All you need for the adventure of a lifetime is one night’s accommodation and a car as you cruise the Scottish countryside on an incredible self-drive tour to the Isle of Skye from Edinburgh.
This road trip itinerary has been designed to maximize a very limited timeframe, allowing you to experience many of the top attractions that Scotland has to offer in just a weekend outing to the Isle of Skye!
In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know including drive times, best stops, seasonal considerations, and more.
As we are professional photographers by trade, we will also provide tips on getting those epic and iconic photos along the way!
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🚘 Overview: Isle of Skye from Edinburgh 2 Day Tour (Self-Drive)
The length of day varies substantially between seasons in Scotland, so bear in mind that this itinerary has been designed for peak season travel.
Late April through late September, even into October visits are recommended for the best chances of having good weather and longer daylight hours.
🏰 Day 1
4:30am: Leave Edinburgh
9:45am: Arrive at Glenfinnan Viaduct Car Park
1:30pm: Ferry from Mallaig to the Isle of Skye
3:30pm: Arrive in Sligachan
4:30pm: Arrive at the Fairy Pools
Optional: Dunvegan Castle
Sunset: Neist Point Lighthouse
As your day will start early, we’d recommend you spend at least two days in Edinburgh prior, if possible. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and you will discover plenty to see, as well as tons of free things to do in Edinburgh before you set off to the Isle of Syke.
The first leg of the journey will be the long drive from Edinburgh to the ferry at Mallaig, which will deliver you to the Isle of Skye. On the way, you will drive the A82 through the Scottish Highlands, which is one of the most scenic drives in Scotland. As you near Glencoe, be prepared to stop often at some of the stunning roadside vistas.
Our aim is to be at Glenfinnan Viaduct by 9:45am to get parking and to see the famous “Harry Potter train” cross over the viaduct at 10:45am. This will give you time for a quick lunch before catching the 1:30pm ferry from Mallaig to Armadale. More on that below.
If you are on schedule and catch the 1:30 ferry from Mallaig, you will arrive at the Isle of Skye a little after 2pm. Head straight to Sligachan, taking some time to enjoy the views from the Sligachan Bridge, then head to the Fairy Pools.
Enjoy a stroll around the Fairy Pools before making your way towards Neist Point. Depending on your time and energy, you may want to stop at the beautiful Dunvegan Castle on your way.
However, if you are running low on either of these things, you will want to drive straight to Neist Point Lighthouse. This is arguably the best place for sunset and twilight on the Isle of Skye, and one of the country’s most iconic sights.
When your day is over, pack it in and drive one hour to Portree, where you can finally rest!
🌿 Day 2
You will likely be exhausted from a long Day 1, and waking up for sunrise won’t help. However, sunrise at the Old Man of Storr is one of the most remarkable things you can experience in Scotland, and I would highly recommend pushing through for this. The hike to the viewpoint is about 45 minutes for most people, up to an hour for some, which requires another very early wake-up call.
If you know yourself and need more sleep, I recommend getting to Neist Point earlier on Day 1 and foregoing sunset there to get back to Portree sooner. You do not want to miss sunrise at the Old Man of Storr – it made it to number 1 on our list of Isle of Skye Photography Locations!
Sunrise: The Old Man of Storr
Stop 1: Kilt Rock
Stop 2: Quiraing
Stop 3: Fairy Glen
Lunch / Early Dinner (many options)
Stop 4: Eilean Donan Castle
Return to Edinburgh
You have surely noticed that the times are not laid out for Day 2 of your 2-day tour. This is because so much depends on how much time you need at each place, and how much you want to squeeze in on your return drive to Edinburgh.
For this reason, I have left the times open-ended, but will provide some insight on each stop below to help you plan.
