The Isle of Skye
With its breathtaking scenery, booming tourism industry and rich variety of wildlife, it’s no wonder that the Isle of Skye has become one of the top locations to visit in Scotland! With a fascinating history, from dinosaur fossils to the Highland Clearances, and an impressive array of walking and climbing routes, there really is something for everyone, and we’ve yet to hear of a visitor to stunning Skye that doesn’t immediately want to return.
Map of Skye Island
The Isle of Skye is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. It stretches 50 miles long and 25 miles wide and covers a total area of 639 square miles. Skye is the second-largest island in the whole of Scotland after the nearby Lewis and Harris, in fact, it was once suggested that its shape “sticks out of the west coast of northern Scotland like a lobster’s claw ready to snap at the fishbone of Harris and Lewis”.
The coastline of Skye is a series of peninsulas and bays radiating out from a centre dominated by the Cuillin hills, which provide some of the most dramatic rocky scenery in the country. The Isle of Skye is easily spotted from the mainland, and no wonder really as at its closest crossing point it is only 500m away!
The Isle of Skye has been nicknamed as ‘The Misty Isle’ thanks to its reputation for being a rainy and foggy island. But the truth, especially if you ask a local, is that it is very difficult to categorise the climate of Skye because it truly is ever-changing. It wouldn’t be uncommon to find wind, rain, and clear sky’s all occurring in one day.
The way in which the mountains climb sharply from the sea on the south-western side of the island forces the moist air of the prevailing winds upwards, creating a ridge that is often shrouded in thick cloud or sea-fog when the rest of the island may be clear blue skies.
The extremely low temperatures experienced in the Highlands are normally not experienced in The Isle of Skye. And there is often no snow in winter, but then again, there has been snow recorded in July before. The warmest months to visit the Isle of Skye are from June through to August with temperatures ranging between 15°C to 21°C. February is the coldest month to visit with lows of -6°C and highs of 2°C.
In keeping with the Scottish reputation, rainfall on Skye is relatively high ranging between 1500mm to 2000mm per year and up on the elevated slopes of Cuillin is even wetter.
How to get to the Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is connected to the mainland by a road bridge, which joins the mainland village of Kyle of Lochalsh to the village of Kyleakin on Skye. There used to be a toll payable for crossing, but since December 2004 the bridge has been free for all to cross. The total distance across is 1.5 miles long, with the highest part of the main concrete arch being 35 m high. Car is the preferred method of transport for many visiting the Isle of Skye as parts of the island are very remote and would take too long to get to on foot.
Alternatively, Skye can be reached by ferry, with the main route being from Mallaig to Armadale within 30 minutes. Other alternative crossings are between Sconser and Raasay or from Uig to Lochmaddy or Tarbert. If you are travelling from outside of Scotland, the nearest International Airport is Glasgow and the nearest Local Airport is Inverness.
There is not a railway on the Isle of Skye, but if train travel is your preferred way of getting places, there are two train stations on the mainland that are very close and connect to local bus routes. You could ride the rails from Glasgow to Mallaig, then hop onto the ferry to Skye, or else you could go from Inverness to Kyle train station, then catch a bus on to the Island.
Where to stay in the Isle of Skye
If you are looking for a UK staycation or mini-break destination, we can’t recommend the Isle of Skye enough- you’ll be hard pushed to find anywhere with more breath-taking natural beauty on offer than Skye!
Despite being only 639 square miles in size, the Isle of Skye in fact boasts a plethora of individual locations, each with its own unique selling point, for visitors to explore and enjoy. Some of these include:
Prior to the Skye Bridge being opened, Kyleakin used to be the gateway port to the Isle of Skye. It is situated on the east coast of the island within the parish of Strath. No longer awash with the queues associated with the ferry port. Kyleakin has become a destination in its own right, with a range of bars, restaurants and a small marina to enjoy.
The village is also the site of Castle Moil, a ruined fortress which was built in the late 15th century. Legend suggests that there were much older fortifications on the site, originally built for a Norwegian princess known as ‘Saucy Mary’, so named because of her tendency to flash her bare breasts at any arriving boat’s crew to thank them for paying the toll.
