Enchanting, peaceful, adventure...three words we would personally describe our week away in the Scottish highlands and Isle of Skye in January 2023.
Scotlands beauty never fails to amaze but there is something so magical about driving through the winding roads of Glencoe whilst enveloped in a crowd of magnificent yet slightly intimidating munros (any of the 277 mountains in Scotland that are at least 3,000 feet high).
As we were currently part-way through our van build, we decided to mix our trip up with part van-life and part hotel-life. This meant we spent no more than one night at a time in the van where it was at a point of being fully insulated and boarded out...more like a 'ready to go' shell.
In this post, I will talk you through our itinerary and any recommendations and tips for a winter trip to the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye.
DAY 1- Sunday
Travelling to Glencoe
We are based in New Mills, High Peak and to drive to Glencoe it took circa 5.5hrs. Previously when making the drive to the highlands, we have found it aperfect excuse to stop off in the Lake District. Whether you fancy a day in Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside or Keswick, these popular areas are all really easy to join back on to the M6 via the A6 or A66.
Tip: Make sure to be well-fuelled when passing Glasgow as once you get to Loch Lomond there is not a lot in terms of fuel until Fort William.
DAY 2- Monday
Explore Glencoe On Foot
Whether you like low-level walks or the higher the better hikes, Glencoe is a must-see place to explore. We fancied bagging a munro and chose Beinn a' Chrulaiste, sister to the most famous munro in GlencoeBuachaille Etive Mor. This route started from the car park of the Kingshouse Hotel and meant we could stop for an amazing lunch post hike at the hotel (extremely recommend the venison pie!). This route (on a clear day) gives you a great view of Etive Mor! Unfortunately, we had a bit too much cloud but the scenery and the snow was still stunning! Be sure to be wearing crampons, gaitors and have all the layers possible. If you fancied looking at the route we did for inspiration, please see link below:
We followed this route via OS Maps and ofcourse took a paper map as insurance.
Some not so strenuous walking alternatives include:
-LOST VALLEY Length: 4km, Time: 3 hours, Level of difficulty: easy/moderate
- LOCHAN TRAIL Length: 1.6km, Time: 1 hour, Level of difficulty: easy
1. View of Etive Mor from Kingshouse Hotel
2. Trig at the top of Beinn a Chrulaiste
DAY 3- Tuesday
Skiing at Ben Nevis Range
Skipass, skis, boots, helmet and poles hire cost totally £65 each for the day...a bargain in our eyes campared to £100+ in most areas of Europe. To avoid the rush as much as possible we arrived at 9am to get kitted out...no need. It was so quiet, we were the only ones getting skis and one of the first to get the gondola up to the mountain. No cueing...a haven for any snowsport enthusiast. Due to it being quiet and new to us, we found signage the only downfall the Ben Nevis Range in terms of exploring different routes and knowing what was open. However, incredibly friendly staff were great at filling us in on conditions and updating us on lift openings. Although maybe half the resorts routes were closed, there was still plenty of amazing wide, non-icy slopes to have fun on. The Snowgoose Bar & Restaurant was serving hearty hot food and drinks for lunch and not expensive compared to the usual ski resort up-pricing.
Massively recommend a trip up Ben Nevis Range even if you are not a snowsports fan. There aregreat walks to give stunning view of Loch Linnhe & Loch Eil.
Tip: Try as much as possible to go in the week, the team said it had been incredibly busy as the weekend. Also keep an eye on the weather before booking as you want as many runs to be open as possible until the last gondola at 4:30pm.
Skiing on Nevis Range with the slope to myself
DAY 3- Wednesday
Isle of Skye Day 1
Old Man of Storr
We had theOld Man of Storr all to ourselves when we set-off for a sunrise hike at 8am. Despite being cloudy and a bit windy, you could not fault the incredible sites from Storr. An absolute must-visit. We had a morning coffee at the foot of the pinnacle rock formation and decided to venture back to the van for breakfast. The classic walking route is about4.5km and it's got a sizeable car park with facilities and about a 10 min drive from Portree.
