5 Things to Do on Scotland’s Isle of Skye

When Nicole, my sister Lauren, and I were planning our UK trip last spring, I had one request: We absolutely had to visit Skye. A jaunt to this island off the west coast of Scotland has been a dream of mine ever since I discovered that the MacLeod clan—my maternal grandmother’s family—originated here. I’d read about Dunvegan Castle and the Fairy Flag` that, legend has it, protected generations of MacLeods in battle. Now it was time to see it all for myself.

Nicole and Lauren were happy to oblige, and we scheduled three days on the Isle of Skye, the longest amount of time we spent anywhere on the trip. It sounds counterintuitive: Edinburgh and London are vibrant, bustling cities with a seemingly endless abundance of things to do. On the other hand, you can pretty much drive around the Isle of Skye in a couple of hours. How were we going to keep busy on this scenic, if fairly remote, island for three days?

On the road to Skye.

As it turns out, we were never bored. Skye was my favorite part of our trip, and remains one of my favorite places on earth. I have fantasies about moving here with Devin, raising our cats in a thatched roof cottage while I write my novel. I know I’ll be back. Whether it’s your first trip to Skye or you’re a repeat visitor, don’t miss out on these five attractions.

1) Castles and MacAskills. If you’re driving onto Skye from mainland Scotland, you’ll likely pass Eilean Donan Castle on the way. Technically located on tiny Loch Duich, the castle isn’t actually on the Isle of Skye, but is part of the main tourist route there and makes a gorgeous backdrop for photos. (If Eilean Donan looks familiar, you’ve probably seen it on postcards, Pintrest, and movies like Highlander and Made of Honor.)

Breathtaking Eilean Donan Castle

An hour and a half away on the other end of Skye, you’ll find Dunvegan Castle, home of the MacLeods and that legendary Fairy Flag. The castle isn’t much to look at from the outside, but its rich history and verdant gardens make it a must-see on Skye.

A footbridge in Dunvegan Castle's gardens

Finally, check out the Giant Angus MacAskill Museum, which I’ve written about previously. This tiny museum pays homage to an oversized man and is a fun way to spend a half-hour or so near Dunvegan.

2) Sheep, sheep, and more sheep. Nicole had regaled me of with tales of encountering “sheep jams” in Ireland, and I was hopeful for the same in Scotland. Skye did not disappoint! One gloomy afternoon, with a passing rainstorm making other outdoor activities unlikely, we took a long drive around the island. Sounds dull, but every path held an adventure, whether it was the famous Fairy Bridge (Skye is notorious for its folklore) or a flock of sheep setting up shop in the middle of the road. Rent a car and spend a few hours discovering the flora and fauna—including palm trees and those adorable Highland Cows.

Nursing lamb

So cute!

Skye's Fairy Bridge

3) Geography and geology. In many ways, Skye reminds me of Iceland. Both islands sport a wide variety of landscapes, from beaches to mountains, in a small amount of space. We took in three of Skye’s biggest geological attractions: The Cuillin, the Quiraing, and Kilt Rock. The Cuillin are a majestic range of rocky mountains that include the Black Cuillin and the Red Hills. Although we chose to view the Cuillin from the ground, intrepid visitors can hike them as well.

The atmospheric Quiraing

For a completely different kind of landscape, check out the Quiraing, located on Skye’s Trotternish peninsula. These jagged, grassy formations are accessible by a very narrow and steep road (Nicole deserves a medal for navigating it). Once at the Quiraing, you can hike farther or simply wait until the mist clears and soak in the view.

Kilt Rock with waterfall

And don’t neglect Kilt Rock, a stunning waterfall whose sheer cliff is said to resemble a Scottish kilt. You can see all three attractions in an afternoon.

4) Pub life. You can’t visit Scotland without spending some quality time in the local pubs, and Skye is no exception. At the recommendation of our helpful innkeepers, we decided to schedule a tour of the island’s Talisker whiskey distillery. The wait was long, though, so we settled for a free onsite whiskey tasting instead. While both Nicole and Lauren had tried whiskey before, I’m more of a wine and cosmopolitan kind of gal, so I was both eager and mildly terrified to sample the Talisker. The verdict? Talisker is super-smoky and I don’t think any of us will be ordering it again anytime soon—although we each bought a bottle for the men in our lives.

Putting on a brave face with my Talisker whiskey.

From Talisker, we headed to a local pub and indulged in some conversation and a much more palatable form of alcohol: hard cider. The people of Skye are among some of the friendliest I’ve met, and even the most antisocial travelers should consider chatting with the locals while on the island.

Ah, that's better!

5) Seal watching. If the temperate climate, succulent seafood, and sandy beaches don’t provide a constant reminder that you’re on an island, sign up for a seal-watching tour. You’ll find a variety of tour operators on the web or in travel brochures; we chose a small tour that left from Plockton, about an hour east of Portree, Skye. The hour-long tour was affordable at £8 per adult and took us through scenic Loch Carron, home of scads of harbor seals.

On our seal tour...

Our seal tour was the perfect finish to our time on Skye—and you can bet I’ll do it all over again next time I visit.

...and here they are!

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8 thoughts on “5 Things to Do on Scotland’s Isle of Skye

  1. Pingback: 24 Hours in Edinburgh | Have Baggage, Will Travel

  2. Hi! I am planning a trip to Skye next week as a surprise roadtrip for my mother as she has always wanted to visit as our family are also part of the MACLEOD clan! My mothers maiden name. I would be really grateful if you could share any more information you may have on the clan to surprise my mother with, it’s on her bucket list to discover her heritage in Skye! Thank you for your info in this post!

    Nichola xx

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