How to travel to Skye? How to see the best scenery? There are 4 wonderful driving routes to Skye from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Each of them warrants an overnight.They are not simply roads to ‘get through’ to reach Skye, but an introduction to the magnificence of the Highlands and some of the most iconic sights in Scotland.
I’ve ranked them according to which I prefer for scenery and sights and therefore drive the most (we drive to Skye from Glasgow and back most months):-
NO 1 ROUTE: Via the A82/87 via Loch Lomond, Glencoe, then Glen Shiel and the Skye Bridge.See the rest of this post for details and photos.175 miles or 292km.4hrs 30 approx depending on traffic.
NO 2 : A close second is up through Glencoe as No 1 route but at Fort William take the Road to the Isles and the Mallaig – Armadale(Skye) ferry.See MY NO 2 DRIVING ROUTE TO SKYE
NO 3 : Via the A9 past Stirling, Pitlochry, Dalwhinnie, Spean Bridge and then pick up NO 1 route to Glen Shiel and the Skye Bridge.See MY NO 3 DRIVING ROUTE TO SKYE
NO 4: Take NO 1 route but at the end of Glenshiel, detour to the tiny, community run Kylerhea ferry at Glenelg.OVER THE SEA TO SKYE: THE KYLERHEA FERRY ROUTE
MY NO 1 ROUTE *****
To me, definitely the one I’d recommend to anyone driving to the island for the first time. Over 175 miles of mostly incredible West Highland grandeur and passing some truly iconic Scottish landmarks.We got up this route most months, occasionally varying via N0 2 and less often, 3 . They each take the same time to reach Skye.
From Glasgow, this drive takes 4.5 hours (non stop) to the Skye Bridge but we often easily double that to include photo stops, sightseeing, detours, hikes, lunch etc.It really does offer so many ‘jaw drop’ moments and always looks different depending on time of year, time of day, weather etc.It’s a match for the more ‘famous’ NC500. Some of Scotland’s most iconic views are on this route!
From Edinburgh, this journey will take an additional 60 -75 mins at least.
After around 40 minutes driving from Glasgow, depending on traffic, you emerge from the urban sprawl of the city, Paisley and Dumbarton and Loch Lomond’s sparkling blue water makes a welcome appearance. From now on, this No 1 route delivers wonderful Highland scenery round every corner.
Luss Conservation village
Luss is a tiny single street of stone cottages and farmland, right on the loch and well worth a stop. The Luss hills rear up behind the village, offering some great hiking.(See Beinn Dubh hike.)Boat trips leave from the pier in summer.The Coachhouse Coffee Shop is excellent.Great home made soup and some decent cakes though not all home made. The scones ARE their own and enormous – one between two is more than enough! Ask for it heated.Their homemade meringue and raspberries and cream is sublime and again, one portion is easily enough for two people.
Other Loch Lomond options for a stop:
A short boat trip from Tarbert
Beautiful little trip of an hour or so letting you see the best of the loch, it’s northern end and in a way not possible from the busy, tree-lined main road.I did it recently on a rubbish weather day and it was still stunning.It’s so nice too sometimes to just get out of the car, enjoy being on the water and relax from the rushing about.
Beinn Dubh for a tough wee hill walk of 3 – 4 hours.
Firkin Point – good parking and an easy flat stroll using the old loch road, tarmac surface, pedestrians and cyclists only. As far as you want up to 3 miles. Quite wooded but some access to the loch’s stony shores.
2. Towards BRIDGE OF ORCHY
Beyond Tyndrum, the first view of the pyramid of Beinn Dorain looms over 3,000 feet above the roadside.
3. LOCH TULLA and RANNOCH MOOR
A fine section now, as the road passes wild Loch Tulla and climbs up towards Rannoch Moor.I love this section (a phrase I know I keep repeating – so many great sections!)
Look out for a very handsome stag which is now frequenting a parking area above the loch (you can’t miss it, there are always minibuses and cars parked there and sometimes a snack van).Don’t get too close to this wild animal as he is getting very familiar with people, given he is being fed carrots and the like. It won’t end well, I suspect.
The view over lonely Lochan na h’ Achlaise is one of my favourites in all of Scotland, but it’s difficult to pull over easily here. This area is a favourite haunt of photographers.On the opposite side of the Black Mount range, Rannoch Moor itself is flat and studded with lochans, a wild and lonely place of great beauty.
Soon, the first view of Buachaille Etive Mor looms, translated from the Gaelic as the Great Shepherd of Etive. This is one of Scotland’s most iconic mountains, a rock pyramid of over 3,000 feet , standing sentinel at the entrance to Glencoe, with its tragic history of betrayal and massacre.
Sensational. No matter how often we travel through it, it just takes our breath away. Best of all is to walk/hike its glens and hills.Otherwise, there are several small parking areas for getting out to stand and admire and take in the grandeur of it all.
