Who hasn’t dreamed of visiting the magical Isle of Skye? This Scottish island almost always makes the bucket list when planning a vacation to Scotland, and because it’s popular, this can mean it gets quite busy. I like to avoid the crowd, so when the opportunity came up to spend a weekend in the Isle of Skye in November, I grasped it firmly with both hands.
There is something especially comforting about rising early to go for a hike or exploring, and returning to your accommodation to make a home-cooked meal or venturing to the local pub for a warm meal and a dram. This is why I don’t mind Scotland in the off-season. And contrary to what many will say about the Scottish weather, I think the clouds and mist adds to the ambience.
The drive to the Isle of Skye alone is enchanting
I decided to road trip to the Isle of Skye from Edinburgh, picking up my adventure gal Kathi from Watch Me See in Glasgow on the way. We recently spent a weekend in the heart of Scotland at the Loch Ossian Youth Hostel hiking, reconnecting and drinking whisky. We were spoiled with sunshine for the entirety of the weekend and managed to drive around the majority of the island.
Driving in Scotland
The Isle of Skye is one of the areas in Scotland I recommend you self-drive, especially in the off-season when there is less traffic. There was virtually no traffic on the island during our trip, which makes navigating the narrow single-lane country roads far easier.
While the Isle of Skye is an island, access is easily obtained by the bridge connecting the island to the mainland- no ferries necessary!
Also in Scotland, you drive on the left hand side of the road.
Noteable stops from Edinburgh to Isle of Skye by car
There are several options when driving from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye by car, but I will discuss three the most popular: via Glasgow and the Trossachs National Park, via Stirling, or via the Cairngorms National Park. It is good to bear in mind if you are driving to the Isle of Skye in the shoulder-season the sunshine hours are a lot shorter, with the sun setting around 4pm! Make sure you time your drive right- rise as early as you can so you have the best chance of seeing everything.
This is one trip you will want to bring your camera on!
Via Glasgow and The Trossachs National Park (6 hours, 8 minutes)
This is the route we drove on the way to Skye, seeing as Kathi lives in Glasgow and I needed to pick her up. This is the longest option, but includes plenty of Scotland ‘must-see’ landmarks. These include:
Loch Lomond This popular freshwater sea loch lies within the Trossachs National Park. It is the larges inland stretch of water by surface area in Great Britain. It is one of Scotland’s premier boating and watersports venues, with many activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding, and water skiing on offer.
Eilean Donan Castle
Glen Coe There is a saying that you can’t come to Scotland and not visit Glen Coe! It was recently voted the most romantic glen in Scotland, and it’s not hard to see why with its towering munros (such as Buachaille Etive Mor and Etive Beag) and elegant waterfalls. As well as an incredibly scenic drive, Glen Coe is a fantastic base for hill-walking.
Eilean Donan Castle You’ll pass Scotland’s most photographed castle no matter which route you take- but it definitely worth stopping for! Try and catch it for sunset and marvel at how the colours reflect off the water.
Via Stirling and Crianlarich (5 hours, 51 minutes)
This is arguably the best route to take to drive to the Isle of Skye from Edinburgh. You will still soak up the magnificent views of the Trossachs National Park and Glen Cow, as well as many more attractions, including:
Stirling Castle & the Wallace Monument It’s hard not to spot this castle that is propped on top of a hill, which is one of the most important castles in Scottish history! Don’t forget to look out for the Wallace Monument which commemorates Scottish legend William Wallace and his remarkable victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
The Kelpies The largest horse sculptures in the world!
Falkirk Wheel A rotating boat lift that connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.
Via the Cairngorms National Park (5 hours, 10 minutes)
This is the quickest option, although the least picturesque (until you reach the north-west highlands).
Forth Bridge You will drive over this 1.5 mile bridge when leaving Edinburgh. The Forth Bridge is also a World Heritage site!
Dunfermline Abbey Take a slight detour to see the magnificent ruin where Robert the Bruce is buried.
