A Travel Guide to the Isle of Skye – Slow Tourism

Travelling To The Isle of Skye

This year, there’s a welcome increase in travellers to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland from the rest of the UK, and it’s not just as a result of the continuous travel restrictions, the challenge of being cooped up for months on end brought with it the desire for big open spaces and a need to re-connect with nature.

With this in mind, Visit Scotland is promoting The Year of Coasts & Waters 2020-2021 and encouraging staycationers to Experience Stunning Scottish Landscapes.   We have long thought it would wonderful to experience those landscapes at a slower pace.

 

Visit Scotland are thinking along the same lines, their latest blog is concerned with value rather than the volume of visitors and introduces the idea of “slow tourism“…  

HOW DO WE ACHIEVE VALUE OVER VOLUME?

Scotland’s tourism businesses are doing everything possible to provide a welcoming, clean and safe experience for all our visitors to enjoy.

It’s difficult when you haven’t had any business for a long time to restrain from opening the floodgates and welcoming one and all. But, if we’re to reopen tourism in a responsible way, we need to look at ways to focus on value rather than volume.

For years, we’ve gauged success in visitor numbers and have been critical if the numbers go down – now is the time to take a look at how we can encourage people to stay longer, take life at a slower pace and enjoy what the whole of Scotland has to offer.

There are obvious wins around slow tourism….

…..and where better to take life at a slower pace than the largest of the Inner Hebrides and home to some of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes, the wondrous and magical Isle of Skye!

 

Traditionally, travellers to Skye spend an average of 2-3 days there, often using it as a base to explore the Outer Hebridean Islands, usually at a pretty fast pace. But with so many “must-sees” and not enough planning, it’s easy to see why so many holiday reviews from Skye end with…..

“we wished we’d stayed longer!”

So what are all your travel options if you decide to visit Skye?

Firstly, Skye is very well connected with public transport so leaving the car can be a rewarding option, allowing you to adopt a slower pace, stay longer and experience the best of what Skye and the islands have to offer. However, if you want to reach the more remote parts of Skye then a car is still the best way to see it all…

Landscape view of Old Man of Storr rock formation, Scotland, United Kingdom

Secondly, planning and booking ahead is essential if you want to get around using public transport, but it’s well worth the effort, travelling throughout Scotland using its travel networks can open up an entirely new perception of the landscape and feed that desire for open spaces.

And thirdly, Skye is a big island, 50 miles long and 25 miles wide, Portree is the main town, the hub for buses and taxis. There are no trains in Skye, the closest railway station is Kyle of Lochalsh, often simply referred to as the Kyles, so it’s well worthwhile familiarising yourself with what’s possible before you travel.

Skye – Getting There

The A87 is the major road in the Highland region, running west from its junction with the A82 road at Invergarry, along the north shores of Loch Garry and Loch Cluanie, then down through Glen Shiel and along Loch Duich to the Kyles before crossing the Skye Bridge to Broadford and Portree, before terminating at Uig in the north of Skye. Its total length is 99 miles (159 kilometres); it’s a primary route for all of its length.

 

If you don’t want to drive, there are lots of options to consider….

by Air – Inverness Airport to Skye

The quickest way to get to the highlands is to fly to Inverness. There are several flight operators who fly there, BA, KLM and Easy Jet amongst them. From the airport, you can pick up a hire car and drive for 2.15 hours via the A890 and A87, to Skye, it’s a beautiful drive, crossing the Skye bridge and the inner Hebridean sea. Car rental is available from Inverness airport through Avis, Budget and Europcar.

Inverness airport has good public transport links to Portree and from there you can change to the local buses or take a cab from Somerled Square in the centre of town. The bus journey will take around 3.15 hours from Inverness to Portree. Get By Bus is a helpful site covering all forms of travel to and from the airport, including bus hire for larger groups.

For instance, a shuttle service Jet Bus Line 11 operates every 20 minutes from Inverness airport to Inverness centre where you can pick up any number of buses and trains that connect to the highlands and beyond. There is no train connection direct from the airport as yet, but one is planned for 2014.

Remember, there are no trains in Skye, they run from Inverness and only go as far as the Kyles, but you’ll need to arrange a transfer from there or change to the bus. If you’re arriving by air, there’s little sense in taking the train from Inverness to the Kyles unless you were collecting a hire car from one of the local hire companies listed below.

Travelling to Skye by Bus

City Link buses operate from Inverness airport and Inverness city centre and have network links all over Scotland. Regardless of where you are travelling from, a 3-day explorer pass would cost c.£49 and offers unlimited travel for 3 days out of 5. The bus will take around 3.15 hours from Inverness to Portree. Use the City Link Journey Planner to plan your route, buy tickets in advance and book a seat.

The local Skye & Lochalsh buses are operated by Stagecoach and run regularly out of Somerled Square in Portree. With a Skye Day Ticket Rider you could jump the number 57 bus from Somerled Square and explore the North-East of Skye, passing its most iconic sites, the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock and the Quiraing for only £7.30. Admittedly a lot in one day but it gives you an idea of what can be achieved by bus.

