Essential Isle of Skye Pre-Arrival Guide

Avoid any travel headaches with our definitive guide: essential tips, savvy insights, and expert advice for a seamless journey.

'If you only read one Skye guide before arriving to Skye, let this be it.'

David MacDonald
Isle of Skye Guide

This is a practical Isle of Skye guide to ensure your vacation to our stunning island is as relaxing and fun as possible. 

Having worked as a tour guide on the island, and now running an Airbnb, visitors frequently ask me about Skye. I’ve tried to cover the most vital points for your island enjoyment. 

One of the most crucial things to keep in mind is that you are visiting a rural area that is more than 100 miles from the nearest city. Much to the disappointment of my friend visiting from New York, we don’t have Uber here! Most things take a little more thought and planning than you may imagine.

For example;

Our island is larger than many people realise, and travelling from point A to point B is not quick.  

You’ll likely need to book everything well in advance to avoid disappointment. Accommodation months in advance, the same for the best restaurants.

Choosing the right gear is paramount to staying comfortable and warm, whatever the weather.

Below, I go over everything you need to know before visiting Skye. From here on out, your journey over the sea to Skye will be plain sailing. 

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go beyond just sightseeing.

Passing Through Glencoe

Transport Options for Travelling to the Isle of Skye

Getting to Skye is easy. Most people drive, but there are both train and bus options that will take you to the island. 

The Isle of Skye is 3 hours drive from Inverness and 5 hours drive from Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are multiple route options from each city, with plenty to see and do on route. You’ll see some of Scotland’s most stunning and famous scenery, passing by castles, lochs, distilleries and wildlife.

The nearest airport is in Inverness, with flights arriving from London, Manchester, and Dublin most days. 

There are buses to Skye from Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen multiple times per day. Buses from these cities cost around £70 return with one item of luggage per passenger. Tickets should be purchased ahead of time as buses often sell our and last minute tickets are more expensive. You can purchase your tickets from Citylink here.

Trains arrive at Kyle of Lochash next to the Skye Bridge several times per day from Inverness. Trains also arrive at Mallaig, on the west coast of Scotland, where you can take a ferry over to Armadale on Skye (Mallaig > Skye ferry info). The train to Mallaig will take you across the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous by the ‘Harry Potter Train’. 

Trains booked ahead of time are often significantly cheaper than buses. You can purchase your train tickets from Trainline here. If travelling to Skye by train, you will need to arrange a transfer by taxi to your accommodation.

Tip 

Driving is recommended. However, if this is not an option booking public transport to Skye ahead of time will save you money.
 

Caution

Trains will not take you onto Skye itself. Without a car, you will need to arrange transport to your final destination. The bus however will take you all the way onto Skye, passing through Broadford, Portee and on to Uig in the North.

A typical road on Skye

Exploring the Isle of Skye by Car (*Recommended)

Travelling and exploring Skye by car is recommended. Driving gives you the flexibility to experience the best of Skye’s quieter places. You can watch the sunset in remote locations, listen to evening music in rural pubs and access the lesser known sites off the tourist trails. This is what Skye is all about. 

There are a few points to note before your Skye arrival. 

Skye is a large island, despite its appearance on the map. The Isle of Skye is about 50 miles long, and there are almost no straight lines. Roads are narrow and zigzag through the moorlands. Single-track driving is required practically everywhere on Skye (see picture above). These routes and roads are what give Skye its remoteness and wild charm. 

Although, cars give you access to the best of Skye, rushing from one place to another isn’t an option. Taking your time is indirectly enforced by other visiting drivers, sheep on the road and weather. It’s important not to over estimate what can be achieved in a single day, given travel times between areas. 

Tip 1

Allow plenty of time between activities and reservations when driving on Skye. To avoid missing any departures or check-ins, add at least 20 to 30% to travel times. Try grouping nearby activities to avoid time wasted covering the same ground back and forth across the island. 

Tip 2

If you’re driving and are not used to driving in rural highland areas, keep this in mind when making your hotel and accommodation reservations on Skye. You might be best staying in one of the bigger towns, such as Portree, Broadford, or Uig. These larger towns are all well connected by wider main roads, and you may feel more comfortable travelling at night between larger towns.

Tip 3

For many drivers, smaller cars are best. It can be tempting to think larger cars will be the best option for tackling highland routes. However, the narrowness of the roads and proximity to other cars means smaller cars often have the upper hand in many rural locations.

