The Isle of Skye is probably high up on your Scotland bucket list - but should it really be? Here are 5 reasons not to go to the Isle of Skye!

The Problem of Over-Tourism on Skye: 5 Alternative Scottish Regions to Discover

While the Isle Skye is indeed a beautiful place, Scotland is so much more than this distant island. Here are some reasons why you should reconsider cramming the Isle of Skye into your Scotland itinerary and some Skye alternatives you could visit instead!

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You’re planning your first trip to Scotland. You intend to spend as little time as possible in the cities – you want to see picture-book Scotland. Your dream destination: the Isle of Skye. You’ve seen it in films, read about it on blogs and got yourself high on pictures off Pinterest. The dramatic approach through the Highlands; the rising peaks of the Cuillin mountains; the colourful harbour front of Portree and the bizarre rock formations of Kilt Rock or the Quiraing. Surely, the Fairy Pools alone have made you chose the Isle of Skye for your holiday. Time for a reality check…

Skye is beautiful – there is no denying – and it’s definitely worth a visit. However, I’m advocating to make informed travel choices when you decide where to go on Skye. So, blindly following the crowd to the Isle of Skye, just because everyone else is going there, might not be the best thing to do. Tourism to Skye has picked up significantly, and while that means an important stream of income for local business owners, there are also side effects connected with it, that are not necessarily in the highest interest of nature – the travellers themselves.

In the following, I’m giving you five reasons not to visit the Isle of Skye. Take it with a tiny pinch of salt, but also as an opportunity to think again, why you actually want to visit Skye and not one of the many Skye alternatives in Scotland.

Is it, because your life-long-dream of visiting the Isle of Skye just waits to be fulfilled? Do you want to spend at least 3 days on three Skye, spend your money at local businesses and interact with the island in a meaningful way? Then please, by all means, go! There are so many things to do on Skye only waiting for you! Do you want to drive up from Edinburgh, spend one night and do it all as quickly and self-sufficient as you go? You might want to save yourself some serious hours on the road and head to one of the Skye alternatives I suggest below.

So, without further ado – here we go:

The Isle of Skye is probably high up on your Scotland bucket list - but should it really be? Here are 5 reasons not to go to the Isle of Skye!

5 Reasons to reconsider whether you want to visit the Isle of Skye

1) Accessibility

The Isle of Skye is probably Scotland’s most accessible island, because it’s connected to the mainland by a bridge – so what am I talking about?

  • It’s a long drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh. Doable in a day, but hardly worth spending so much time on the road, zooming past the Highlands, just to spend a day or to on the island…
  • It’s like taking one of those coach tours – the main attractions on the classic Isle of Skye Itinerary (Quiraing, Kilt Rock, Old Man of Storr) are more or less places where you stop for a picture and then drive on. To get off the beaten path, you need more time!
  • It’s bigger than it looks and some main attractions are actually quite far apart. You’ll spend a lot of time on the road if you want to see it all!
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: My top driving tips for Scotland

 

The Isle of Skye is probably high up on your Scotland bucket list - but should it really be? Here are 5 reasons not to go to the Isle of Skye!

View from our B&B in the middle of nowhere…

2) Accommodation is expensive

Many guided overnight trips to the Isle of Skye include accommodation on the mainland, rather than staying on the island – because it’s pricey. Camping is your cheapest option, and there are some hostels too – but bed & breakfasts or hotels are expensive!

When I visited with my family during high season (May), the only affordable B&B we could find was far off the beaten track at the end of a pretty long single track road. The views were gorgeous, but the added driving time meant less time to actually explore.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: How to plan a trip to Scotland

 

The Isle of Skye is probably high up on your Scotland bucket list - but should it really be? Here are 5 reasons not to go to the Isle of Skye!

Three tourists “ruining” my mum’s photo of our boat guide…

3) The risk of overtourism

Especially during the summer months the island is buzzing with tourists. Coaches and mini-vans clog up the car parks, people stand in the way of your picture-perfect photographs, restaurants are full and accommodation is even harder to get.

Everyone is heading to the Isle of Skye. They drive along the same roads, they take the same photos and they do the same walks. Admittedly, they are picturesque, but when I plan my own itineraries I generally like to include more off-beat destinations. Furthermore, ticking off the Skye bucket list takes its toll on the environment in an unnecessary way.

