Destinations,  Europe,  International Travel,  Our Adventures,  Scotland,  Traveling with a Baby or Toddler

Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting the Isle of Skye, Scotland

The Isle of Skye in Scotland is one of the most beautiful destinations that we have traveled to! The isle is located in Northwest Scotland and is accessible by bridge from the Scottish mainland, making it an easy destination for a Scottish Highland adventure. Our family of three (including our one year old daughter- you can read my tips for traveling to Scotland with a toddler here) had an incredible time, but there are a few things I wish I knew before visiting the Isle of Skye in Scotland, and I’m excited to share them with you.

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I personally enjoy reading these types of blog posts, because people tend to share their best tips. I love learning from others, and I hope that our experiences will help you out as your plan your own trip to the beautiful Isle of Skye. I promise to make this list helpful and practical! My hope is that you’ll learn from our experiences (both major and minor) so that you are better prepared for your own Highland adventure.

If you’re planning your own trip to the Isle of Skye, you might want to check out our Isle of Skye 2 Day Itinerary, where you can find out how we spent our time! I share several other planning tips there too! Whether you prefer to rent your own car like us or book a bus or van tour, I’m sure you will enjoy exploring the beautiful isle.

Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting the Isle of Skye

When planning our trip to the Isle of Skye, I came across numerous photos of adorable highland cattle. Photos of these shaggy bulls and cows were included in nearly every blog post, itinerary, and guide that I came across. I became excited at the thought of snapping my own photos of these cute cows, and I knew our daughter would love seeing them too (she loves cows).

It was early evening when we drove to the Isle of Skye. All three of us were tired from the long drive from Glasgow, especially our toddler. We were enjoying the beautiful scenery, but we were exhausted and ready for dinner, so we weren’t really looking for any extra stops (knowing that we had the next two days to explore). We passed by a pasture of adorable highland cattle. A few other travelers had pulled their cars over and were taking the most amazing photos of the friendly cattle, who were prancing around for their photo ops. It looked like the perfect moment, but we kept driving, assuming we would see plenty of other highland cows during our stay on the Isle of Skye.

Wrong! We didn’t see any for the rest of our trip. Seriously? Seriously. There were plenty of cows. They were everywhere, but we didn’t see another shaggy, iconic, highland cow. I am not sure if we just had terrible luck or if they truly are rare. We even stopped by the same pasture as we left the Isle of Skye, but the cows were nowhere to be found.

Pro Tip: Want to have a guaranteed experience with highland cows?! Consider booking an Airbnb experience with a local. This Isle of Skye day tour promises a visit with highland cows (Morag, Mhairi, and others!) in a secret location and has excellent reviews!

So learn from our mistake! If you would like to take some awesome shots of highland cows, don’t pass up an opportunity! Here is a photo of another cute cow though, who also calls the Highlands its home. You’ll have no problem finding these types of cows!

You might also be interested in: Isle of Skye 2 Day Itinerary

 

2. Don’t Stay in Portree

I would suggest that you don’t stay in Portree. Let me preface this by saying that Portree is a lovely little coastal village, and there isn’t anything wrong with it. It is the largest town on the Isle of Skye and offers the most lodging options. They have numerous restaurants and several grocery stores. Several tour companies are based in Portree, making it an easy location to base yourself if you will be catching a tour during your stay. It is no wonder that so many people choose this town as their home base.

While Portree is lovely, we stayed in Edinbane and are thankful that we did! When I first starting planning our trip to the Isle of Skye, I searched for lodging in Portree (because that is what everyone suggested). I had a difficult time finding a vacation home that was available and that fit our needs, so I wound up (reluctantly) booking a vacation home in Edinbane. I worried that it was too far away from the town of Portree, and that we would spend all of our time driving in the car to get groceries, etc.

It turned out to be a blessing! Portree was charming but crowded. Parking was an issue and lodging looked cramped. Edinbane, on the other hand, was spread out and offered stunning views (those sunsets were out-of-this-world gorgeous). Our daughter had space to run free! Our hosts had several animals, including new baby lambs. It took us less than 20 minutes to drive to Edinbane from Portree, which wasn’t a big deal at all. It was wonderful to get way from the vast majority of the crowds each evening.

