Thinking about a trip to the Isle of Skye or Isle of Lewis and Harris? We provide a few tips for budget travel in Scotland’s Hebrides Islands.

Five day itinerary and travel tips for the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Lewis and Harris in Scotland

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After six weeks, we’ve left Scotland. Scotland is such a beautiful country, and we feel pretty fortunate to have been able to see as much as we did in the time we had. While we loved spending an entire month in Edinburgh, we were also pretty pleased with our decision to rent a car, which allowed us to explore places like Aberdeen, Inverness, and the Hebrides Islands. To say we left Scotland on a high note would be an understatement: the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Lewis and Harris are so insanely beautiful, I felt like my insides were smiling for the entire time we were there (for serious, I actually announced to Geoff at one point that my intestines were smiling because of the scenery).

While the islands are beautiful, we also found it kind of confusing to plan a visit to these somewhat remote islands. For one, it took me ages to figure out that the Isle of Lewis and Harris is one island, not two, even though the interwebz has references to visiting Harris and Lewis as if they are separate entities, and in fact this is the way locals refer to them. I also wasn’t sure which islands had bridges and which required a ferry to reach. The place names confounded me, and we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to stay in the same town each night, or would have to move to new towns closer to our daytime excursions.

We ended up spending five days in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. It was rushed, but in the end we found it struck a good balance between saving money (less time with a car rental/fewer nights in a hostel) and exploring. In the five days, we were happily able to see what we considered to be the highlights of each (more on that coming up in another post).

Isle of Skye & Isle of Lewis and Harris Five-Day Itinerary

Day 1

We traveled via Megabus from Edinburgh to Inverness on the morning of Day One, and picked up a rental car in Inverness. People love to complain about Megabus, but we found it to be perfectly adequate. Geoff was quite nervous having never driven in the UK with the sterrling wheel on the right side and driving on the left, so we decided Inverness, a smaller and calmer city would make a better starting point than Edinburgh or Glasgow. We also chose the pick-up location at a hotel away from the center to make things even smoother. We drove around the parking lot a few times to adjusted before heading out.

We drove southwest from Inverness to Kyle of Lochlash, stopping along the shores of Loch Ness to hunt for Nessie and admire the impressive ruins of Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles. Loch Ness is just twenty minutes or so once you’re on the road, andKyle of Lochlash and the Skye Bridge is just about 2 hours unless you stop for photos (which you obviously will :)). From Kyle of Lochlash, we drove across the Skye Bridge to the Isle of Skye, and stayed the night in the main town of Portree, about another hour and a half after the Skye Bridge.

The drive is absolutely stunning, most of the time we just drove in silence with our jaws open, completely amazed by the landscapes and the scenery.

 

loch-ness-scotland

Geoff, searching for Nessie.  

Day 2

We awoke early and drove north on the Isle of Skye to the town of Uig, which has a ferry crossing from Isle of Skye to Tarbert, a small town in the Harris part of the Isle of Lewis and Harris. The large drive-on ferry ride lasts about 2 hours. Upon arrival, we immediately headed to Luskentyre, about a 30 minute drive from the ferry terminal. Luskentyre is an insanely beautiful beach that looks as if it belongs in the Caribbean with a gorgeous white sand beach and turquoise water. Once our minds had been sufficiently blown, and we’d each said, “I can’t believe this is Scotland” about a thousand times, we got back in the car and drove to Stornoway, a decent-sized town/city and the largest on Lewis and Harris, about a 2 hour drive.

Luskentyre beach Scotland

Okay, but seriously. This is Scotland? Once I picked my jaw up off the ground, I was able to resume taking photographs.

Day 3

We hit up the rest of the sights we wanted to see on Lewis and Harris, including the Callanish Standing Stones, Carloway Broch, and Gearannan Blackhouse Village. The distances aren’t huge, Stornoway to the Gearannan Blackhouse Village is about 45 minutes, then the Broch and the Callanish Standing Stones have just about a 20 minute or so drive between them.