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🍁 Things to Consider: Isle of Skye from Edinburgh Itinerary
When to Go
As Scotland is so far north, the length of your day varies wildly between seasons. Additionally, rain is almost a guarantee throughout much of the year. With weather, length of day, and crowd sizes in mind, the ideal time to go on your Isle of Skye 2 day tour from Edinburgh is at the beginning of May.
At the beginning of the month, your days will be long but not totally unreasonable, and May records the lowest average rainfall and the most sunny days of any month in Scotland. Additionally, you should have a slight jump on the largest crowds that begin to form toward the end of the month.
It is worth knowing that the summer solstice occurs between June 20-22, which means your longest days will be around this time. With that said, Scotland records nearly a 19 hour day on the solstice, which is just TOO long a day for most of us, unless you decide to skip sunrise.
🎟 What to Pre-Book
While May and June are the most reliable months for decent weather, they also bring the largest crowds. Be sure to plan your 2-day tour from Edinburgh to Isle of Skye well in advance if you want options regarding accommodation and rentals. Specifically, you will want to pre-book:
- Accommodation in Portree
- 1:30pm ferry tickets from Mallaig to Armadale on the Isle of Skye
- Rental car (if necessary)
🍽 Food and Stops
It is also worth mentioning that this itinerary does not give much time for food and other stops. Obviously, you must travel at a pace you enjoy and are comfortable with. However, there is a lot to see in just two days, so I have designed this for those who prioritize sightseeing over sit-down meals. While I can provide photos and insights, it will be up to you to decide how much you really want to pack into each day.
I highly recommend you bring enough food to at least allow you the option of eating at one of the stops on this itinerary, as opposed to detouring. I have noted the places that provide food options, but there are many places on the Isle of Skye that are quite remote and food will not be available. Just bring a few sandwiches and you’ll be fine!
Trails throughout Scotland and the Isle of Skye are notoriously muddy! Be sure to bring appropriate footwear and waterproof layers for the inevitable rain.
For each Scotland itinerary I have crafted, I always advise being at the best places for sunrise and sunset. These are the best times of day for both crowd size and for photography! However, I understand that each person desires different experiences when they travel and encourage you to modify the course outlined below to fit your preferences and priorities.
🍃 Day 1 of your Isle of Skye 2 Day Tour From Edinburgh
As mentioned above, you will want to leave Edinburgh by 4:30am. The direct-drive time from Edinburgh to Portree on the Isle of Skye is just over 6 hours without stops if you take the ferry from Mallaig, as recommended on this tour.
You can potentially push this back if you do not wish to stop en route to Glenfinnan, or don’t care to see the famous train cross the viaduct. However, I strongly recommend you bite the bullet and accept that with such a short time to explore a large area, you’re going to lose a bit of sleep.
You will not have much time to take in this beautiful little city, but you may as well pop in for a view of the impressive Stirling Castle!
The best view is from Wallace Monument, providing a vista of the castle towering regally above the city below.
Don’t spend too much time here, however, as the best scenery is still to come! The photo above was taken from the road.
⛪️ The Trossachs National Park
While your route will only take you through the outskirts of the national park, I suspect you will likely be stopping on occasion for some quick roadside snaps of the idyllic Scottish countryside. This region can be especially beautiful in the spring or fall with seasonal wildflowers or autumn foliage.
Again, enjoy what you see but try not to lose too much time here. The next portion of your drive will be through the Scottish Highlands, and they are everything you hope they’ll be!
⛰ The Scottish Highlands
In my opinion, the stretch of road from the Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe is the most beautiful part of all of Scotland! As you enter the highlands, you will begin to encounter stunning lochs surrounded by picturesque mountains, combining for scenes that will not disappoint!
Be prepared to stop OFTEN. Hopefully, you have gotten off to an early start that will allow you some time to enjoy this idyllic region of Scotland.
🌈 Etive Mor Waterfall
Set your GPS to Etive Mor Waterfall, which will bring you to a very small carpark. The walk to the waterfall is only a couple of minutes, but can be extremely muddy.
