . Based in Portree, can pick up / drop off at many Skye locations. From £40 /day.
- Morar Motors, ☏ . Based in Mallaig and Kyle of Lochalsh, can do one-way rentals between.
Many of the roads in Skye are 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 100% safe, but residents of Skye are generally very open to giving lifts in remoter areas (especially if you've missed the last bus of the day or it's raining).
- Rock formations and sea-stacks:
- 1 The Old Man of Storr. The Old Man of Storr is a rocky outcrop north of Portree. Take the Trotternish road anti-clockwise for the best view. There are several branching paths that lead up directly to outcroppings from the bottom of the hill. There are also hiking trails that cross the entire range.
- 2 Kilt Rock. Kilt Rock and waterfall are along the Trotternish road between Portree and Uig. The vertical rocky columns of the cliff is named as such because it resembles a pleated kilt. The Mealt Falls plunges down into the ocean from the cliff.
- 3 Macleod's Maidens. Macleod's Maidens are sea-stacks near Skye's west tip. They're reached by a long hike from Dunvegan, but more usually seen by boat trip.
- 4 Quiraing. The east coast of Trotternish was formed by a huge landslip 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. The ice had been supporting the mountainside, which collapsed leaving strange exposed rock formations. The Quirang takes its name from Old Norse Kví Rand, "round fold", for its little plateau hidden by rock pillars, a natural pen for concealing sheep. You only get a limited view from the road, so unless the weather's foul, take the four-mile loop walk to get close.
- 5 Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, Dunvegan IV55 8WF (A mile north of village off jcn A850 & A863). Apr-mid-Oct daily 10:00-17:30. Ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years, just north of Dunvegan village. Adult £14, child £9, senior £11.
- 6 Armadale Castle and Museum of the Isles, Armadale Sleat IV45 8RS. Apr-Oct: daily 09:30-17:30, Mar & Nov: M-F 10:00-15:00. The castle, an 18th/19th-century mansion, has long been a ruin and you can't go in, but see the gardens and the museum. It's near Armadale village. Adult £8.75.
- Others that are little more than picturesque ruins are 7 Dunscaith Castle a few miles north of Armadale, 8 Castle Moil at Kyleakin, and 9 Duntulm north of Uig.
- Other Sights:
- 10 Neist Point Lighthouse. Neist Point is the most westerly point of Skye on the Duirinish peninsula. The lighthouse is a short walk from the road end. A longer walk leads to the Point.
- 11 Loch Coruisk. Loch Coruisk is a scenic loch near the west coast, usually reached via Elgol.
- 12 Skye Museum of Island Life, Kilmuir IV51 9UE (6 miles north of Uig), ☏ . Easter-Sept M-Sa 09:30-17:00. Preserved township of thatched cottages, displayed as at the turn of the 18th / 19th C. £3.
- Nearby islands:
- Raasay is a short ferry ride from Sconser. Rona just north is sometimes visited by boat trips from Portree.
- Learn Scottish Gaelic at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Skye's Gaelic college. Attend one of their short courses or do a full degree.
- 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.
- Bag all the Munros, the mountains over 3000 ft / 914.4 m in Scotland. By far the most difficult is Sgùrr Dearg above Glenbrittle, as it's topped by a sharp blade of rock rightly named "The Inaccessible Pinnacle", requiring rock-climbing skills and gear to surmount.
- Boat trips mostly sail from Portree, with some from Uig and elsewhere. The visit to Loch Coruisk is usually done as a boat trip from Elgol.
- Events: live music, ceilidhs and concerts are held year round, but mostly July-Aug.
Fill the car tank before you leave central Scotland, and drive cannily. You'll do a lot of mileage just to get here, with not many refueling options en route. The filling station at the south end of Portree has fuel for only a few pence more than city supermarket prices.
Most of the larger villages on Skye have some kind of small shop, but don't expect a broad range or supermarket prices. Portree has the biggest selection of shops, including two Co-op supermarkets. Broadford has a few shops including a small Co-op supermarket.
Woollen goods are a noted product of Skye. Look for them at the gift shop at the Clan Donald Centre (in Armadale Castle), in Portree or Armadale.
- Cuillin Brewery in Sligachan is a micro-brewery that offers tours.
- Isle of Skye Brewing Company in Uig has brewery tours and a shop. Their most popular bottled beers are Black Cuillin (a dark porter), Red Cuillin (an amber) and Hebridean Gold (a golden ale), available in many pubs across the island.
- Whisky distilleries: Talisker in Carbost is the best known, but there's also Torabhaig in Sleat, plus Raasay an easy day-trip from Sconser. All three can be toured; Raasay whisky won't go on sale till Dec 2020, but While We Wait is an ersatz offering meanwhile.
- Isle of Skye Whisky is perfectly quaffable, but it's a blend of whiskies produced at Broxburn near Edinburgh, with no base on the island.
The main tourist season is from Easter through September. The bridge has made Skye very accessible and popular, outstripping the supply of accommodation, and some hotels are block-booked in summer by coach excursions. So you need to book well ahead, and don’t try to visit in July / August without a booking. It's got so bad, at the height of summer the police have to turn people back on the A87 if they haven't booked anything. Off-season is quieter and some places hibernate, but it's never as closed and boarded up elsewhere in the Hebrides.
Camping is popular with visitors to Skye, but it's even more popular with the midges, who greet each new tent with hungry clouds. You might do better in pods where you can shut them out. Camp sites are dotted around the island, some in very picturesque settings. You can probably wild-camp in a tent most places, but camper vans and caravans attempting to park by the road overnight are liable to be moved on by the police. There are hostels in Broadford, Glenbrittle, Portree and elsewhere.
The main concentration of hotels and B&Bs is in Portree. They're pricey! Self-catering cottages are simply everywhere, some very out-of-the-way; they usually book by the week.
- Return to the mainland via the bridge to see Plockton, Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie, and Loch Ness.
- Or return via ferry to Mallaig to visit Glenfinnan, Ardnamurchan and Ben Nevis above Fort William.
- The Small Isles are Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna, reached by ferry from Mallaig; in summer a day-trip may be possible.
- Outer Hebrides: ferries sail from Uig on Skye to Tarbet on Harris and to Lochmaddy on North Uist.