Sleat is a peninsula on the Isle of Skye, which is often known as “the garden of Skye”, and it is also the home of the clan MacDonald. With stunning scenery including violet, heather-clad mountains, views of the glittering blue sea that snakes around beaches and rocky shorelines and an abundance of lush gardens and dense forests, Sleat is the ideal destination for those visitors wanting to get in touch with nature.
And on top of the natural beauty, it also has an array of award-winning restaurants, hotels and attractions on offer. The recently opened Torabhaig Distillery is another reason many visitors find themselves in Sleat, we highly recommend taking up one of their tours.
Broadford is the second largest village on the Isle of Skye, and is the perfect place to base yourself if you’re keen to explore the Red Cuillins mountains. It is the first destination you will arrive at if you have travelled over the sea bridge, and if outdoor activities and wildlife spotting are your thing, you may find you don’t want to go on any further as Broadford is perfect for this.
As well as challenging yourself by climbing the highest point, Glamaig, which is one of just two Corbetts on Skye, be sure to pack binoculars and a camera to snap the local residents – otters, seals, whooped swans, orca whales and brent geese.
Portree is the capital of the Isle of Skye, and it is probably fair to say that it is the most popular holiday destination. It was originally created as a fishing village around 200 years ago but nowadays is awash with culture and bustling activity, including a swimming pool, pony-trekking and boat cruises plus plenty of shopping opportunities. There is a variety of accommodation to choose from ranging from upmarket hotels to self-catering establishments and even a campsite.
Isle of Skye Attractions
There are so many fantastic things to do on the Isle of Skye, so in no particular order we have outlined 10 of our top recommendations:
Isle of Skye Fairy Pools
On the West of Skye, at the foot of the Black Cuillins in Glenbrittle, can be found the world famous Isle of Skye Fairy Pools. These beautiful crystal clear blue pools on the River Brittle are fed by a series of waterfalls and entice visitors from far and wide, and they make for some great ‘Wild Swimming’ for those brave enough to enter the cold water- perhaps bring a wetsuit as the waters can be really bracing! For the less adventurous these magical Fairy Pools make some fantastic photos.
It is easy to get to the Fairy Pools on foot from the nearest village of Carbost, it is roughly a 2.4km walk. They have become such a popular destination for visitors thanks to their inclusion on the TripAdvisor must-see destinations list, so please take care on the single file tracks should you encounter others. And don’t forget to stop by the nearby Cuillin Coffee Co for a speciality hot chocolate after your days exploring!
Located 1 mile to the north of Dunvegan, on an elevated rock overlooking an inlet on the eastern shore of Loch Dunvegan, you will find Dunvegan Castle. It is a fortified site from the earliest times, the castle was first built in the 13th century and has been developed over the centuries. In the 19th century, the whole castle was remodelled in a mock-medieval style. Dunvegan Castle has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years, and nowadays the castle and grounds are open to visitors and are one of the Isle of Skye’s 5* attractions.
Two Cuillin mountain ranges dominate the landscape on the Isle of Skye: the Black Cuillin and the Red Cuillin, and the two are separated only by Glen Sligachan, which is a particularly beautiful island walk.
The iconic ridge of the Black Cuillin is the UK’s most challenging mountain range. Over 11 kilometres long and above 3,000 feet in places, the ridge contains 11 Munros and 16 other summits. The highest point is Sgurr Alasdair at 3,254.59 feet. The gentler, rounded Red Cuillin are popular with hillwalkers, the highest point being Glamaig, a 2,543-foot Corbett.
Whilst parts of the Cuillin mountain range are suitable for walking, the majority will require a certain degree of climbing or scrambling skills, as well as some specialist equipment for safety purposes. The summits of the Cuillin are bare rock, jagged in outline and with steep cliffs and deep cut corries and gullies. All twelve Munros on the Isle of Skye are Black Cuillin peaks except for one.
