10 October 2018

Isle of Skye + Scottish Highlands Tour

The one part of our Scotland trip that I haven't blogged about until now is the time we spent touring the beautiful Highlands and the Isle of Skye. When I was initially planning this trip, I knew I wanted to visit these two areas but wasn't sure about the best way to reach them. Though we've enjoyed many road trips in the U.S., neither my husband nor I really felt comfortable renting a car and driving on the other side of the road for the first time on this trip. We love traveling by train, so that was the first option I considered. Although there are good routes to take around Scotland, I was still left unsure about how we'd get to some of the more remote sites without a car.

Randomly while scanning Pinterest one day, I stumbled across a specific tour of the Highlands and Skye that caught my eye. The itinerary covered every site I hoped to see in just three days, plus it included a scenic ride on The Jacobite, the steam train famously shown crossing over Glenfinnan Viaduct in the Harry Potter films. It was also super convenient for us, round-trip from Edinburgh, and based just a short walk from our hotel. After the last couple group tours we went on, we'd decided they weren't our cup of tea. But since this one seemed like such a perfect fit for what we were looking for this trip, we decided to give it a chance. Looking back, I feel so thankful that we did.

One of my favorite parts of seeing the Highlands and the Isle of Skye this way was being able to enjoy the scenery without the distractions of driving and navigating our way. Thanks to our guide, Lee, we also felt like we learned so much more about the sites we visited than if we'd been on our own. I've experienced many annoying tour guides in the past, but Lee was super chill. His passion for Scotland and its history really enriched our trip.

The tour included two nights at a bed-and-breakfast in the picturesque city of Portree on the Isle of Skye. If you ever end up in Portree, don't miss out on the seriously impressive food scene there. My restaurant recommendations include Sea Breezes, No. 1 Bosville Terrace, and Scorrybreac, which requires advance reservations.

Looking back on these few days in Scotland, I still can't believe how much we saw in such a short amount of time. Yet I don't remember ever feeling rushed. Our guide didn't make excessive bathroom stops and was happy to pull over whenever someone wanted to take some photos. We also lucked out with our tour group, a surprisingly cool group of travelers (all adults) from the U.S., U.K., Australia, and India. I genuinely enjoyed traveling with these people, and I'm truthfully not one to say that about random tourists.

Here's a quick run-through of our itinerary and lots of photos of the beautiful sites we saw...

Day 1: Left Edinburgh early in the morning, bound for the Highlands. Stopped in the charming little town of Dunkeld alongside the River Tay, where we visited a cathedral and explored the village. Stumbled into the cutest bakery that I now follow on Instagram! Made it to the Highlands, stopping at several scenic lookouts along the way. Visited Loch Ness, which looks more like an ocean than a lake. No monster sightings, but it's one of those places that just feels cool to be able to say we've seen. Next we headed to Eilean Donan Castle, which has been featured in several movies, including Made of Honor, and is considered the most photographed castle in Scotland. Made it to the Isle of Skye by evening, where B and I enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner by the harbor in Portree.

Day 2: The next morning, after breakfast at our B&B, we headed to see the The Old Man of Storr, a rock formation that's known as the island's most popular landmark. Throughout the morning, we visited several other scenic locations including Kilt Rock and a waterfall where fairies "like to hang about." (The Scots love to tell fairy stories.) We also visited traditional Scottish blackhouses and a cemetery where some famous Scottish figures are buried, including Flora MacDonald, preserver of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the fashion designer Alexander McQueen. We spent the afternoon at Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, home to the MacLeod clan. I absolutely loved this stop and would love to visit again someday. Headed back to Portree for the evening.

Day 3: 
Left Portree and took a ferry from the Isle of Skye back to a quaint fishing village on the mainland called Mallaig. Wandered around the town and enjoyed some classic fish n' chips. From here we took The Jacobite steam train to the town of Fort William. I'm a bit of a Harry Potter nerd so of course I bought some chocolate frogs from the trolley. But even if you have absolutely no interest in Harry Potter, you will still enjoy riding this historic train along one of the most scenic routes in the world. Below, I included a photo of a postcard I bought that shows the famous aerial view of the train passing over Glenfinnan Viaduct. From Fort William, we drove back to Edinburgh, stopping in Glen Coe, Sterling, and in a random field to meet some Highland cows.

If you're interested in booking the same 3-Day Isle of Skye and Highlands Tour we went on, here is the link to learn more.

Check out my other posts about Scotland here: 8 Things to Do in Edinburgh / Edinburgh Eats / Prestonfield House Edinburgh / Packing for Scotland