This is probably the most photographed place in the highlands, and for good reason. Buachaille Etive Mor is a highly photogenic mountain that will start to appear in the background of most of your photos as you travel toward Glencoe. It is the mountain seen in the photo above.
Pro Tip: The Glen Etive Road is renowned for deer sightings, so keep a keen eye out!
💦 Meeting of the Three Waters
Another roadside pullout, but an absolutely unmissable one, is where three channels of water merge into one.
There is no hike required, so you won’t need much time here. The scene is also very expansive and hard to fit into a frame, but is pure brilliance in real life!
🌧 Loch Achtriochtan
Just off the road, you will see a carpark with a bridge leading to a small, traditional Scottish house tucked into the savage mountains.
This will only take you a moment to see, but makes for a cracking photo!
🌫 The Three Sisters of Glencoe Viewpoint
The last stop I have to mention by name is the Three Sisters of Glencoe Viewpoint. It will be on your natural route and is simply a large parking area with wide-open views of the Highlands.
🚂 Glenfinnan Viaduct
The Jacobite train at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, known as the Harry Potter train or Hogwarts Express, crosses at 10:45am at Glenfinnan. This is truly one of the most magical scenes you will encounter on your Scotland road trip, and makes for one of the most impressive photographs as well!
The drive from Edinburgh to the Glenfinnan Viaduct carpark is just under 4 hours without stops. Parking is a mere £3, but the carpark will fill up early. Accordingly, you will want to arrive by 9:45am to give you time to park and walk to the viewpoint. It is worth checking the Jacobite website for train times as these are subject to change at different times of the year.
The earlier you begin your journey, the more time you will have for some additional sightseeing on the way to Glenfinnan. Of course, you could skip this stop altogether, allowing more time to see some of the insane beauty in the Glencoe region. However, the stop at Glenfinnan Viaduct does not greatly affect your overall journey time and was one of my favourite places in all of Scotland. I highly recommend sacrificing a few winks to include this on your itinerary, even if that means *shudder* leaving Edinburgh by 4:30 or even 4am.
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⛴ Mallaig Ferry to the Isle of Skye
Hopefully, you are on schedule and caught the famous Jacobite train from the viewpoint. This only goes out once in the morning, which is why the first day of our Isle of Skye two day tour from Edinburgh centred around being here on time.
From the visitor centre carpark, the Mallaig Ferry Terminal will be about a 45-minute drive. You will want to be there by 1pm to check-in for your 1:30pm ferry, which gives you about an hour for lunch. Options are limited in Glenfinnan, but the Glenfinnan Dining Car is a very cute and affordable option.
The ferry is only £3.10 per adult passenger and £10.25 for your vehicle. Please note that ferry times are seasonal, and this itinerary is based on a non-winter visit. Check online for current ferry prices and to book tickets.
You will arrive at the scenic village of Sligachan around 3:30pm. I very much enjoyed this little town and encourage you to take at least 15 minutes to take in the view of the Cuillin Mountains from the Sligachan Bridge.
You will not have services at the Fairy Pools, so be sure to take advantage of these if you need.
🧚♀️ Fairy Pools
Perhaps the second most popular spot on the Isle of the Skye is the Fairy Pools. My opinion, then, is an unpopular one, but I found them to be a “wee bit” disappointing. This is not to say they are not worth visiting, only that I expected something a bit more dramatic.
The walk from the carpark to the most popular “falls” takes about 20-40 minutes each way depending on pace, so you will want to factor this in as you decide whether or not you would like to see Dunvegan Castle and what time you hope to be at Neist Point.
While the small pools didn’t knock my socks off, it did provide some beautiful opportunities for photographs. The Black Cuillin mountains loom large behind the turquoise-colored waters of the River Brittle, which flow from pool to pool.