There are lots of options for ticket buying including group tickets and day planners, a day of unlimited travel is certainly the cheapest way to explore the island, and remember it’s free to travel on the buses if you’re a concessionary bus pass holder! Whilst it’s always preferable to be at a bus stop, as long as you are in a safe spot you can wave a bus down almost anywhere in Skye.

Stagecoach and City Link both have excellent journey-panners that link with routes and timetables from Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Taxi and Transfer Services

It’s also possible to arrange private door to door transfers direct from the airport or the train station, Get By Transfer offers options for transfers from the airport or try using a local company based in Skye and Lochalsh. They can all arrange transfers and taxi services but they are also a great source of local knowledge can organise guided tours. We would recommend using:

Skye Taxis (Gus’s)

BW’s Taxis (Skye Taxi Tours)

Portree Taxis

Taxis are available from Somerled Square in Portree so you could take the bus into town, have few drinks and take a taxi home.

 

Car Rental – Local

Using local companies is a great source of local knowledge, we recommend using:

Morrisons Car Hire

Skye Car Hire

Morrisons offer good hire value rates and can arrange to meet you in several places around Skye and Lochalsh including the airport, railway stations and ferry terminals.

Skye Car Hire are a family run company based in Kyle of Lochalsh and it’s worth checking out their website even if you are not hiring a car, it has lots of great links for accommodation, travel information and arts, crafts and gift shops and galleries.

Travelling to Skye by Ferry

You can travel to Skye by ferry on Caledonian McBrayne Calmac Ferries, on foot or by car, from Mallaig on the Scottish mainland, or Lochmaddy from the isles of North Uist and Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. The ferry from Mallaig to Skye takes 45 minutes and docks at Armadale. From Armadale, you can take the bus to Portree or arrange a transfer, and it’s the same from Harris.

Calmac Ferries journey planner allows you to book ferry tickets and make reservations, their website is full of great advice and tips for travelling all over Scotland, you can even create your very own island hopper holiday. Calmac boast over 30 hopscotch island hopper routes and is well worth a look if you want to visit the isles.

Travelling to Skye by Car

You have two options – drive to Mallaig on the A830, the road to the Isles, and go over the sea to Skye by ferry, or drive further north to Kyle of Lochalsh and cross to Skye via the bridge on the A87. If you are travelling with an electric vehicle there are charging points within the local areas including the CalMac Ferry Terminal in Uig. For a full list of charging points on the Isle of Skye check out ZapMaps.

Travelling to Skye by Bike

If a beautiful landscape is what makes you want to cycle then the Isle of Skye is a cyclists paradise. The roads throughout Skye are in good condition and are a joy to cycle on so it won’t be long before you forget about the weather! Cycling is a great way to explore Skye and there are plenty of bike hire shops so you don’t need to worry about bringing your own. These shops will deliver and pick up hire bikes and offer a wealth of local information and travel advice. We recommend using:

Mallaig E-Bike Hire

Skye MTB Adventure

South Skye Cycles

Skye-E Bike Hire

 

Travelling to Skye by Rail

Trains don’t run over to or on Skye, the closest train station is the Kyles of Lochalsh. Buses leave regularly from the Harbour in the Kyles and take just over an hour to arrive in Portree, check the local and network bus timetables as they all run services.

ScotRail operates networks all over the UK but if you fancy taking a tour of Scotland by train then Scottish Tours is a useful site for packages.  It’s certainly worth considering the train as all routes are scenic.

For instance, the most popular route to the highlands is from Glasgow Queen Street in central Scotland to Mallaig along the famous West Highland Rail Line. Travelling by way of Rannoch Moor and Fort William, you’ll enjoy captivating views at every turn. The last part of the journey follows the same route as the famous Jacobite Steam Train, so you’ll cross the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, known as the “Harry Potter Bridge”.

Steam Train on Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland in August 2020

Skye may seem small from where you’re standing but it’s vast and there is so much to see and do, it’s well worth spending an extended time there and indulging in a bit of “slow tourism”….

Maybe it’s the vastness of the ever-changing landscape that attracts you, if so make sure you visit North-East Skye.  There, the headland launches forth from the sea in great jagged arched cliffs of granite and rock, bubbled up from long-extinct volcanoes, it’s such a sight to see….But whatever the draw a slower pace is well worth considering…..

If you’re in London and considering travelling to Skye by train, then our previous blog London Kings Cross to the Isle of Skye in One Magical Day may offer you some food for thought!

Our upcoming blog is on the subject of whiskey distilleries, a great excuse to use public transport, and book that extended whiskey tasting so you can enjoy a good dram, take the scenic route home to Chasing The Moon Skye on the number 57 bus, and watch the sun go down over Brother Point……

Some Useful Links

www.citylink.co.uk Bus service linking the main Scottish towns and cities.

www.stagecoachbus.com Local bus service.

www.scotrail.co.uk Train service linking the main Scottish towns and cities.

www.jacobitetrain.com Steam train from Fort William to Mallaig.

www.calmac.co.uk Ferry service for the Scottish Islands.

www.skyeferry.co.uk Glenelg-Skye ferry.

www.hial.co.uk Inverness Airport

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