This article sums up some of the environmental and social impacts of overtourism on Skye.

2018 Update: There has been new EU funding allocated to improve infrastructure around the Fairy Pools and the Quiraing. On both sites there will soon be more parking available! You can read more here.

The Isle of Skye is probably high up on your Scotland bucket list - but should it really be? Here are 5 reasons not to go to the Isle of Skye!

4) The best island in Scotland?

Now, don’t get me wrong – the Isle of Skye is an incredibly beautiful place and I don’t want to say you definitely should not visit. All I’m saying is that there is more to Scotland than the Isle of Skye and it’s worth to put a little more thought into researching the best destination in Scotland for you. In fact, many local Scottish people I know have never even been to Skye, because they find all they need someplace else.

There is one place in particular, that I find overrated though: the Fairy Pools. I get it, photos like these make many people believe that this is an absolute must-see in Scotland. The tough truth? Most of them are heavily photoshopped.

The Fairy Pools make for a nice walk when the sun is out, but to be honest, they are really not all that special – it’s just a stream. There are nicer walks with better views all over the Highlands and islands!

The Isle of Skye is probably high up on your Scotland bucket list - but should it really be? Here are 5 reasons not to go to the Isle of Skye!

5) Weather

Fair enough – bad weather is a risk all over Scotland. Yet having driven for hours just to reach the Isle of Skye for an overnight trip, and then it’s pouring down, really puts things into perspective… Scotland can be beautiful in the rain, but if your plan is to visit Skye for the money shots, then you better be flexible with your timing!

 

Skye alternatives: 5 Hidden Scottish Regions to Discover

Skye is not your only chance for a complete Scottish experience with ruined castles, bizarre rock formations, colourful harbour fronts, streams that form little pools and dramatic mountain ranges. Here are some alternatives to consider when planning your itinerary.

Isle of Rum

This photo shows the view over Kinloch Bay from the Cuilling hills on the Isle of Rum, and the Cuillin on the Isle of Skye in the distance.

The Isle of Rum is a small island just south of the Isle of Skye – the Cuillins are visible on the horizon. This is a hiker’s or mountain biker’s paradise, but also the castle in Kinloch can be visited. I recommend camping for a weekend, climbing the Munros, walking across the island to the beach of Kilmory and making a bonfire with the blinking lights of mainland Scotland in the distance.

On your way to the ferry port in Mallaig you will follow the ‘Road to the Isles’ – arguably one of the most beautiful roads in Scotland – and come past the Glenfinnan Monument and Viaduct, where the Jacobite Steam Train crosses twice a day in high season!

√ Dramatic natural landscape
√ Bonfire romance
√ No tourists in sight
+ See the Jacobite Steam Train

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The Outer Hebrides

A traditional building with thatched roof on South Uist

Admittedly, the Outer Hebrides are a bit out of the way – 2.5 hours by ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway, or a quick flight from one of the main city hubs like Glasgow or Edinburgh. But they are worth the effort.

You might have heard about Harris and Lewis before, but the Outer Hebrides also span the islands of Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and Berneray, as well as numerous smaller islands. Arriving by plane you can land at the only airport in the world that uses the beach as a runway. Camping here, you might be woken up by beautiful white horses grazing in front of your “door”. This is where Stornoway black pudding is from and Harris Tweed is produced until today. Even Gaelic is still spoken here!

√ Beaches like the Caribbean
√ Standing stones
√ Gaelic culture & language
Hiking on the Hebridean Way

If you’d rather stay on the mainland, the area around Ullapool also makes for a brilliant road trip destination!

 

Aberdeenshire

The pink fairytale castle, Craigievar Castle in the Royal Deeside in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Aberdeenshire is a road trip paradise in the north east of Scotland. Your route could lead you through the Cairngorms National Park, the Royal Deeside valley, along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail and finally through the Speyside valley.

The Cairngorms are a mountain range in the eastern Highlands of Scotland and is the perfect destination for anyone who’s looking for outdoor activities in the hills or on water. Make sure to take plenty of time to explore the beautiful Scottish forests and find a perfect picnic spot by a loch.

