One Week Trip to the Isle of Skye: A Travel Guide
My trip to Scotland was probably one of the most spontaneous adventures I've ever done in my life. I got a call from my good friend Simon asking if I wanted to do a road trip on the Isle of Skye and a week later, I was on another continent. It was one of the most amazing, beautiful experiences in my life, and so I thought I'd put a guide together on how to do a one week trip on the Isle of Skye.
General Things to Know
Driving in Scotland can be quite hectic if you're not used to driving on the left side of the road. It took me about two days to get used to, but by day three I was a pro. The units are in mph, and the traffic and road signs are different than those in North America, which threw me off quite hard. Read this to brush up on your Scottish road signs. As well, roads are generally a lot tighter than normal, and some will even only have one lane! These one lane streets will have passing places, and basically, if you see someone coming your way and there's a passing place on your side, pull over. If their passing place comes first it is their responsibility to pull over. This took me a couple of times to understand, but it's pretty easy after a while!
Scotland is part of the United Kingdom so their currency is the GBP (pound sterling). Most places accept cards, and some accept Euros. Because there are no almost no park fees, the only money you'll really be spending is on restaurants (should you choose to eat out), and gas (and souvenirs if you're into collecting them).
The people were quite kind and helpful, but as usual in every country, some can be rough around the edges. As a North American, it was also a bit difficult to understand their accent and lingos, but you'll get the hang of it (i.e. Edinburgh is pronounced ed-in-bruh; this one confused the heck out of me haha).
Weather + Clothing
Okay, this one is a bit rough. Simon and I went in August, which is usually their driest and warmest season. However, Scotland is known for it's moody, rainy weather, so don't be surprised to get rained out for your whole trip. Make sure to bring some rain pants, rain and wind jackets, sweaters, hiking boots and socks, and make sure you bring layers (it can also get hot). The weather changes quite drastically quickly; we once experienced rain, sunshine, cloudiness and fog within a span of 20 minutes. The best time to visit is during the summer in my opinion. There aren't a lot of tourists around compared to other countries I've been to, so that's great.
Budgeting, Food, and Accommodations
Aside from flights, I'd budget approximately $500-1000 USD per person for a week in Scotland if you don't want to live in a van and eat canned foods every day. Gas prices, accommodations, and food will eat up most of your budget. There are almost no park fees, so don't worry about that. Accommodations can be inexpensive if you stay in hostels for ~$30USD/night, or you can stay in campervan like Simon and I did. We rented from Wicked Campervans for $650USD, which is pretty great considering it's our transportation AND accommodation ($325USD each). There are plenty of places to park your car and sleep in, as long as you are not on the main road or on someone's property (use common sense). We bought our groceries at Lidl which is a discounted grocery store and our week of food cost us $50USD altogether (granted, it was very boring foods: canned beans, instant noodles, pasta + pesto, etc.). Simon and I spent about $500 USD each for the week which is on the lower end of the spectrum. If you ate out every night, slept in hotels, and rented a car, it can easily add up to $1000USD+.
Day 1: Edinburgh and Glencoe
Simon and I started our trip in Edinburgh, both arriving early in the morning. We took an Uber to pick up our Wicked camper-van, and by 2 PM we were on our way to the Isle of Skye. We stopped at Stirling on the way (an hour west of Edinburgh) to pick up some groceries and SIM cards; we went with Vodafone UK for 10e, supplying us with unlimited social media usage + 6GB of data (we knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of service spots on Syke, so 6GB was enough). We picked up some food from Lidl and continued on our way.
AFTERNOON + SUNSET
We got to Glencoe around 6PM as we made quite a few stops along the way to capture a few shots of the scenic route. I’d suggest spending sunset around Glencoe, and exploring the area near the Three Sisters attraction. After sunset, we headed to Fort William for dinner and parked at the Glenfinnan parking lot for our first night.
Day 2: Glenfinnan, Fairy Pools, Neist Point
If you're a Harry Potter fan, this will be a dream come true for you. There is a steam train at Glenfinnan that comes around 10:30AM, so around 10:00AM, head out to the Glenfinnan viewpoint. It’s a 15-20 minute walk from the carpark, and it gets quite busy during the high season. I’d suggest checking the timetables here, and check for departure from Fort William to Mallaig (the train will be coming towards you if you’re looking at it from the viewpoint. After the train show, continue your way towards the Isle of Skye. It’ll take about 3 hours to drive to the next point, so enjoy the views! You’ll be crossing a couple castles and bridges but don’t worry, you’ll be back to see them another day.
