The Scottish islands offer a picturesque getaway off the mainland, full of sites to see and spirits to drink. The Isle of Skye is no exception to that; thanks to Skye’s breathtaking natural phenomena, shops and restaurants, and growing distillery scene, it makes an ideal whisky destination.
When to go
Ideally, avoid the peak summer vacation months of July and August. This is when Skye is at its busiest and most expensive.
Spring and fall are quieter overall, and seasonal businesses that you may want to visit will be open. Accommodations will also be easier to find, and cheaper than during the most popular tourist period. These are prime periods for the average traveler looking for a well-rounded excursion.
Winter is the off-season and the quietest time on the island, making it one of the few opportunities for more serene outdoor excursions. However, some degree of bravery is required with regard to weather: Winters can be cold and wet, and daylight hours are more limited. You are likely to see snow on the high peaks of the Cuillin hills.
Another possible drawback is that some restaurants and craft shops may be closed for the winter season. All distilleries featured here operate tours year-round, although they tend to be less frequent during the winter months. Accommodations will be plentiful and offer good value.
Although still technically an island, Skye has been linked to the mainland by a road bridge—part of the A87—since 1995. This replaced the old ferry service between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin and, while convenient, it does take away some of the sense of adventure and romance associated with arriving on an island by sea.
Crossings “over the sea to Skye” are still possible, however, for incurable romantics, with a CalMac car ferry running from Mallaig on the mainland to Armadale in southwest Skye, while the small, privately run, and characterful Glenelg Ferry operates between Glenelg and Kylerhea on Skye. Using the latter will, however, lengthen your journey time significantly: It only runs between Easter and October. The vessel in use is the much-loved Glenachulish, the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland, and visitors have even been known to get married on it!
There are no railways on Skye, with the nearest stations being Mallaig (trains from Glasgow), linking with Mallaig-Armadale ferries, and Kyle of Lochalsh, with trains from Inverness. Bus services are available from Kyle to Skye, and City Link runs coaches from both Glasgow and Inverness to Skye. Local buses on the island are operated by Stagecoach.
Glasgow is the nearest international airport to Skye, and requires up to a six-hour drive to the island. The closest local airport is Inverness, which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Portree. Both airports offer multiple rental car options.
Must-See On Skye
This has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years and is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. According to legend, their magical Fairy Flag, dating from the 4th century, ensures the Macleod clan is never defeated in battle.
Flora MacDonald’s Memorial, Kilmuir Cemetery
This site is situated six miles north of the ferry port of Uig. According to legend, Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as a girl, fled “over the sea to Skye” after the failed Jacobite rising of 1745/46, assisted by local Flora MacDonald. The Prince is said to have gifted the recipe for the renowned Drambuie whisky liqueur to Captain John MacKinnon as a reward for his protection.
Kilt Rock and the Mealt Waterfall
Located on the Trotternish Peninsula, some ten miles north of Portree, Kilt Rock is almost 300 feet high, with basalt columns that resemble a pleated kilt. The Mealt Waterfall flows spectacularly over the cliffs to the sea below.
The Old Man of Storr
Three miles from Kilt Rock on the Trotternish Peninsula is the starting point for a walk to the Old Man of Storr, a striking pinnacle of rock that serves as a landmark for miles around. The 45-minute walk is suitable for anyone of average fitness.
The Fairy Pools
Perfect for a visit while taking in Talisker Distillery, the Fairy Pools are located off the road from Carbost to Glenbrittle, and comprise a series of waterfalls and pools filled with crystal-clear blue water on the Brittle River. Reaching the first pool involves a walk of about one and a half miles. Great photo opportunities, and a chance for a spot of wild swimming if you’re feeling brave!
Trotternish is the gift that keeps on giving, for it is also home to the Quiraing, spectacular rock formations which have been described as “Britain’s biggest landslide.” This hike is longer and slightly more difficult than those to the Old Man of Storr or the Fairy Pools, being approximately four and one-quarter miles in length.
Neist Point Lighthouse
Dating back to 1909, Neist Point Lighthouse is located on the most westerly tip of Skye, near the community of Glendale. The scenic walk begins from a parking area about ten and a half miles from Dunvegan and 30 miles from Portree. The relatively easy walk is less than one and a half miles total.
Where to Dine and Drink
Stein Inn, Stein
One of Skye’s best bars for whisky lovers, with 130 single malts on offer plus excellent local ales, food, and accommodations.
Seumas’ Bar, Sligachan
More than 400 single malts are stocked in this friendly, popular bar at the Sligachan Hotel. The micro Cuillin Brewery is situated right next door.
Merchant Bar, Portree
A cozy bar located in the Bosville Hotel in the town center, featuring a decent cocktail list as well as a wide range of whiskies and gins. The hotel’s Dulse & Brose restaurant is also recommended for its seasonal menu featuring fresh local produce and seafood.