Pics 1 & 2 Old Man of Storr
Heading North up Skye, we stopped to enjoy breakfast at the Lealt Falls viewing platform. A must visit with a stunning viewof the Trotternish Cliffs. Other waterfalls to visit include:
- Mealt Falls
- Rha Waterfall
- Talisker Waterfall (enjoy with a swim by Talisker Bay if you're feeling brave)
Landscape view from Lealt Waterfalls
As part of the Trotternish ridge, the Quiraing is an amazing spot for your camera to picture the most spectacular landscape of Skye. The Quiraing walk is about 4.2 miles long and takes 2-3hrs. However the walk is not essential as you can take in the other-wordly views almost immediately on the route. There is a paid car park at the highest part of the single track road, circa 5.5 miles from Uig.
Tip: If driving up fromStaffin however in snowy conditions, ensure you have snow tires to avoid getting stuck up the winding steep road. Even if you do have snow tyres, best bringing a shovel just in case...we needed it.
Cliff edges of Quiraing- near car park
Isle of Skye Brewing Co.
From the Quiraing, heading to Uig, it is essential to stop at the Isle of Skye Brewing Co, (The Pier, IV51). After digging snow a few times from getting stuck with the van, this was a great reward for the other half (Mike). Literally all the merch you could ask for and a range of amazing beers and gins to choose from. They even had faulty bottles where labels were incorrectly printed for half the price. Well worth a trip for a treat or gifts.
Portree- Caberfeidh Bar & Restaurant (THE BEST WOOD-FIRED PIZZAS)
We stumbled across this gem after a long day outdoors. We love a pizza...who doesn't and these were honestly incredible. Highly recommend, circa £15 per pizza and an array of delicious cocktails from just £6. Perfect!
Isle of Sky Day 2
For the adventurers, Spar Cave is a must when exploring the southern area of Skye. The cave is located near Elgol and boasts magical surroundings with its flowstone steps which a surprisingly grippy.However, thejourney getting to the cave is thrilling in itself. This hidden wonder can only be reached at certain times of the day when the tide is low, so a visit requires a fair bit of pre-planning. The cliffs close to the cave are a great secluded place to enjoy a picnic or just enjoy the calmness of the sea.
To get to the cave, we used this really handy guide.
1. Walk along and around cliff edges (some scrambling).
2. View from the entrance of the cave out to sea
Beautifully clear pools entice visitors from all over the world to the foot of the Black Cullins near Glenbrittle. Those wild swimmers among you will know its an absolute must to take a dip providing you are well-equipped and experienced. The walk to the pools itself is stunning, taking in the incredible landscape (especially under a blanket of snow). The dip was refreshing to say the least and we had our ski clothes and hot water bottles at the read to heat up asap...but wow an incredible experience.
1. Paved walk from the car park to the Fairy Pools
2. My 30 second dip in one of the Fairy Pools...extremely cold but incredibly rewarding
DAY 5- Friday
Driving from Isle of Skye to Fort William
Eilean Donan Castle
This must visit castle sits on an island where 3 lochs meet just off the A87 (road from Skye to lead back to Fort William). This 13th century castle is honestly stunning, we were lucky to have the most amazing weather. The castle itself was closed however entry onto the island was free and the usually bustling tourist attraction was beautifully quiet.
Bridge crossing to Eilean Donan Castle
The Glenfinnan Viaduct
A popular attraction, especially for the Harry Potter fans among us, the railway viaduct is located at the top of Loch Shiel. There is a cafe and gift shop next to the car park with well-signed routes to viewing platforms. We took a stunning 4km walk on a clear path that winds around the viaduct and gives the most incredible views of Loch Shiel to then loop back to the car park via the Glenfinnan Station.
