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Top 4 things to do on the Isle of Skye

May 29, 2020 by Emily Houston

Off the coast of the Western Highlands sits the Isle of Skye. All of the wild scenery, serene lochs, and deep-rooted history Scotland’s known for are found on this tiny island (which is even smaller than the country of Luxembourg!).

Our Isle of Skye guide takes you from the capital city to the rugged outposts scattered to the north. As you plan a trip to Scotland, the Isle of Skye is a destination you won’t want to miss. I mean, how can you turn down Scottish castles and culture?


1. Explore the village of Portree

Our Isle of Skye guide begins on the eastern side of the island in Portree. This village is the capital of the Isle of Skye and is home to restaurants, shops, and pretty pastel homes that line the harbor. Being located on one of the many lochs that snake along the island’s coastal towns, it’s no surprise that Portree was founded as a fishing port 200 years ago. The name Portree actually comes from the Gaelic phrase meaning Port on the Slope.

Portree is one of the best places to visit in Skye as it gives you a peek into the historic events that shaped the island. Stop by the Aros Center, the area’s visitor center, to learn about Bonnie Prince Charles. He led the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and attempted to reclaim the British throne for his father. After his defeat at the Battle of Cullendon, he met up with a woman named Flora Macdonald at Macnab’s Inn in Portree and she helped him flee to France.

Be sure to stop by Macnab’s Inn where you can pair your royal history with a drink. Order the bar’s signature Macnab’s ale, or one of the three other beers that are also brewed on the island.

Visit more iconic sites on a trip to Scotland.


2. Hike to the Old Man of Storr (or just snap a pic!)

Visiting the Trotternish Peninsula is a no-brainer when it comes to what to do on the Isle of Skye. This area lies north of Portree and is home to the island’s rugged, weathered scenery—including the Old Man of Storr. These 160-foot rock formations were created by ancient landslides and rise so high out of the ground that they can be spotted from miles away.

But what’s a scenic site without some Scottish folklore to make it that much more interesting? Legend has it, a giant named Old Man of Storr lived on this area of the peninsula. When the giant was buried, his thumb was left above ground and that eventually formed into the rocks we see today.

Adventurous travelers looking for some exercise can opt to spend a little over an hour hiking the 2.3-mile, well-worn path to these pinnacles. From the top of the hill you’ll see the rolling hills of the Highlands and the calm waters of the Sound of Raasay. If hiking isn’t on your agenda, you can also take pictures from a scenic outlook off the main road that runs along the east coast of the Isle of Skye.

Step into even more scenery like this on a tour of Scotland.


3. See Kilt Rock

Continue north along the Trotternish Peninsula to see another showstopping spot—Kilt Rock. The basalt cliffs stretch 90 feet into the air and the way they’re weathered makes it look like a kilt, giving way to the name. You may be able to spot sites like the Isle of Lewis to the north and mainland Scotland to the east from atop the rock on clear days.

The scenery is a bit reminiscent of what you’d see at the Cliffs of Moher, but Kilt Rock is more rugged and home to unique features like Mealt Falls. Sometimes the weather is so windy here that the water cascading down from Mealt Loch doesn’t reach the sound below! Another treat that only comes on windy days? A sing-song organ sound that happens when a breeze passes through the holes in the fencing that lines the cliffside.

Discover the beauty of the region on a tour of the Scottish Highlands.


4. Visit Eilean Donan Castle

If we’re being technical, this stunning Scottish castle is found right before you cross Skye Bridge onto the Isle of Syke. We just had to add it to our list of what to do on the Isle of Skye since it’s one of the main reasons we love this region of Scotland. I mean, you’re already in the Scottish Highlands, so you might as well take a quick detour—it’s part of the fun of traveling!

Eilean Donan, which means "island of Donan," is home to what is arguably the world’s most photographed castle. Eilean Donan Castle is found on a tiny island where Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh meet—and a footbridge connects it to the mainland. You’ll come for those water views, but stay for the history.

The castle dates back to the High Middle Ages when it was built to defend the region from the Vikings. In the 1700s, the castle was destroyed during the Jacobite risings and the ruins laid untouched for almost 200 years. Lieutenant Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap purchased his clan’s former stronghold in 1912 and restored the castle. The whole restoration process took 20 years! Today, you can visit the grounds and interior of castle, which reflect the original design.

See even more castles on our Edinburgh & the Castles of Scotland tour.

Have you explored the Isle of Skye on tour with us? Head to our Instagram to share your favorite memory!

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About the author | Emily Houston
Emily loves the simple travel moments—like watching hours pass by in minutes while sharing a meal and a laugh (or many) with her friends and family. Outside the office, you'll find Emily listening to anything and everything John Mayer, attempting to cook a New York Times recipe, or dreaming up her next trip.

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