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Reasonable Edinburgh to Skye Expectations/Itinerary?

I will be in Scotland in mid-May, and would love some opinions on whether I am stretching it by attempting to make my way from Edinburgh to Skye. The tentative plan was stay in Edinburgh 1 night, pick up rental car and make our way to Skye (where we would stay for 2 nights), and then return to Edinburgh (to stay another night before flying out). I'm very used to making the 6 hour/400mile trip between LA to SF, and from reading prior forum posts, I know to expect driving to be slower in Scotland. (I have driven around Ireland and Iceland as well)

Our priority is simply seeing the Highlands and natural beauty of Scotland, and as of now we haven't got any "must hit" sights. I have been to Edinburgh before, and also done Inverness/Loch Ness area so would like to explore a new area. Is attempting to make it out to Skye for a 2 night stay shortchanging it too much?

Thank you kindly for any help and opinions!

Posted by
1826 posts

You can do this if you don't mind a lot of driving. However, most of the driving will be very scenic. Google map this route: Edinburgh to Stirling (good castle if you have time) to Glencoe (gorgeous valley, one of the highlights of the highlands) to Broadford. Stay in Broadford for two nights - explore Skye. You can also see Eileen Donan Castle and Plockton. Next day take the ferry to Mallaig and drive back to Edinburgh. Rushed, but scenic. You would probably enjoy this more if you could spend one more day on Skye.

Posted by
4589 posts

This is a "hard" drive for an American used to wider high speed roads. You may be used to more energy-intensive driving and may not mind such a long drive, probably more like 8-9 hours. Just going to Glencoe provides lots of nice scenery and less driving.

Posted by
3122 posts

The LA-SF drive is nothing at all like the drive you're contemplating, trust me, I've done both. You are only going to be there for 4 nights, so yes I think you'd be shortchanging yourself with this plan.

Frankly I don't know why Skye is such a must-do. It's very scenic, but so is very much of the rest of Scotland. I would say do yourself a favor and see either the Cairngorms or Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, both of which are brimming with natural beauty. There is plenty to enjoy in either of those regions and you'll have enough time out of the car to enjoy being there instead of driving, driving, driving.

Posted by
7562 posts

It's doable, with an early start, few stops, and good traffic/weather. The day we returned towards Edinburgh 3 years ago, having left Skye but then spending 2 days in Fort William before driving to Edinburgh, it absolutely poured rain all morning. Driving thru Glen Coe, it was slow traffic and difficult visibility, with the wipers going full speed the whole time. It cleared in the afternoon and we stopped a couple of places, for a late lunch and to dry out a bit, and then one castle visit along the way, as the rain had stopped, and we were actually headed only to a B&B an hour away from Edinburgh (for a one-hour drive the next morning to catch out flight home). With no stops and better weather, we could've driven farther and faster. It does rain in Scotland, though.

Posted by
308 posts

I did this exact road trip with friends except instead of returning to Edinburgh we went to Aberdeen. We thought driving through the Highlands and seeing Skye was worth it!

We didn't have a lot of time to enjoy Skye, but we were able to do a beautiful hike (fairy pools) and eat an amazing dinner (Three Chimneys) while we were there.

Posted by
13 posts

Hi Peggy,

I am doing the same trip in May. We decided to break up the drive by splitting our time into 4 different places (Glasgow, Oban, Skye and Inverness). Each day we are driving between 3-4 hrs according to Google maps, but we've heard you should always add 25% more time. We've gotten the comment that we are packing too much in however we wanted to see as much of the highlands in the time we had.

I am not sure if you've booked any of your accommodations but we had a very hard time finding something (2weeks ago) in Skye as many are fully booked or don't allow short stays.

Hope you have a great trip!

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks for all of your replies! Haha, this still leaves me on the fence - I did actually manage to find a place that has availabilities in Portree, but haven't yet finalized any decision. Was also considering staying at least 1 night in Glencoe, but then I wasn't sure of where to spend the other night so am now doing some more research/reading through forum threads. Any suggestions would be welcome!!

Posted by
37 posts

I have done that drive a few times but I spend an entire week in Skye. Because there are so many beautiful places in that region, honestly, with your short time frame, I would spend that time around Oban, Glencoe - or basically anywhere in the entire western region. I believe it takes 5.5 hours of straight driving (no stops) to get to Skye so unless you don't mind spending all of your time in the car, you can do that...but you miss all of the fun towns and walks. If you haven't driven in Scotland before, you will find it stressful until you get used to it so a shorter drive may be better. You don't want to arrive to Skye frazzeled. I am not a fan of spending my time in the car....sure the views from the car are lovely but the people of Scotland are so wonderful that you don't want to miss out on chatting with them. I tend to meet the most people in the smaller towns and out walking.

Oban is a lovely town and if you enjoy the countryside, I suggest heading south along the coast towards a small town called Tarbert. Along the way, you will hit a castle ruin, Carnasserie, that you can walk in/up the ancient stairs to enjoy the views and Kilmartin with an old churchyard and standing stones. Further south, the beautiful road goes to a wonderful castle where I never run into anyone near Skipness. I love this part of Scotland because there are small towns and not very many tourists. So, I would spend a day in that region where there is some driving, but there are a lot of opportunities to walk AND you have the time to do so. and then head towards Glencoe for the next day. Honestly, you can't go wrong in the Highlands so that is simply an idea for you!