🏰 Dunvegan Castle
Time will surely be tight as you arrive in Dunvegan. While the castle is very beautiful, it is hard to call it a must-see for the first day of this Scotland itinerary. You are already cramming a lot into one day, and you will be visiting the more-impressive Eilean Donan Castle on Day 2.
Still, if time permits you should definitely consider stopping in and exploring the beautiful castle grounds and garden. If nothing else, there are restrooms here in case you need them.
Most notably, Dunvegan will be your last opportunity to buy a hot meal, and there are not many options available. Depending on what time you arrive, there are some cafes and tea rooms that MIGHT be open. The Old School Restaurant will be your best budget option, though the Three Chimneys restaurant is very popular (albeit expensive).
💡 Neist Point Lighthouse
The first of your 2-day tour from Edinburgh to Isle of Skye comes to a crescendo at the jaw-dropping cliffs at Neist Point. Parking is ample and there will be a shop selling some snacks if it is still open when you arrive.
You can walk to the Neist Point Lighthouse, but the more popular view is from the top, looking down the cliffs at the lighthouse in the distance. To access these views, simply walk along the ridge just past the snack shop.
It is recommended to catch golden hour and sunset here, especially if you are interested in photography. However, twilight also provides a unique magic for those who enjoy blue hour and night photography.
Once the show is over, the drive to Portree will be about an hour. Hopefully, you have already booked your accommodation so you can crash as quickly as possible. You will NOT want to miss sunrise at the Old Man of Storr.
READ MORE: ULTIMATE Scotland Road Trip Itinerary
🐮 Day 2 of your Isle of Skye 2 Day Tour From Edinburgh
This may feel like a lot for a two-day Scotland travel itinerary, but the reason for that is simple: it is better to include everything you COULD do than to leave things off the list to allow for food and stops. Obviously, the pace at which you enjoy travel is entirely personal. If waking up for sunrise after only a few hours of sleep does not appeal, this is by no means mandatory.
However, getting all the way to the Isle of Skye from Edinburgh is a long journey. I promise you will remember the sights you saw, not the sleep you lost!
🌅 Sunrise at the Old Man of Storr
The reason most of you are probably driving all this way for an Isle of Skye 2 day tour from Edinburgh is for this: sunrise at the Old Man of Storr!
Parking will be no problem if you get there for sunrise, but you will need to arrive early to complete the hike. Most people will need at least 45 minutes to get to the viewpoint, with the more out of shape visitors (like myself) requiring closer to an hour. If you’re like my partner, Adam, who loses his mind a bit when he is chasing a photo, you may be able to make it up in just over 30 minutes (while I plodded along, huffing and puffing behind!).
The first half of this hike is relatively mild and gravelled. About halfway up, you will come to a gate. From here on, the rest of the hike will be very muddy and extremely steep.
You will notice a lot of small paths seemingly branching from the main one. If you are wanting that iconic view looking across the Old Man of Storr, just always stay to the right at every junction. However, you should absolutely take some time to explore the scene in its entirety after sunrise. Walking amongst the stone giants, it feels like you’ve entered Mordor! This is one of those places where the experience is even better than any images can show.
🌊 First Stop: Mealt Falls / Kilt Rock
When you get back to your car from the Old Man of Storr, you will definitely be tired, but hopefully also riding a bit of a high! Don’t worry, breakfast (or brunch) is not far off!
About 20 minutes north of Storr is the small town of Staffin, where you will be able to find breakfast. On your way, however, is a very quick stop at Kilt Rock to enjoy the unmissable Mealt Falls!
No matter how hungry (and hangry) you are, be sure to at least pop in to the Kilt Rock parking area as there is no hike required to view the falls. What makes Mealt Falls so special is seeing this thundering waterfall plummet directly into the ocean. It truly feels like being at the end of the Earth!
🍛 Breakfast/Brunch: Staffin
There are a number of options for food in Staffin, and you will likely want to at least use the facilities here as there are none available at Storr nor Kilt Rock, nor will there be any available at either of the next two stops.