Details of the walk below:
Glenfinnan Viaduct from the trail (link above)
Day 6- Saturday
Travelling Home via Loch Lomand & The Trossachs NP & Edinburgh
To break up our journey home, and to drive a different route, we followed the A85 through The Loch Lomand & The Trossachs National Park, stopping off at Loch Lubnaig where there are great facilities and swim spots. We then drove towards Edinburgh and parked in a park & ride near Edinburgh airport. This allows us to park the van safely for free and a return tram ride into the centre took 30 mins and circa £3 each. An afternoon wandering the bustling streets of Edinburgh was a great way to end our trip before making the 4.5hr journey home.
Places To Go: Kingshouse Hotel, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Eilean Donan Castle
Things To Do: Snowsports on Nevis Range, bag a Munro, walk the Glenfinnan Viaduct Trail
Places To Eat: Kingshouse Hotel, Chlachaig Inn, The Glencoe Isle Hotel, Ben Nevis Inn
Places To Stay: Kingshouse Hotel, The Isle of Glencoe Hotel, Campervan spots everywhere! (park4night app)
Our view at breakfast at The Isles of Glencoe Hotel
Isle of Skye...
Places To Go: Old Man of Storr, the many amazing waterfalls (list below), Fairy Pools, Spar Cave, The Quiraing
Things To Do: Shop at Isle of Skye Brewery Co., Visit a distillery (unfortunately these are not open until at leastFebruary but we wanted to visit Ise of Raasay Distillery) Visit the Highland Coos (Sconser is a great place to see them), walk walk walk...take in all those amazing views.
Places To Eat:Caberfeidh Bar & Restaurant (pizza), The Oyster Shed (fish) a massive Co-op in Broadford & Portree
Places To Stay: Skye Shepherd Huts (Booked through Canopyandstars)
Our view out of the shepherds hut in the morning.
To summarise, Scotland in January was magnificent. The snow was stunning, the driving was extensive but part of the fun and the best thing was...it was ridiculously quiet! Highly recommend!
Love Laura x
Founder of MY URBAN TRAIL
Another of the best things about the Isle of Skye in winter is that there's beautiful light. Winter light is famous for its soft, warm qualities and is great for enjoying views and taking pictures. It also makes the scenery look better for more of the day than in the summer, when stronger light can cast harsh shadows.How many days are enough for Isle of Skye? ›
A minimum of two days is ideal. On a map, the Isle of Skye may look small, but there is a lot to do here. Even if you only have a day to spare, you still have enough time to see the best of the island. Those with three days or more have enough time to cover the majority of the Isle of Skye.How many days do you need in the Scottish Highlands? ›
Planning Your Trip to Scotland
With one week, you can roam much of the highlands, and 10 days would allow you to explore both the Lowlands and Highlands in depth. And two weeks would give time to explore the Isle of Skye or one or two of the other whisky-scented islands.
Best Time to Visit the Isle of Skye
The weather is the best between May and September. However, the summer months, in particular July and August, are peak season.
The Northern Lights can provide an amazing spectacle in the Winter months. The incredible, shifting columns of light appear like search lights in the skies over Glendale. Most auroras on the Isle of Skye appear white to the eye. It is extremely rare for colours to be visible at this latitude (57.5° North).Can you see the northern lights from the Isle of Skye? ›
The Isle of Skye is an island set off the west coast of Scotland and is known to be a good location for aurora sightings in Scotland – especially to the north of the island. There are many remote regions which are away from light pollution, so you won't struggle to find somewhere quiet to sit and wait.Do you need a car in Isle of Skye? ›
By car: Travelers will generally find that it is not necessary to rent a car for travel throughout the Isle of Skye, because the other transportation options for the area are sufficient for all internal travel. However, car rental is an option.Is it easy to drive in Isle of Skye? ›
Many of the roads on Skye are single track. These roads are only wide enough for one vehicle. They have special passing places. If you see a vehicle coming towards you, or the driver behind wants to overtake, pull into a passing place on your left, or wait opposite a passing place on your right.Is Isle of Skye a must? ›
The Isle of Skye is one of the best places to visit in Scotland. If you want to see some truly spectacular scenery, then you must come here. We were amazed at the beauty of this island. In this post, we cover the best things to do in the Isle of Skye with tips to have the best experience.Can you do Scottish Highlands without a car? ›
It's surprisingly easy – and cheap – to get around Scotland without a car thanks to the rail network operated by ScotRail and the inter-city bus services run by Citylink and Megabus.