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, Peggy,

My last post disappeared, so I'll try again. If you're traveling from Edinburgh to Skye, count on six hours, and more if you need food or toilet breaks. Skye is really busy these days, as it has become a major tourist destination. Given that, please make sure that you have pre-booked accommodation before you go there. You can always find last minute accommodation in May, but you may end up way out in the hinterlands, and nowhere near any restaurants or shops. If you get in to Portree early enough, there is a cluster of B&Bs along Viewfield Road (A87), just before you get in to town. I often tell people to try the Dunollie Hotel in Broadford if you can't find anything else. It's not the Ritz, but it'll do for a night.

My recommendation for your itinerary would be to cross the Forth Road Bridge, and take the M90 toward Perth. As you approach Perth, be very careful. It's really easy to get on the eastbound portion of the M90, and end up in Dundee. I've done it! Go west on the M90 around Perth, and pick up the A9, going toward Pitlochry.

Go straight on through Pitlochry, which is a charming little town, and stay on the A9 to Dalwhinnie. Go left on to the A889, and follow it to where it ends at the A86. Turn left on the A86, which becomes the A82 at Spean Bridge, and follow it in to Fort William. Once you reach Fort William, just before you come in to town, you'll want to turn west on the A830, which at one time was known as the "Road to the Isles." Back in the 1970s, when the 830 was a single track road with passing places, it was a nightmare. It's now vastly improved.

At the end of the A830, you'll come to the small fishing town of Mallaig. From here, you can catch the half hour CalMac ferry to Armadale on Skye. There are nine crossings a day, but it would still be a good idea to book ahead. There are several restaurants and two supermarkets in Mallaig, so you can stock up while you wait for the ferry. The toilets in the CalMac booking office are the cleanest in Mallaig (usually!).

Once you arrive on Skye, you can make the decision as to whether you want to stay overnight. There is a lot to see, and if you are the outdoors sort, many hikes to take. Most of the shops are in Portree, and there is a large (free) car park at the bottom of the hill as you come in to town.

As you leave Skye, you'll follow the A87 back through Broadford, and on to Kyleakin. From there, cross the Skye Bridge, and head east. You'll pass Eilean Donan Castle on the way. Stay on the A87 to Invergarry, then turn south on the A82 toward Fort William. Go through Fort William, then follow the A82 south toward Glencoe.

After you leave Glencoe, stay on the A82 to Crainlarich. You then have two choices to get back to Edinburgh. The first choice would be to stay on the A82, and travel down the west bank of Loch Lomond. Just after you come through Dumbarton, cross the Erskine Bridge (toll), and pick up the M8 on the south side of the River Clyde. Follow the M8 back to Edinburgh.

Option number two would be to turn left on the A85 at Crainlarich, and follow it to Lochearnhead. From there, go straight ahead on to the A84, which will take you through Callander, and on to Stirling. Stirling is well worth a visit, if you have the time. If not, you'll meet up with the M9, which will take you back to Edinburgh by way of Grangemouth.

Except for a small section of the A82, and the A87 on Skye, you won't be backtracking at all, and you'll see some of the finest scenery in Scotland outside of the Northwest Highlands. You'll also be on good roads all the way, with the exception of some single track roads on Skye, if you decide to take them. Believe me, you won't find anything like the I-5!

Have a safe and wonderful trip, and don't forget, you'll be driving on the left, and shifting gears with your left hand!

Posted by
3 posts

A lot depends on what interests you, and what kind of time-frame you have.

A Jacobite steam train just like the one seen in Harry Potter can be found in Fort William, where it runs twice a day to Mallaig and back, over the 21-arch viaduct bridge at Glenfinnan that was also in the films. Mallaig has a ferry to Skye that runs many times a day.

Alternatively, you can go from Fort William towards Loch Ness, west past Eilean Donan Castle and on over the bridge to Skye.

Either route is nice, but going via Mallaig is shorter.

Posted by
768 posts

Like you, we will be visiting Scotland the first half of May. We've not visited Scotland before so we can't speak to the driving issues. We opted to take the train for our journey, so we could enjoying watching the landscape without driving-navigating. We're traveling only during the day and spending nightst at various venues. Part of our journey is similar to yours in that we begin in Edinburgh and travel to the Isle of Skye (in our case via Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh). We decided on two full days plus two half-days on the Isle of Skye. We thought with an afternoon, two days and evenings plus another morning, we would maximize our chances of seeing some sun (or avoid rain if you prefer).

As there is no train service on Skye, we booked a couple half-day tours and have pre-booked a taxi between Kyle of Lochalsh and Portree, and from Portree to Armadale for our departure from Skye. We'll take the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig, then the Steam Train to Ft. William.

Since you've visited Edinburgh previously, perhaps begin your journey the day you arrive and return to Edinburgh the evening before your flight home. This would permit you to spend at least another day and night on Skye. If you have a car you could visit sights on the Trotternish, Duirinish, Waternish and Sleat peninsulas, and have the added possibility of visiting Eilean Donan or Glen Coe (or perhaps Oban) on your drive to/from Skye. Happy travels.

Posted by
2 posts

I just did this drive last week. Isle of Skye driving is not for the faint of heart as much of the roads to see the sites... fairy pools, Quairang, fairy glen, lighthouse are single track with many drivers. It took nearly 8 hours to get back to E with one quick stop for dinner. It is beautiful but with several hours touring Skye before we headed South I really wished I had more time.