A remote Skye Bus Stop

Exploring the Isle of Skye Using Public Transport (*Challenging)

Here you’ll find a map of all the areas covered by public buses on Skye, Monday to Saturday (No Sunday buses). You’ll find all the Stagecoach Skye bus timetables here. Surprisingly, these timetables have several place name spelling errors throughout – please keep this in mind if ‘Googling’ destinations. 
 
Public transport on Skye can be complicated. Unfortunately, this is one aspect of Skye’s life that does not cater well to our visitors. Bus services to most sites on the island are infrequent.
 
Although relying on buses during your stay would not be impossible, it would likely be restrictive.
 
If you are thinking of coming to Skye and using the local bus services, you would simply have to stay in Portree. From Portree, you can access several popular sites in a single journey. The Old Man of Storr (No. 57 bus), The Fairy Pools (No 54 bus) and Dunvegan Castle (No 56 bus) are all accessible from Portree on public buses. However, the timing of your visit to these sitesand the timing of your returnwould need to be well thought out.
 
Other popular sites like Neist Point Lighthouse, The Fairy Glen, Talisker Beach and the Coral Beach are not accessible on public transport. 
 
Wherever you decide to go by bus, there are only a few departure and return times to choose from. Bus timings may make you feel like you have either too much time or too little time to enjoy your chosen destination. If you are unlucky enough to get off at the wrong stop, you may end up stranded.
 

Caution 1

Weather is something that must be kept in mind if you are relying on public transport. Destinations like The Old Man of Storr and the Fairy Pools are mostly weather dependent. If the weather were to change dramatically (a regular occurrence), you may find yourself waiting at a bus stop, unsheltered and exposed to the elements… for hours.
 

Caution 2

At the busiest times and locations, the bus could be full. For example, the last bus of the day from Fairy Pools to Portree will be extremely popular. Missing this bus, or being unable to get on, would present a real problem. Your only option would then be to hitchhike or attempt to call a taxi, which may take a considerable time to arrive and cost a significant amount (Likely well over £50/$60/€60).
 

Caution 3

There are no late buses or Sunday buses. All buses retire for the day at around 6 pm. This will likely limit your evening options.
 

Skye Bus Routes Map

Isle of Skye Restaurants and Accommodation Are Must Book

When planning for places to eat and stay on Skye, you must book in advance. 

Arriving at the height of summer without accommodation will result in a night spent in the car.  If you arrive at a restaurant without a booking, you will be turned away. 

If you want to stay in one of Skye’s highly rated Airbnb’s (like ours) or hotels, you are best off booking 6–12 months in advance to secure your preferred dates. The closer you get to your arrival date, the more difficult it will be to book the best accommodations on Skye.

If there is nothing left on Skye, Airbnb and other platforms will suggest the nearest accommodations, and these can be miles away from the island. Be careful that you know exactly where you are booking if you are attempting to find something at the last minute. I know first hand of visitors not realising they are booking stays on other islands rather than Skye, because it was the nearest available stay. Nightmare. 

For restaurants, if you have a specific date, or time in mind, make your reservation as soon as possible. If you are not visiting for a few months, think about putting a reminder on your phone to make bookings nearer the time. 

The Isle of Skye’s most popular high end Michellin Guide restaurants are booked out weeks, if not months, in advance. Last minute reservations are few and far between in Skye’s best restaurants. More traditional pubs and restaurants may accommodate bookings a few days in advance. Some pubs only take walk-ins on a first come first serve basis. 

If you have accommodation and restaurants booked in advance you’ll having nothing to worry about.

Tarskavaig Sunset Skye

Long Summer Daylight Hours & Avoiding Crowds on Skye

Skye is bursting with atmosphere, music, and activity throughout the summer. Summer days are long, 18 hours at their longest, and nights are short.

Some visitors to the island find it difficult to sleep with so much light streaming through the windows at 4 a.m. Most accommodation will not have blackout blinds, so you may wish to bring an eye mask with you if you think this early sunlight will prevent you from sleeping. 

The long days, of course, present a fantastic opportunity to pack your days with activity. They also allow you to avoid the crowds at the most popular sites, like The Old Man of Storr and the Fairy Pools. You may be best heading to these locations earlier in the morning or later in the evening when daylight will still be clear until 10 or 10.30pm. If you’re looking for photographs, these earlier and later times are perfect for catching the light at its best, with few people around.

The Old Man of Storr or the Quiraing are perfect places to watch the sunrise when most are still asleep. Sunsets at Talisker Beach, Trumpan or Duntulm Castle are well worth staying up for. 

