The Isle of Skye is a popular road trip in Scotland and there are several routes that travellers can take to reach this magical island. Our route to Skye started from Edinburgh and then we headed across to Glasgow on the M8 as I wanted to drive up the banks of Loch Lomond. If you drive from Edinburgh via Stirling you skim the top of Loch Lomond which does not always give the best views.
Blue skies and a bright sun lightened our mood as we snaked our way North on our Skye road trip. Our first stop was at the Ardlui Hotel, which has stunning views across Loch Lomond, a good size car park and outdoor seating area. Popular with dog walkers and locals.
Loch Lomond is part of the Trossachs National park, which is free and is a fresh water Loch. It is the largest stretch of inland water by surface area in Great Britain. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in water activities or explore the beautiful local walking trails but we wanted to reach Glenfinnan by dinner time so we had to keep moving North after our rather expensive bowls of soup…..
Road to Skye Driving Tips and Car Hire.
If hiring a car to self drive to Skye or for touring the NC500 I would advise you to hire a small vehicle with a satnav. The satnav will work most of the time but occasionally in the more remote locations, it will take you on the wrong route. I say choose a smaller vehicle as you may struggle to manoeuvre a large car on some of the single track roads if trying to pass buses etc. There are plenty of garages to refuel on the way to Skye, every main town has one and there are more than 6 electric car charging points on Skye. Check out zap-map.com
I recommend that you buy a UK road map. The bigger maps list caravan and camping sites and advise on routes, road markings and traffic signs which may be unfamiliar to you. They will also illustrate the names of the mountains you are passing and allow you to plot your route based on the category of road. (Eg. Dual carriageway, A roads, B roads and M for motorway etc.) Looking at a map in the UK, the green coloured roads are good driving roads.
The A82 is an A road, which is known as a primary route. It will be a good driving road to take you from Glasgow to Inverness. (Photo 1). The 2nd photo is from Skye and is an example of a some of the roads that you will experience which are also categorised as A Road but these roads can be single track road with passing points most of the way. B roads are minor roads connecting villages. (Details on drink driving laws and mobile phone laws in Scotland at the end of blog post).
Must See on the road to Skye.
Glencoe is famous for the massacre in 1692 following the Jacobite uprising. Thirty eight members of the clan McDonald were killed by the government forces and between 40-100 men died of exposure. This makes Glencoe a hauntingly sad place in stark contrast to the majesty and beauty of the area. There are a few free places to stop and take photo’s and most of the big tourist buses move on after 15/20 mins. It can get real busy in the summer but it is worth trying to park here or at the Visitor centre further along.
We sadly missed the turning for the Glencoe visitor centre but from past experience it is run by the National trust and Members of The Trust have free entrance to the paid exhibition. Many tourists also stop to use the gift shop, toilets, take the woodland walk and grab a cuppa. (The exhibition is optional).
Our next destination was the fantastic Eilean Donan Castle which is at the Kyles of Lochalsh on a tidal island, connected by a footbridge. It is often described as the most beautiful castle in Scotland and you can get married here. Sadly, you are not allowed to take any photographs inside.
The castle was a ruin and the ancestors of the MacRae family rebuilt Eilean Donan and opened it to the public. The castle is filled with family heirlooms, hence the “no photo policy”. There is a well stocked gift shop and cafe and I suggest you park on the right for this view. The walk across is only 5 minutes and you can purchase tickets at the bridge. All details on the website below and information on their self catering apartments.
The Banqueting Hall is stunning. The rooms are easy to access but the corridors are narrow with stone steps. It can get very busy and at times difficult to pass people. During the summer months the Scottish midge can be a problem and for some reason the Scottish midges seem to object to the Avon cream and it is a popular deterrent. I strongly suggest that if travelling in the months of June-Sept that you purchase some Avon midge repellent.
