It’s wild, untamed, and strikingly beautiful. Here’s what you need to know about visiting the Isle of Skye in winter…
Plan an amazing trip to the Isle of Skye in winter with my detailed travel guide!
I booked a trip to the Isle of Skye for the end of 2021, after a year without a trip abroad. With all the uncertainty of red lists and Covid passports and the possibility of a ten-day quarantine added to any trip, plus the added costs, I simply didn’t want the extra hassle.
With that in mind, I wanted this trip to Skye to be special. I’d pored over pictures of the stunning scenery in Skye for ages and, to me, the island looked even more mesmerising in winter. There’s something about the coolness of a moody winter palette, right?
She’s a belter
I love the rugged, untamed quality of its landscapes, which seem wild and unknowable. Then there’s the pallid grey skies that look like they’ve been dabbed with a paintbrush, and the glimmer of butter-yellow sunshine momentarily peering out from behind the mountains.
It’s a proper belter, and is well worth seeing during the off-season. We booked to go to Skye for five nights so we could see all the big-ticket sights without it feeling rushed. A leisurely pace is much more my travel vibe, but we still managed to cram a heft of a lot in!
If you’re interested in Skye you may like these other blogs:
- The best things to do in Skye
- The Three Chimneys restaurant: my review
- Where to stay in Skye: a review of Near Byre, Waternish
What you need to know about the Isle of Skye in winter
It’s important to visit Skye in winter with your eyes open. A lot of the blogs I read covered things to do in Skye in general, but the more I researched the more I realised a lot of this wasn’t going to be possible on our trip, for various reasons. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know if you’re planning a trip to Skye outside of the summer months.
1) Short daylight hours
Probably the biggest difference between summer in Skye and winter in Skye is the lack of daylight. It gets light at around 9am and dark at around 3.45-4pm, so you don’t have that much time to play with each day. So it’s a good idea to have a rough itinerary in mind.
The shorter daylight hours also aren’t necessarily a bad thing though! I loved coming back to our cottage after a day of sightseeing and not feeling guilty for cosying up in front of the wood burner. If you like a slower pace of travel, Skye in winter is absolutely perfect!
2) The weather
Another big factor for any trip to Skye during winter is the question of whether the weather is going to play ball. You may think, oh, but we’ll just power through that hike up the Quairaing or ‘what’s a bit of rain when you’re in Scotland’ but… just nah. You can’t.
When it’s blowy and wet being outside is pretty miserable. Even if you have waterproof clothing the lack of visibility means that you won’t get decent views anyway. So, in short, you will have to be prepared to rearrange plans when it decides to blaw a hoolie!
3) Lots of things are closed
The other thing worth mentioning is that a lot of things are closed in the off-season. I found myself looking things up along the way and being like, oh, we can go there and we can do this… and nine times out of ten we couldn’t because it was shut for winter.
There are no ferries, no boat trips, one of the distilleries are closed, a lot of the museums are shut… but it’s not a disaster by any means. There’s still plenty to do so you just have to be more creative and bookmark all that stuff for a return visit in the summer!
4) It’s a lot quieter
Everything I read about Skye in somewhere talked about the huge volume of visitors in summer. Skye is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations, so it makes sense.
However, one of the most beautiful qualities of Skye is its remote, untamed nature. I quite like the fact that we were able to enjoy the landscape and the views without feeling like I was at a theme park queuing for one of the rides. Because that would suck!
It’s also relevant from a practical perspective. There are a lot of single lane tracks with passing places in Skye, and that means it can still take a while to get where you’re going. It wasn’t so bad for us but I can imagine it must get busy in summer! If you’re super impatient, like me, then I can see that becoming a little bit frustrating after a while.
5) Off-season style
I’m a big fan of an off-season break. Not only are places less likely to be jammed with crowds, but you can also swap sweaty hair and heat-induced headaches for cosy coats, scarves and beanie hats, along with gulps of crisp, cool air. All very much my scene.
