The Isle of Skye has been on my bucket list for years, ever since I read a book set there. So when I was researching ways to get to the Isle of Lewis for Scott’s ministry with Stornoway Baptist Church, I immediately looked for ways to incorporate Skye into our trip–and I’m so very glad I did. It didn’t disappoint!
Getting to Skye
As many know, Skye is an island in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. There are two ways to get there: 1) “over the sea to Skye” via the ferries (there is a popular year round ferry and another small historic ferry that operates for the summer) and 2) over the Kyle of Lochalsh bridge that connects Skye to the mainland (this is the free way to get to Skye).
My initial plan was for us to take the Caledonian Sleeper Train from London to Fort William (which is reasonably priced for a family sleeper car), then the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig, and finally the CalMac Ferry from Mallaig to Skye. I’d still like to do it that way someday, should we ever have the opportunity to come again, and that’s the first way I recommend that people try to get to Skye. It’s fairly easy and quick over driving, picturesque, and a totally unique experience. (But then you will want to rent a car on Skye in order to make the most of your experience. There’s not really public transportation.)
However, because we needed a car for our month on Lewis and because I wanted to take a road trip on the way back to England from the Hebrides, by far the most economical way for us to get to Skye (and subsequently Lewis) was by driving. And I don’t discourage this! It was an amazing drive up through the English Peak District and the Scottish West Highlands!
Because we were still in the shoulder season (mid-March), I was able to find a reasonably priced Airbnb and booked us for 2 nights. Knowing that we’d arrive in the late evening on a Wednesday after our road trip, that would give us a day and a half to explore Skye before our afternoon ferry to Lewis and Harris on Friday. (There are several ferries to the Outer Hebrides departing from Skye.) That, however, is not how it turned out.
Getting Stuck on Skye
Thursday afternoon our hosts on Lewis emailed to let us know that the Hebridean weather was whipping up and that we should keep an eye on our ferry crossing. Sure enough, our ferry across the Minch from Uig [OO-ig] in Skye to Tarbert in Harris was cancelled. I hastily emailed our Airbnb owner to ask if she had another night available for our family. While we waited for her reply, we prayed that she wouldn’t have other guests arriving immediately and would accommodate us.
Finding accommodations for a family of six on a very remote island isn’t easy to begin with, let alone on one day’s notice. Thankfully, she emailed back to say that she’d be happy to let us stay the extra night and even gave us a reduced rate. The ferry company rebooked us for the only crossing on Saturday, the 6:30pm crossing. Essentially, then, we got an extra day and a half on Skye, giving us not 1 1/2 but instead 3 days to explore the enchanting “isle of mist.” Even though that wasn’t our original plan, three days ended up being the perfect amount of time to spend on Skye with young kids.
The Perfect 3 Day Skye Itinerary with Young Kids (including a baby and toddler)
I’d researched exploring Skye with kids, so I came to the island with a plan. However, some of the things I thought we could do–things labeled “easy” by other bloggers–nope. So here’s what we tried to do, what was actually doable, and what were our absolute favorites.
Day 1: Our Airbnb was in Kilmuir, about 10 minutes from the Uig ferry terminal, on a secluded mountaintop. This meant that driving the Trotternish Loop was the obvious choice for the first day’s exploring. The Trotternish Peninsula is where a great majority of the famous sights are located on Skye. Since we were setting out from Uig, here’s what we did:
- The Fairy Glen
I almost hate to put this first, because it seems like a spoiler and that I should somehow build up to it, but the Fairy Glen was our number one, hands down, absolute favorite place on Skye. Our kids would’ve explored the Fairy Glen and nothing else and been perfectly happy, and they want to move there, and they compare every other place we go to the Fairy Glen. Yes, they loved it that much. Needless to say, it was a successful first stop!
It’s picturesque and serene and secluded. We had it almost completely to ourselves. I’ve seen it described as Scotland in miniature, and that’s about right. It has a mini loch, mini mountains, a mini rock fortress, mini cliffs, a mini waterfall, mini ruins, a mini forest (that really looks like a place one might find fairies)–and free roaming sheep, of course. And it’s all perfectly walkable and climbable by a two year old and a mom with a baby on her back (except maybe the rock fortress, Castle Ewen).
We were able to let the big kids (12 and 10) roam completely free without worry that they’d fall to their death.
And there’s plenty to explore, if you want to spend hours there. We kept finding new things around every bend. Go all the way to the back to find the mini waterfall!
We had partly sunny and chilly weather in mid-March (you take a chance with the weather at any time of year there; we were really blessed), so we encountered mud at the Glen, but nothing worse. We wore regular clothes (jeans, sweaters, mid-weight coats) with seam sealed leather boots, and we were fine. No hiking gear required (though hear me saying Seam. Sealed. Boots.) There is side-of-the-road parking right by the mini loch, though I’ve heard that in summer it gets more crowded and some people walk from the road by Uig Lodge (which would take about half an hour).
