Road Trip: Isle of Skye, Scotland in Less than 48 Hours

Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours

Before we get started, I want to caveat by saying a few things. A quick trip to Skye can definitely be done, and we had such a memorable time driving around and doing as much as possible, but seeing Skye in less than 48 hours is definitely not ideal. If you’re still in the early planning phase of your trip, try to allocate around 2-3 days instead, and/or check out some of Scotland’s other isles while you’re at it! When we went, it wasn't until after we had already booked flights that we decided we wanted to try and squeeze in Skye in addition to our time in Glasgow and Edinburgh. For reference, our total trip in Scotland lasted 5 nights, with 1 night in Skye, 2 in Glasgow, and 2 in Edinburgh. Also, while I was writing this post, I was reading up on how Skye has recently ballooned in popularity amongst travelers over just the last few years, which is amazing, but as a result, the remote area is struggling to keep up with the new demand. Even if you’re just spending a short amount of time in Skye like we did, please, please, pleaseeee be respectful of other travelers and, more importantly, the local people who live there. News stories like these have gotten out citing tourists and tour groups for overcrowding roads and pathways, littering, and even going so far as disturbing a family’s funeral. Carefully vet the tour group you’re exploring Skye through, or self drive it like we did and take care to leave each area you stop at as beautiful as it was when you arrived.

Now, on to the post!

When you think of Scotland, there are two ways your mind might go: to the historic, bustling streets of Glasgow or Edinburgh, or the vast, open, unrelentingly green expanse of rugged, fairytale landscapes that make up the rest of the country. With only 5 days in Scotland, you might think of sticking to one or the other. But, you’ve already come this far. Why go the expected route? If you’re short on time and you want to get a quick bite of all that Scotland has to offer, you can make it all possible with a little willpower, a quicker pace, and a LOT of driving. Where to? The Isle of Skye. And yeah, you might look that up on a map and think that I’m crazy to try and do that on top of spending time in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. You’re not wrong! But trust me, it’s worth every last mile (or, kilometer).

Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours
Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours

Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s most famous, picturesque isles, known for its breathtaking, untamed beauty and magical charm. Waterfalls, unreal terrain, towering cliffs, and unparalleled views make Skye a must-see, even if you’re short on time. While more time is, obviously, recommended if you have it, we had less than 48 hours. Here’s how we made that possible.

DAY 1

9 AM | GLASGOW

After landing in Glasgow early in the morning, we immediately rented a car and set off on the long drive. Google Maps will tell you that the distance between Glasgow and Portree (Skye’s main and largest town) is only 5 hours. This is honestly a bit too hopeful, as you’re going to want to stop for food, and the odds of needing to drive slowly due to unexpected weather are high. Plan to be on the road for about 8 hours.

1 PM | GLENCOE

Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours

We made our first stop to see Glencoe, mostly because the terrain was too epic not to pull out our drone. Glencoe is basically a valley famous for its landscape and jaw-dropping, unbelievably steep mountain ranges. When we went, it had been drizzling on and off, so little waterfalls had formed everywhere we looked.

2 PM | FORT WILLIAM

About an hour or less after Glencoe, we stopped at Fort William on a whim, mostly because it was the biggest sign of civilization we’d seen since leaving Glasgow. Fort William is pegged as the ‘outdoor capital of the UK,’ because it’s surrounded by epic Highland mountains and a giant lake (Loch Linnhe). Fort William is most famous because it is the base camp for Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. While we didn’t have time to explore the natural surroundings, we did pull over for a beer and some groceries, in that order. Definitely make sure you stock up on food here on your way up to Skye – the next few hours of driving are the most intense, and if you get to Skye after dark, your food options will be slim.

7 PM | UIG

Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours
Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours
Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours

After a few hours, you'll arrive in Skye. Specifically, Uig, which is where we spent the night. Fortunately for us (and hopefully you), our accommodation for the night was a destination in itself. In the little town of Uig, the Cowshed Boutique Bunkhouse Hotel is part hotel, part hostel, with rooms fashioned out of cowsheds situated up on the face of a steep hill overlooking the ocean. Each cowshed is its own completely decked out room – bed, sofa (also a bed), dining table, kitchenette, bathroom, shower, and patio. We arrived after dark, so all we could really appreciate was the inside of our cowshed and the common area of the hotel (both were SUPER cool). But, in the early morning hours, the sunrise and the view of the sky from your own personal patio makes for one of the most indescribable, unforgettable moments you’ll ever experience.

Check out my full review of our stay at the Cowshed here.

DAY TWO

8 AM | Fairy Glen

Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours
Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours
Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours

You’ll want to wake up early the next day to take in all the views from your cowshed patio before you check out. After that, you’ll make your way up the road for just a short 5-minute drive before arriving at your first stop: Fairy Glen. Fairy Glen is one of the less-crowded stops in Skye. In fact, when we went, we were the only ones there for a while, which was a good thing, because there’s NO parking. Skye, and Scotland in general, has a long history of stories about Fairies. This stop’s unusual, stunning landscape gave it the nickname Fairy Glen. Here, you’ll find lush green hills in unusual, cone-like shapes, caves, ponds, groves of twisty, gnarled trees, and natural basalt formations that look vaguely like castles. The one you can’t miss is ‘Castle Ewen,’ which looms high over the rest of the immediate area. We didn’t have time to climb up it to get a 360-view (and it was raining so we didn’t want to risk it), but I’ve heard that you can actually climb up to the top of this point fairly safely – and if so, you should. Otherwise, plan to spend about 30 minutes here like we did, so you can be on your way!