We stopped here for about 45 mins and then headed off to Fort William en route to Glenfinan on the Shores of Loch Shiel. At Fort William take the A830 to Glenfinan. This was a good road with stunning views across Loch Eil to Glen Garden. This leg takes about 25 mins and the car park at Glenfinan was full and we parked on the hill outside the Catholic church about 2 mins past the car park.
The visitor centre again has toilets, refreshments and gift shop. This centre is run by the National Trust for Scotland. Behind the visitor centre is a short free walk to view the twenty one arch Glenfinan viaduct made famous in the Harry Potter films.
The steam train that crosses the bridge is called The Jacobite train, which goes to Mallaig and details can be found on jacobitetrain.com
The wall around the monument tells the story of the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the Royal standard initiating the Jacobite uprising. The walk to the monument is free and the guided tour costs money. You can book the guided tour to climb the monument at the Glenfinnan visitor centre. www.nts.org.uk
Way behind schedule now we raced on towards the Skye bridge. (My fault for taking so many photographs of the amazing scenery). Our overnight deluxe stay was at the fabulous Three Chimneys and their small boutique hotel, ‘The House Over By’. The Three chimneys was the UK restaurant of the Year in the Good Food Guide, and I can see why. This is also where the sat nav goes mad and takes you to the middle of Colbost, when it is nearer to the start of the town.
Refreshed and recharged after our stunning 7 course taster dinner and beautiful fresh breakfast, we were ready to take in all the free sights Skye has to offer. I woke up early to drive to Neist Point Lighthouse. Like many of the roads on Skye it is pretty badly pot holed and single track with passing points. It does improve for the last 5 mins and there is a free car park just before the walkway.
The walk to the lighouse is described as a 20 min walk. If, like me you have dodgy knees, it may take a bit longer. The path is steep and uneven but use the hand rail and go at your own pace. The scenery is like another world, its very Jurassic and moody. Young people and keen walkers will take this walk easily in their stride. Some people just sit here and have a picnic and do not go to the lighthouse. Its your holiday, see how you feel on the day.
Next stop was the small but beautiful, Dunvegan Castle. I was told that the seal trips from here are very good and give amazing views of the castle from the water. It is quite expensive to visit the castle and for that reason I took my photo’s from further up the coast, looking back.
Back in the car, we followed the A850 to the Fairy Glen in UIG. I was a little confused as to why the Fairy Glen is regarded by many as a Must see location? We were very disappointed. If heading North on the A87 from Portree turn right on the road just before the Uig Hotel. It is a very difficult road to navigate and there are quite a few blind bends and in all honesty, I would not go back.
It is a series of small hillocks and someone has placed a circle of stones. The locals laughed when we said we were looking for the Fairy Glen! The Fairy pools at Glenbrittle on Skye may be a better option. If you have travelled to this area then pop into the lovely pottery studio at Uig Bay and have a snack at the cafe on the harbour, next to the ferry port, the views are superb. There is also a small brewery here, famous for its Red and Black Cuillin beers.
I would suggest that a drive around the headland to the Quiring IS a Free Must see. This area is famous for dinosaur tracks, which have been discovered the size of car tyres, at Brothers Point or Rubha nam Brathairean. Ref: (Guardiannewspaper).
Admire the spectacular scenery and drive on to Kilt rock/Mealt Falls and admire the free waterfalls. Complete the drive and stop off at The Storr. There is parking here and a walk which highlights the wonderful scenery. Listen carefully to the strange sounds which swirl around these mesmerising cliffs.
Most of the places on Skye are driving locations and if you love the outdoors, walking fishing, photography and nature, then this is the place for you. If you are looking for luxury hotels with spa and jacuzzi, then Skye is not for you.
We ended up stopping for a lovely burger at a very cool burger van before heading on to Portree for a late lunch.
This was in April, if you are travelling from May onwards I recommend you pre book restaurants or pubs. There are plenty of places to eat in Portree the main town and the visitor centre is here with a good size car park.