Just east of the mountains, castle hunters get their castle fix in the Royal Deeside valley and beyond. Along the Scottish Castle trail you can visit up to 19 castles in a row! Some highlights include Balmoral Castle where Queen Victoria used to spend her summer holidays, and Dunnottar Castle, in its dramatic location above the sea.

North of the national park lies Speyside, the area of Scotland with the highest whisky distillery density and home of classic single malt whiskies such as Glenfiddich, Macallan or Glenlivet.

√ Dramatic mountain range
√ Fresh local produce & food scene
√ Castles everywhere
+ More whisky than you can drink

 

Isle of Arran

If the Isle of Arran is "Scotland in miniature", then this three-day Arran tour includes everything you could want to see, do or experience in Scotland!

The Isle of Arran is also called Scotland in miniature. This is the perfect island getaway if you are pressed for time and you can even reach it by public transport – rail&sail tickets ftw! (Although you can also bring your car across with you.)

Arran has everything you might want to add to your Scotland bucket list – a family-friendly hike with great views (Goatfell), castles, a distillery and a brewery, wildlife watching and boat trips to the Holy Isle.

There is no need to spend a lot of time on the road to reach a fab Scottish island – the Isle of Arran is just there!

√ Beautiful scenery
√ It’s own little “fairy pools” on the way up Goatfell
√ Seal & bird colonies on Holy Isle
+ Super accessible by car & public transport

 

Loch Lomond & the Trossachs

You can't leave Scotland without climbing at least one mountain. On a sunny day there is nothing better than spending a day hiking in the Trossachs north of Glasgow. This is a complete guide to hiking Ben A'an with a trail description, what to bring and what else to get up to in the area!

In Scotland, you don’t have to drive long to reach the mountains. The peaks of the Trossachs might not be as high and dramatic-looking as the Nevis Range by Fort William or the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye, but the national park surrounding Loch Lomond is nevertheless a great outdoor destination.

Why not visit Stirling Castle, have a dram at Glengoyne distillery and then head for a road trip around Loch Achray and Aberfoyle? Ben A’an is a challenging, but quick hike rewarded by amazing views, but even from the smaller hills you can often enjoy fabulous views over Loch Lomond.

√ Lochs & hills wherever you look
√ Excellent road tripping conditions
√ Boat cruises on Loch Lomond
+ A dram at the distillery

 

When you plan your trip, don’t just sheepishly follow the crowds as they flock to the Isle of Skye. Take some time to shop around and find the perfect Scottish experience that fits your type!

With the Isle of Skye off the table, what is on your Scotland bucket list?

***

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The Isle of Skye is probably high up on your Scotland bucket list - but should it really be? Here are 5 reasons not to go to the Isle of Skye!

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner .

41 comments on “The Problem of Over-Tourism on Skye: 5 Alternative Scottish Regions to Discover

  1. Susannah MacLeod Buchanan

    Wow! My mother is from Dunvegan and I have wanted to see it my whole life. I was so blown away to find out it’s a major tourist place. Of course, my mom’s pics are from the 40s. Now I don’t know what to do. Your descriptions of the other places to go sound great and we will definitely have to go to them but I wanted to go to Skye too. Now I’m afraid I will be so disillusioned after hearing stories about her childhood there. My question: when is the off season? When is it rainiest? Do the places to stay close down in the winter? Can you camp out? Can you stay longer than three days? Can you rent a house or cabin there for a month or so and just live there rather than run around in a tourist mish mash? My mom lived in a croft. She’s been dead for many years so I can’t ask her this anymore. Do folks still live like this? Is there still a ferry? So many questions. I’ll stop here for now.

    • Hi Susannah, please don’t be worried and entirely put off from your dream to visit your mother’s heritage!

      Skye is stunning and if you plan your trip carefully, you can have a wonderful time on the island without feeling overwhelmed by crowds. I would recommend visiting in off-season, by which I mean late September to May – but at least out of the summer holidays which are traditionally in July and August. Then the island gets very busy. I imagine you will also want to visit Dunvegan Castle, so it’s important to note that they are usually closed entirely from mid-October to around Easter.