By the time we’d spent some time at each of these, and being short on budget, and still wanting to see things on the Isle of Skye, we needed to get back to Tarbert for our ferry crossing back to the Isle of Skye. Upon our late afternoon arrival back in Skye, we drove east from Uig to Quiraing, and then drove south along the eastern side of the island back to Portree to spend the night.

Budget tips for touring Scottish Isles

The Callanish Standing Stones were a highlight, despite the fact we had to avoid an overly-excited tourist who insisted on hugging the stones.

Day 4

We hit up Faerie Glenn and then drove out to Neist Point before heading south and visiting the Fairy Pools. Quirang and Faerie Glenn are quite close to the town of Uig, where the ferry terminal is. Neist Point and the old lighthouse are about an hour drive down the west coast, and The Fairy Pools are about an hour from Neist Point. The Fairy Pools are a bit of a hike from the car, but as with everything else, amazing. We finished this around four in the afternoon, and decided to drive back to Inverness, where we spent the night.

Neist Point Isle of Skye

With a view like this, the drive to Neist Point would have been worth it at twice the distance.

Day 5

With a half-day car rental remaining, we drove into the highlands around Inverness, amusing ourselves with sheep spotting, and searching for the gravestones of some of Geoff’s ancestors. Not much luck looking for the surname Grant, in a town called Grant-town but we did our best!

Accommodation Tips

In cities like Aberdeen or Edinburgh, we found there was a plethora of accommodation from which to choose, and it wasn’t too difficult to pick a neighbourhood that would suit our needs. On the islands, however, we found it slightly more confusing. We weren’t sure if we’d be able to base ourselves in the largest community on each island, and still be able to reach the places we wanted to see each day.

Isle of Skye

We ended up spending both nights in Portree, which is the largest town on the island and has around 2,500 residents. We found Portree was an ideal base from which to explore Quiraing, Neist Point, Faerie Glenn, and the Fairy Pools, and likely would have stayed in Portree a third night had we not decided to go back to Inverness. We stayed in each of the two hostels in Portree — the Portree Independent Hostel and Bayfield Backpacker’s (which is now the Portree SYHA Hostelling Scotland)– for one night each. Both were the same price (£18 per person for a dorm), and pretty similar in terms of quality.

Portree Accommodation…

Affordable Historic 2-Star

4 / 5 on Trip Advisor

The Portree Hotel – A historic building built in 1875 conveniently located in the main Somerled Square. Small but cozy rooms have been refurbished and offer modern bathrooms, but guests have noted the bathrooms are quite small. There is an enjoyable classic pub and restaurant on site, with a great fireplace and live music. Paid parking is available right outside in the main square.

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4-Star with Amazing View

4.5 / 5 on Trip Advisor

Cuillin Hills Hotel – A large estate offering great views of Portree Bay with rooms offering mineral water, fruit and tea and coffee. Enjoy a whisky and some great food in the restaurant while soaking in the view, or take the 15 minute stroll into the town center. An open fire is lit in the afternoon/evening to add to the ambience. Free parking on site.

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4-Star on the Harbour

4.5 / 5 on Trip Advisor

Bosville Hotel – A harbourside hotel with a restaurant that serves a daily catch along with traditional Scottish cuisine. A daily breakfast, inviting, cozy rooms, a bit on the small side according to some reviewers, coffee machines in the rooms, and good, modern showers. Some past guests have said the free parking is a bit tight, but others have said there is plenty nearby. A four minute walk to the main square.

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Accommodation Elsewhere on Isle of Skye…

Isle of Skye (Northeast - Staffin)

5 / 5 on Trip Advisor

Hallaig Guest House – A wonderfully cozy guest house offering 4 rooms, each with its own ensuite bathroom with toiletries, flat screen TV and coffee and tea. Enjoy a daily hearty Highland breakfast while taking in spledid views of the mountains and the north coast. The owners treat you like old friends, house has Wifi and free parking. About a 40 minute drive from Portree, and the house has easy access to the beautiful Quiraing walk.

