Planning a trip to the Isle of Skye? Use my ultimate Isle of Skye itinerary to figure out how to spend 1, 2, 3 or 4 days on the island. Get the most out of your visit to Skye, make sure you see the iconic sites like the Fairy Glen in the Quiraing mountains or Neist Point lighthouse, but also spend some time off the beaten track. A must-read for a Scotland road trip!
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The Isle of Skye is one of the most popular places to visit in Scotland. Around 650,000 people add the Isle of Skye to their Scotland itinerary every year.
But it’s a big island. Much bigger in reality than it looks on the map – mostly because the roads are narrow and winding and it takes longer to get from A to B than you’d think.
Thus, it is important to plan your itinerary in order to maximise your time on the island and get the most out of your trip to the Isle of Skye.
Depending on how many days you spend on Skye, you might only have time to see some of its most iconic sites, or explore off the beaten track, discovering some of the hidden gems on Skye.
This article is all about putting together your Skye itinerary. It contains:
- 4 self-drive itineraries for the Isle of Skye:
- Day 1: Best of Northern Skye
- Day 2: Central Skye
- Day 3: Sleat Peninsula
- Day 4: Hidden Gems in Northern Skye
- A brief Isle of Skye travel guide: how to get here, where to stay, local activity providers and tours.
If you are planning a trip to Skye, also check out my posts with more things to do on Skye.
How to use this Skye itinerary
This Isle of Skye itinerary contains 4 self-drive routes around Skye’s far-flung corners. Each fills (at least) an entire day, making it easy to mix and match the different itineraries for your trip.
I recommend you spend at least 2 nights on the Isle of Skye, so you have one full day to fill with one of these itineraries.
Day 1 and 4 cover the northern parts of the island, the Trotternish peninsula and north-west Skye towards Dunvegan and Neist Point. I split them into “best of”-sites and hidden gems, but you could also spend one full day on Trotternish and one full day in the north-west.
Day 2 takes you to the central parts of Skye – Carbost, Talisker, Glenbrittle and Elgol.
Day 3 explores the southernmost part of Skye, the Sleat peninsula.
You could reduce the number of sites you see in central Skye and the Sleat peninsula, in order to see both parts on one day. But you won’t manage to follow all my suggestions and do all the walks.
Day 1: The Best of Northern Skye
Distance: 100 miles (160 km) // Start/End Point: Portree
This itinerary covers what most people see when they have one day on Skye (i.e. spend two nights on the island). It takes in the iconic scenery of the Trotternish peninsula and also includes a drive to the north-western parts of Skye.
I describe the road trip starting and ending in Portree, driving around the peninsula anti-clockwise and visiting the west coast of Skye last before returning to Portree.
The Trotternish Peninsula is by far the most popular region on the Isle of Skye. Many of the quintessential photographs you have seen of Skye on Instagram or Pinterest have been taken here and the scenery is truly epic.
Then continue your road trip to north-west Skye. From Uig drive south along the coast towards Portree, but turn right around Carbost to take the road to Dunvegan.
Old Man of Storr
The Old Man of Storr is a massive pinnacle in the Quiraing mountain range. It sits prominently on top of a steep slope and can be seen from the road long before you reach the small car park.
To get the most out of your visit, I recommend a short hike up towards the Old Man for stunning views of the coast. You can even hike all the way to the base of the pinnacle. Plan at least 1.5 to 2 hours for his hike.
Top tip: Arrive here early as the car park gets busy very quickly.
Kilt Rock is one of Scotland’s iconic basalt formations, a tall cliff with thin basalt columns. It looks a bit like the pleats of a kilt – hence the name.
This is a shortstop as the car park is just next to the viewpoint from where you can see Kilt Rock. Make sure to look over the edge though to also see the famous Mealts Falls, a waterfall that tumbles down into the ocean – seemingly out of nowhere.
The Quiraing is the mountain range that dominates the northern Trotternish peninsula. It features many bizarre shapes like the Old Man of Storr, but also many others.
After passing the small village of Staffin, take the small single-track road up into the mountains. It is narrow and steep, so drive carefully.
When you reach the top of the road, park your car and spend some time taking in the views. I highly recommend a short walk on the trail that starts on the opposite side of the road (from the car park).
The entire loop trail through the Quiraing takes around 4 hours, but it is worth following the trail even for 20-30 minutes to immerse yourself in the landscape.
The Fairy Glen is a magical place just west of Uig famous for its conical grassy hills and the towering ruins of Castle Ewen.
There is very limited parking at the Fairy Glen, so it’s best to park up in Uig and walk to the glen (30 minutes one-way).