The other thing to mention is that winter just brings out the best in some places. I love the starkness, the stillness, and the calm. The muted colour palette of browns and greys and sludgy greens. In fact, I think that Skye in the winter may even be more beautiful in the summertime. There I said it. You won’t get Skye looking like this in July.
Weather in the Isle of Skye
One thing you learn quickly if you live in Scotland is that the west coast of the country is far wetter than the east coast. ‘Why does it always rain in Glasgow?’ you’ll hear us east coasters lament, as we get soaked in the city for the three hundredth time.
Skye is, of course, on the west coast and so you have to be prepared for rain. It rains 225 days a year in Skye, with October being the wettest month and May the driest.
Here’s a run-through of what you can expect from the weather in Skye
How to get to the Isle of Skye
There are numerous ways to get to the Isle of Skye. We drove, which is mainly because we can’t seem to go anywhere without overpacking. When you have a dog and when you want to pack some of your own meals then travelling light just goes out of the window. With that said, the public transport to Skye is pretty decent, at least from what I could see!
The nearest airport to Skye is Inverness, at 100km away. The second nearest is Glasgow, which is around 200km away, so you will have to combine with other modes of transport. Even though Glasgow is further away it does potentially offer a more scenic route.
We drove to Skye from Stirling and it took around five hours in total. It’s a nice route – I wasn’t doing the driving so I was able to soak up allll the mesmerising scenery along the way. Glencoe is always a big highlight on the route, as is Eilean Donan Castle.
You can take a more direct route from Edinburgh which is quicker. However, everything I read said that the scenic route is more rewarding if you want to enjoy the journey.
You can get a Megabus or Citylink bus to Skye. You can travel either from Edinburgh or Glasgow, although the Edinburgh bus requires a stop-off at Glasgow anyway. It’s a heft of a journey though. It takes around nine hours in total to get to Skye, so it’s not the most time-efficient way of travelling. But if you don’t drive or don’t want to drive, it’s budget-friendly.
With that in mind, everything that I’ve read about Skye advises that public transport on the island is limited, especially in winter. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but there are lots of different attractions scattered in various locations around the island.
I’m always inspired by The Chaotic Scot, who has visited Skye using only public transport.
There isn’t a railway line on the Isle of Skye. The nearest train station to Skye is Mallaig. You can then catch the ferry to Skye from there. Mallaig is the terminus destination of the Jacobite steam train, which heads over the famous Glenfinnan viaduct, and so that’s something to consider adding into your Scotland itinerary if you’ve got some time to play with.
You can read my review of taking the Jacobite steam train here!
Where to stay in Skye in winter
We stayed in an amazing place in Skye in the village of Waternish. It’s called Near Byre and it’s located up a track just off the road running through the village. This means it’s at an elevation and so it affords you amazing views of the nearby peninsula.
Luckily, the owners have made the most of the views with floor to ceiling windows and a wood burner placed in the corner of the room so you can enjoy them from the comfort of the sofa.
Near Byre gets its name from the old cow byre that it was converted from and the original features are a huge part of the interior. Coupled with the stylish décor and muted colour scheme it really is the perfect place to relax, unwind, and shrug of the stresses.
My full review of our stay at Near Byre in Skye is coming soon – stay tuned!
Where to eat in Skye
Where should you eat in the Isle of Skye in winter?
One thing to note about visiting Skye in winter is that not all of the food options that are there in summer are available to you. A lot of the food trucks don’t run throughout the winter for example, and I was sad about missing the Dunvegan Prawn and Mussel Bar.
However, the restaurants are still open and the winter really suits them. I experienced amazing local produce, cosy open fires, and really charming service at the places I went. There’s something about hearty local food when it’s cold and dark outside.
Here are some of the places I went to in Skye, which I would recommend!