      There are many campsites on Skye or you can wild-camp almost anywhere as long as you adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. I’m sure you could also find a place to rent for longer than a few days. Many self-catering cottages in Scotland have weekly rates and there might be something suitable for a longer stay. I’d check Scotland travel Facebook groups and the accommodation listings on the Visit Scotland site.

      For more practical questions, like getting to Skye, how to get around and what else to do, check out this post: https://www.watchmesee.com/blog/things-to-do-isle-of-skye/

      Finally, I would not worry about the rain, because it rains all the time and you have to be prepared to get wet when travelling to Scotland – you could have a week of sunshine in November and a week of rain and storm in July; you can’t predict it. Make sure you pack a good waterproof layer and you’re good to go!

      I hope this inspires and encourages you to plan an off-season trip to Scotland!

      Cheers, Kathi

  2. “2018 Update: There has been new EU funding allocated to improve infrastructure around the Fairy Pools and the Quiraing. On both sites there will soon be more parking available! You can read more here.”
    We went to the fairy pools in May – there was an additional car park for aproximately 150 cars BUT the obvious downside of this is that the fairy pools are HEAVING with tourists, many of whom want to climb down into the water and are destroying the rocks and plants. I agree with everything you wrote and am in the process of writing a blog about it too with a suggestion of where else to go.

    • Thanks for your comment, Emma! Absolutely – just because the car parks can now handle more visitors, doesn’t mean the natural site actually can. Skye obviously needs tourism and a lot of locals rely on the money visitors contribute to the economy. But it is equally important to control visitor numbers in order for the natural sites to be able to cope and maintain themselves! I think if half the people who visit Skye during the summer, would actually to research and choose another place OR come to Skye in off-season instead, it would help so much!

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  4. Regina Allen

    Kathi, Thanks for this post. We are visiting Scotland this summer in July (can’t help the touristy time). We are spending a week in Newtonmore to explore that area, and then we have a few days before we return to Edinburgh. We were thinking of Ullapool or Isle of Mull-we’d like something different than the Cairngorms since we will have been there for a bit. We don’t want to go to much further and spend all the time in the car. Isle of Skye is already booked, and I was worried it would be crowded anyway (which you pretty much confirmed!). Any thoughts on this? Is there some other option I should consider? Thanks so much.

    • Thanks for your questions! Yeah, Skye is really busy at that time of the year – if you wanted to see it, I’d recommend an off-season trip in the Spring or Fall. The area around Ullapool can be busy at that time too, because it’s part of the very popular NC500. You might be fine if you stay in the area and explore a bit off the beaten track though. The Isle of Mull can book out fairly early, but that’s because there just isn’t that much accommodation on the island. We went last August, struggled to find a place (we booked in June), and yet, it never felt crowded on the island! Two more suggestions: you could base yourself somewhere along the north coast, between Nairn and Fraserburgh – the beaches there are beautiful, and you can often spot dolphins. Plus, it’s not that far of a drive. Or maybe the East Neuk of Fife along the Fife Coastal road. Kintyre might also be an option as it’s a great wee peninsula with lots to do, and Gigha, Jura & Islay are right there – it is a bit of a drive though from the Cairngorms… Hope this helps! Let me know how you get on and which region you decide on 🙂

  5. It is amazing how busy Skye has become in recent years. I definitely agree with your alternatives (I’d also mention Mull, for the perfect mix of mountains and glorious beaches). From many years of travelling to Skye, my advice would be;
    – Avoid the summer holidays. May/June or September/October are a little quieter, but the weather is often just as good.
    – Storr and Quiraing always get busy. A great experience is to get there before sunrise. Head up with torches, and watch the sun rise from the top, ahead of the crowds. Generally, early or late in the day is quieter.
    – Fairy pools are slightly overrated. Either go early/late in the day, or look at a map for other rivers and pools. There are a couple of alternatives within a few miles, where the water is still a lovely blue, plunging into pools. (Eas Mor waterfall for instance).
    – Walk in the Cuillins. There’s always less people in the mountains. Some of the walks are tough, or not for the faint hearted, but walkhighlands is a great website for finding a walk suitable for your ability.
    – Go to Loch Coruisk. A long walk if you want to avoid the crowds, or plenty of boats running there from Elgol. One of the most beautiful spots in the UK. You can even buy a one way ticket on the boat and then walk back.
    – Try some of the lesser known walks – Marsco, The Spar Cave, The Sleat peninsular, for example, are still full of scenery, but without the crowds.

