The C&TH Guide to the Isle of Skye

By Hannah Giacardi

10 months ago

The ultimate guide to the Isle of Skye


The Isle of Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. Shaped by the power and might of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s known for its dramatic and spectacular scenery. With The Cullin Hills at its heart, its coastline is a series of peninsulas and bays. Many believe the Isle of Skye’s name came from the Celtic word ‘skitis’, which means ‘winged’ and pays homage to the isle’s intricate shape. Fancy a visit? Here’s everything you need to know. 

The C&TH Guide to the Isle of Skye

When is the Best Time to Visit the Isle of Skye?

Portree, The Isle of Skye

The summer is often considered the time to visit Skye. It’s certainly when the days are the longest and when you have a better chance of sunshine. But, the best-kept secret of artists and photographers is to visit during autumn, winter and early spring when the light is perfect to capture Skye’s dramatic scenery at its best. Trading the warmer months for a few jumpers and cosy log fires comes with the added benefits of off-season pricing and a quieter island without the summer crowds. After all, the island’s awesome landscapes are best taken in when you have them all to yourself. 

Plus, by steering clear of peak season, you’re helping to minimise the growing problem of over-tourism on the island, which in turn helps to preserve its beauty for generations to come. In fact, a new campaign, The Spirit of the Highlands and Islands (discoverhighlandsandislands.scot), was recently launched for this very purpose: to encourage visitors to come in the shoulder season and discover Scotland’s more remote areas.

Stay

Deluxe room at Toravaig House Hotel

Toravaig House Hotel

The Sonas Collection consists of three hotels on the Isle of Skye that were opened by husband and wife duo Ken and Anne Gracie Gunn. Combining the couple’s passion for the Isle of Skye’s stunning natural beauty, history, local food and unique culture, the Sonas Collection’s hotels are the places to stay when visiting The Misty Isle. Fittingly, ‘Sonas’ is the Gaelic word for happiness.

Foodies should drop their bags at the Duisdale House Hotel, a Victorian mansion with a two-AA-Rosette restaurant and a twice-winner of the Scottish Hotel of the Year Award. The impeccably appointed rooms as well as the friendly and attentive service are a perfect complement to the delicious fare served at the restaurant. 

For location, check in to Skeabost House Hotel which is conveniently near Portree, the island’s capital. Housed in a Victorian hunting lodge, the hotel offers stunning views over Loch Snizort. It’s also one of the best places on the island for trout and salmon fishing – with tuition available from the hotel.

The Sonas Collection’s third hotel, the Toravaig House Hotel, is the ideal choice for an intimate and romantic getaway with its 11 bedrooms and awe-inspiring setting overlooking the Sound of Sleat.

Eat

A meal at Skeabost House Hotel

From humble seafood shacks serving lobster rolls to a Michelin-star experience, you won’t go hungry on Skye. The two AA-Rosette restaurant at the Duisdale House Hotel is a good place to start. A menu heavy on local produce and dishes deftly executed make it a must-visit. A special mention needs to go to the wine list, which features a strong selection of tasty and attractively priced vintages.

Another gastronomic highlight is the Loch Bay Restaurant, the island’s sole Michelin-starred eatery. Expect Scottish dishes with a soupçon of French cuisine and beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.

And if stunning views are your thing, make sure to book a table at the Skeabost House Hotel for dining at its restaurant at sunset – the views of Loch Snizort are out of this world. 

Finally, an insider local tip is The Creel in Elgol, a simple kiosk serving incredible seafood, including a squat lobster roll for a measly £5.50. The lobsters and shellfish caught at Elgol are also exported to China and served in Shanghai’s finest restaurants for eye-watering prices – so to taste these delicacies straight off the boat at their freshest is a real treat.

Do

Quiraing walk

The Isle of Skye’s dramatic landscape is a beautiful tapestry of jagged mountains, tumbling waterfalls, velvet moors, sparkling lochs and towering sea cliffs. 

So, it’s not surprising that it is considered one of the best hiking destinations in the world. To take in one of the most incredible landscapes on the island, the Quiraing walk is a definite must-do. Situated in the north of Skye, the trail snakes beside the Trotternish ridge, whose magnificent sheer cliffs are the result of a massive landslide.

Another otherworldly walk is the trail that leads to the Isle of Skye’s most iconic landmark, The Old Man of Storr. The Old Man is the tallest pinnacle rock that can be seen standing proudly on the Storr. The legend has it that the Old Man of Storr was once a giant that roamed the island until he fell over and died at this very spot. Over time, the earth covered him and the pointy pieces of rock are said to be his fingers… Of course, geologists may bring other versions to the table.    