Edinbane was also better situated for our itinerary. We spent our first full day driving the Trotternish Loop, which is on the Northeastern side of the isle, and our second full day on the western side of isle. Which Portree is slightly (by a few minutes) closer to the places we visited on day 1, it was significantly further away from the places we visited on day 2. Overall, we spent less time driving and more time exploring as a result of staying in Edinbane.

We loved our vacation home- which, unfortunately, is no longer listed on Airbnb. It was beautiful and our hosts were among the friendliest that we have ever met. You can read more about where we stayed in our itinerary, and you can find several other amazing vacation homes or hotel options.

Now, if Portree feels comfortable to you and you really would prefer to stay there, then have no fear. You will still get to experience the beauty of the Isle of Skye. But if you would prefer to get away from the crowds and sleep in a more remote location, then don’t be afraid to explore the other beautiful towns on the isle. The Isle of Skye is quite small, and driving from place to place doesn’t take as much time as one might initially think.

Looking for lodging inspiration? Here are a few beautiful vacation homes to stay on the Isle of Skye:

  1. Cottage (in an old post office!) in Edinbane (our favorite town!) – sleeps 4
  2. Luxurious cottage in the heart of Portree- sleeps 9
  3. 1 bedroom with a view of Portree Bay- sleeps 2
  4. Malt House in a former’s grain mill (over 200 years old!)- sleeps 4
  5. Tranquil rural hideway in Penifier, just 3 short miles from Portree- sleeps 4
  6. Stone built croft cottage with sea views- sleeps 6
  7. Cottage by the sea and mountains in Peinachorran- sleeps 4

Prefer to stay in a hotel? Here are a few lovely options:

  1. Skeabost House Hotel
  2. Uig Hotel
  3. Tongadale Hotel

 

 

You might also be interested in: Traveling to Scotland with a Toddler or Baby

3. Cell Phone Service is Spotty

This one is important for planning purposes- know that cell phone service is spotty. Do not plan on using your cell phone for navigation. You’ll get a signal here and there, but it is not enough to rely on.

You’ll want to bring a paper map of Scotland (unless you’re planning on taking a tour bus or hiring a private driver). Before all major road trips, my husband and I like to map out our route before we leave and highlight it. This makes it really easy to use the map on the go – because, lets face it, most of us aren’t in the habit of using physical maps anymore (and they can be confusing at first glance).

I used our WiFi to map our directions on Google Maps before leaving each day. I took screenshots of everything for reference, but we still needed to pull out our paper map often. If you’re like me and are still hoping to use your cell phone at times, make sure you have a way to charge your cell phone on the go. The lack of service will drain your battery more quickly than usual.

There are so many paper map options out there. You can go with a traditional map of Scotland (if you’re planning on driving outside of the Isle of Skye too) or a waterproof map (if you want to make sure it won’t get ruined in the rain).

You can, of course, opt to have someone else drive you. There are numerous guided tour options available on the Isle of Skye.

Here are a few highly-rated tour recommendations:

  1. Full-Day Private Tour of the Isle of Skye
  2. 3 Day Small Group Tour of the Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands
  3. 3 Day Highlands Tour from Edinburgh
  4. Isle of Skye Tour (included Eilean Donan Castle) from Inverness

You might also be interested in: Our Family Photo Shoot in Edinburgh with Flytographer + Discount Coupon Code

4. The Highlands are Brown

When I planned our trip to the Isle of Skye, each destination on our list appeared to be perfectly green in everyone’s photos. Every photo my husband and I looked at reminded us of the beauty that we loved so much in Ireland, and we were expecting Scotland to look similar. We were wrong!

Now, Scotland is beautiful. It’s stunning. It’s one of the prettiest places we have ever been. But it really isn’t as green as Ireland (as a whole). In fact, a lot of what we saw in the Scottish Highlands was brown. It was beautiful in its own way.

 

Clearly the Isle of Skye has several lush, green destinations. Have you looked at our Isle of Skye itinerary yet? Almost everything is green! But you’ll find a lot of brown as you drive around too. Like I said, it’s still beautiful, but it wasn’t what I was expecting.

So don’t be alarmed by the views as you drive through the Highlands. Enjoy the scenery and know that you’ll soon be surrounded by those rolling green hills that you’ve seen in all of those photos, if that’s important to you.

