If you’re looking for a unique place off the beaten path in the UK, then consider visiting the Isle of Skye.
The Isle of Skye is part of the Inner Hebrides chain of islands off Scotland’s west coast and is only a couple of kilometres from the Scottish mainland. This unique part of the world is full of breathtaking landscapes perfect for hiking or simply a road trip.
How To Get There
The closest major airport to the Isle of Skye is in Glasgow. You can reach the Isle of Skye by flying into Glasgow and hiring a car for the journey, or there’s a CityLink bus that leaves from Glasgow Airport twice a day – once at 10.20am and another at 4.20pm. A bus also leaves three times a day from the Glasgow Bus Station at 7am, 10am and 3pm. Go to www.citylink.co.uk to book online.
It’s about a six hour journey to the Isle of Skye by bus with a stop at Fort William, but it’s a scenic journey that will give you lots of ideas of things to do if you have some time to spend exploring Scotland. Driving your own car may not take you quite as long, but it depends on stops – there’s lots to see in between.
Fort William is a good halfway point if you want to break up your journey to the Isle of Skye. It has plenty of accommodation options as it’s a common base for hikers attempting the United Kingdom’s tallest mountain Ben Nevis. Fort William is also a good place to pick up a few food basics as the island supermarkets can be pretty expensive.
The Isle of Skye is connected to the Scottish mainland by a bridge spanning from the small town of Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin.
Where To Stay
I based myself in the town of Kyleakin at Skye Backpackers. It’s a quaint little waterside town with mostly accommodation, a pub, a ruined castle via a narrow and often muddy trail, and not a lot else.
Skye Backpackers is a basic, small hostel, but the beds are adequate and it has a good kitchen space. All of the people I met at this hostel were there to hike. There’s a few more hostels offered in Portree, the main town on Isle of Skye, but it’s more than an hour from the mainland.
Kyleakin is within walking distance of Kyle of Lochalsh which has a supermarket, a few pubs and a few other shops such as a post office – but it’s pretty small too.
It will take you about 30 minutes to walk across the bridge but it’s a pleasant walk provided it’s not raining – which is sporadic during the Scottish summer – and offers good views back to Kyleakin. You can also catch either the CityLink bus or a local bus between the two villages.
The CityLink bus services the main towns throughout the Isle of Skye region, stopping in Kyle of Lochalsh, Kyleakin and Portree with a couple of stops in between.
There’s also a local bus servicing the area and you can buy a day pass for about $A15.
You can also buy a three, five, or eight day Explorer Pass on the CityLink buses from the driver or at the Portree Tourist Office from £40. The multi day pass is best used for long distance trips between cities in Scotland and stick to the local bus services on the Isle of Skye.
The town of Portree has a range of cafes, bookshops, souvenir shops and supermarkets. You’ll find a lot of places offering up fish and chips– and its pretty good fast food – and great for those cold, rainy Scottish days.
There are a number of companies offering sightseeing tours but I would recommend hiring a car – and do it well in advance or get a car from Glasgow. There’s only a few cars available on the Isle of Skye and you will find it difficult to see what you want to see without a car.
I hitchhiked a couple of places because I couldn’t get a car once on the island. Hitchhiking is fairly common on the island – and was even recommended by the hostel as a way to get around – but it takes time sometimes to get a ride to take you where you need to go.
Things To See
One of the must do places on the Isle of Skye is the Fairy Pools – and having a car will make the trip a lot more efficient than hitchhiking. It took me nearly three hours and seven lifts to get here, but it was worth it. It was a bit of an adventure too – I chatted with locals, a couple from France and six musicians from Switzerland.
To get there, follow the signs to the Talisker Distillery. On the left not far from the distillery you will see a rustic sign with Fairy Pools written on it, follow this road up and eventually you’ll see rows of cars and the Fairy Pools on your left.
On a misty Scottish day, the Fairy Pools felt a little magical. It’s about a 10 minute downhill walk to get to the start of the Fairy Pools – a series of waterfalls running down the hill. The water was a beautiful colour amidst all the mist.
Other spots to see include the 50 metre Old Man of Storr rock, the Fairy Glen, Quairaing rock formations, and the Cuillin Mountains.
Running up and down the hills on the slippery grass at the unique Fairy Glen was fun – I felt like a kid again.
There’s lots of hiking opportunities in the Isle of Skye and while I didn’t have time for any – recommendations from other backpackers of good hikes included up to the Old Man of Storr and in the Cuillin Mountains area. You’ll need a car to get around to the hikes.
When hiking in the Scottish Highlands, make sure you take warm and wet weather gear. Even in summer, Scotland can have four seasons in one day and it went from hot, to cold and misty, and raining frequently in just one day.
Not far from the Isle of Skye and back on the mainland is the Eilean Donan Castle. You can catch the CityLink bus here or hitchhike like I did if you don’t have a car. It’s about a 20 minute drive from Kyleakin. The cost to enter the castle is $A14 and there’s a café on site – the scones are a good snack if you’re on a budget.
You may recognise the castle from movies including James Bond – The World Is Not Enough.
A fortified structure has existed on this site since the 13th century but it has changed many times over the years and both expanded and contracted in size throughout the centuries.
Things you should know:
- Hire cars are few and far between in the Isle of Skye and you’ll need it. Book in advance or consider hiring a car from Glasgow.
- Pack for all seasons in summer. It will rain, get hot, or you’ll be shrouded in mist sometimes in the space of an hour. Make sure you bring a rain jacket and shoes you aren’t afraid to get wet and muddy.
- If you want to stop in the main towns of Isle of Skye in one day, a day pass on the local bus is a good investment for $13.
- CityLink buses offer three, five or eight day Explorer Passes on their services throughout Scotland. For the money conscious, this is a good way to get around Scotland if you use the days within the time period. It’s good for any distance. For example, I used my pass to go from Isle of Skye to South Laggan (near Loch Ness); South Laggan to Oban; and Oban to Edinburgh. Buses fill up quickly in summer so best to book your connections when buying your pass. You can buy the CityLink Explorer Pass at tourist offices.
- If you’re on a tight budget, consider getting some food at Fort William as the supermarkets on the Isle of Skye can be expensive.