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.
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 Quiraing. 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 Carbost.
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.
- 1 Armadale - linked to Mallaig on the mainland by ferry.
- 2 Broadford - a village spread around a large bay looking onto the Inner Sound & across to the mainland, about 8 miles from the Skye Bridge.
- 3 Carbost - a clue - think of Talisker - also a very good beach.
- 4 Colbost and the Duirnish Peninsula
- 5 Dunvegan - a village, most well known for Dunvegan Castle, home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years.
- 6 Elgol - small village with a boat service to Loch Coruisk and a walk to the fine beach at Camasunary.
- 7 Glenbrittle - a good walking and climbing base for the Cuillins, Skye's best known mountains.
- 8 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
- 9 Sligachan - Located between Portree and Broadford, close to the Cuillins. Nearby Sconser - location of the Isle of Skye Golf Club & ferry link to the Isle of Raasay, great views.
- 10 Portree - the attractive capital of the island.
- 11 Stein
- 12 Uig - ferry link to the Outer Hebrides, great brewery, the Fairy Glen and close to the Skye Museum of Island Life.
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.
There is a tourist information in Portree.
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 Quiraing, 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 [dead link] (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, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Starting from £40 per day and £240 per week.
- Morrison Car Hire, ☎ . Starting from £40 with insurance excess of £250. Car pick-up points can be arranged at various locations.
- Morar Motors, ☎ . 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).
- 1 Old Man of Storr (between Portree and Staffin). The rocky outcrop is one of the famous sights. Expect a 2-3 hour walk, from the carpark to the Old man and back down.
- 2 Dunvegan Castle & Gardens (in 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.
- 3 Armadale Castle and the Clan Donald Centre (in Armadale). Ancestral home of the MacDonalds, on a large and spacious estate around the Armadale Castle. The castle grounds (attractive gardens), several hiking trails, and the Museum of the Isles are open for visitors.
- There are other castles on the island that are in a state of disrepair, if not outright ruins, but still scenic:
- 7 Kilt Rock and Waterfall.
- 8 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')
- 9 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. See Walkhighlands for a description of the hike.
- 10 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.
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.
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.
- Cuillin Brewery, in Sligachan. Micro-brewery that also offers tours. Officially started brewing in 2004.
- Isle of Skye Brewing Company, in Uig. Brewery tours and a shop. The brewery's most popular bottled beers are Black Cuillin (a dark porter), Red Cuillin (an amber) and Hebridean Gold (a golden ale) and are available in most pubs throughout the island.
- Talisker Distillery, in Carbost. 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.
- The Isle of Skye whisky is a blended whisky produced near Edinburgh, with no extant connection to the island.
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.
Camping is very popular with visitors to Skye, and there are numerous camp sites dotted around the island, some in extremely picturesque settings.
Self-catering cottages are available at various locations over the island.
Scottish Youth Hostels Association have three hostels on Skye. 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 in Broadford, Glenbrittle and Portree.
- 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 Hebrides.
- Pitlochry — a fantastic village on your way back to Edinburgh.