Golfing on Skye – Skye is an island and accommodation must be pre booked during the High season. There is a golf course on the island called Sconser and again if you wish to play contact the club and ask about availability.
Accomodation on Skye – Insider tip – There is a Facebook page for accommodation on Skye, which may be useful. Its called skyerooms and a new hostel called Skye basecamp who also hire out bikes from Skye cycles. There are some great reviews and photo here and may be useful for last minute bookings.
When to Visit Skye on your road trip. Choose your time to visit wisely. The summer months in Scotland are very busy. The midge season in Scotland starts early June until Sept. Only the female midge bites and midges are most active in the early morning and evening times.
Hillwalkers and fishing fans may wish to buy a protective midge head net. My daughter does a walking award scheme in the highlands and will not hike in the Highlands without her net.
Don’t forget your travel adaptors for the UK.
Top Attractions on Skye Road Trip we missed
We did not reach the Talisker Distillery malts.com or the Gardens at Armadale. The former home of the McDonalds, with beautiful woodland walks. 40 acres of gardens surround Armadale Castle. These would definitely be on my list of to do. I was also recommended the Bella Jane Aqua Explore tours to see Whales, Dolphins, Puffins and basking sharks.
We headed off the island, through the most fabulous scenery, on our way to Torridon, Inverness and Dornoch. Details of this trip will be on my next blog post as it covers part of the NC500, details of this amazing place on my next journey. Watch my road trip video here to inspire and help you plot your scottish bucket list.
Click here: Road Trip must see Scotland
I hope you have enjoyed the first leg of our Scottish Highland tour. The next drive is breath taking. Details of the link at the end of this post.
Skye Bus Tours alternative to a Road trip
If I have completely put you off driving to Skye there are many tours that will take you. These include, The Highland Explorer Tours, The wee red Bus, Haggis Adventures and Rabbies. If travelling by Rail, then take the train to Inverness and on to the Kyles of Lochalsh. For Broadford (south) take the Stagecoach bus and for Portree (main town) take the Citylink bus. There are fuel stations with shops along the route in most of the towns. The language is in English with Gaelic subtitles. Tourist signs are coloured brown on the roads.
Legal requirements for your road trip to Skye.
The drink driving laws in Scotland are different to England and I recommend that the driver abstains. (The current allowance is 50mg of alcohol in every 100ml of blood). If visiting any whisky distilleries they will bottle your free samples for later. Seatbelts are compulsory for all passengers in Scotland and only hands free phone are allowed. You will be fined on the spot for using a hand held mobile. You will not always get advanced warning of speed camera’s.
Driving Tip on the Road to Skye – If on a road with passing points it is polite to pull in to the nearest large space. Don’t charge through aggressively. Take these roads slowly and always look ahead to the next passing point. The person rushing through may be the local midwife or emergency worker. On The isle of Skye some of the livestock are not fenced in, be especially careful if heading to Neist Point.
What to wear? Be prepared for many seasons in one day. Bring a cagoule and warm layers if hiking, good waterproof walking boots are essential. When hiking in the Scottish mountains always carry a small whistle, have a torch and some emergency rations and plenty of fluid in the event of getting lost or needing assistance. The number in Scotland for assistance is 999 or 112. Scottish insects: To avoid Ticks, cover your legs and tuck your socks into your boots for protection. Full details on dealing with ticks here. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lyme-disease/
If you want to avoid the crowds then September until June are your best months. In winter the landscape is different, snow capped mountains, orange moss and strange heathers and gorse. It’s the most stunning scenery and worth the drive.
If you are visiting Scotland and do decide to start your trip from Edinburgh via Stirling, which is a motorway route, these are my top 3 must see locations nearby. https://youtu.be/3aBeYhAHyc0
Thanks for your time, I appreciate it. If you have any other Skye tips, please let me know below. Details for the 2nd leg of my road trip around Scotland can be found here: click on this link – Travel around Scotland part 2.
Film clips available on Pond5 and iStock
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