Make the most of every moment on the magical island with my guide to the best things to do in Skye!
There are so many big-ticket tourist attractions on the Isle of Skye. Your biggest challenge is probably going to be how to cram them all into your trip. Trust me, though, you don’t want to be rushing around, taking a quick couple of photos, and swiftly moving onto the next thing on your itinerary.
Skye is best enjoyed when it’s a totally immersive experience, where your boots get covered in mud, when you’re sweaty from a hike, and you feel completely exhilarated by the incredible views and spectacular scenery. That’s what Skye is all about, and that’s what I got from it.
What you need to know about Skye
Skye is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Scotland. It’s also the largest of the inner Hebridean islands. It’s known for its rugged, untamed landscapes as well as some big hitters when it comes to tourist attractions. The Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, and the mystical fairy pools to name a few.
My favourite facts about Skye
- Sheep outnumber people on the island. There are 100,000 sheep on the Isle of Skye, which you’ll see wandering across the landscape – and the roads. However, there are only around 10,000 people. Prefer sheep to people? Come to Skye.
- About a third of the island were Gaelic speakers in 2001. This has declined in the years since, but the importance of the language can still be felt across the island.
- Flora McDonald is famed for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to Skye from the main land after the defeat of the Jacobites in 1746. As a wanted man, she thwarted his capture by disguising him as her serving maid, ‘Betty Burke’. Flora is buried in a cemetery on the island.
- Skye has been the setting for a number of movies. Scenes from Netflix film Outlaw King (my favourite) were filmed on the island, along with Snow White and the Huntsman, The BFG, Macbeth, and the 2012 Keanu Reeves film, 27 Ronin.
- When the road bridge to the island, the Skye Bridge, first opened in 1995 its tolls were the highest in Europe. However, there was a public outcry. After becoming a political decision, the bridge ceased its tolls in 2004 is now free to cross.
The best things to do in Skye
The Old Man of Storr
The Old Man of Storr is one of the most famous walks in Skye. It’s a large, distinctive pinnacle of rock that you’ll instantly recognise from any photograph you’ve seen of Skye.
There are a couple of explanations as to why it’s called the Old Man of Storr. One story says that the rock face resembles an old man when the light hits it right. Another says that there was a giant who lived on Trotternish many years ago. When he was buried, his thumb remained above ground. That’s the distinctive rock formation of the Old Man of Storr.
But what about actually climbing the Old Man of Storr? Is it manageable? Well, The path is on an incline and I wouldn’t say it’s easy. It’s classed as a medium difficulty rating and although there are steps it still gets muddy at the top. I was peching all the way up but that’s par for the course for me! There are also such amazing views all around you that you don’t feel guilty for stopping for a quick break and to take some photographs.
We followed the path until we were in front of the Old Man of Storr and then you can walk around the edge of it and even go around the back (and hide from the wind chill). We climbed around until we were right at the top which was pretty gusty… and pretty cool.
However, the bit I enjoyed the most was when we went past the Old Man of Storr. You come to an amazing lookout that’s almost completely flat. It gives you completely unobstructed views of the surroundings, of the salty water below, the surrounding hills, and of course the Old Man of Storr. This was the part that really made me go ‘wow.’
Neist Point Lighthouse
You may have come across this already as it’s one of the most famous lighthouses in the world. Built in 1909, it was previously a manned lighthouse, but is now out of use. It’s set on the most westerly tip of Skye and offers amazing views over Moonan Bay.
If you want to capture the famous lighthouse shot you will need to step off the path. I did this on the way back and you’ll veer off the path to the left and climb the slope up to the cliff face. Obviously, be careful – I was very conscious not to go too close to the edge.
You’ll then see a small muddy patch where the grass is worn away, which is your sign that you’re in the right spot. Turn to your left and the money shot is right there!
The walk itself is really quite stunning as well. You make your way down from the carpark and down a series of steps and then a path on the way to the lighthouse. You basically get all of the reward (amazing views) without any of the work (the climb) and so it felt a little backwards. It’s definitely a lot harder going on the way back when there are a ton of steps to climb but the sheer cliff faces on either side somehow make it all worthwhile.
The walk takes around 30 minutes each way and you do need to be reasonable fit to handle the steps! Just a note, it’s maybe one to avoid if you have vertigo due to the height of the cliffs. There are no toilet facilities at Neist Point but, on the upside, the parking is free.
