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Scotland - Alternative to Skye?

My wife and I will be in Scotland for the first time for two weeks in late August/September. In reading through the forum posts regarding Skye, frequent comments refer to it being over-crowded with tourists. Would you still recommend it? Are there other islands with classic Scotland terrain and sights we might include? We are more walkers than hikers. Currently we have 2-3 days planned for Edinburgh, to drop in on the International Book Festival, and then are open to and would welcome other possibilities and suggestions. Thank you.

Posted by
63 posts

I went to Mull and Skye last year and actually liked Mull better. The scenery is not as dramatic, but it is beautiful nonetheless, there is good walking, and the opportunity to visit Iona and Staffa, both of which are extremely short ferry rides from Mull. Iona was lovely and atmospheric, and on Staffa we were able to sit a foot away from puffins. Mull's charms are subtle but real. If I was going back I would return to Mull over Skye. To appreciate what Mull has to offer you have to read guidebooks other than the RS Scotland guidebook as that gives short shrift to Mull. I'd suggest the Rough Guide to the Islands and Highlands.

Posted by
2563 posts

I've got nothing against Skye, but Scotland is filled with spectacular scenery, great places to go walking, places of historical and archaeological interest, wonderful people, etc. If you particularly want to be on an island, there are hundreds of them (starting with the fact that Great Britain itself is an island...). You might be inspired by one of the following articles.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/scotland/galleries/scotland-most-beautiful-islands/

https://wildaboutscotland.com/2013/08/19/top-10-must-visit-scottish-islands/

https://travelswithakilt.com/which-scottish-island/

Posted by
458 posts

To put a counter perspective.... Skye is a very large island and the people who say it is over-crowded are folks who only go to what I call the 'honey pot' sights (Neist Point, Old Man of Storr, Quiraing, Kilt Rock, Fairy Pools etc). There are many other equally beautiful and spectacular places on Skye, where you could hike all day and not see another soul. I know, because I live here year round and frequently go out walking in the summer and even skinny dipping in the sea, without seeing anyone on my hike or swim. People tend to act a bit like sheep on holiday and just follow the crowds. With a bit of research using online resources you could easily experience Skye in a different way. For example, have a look at Walk Highlands website and just see how many different hikes are described on Skye (and of varying lengths and difficulty). I also like this website The Skye Guide

The problem you are likely to encounter booking this late is finding accommodation, but even that can be overcome with a little careful planning. Many accommodation providers use Airbnb and booking.com and those are likely to be quite booked up at this stage. But there are plenty of other B&Bs who don't want to pay the 15% commission that booking.com charge and who advertise locally (so you might not find them on a general search). Where you will find them however, is by joining a Facebook group called Skye Rooms. Here you can post details of what you are looking for (e.g. double room with en suite bathroom) and which dates. Providers with availability will post details of what they have available.

I hope this will go some way to demonstrating that Skye is not over-crowded.

Posted by
1391 posts

I am returning to Scotland this summer. I am going back to Mull, Iona and Staffa and I am going to spend even more time on Skye this year. Wouldn't miss it for the world!

Also going to Skaka Brae in the Orkneys.

Posted by
1579 posts

From Uig, at the tip of Skye, you can catch a ferry to Harris and Lewis which is actually one island, not two. The main attraction there is Callanish stone circle, but there are also golden sand beaches, ruined churches, brochs, and lovely scenery. It's worth two nights.

The area around Plockton, Sheildeg, and Torridon is lovely and feels remote. You can day trip to that area from Broadford on Skye.

Glencoe is magnificent, especially if you drive it heading north. There isn't a lot of accommodation there, but Fort William is only 14 miles away and has lots of places to stay.

We also enjoy the border abbeys area which is south of Edinburgh. There are also lots of ruined castles in that area.

If you go to Thurso, you can catch a ferry to Orkney which is full of neolithic sites. Another place that is good for two nights. If you just want a brief taste of the Orkney area, you can take a VERY long day trip there from Inverness.

We have never found Skye to be too crowded. Consider staying in Broadford instead of Portree. It is a more convenient location for day trips on Skye and on the mainland.

While we liked Mull, we did not find as much to do there as we did on Skye. If you look at maps of both islands, you will notice that Skye has a lot more roads and is therefore more accessible for walking.

Posted by
5452 posts

There is no doubt that Skye is a beautiful place. When my sister and I first visited Scotland as young 20 somethings in the late 70's our Scottish relatives encouraged us to "go to Skye!" Said relatives lived in Orkney! We went and did find it beautiful. We went to Dunvegan and then did a hike out of Sligachan into the Cuilins where we could see Loch Coruisk. I've been back two times since where one trip was a week's photo workshop. But, as beautiful as Skye is, you can still experience the beauty that is Scotland and give it a miss. And that said I would agree that stories of crowds are likely overstated. I live in NYC and you will NEVER EVER find any crowds that are remotely like the crowds in this city. But I also lived in Madison, Wisconsin for nearly 20 years and have seen the tourist tat that is the Wisconsin Dells. Nothing in Scotland approaches what you find there or in similar US destinations such as Gatlinburg or the Poconos. :) So, I am saying is don't stress rumors of crowds. Truly, all things are relative.

If you want to see what the West is like, the advice to visit Mull is excellent. If you want some other locations that will give you a taste of all that is wonderful about Scotland here are some other ideas.