The Three Chimneys, Colbost, Dunvegan
One of Scotland’s most renowned and awarded restaurants. High-end, but well worth the splurge! After dinner, enjoy the superb accommodations at the House Over-By, adjoining the restaurant.
Scottish fine dining with an emphasis on local and seasonal produce in elegant, intimate surroundings, with views across Portree harbor. Arguably the best dining in town.
Loch Bay, Stein
Chef/patron Michael Smith’s contemporary Scottish eatery in the village of Stein, on the Waternish Peninsula. The Fruits de Mer dinner option is a must for seafood lovers.
Distilleries to visit
Talisker, Carbost, Isle of Skye
Torabhaig, Teangue, Sleat, Isle of Skye
Isle of Raasay, Borodale House, Isle of Raasay
Where to Stay
Kinloch Lodge Hotel, Sleat
Located on the impressive Sleat Peninsula, with stunning coastal views, this is one of Scotland’s leading country-house hotels, with an equally impressive restaurant presided over by Michelin star-awarded chef Marcello Tully.
Borodale House, Raasay
You can’t get much closer to staying in a distillery than this! Borodale House is a converted Victorian villa adjoining Isle of Raasay Distillery, offering luxury accommodations.
Cuillin Hills Hotel, Portree
A former hunting lodge with views over Portree Bay and a well-stocked whisky bar. At the center of island life but away from the crowds, as it’s set on fifteen acres.
Taigh Ailean Hotel, Portnalong
Well-appointed, good value hotel close to Talisker Distillery, with its own cask ale and a strong range of single malts in Munro’s Bar.
Carter’s Rest Guest House, Glendale
Situated on the most westerly coast of Skye, Carter’s Rest is an upscale B&B providing the perfect opportunity to enjoy some solitude—not to mention spectacular views.
Dunvegan Camping Pods, Dunvegan
Camping without the need for tents! The wooden self-catering pods all have en-suite amenities and Wi-Fi, and are open year-round.The peaceful yet convenient location offers dining and shopping within walking distance.
Where to Shop for Whisky
Pràban na Linne
Next to Hotel Eilean Iarmain on the Sleat Peninsula is the headquarters and retail outlet of Gaelic Whiskies. The company’s brands include the blend Tè Bheag (“the little lady”), and the blended malt Poit Dhubh (“black pot”). Pràban na Linne is also home to the Gaelic Gin Still House, complete with copper pot still producing Uisge Lusac gin.
The Misty Bottle
Located in the former post office of Breakish, proprietors Gordon and Fiona manage to squeeze a remarkable range of whiskies, gins, and a Scottish beer cave into the small building, and also offer informal whisky and gin tasting events. Tiny, but lots of goodies to be discovered.
Isle of Skye Distillers
This distillery is located on Rathad na Slignich in Portree. Here, the Wilson brothers produce Misty Isle gin and Misty Isle vodka. The shop stocks the Wilsons’ own products, along with a selection of whiskies and local beers. Regular Gin Schools are also hosted.
The Isle of Skye Brewing Company
This brewing company operates a brewery and shop on the pier at the northern ferry terminal of Uig. Don’t leave the island without sampling a pint of Tarasgeir, brewed using peat-smoked malt from Ardmore Distillery.
Taste of Talisker
While Torabhaig and Raasay whiskies age, taste Skye in any one of these Taliskers.
Talisker 18 year old—93 points, 45.8% ABV, $160
Refined, with oak and fruit gumdrops before a knockout pepper punch on the finish.
Talisker 15 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2019)—91 points, 57.3% ABV, $140
Sweet with fleshy oranges, peaches, cocoa powder, woodsmoke, and peppery peat.
Talisker Select Reserve Game of Thrones House Greyjoy—91 points, 45.8% ABV, $45
Sweet smoke and citrus fruit; peaty, with soft toffee and light pepper.
Talisker 10 year old—90 points, 45.8% ABV, $50
Smoke with sweet pear, heather, moor, sweet seaweed, and cracked black pepper.
Talisker Distillery Exclusive 2019—90 points, 48% ABV, £95 ($132)
Citrus fruits and sweet peat smoke, with fruit and oak spices and a hint of pepper.
Talisker Storm—89 points, 45.8% ABV, $40
Sweet and spicy, with cranberries and black currants, peat smoke, and black pepper.
Talisker Distillers Edition 2008—88 points, 45.8% ABV, $80
Orchard fruits, peat, a maritime note, dark chocolate, dried fruit, and soft smoke.
Talisker Port Ruighe—86 points, 45.8% ABV, £50 ($69)
Jaffa orange, apricots, woodsmoke, and dried fruit from a finish in port pipes.