⛰ Second Stop: Quiraing
Honestly, this is probably my favourite place on the Isle of Skye, and would have even been my sunrise recommendation were it not so far and such a difficult hike. If you happen to have an extra day on the Isle of Skye, I can’t recommend the sunrise hike to the Needle of Quiraing enough.
Even if you do cannot make it for sunrise, I recommend doing at least some of the hike from the Quiraing car park to enjoy some of the stunning scenery nearby. You will find the trailhead across the road from the car park, and getting to The Needle would take about 45 minutes each way. Chances are you will be exhausted and maybe a bit desensitized by having already spent so much time at Storr, but the hardcore hikers who are up for a decent trek will greatly enjoy the views here.
🧚♀️ Third Stop: Fairy Glen
The most aptly-named destination in all of Scotland, the Fairy Glen was so much more amazing than I expected it to be. You will likely want at least an hour for this stop, and I consider this one a must-see on any Isle of Skye tour. If you travel slowly, forego the hike from Quiraing or try to get an earlier start from Storr to make time for this.
The main feature of the Fairy Glen is the Castle Ewan, which is a geological formation that resembles castle ruins. It is possible to walk to the top of the “castle,” which is only about a 15-minute journey.
There are no facilities at Fairy Glen and the trail is very muddy, so be prepared for both!
🍴 Lunch/Early Dinner: Sligachan, Broadford, Eilean Donan
You will now be leaving the Isle of Skye to return to Edinburgh. There are numerous options along the way, with Broadford offering the most variety. However, there are also a few options at our next stop at Eilean Donan if you wish to save time.
🏰 Fourth Stop: Eilean Donan Castle
The most photographed castle in all of Scotland, Eilean Donan Castle is sure to be a highlight on your trip to the Isle of Skye from Edinburgh. This fairytale castle is located about 15 minutes past the Skye Bridge and is a spectacular place to shoot golden hour and sunset. With that said, the drive back to Edinburgh is over 4 hours from here, so you may not want to stick around that long.
Parking is plentiful and services are available here, including some options for food during opening hours. There are many amazing views of the castle, but your time may be limited by this point.
READ MORE: Top 20 Best Castles in Scotland
🚙 Isle of Skye to Edinburgh Drive
There are a few ways to return to Edinburgh from the Isle of Skye, but I recommend the route via A9 through Pitlochry. This driving route is the most time-efficient and will allow you some bonus sightseeing opportunities if time allows. Those stops are featured on the map below:
An alternative route would be to detour to Fort William, taking the A89 back through Glencoe. This is the same route you will have travelled the first day but is the more scenic option of the two. If you have the time, there’s plenty of things to do in Fort William!
You will also have the opportunity to spend more time at Glencoe or Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park by taking this route back to Edinburgh.
💬 Isle of Skye 2 Day Tour from Edinburgh Final Thoughts
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Anyone who has followed this Isle of Skye from Edinburgh itinerary will be absolutely shattered by the time you return, but will also have managed to briefly experience some of Scotland’s world-famous destinations. If you are an absolute machine, however, Edinburgh has some real magic at night!
If you can summon the enthusiasm, I highly recommend a brief walk around the old town, Royal Mile, and Grassmarket. There is something about the old architecture with the Edinburgh Castle lit up at night that just makes this city a truly special place to experience at night.
I hope you have enjoyed this self-drive Isle of Skye 2 day tour from Edinburgh travel guide! For some more Isle of Skye inspiration, check out our Top 10 Isle of Skye Photography Destinations.
For those with more time in Scotland available, you may also be interested in checking out this guide to the Top 20 Best Castles in Scotland. Or may want to consider spending a night in a Scottish Castle.
And those of you with more than a week to explore the UK’s northern-most gem should definitely check out this guide to spending 10 days in Scotland!
Have some thoughts or feedback? Please share it in the comments below; We’re always looking to improve the experience for our readers!