Isle of Skye – 3 Day Itinerary in Scotland’s Crown Jewel
Scotland has to be one of the most well-rounded travel destinations that I’ve ever encountered in my life. Besides great cities that are overflowing with history and activity, incredible scenery is just a short drive down the road at any given time. The Isle of Skye is, to me, the highlight of an already incredible country and I couldn’t imagine visiting Scotland without spending several days taking in the beauty that Isle of Skye has to offer.
Preparing For Isle of Skye
Before you visit Isle of Skye, it’s important to know that you will, almost inevitably, spend a good portion of your time getting rain dumped on you. It’s the price to pay for such beautiful landscapes and it’s well worth it! The most important thing you can do to prepare for this is to have some flexibility in your schedule and be mentally ready to spend a day or two either soaking wet or indoors.
Beyond being ready to get wet, know that Isle of Skye is not a warm place. I visited in July and temperatures hovered around 55 degrees Fahrenheit the entire time I was there, so bring layers in addition to your waterproof shell. My Marmot Precip Shell goes with me everywhere and has never let me down. Since you’ll be going hiking as well (you ARE going hiking in Isle of Skye, RIGHT?), make sure you have good, waterproof boots that you don’t mind getting wet and muddy. As always, I can’t rave enough about my Lowa Renegade GTX boots that have been serving me for years.
Isle of Skye Day 1: The Arrival
Now that I’ve told you all about how cold and wet you can expect to be, prepare to get even more excited for your actual trip! For your first day, I recommend flying into Inverness Airport (INV) and picking up your rental car there. Be sure to reserve in advance since there’s a limited supply, and get the smallest car you can fit your things into because you’ll be driving on some narrow roads! I rented from Avis through Auto Europe (check for yourself to see what company gives you the best prices) and it was a good experience, and they allow you to return your car in a different city as well!
Stop 1: Visiting Nessie
Once you’re packed up and settled into your Fiat 500 or similar car, pull up your gps or your pre-printed map (because I know you came prepared) and start heading west to Isle of Skye by way of Loch Ness. Just 45 minutes down the road lie the ruins of Urquhart Castle, situated on a perfect little peninsula on the edge of Loch Ness.
I’ll be honest here. Unless you’re a history buff, I found Urquhart Castle to be pretty skippable. The ruins are interesting and make for a great view of the Loch, but I think there are better places to stop and admire Loch Ness without having to pay admission. Additionally, Urquhart castle was overrun by tour groups when I visited, to the point that it was even difficult to find a parking spot in their large lot. Most of the time I was there, all I could think of was moving on to the next stop on my trip.
Stop 2: Stunning Sunset Views at Neist Point
Depending on when your flight arrived and how long you spent at Loch Ness, either check in at your accommodations in Portree or head straight to Neist Point Lighthouse for a gorgeous sunset view. Neist Point sits on the very westernmost tip of Isle of Skye and it takes roughly 3 hours to get there from Urquhart Castle. On your way there, be sure to take the bridge to Isle of Skye instead of the ferry.
Now that you’ve arrived at Neist Point and bravely fought for your hard-earned parking spot, start out by walking along the path to the lighthouse. About two-thirds of the way to the lighthouse, there’s a hill you can walk up for great ocean views and to take a breather. When you’re done there, continue to the lighthouse and enjoy exploring its grounds.
As the sun migrates closer to the horizon, make your way back towards the parking lot. When you reach the top of the path, instead of walking towards your car, take a left and head west along the cliffside for the iconic viewpoint of Neist Point Lighthouse at the end of its jagged peninsula.
Stop 3: Base Camp in Portree
Congratulations! You’ve gotten your first taste of what Isle of Skye has in store. If you haven’t already checked in to your accommodations in Portree, now’s the time to get settled and grab some dinner for the evening. Portree makes a great base for Isle of Skye. It’s right at the base of the Trotternish Loop (Skye’s most beautiful drive), has the most resources for travelers and has roads branching out in the direction of every major attraction. There are also plenty of restaurants to try out and if you’re lucky you might even catch a bag pipe performance in the town square!