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Isle of Skye (Northwest - Uig)

no reviews yet on Trip Advisor

Abhaig B&B – An inviting 2 room guest house very close to the town of Uig, where the ferries come and go to the Isle of Lewis and Harris and Isle of North Uist. A relatively new B&B offering free parking, a nice lounge with TV and fireplace, wifi and a daily hearty breakfast to get go going. A 35 minute drive from Portree.

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Isle of Skye (Southwest - Dunvegan)

5 / 5 on Trip Advisor

Kinloch Follart – A five room B&B with a terrace offering stunning views of the mountain and lake. Clean and comfortable rooms, a great breakfast, Wifi and free parking. Walking distance to the Old School Restaurant which past guests recommend trying. Also very close to Dunvegan Castle, a 40 minute hike or a seven minute drive. Past guests have given this B&B top marks in every category.

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Isle of Skye (Southeast - Isleornsay)

5 / 5 on Trip Advisor

Off The Hill B&B – A 20 minute drive from Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye bridge, a newly renovated B&B with free parking, great views and a great breakfast with homemade goodies. Flatscreen TVs, coffee & tea, and private bathrooms. Past guests have said there is a great traditional pub just a 10 minute walk into the village, and other restaurants a short drive away. Lots of great walks and hiking nearby.

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Fairy Pools Isle of Skye Scotland

The Fairy Pools of the Isle of Skye were beautiful, but not our most favouritest of things to see

Isle of Lewis and Harris

Because of ferry times and our budget, we were only able to stay for one night on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, arriving in the morning of Day Two and leaving late in the afternoon on Day Three. We stayed the night in Stornoway at Heb Hostel. Stornoway is conveniently located for everything we saw, but it would have been a stretch had we wanted to see anything south of Luskentyre.

Stornoway Accommodation…

Central Stornoway

4 / 5 on Trip Advisor

The Crown Inn – A small 16 room hotel in the center of the town. There is free parking availble near the hotel (not onsite). A restaurant offering traditinal, locally sourced food and, of course, whisky. Past guests have commented on the great views of Lews Castle and the harbour, a nice looking hotel, however according to some reviewers, not necessarily the quietest, but cute and comfortable.

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4-Star B&B

4.5 / 5 on Trip Advisor

Cuanna House – A warm and inviting 5 room B&B, each room with private bathrooms and free parking on site. Breakfast orders are taken the night before so you’ll always get exactly what you like. A pleasant owner, full of great advice, the house is just a short walk to the center of town with pubs, restaurants and shops.

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Charming Guesthouse

4.5 / 5 on Trip Advisor

Hal o’the Wynd Guesthouse – Conveniently located across from the ferry terminal, the guesthouse offers rooms with coffee and tea making facilities, and views of the sea and Lews Castle. Enjoy a full cooked breakfast before heading out in the morning, a ten minute walk to the town center, a large supermarket next door so you can stock up on supplies before exploring the island. There is free parking available nearby.

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Food & Transportation Tips

Food

We found everything in the UK to be painfully expensive, including food. On the islands, the Scottish Co-Op Grocery store was a life saver. The Co-Op in Stornoway is huge, and has a decent deli where you can pick up pre-made food, such as chicken skewers and pakora bites. Not necessarily the healthiest of options, but not the worst either. Because we visited in the off-season, most restaurants and cafes outside of the major towns were closed. That meant we ended up having to stock up at the grocery store each morning with enough food to last us throughout the day.

Transportation Tips

When we were first considering a trip to the Hebrides, we figured we’d take a bus to the Isle of Skye, and then use public transport to get around the islands. In hindsight, this would have been a huge mistake. There’s no way we could have seen all the things to do in Skye that we managed to, including some of the highlights like Neist Point, without a car. While it adds a huge chunk to the travel costs of visiting the Hebrides, I think a car is essential.

Our trusty Corsa proved its worth when we saw the places it could take us

Couldn’t have done it without our trusty Corsa.