    Or just pick other corners of Scotland. It’s a beautiful country!

    • Love all your tips and can’t wait to go to Skye again some day! I think it’s a great destination, but within reason. CNN has just declared it a destination to avoid in 2018, which is of course super harmful to the local economy. It’s still a beautiful holiday location in Scotland, but it needs to be visited and marketed with responsibility. Seeing that infrastructure like parking on the island is currently being expanded for the new season is a great start! PS: I love Mull – we went last summer, https://www.watchmesee.com/blog/weekend-getaway-the-isle-of-mull/ – nees to add it to my list of alternatives!

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  7. Hi Kahi, thank you for a wonderful post! We are going to Scotland for 3 weeks next July (touristy season, I know, but we gotta go with kids’s schedule!). We will spend a week in Nairn and explore Inverness area, then a week in Stonehaven. We were thinking of going to Skye for the remaining 5 days but was afraid of running into crowds so have been looking for some other alternatives. Will definitely look at the locations on your list. Thanks!!! 🙂

  8. I traveled to Skye in September of this year and it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. We stayed at an airbnb in Ullinish. I didn’t find it overly expensive. It was in a small town, but was not a far drive to see the sites. I don’t think a single place I went there was overrated. To be fair, though, we didn’t make it to the Fairy Pools. The stream leading to the trail was flooded and we couldn’t cross. There were a lot of people at some of the sites but we made sure to also do hikes that weren’t so well known. Maybe we were lucky in terms of of weather. Most days it rained hard once or twice and then became sunny. I just thought I’d throw my experience out there for anyone who is interested. I don’t regret going to Skye at all.

    All that being said, I liked your article because it gives me an idea of where to go next in Scotland, now that I’ve already seen Skye. Thanks for the ideas!

    • Hi Marcy, that sounds like a brilliant trip to Skye and exactly the kind of way to experience at its best! Thanks for sharing your experience!! What I’m mostly talking about is the ‘average’ way that many people chose to visit Skye, following the crowds and planning in way too little time… I love Skye, don’t get me wrong – it’s a gorgeous place and makes for a cool holiday – but I also think that other places in Scotland deserve more attention too 🙂

  9. Excellent article: the problem is the sheep-like mentality of many tourists who just go to the well-known places, drive around and take photos and do nothing else (Loch Ness is the worst place in the Highlands for this!) I love Skye but if you only want to photograph Game of Thrones locations or see what the Quiraing looks like, then you can just download photos from the Internet. Whether visiting the Scottish Highlands and Islands, or anywhere else in the world, go off the beaten track and don’t spend all your time in a car or bus! Go walking or do something else. Support local businesses (shops, pubs, B&Bs) but not the tartan tat gift shops. The alternative suggestions are all wonderful too, but may I add 3 of my favourite places: Islay (whisky distilleries, birdwatching), Tiree (superb beaches, surfing, small friendly community that retains a strong Gaelic culture), Assynt (the west coast of the mainland north of Ullapool: do an image search for Suilven, Achmelvich, Achiltibuie or Cape Wrath to get a feel for the incredible scenery here).

    • Oh, I’d love to go to Islay and visit some distilleries, and I’ll add Tiree and Assynt to my list. I’d love to spend a holiday basing myself in Ullapool and just explore the area! Thanks for your tips!!

  10. Happy I stumbled upon your post, because I was actually considering Skye, but feared the touristy bit.
    Thanks for the tips and alternative suggestions, they’ll definitely help!

    • There are so many places to chose from – it doesn’t always have to be Skye. That said, you can avoid the touristy bits in Skye too, and find places you’ve got to yourself. Do you have any other destination in mind yet?

  11. So good to know and I have felt this way about many very popular destinations. Its like there are so many tourists that it detracts from the place itself. I felt this way about Niagra Falls. The falls were beautiful but there was a strip mall with souvenirs right next to it. Thanks for the honesty. I always appreciate that.