Loch Coruisk is a 38m deep inland freshwater loch situated at the base of the jagged peaks of the Cuillin mountains. The loch has long been the subject of stories and folklore, and when you visit for yourself and see what a majestic, spectacular and eerie place it is you will not wonder why! Allegedly the depths of Loch Curuisk are home to a kelpie or water horse, a shape-shifting creature that can assume human form!
The loch is accessible by boat from Elgol, or on foot either from Sligachan if you don’t mind an 11km hike, or a slightly shorter 9km from Kilmarie. The loch is nearly two miles long, but only about 400 yards wide.
The coral beach is situated in Claigan on the Isle of Skye which is just a 10-minute drive away from Dunvegan Castle. The beach is magical looking and perfect for a family day out and picnic, with sand made from crushed white coral like seaweed that makes the water look tropical blue when the sun comes out. The walk down is easy going along a farm track and takes about 25 mins to get to the beach, which would be more than worth your while to get to what is referred to locally as a ‘wee gem’. At low tide, you can even explore the tidal island of Lampay, which is just a short walk across the bay.
Village of Boreraig
The ruined coastal village of Boreraig is a stark reminder of the Highland Clearances. It lies on the north shore of Loch Eishort and is reached either by boat or by a walk of some 6km across the moor from Strath Suardal.
The place was emptied, completely, by force, in 1853. As in many other places in Scotland at that time, the landlords favoured sheep over people on their lands as they were more profitable. Many of the inhabitants from here were ‘assisted’ to travel to Australia or New Zealand, basically as an alternative to starvation. This was a big village with an estimated 120 residents across 22 households.
The remains of the houses and of the agriculture are in amazing condition after more than 150 years. Many visitors report feeling a sense of displacement in Boreraig, as if the inhabitants had only left a short time ago. Boreraig cannot be reached by any vehicular transport at all, but there is a very popular circular walk of about 8–9 miles.
The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights, or to give them their proper name, the Aurora Borealis, are visible in the winter months in the skies over Glendale, in the Isle of Skye. These are an amazing spectacle, with shifting columns of light appearing like search lights across the skies. Although most auroras of the Isle of Skye appear white to the naked eye, if photographed with a long exposure the spectacular colours will reveal themselves.
Across Scotland, these spectacular lights are known as ‘Mirrie Dancers’, and on a cold clear night, in the wee hours of the morning, the Northerly tip of Skye is known to be one of the best places in Scotland to catch a glimpse of them.
Isle of Skye Malt Whisky Distilleries
The Isle of Skye now has two distilleries Talisker and Torabhaig. Talisker is the most famous and oldest working distillery in the region and is located in the beautiful setting of Loch Harport with views over the Cuillin mountains. Torabhaig distillery is located on the Sleat peninsula in the South of the Isle of Skye, and was built on the grounds of a 19th century farm steading and has managed to keep its traditional charm. Both distilleries are open for tours to visitors, and there is even a tour bus available to take you between the 2 for what’s known as whiskey tours, so that you needn’t worry about drinking and driving!
The Old Man of Storr
The ‘Old Man’ is a large pinnacle of rock that stands high and can be seen for miles around, located in the north of the Isle of Skye in the area known as ‘Trotternish’. The Storr ridge was created by an ancient landslide, and the walk up and around it is possibly one of the most popular on the whole island. The Old Man may be the most recognisable feature but it is in fact just one element in an array of fantastic rock features, and the views out from the top over the Sound of Ramsay are absolutely stunning.
The Skye Boat Song
For many people, the length and breadth of the UK who haven’t been lucky enough to visit the Isle of Skye, one of the things they all seem to know about it is the famous 19th-century song, ‘The Skye Boat Song’. It is a Scottish song recalling the journey of Bonnie Prince Charlie from Benbecula to the Isle of Skye as he evaded capture by government troops after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Isle of Skye Wildlife
In the sea, on the land and in the air, the Isle of Skye is filled with an abundance of wildlife. Some of our favourites to look out for on your visit are:
- Dolphins – The waters around the Isle of Skye are a common place to spot a pod of dolphins. In the summer months, you could even be witness to a ‘super pod’ where hundreds, if not thousands of dolphins group together. Nobody knows quite why these super pods are formed, but it may be for social reasons or just that they are in the pursuit of a huge shoal of fish. The most regular species of dolphins to be found in Skye waters are the ‘Bottle Nosed’ and the ‘Common’.
