Do you ever rise early on your travels to witness a magical sunrise in a faraway place? Dream away with this immersive travel story about experiencing a sunrise on Skye, one of Scotland’s most magical islands.

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This post has two parts:

  • First, an immersive travel story that takes you into the moment of experiencing the sun rising above the Isle of Skye.
  • Then a short practical guide to planning a similar experience on your own trip to Skye.

“Sunrise on Skye”

Beep-beep-beep-beep.

With my eyes still closed, I reach for my phone. After a few failed attempts, grasping at nothing, my heavy hand finally lands on the beeping menace that just ripped me out of dreamland. I fumble for the button that will put an end to the disrupting noise and – there… silence. 

Slowly I open one eye, then the other, turn around and slide the curtain next to my bed to the side ever so slightly. I’m immediately blinded by the orange glow of a street lamp. Apart from that, it is pitch black out there. 

What was I expecting? It is 7 am at the end of November. Of course it would be dark outside.

Slowly I peel back the warm duvet and get out of bed. Despite the agonizing sound of my alarm, I can detect no movement on the opposite side of the room, where my friend lies fast asleep in her bed. I’ll give her some time, I think and make my way to the bathroom to get ready. 

Now fully awake and dressed for adventure, I find my friend has made progress and a short while later, we find ourselves in the car, ready for the road.

It is still dark as we leave our accommodation in Portree and start making our way north. The streets are quiet at this time of the day and this time of the year. Despite having never visited at the height of summer before, I still had never seen the island so quiet. 

The colourful harbour of Portree on the Isle of Skye.

After a few minutes, we leave the sleepy village with its colourful houses and iconic harbour behind. In the twilight, I can make out a bizarre pinnacle halfway up the steep slope ahead of us. The Old Man of Storr stands there ready, like a soldier waiting to salute the rising sun. We pass the near-empty car park at its foot – likely a photographer or two waiting for their chance to snap a winning shot of this famous Skye landmark.

And they’re onto something. In fact, we are on a similar mission. Only to a different destination.

On and on we drive as the road becomes narrower and finally, rises steeply in front of us.

“Are you sure, we can drive up there?”, I ask. The road is sparkling, the ice reflecting our headlights back at us. A thin layer of frost covers the grass left and right of the road. A triangular sign warns us of the upcoming 15% incline and a message above reads:

“This road may be impassable during winter conditions.”

Great. Just great. “We’ll be fine,” my friend says and drives off without a sign of doubt in her voice. If you say so, I think to myself and decide to trust her driving skills. In the name of adventure.

Turns out – she is right. Slowly we climb higher on the tiny single-track road that leads up to the plateau of northern Skye. There is no traffic. No cars behind us, and none going in the other direction. 

Woman standing in the hills of Scotland at sunrise.

There is a hairpin bend and suddenly the fascinating landscape that was just hiding in the rear mirror spills out in front of us. The Quiraing. What a beauty! 

Even though there is still some time before sunrise, the outline of the ridge is clearly visible against the sky. One more sharp bend we’re at the top of the plateau. We find a spot to park, put on a few extra layers and off we go. 

Within a few steps from the car park, there are a handful of photographers, setting up tripods, polishing lenses, screwing on filters, finding the perfect angle and composition for their shots. They will no doubt be epic. This is one of the most iconic locations to see the sunrise on Skye. 

We say “hello” and “bye” and continue on the narrow footpath, deeper into the Quiraing, an escarpment that was formed by landslides thousands of years ago. Even today, the land is still shifting slowly. The sky is now bright enough to walk without effort, but the sun is still waiting to make its grand entrance. 

The ground beneath my feet is solid. Here and there, previous walkers’ boots have left deep crevasses in the mud, but stepping in them now, the earth does not give way. I can see my breath in front of me. How cold it might be?