- The Quiraing
This was one of the most spectacular places we’ve been on our trip in terms of scenery. We were floored at the beauty of it. Also, again, this is completely walkable with a two year old and baby-wearing.
However, it’s definitely a place you want to keep an eye on your kids. There are areas where the cliffs are incredibly high and the ground is somewhat unstable, due to boggy mud. There is a nice level path that we walked along for awhile to get some good views. If we ventured off the path, we were very careful and watchful. I think this took some of the fun out of it for the big kids, but the cliffs were no joke.
However, it’s absolutely worth seeing, and very doable. There’s an ample parking lot, and when we were there, a food truck was parked in the parking lot. (Don’t be thinking a hip food truck. It offered basic warm sustenance like hot chocolate, hot coffee, and hot dogs.)
- Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
This is more of a viewpoint than a place to explore, but totally worth the stop.
We planned it so that we could eat lunch here. I packed sandwich stuff, and there were a couple picnic tables by the parking lot.
Kilt Rock is made up of basalt columns that look like a kilt. It reminded me right away of the basalt columns of Staffa (tiny remote island off of Scotland that inspired Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, “Fingal’s Cave”) and the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Since we wouldn’t get to see those this trip, I’m glad we got to see Kilt Rock. The viewpoint is mostly fenced, but it’s still somewhere to keep an eye on the kids, as the drop off is very steep into the rocks and ocean should they manage to get around the fence.
- Rubha nam Brathairean (“Brother’s Point”)
This was one of those places that I’d seen labeled a “short easy hike.” I’d say it’s probably a short easy hike for adult hikers. We got about 10 minutes down and made the wise decision to turn around. Rubha nam Brathairean is clearly less touristy than some of the other places. You park on the side of the road (there’s a designated parking pulloff with space for just a few cars, and you wonder if you’re really in the right place), cross the street, and walk down a little path. So far, so good. Then you have to go through a gate (it really feels like you’re trespassing on someone’s property, which you might be, but it’s labeled Rubha nam Brathairean, so you go ahead anyway), and start the muddy descent down a narrow curvy path. Some places were so muddy we were slipping and sliding all over the place. When we came to a place where our boots were sinking into the mud completely and than also thought of trying to get back up at the end…we looked at each other and gave up the ghost. I’m sure it was beautiful at the bottom, and maybe when there’s a stretch of dry weather (is that a thing on Skye?) it would be possible to traverse the steep-ish path down with little ones, but this was NOT doable for us with a toddler and baby.
- Old Man of Storr
This one was a little tougher. When you arrive, there’s ample parking along the sides of the road. It was crowded, even in March. We couldn’t really see what was there from the roadside, and we were wary after Brother’s Point, but we optimistically got everyone unbuckled and out of the car and walked to the base of the walk. From there you can see that it’s a quite steep hike up a graveled path. You cannot see your destination from the bottom. Scott was wary, but as I had the baby on my back, I gave the go-ahead (happy to see that the uphill hike was at least on the front end of the journey) and up we started.
We could easily let the big kids run ahead on the path. Scott and I proceeded at a two-year-old pace: S.L.O.W.L.Y. I got pretty winded due to Caroline leaning back in the carrier as I was trying to go up the hill. (She was tired of the carrier.) We got about halfway up, saw people coming down from a lot further up, caught a glimpse of the Old Man, and whistled to the kids that we’d had it. If this had been the only thing we’d done that day, we might’ve made it with a toddler and baby-wearing, but as it was mid-afternoon (baby and toddler nap time) after multiple walks and explorations, we did not make it up to the Old Man of Storr. I think the big kids would’ve enjoyed exploring around the rocks, so this is something I’d definitely do with older kids or as adults visiting Skye.
Day 2: As we originally had only the morning left on Skye, I’d just planned for us to explore Portree [port-REE]. However, now that we had two whole days left, we decided to drive an hour to the Fairy Pools. The drive was beautiful and we got to see another section of this amazing island that we otherwise wouldn’t have, but the Fairy Pools with a toddler and baby-wearing after a night’s hard rain were NOT a good idea. I think it would’ve been doable on a warm summer day with low water, and I don’t regret driving there, but had I known, I would’ve done something different. There is a large parking lot, which was fairly crowded. You walk out of the parking lot and over to the gravely path. Where it starts is a bit of a steep climb down. After the climb is a stream and then a fairly level but long walk to the Pools. You cannot see the Pools from the start, and the people presumably by the Pools are far away and tiny.