We find that on two land roads in the Highlands, it is difficult to drive more than 40-50mph due to slow drivers and tailbacks, and sometimes will be forced to drive as slowly as 20-30mph.Is Isle of Skye walkable? ›
The Isle of Skye is a walkers' paradise. From family walks on the spectacular coastline to dramatic scrambles in the Cuillin mountains, the most challenging in Britain, the island provides fantastic walking for everyone.Do you need walking boots for Isle of Skye? ›
If you do not have riding boots, walking boots are perfect, and 'wellies' are also recommended. Trainers can also be worn. We tend to encourage people to bring waterproofs with them – we are on Skye of course!What is Isle of Skye like in December? ›
You can usually expect to see snow between the months of December to February. In milder winters you can just expect to see a lot of rain so make sure you come prepared. So there you have it, your ultimate guide to visiting the Isle of Skye in winter.What month is aurora borealis? ›
The aurora borealis are potentially visible under dark skies from late August to mid-April preferably under a clear, cloudless sky. While they occur year round they are weaker than sunlight and therefore sightings aren't possible from May to July and for most of August.What is the best month to see aurora borealis in Iceland? ›
The best month to see the northern lights in Iceland is December, as it's the month when the nights are longest and darkest. As a result, you have the opportunity to see the aurora borealis from the hours of 15:30 in the afternoon to 11:30 in the morning.Where's the best place to see the Northern Lights in Scotland? ›
Places like Applecross, Lochinver and north of Ullapool are great spots on the far north west coast of Scotland to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.Was Game of Thrones filmed in Skye? ›
Rubha an Dùnain, an uninhabited peninsula on the isle of Skye. Game of Thrones has filmed in Scotland once before, for the pilot episode, when the Castle of Doune stood in for Winterfell.Can you see golden eagles on Skye? ›
A Golden Eagle is near the top of any bird watchers list. The Isle of Skye is a great place to see them in the wild. With a wing span of up to 8 foot they are one of the largest birds of prey in Briton.Where to stay in Skye to see Northern Lights? ›
Isle of Skye
For some of the best views, head to Glendale which is often aglow with auroras. Rubha Hunish, the northernmost point of the island, and Duntulm Castle are also brilliant spots to see the lights dance amongst the Milky Way.
There is no direct train from Edinburgh to Isle of Skye. However, you can take a train from Edinburgh to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands which takes about four hours. From there you can either hire a car and drive, or take a bus, through Northern Scotland and over the Skye Bridge to the island.What should I wear to the Isle of Skye? ›
- WATERPROOF JACKET.
- THINK LAYERS.
- JEANS / TROUSERS.
- BARE ESSENTIALS.
- SENSIBLE SHOES / WALKING BOOTS.
- A HAT.
- INSECT REPELLANT.
After years of campaigning, legal challenges and then the setup of the new Scottish parliament in 1999 the leading political parties made it a priority to have the tolls abolished. On the 21st of December 2004 the bridge was purchased by the Scottish Government and made free to cross.Which Isle of Skye Drive is most scenic? ›
The drive between Broadford and Elgol is renowned as one of the most scenic on Skye, offering spectacular views of the brooding Cuillin Mountains. It lives up to the hype. The spectacular Cuillins accompany much of the drive from Broadford to Elgol.What is the most scenic drive in Scotland? ›
- Angus Coastal Route Dundee to Aberdeen. ...
- Argyll coastal route Tarbert to Fort William. ...
- Borders historic route Carlisle to Edinburgh. ...
- Clyde Valley tourist route Abington to Hamilton. ...
- Deeside tourist route Perth to Aberdeen. ...