Blair Castle Visit the impressive ancestral home of the Clan Murray, which was built in the 15th century.
Dalwhinnie Distillery Try this famous single malt scotch highland whisky before driving to Skye.
Portree Youth Hostel: The Hostel on the Loch [A Review]
Portree Youth Hostel
Portree is the largest town on the Isle of Skye and situated on the east coast. Once you cross the bridge into Skye, it takes just under an hour to reach Portree by car. The town has full amenities, including a Co-Op which is a short walk from the hostel.
We stayed at the Portree Youth Hostel, run by the non-profit charity, Hostelling Scotland. Our room was a private twin room with an en suite (yup- this hostel has a private en suite!). I have stayed in over 20 hostels throughout Scotland (five of these being Hostelling Scotland hostels), so I know the system here pretty well- and this hostel was exactly what I expected- warm and cosy with a comfortable bed that assured I was well-rested and prepared for the days’ activities!
The cosy common room with amazing loch views!
The self-catering kitchen is modern, stocked with everything you need to cook a delicious warm meal after a day in the mountains. The free continental breakfast had a wide-variety of options: cereals, toast, yogurt, fruit, croissants and meats. The abundance of tea options meant we were able to stay well-hydrated and warm before heading out into the cool November air that morning, or cuddling up in the lounge when we returned in the evenings.
The view of Loch Portree from the hostel!
My favourite thing about Portree Youth Hostel had to be the view out to Loch Portree- it’s truly splendid!
Isle Of Skye 2 Day Itinerary [Self-Drive]
My Isle of Skye driving itinerary covers the popular attractions in Skye, as well as those off the beaten path.
This itinerary is suited for those of moderate to high level fitness if you are wanting to attempt the hikes. Some of the hikes I have listed are all optional, as many of the sites can be seen from the side of the road.
You may also skip certain parts of the itinerary if you’re short on time, or prefer to travel at a more leisurely pace.
A map showing all of the stops along our Isle of Skye roadtrip
Isle of Skye Driving Itinerary Day 1: Trotternish & North-West Skye
Starting point: Portree Youth Hostel
Finishing point: Portree Youth Hostel
Miles/Kilometres: 100 miles / 160 kilometres
Drive time: 3 hours, 33 minutes
Stop #1: Old Man of Storr
Chances are, if you’ve done your research on the Isle of Skye you’ll come across images of this iconic landmark. Leaving Portree Youth Hostel and heading north, we passed the Old Man of Storr just before dawn. Our goal was to hike The Quiraing for sunrise, however there is also the option to hike up to the Old Man of Storr too. For those looking for a challenge, there is a hike to the summit of the Old Man of Storr. Be mindful of loose rocks and rock falls- you will need good quality hiking boots to attempt these hikes.
Allow 1.5 – 5 hours for each of these hikes. However if hiking isn’t your thing, you can spot the Old Man of Storr from the road. The Old Man of Storr can also be seen from The Lump in Portree in you look carefully.
Stop #2: The Quiraing
The perfect place to watch the sunrise…
The Quiraing is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. We hiked the hill circuit for sunrise, which is one of my most memorable experiences in Scotland to date! As soon as the sun crept over the horizon the colours of the landscape came to life. The perfect place to watch the sunrise is just before you reach the Needle, a jagged 120-foot (37 m) rock formation. Just like the Old Man of Storr, be mindful of rock falls and loose rocks. The Prison is also an interesting place to explore, which sits just in front of the Needle.
There is a car park at the start of the hike. Allow 3-4 hours to hike the circuit.
Stop #3: Fairy Glen
The Fairy Glen is an otherworldly experience; the small round hills and spiral circles of carefully placed stones give this glen a magical feeling and interesting spot to take photos. There is a short and easy hike to reach the Fairy Glen. Allow 1 hour to explore this area.