Please note, that you should not move or stack any rocks as this causes damage to the site and poses a risk for animals who graze here. Locals remove stacks made by tourists on a regular basis.
Dunvegan Castle & Gardens
Dunvegan Castle was initially built in the 13th century and expanded and fortified over centuries. It was last revamped in the 19th century to give it a medieval appearance. It sits on a rock overlooking the calm bay of Loch Dunvegan, which provides direct access to the sea.
The lush 18th-century flower gardens around the castle is my personal highlight.
Top tip: The castle offers short boat trips to a nearby seal colony for an additional fee. You must purchase a castle or garden ticket as well.
Dunvegan Castle is open from April to mid-October. Entrance fees are £14 (Castle + Garden), £12 (Gardens only), £10 (Seal boat trip) (2020 prices).
Neist Point Lighthouse
The lighthouse at Neist Point is possibly the most iconic lighthouse on Skye. Like most lighthouses in Scotland, it was designed by a member of the Stevenson family (David Alan Stevenson).
It takes approximately 45 minutes to walk from the car park to the lighthouse. The path begins with a steep staircase before it evens out and reveals stunning views of the lighthouse and the cliffs below it.
Top tip: This is a fantastic place to see the evening sun or the sunset.
From Neist Point it takes about 2 hours to drive back to Portree. You could stop for dinner at the famous Three Chimneys restaurant which is one the way.
Day 2: Highlights in Central Skye
Distance: 85 miles (140 km) // Start/End Point: Broadford
It is well worth spending a day in central Skye and it can include all the epic things you’re looking for on a trip to Scotland: a whisky distillery, natural beauty, small island communities, scenic beaches and stunning mountain views.
This day on Skye takes in the Strathaird peninsula, a boat trip to the remote Loch Elgol, a dram at Talisker Distillery and the famous Fairy Pools.
Framed by Loch Slapin and Loch Scavaig, the Strathaird peninsula is a great place to go off the beaten track on Skye. There is only one road from Broadford to Elgol offering stunning views of the Cuillin Hills in the north.
From Elgol, you can follow an easy trail to Prince Charlie’s Cave where Bonnie Prince Charlie spent his last night on Skye before escaping by boat, never to return to Scotland again. (2 to 3 hours)
There are a few different options, either a quick cruise to the loch and back (1.5 hours) a standard tour with approx. 1.5 hours onshore (approx. 3 hours) or a flexible return trip with up to 8 hours to hike at Loch Coruisk.
Boat trips run roughly from April to October and the standard tour with 1.5-hour landing starts at £25.
Back on the main road, drive north from Broadford to Sligachan and turn left towards Carbost and Glenbrittle.
The Fairy Pools are a series of natural pools forming in the River Allt Coir’ a’ Mhadaidh at the foot of the Black Cuillin hills.
Although they are not unique – there are many similar sites all over Scotland – pictures of this one went viral on Pinterest and Instagram, leading to an explosion in visitor numbers. A trail leads from the car park to the pools. The entire walk takes around 3 hours, but you can reach the first pools much quicker if you are just after a quick walk.
Note that the car park at the Fairy Pools is quite small. If it’s full, it’s full. Don’t park on the road as it can block access for emergency vehicles or locals.
If the car park is busy, return to Carbost to Talisker Distillery and try again after the tour. It is only a 15-minute drive between the two.
To end the day, I highly recommend the tour at Talisker Distillery – the first whisky distillery in Scotland I ever visited. Learn everything about the production of single malt whisky and try a dram yourself.
Tours are available year-round and prices start at £10 for a 45-minute tour incl. 1 dram (2020 prices).
From Carbost it takes around 40 minutes to drive back to Broadford.
Day 3: Off the beaten track on the Sleat Peninsula
Distance: 85 miles (140 km) // Start/End Point: Broadford
Possibly the least frequented, but nevertheless stunningly beautiful part of the Isle of Skye is the Sleat peninsula in the south. Many people arrive here, by ferry from Mallaig to Armadale – yet they leave the area as quickly as possible to make their way north towards Portree and Trotternish.
Big mistake in my books! The Sleat peninsula is a great area to add to your Isle of Skye itinerary,
The upside is of course, that the roads and sites of the Sleat peninsula are a lot quieter than other parts of Skye – even in the summer!
The ruins of Dunscaith Castle offer breathtaking views of the rounded hills on Strathaird peninsula and the Cuillin mountains in central Skye.
The castle balances high on a rock off the coast. Around 20 feet separate the rock from the mainland and with great care, you can cross over the crumbling stone bridge to access the ruins.