The fairy pools are one of the most famous tourist attractions in Skye, and I’m not surprised why. They get their name from a local legend. The fable tells the story of a clan chief who married a fairy princess. You probably won’t see any fairies while you’re there, they’re still a magical place for tourists for tourists in the summer and in the winter.
The fairy pools are made up of a series of enchanting waterfalls in Glen Brittle and the pools themselves are a vivid shade of turquoise. Some people say this attraction is overrated, but I really loved it. You’re continually being surprised and delighted as you hike, with frothing waterfalls, glass-like greeny-blue water, and impressive scenery all around.
I actually loved being here in winter. As much as the picnics by the sides of the pools in summer sounds lovely, there’s something about the bleakness of the winter that just steals my heart. There were groups of people around, yes, but you could quite easily grab pockets of time on your own to enjoy the magic of the fairy pools without an audience.
You can also swim in the pools. One man stripped off and jumped in the pools when we were there, and that was in December. Having just done the Loony Dook at new year I can testify to how invigorated you feel after immersing yourself in icy cold winter waters, although it’s always best to exercise caution if you do want to take a dip.
This is a beach that’s located a short drive from the fairy pools. We were drawn here with promises of a café on the signs in the fairy pools car park. However, when we arrived it transpired that the café (and nearby campsite) was closed – you’ve guessed it, it’s another one that only operates in the summer months. So no hot drinks and paninis for us!
However, I was really glad we came here. It’s a dark volcanic beach that sits at the base of the Cuillin Mountains and when we got there it was completely deserted. We trotted down to the shoreline to let Casper jump in the sea and it just felt like this really magical moment.
The sun was low in the sky and light up the sand into burnished liquid gold, while our shadows were cast long and dark on the beach. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better a rainbow appeared on the land behind us. And then a double rainbow appeared!
We really lucked out with the weather here at Glenbrittle Beach. It started chucking it down with rain about twenty minutes after we arrived but before that it felt like we’d arrived in this perfect moment in time where everything was tranquil and gorgeous.
The Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
The Kilt Rock is a 90-metre high rock on the north east side of Skye, on the Trotternish Peninsula. It’s given its name due to the fact that the sharp lines and cracks cutting through the cliff face resemble the pleats of a kilt that you’d see being worn at a ceilidh.
You’ll also see the Mealt Falls when you visit, which is the waterfall which seems to pour out of the side of the cliff face in a fierce froth of white. This is even more impressive after rain!
For some reason I had this in my head that this was a walk rather than a viewing point. So when we got there it was, like, oh… OK. he views of the Kilt Rock are pretty spectacular, but this isn’t somewhere that you’ll need to allocate a lot of time to on your trip.
As it happened, it started to tip down with rain just before we arrived here so in some ways I was quite glad that it wasn’t a walk. We jumped out of the car, had a mooch around, took some photographs, and were then able to jump back in the car guilt-free!
If I was doing this again I would plan my itinerary a little better. We headed up the coast to Dinosaur Beach afterwards which was only ten minutes or so away, but then we headed to Neist Point. That was a pretty long drive and so it felt we could have planned it better!
There are lots of beautiful bridges in Skye. And this is coming from someone who lives in Stirling, which is spoiled for choice when it comes to historic bridges. We just happened to pass Sligachan Bridge on the way to somewhere else (the fairy pools I believe) and we had to stop the car and turn around to get some photographs. It’s too pretty not to!
I didn’t know this beforehand but the water underneath the bridge is said to be magical. According to the legend, you can gain eternal beauty by washing your face in the water of the river. But it has to be done a certain way. You can’t just lightly splash your face with the water, you have to fully submerge your face in the river for seven whole seconds.
You then have to let the water on your face dry naturally, rather than drying it off. Only if you follow these steps correctly, will you be bestowed with the gift of eternal beauty.
There’s also a famous shot of under the bridge that is worth capturing. Again, this is one that I missed until afterwards, but there are some great examples on Instagram!
The Three Chimneys
It’s definitely not one for budget travellers, but The Three Chimneys is the Michelin-starred restaurant on the Isle of Skye and I loved it. We visited here during our trip to Skye at the end of 2021 and because we hadn’t been abroad for the whole year I wanted to do something that would make the trip feel special. Well, it didn’t disappoint!