Beyond The Buachaille, the road dips down into the heart of the glen itself.
A photo taken in mid-winter showing the incredible difference in colour compared to summer greens. I think the Highlands are at their most colourful in autumn/ winter, but really, all year round they are magnificent.
Just when you think you are leaving it all behind, lovely Loch Achtriochtan appears, great for photos.Good parking.The Clachaig Inn is now signposted, two minutes drive away, in a superb location and good for a coffee or lunch stop.Very well known climbers/walkers pub.
Walks in and around Glencoe
The Lost Valley is very popular. About 2 hours.See walkhighlands website for details.
My own favourite for a shortish 2 hour walk , with a bit of slog and you’ll need boots and waterproofs etc – see Kinloch Lodge, Skye and a hike in Glencoe
For a full hill walk of about 4-5 hours : GLENCOE’S BUACHAILLE ETIVE BEAG
Or look at the Pap of Glencoe – 4 hours and a steep, tough slog at the end of the glen – The Pap of Glencoe
If you can detour here, you should. This is a superb glen down a single track road off the main A82 just before Glencoe itself.Much quieter given the lack of traffic. A great place for a picnic stop on a nice day, down by the rushing river or the small lochan beyond the big country pile at Dalness. The road winds and twists for 10 miles to Loch Etive itself but there’s no need to go all the way down.This was the glen used in the Bond movie, Skyfall.
Some wonderful views now open up of Morvern and Ardgour, really beautiful hills rising out of the big sea loch of Loch Linnhe. Well seen from the Holly Tree hotel, Appin which is nice for a coffee or lunch stop given its location.
Fort William is a busy wee place though not an attractive town. Good for petrol, supermarket supplies, train and bus station. Tons of B&Bs, some fairly cheap. Not where I’d base, too urban and semi-industrialised but some folk like it for an night. Look out for views of dome-like Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain at 4,400 feet or 1345m.It looks higher because it rises directly from sea level, as so many Scottish mountains do.
COMMANDO MEMORIAL, SPEAN BRIDGE
Impressive memorial to Allied troops of WW2 and specifically the Commandos who trained in this area. If clear, there are superb views to the Mamores mountain range and sometimes, Ben Nevis.
A lovely, under-rated loch which I so often think – ‘wow’ – but there have been so many breathtaking moments on this drive so far, it simply becomes another one!
Very pretty and best seen from the excellent Glengarry Castle Hotel, preferably after enjoying some of their cream scones and home made cakes.The hotel has a large semi-wild garden which leads down to the loch and a jetty.One October, during the rut, we stood at this spot transfixed, listening to a stag roaring, guarding his harem (or looking for one) as he paced the mountainside on the other side of the loch’s deep dark waters.
I love this loch. It’s wild, almost no habitation, big empty mountain country all around.The ‘official’ signposted Glen Garry viewpoint is very overgrown now with conifer trees, a real pest and I wish something could be done about it because it was a classic view.But thankfully, a few minutes further on is a small pull in, easily missed, which gives a clearer view across to the mountainous wilds of Knoydart. To me, Loch Garry is where the North West Highlands truly begins – the first glimpse of country which is more rugged, emptier, wilder, less populated than what has gone before (though that is hardly heavily populated either.)
Another favourite, though it is actually a reservoir but it’s a fine stretch of wild water with emtpy hills all around. Some truly sublime views.Just beautiful.There are some classic Scottish hillwalking routes in this area and neighbouring Glen Shiel.
Often sizeable herds of red deer around this area making driving this road at night dodgy – watch for them leaping across the road out of nowhere.
An amazing glen of wild mountains: look out for the pyramid shape of The Whelk and also The Saddle, big peaks which loom sharply ahead as you descend towards Loch Duart, a sea loch. There are often wild goats grazing by the main road at the bottom of the glen.
There are some amazing views back towards Glen Shiel just before Eilean Donan castle.
EILEAN DONAN CASTLE
Iconic and absolutely beautiful.Interior tour isn’t really worth it but a stroll around the outside certainly is.Don’t miss the War Memorial, inscribed with the deeply poignant and moving extract from the famous World War 1 poem,’ In Flanders Fields’ :-
Written in 1915 by Liet-Colonel John McCrae after the Battle of Ypres.
THE SKYE BRIDGE
‘Speed bonny boat, like a bird on the wing…….’
Well, there isn’t a boat now to take you across, but even better, there is a graceful sweeping arc of a bridge just ten minutes drive beyond the castle. If clear, the first views of Skye from the bridge, with its shapely mountains rearing up from the wild, wave whipped sea, really make this, to me, the best way to arrive on the island.
For another detour option to Skye after Glen Shiel see:OVER THE SEA TO SKYE: THE KYLERHEA FERRY ROUTE
For the route to Skye via the Mallaig – Armadale ferry: MY NO 2 DRIVING ROUTE TO SKYE