Originally owned by the Clan MacDonald of Sleat, it was abandoned sometime during the 17th century.
Point of Sleat (Aird of Sleat)
The Point of Sleat is the southernmost point on the Isle of Skye.
An easy 1.5 to 2-hour hike (one-way) leads you from the end of the road to an old traditional-looking and a bizarrely shaped new lighthouse that marks this point.
This area is great to spot marine mammals like seals and otters and offers sweeping views of the Isles of Rum and Eigg, the Ardnamurchan peninsula and the mountains of Knoydart on the mainland.
Armadale Castle is another ruined castle of the Clan MacDonald on the Sleat peninsula. The original castle has been inhabited and expanded until the early 20th century. The castle was abandoned in 1925, but the gardens and grounds have been maintained ever since.
The castle ruins are a great example of a Scottish mock-castle that is more suitable to show off a family’s wealth, than offer any strategic defence.
Today, the castle & garden is an award-winning visitor attraction and well worth a visit.
Armadale Castle is open from March to November and the ticket costs £9 (2020 price).
Another day, another distillery.
Torabhaig Distillery is a new distillery on the Sleat peninsula. It started its full production in 2017, but while the distillery’s own whisky is not ready yet, they already offer tours to explain their process to you.
Tours are available year-round and prices start at £10 for a 45-minute tour (2020 price).
Day 4: Hidden Gems of Northern Skye
Distance: 100 miles (160 km) // Start/End Point: Portree
If you have followed Day 1 from this Isle of Skye itinerary, you’ve seen the most iconic places in northern Skye.
Today, it is time to discover the hidden gems dotted among them.
Remember, you could also spend an entire day on the Trotternish peninsula combining sites from Day 1 and 4; and another day in north-west Skye, again visiting the sites included on Day 1 and 4.
This scenic headland south of Staffin makes for a fantastic coastal walk (1 to 2 hours). The effort of the steep trail is paid off with great views of Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls in the north and dramatic sea cliff scenery.
This is a fantastic spot to come for sunrise.
Staffin Dinosaur Museum
A place for people who love curiosities.
The Staffin Dinosaur Museum holds a collection of dinosaur fossils and offers walking tours to a dinosaur footprint on the nearby coast.
The museum is open from Easter to October and costs £2 entrance fee (2020 price).
Another stronghold of the Clan MacDonald of Sleat, Duntulm Castle lies near the northern edge of the Trotternish Peninsula.
The castle was built in the 14th and 15th century and was a strategic stronghold in the feuds between Clan MacDonald and Clan MacLeod. It was abandoned in the 18th century and much of the stones have been repurposed as building material at the Clan MacDonald’s nearby Monkstadt House.
What is left of the castle makes for a great photo opportunity though!
Skye Museum of Island Life or Colbost Croft Museum
They feature traditional croft cottages and Blackhouses and have exhibitions about various aspects of rural island life.
The Skye Museum of Island Life is open from Easter to mid-September and charges £3 entrance fee (2020 price).
The Colbost Croft Museum is open from Easter to October and charges £1.50 entrance fee (2020 price).
Claigan Coral Beach
This tropical-looking beach near Dunvegan impresses with white sand and clear blue waters. Claigan Coral Beach is perfect for a seaside picnic.
Oronsay is a small tidal island near Ullinish. It is possible to include the island in your Skye itinerary if you time your visit with low tide. It is only safe to use the causeway to and from Oronsay when the tide is out and the water is low.
The walk around Oronsay takes 2 to 3 hours and offer beautiful coastal views all the way.
Isle of Skye Travel Guide
Is the Isle of Skye a must-see?
This is a valid question and one that many people will quickly jump to say “yes” to. But I don’t always agree – hear me out.
One thing I wanted to point out is that the Isle of Skye by far not the only scenic place or island in Scotland. It is a beautiful place to visit, but I would not consider it a must-see in Scotland – I’m actually struggling to think about any place in Scotland that I think everyone has to see without exception.
I’m a huge advocate of choosing destinations for your trirp that are right for you. You can definitely plan a Scotland itinerary without Skye – without getting massive FOMO.
While Skye is beautiful it might not be the best island to visit for your trip – depending on your time frame, your budget, your interests and your travel style.
I have an entire post about reasons why you might want to consider an alternative to Skye and a detailed overview of the different Scottish isles to give you an idea of what you can experience elsewhere.
Skye gets very busy during the summer (May to September). You might have to adjust some of your expectations of vast and empty landscapes as you will have to share most viewpoints with many other Scotland-fans.