  • Go to Perthshire. Dunkeld or Aberfeldy have lovely walks--not hikes--that you would enjoy.
  • Go to the Cairngorms. The Rothiemurchus Estate has some wonderful walks. Check out Walkhighlands for other great walks.
  • Look into the Trossachs. Sadly, the steamboat on Loch Katrine is in dry dock and in need of donations. But you can still cruise out on the Loch and then bike or walk back.

There are so many options in Scotland. You won't go wrong with your choices.

PAm

Posted by
159 posts

As others have said, there is plenty of things to see in Scotland besides Skye....having said that, personally I would not miss it. Skye was absolutely fantastic, especially the day of hiking we spent in the Quiraing.
The Isle of Mull was also one of our favorites.
Tobermory was one of our favorite towns. We then drove the B8073 from Tobermory to Calgary Bay through Kilninian - Oskamull to Gruline (based on Recs from Auchterliss) and it was amazing !! The views across Loch na Keal looking at Ben More were awesome.
The drive from Calgary Bay to Gruline is slow going (allow an hour) but worth it in my opinion.

The Applecross drive into Torridon was also lots of fun>

Good luck !
BT

Posted by
901 posts

Hi, ericbgoldman,

Is the book festival at the beginning, middle, or end of your holiday? That would make a difference in your plans. Had you thought of visiting Wigtown, in the Borders? The town has more bookshops per square mile than anywhere else in Scotland. It's like the Scottish version of Hay-on-Wye.

To avoid having to make a one day flying visit to Skye, if you decide that you'd like to visit the island, you should try first to obtain accommodation before committing yourselves to going there. That way, you'd have more time to spend on Skye. There's a lot to see, and it definitely can't be done in a day.

If you have the time outwith the book festival, you could do an island hopping tour from Edinburgh. That would consist of Edinburgh to Ardrossan: Ardrossan to Brodick (Arran); Lochranza (Arran) to Claonaig (Kintyre Peninsula); Oban to Craignure (Mull); Tobermory (Mull) to Kilchoan (Ardnamurchan Peninsula); Mallaig to Armadale (Skye). You could then return via the Skye Bridge. Have a look at a map to see what you think.

You could eliminate the Arran part of the journey, and go directly to Oban. However, Arran has been described as "Scotland in miniature," and it's not just hype put out by the tourist board on Arran. There are highlands in the north, and lowlands in the south. There are several good hikes (walks), and a couple of good castles (Brodick and Lochranza).

Check out the WalkHighlands website for a list of good walks wherever you end up. They grade the walks from one boot (easy) to five boots (ridiculous), although I've found a couple of their one boot walks a bit challenging.

Best wishes for your travels!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
25 posts

What book suggestions. Thanks so much. My wife is a bibliophile, so you have set us in the right direction. We'll be going from August 22 - September 3. We are likely to rent car for the entire period, and so will wend our way up to Skye and the many other suggested places. ICan you tell me more about the island hopping tour from Edinburgh that you mentioned? Thanks much.

Posted by
25 posts

Your suggestions are terrific. Thanks for sending them along. I just have to make the flight reservations now - a challenge I don't look forward to,

Posted by
901 posts

Hi once again, ericbgoldman,

To do the island hopping, you'd first of all have to drive to one of the embarkation points. That would mean driving from Edinburgh to Ardrossan if you're starting out going to Arran, or driving to Oban if you're going to Mull first.

If you know your schedule ahead of time, you can purchase your tickets in advance from Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac). You could probably save a few pounds by purchasing an Island Hopscotch ticket.

If you find yourselves in Mallaig on your way to or from Skye, there is an excellent used bookshop down by the harbor. It's in the same building as the mission bunkhouse.

Hope that helps.

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
25 posts

You're amazing. Now I have to figure out the most affordable way to fly there. I will look into Hi, ericbgoldman,

Is the book festival at the beginning, middle, or end of your holiday? That would make a difference in your plans. Had you thought of visiting Wigtown, in the Borders? The town has more bookshops per square mile than anywhere else in Scotland. It's like the Scottish version of Hay-on-Wye.

To avoid having to make a one day flying visit to Skye, if you decide that you'd like to visit the island, you should try first to obtain accommodation before committing yourselves to going there. That way, you'd have more time to spend on Skye. There's a lot to see, and it definitely can't be done in a day.

If you have the time outwith the book festival, you could do an island hopping tour from Edinburgh. That would consist of Edinburgh to Ardrossan: Ardrossan to Brodick (Arran); Lochranza (Arran) to Claonaig (Kintyre Peninsula); Oban to Craignure (Mull); Tobermory (Mull) to Kilchoan (Ardnamurchan Peninsula); Mallaig to Armadale (Skye). You could then return via the Skye Bridge. Have a look at a map to see what you think.

You could eliminate the Arran part of the journey, and go directly to Oban. However, Arran has been described as "Scotland in miniature," and it's not just hype put out by the tourist board on Arran. There are highlands in the north, and lowlands in the south. There are several good hikes (walks), and a couple of good castles (Brodick and Lochranza).

Check out the WalkHighlands website for a list of good walks wherever you end up. They grade the walks from one boot (easy) to five boots (ridiculous), although I've found a couple of their one boot walks a bit challenging.

Best wishes for your travels!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
1261 posts

If you are near Inverness, be sure to visit Leakey's Bookshop in a converted church in Inverness. Your wife will love it. I haven't been to Wigtown yet but hope to go on my next trip. I was in Scotland in April and really liked Oban. The whole country is beautiful and I don't think you can go far wrong no matter where you choose to go.