Skye is the most famous of Scotland’s islands, a beautiful place of myth and legend. The spectacular scenery offers countless attractions for climbers, hikers, and recreational walkers. With opportunities to spot rare wildlife and enjoy excellent island produce, The Isle of Skye is the perfect destination for a visitor with a love for the Scottish landscape.
Sometimes it is necessary to visit a place three or four times to get a full sense of its worth. In the case of Skye, the largest of the islands of the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, this may be because it is so often shrouded in mist. A repeat visit may be required just to see the parts that were invisible the first time around.
It’s well worth the effort. Skye has a strong claim to be the most beautiful island in Scotland, a country already punching way above its weight in any European beauty contest.
The Isle of Skye has a romantic place in Scotland folklore, mythologized in the 19th-century Skye Boat Song, about the flight of Jacobite pretender Bonnie Prince Charlie. Historians have come to regard him as a petulant and foolish character, with little regard for the safety of the Scots, but he chose a lovely spot for his escape.
Once those mists clear, visitors arriving by the modern road bridge from the mainland can swoon at the ominous glory of the Cuillins, a daunting volcanic mountain range beloved of the altitude-loving, carabiner, and harness-wielding climbing set, all mirror-shades and serious boots.
For less intrepid explorers, there are plenty of more accessible hiking options blessed with outstanding views. On a track west towards Uig from Staffin, the Quiraing on the Trotternish Ridge offers a photogenic combination of jagged peaks and flat plateaux, with mists permitting, views back across to the mainland.
On the same ridge, the Old Man of Storr is one of the island’s most familiar landmarks and the focus of one of Skye’s favorite walks. It’s a prominent pinnacle of rock, requiring some scrambling to reach the heights. Alternatively, low-level trails provide plenty of equally spectacular vistas.
On a rare warm summer day on Skye, the obvious excursion is to the Fairy Pools, near Glenbrittle, below the slopes of the Black Cuillins. Here, natural rock formations have created crystal clear pools fed by crashing waterfalls. For wild swimmers, the location is perfect, although the water temperature never gets better than what might be described as refreshing.
For visitors to Skye, there is an increasing emphasis on the opportunities to spot wildlife, including some endangered species. Bird-watchers make the pilgrimage here to see white-tailed sea eagles, the largest bird of prey in the British Isles. The cliffs near Portree are the best place to spot these majestic birds, along with golden eagles.
Boat trips from the harbor offer the chance to spot seals, minke whales and dolphins. After some criticism that tours were becoming intrusive, the trips are less frequent, are seasonal, and are more sensitive to the potential risks of alarming the creatures, but still provide great opportunities to view the sea life.
On land, a flavor of historic islander existence on Skye can be sampled at the Skye Museum of Island Life. Period restorations include a family croft, a smithy, and a weaver’s cottage, with artifacts of island life dating back centuries, including peat stoves and lamps fuelled by fish oil.
Portree, a 19th-century town on a sheltered bay on the eastern side of the island, is the closest Skye has to nightlife, with pubs, restaurants, cafes, and hotel bars. Traditional Scottish pub food is now complemented by more upscale fine-dining establishments, making extensive use of local shellfish, seafood, salmon, wild game, and venison.
The most famous example is the Three Chimneys restaurant in Colbost on the shore of Loch Dunvegan, which has long been attracting gourmets to the island, but other enterprises, some seasonal, are springing up.
Inevitably, the finest Scottish cuisine needs the accompaniment of the national drink. Talisker is the oldest working whisky distillery on the island, situated at Carbost on the shores of Loch Harport. Tasting tours are offered, offering the chance to see the traditional copper pot stills and the aging casks. The Torabhaig Distillery also offers the chance to view the traditional distilling process used for its single malts.
Whatever the preferred choice of whisky, a wee dram, as the locals call it, is best enjoyed while watching a Skye sunset, as the light dips somewhere over the Outer Hebrides, with the promise of another magnificent, if misty, day on Skye to come.
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