Try to make it to the fairy pools around 3 PM, and explore the fairy pools area. The hike is about 30 minutes one way, so by 5 PM, you should be done. This is where you have a decision to make: if the sun is predicted to come out, I’d highly suggest rushing to Neist Point for sunset. If it’s cloudy, you can save Neist Point for the next day, and grab some rest after a long day of driving and spend some more time exploring the Glenbrittle area. If it is sunny, rush over to Neist point (1.5hr drive), and get to either the viewpoint from above on the right of the car park or from the left-hand side next to the shore of the cliff. It’s beautiful. Either way, I'd suggest sleeping at Neist Point just in case sunrise will be epic the next day. Note: these times are based off the sunset times in August. Sunset will be much earlier if you decide to go in the winter.
Day 3: Neist Point, Quiraing, and Fairy Glen
If you ended up doing Neist Point for sunset, awesome! If not, no worries. You can wake up for sunrise if it's nice out, and you can sleep in if it's not. After sunrise, make your way to Quiraing, which is about an hour and a half away.
NOON + AFTERNOON
Spend the afternoon exploring the wonderful geography of Quiraing. The main attraction, The Needle, is about an hour and a half hike. I also enjoyed hiking up The Prison, which is on the right of the hiking trail. I’d spend about 4-6 hours here, and you can check out the hikes here. Simon and I didn't get to explore much farther than The Table, but if you have time, feel free. If you search any of those names on Google Map they’ll pop up.
Around 6 PM (or depending on when sunset is), make your way towards Fairy Glen (30-minute drive). If the sun is out and colours are popping, you’ll be in for a surprise (get there a bit earlier than sunset as there are a few hills that might block the sun). It’s quite a magical fairytale place, and the ancient ruins complete the whole Scottish experience.
Day 4: Mealt Falls, and Quiraing
I'd suggest taking a break and sleeping in for the morning, and heading to Mealt Falls whenever you are ready. If you are keen on getting some epic shots for the gram and if the weather cooperates, hit up Mealt Falls for sunrise. It's about half an hour from Fairy Glen, and there's a viewpoint to shoot from (if you have a drone, this would be the place to fly it). After sunrise/Mealt Falls, You can spend the afternoon exploring more of Quiraing. Simon and I found a hidden spot on our way there so we spent our afternoon exploring. Head down the A855 and stop at Flodigarry (Flodaigearraidh) Hike Parking Lot. Walk west towards Loch Langaig and follow the trail that continues west. You will end up at Loch Hasco, and there you can enjoy a swim in the lake, have a picnic, or continue hiking. Simon and I ended our exploration there so I’m not sure where it continues off to but if you find out, let me know! Simon and I decided to take the evening off, get some rest early and spent our sunset in Portree. There's reception there along with a few restaurants but beware, many of them are jam-packed and will require reservations.
Day 5: Storr, Sligachan Old Bridge, Elgol
This is the day you'll want to get up super early. You’ll want to make your way up to The Storr before sunrise, and it takes about an hour and a half to get to the best viewpoint. I found the hike up to be quite strenuous, but it is well marked out. Once you get near the rock formations, you can either explore them or go right and get a higher vantage point for the best view of the Old Man of Storr. You’ll most likely see photographers there already if it’s a nice day. If you’re confused about the difference between Storr and the Old Man of Storr, Storr is essential the area, and the famous pencil like rock formation is the Old Man of Storr. I’d spend 2 hours or so exploring the area, make it back to the parking area by noon, and have some lunch. On the way to the sunset spot, I’d consider a pit stop at Sligachan Old Bridge for a photo or two…it’s on the way!
Simon and I didn’t get to explore Elgol due to bad weather, but boy do I wish we had been able to go. As photographers we usually aim to shoot sunrises and sunsets, so if it’s pouring rain we usually won’t head out for nothing. Elgol is a village area with some amazing rock beaches, caves, and coastlines', and it’s only an hour from Sligachan Old Bridge. The next time I come back to Isle of Skye, I am definitely going!
Day 6: ELGOL, Eilean Donan CASTLE, Kilchurn Castle
Start the morning/sunrise by exploring the rest of Elgol as there are so many places to explore (Spar cave, Elgol beach, Loch Slapin). See if you can see some Scottish highland cattle around! After the morning, make your way back towards Glencoe. Simon and I stopped by Eilean Donan castle, which you should’ve seen on the way to the Isle of Skye. Feel free to explore Glencoe for the day, but try to make it to Kilchurn Castle for sunset. It’s quite a spectacular view from across the lake, and the drive there is quite beautiful. Simon and I camped there overnight (we missed sunset) and attempted it for sunrise.
Day 7: Kilchurn Castle, return to Edinburgh
On our last day, Simon and I woke up early to capture the sunrise over Kilchurn Castle. Unfortunately, the sun didn’t come out as the sky was blanketed by clouds. I still put my drone up (which is now prohibited I believe) and got a few shots. I had an earlier flight than Simon did, so we made some breakfast, headed back to Edinburgh, returned the camper van and made our way back to the airport. We said our goodbyes, and that was our trip in a nutshell!