While in Portree, I stayed at Ben Tianavaig B&B, a charming bed and breakfast with friendly hosts and excellent, authentic Scottish food. The check in times are a bit specific, from 4 pm to 6 pm daily, but that was my only hangup about it. Portree is FILLED with amazing bed and breakfasts so you’ll have your choice, just be sure to book as early as possible for summer travels as it fills up quickly!
Accommodation: Ben Tianavaig B&B
Cost: £75 GBP/Night
Day 2: Jaw-Dropping Scenery All Day
Before I go any further, I must emphasize that YOU SHOULD SAVE TODAY’S ACTIVITIES FOR GOOD WEATHER IF POSSIBLE. If you wake up to a rainy day with sun in the upcoming forecast, wait for the sun (or at least scattered clouds, this being Isle of Skye and all).
Today you’re visiting The Trotternish Loop, home to Isle of Skye’s most amazing scenery. Get an early start, even if it means taking your breakfast to go, because you’ll want to beat the crowds for these views. Begin your journey out of Portree by simply heading north on A855 and keep following the road all the way around the loop. Be sure to stop anywhere that you want to explore since the loop is small and you have time. I’ll note the major highlights here, but it’s easy to find yourself wanting to explore the unknown along this scenic drive.
The Old Man of Storr
Arguably the most famous landmark on Isle of Skye, the Old Man of Storr is your first stop and the main reason for getting an early start to avoid the crowds. Park in the lot just 15 minutes north of Portree and head up the hillside to get an up close view of this iconic rock.
“But Tim, why don’t you have a photo of this super famous boulder?”
I’m glad you asked! Because I’m an idiot, that’s why. I arrived a little later than I had planned and decided to save the Old Man for the following day so that I could get some awesome sunrise shot of it and feel super proud. What I neglected to consider was that this is Isle of Skye and that I’d wake up the next morning to pouring rain and fog that prevented me from seeing across the street, much less some incredible Scottish landscape. Learn from me, make photos while the sun shines!
This is a quick and easy stop just before you reach Staffin. It’s just a short walk from the parking lot to the incredible cliffs, where you can take in the 200 foot waterfall and sheer drops right in front of you! Don’t get too carried away though, it’s windy and those cliffs end very suddenly. When you’re ready, take a short drive down the road to my favorite place in Skye.
OH MY GOD THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. You know how you see photos of some places and know that it just doesn’t look that way in real life? Well the Quiraing looks exactly like the photos. It was my favorite place in all of Scotland, so give yourself a few hours to soak it in.
To get there, drive about 5 minutes farther along A855 from Kilt Rock until you reach Staffin. There will be a sign directing you to take a left turn off the main road to the Quiraing, and Google Maps has the parking lot conveniently marked. Don’t be tempted to park at the first lot you see, drive to the one at the top of the hill to start your trek.
The hike for the Quiraing is actually very easy, with level ground and clearly defined paths. Take the trail as far as you like, and it does get a bit steeper after you cross a small, fenced off bridge. Here’s a great guide to the Quiraing walk with more detail. As you walk along the path, be sure to look behind you too! My favorite views along the Quiraing were facing south, so remember to take it all in (or just get those views on your way back to the parking lot).
For a bonus photo op, climb up to the center peak of the formation known as The Prison. You’ll need a friend to help you out for this one. Take turns having one person with a camera perched on the center peak while the other person climbs to the southern peak with all of the Quiraing sprawling behind them. It takes a bit of effort but it’s well worth it.
The Fairy Glen
Once you’ve torn yourself away from the awe-inducing Quiraing, you’ll eventually find it’s time to continue along Isle of Skye’s most scenic drive. Loop all the way around the coastline to the small village of Uig on the west side of the peninsula. Just after A855 merges with A87, take the second road to the left and follow the signs to Fairy Glen.
Upon arrival you’ll realize how Fairy Glen got its name, with little pools of water surrounded by rolling hills and man-made rock formations. It’s a great place to explore and small enough to not feel like you don’t have enough time to see it all. One of my favorite parts of Fairy Glen was a path to the south along a small creek. Not many people ventured out that way but it was a scenic walk with nice views of the Glen at the top of the hill. This is the last major landmark on the Trotternish loop, so take it all in before you move on.
