The Isle of Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. It’s also the fourth largest island in the British Isles (after Great Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Lewis and Harris), and the only major island in the British Isles connected by a bridge, making it the perfect vacation destination for Brits and foreigners.
Despite the bridge to the Isle of Skye only going up in 1995, people have been coming to the island for nearly 10,000 years! Old Pictish cemeteries and dwellings can be visited, there is a Viking shipyard at the end of a good hike, and the Museum of Island Life shows a recreation of the culture on the island over 100 years ago. Not to mention all the dinosaur fossils on the island. But enough about the history. What can you do there now?
The island is huge, and a good exploration could take days, if not weeks. It takes a couple hours just to drive between the extreme ends of the island, and that’s if you don’t get stuck behind a camper van navigating the windy, one-lane roads. However, there are some locations on the island which are an absolute must.
The Old Man of Storr
Located about 15 minutes northeast of the “captial” town of Portree, The Old Man of Storr might be the most iconic location on the Isle of Skye. The Storr is a rocky group of hills looking out to sea and the islands off the east side of Skye, toward the Scottish mainland. The Old man is a distinctive pinnacle visible for miles. There is a car-park at the bottom, and the hike up can take anywhere from 30-90 minutes, depending on your pace.
Legend has it, the old man and his wife would go up to the Storr every day to admire the view. After many years, they decided they were too old to continue hiking. The faeries intervened at this point, saying they loved listening to the stories the couple would tell each other. They tricked the couple into staying past sunset that night, at which point their bodies turned to stone and they remain there to this day.
The location has won more than one photograph of the year award, and was featured in the movie Prometheus.
If you continue up the road past the Old Man of Storr and make a left after Staffin, you’ll arrive at the Quiraing. These hills are similar to the Storr, but perhaps on an even grander scale. The full hike along the side of the mountain is about two miles long, but it’s the first mile which is the most beautiful. Alternatively, you can climb the trail to the top of the mountains to get a stunning, panoramic view of the Outer Hebrides and other surrounding islands.
Both the Storr and particularly the Quiraing should be hiked on a clear day. Strong winds and heavy rain can make the trails dangerous, and the thick clouds prevent any views from the hills.
The Fairy Glen
Continue around the top of the island to the eastern side and the town of Uig. Just past the Uig Lodge is a narrow road leading into the hills, where you’ll find one of the most enchanting landscapes anywhere. The mini-terraced rolling hills, ponds and waterfalls are something easily imagined from a fairy tale. The rocky outcropping in the center of the glen is nicknamed Castle Ewen, and a small cave in the back side of the castle presumably leads into the land of the faeries.
The 2007 movie Stardust has scenes at both the Fairy Glen and the Quiraing.
The Fairy Pools
Further down the island near the Talisker distillery are the fairy pools, a series of small waterfalls which attain a brilliant turquoise color when the sun is high. The hike to the pools takes about 20-40 minutes, although the trail continues up into the Black Cuillin mountains beyond the pools. If you love an adventure as much as I do, you can also jump off a small outcrop of rock into one of the pools, and swim under a rock bridge and up to the waterfall.
Finally there is Neist Point, the western-most tip of the island. It’s quite a drive, taking nearly an hour from Portree. If you get there on sunset on a clear night, you’ll have a stunning view of the Atlantic with an old lighthouse in the frame. You can either hike down to the lighthouse, or walk north along the cliffs for the best views. Don’t forget to dress warmly; some of the strongest winds on the island come off the Atlantic here.
These are by no means all the attractions on the Isle of Skye. You can read a more extensive list of places to get to with a two-day itinerary. However long you stay for, this is one place you definitely can’t miss if you’re planning a trip to the United Kingdom.