The Isle of Skye’s magical landscape of rugged mountains and cascading waterfalls acts as a perfect backdrop to its many stories, myths and legends. A visit to the Fairy Pools’ crystalline waters is a rite of passage when visiting the Isle of Skye. This stunning series of waterfalls with deep turquoise pools attracts visitors (and fairies at moonlight) to bathe in its icy waters. Wild swimming in freshwater is said to boost circulation and reset your mind, body and spirit. It’s equally enjoyable to walk beside them and admire their majesty from dry land. 

The Fairy Glen is another delightfully bizarre natural phenomenon to make a pitstop at. Its mystical landscape of conical grassy hills, stone circles and ancient ruins look like a scene straight out of The Hobbit. 

Sunset at the Fairy Glen

The Fairy Glen

Other outstanding beauty spots not to be missed in the Trottermish Peninsula are Kilt Rock and the Mealt Falls. The Mealt Falls is a 55m waterfall that cascades over the cliffs of Kilt Rock directly into the Atlantic Ocean. These magnificent basalt cliffs with their pleated form bare a striking resemblance to a Scottish kilt – hence its befitting name of Kilt Rock. 

Just north of Kilt Rock is An Corran Beach near the village of Staffin. Here, at low tide you can stand and admire well-preserved recently discovered fossilised dinosaur footprints. And relive Jurassic Park IRL. 

The Isle of Skye’s capital, Portree is another great place to visit. After wandering through the 200-year-old fishing village, head down to its picture-perfect harbour that’s lined with candy-coloured houses. 

Another must-do is a visit to the Isle of Skye’s oldest whisky distillery, The Talisker Distillery. Treasure Island’s author Robert Louis Stevenson visited the island in the 1880s and declared the Talisker his favourite tipple. Established in the 1830s, the Talisker Distillery considers the spring water from the nearby Cullin Mountains the secret to creating the perfect dram. And aptly, the Gaelic for whisky is ‘usige beath’, which literally translates to mean ‘water of life’. 

Head to Elgol to tuck into delicious lobster rolls at The Creel before discovering the Isle of Skye’s beguiling waters with The Misty Isle Boat Trips. The skipper Seamus Mackinnon was born and bred in Elgol, where your journey begins. To say Seamus knows these waters is an understatement as the Mackinnon family has lived in Elgol since the 1300s. Seamus’ ancestor, Captain John Mackinnon, even ferried Bonnie Prince Charlie to safety from a cave in Elgol in 1747.

Aboard the delightful fishing boat, Seamus will take you to Loch Coruisk and point out the diverse marine life along the way. Nature abounds on Skye and many travel here in the hope of seeing its most famous residents. From its red deer, golden eagles and otters to its minke whales, seals, puffins and dolphins, the isle and its surrounding waters are rich in wildlife.  

While you enjoy Skye’s most popular sights and attractions, be sure to make time for the lesser-known parts of the island. Take a day to discover the Sleat Peninsula. Start the morning with a visit to Armadale Castle. After lunch, stop in at Ragamuffin, a wonderful shop brimming with colourful woven goods to make you smile, and finish the afternoon with a scenic hike to the Point of Sleat. 

Another hidden delight is the Waternish Peninsula – a great way to discover it is a loop walk that will take you to the fishing village of Stein where you’ll find the Michelin-starred restaurant Loch Bay.

A final recommendation is to venture out of Skye for a day and take the ferry to the Isle of Raasay, one of the world’s most geologically diverse areas. And if you fancy a dram or two, you can stop at the Isle of Raasay Distillery, a relative newcomer to the Scottish whisky scene. The Spirit of the Highlands and Islands is a great resource for more off-the-beaten track inspiration. 

BOOK IT

Inverness is about 90 miles from Skye and the island’s nearest airport. The airport is served by regular flights from easyJet, Loganair and British Airways from a variety of UK airports. 

The 50-mile-long island has so much to see that it’s best to hire a car. Driving along country lanes lined with dancing purple heather and twinkling lochs, the road trip is certainly part of the experience and joy of discovering this mesmerising isle.

Double room with breakfast at the Duisdale House Hotel from £152 per night. Double room with breakfast at the Skeabost House Hotel from £179 per night. Double room with breakfast at the Toravaig House Hotel from £170 per night.

For more on visiting the Highlands and Islands, go to discoverhighlandsandislands.scot