Stop #4: Dunvegan Castle
Once the stronghold of Clan MaCleod, Dunvegan Castle an impressive castle that is still occupied to this day! It is one of the grandest castles in the Hebrides and rich in fairy lore. It is home to the Am Bratach Sith (The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan)- a flag which was believed to be gifted to the clan by the faeries sometime during the 4th century AD. Legend has it that this sacred clan banner has miraculous powers, and when it was carried into battle, the clan would be victorious.
Dunvegan Castle & Gardens is closed for the winter between 16 October and 31st March, but the castle can still be marvelled from a distance across the Loch Dunvegan.
Stop #5: Neist Point Lighthouse
Neist Point Lighthouse
Following one-way country lanes, you will eventually reach the plunging coastline and one of Scotland’s most famous lighthouses: Neist Point. Found on the most westerly tip of Skye, there is a short walk to reach the lighthouse itself. This walk is classed as short in length, but medium in difficulty due to the steepness of the path in places.
From Neist Point Lighthouse you will drive via the more southern route back to Portree.
How to spend your evening
There is a Co-Op grocery store in Portree you can buy fruit and vege from for a home-cooked meal using the self-catering kitchen at Portree Youth Hostel. There are also many traditional Scottish restaurant and pubs a few minutes walk from the hostel.
Isle of Skye Driving Itinerary Day 2: The Sleat Peninsula
Starting point: Portree Youth Hostel
Finishing point: Eilean Donan Castle
Miles/Kilometres: 100 miles / 160 kilometres
Drive time: 3 hours, 5 minutes
Day two of this Isle of Skye itinerary is more off the beaten track, yet has some absolutely glorious views. The Sleat Peninsula is a less visited area in Skye, but after reading about what the south-west had to offer we decided we couldn’t miss this area of the island.
Stop #1: Exploring Portree
You’ll start day two on foot by exploring Portree. Walk around The Lump and climb the Apothecary’s Tower for views of the town all the way to the Old Man of Storr. Follow the path back into the town and marvel at the colourful houses along Portree harbour, before returning to Portree Youth Hostel to check out and drive south-west!
Portree and its famous colourful houses!
Stop #2: Talisker Whisky Distillery
If you’re a whisky fan, you’ll love the Talisker Whisky Distillery, which produces some of the best Islay whisky in Scotland! Islay whisky is known for being a stronger whisky, with more smokier notes.
The Talisker Distillery is set on the shores of Loch Harport with dramatic views of the Cuillins. Classic tours are available all year round, while tasting tours are available Monday to Friday from April-October.
Stop #3: Fairy Pools
The Fairy Pools are one of the most common attractions in the Isle of Skye: beautiful rock pools of clear spring water fed by a series of waterfalls from the Cuillin Mountains. It can get very busy here during the summer when tourism peaks, so it is recommended you arrive early to avoid missing out.
It is a relatively short 2.4 kilometre walk to reach the pools from the car park (which is paid parking).
Many visitors to the pools will brave the freezing Scottish water to go wild-swimming!
Stop #4: Dunscaith Castle
Dunscaith castle is a beautiful ruin that was built and occupied by Clan MacLeod and at times, by Clan MacDonald. The castle is accessed by a short 10 minute walk from the roadside. The majority of the castle has disintegrated, so accessing it can be difficult and great care should be taken. Climbing the hill next to the castle offers breathtaking views of the Inner Hebrides.
After visiting the castle, continue straight along the road to finish the loop around the Sleat Peninsula
There you have it- it is completely doable to cover the majority of the Isle of Skye in only 2 days, soaking up both the popular destinations as well as the more hidden ones. A trip to the Isle of Skye also doesn’t need to break the bank using the Portree Youth Hostel as your base to travel from and cooking your own meals using the self-catering facilities at the hostel.
You can see why they chose to build Dunscaith castle here!
Have you tried this itinerary? I’d love to know- leave a comment!
This is a sponsored article, however all opinions (as always) are entirely my own.
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*All photos by Kathi Kamleitner and Yvette Morrissey