- Porpoises – Porpoises are similar to dolphins to the untrained eye, but they have smaller mouths and spade-shaped teeth, unlike dolphins elongated “beaks” and cone-shaped teeth. Visitors to Skye report seeing vast quantities of porpoises between Elgol and Loch Coruisk, with them often appearing to come closer to perform for the camera!
- Seals – The small Islands near Dunvegan Castle are fantastic spots for spotting seals from the land, but they are also plentiful around the harbour and bays and well worth a boat trip to see closer. As the seals are so used to certain tour boats visiting them they are surprisingly brave and allow you to get extremely close! There are two types of Seal the ‘Common Seal’ and the ‘Grey Seal’ to be seen in the sea lochs and bays of the Isle of Skye. The Common Seal grows up to 6 foot in length, whereas the Grey Seal can reach a whopping 11 foot long.
- Otters – The species of otter found in Scotland is the European Otter which grow up to 3 feet in length. They are the most fantastic creatures to watch at play, and can be found on the coast of Skye and also in the rivers and lochs. There are otter watching hides in the forest at Kylerhea and on Eilean Ban, the island below the Skye Bridge.
- Basking Sharks – These huge fish are relatively common visitors to the island when the plankton is abundant around the extremities of Skye. Can you believe that they can reach an impressive 8m in length and weigh about 5 tonnes apiece! They are around throughout the summer, but you’re most likely to spot them in June and July, with the best places to spot them being at Rubha Hunish, Neist Point or around Elgol.
- Sea Eagle – This white-tailed eagle is the largest bird of prey in Britain and is mainly found on the west coast of Scotland, with the cliffs around Skye being widely known as the best place to see them in the wild. The species actually previously went extinct but the impressive giants with their 8 foot wingspan were reintroduced to the Isle of Rum (just south of Skye) from Norway in 1975 and now they are truly thriving again!
- Golden Eagles – These majestic birds are surely top of any bird watcher’s must-see list, but as they nest in cliffs, getting a good view can be a challenge. But the Isle of Skye is one of your best chances of spotting them in the wild! They are one of the largest prey birds in the UK with an impressive wingspan of up to 8 metres, and are a nuisance to local farmers as their diet, whilst mainly featuring mice and rabbits, does also sometimes include whole baby lambs!
- Gannets – Gannets are hugely impressive birds to see in their natural habitat, with their wingspan of up to 6 foot and their unique technique of diving into the water at high speed in pursuit of fish. They are best spotted from a boat or from atop a cliff, particularly from mid to late summer. The largest colony of Gannets in the world is on the offshore islands of St Kilda, to which there is a fast boat from the Isle of Skye.
- Red Deer – Did you know that Red Deer are the largest land mammal in the UK? They are mainly found in Scotland, with the largest population in the west coast Highlands and Skye. In the summer months Red Deer will be on the higher ground grazing, but it is in the winter months when they come down to the lower ground in search of better grazing and this is when you will have the best chance of a sighting.
- Pine Martens – It is believed that the rare Pine Marten only recently arrived on the Isle of Skye, thanks to the opening of the Skye Bridge which they appear to have made it across. A pine marten is a member of the weasel family and is about the size of a domestic cat, and they are mainly active at night,. So if you are out looking for one after dark, your best place to start looking is the south of the Island around Kyleakin and Sleat.
- Adders – Adders are a common sight and can often be seen sunbathing on the moors. Whilst these may be venomous snakes, you can relax if you do stumble across one, the bites are usually only dangerous to the very old or very young or otherwise vulnerable. So just proceed past with caution and maybe don’t try to give one a stroke just in case!
- Foxes – While these distinctive red mammals may be one of the creatures on this list that many of us are more used to seeing around, in the Isle of Skye they are in fact a rarer find, but those that are around tend to be very large creatures indeed.