You might also be interested in: Creative Ways to Capture Travel Memories

5. Public Restrooms are Difficult to Find (& are Rarely Free)

It is common to expect to have to pay for public restrooms in areas with high tourism, and the Isle of Skye is no exception. Be sure to travel with plenty of coins so that you can enter public restrooms when you need to.

Now, beyond that- know that there aren’t very many public restrooms on the Isle of Skye. You can usually use a toilet at a local restaurant if you are a customer, but even those aren’t found in abundance in some parts of the isle.

For example, on day 1 (when we visited several spots along the Trotternish Loop) we didn’t see a public restroom from the time we left Fairy Glen until we drove back into Portree. We knew there was a chance that this would be the case, so I’m glad we accidentally came across free, public restrooms in the town of Uig (near the ferry dock- where we wound up by accident after missing our turn to Fairy Glen). On day 2, we only saw public restrooms at Dunvegan Castle (admission is required to enter the area).

 

My hope it that you found the things I wish I knew before visiting the Isle of Skye helpful! If you have been to the Isle of Skye, I would love to hear about your experience. And if you’re heading there soon, I would love to hear about what you’re looking forward to the most!

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65 Comments

  • Elizabeth

    I loved visiting the Isle of Skye a couple of years ago! I don’t think I saw a single Highland cow the whole time I was there either! I definitely agree about your bathroom tip! Hardly any of the main tourist spots have toilets. There is another one in the village of Dunvegan….for anyone who met be reading this concerned!

    • Leah

      We didn’t find one in Dunvegan, but good to know that there is one! I know there are some available to customers at local restaurants there. It is such a beautiful destination overall! 🙂

      • Jazmín

        Scotland is so high on my bucket list but to be honest I’m still in the research face as there is so much I do not know about the destination. I’m glad you are sharing these tips as I haven’t find helpful information other places. It is good to know about the bathrooms and the lack of them. Thank you for sharing!

    • Leila

      You know you can download offline maps from googles maps, right? This has been a feature for years and one I have used since at least 2014. While you have WiFi, zoom into the area you want the offline map of. The closer, the more details you can capture. Go to your picture on google maps (the profile button as of sept 2020) and select offline maps. Then select the area you want saved. Then click on save and name the map.

      I usually make several versions of the map for depth of detail. One of the entire country (just in case), one of the entire city I’m spending time in, and then one of each area I’m planning on spending time to. Then you are able to search and set routes using those maps. So you don’t have to worry about having enough cell signal or not. Offline maps to the rescue!

      • Leah

        Yes, thanks for the tips! We have used offline maps, and they definitely are a good option. My husband has always preferred the paper route, so we typically go with that. 🙂

  • Yukti

    The Isle of Skye in Scotland is really one of the most beautiful destination and one day I would go for it. By not staying in Portree and staying in Edinbane looks less crowded. Good to know that less rest rooms along the way as I will prepare my mind accordingly and will regulate my liquid intake during this road trip. Thanks for sharing all genuine tips.

    • Leah

      I am so glad that you found these tips helpful! I do suggest staying in Edinbane, or another small town, if you like to get away from crowds. 🙂

  • Mijia Eggers

    The Isle of Skye in Scotland looks remote and vast. There seems to have less tourists. I prefer to visiting this type of place. I think to hike around is a quite nice feeling.

    • Leah

      It is very nice! There are still a lot of tourists, but it is much more spread out and less crowded than the cities (like Edinburgh). There are plenty of places to get away!

  • Jane Dempster-Smith

    I have always wanted to visit Scotland and in particular the Isle of Skye. These are some great tips especially about the highland cows and the toilets. Sounds like it was a blessing staying in Edinbane. A paper map now that is a new thing (LOL) we rely too much on Google for our navigation these days and this is one of the best tips – thanks for sharing.

  • Medha Verma

    I am not surprised that the cellphone service is spotty but I am surprised that public restrooms are hard to find! Scottish Highlands look gorgeous, and those cows are definitely rare! I’d love to visit the Isle of Skye someday and most likely will rent a car to drive around the lovely countryside, the views are breathtaking!

  • Ambica Gulati

    Sounds lke a perfect holiday. No crowds, no network and no one to ask for things. There are cute cows in India too but the picture you have posted is different. And wouldn’t I like to be with the lambs. I like baby animals.