- The Three Chimneys – a Michelin-starred ‘restaurant with rooms’
- The Stein Inn – a cosy inn located in the village of Waternish
- The Dunvegan – great food and a warm, welcoming atmosphere
What to pack for the Isle of Skye in winter
If you’re travelling to Skye in winter then you definitely need to make sure you pack appropriately. At the very least you need to have appropriate clothing for the chilly temperatures, blustery winds, and wet and unpredictable weather conditions.
Hiking boots, a warm and preferably waterproof coat, beanie hat and scarf and a selection of cosy jumpers are a starter for ten. I also love bringing slippers with me on any stay!
Check out my Airbnb packing list post for more must-pack items.
FAQs about Skye
How big is Skye?
It’s pretty big for an island! Skye is the second biggest of all the Scottish islands, after Lewis and Harris. It stretches 1,656 square kilometres (or 639 square miles) so it’s not something you can do in a day. I was surprised how long it took us to get to our accommodation after we arrived on the island – for some reason I equate an island with being small!
When is the best time to go to Skye?
There’s something to enjoy about Skye at all times of year. I touched on this above already but here’s a more succinct version. More bullet points, less blethering!
- The best weather
- Long daylight hours
- Able to do outdoors activities
- All attractions are open
- At its busiest during school holidays
- Expect lots of midges!
- Busy on the roads (single track lanes)
- May struggle for parking
- The landscape suits the winter
- Much less crowded
- Able to get around faster
- Cosy nights by the fire
- Shorter days
- Unpredictable weather
- Some attractions are closed
- May have to rearrange plans due to the weather
Can you go to the Isle of Skye in winter?
Yes you can. Skye is open all year round and is easily accessed via the Skye Bridge.
Is it worth going to Skye in winter?
Yes, absolutely. It’s a different vibe in comparison to the summer, for sure, but there’s lots to like. The ruggedness of the landscapes, the snow-topped mountains, the grey skies that weigh heavy with bad weather, and the stillness of the calm in between… it’s a beauty.
You won’t get this in summertime and so that makes the Isle of Skye in winter worthwhile. Yes, the days are short and some of the attractions are closed in the off-season, but there’s still plenty to do. You’ll also avoid the curse of visiting the Scottish islands in summer – midges!
Does it snow in Isle of Skye in winter?
It does snow in Skye. However, it doesn’t tend to lie for long because of the island’s proximity to the sea. All that salty in the air makes the snow melt away quickly.
What about camping in Skye?
You can camp in Skye all year around, if you have the right equipment and you’re prepared to deal with the wet and windy weather. It’s not something I would do, but that’s just me!
One thing to bear in mind if you are thinking about camping in the Isle of Skye in winter is the long hours of darkness in the winter. It gets dark around 4pm and doesn’t get light until after 9am, so that’s a long stretch. I would much prefer to be tucked up next to a log burner with a good book.
How long should you spend in Skye?
I was in Skye for five nights and even that didn’t feel long enough. I would recommend staying in Skye for at least two nights. That should give you enough time to explore the island and whizz around most of the big sights, although longer is always better!
Travel tips for the Isle of Skye in winter
One thing to note: you have to pay for parking at some of the tourist locations in Skye. I think this is to manage the large volumes of visitors that visit the island in the summer. Even though it’s much quieter in winter, like when we were there, you still have to pay! At both the Old Man of Storr and the fairy pools the parking charge was £5 for a minimum stay.
Bad news, you have to pay for the toilets at the main attractions in Skye. Good news: this means that you have clean, well-maintained facilities at your disposal, which is no bad thing. Just don’t be like me a the Old Man of Stoff and pee behind a bus before you realise! The toilets were 50p and you can pay by card or cash, which was useful!
This is probably isn’t much of a surprise but getting 3G on the island is tricky. We’d get back in the car after being a walk and then find that the sat nav wouldn’t work and so we’d just have to guess where we were going until we could connect to the 3G again. Having a charger in the car so you can give your phone some juice is also a wise idea.