Bonus: The Fairy Pools
Depending on how you managed your time, it might be worth squeezing in one more stop. If you didn’t collect enough fairy dust at the Glen, maybe you’ll have better luck a the Fairy Pools! The pools are an easy 30 minute drive south from Portree followed by a 1.5-ish mile hike from the parking lot.
The Fairy Pools are a series of cascading waterfalls at the foot of the Black Cuillins that collect in adorable little pools as the water makes its way downstream. The crystal clear water provides great photo material, and if you’re feeling adventurous and never got to do the polar plunge, these pools should make a decent substitute! Just make sure you have a towel or some extra clothes handy, because it’s cold in there! Once you’ve thawed out, it’s time to head back to Portree for a nice meal and picture sorting.
Dinner Recommendations in Portree: Scorrybreac Restaurant for fine dining, The Granary for well cooked Scottish fare, and Antlers Bar and Grill for higher end pub food (but prepare for a long wait).
Notes: Most restaurants are in and around Somerled Square in the center of town, and everything is walking distance from everything else in Portree. Things are more expensive on Isle of Skye, but there are still reasonable options to be found.
Day 3: The Backup Plan
This is your rain contingency day, but if you’re lucky and have nonstop sunny weather, it’s still filled with great activities. If the weather is cooperative and you didn’t get a chance to visit the Fairy Pools yesterday, today’s a great day for that. Alternatively, if you do find yourself rained out, most of the Bed and Breakfasts in Isle of Skye are cozy enough that you can even spend a day relaxing while you listen to the calming sounds of the weather outside.
The Talisker Distillery
Or you could, you know, get drunk and tour an amazing distillery instead (note, don’t drink and drive, obviously. Also note, don’t be an obnoxious drunk tourist). Located on the waterfront in Carbost, Talisker is the only scotch distillery on Isle of Skye and one of my favorites anywhere. Since visiting Talisker is every tourist on the Isle of Skye’s rain plan, call ahead and reserve a spot on the tour so that you don’t have to wait.
The unassuming white building hides the beautifully decorated and designed inner workings. Enjoy some whisky tastings in the lobby while you wait to explore the behind the scenes operations. Once you’ve finished your tour I highly recommend picking up a bottle (or two, or five) of your favorite varieties. I was a sucker for the 57 North but encountered a major drawback of traveling carry-on only, so I departed Talisker empty handed. I found the prices in the distillery to be less half the cost of the same bottle in the United States, so it pays to load up if you’re a scotch fan.
Onwards and Downwards
If you’re still getting rained out, find a cafe in Portree and enjoy the small town views for a bit. Another worthwhile stop is Dunvegan Castle, where you can get some shelter from the rain while you tour the grounds. If you’re an architecture buff, and didn’t visit it on the Trotternish loop drive, swing by the Kendram Turf House in Kilmaluag and grab some coffee at the cafe while you wait out the weather.
If this is your last day in Isle of Skye, it might be worth moving on to your next destination, which for me was down south in Edinburgh. On your way out, take a quick photo at Eilean Donan Castle just outside of Skye because it’s just ridiculously scenic and pretty.
What I Wished I Did
There’s still much more to the Isle of Skye than what I’ve listed here. If you have more time or want different options, here are some of the activities that keep me wanting to return to this beautiful island sometime in the future.
- Taken more time to stop at lesser known places on the Trotternish Loop.
- Hike the Black Cuillins
- Taken any other hike on this list: https://www.theguardian.
com/travel/2013/oct/22/top-10- walks-skye-scotland or this list: https://www. walkhighlands.co.uk/skye/ cuillin.shtml
They say the sign of a good trip is that you’ve left wanting more, but if you have more time to spend on the Isle of Skye, please do take it. It’s an indescribably beautiful place and I think about it often since I’ve returned from there.
Got questions? I’ve got answers! Let me know what you think or if there’s anything else you’d like to add on the subject to the comments below!