The Three Chimneys has been building its reputation all the way since 1985. Over the past few years it’s really cemented its place as a destination restaurant. If you love great food then I guarantee you won’t be disappointed here!
I had succulent scallops to start with and a huge hunk of monkfish for a main course – which we ordered alongside a side of velvety smooth whipped potato with chive oil and chorizo. I absolutely inhaled that potato and I would order it again in a heartbeat!
For dessert my boy and I split a white chocolate parfait with blackcurrant curd which was a vibrant in colour as it was in flavour. It really was a super pretty plate of food.
I loved everything about the experience at the Three Chimneys in Skye. You can read an in-depth review of my experience but the short one is: if you love great food, go here!
An Corran Beach (Dinosaur Beach)
Want to see real dinosaur footprints fossilised in the rock? You’ve come to the right place at An Corran Beach. In theory at least. This beach in Staffin isn’t your regular beach. It’s pretty special due to it having fossilised Jurassic dinosaur footprints in the rocks.
Unfortunately, you can only see the dinosaur footprints at low tide, and so timing is everything. However, even if you don’t get a chance to see them the beach is still lovely. There were some wild swimmers when we were there so it’s a great spot if you’re into that.
We also almost adopted someone else’s puppy after it followed us all the way from the beach to the car. Chris had to carry it back down to the beach and reunite it with its owners.
And if you still want your dinosaur fix there’s the Dinosaur Museum in Staffin nearby. Alas, that was closed when we were there (winter, innit) but I’ve heard good things about it.
Portree is the main town on the Isle of Skye and its cultural hub. It has a number of attractions, with cafes, bars, cosy restaurants, as well as a cinema and swimming pool. There’s pony trekking and a campsite nearby Portee. It’s also the location where you can take boat cruises out to spot dolphins, porpoises, and other wildlife in the summer.
We didn’t spend too much time in Portree apart from popping into Co-op and to eat breakfast one day – more on both below! However, it’s definitely worth carving out an hour or two for as this is where you’ll see the row of rainbow-coloured houses by the harbour.
I have a soft spot for colourful houses, such as the ones that are synonymous with the island of Burano near Venice as well as, of course, the houses on the shore of Tobermory in Mull. The vibrant hues of pink, blue, and pistachio green on the houses are just so cute!
If we had more time in Portree I would definitely like to try one or two of the restaurants. We had a look at the menu of Dulse & Brose at The Bosville and it looked very tempting.
On the way to Skye
Eilean Donan Castle
A trip to Skye wouldn’t be complete without a picture of one of Scotland’s most famous castles, Eilean Donan. I remember being on a Scottish road trip way back in 2008 or so and going past the castle, but the weather was so horrible I didn’t even get out of the car!
Luckily this time around the weather was actually quite lovely. We got some great photographs of the late afternoon light glinting on the water behind Eilean Donan.
Manuela’s Wee Bakery
This is another one that came courtesy of a recommendation of someone at work. The place itself is worth travelling to alone. It looks like a little hobbit village where all the rounded doorways and windows have been replaced by pointy, jaunty angles and wonkiness.
I’d read all about the Nutella croissants and unfortunately, as it was off-peak season, they weren’t available. There were bagged up treats, freshly baked bread, and hot drinks. I ordered myself a hot chocolate which was sweet, sugary, and delicious!
Tourist attractions on Skye – what did we miss?
There are definitely a ton of things that we missed on Skye. The Quiraing was a big one, for sure. I also would have liked to have made it to Coral Beach. As it happened, we drove down the track to the beach and there was a sign saying that it was a 1.1 mile walk to the beach from there. But it was pouring with rain at that point so that was that end of that!
Generally speaking, though, I prefer more of a slow travel vibe. Rush and bustle is for when you’re not on holiday (just me?) and so despite being there for five days we didn’t fit it in. Of course, we already lost most of a whole day to bad weather, which didn’t help.
All in all, I loved our trip to Skye. There’s something about being on an island that just pushes all your worries to the side – the scale of the incredible landscapes just seems to minimise everything else.
I’d love to go back in the summertime.
More about the Isle of Skye
If you liked this post you might also like…
- The Isle of Skye in winter: plan your winter break
- Where to stay in Skye: a review of Near Byre. Waternish
- The Three Chimneys: a Michelin Star dining experience in Skye
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