    • I visited Niagara Falls last year on a FAM trip and definitely agree – the falls themselves were breathtaking and I loved the boat trip to the falls as well. But in the end, it’s completely commercialised and way too touristy, I’d rather see smaller falls but with more nature and less people 🙂

  12. Interesting post. Beautiful images. I really like how you have given a breadth of options for discovering Scotland. A good read.

    • Thanks for your kind words – I’m glad you enjoyed the read 🙂

  13. I really like this post. It’s with many places like this; there’s one main attraction where everyone goes and nobody goes to the other beautiful places – which is good for the off the beaten track travelers of course haha.
    Thanks for adding some alternatives. I’ve been to Scotland once and absolutely loved it but I really wanna return to see more of the nature. This post is quite helpful and I’ll def use it when I plan my next trip!

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this! Totally agree- it’s similar in most countries I’ve ever been too (and I’m certainly guilty for doing the same thing as well…) If you come back to Scotland and need any help planning your trip, let me know! Where did you go last time?

  14. I always thought I wanted to go to the Isle of Skye until I read this- an eye-opening post most definetely. I prefer the off the beaten track places too, so thank you for these suggestions!

    • It’s still a beautiful place – not like wasting time. But if you like off the beaten track, then try one of the other islands or regions of Scotland 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  15. Skye is beautiful, but by no means my favourite Scottish Island: that would be either Lewis and Harris or Orkney. Orkney deserves to be on everyone’s list too!

    • I’m dying to go to Orkney – should have included this here too! Thanks for your comment!

  16. You are so right when you say people often tend to forget that alternative destinations can be just as beautiful and be a more rewarding travel experience than taking the obvious path. Beautiful article that puts things well into perspective. And the gorgeous photo’s convinced us to consider something new for a change.

    • Thanks for your comment – I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that way 🙂

  17. Unique type of post, and I really appreciate the information. It’s helpful to know what the other options besides the usual are available, and the plusses and minuses. Thank you!

    • You’re very welcome! I just really hopes it makes people think more about their Scotland itinerary – and I guess the same way of thinking applies to any other destination too! Thanks for your comment!

  18. I’ve always wanted to visit the Isle of Skye after seeing it on Instagram, but I really enjoyed this honest portrayal of the place. I like that the Outer Hebrides is an option (that has been on the top of my Scotland bucket list since seeing the Decoy Bride a million times).

    • Totally an option, they are just a little trickier to get to, so ideally you take more than 2 nights there. And you can plan it so that Skye is on your way! Thanks for your comment and your feedback!

  19. Love, love, love this post! I just moved to Scotland last year and so far I’ve made it to Loch Ness (in the off season, so we had the place all to ourselves), Cairngorms, and Balmoral Castle. I do still want to go the Isle of Skye, but there are so many other places I want to go as well. I had no idea the Isle of Arran was so easy to get to either – definitely on my list now!

    • Arran is awesome – from Glasgow you can make a day trip out of hiking Goatfell and it’s less than £30 I think for the rail & sail ticket! Where are you based?

  20. I love your honesty! I’m planning a road trip through Scotland for later in the year and you’ve definitely given me some food for thought. Admittedly I have done almost no research so far but I hadn’t heard of most of your alternatives! I love to get away from the typical tourist places, so thank you for sharing!

    • I hope you’ll have a great trip to Scotland! If you need any help planning or finding unique spots, let me know – I’m developing travel planning services and need some ‘guinea pigs’ 🙂

      • Louisa Rogers

        Hi Kathi,

        So glad I found your blog on Pintrest. I’m planning a 7 day trip to Scotland and have found your advice super helpful. Thank you for sharing your travel secrets!

        • Thanks for taking the time to give me your feedback! I hope you have a great time in Scotland and get to experience some off-beat places 🙂

  21. So perfectly timed Kathi! I’m heading to Scotland at the end of May and have planned Edinburgh to the Outer Hebrides in 8 days…heading straight for the beautiful coastlines with a few stops along the way. I definitely noticed the cost of accommodation on Skye! Thanks for putting this together 🙂

    • That’s a good amount of time I think, especially if you make the Hebrides your priority! SO many beautiful spots on the way though – it can get hard not to stop every few minutes for photos 🙂 I really liked the hostel in Portree, in case you need a budget place to stay for the night! Thanks for your comment 🙂

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