Advice on Self-Guided Tours on Skye Scotland For Americans

'Unlike in the States, where 20 miles is nothing, 20 miles on Skye roads can take quite a while. '

David MacDonald
Isle of Skye Guide

As the title suggests, this information on taking a self-guided tour of the Isle of Skye is only for Americans. So, please stop reading now if you are from, say, Luxembourg or the Isle of Barra.

Having taken thousands of visitors on Isle of Skye tours, and with too many American friends to mention, I have become an expert in planning Skye road trips and excursions for my visitors.

Often, due to America’s limited vacation allowances (to which all of Scotland sends its sincere condolences), the American traveler is often shorter on time, focused on maximising their experiences, and getting out and at ‘em early. I write this with all sincerity and affection. I truly want you to have a great experience, so I’ve written this for you—like a love letter from Skye.

Brothers Point North Skye

Maximising Your Time on Skye

If you only have two or three days on Skye, your best bet is to segment the island into sections. On our Experience Skye app, we’ve divided Skye into four areas. We recommend picking one area on the island per day. This will mean you’re doing short “hops” in the car between each place, rather than hour-long drives “there and back again.” Try to spend as much time out of the car as possible.

Getting from A to B takes time. Unlike in the States, where 20 miles is nothing, 20 miles on Skye roads can take quite a while. You’ll be traveling at a much slower pace than you are used to and encountering long stretches of single-track roads. These roads require you to stop and start, letting people pass.

Some of our guests are a little apprehensive about driving, and that is totally understandable. But I’d encourage you to take the plunge, it will allow you to see a side of Skye missed by many. We cover more on Driving vs. Public Transport below. 

Immerse Youself in Skye’s Story

For those Ancestral Links to Skye

Many Americans visiting have Scottish ancestry; they know their family members lived on Skye but perhaps don’t know the full story. If you are interested in learning about the true history and character of the island, there is no better way than to download our app and uncover Skye’s history as you explore.

The app takes you through the full history of Skye, from our earliest ancestors to the clans and the clearances. The clearances were a time when Skye’s people were evicted from their land and sent to places like America, Nova Scotia, and Australia. Many visitors to the island don’t realise that it was during this period that their relatives were sent away from their homes. Experience Skye, we hope, can give you a real sense of the identity and character of Skye and its people.

We also have a local Archive Centre where you may be able to find out more about your family ties to Skye – here’s a link for a deeper dive. If you are looking to investigate family history, the archive is the best place to start. 

Historical Significance of sites on Skye

Almost everywhere you visit on the island has a story or historical significance. From the histories of the castles and the clans that controlled the region to the Norse origins of place names, there is an intricate web of history and culture linking the whole island. Our app is currently the only way to connect with these stories as you explore.

For anyone who wants to truly understand and connect with our island’s culture and heritage, we believe there’s no better way than through our detailed Isle of Skye information on the app.

If you are the kind of traveller who like to understand what they are seeing not just look at things without any context – we highly recommend checking it out. 

There are stories that connect Skye to America, the American revolutions and the early people who emigrated to your country. You may have heard of Flora MacDonald, but did you know she lived in American in the years after saving Bonnie Prince Charlie. 

Some of the stories on our app related to early American history too.  

Uig North Skye

Preparing for the Weather and Length of Days

In the height of summer, there is daylight from 4 am to 11 pm. That gives you plenty of options to get up early and stay up late. However, some guests have reported trouble sleeping in the early mornings due to daylight. If this sounds like something that might affect you, bring an eye mask along. Most accommodations on Skye don’t have blackout blinds. Its worth noting that even though the days feel exceptionally long, don’t get caught out by thinking they’ll still be places to eat late in the evenings. 

We highly recommend visiting places like Storr and Fairy Pools early in the day and using the Experience Skye app to find equally great off-the-beaten-path experiences. Consider visiting castle ruins overlooking the coastline, searching for ancient brochs (forts), and walking on lesser-known paths and beaches. There are so many places to visit but it’s easy to get caught up in the high-footfall areas. While these are worth seeing, time your visit to experience them in the quiet as they are bestexperienced.

At the time of writing in June 2024, the temperature is 14°C (57°F). While we can have hot days, even summer can feel chilly. You can buy anything you need to stay warm from Inside Out in Portree, though it’s advisable to bring both warm clothes and summer clothes. You will most likely experience all weather conditions during your stay.

Planning your trip to Skye

I have written a long Isle of  Skye Pre-Arrival Guide, that I think will set most visitors up for a great time. In short, here are the main items to consider.

Skye Restaurants

Restaurants on Skye tend to stop serving at 9 pm, many are only open five days a week, and you must book ahead of time to secure your preferred restaurant. Sadly there is no app for takeaway or delivery, with very few options for this style of dining. We’ve made a list of all the restaurants you can book online in Skye

It might be tempting to ‘wing it’, but if you want to dine at a top Michelin-style restaurant on Skye, these restaurants can book out months in advance on certain dates.

These include Loch Bay Restaurant, Scorrybreac Restaurant, Kinloch Lodge, The Three Chimneys, Edinbane Lodge, and Coruisk House. The next top 20 restaurants can book out a couple of weeks in advance, such as Red Skye Restaurant in Broadford, Old School in Dunvegan, Sea Breezes, and the remainder, still of fantastic quality, at least a few days out. Please get booked in early. We can help you with that as part of our planning and booking service.

Ferry, Armadale - South Skye

Driving Vs Public Transport on Skye

Driving vs. Public Transport on Skye: I’m sorry to say, public transport for most people is not an option. We also don’t have Uber or Lyft, so taking a cab requires a phone call. The buses are designed for local people getting to school or work and home; there are very few regular bus services, and they are timetabled around villages, not the sites you’ll want to visit.

You’d need to hire a driver if you are serious about not driving yourself (we’re happy to recommend one). If you are on the fence about driving, I’d encourage you to do so.

Our app for self-guided tours on Skye has over 50 sites you might wish to visit. Most of these are off the beaten path and away from crowds, so you’ll need to drive. To us, Skye is about the hidden places, the quiet moments, the food stops in the middle of nowhere, the live music, the sunsets… you need a car for these experiences.

There are bus tours of the island, but while great for the main sites, you’ll be following the crowds with no flexibility.

You can take a train to Kyleakin just over the Skye Bridge and hire are car, or arrange to have one left for you at the Armadale ferry on the south of the island if you are travelling across the on the Mallaig Ferry.

We’d really encourage to seek out the history of the island, and the places most people miss. This is true for everyone who visits, we’ve just noticed a particular enthusiasm from our American visitors and friends for the true history and story of Skye, especially those with ancestry in the area . If we can help with anything – please reach out on chat or david@experienceskye.com

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