We made the steep climb down. Christopher (2) almost didn’t make it, despite his low center of balance. Scott had to hold onto him. Where we got hung up, though, was at the stream. The water was rushing across what were supposed to be stepping stones. I had seen said stepping stones in pictures, and they weren’t under multiple inches of fast, rushing water. (They’re not flat stepping stones or anything either.) We stood on the path, in the biting cold wind (the area is really open with no shelter from the wind), and watched three adult couples attempt to get across the stones (some in full hiking gear). They were all having a really difficult time. We quickly realized that a two-year-old would not make it across, and I probably shouldn’t try to make it across with the baby on my back. So, unfortunately, back up the steep hill we went, with nothing to show for it.
We drove back into Portree, picked up some scones at the Isle of Skye Baking Company, and walked around the cute little town for awhile.
If I were to do the day over, I would’ve instead driven the two hours to Elgol and taken a boat tour to Loch Coruisk. If you plan to go to Loch Coruisk (and you don’t need access to the ferry at Uig), I’d suggest staying closer to the middle of the island. A two hour drive to Elgol and two hours back didn’t sound appealing after our road trip. (Staying in the middle of the island also gets you closer to Portree, which is where you’ll need to get any groceries or supplies. Uig is about 35 minutes from Portree.) Another alternative in summer (when it’s open) would be to go to Dunvegan Castle.
Day 3: I thought long and hard about driving down to Elgol for the boat trip, but 2 hours there and 2 hours back plus the 3 hour tour (anyone else humming Gilligan right now? just me? okay) would’ve made the day a little hectic before the ferry. Instead, we decided to go back the the Fairy Glen and let the kids explore to their heart’s content. We spent about an hour there the first day, and they begged us not to leave, but we wanted to get through all our Trotternish things that first day.
That was absolutely the best decision we could’ve made. Not only was it close to our Airbnb and the ferry terminal, but the kids loved the additional three hours at the Fairy Glen! Even Scott and I enjoyed ourselves for all that time. There’s so much to explore, but it’s so doable that it doesn’t feel overwhelming or exhausting.
We packed and checked out of our Airbnb a little before 11am, I packed sandwiches, and we explored just about every nook and cranny of the enchanting glen until the rainclouds rolled in at 2pm.
We called in the kids (who would’ve kept exploring even in the downpour), scrambled to the car, and drove to a little cafe near the pier for afternoon tea. (Bonus that it had a little used bookshop inside, so while everyone sipped tea, I browsed and came away with a beautifully illustrated book of George MacDonald Christmas stories for children–an appropriate souvenir for Scotland, I thought!)
If we were to do Skye again with small children, I would do the Trotternish Loop on Day 1, skipping Brother’s Point and the Old Man of Storr. I would spend the entire morning at the Fairy Glen, eat lunch at Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls, and spend the afternoon at The Quiraing. On Day 2 I would skip the Fairy Pools and instead drive to Elgol to take the boat tour to Loch Coruisk. On Day 3 I would go to Dunvegan Castle (which wasn’t open when we were there but is open from after Easter through the summer season).
Where to Eat on Skye with Kids
One thing we discovered in Skye was that almost all of the restaurants don’t open for dinner until 6:30 or 7pm–and most of the restaurants are in Portree, about 40 minutes from our Airbnb–which makes for a very late night for Americans with little kids. We decided to cook at our Airbnb the first two nights (there is a decent sized Co-Op supermarket on the outskirts of Portree). The last night, right before the ferry, we ate at The Galley. This may be the only restaurant on the island open from noon through the evening without closing for the afternoon hours. (That’s probably not true, but it seemed like it!) There are a couple highly rated fancy restaurants on Skye, but that’s not really what I want to do with four kids, so The Galley was perfect. It was a bit pricey for what it was, but the food was good, the atmosphere totally casual, including a kids menu, and the location convenient to the ferry–and most importantly, they were serving food at 5pm! (They also offer takeaway.)
Where to Stay on Skye with a Large Family
It can be hard to find accommodations in Europe when you have four kids. Everything is smaller here. We found a really nice Airbnb, which was great because it had three bedrooms and a kitchen. However, if you go in Peak Season Airbnb’s would probably be much more expensive and harder to come by (I still recommend looking though). Here are a couple of non-Airbnb places I found on Skye near the Uig Ferry Terminal that can accommodate a large family.
- The Cowshed Boutique Bunkhouse
This is a nice way of saying a clean hostel. It’s cute, and they have dormitories that can sleep six in bunk beds. You can have a dorm to yourself at a very reasonable rate, but you share the bathroom with other guests (though it’s not locker-room style; they are single bathrooms with a lock).
- Uig Lodge
They have a family suite that sleeps 5 plus a baby in two rooms in a private corridor. Each room has a bathroom en suite.
Overall we had a wonderful time in Skye. It lived up to all my expectations and even exceeded them, and I will never regret that we made it part of our itinerary.