Three Days in the Highlands

April 29 – May 2, 2022

Andy and I spent the Early May Bank Holiday weekend on the Isle of Skye and it was truly one of our very favorite weekend trips yet — and one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. Andy hadn’t been to Scotland before and I had only spent <24 hours in Edinburgh when I was collecting Lily in August, so a trip up north was long overdue.

We flew into the tiny Inverness airport on a Friday afternoon and the trip started off on a great note with an excellent upgrade for our rental car, which was particularly exciting for Andy, who was very nervous about driving in the UK for the first time. It takes ~2.5 hours to get to the Isle of Skye from Inverness, but the Highlands are so ruggedly gorgeous that it was easy to make it a much longer drive. We particularly enjoyed driving down the length of Loch Ness, which was so serenely beautiful that I could definitely understand why people might believe a strange and mystical creature might live there.

At 50 miles long, Skye is the second-largest island in Scotland and the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides. It’s connected to mainland Scotland by the Skye Bridge, which spans Loch Alsh. Skye is famous for its otherworldly landscapes, which are surprisingly diverse for a single island. The rocky slopes of the Cuillin range provide some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the country and are complemented by rugged farmland and wild heather moor, picturesque fishing villages, and medieval castles. It truly felt like something out of a movie or TV show.

We stayed in Portree, which is the capital of and the largest settlement on the island. Its colorful, cliff-fringed harbor makes it one of the most beautiful villages in the UK and it was the perfect home base for exploring the island. Even though it was chilly and rainy for most of our stay, we had a wonderful time driving around Skye and seeing some of its beautiful scenery and wildlife — as well as all the lambs and even a few Highland cattle, which was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. Everything about our stay on the Isle of Skye was absolutely perfect, and it’s definitely a place I would revisit someday.

If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations in the UK.

Food & Drink

  • Edinbane Lodge: This lovely restaurant is part of what is reputedly the oldest inn on Skye, which is situated in a hunting lodge that dates back to 1543. The local chef almost exclusively uses local ingredients — the menu even came with an overview of exactly where and how everything was sourced. We thoroughly enjoyed the local gin and (very reasonably priced) tasting menu, especially the hand-dived scallops retrieved just off the island that morning. The service was incredible and everything was perfectly prepared and presented.
  • The Oyster Shed: The lunch we had at this family-run seafood shack in Carbost was one of the highlights of our trip. In addition to counter-shucked oysters and other fresh seafood, they serve an excellent selection of hot seafood dishes — we had lime-chili-coriander smoked mackerel and “dressed” crab and chips. They also have a lovely little storefront with local wares, including a beautiful selection of hand-painted Christmas ornaments.
  • Merchant Bar: Located at the Bosville Hotel in the heart of Portree, this stone-accented tavern had a fantastic selection of local gins, whiskies, and beer (among other things). It was probably the most stylish and modern place we went to in Portree, but still felt very local and authentic.
  • The Lower Deck: This Portree restaurant was located a few doors away from our Airbnb and we went for a late dinner the night we arrived. For a walk-in dinner in a nondescript location in the harbor, we had a surprisingly good meal of fresh scallops and mussels. They also had a very decent wine and cocktails list for a casual restaurant.
  • Talisker Whiskey Distillery: The oldest distillery on the Isle of Skye is located in the tiny town of Carbost on the shores of Loch Harport. Talisker is one of the most popular single malt whiskies in the world, but the distillery is surprisingly small and has a very down-to-earth vibe. It was undergoing a major renovation when we visited so we were unable to take a tour, but we still stopped by for a drink and to browse the excellent gift shop.
  • Seumas’ Bar: This unassuming pub at the Sligachan Hotel serves 400+ Scottish malt whiskies and excellent beer on tap produced by the adjacent Cuillin Brewery. It’s basically in the middle of nowhere and seemed like our only nearby option for a meal after hiking through the Fairy Pools, but I’m so glad we stumbled upon it. The food was better than average, but the service and bar menu were truly phenomenal.

Activities & Attractions

  • Loch Ness: Although we didn’t see Nessie, Loch Ness was still (and perhaps surprisingly) captivating in its own right. It’s enormous, extending for ~37 kilometers southwest of Inverness, and it’s the largest lake by volume in the British Isles. We drove the entire length of the lake to get to the Isle of Skye from Inverness, which was really cool. There isn’t a ton of development around the lake aside from a few tourism-driven settlements here and there, but there is a very lovely castle ruin (Urquhart Castle) situated on a headland overlooking the lake that looked like something from a movie set.
  • Eilean Donan Castle: Speaking of castles, there is a particularly picturesque castle on Eilean Donan, a tiny tidal island at the convergence of three sea lochs (Alsh, Duich, and Long), not too far from the Skye Bridge. Although there has been a castle on the island since the 13th century, the imposing fortress you can see today is actually a reconstruction built above the ruins during the 1920s-30s in a mock medieval style. We didn’t stop to tour the castle, but it was still very nice to drive by one of the most photographed and filmed castles in Scotland.
  • Fairy Glen: The Highlands is full of “faerie” folklore and it’s easy to see how locals could be inspired to believe in magic when you see the surreal landscapes. One of my favorite places on the island is known as Fairy Glen, a mystical mix of natural rock formations (including “Castle” Ewan, so named because it truly resembles a castle ruin), cone-shaped hills, and scattered waterfalls. We spent 30 minutes or so hiking through the area, and it certainly felt like a place where magic just might exist.
  • Fairy Pools: The Fairy Pools are a natural “waterfall phenomenon” located in a large glen at the foot of the Black Cuillin mountains on the southern side of the island. The water is an ethereal, crystal-clear aqua blue, and a short hike through the glen will take you through a series of beautiful waterfalls and natural rock formations. It’s a popular place for swimming (despite the water being absolutely frigid), but we just walked around — and took some pictures, of course.
  • The Quiraing: A massive landslip on the northern side of the island has created a series of cliffs, hidden plateaus, and rock formations known as The Quiraing. On a clear day, the Quiraing Lookout offers a beautiful view all the way to the sea — it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful views on the entire island. Unfortunately, it was extremely windy, rainy, and chilly on the day we were exploring this part of the island, so we decided against making the 2-hour hike and just drove around the area a bit, which was actually still very cool.
  • Old Man of Storr: These basalt columns sitting 2,300+ feet above sea level are said to be the resting place of the fabled Giant of Trotternish Ridge. Regardless of its importance in local folklore, this giant rock formation just a few miles outside of Portree is one of the most famous sites on the island and is a very popular (albeit steep) hike.
  • Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls: From a single observation point just outside of Portree, you can see both Mealt Falls, a 55-meter waterfall flowing over a red sandstone cliff into the Sound of Raasay, and Kilt Rock, a 90-meter tall formation of basalt columns resting on a sandstone base that appear almost tartan (thus the name). In my opinion, this is actually the most dramatic and beautiful view on the island. It’s also very accessible and easy to enjoy in all weather, unlike many other popular sights on the island.
  • Kylerhea Otter Hide: A beautiful and easy hike on the southern tip of the island will lead you to this lovely nature reserve and a vantage point that is supposed to be one of the best places in Britain to see otters, dolphins, and other marine mammals. The Otter Hide itself is a wooden building overlooking the strait of Kyle Rhea with high-powered binoculars and large windows for observing wildlife. The views and hike made it a worthwhile activity even though we only saw a few seals.

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