  • amar singh

    I must admit living in the UK I have not traveled to Scotland as much as I should as it is indeed one of the most picturesque places you can visit in the world. The Scottish Highlands has some amazing natural beauty and the infrastructure is not the greatest I admit but the natural beauty shadows this. Only issue I have encountered in the highlands is the unpredictable weather and with constant changes the landscape reflects this too, no wonder you saw more brown when you visited. The cell phone does get spotty signals i agree. Hope to re visit the highlands soon.

  • Annick Lenoir-Peek

    I would have been disappointed to miss the cows too – how frustrating! Good to know about the spotty WiFi. We tend to rely so much on our phones that we don’t often bring a paper map anymore. How interesting that there weren’t many restrooms to be found. I too expect to pay but it’s good to know to plan appropriately for the fact that they may be hard to find.

  • Rhonda Albom

    I can so relate to your cow story. The first week I lived here, there were dolphins frolicking in a beach, but I had someone else’s kids in my car and didn’t want to worry the mum. I figured it happened all the time. Nope. In 16 years, I have only seen them on that beach two more times. You know I stopped both times. We haven’t been to the Isle of Skye, but I would have been looking for those cows too.

  • Amanda

    Let me just say that it is YOUR IG posts lately and this article that is making me consider Scotland for a future trip with the family!! It is absolutely stunning here!!!

  • Margie

    A great set of tips if we ever do visit the Isle of Sky. There’s a lot of things I didn’t know and I too expect Scotland to be as green as Ireland.

  • Karen

    Love this! So much more useful than the usual destination guides being so helpful! I think the cow you took a snap of is equally as pretty!

    • Leah

      I agree- it was such a peaceful cow! And I’m glad you enjoyed it. Sometimes blog posts can glamorize a destination but I wanted to share everything!

  • Dominique Parrish

    Those are great tips – I find it hard when public restrooms aren’t abundant, kiddos tend to need to go randomly!

  • Kelsey

    The Isle of Skye has ALWAYS been a place I’ve been dying to visit – ever since I saw that fake viral pinterest pin that showed an image of purple trees and bright blue water LOL.

    But it still looks beautiful even if it doesn’t really look like that – and these were SUCH helpful tips! Will be saving this for when I finally do make that trip over there…

  • Andi

    I REALLY appreciate posts like these as these are usually lessons you don’t learn until you are already there and it is TOO late. I definitely would have fallen to victim to many of these!

  • Christine

    Thank you for sharing this! The Isle of Skye is on my bucket list, and I’ve been pinning a ton of posts about it lately. I haven’t read about some of these things (I assumed the highland cows were everywhere too!), so I appreciate you sharing these tips!

  • Liona

    Thanks for all your tips. I would love to visit one day. It’s funny about the highland cows, I seem to trip over them on days out and I live in the flattest part of the UK!

  • Pauline

    I soooo agree with all these tips! I was sure I would find some highland cows too but nope, didn’t see any! Only saw some when I stayed in a farm next to the Loch Ness! I was a bit disappointed.. I think there are more where I live in England haha

  • Sarah

    I didn’t even realise you could drive across a bridge to the Isle of Skye! That makes it a load more appealing, I’m terrified of ferries but would love to see a highland cow. Note to self, to take photo of first cow lol

  • Catherine

    Thanks for this run down of things to know! I like staying off the beaten path, so Edinbane sounds perfect for us too! I also thought Skye was littered with those beautiful long-horned cows, lol, thanks for the heads up! I’ll book mark this for our (eventual) trip to Skye!

  • Wendy

    My daughters and I were in Scotland in 2018, absolutely beautiful but I’m surprised that you say it was all brown, you didn’t see the lovely heather blooming all over? We were lucky to see a few of the cattle and hopefully we’ll get back there in a couple of years.

    • Leah

      We did see some blooming heather but only in patches. We were definitely surprised by how brown it was- but the beautiful places were stunning! We hope to travel there again soon too. 🙂

  • Deborah Bryant Knight

    Did your rental vehicle not have GPS? Were you unable to get a signal on that either? That you for all the great tips. We enjoy staying in AIRBNBs. I like the idea of grooming those awesome looking cows.

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