9:30 AM | Quiraing  

After another 30-45 minutes of driving, you’ll find yourself at the Quiraing, which is a famous Skye attraction. There’s a loop trail you can take here that takes about 2 hours to complete and is a must for photographers and any traveler with some time to spare (we just stopped to gawk at the views before carrying on). Here, you’ll see monstrously high cliffs, hidden plateaus, and jagged rock pinnacles that make up a landscape that looks as if it were straight out of Lord of the Rings.

10:30 AM | Kilt Rocks and Mealt Falls

Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours

As you’re probably starting to notice, Skye is a goldmine of things to see and discover. Once you’re there, you can pretty much see or explore something new every couple of steps. After another 5 minutes of driving past the Quiraing, we stopped at Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. Made up of vertical basalt columns kind of like the ones you might find at a black sand beach in Iceland, Kilt Rock is said to resemble a pleated kilt (I didn’t see it, but it was a cloudy day, so maybe it does?). From the top of the cliffs, you’ll see Mealt Falls. The viewpoint is just a few steps from the parking lot, so you’ll only need to spend a few minutes here before moving on.

11 AM | Skye Pie Cafe

Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours

Obviously, nature and unusual landscapes are two of Skye’s biggest appeals. But this restaurant might have been one of our favorite stops of the entire day. Is that bad? Maybe it’s the food obsessive in me, but we were absolutely beside ourselves when we stumbled upon Skye Pie Cafe. We had heard good things about it, and we honestly thought we had missed it, but it’s actually only about a 5-10 minute drive from Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. The cafe is situated inside a little hotel, and we scrambled inside like two wild dogs who hadn’t seen real food in weeks. The people are some of the friendliest you’ll meet, the cafe is eclectic and charming (think mismatched tea cups, random art on the walls, and hand-stitched notes hung from the ceiling left by travelers from all over the world), and the warm, savory (and sweet) pies are the most heavenly thing you’ll taste after a morning of bearing the rain and bone-chilling wind.

We actually stopped for a sit-down meal, but if you don’t want to do that, you can also take any of their pies to go.

12:30 PM | Brother’s Point (Rubha nam Braithrean)

Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours
Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours

Once you’ve had your fill of pie and tea, leave your car where it is and walk across the street to Brother’s Point, which is only about a 10 minute stroll from the cafe. The walk itself is a little confusing, as you spend most of the time walking on a cart track that’s muddy and slippery, and you need to scramble around gates and puddles to get out to a clearing. But once you turn the corner, you’ll see a stunning coastline view. When we went, we were the only humans in sight. If you have more time, you can take the trail down to the beach and through to the actual peninsula, where you’ll see more epic views and even Mealt Falls out in the distance.

1:30 PM | Old Man of Storr

Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours
Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours

10 minutes down the road, you’ll reach Old Man of Storr, arguably one of the most famous, and busiest, stops in Skye. Here, you’ll see massive rock pinnacles out in the distance, surrounded by mountains, so huge that you can still spot them from miles and miles away. You can take a 30-45 minute trek up a well-marked trail to get a closer look at the ancient land formations. We actually took the time to do this, and were rewarded with a moment of cloud clearing at the top – just long enough to snap a few photos and head back down to the car.

4 pm | Eilean Donan Castle

Rachel Off Duty: Isle of Skye in 48 Hours

After Old Man of Storr, we started the long drive back to Glasgow (we had to skip Portree, Skye’s capital town, because of limited daylight remaining), but not without first stopping at a proper castle on our way out. Getting here will take you about an hour and a half, and it’s conveniently located right off the main route you’ll be taking if you’re driving back down to Glasgow. Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most recognizable castles in Scotland, and is incredibly well maintained. The site was originally established back in the 12th century, but was destroyed in the 1700’s. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that the area was reconstructed. We spent at least 30 minutes walking through the meticulously decorated rooms and exploring every nook of the castle before we grabbed a quick bite at the visitor’s center and continued back down to Glasgow.

From here, it’s another 4-5 hours back to the city center, which we arrived at around 10 pm. This ended up working out perfectly, because we had a dinner reservation at the famous Ubiquitous Chip at 11 PM sharp. Who needs sleep when you’re having fun?

While we would have loved an extra day to explore and do some longer hikes, and although the road trip was hectic and exhausting, we would’ve done the entire thing all over again in a heartbeat, because Skye really is worth the hassle. So, even if you only have 48 hours to spare during your trip to Scotland, definitely consider renting a car and hitting the road. Outside the major cities, far away from the beaten path, Skye has some of the best views in all of Scotland, just waiting to be seen.

Here's the route we drove! And, just a quick note – this map starts out in Glencoe (our first stop) instead of Glasgow because Google Maps only lets you add 10 destinations. 

2-Day Skye Driving Route: 

 
 

More Time in Isle of Skye? Add These Stops to Your List!: 

(these are some places we would have loved to explore, but did not have the time to do so)

  1. Niest Point Lighthouse

  2. Fairy Pools

  3. Dunvegan Castle

  4. Portree

#OffDutyDestination

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