Tip 1

Make use of the long summer days. Fill the midday and afternoons with pre-booked activities like boat trips, kayaking, sailing, and hiking, or explore the lesser-known (but equally beautiful) areas of Skye. Save the main sites for mornings and evenings when you’ll be able to enjoy peace and quiet. 

Tip 2

If you are a sensitive sleeper, bring with you a black-out eye mask. The sun rises very early and may disturb your sleep. 

Sunlight over the Black Cuillin

Midges/Mosquitoes on the Isle of Skye

In Skye, you’ll be glad to know we do not have mosquitos. Sadly though, we do have midges. Midges are smaller than mosquitos and are not dangerous. However, they can be irritating in some locations and do need to be remembered. 

You’ll experience midges in Scotland and on Skye between May and September. Midges tend to be most active in the early to late evening when the weather conditions are calm. 

Midgy ‘bites’ can leave an itch, and they do have the potential to spoil barbecues on calm evenings. If you are on a walk and keep moving, you shouldn’t be too bothered by them. It’s only when you stop that you may start to feel them gathering around you. If there’s a light breeze, midges are no longer a problem. 

Tip

It is worth purchasing ‘midgy spray’, which you will find available in all pharmacies and most grocery stores in the highlands. It’ll cost around £6 and is worth using if you plan to head out in the evening. If you plan on fishing, doing some evening photography, or any activity that involves standing still, a midgy head net, long sleeves, and trousers will be essential to staying comfortable and unbothered by the local midge population.

Rapid and Rain and Sligachan Bridge

Isle of Skye in the Rain

The Isle of Skye is lush, rugged, and green thanks – in no small part – to the rain and occasional battering winds.
 
You will experience all types of weather during your trip to Skye, sometimes in one day. It’s always advisable to have waterproofs on hand in the car or better still, in your rucksack. Regardless of how sunny the day may start and how blue the sky may appear, the weather can change rapidly. As the old saying goes, ‘If you don’t like the weather in Skye… wait 15 minutes’.
 
It’s worth noting that weather reports for Skye can be completely inaccurate. The mountainous geography and the influence of the warm Gulf stream give Skye it’s own microclimate. Any weather report more than 24 hours out should be considered guesswork. It’s best to have alternative activities in mind so you can adapt to rapid changes in the weather.
 

Tip 1

Make the most of sunny spells to get out and explore. If possible, try to have your indoor activities on hand for if the weather changes. Places like Dunvegan Castle, Armadale Castle, Talisker, and Torabhaig Distilleries are good options in bad weather.
 

Tip 2

Always have a waterproof option in your rucksack, especially if you are heading out on a long walk or hike away from shelter. Always have good strong trainers or walking boots on hand. 
 

Caution

Poor weather conditions can affect outdoor activities, especially boat tours. Be sure to check reviews of activity businesses before booking to see how previous guests have reviewed the cancellation/wet weather policies. Most businesses are great, however some don’t communicate well enough, resulting in guests travelling long distances to find out activities are cancelled. 
No bad weather, just bad clothes.

Essential Gear & Pre-Arrival Reminders

The changing weather and ruggedness of Skye’s paths and landscapes make waterproof jackets and strong shoes essential.

You’ll be climbing rocky steps, crossing streams, stepping off boats onto beaches, and walking muddy paths almost every day. 

Bring these things along with you;

– A warm waterproof jacket (and, if possible, waterproof trousers)
– Walking boots or strong, grippy trainers
– A rucksack for gear, picnics, and water
– Metal flasks for water 
– Hats and sunscreen are especially important on boats where sun exposure is multiplied by sea reflections. Coastal breezes keep you cool, so you won’t realise you are burning until it’s too late. 
– Midgy Spray
– Black-out eye masks to avoid being disturbed by early sunrise at 4am
– Midgy nets if you plan on activities that involve stillness, i.e. photography, camping, fishing. 

Reminders! 

– Book your accommodation and dining on Skye well ahead of time.
– Book your activities in the afternoon and visit popular sites at the beginning or end of the day, when areas are quiet and light is at its best.
– Keep your indoor activities in hand for any wetter days. Make the most of good weather. 

Oh, and double-check activities are going ahead before travelling far!

Alright, that’ll keep you from any major upsets. Take care on the roads. We’ll see you soon!

Keep Exploring

The Fairy Glen & Exploring Nearby

Visit Fairy Glen on Skye for stunning landscapes, then savour local flavours at The Ferry Inn, Uig, and The Galley Cafe. Discover the Quiraing, Duntulm Castle, and the rich history at Kilmuir Museum of Island Life.

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