That said if Skye is a dream destination of yours and you can dedicate a reasonable amount of time on the island to explore the classic sites as well as off the beaten track – GO FOR IT!
The Isle of Skye is also a great stopover on your way to Lewis and Harris (the Outer Hebrides) and tacks on well to the North Coast 500 if you plan a longer road trip.
How to get to Skye
While the Isle of Skye is easy to get to, it is far away from the central parts of Scotland and quite a drive from Edinburgh or Glasgow. I recommend spending a night about halfway on the way up and/or down and two nights on the Isle of Skye, especially if this is your first trip to Scotland.
Distances below are calculated to Portree.
Edinburgh to Isle of Skye: 235 miles (380 km) // 5+ hours
The most direct route from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye crosses through Perth and Pitlochry (A9), Loch Laggan and Spean Bridge (A86, A82) and finally from Invergarry out west on the A87. Before crossing the Skye Bridge, you can visit Eilean Donan Castle.
Glasgow to Isle of Skye: 216 miles (350 km) // 5+ hours
The most direct route from Glasgow to the Isle of Skye leads north along Loch Lomond to Glencoe, Fort William and Invergarry (A82), and then west on the A87 past Eilean Donan Castle to the Skye Bridge.
From Fort William, you could also take the Road to the Isles to Mallaig (A830) and catch the Calmac ferry from Mallaig to Armadale. This has to be booked well in advance.
Inverness to Isle of Skye: 115 miles (180 km) // 3 hours
There are two options to drive from Inverness to the Isle of Skye via the Skye Bridge:
- Drive south along Loch Ness and take the A887 + A87 west towards Skye. Stops along the way could include Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, Shiel Bridge and Eilean Donan Castle.
- Take a route further west via Achnasheen and Strathcarron (A835, A832, A890, A87). Stops on this route could include Loch Luichart, Strathcarron, Plockton and Eilean Donan Castle.
Public transport to Isle of Skye
There are direct buses from Glasgow to Portree via Fort William (Citylink 915, 916) and from Inverness to Portree (Citylink 917).
From Inverness, you can also get the scenic train to Kyle of Lochalsh and get a bus across the Skye Bridge from there.
From Edinburgh, you have to go to Glasgow first and then get the bus from there.
Getting around on Skye
The easiest way to get around on the Isle of Skye is with your own (hire) car. Many scenic places are not accessible by public transport. I always find the best hire car deals via Auto Europe.
There are some public buses connecting major villages on Skye and sites such as Dunvegan Castle, Elgol, Talisker Distillery and Armadale Castle can be easily reached by bus from Portree or Broadford. Note, that it can take 1.5 to 2 hours or longer between scheduled buses.
There are also some guided tours available on the island.
Guided tours on Skye
There are several tour companies offering small group or private tours around the Isle of Skye. Many leave from Portree which is the largest village on Skye and a great home base if you travel to Skye without a car.
Most scheduled group tours focus on the “best of” itinerary on Skye and stick mostly to sites in northern Skye + Fairy Pools and Talisker Distillery.
Private tours should be able to also take you off the beaten track but are of course a bit more expensive – a great option if you travel with others.
Read up on different tours and companies here.
Go Skye also offers a regular shuttle bus service to some of the most popular places on Skye including the Fairy Glen, the Fairy Pools and the Old Man of Storr.
Where to stay on Skye
There are a lot of options for accommodation on the Isle of Skye, from budget-friendly hostels to traditional B&Bs, luxury hotels, self-catering cottages in stunning surroundings and various campsites.
Popular areas to stay are:
- Portree: the largest village on Skye, lots of restaurants, pubs and shops, great for guided tours and activities on the island.
- Uig and Staffin on the Trotternish peninsula: a bit quieter and more off the beaten track, Uig is great for island hopping to the Outer Hebrides.
- Dunvegan in north-west Skye: surrounded by stunning scenery, but very close to popular sites in northern Skye.
- Carbost in central Skye (west coast): great to be off the beaten track and ideal for an early morning start at the Fairy Pools
- Broadford in central Skye (east coast): a bigger village with restaurants and shops, particularly well located to explore central Skye and Sleat peninsula, but only 40 minutes from Portree.
- Armadale / Sleat peninsula: off the beaten track with stunning scenery.
With this ultimate Isle of Skye itinerary for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days and all the additional travel info about Skye contained in this post, you are now perfectly equipped to make your trip happen.
If you need any help planning your trip to Scotland, check my itinerary planning services and get in touch.
Are you planning a trip to the Isle of Skye? I’d love to hear your plans below!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.