A footpath leading towards the Quiraing hills on the Isle of Skye in Scotland

After a few minutes, we have left the busier photo spots behind and are now fully surrounded by the bizarre rock formations of the Quiraing. They carry descriptive names like “The Prison”, “Needle” and “The Table” and I can only imagine the stories and fairytales this landscape must have inspired across the centuries.

Aware of the time, we find a good spot to witness the big moment and start setting up our shots. Nothing fancy, no tripods or big cameras – but a love of composition and perspectives nonetheless.

And then, without a warning, the show begins. Like a grand opera singer carefully planning her entrance, the sun slides over the horizon and dips everything above the surface in a warm golden glow. Completely captivated by her presence, I can feel her rays warming my cheeks and tickling my nose. The light is so bright, it takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust. The hills that were green and black just a moment ago, are now orange, yellow, red and purple. Mesmerised by the display I press the shutter of my camera. Over and over again.

The sun rising over the horizon above the hills on the Isle of Skye

My friend and I take turns, photographing each other in this magical light. But the main attraction is the landscape, glowing in the winter sun. The rolling hills playing hide and seek in the light. Bright colours here, dark shadows there. The light bounces off them, dances along their swollen backs as the sun climbs higher, higher, higher.

Like kids in a candy shop, we take pictures, pause, take it all in, find a new angle and press that button again. 

Woman standing in the hills of Scotland at sunrise.

After a while, we tear ourselves loose, back to reality and back on the trail ahead. We continue our walk, climb the steep path up to “The Prison” from where we can see the villages below, Staffin Island surrounded by the deep blue sea and the hazy outline of the Applecross peninsula in the distance, like hiding behind a thin veil.

Eventually, it is time to return to the car. A hot flask filled with tea is waiting for us and so is the rest of the Trotternish peninsula. But at this moment I know, nothing could ever top the spectacle of a sunrise in the Quiraing.

A woman standing next to rock formations in the Scottish Highlands looking down towards the sea.

Planning your trip to Skye

The Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s most popular destinations. If you don’t carefully plan your trip to Skye, you run the risk of seeing more of the tourist crowds than of the actual island.

Tips for catching the sunrise at the Quiraing

  • Aim to arrive at the Quiraing car park at least 30 minutes before sunrise to find a good spot to “watch the show”. From Portree, it takes approximately 40 minutes to drive there.
  • You can check sunrise times here.
  • Bring breakfast and a flask with hot tea to stay warm.
  • Respect other people’s space and be aware of photographers who are setting up their shots.

Tips for visiting the Isle of Skye

Travel in off-season

Summertime is incredibly busy on Skye. Accommodation is expensive and hard to come by, restaurants are full and car parks are limited. Visitor numbers rise from May on and won’t start declining until October, so if you can plan a trip in off-season.

A woman sitting on a steep, rocky hillside in Scotland with blue sky in the background

Stay longer

In my opinion, you should spend at least 2 nights on the Isle of Skye in order to have one full day on the island. However, if you can, stay longer – there is enough to do & see to spend 3-4 nights on Skye.

Be the early bird

If you don’t have any other choice than visiting Skye during peak season, be an early bird. Plan and book well ahead to secure affordable accommodation, and get up early to beat the tour buses to a parking spot, especially at the popular sites.

Go off the beaten path

Yes, the Quiraing is gorgeous, but it’s also located in one of the busiest parts of Skye. Try to balance your Skye itinerary and escape the crowds by going off the beaten path. Explore quieter regions of Skye, such as the Sleat peninsula and choose hiking routes that are less popular. I promise it will still be beautiful and you will make more unique experiences.

Check out these blog posts for more tips and tricks:

Skye Itinerary: 1, 2, 3 or 4 Days on the Isle of Skye

What to do: 30+ Things to do on the Isle of Skye

Planning tips: How to plan a trip to Scotland

“The Best of Scotland”: My 8-Day Itinerary for Scotland

I hope this post will both inspire your to visit Skye in off season and help you plan your own adventure.

Did you enjoy my immersive travel story? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments!


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