For many of us this year, a holiday in Scotland is increasingly seeming like the most realistic option. Luckily for us, what a wonderful country we have! For those who have been stuck in Glasgow for nearly a year now the thought of heading up to the wild open spaces of the Highlands is likely an appealing one, but what is the best way to do it? In this blog we weigh up the various tour and transport options for you.
This is not a very attractive option, unfortunately. The main reason for this is that the nearest train station to Skye is in Kyle of Lochalsh (just over the Skye Bridge) but, to get there from Glasgow, you need to get a train up to Inverness then change to Kyle (see map here and you will see why this seems a bit convoluted!). The total duration is around 6 ½ – 8 hours. The cheapest off-peak return ticket costs around £86 and you can plan your journey on trainline.com
Once you get to Kyle of Lochalsh you would then need to either hire a car or organise a tour or taxi to take you around Skye.
If you plan to take this option we would recommend staying on Skye for a couple of days at least.
The logistics here are a bit more favourable than using train, as you can travel with Citylink from Glasgow Buchanan Street to Portree, Skye (or various other stops on the island). The journey takes from 6 ½ – 7 ¼ hours one way and there are three departures each day, in each direction.
Due to the journey times, you will need to stay a couple of nights on the island. By getting the earliest bus from Glasgow you would arrive at around 1pm, so you could spend the afternoon and evening exploring Portree. The next day we would recommend taking a tour or a taxi to see the island, as the sights are quite scattered round, and the public transport on the island is relatively infrequent, and not focused on visiting multiple sights. Real Scottish Journeys offer day tours from Portree throughout the summer, for around £54 per person. Prior to your departure you may wish to explore further on foot, then pick up the bus further south on the island e.g. Broadford or Kyleakin.
If you have a car (or wish to rent one in Glasgow) this will most likely be the most cost-effective and flexible option. The driving time from Glasgow to Portree on the A82 is around 5 hours, but we would recommend allowing at least 7 – 8 each way, as it is quite a slow and scenic route and you will definitely want to make some stops. Once you are on the island, having a car will give you a wider choice of accommodation, and freedom to explore at your leisure.
Despite its obvious advantages, here at WOW Scotland our professional opinion is that driving to Skye, and on Skye, in the summer of 2021 is not going to be a particularly pleasant experience. The main reason for this is the massive increase in domestic tourists who, in contrast to international travelers, prefer to drive around Scotland. In July – September 2020 there were an unprecedented number of camper vans, motor bikes and UK motorists on Skye (and throughout the Highlands), many of whom clearly did not have experience driving on single track roads. Even for our highly experienced drivers the driving became very stressful at times, as tourists suddenly stopped without warning to see a Highland cow, and camper vans crawled along single track roads with no thought to the queues of traffic forming behind. Drivers were frustrated and made silly manoeuvres, leading to accidents, and car parks were overcrowded; not the ideal recipe for a relaxing holiday!
If you do wish to drive please be considerate and make sure that you abide by the rules of the road (e.g. pull over to let cars behind pass on single track roads). Also, give yourself realistic timelines – sights might look close together on the map but the routes can be slow and tricky, and finding suitable parking can take a while.
There are a number of companies offering tours to Skye from Glasgow. Due to the distances involved the tours are generally 3 – 4 days, with one day exploring Skye and the other days spent travelling there and back. The main advantage of this option is that the tour company will generally organise (or at least recommend) accommodation for you. In the peak summer in Skye it can be incredibly tricky to find anywhere to stay, so this is a definitely plus point.
Companies which offer three day tours to Skye from Glasgow include Discover Scotland and Timberbush.
For those who would like to experience the highlights of Skye, in a relaxing and comfortable way, and from an affordable base, there are a number of companies offering day tours to the island from Inverness, including the top rated of them all, WOW Scotland (we’ve heard they’re pretty awesome!)
There are frequent buses and trains running from Glasgow to Inverness in around 3 ½ hours and advance fares are usually pretty competitive (pre-Covid there were rail fares for around £12 single and the Megabus/Citylink was around £10 single – no timetables have been published for this year yet so current prices are TBC).
We would recommend taking a train up to the city, exploring the city centre the first day and enjoying a meal in one of our many excellent restaurants. The next day we will pick you up from your hotel and take you to all of the key sights on Skye, plus Eilean Donan Castle and Loch Ness en-route. Our Ultimate Isle of Skye Tour is a bumper 12 hour day but you will see loads (the one day tours from Inverness generally cover the same sights on Skye as the 3 -4 day tours from Glasgow) and it is definitely worth it! After staying in Inverness a second night (ask us for recommendations of great bars and restaurants for after the tour) you can head down to Glasgow again the next day, perhaps after a quick trip to Culloden Battlefield or Tomatin Distillery.
There are a plethora of accommodation options in Inverness to suit every budget and style and you can find some of our recommendations here.
In order to make the most out of your holiday, and to have an enjoyable and relaxing trip, we’d highly recommend basing yourself in Inverness, and visiting Skye (and other key sights e.g. Orkney, Loch Ness and Speyside) from there on a series of one day trips.
We hope that this has been helpful, and we hope that you will make it to the fabulous Skye this year; it is definitely one of the highlights of Scotland!