- Fife coastal route Kincardine to Newport.
Visitors can embark on the stunning 2.4km walk from the car park to the Fairy Pools via the gravel path bordered with grass, heather, peat and rocks up towards the largest waterfall, or walk further up the path and explore some of the smaller pools which lie ahead.Are the fairy pools worth it? ›
Lovely Hike Cold but worth it. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the pools. I'd probably have a different view if visiting in peak holiday season. The pools were lovely and we were able to take some photos of the colours of the different pools.What is so special about the Isle of Skye? ›
The Isle of Skye is known for its rugged landscapes, medieval castles, picturesque fishing villages, it's history and the outstanding scenery. Skye is connected to Scotland's northwest coast by both the Skye Bridge and the Malaig – Armadale ferry and is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.Is it hard for Americans to drive in Scotland? ›
Overall, driving in Scotland is not scary. If you're a confident driver then you'll be completely fine. Just remember to pay attention and not get distracted. Going on a road trip through Scotland is a truly magical experience.Are Americans allowed to drive in Scotland? ›
Whether you're visiting Scotland from the US, India or even Australia, you can rest assured that as long as your licence is valid and in date, you can drive in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
You do not need an international driver's license.
For non-EU visitors, your domestic driver's license allows you to drive in Scotland for up to a year provided it is in English or has an English translation. You must also have a valid passport.
- Glencoe National Nature Reserve. Featured Place: Glencoe National Nature Reserve. ...
- Culzean Castle & Country Park. Featured Place: Culzean Castle. ...
- Mingulay, Berneray & Pabbay. ...
- The Hermitage. ...
- Craigievar Castle. ...
- St Abb's Head National Nature Reserve. ...
- Culloden. ...
- Glenfinnan Monument.
You can expect the average trip to Scotland cost for travellers that want to vacation in Scotland to be £70 to £190 per person per day (approximately $84 – $228 USD). This can, however, be reduced if you plan on spending some nights camping, not doing many paid activities and cooking most of your own meals.What is the famous Scottish road trip? ›
The NC500 (The North Coast 500) is, without doubt, the most popular and famous Scotland road trip there is. It's Scotland's answer to Route 66 and it's amazing! We actually spent a couple of weeks doing the NC500, but it doesn't take anywhere near as long as that.What is the best time of year to visit the Scottish Highlands? ›
Most people visit the Scottish Highlands between May and September which is when we have the best weather and also the most daylight. Avoiding the peak months of July and August is a wise move if you can manage it, although given the nature of the Highlands there is plenty of wide open spaces for everyone to enjoy.How difficult is the Skye Trail? ›
Get to know this 128.1-km point-to-point trail near Isle Of Skye, Highlands. Generally considered a challenging route, it takes an average of 39 h 28 min to complete. This is a popular trail for backpacking, camping, and hiking, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day.What city is closest to the Isle of Skye? ›
Often called 'the gateway to the Highlands', Inverness is the nearest city to Skye and probably the easiest answer to how to get to Skye.Can you drive around Skye in a day? ›
You can drive around the Isle of Skye in half a day without stopping. But because there's so much to see, I recommend spending at least 2 full days. Plus you should schedule an additional half day to drive up from Fort William, and another half day to get back.Do I need waterproof pants in Scotland? ›
Waterproof trousers are not essential but, if there is a forecast for heavy rain, then they could come in really handy. I have these Berghaus ones which are great, as they have zips and buttons up the side to enable you to pull them on over your shoes and trousers as you need them.Are there midges on Skye? ›
The midge season usually runs from late May until September. But the worst months by far are July and August. So if you want to avoid midges, avoid those months.
A minimum of two days is ideal. On a map, the Isle of Skye may look small, but there is a lot to do here. Even if you only have a day to spare, you still have enough time to see the best of the island. Those with three days or more have enough time to cover the majority of the Isle of Skye.Can you see the Northern Lights from the Isle of Skye? ›
The Isle of Skye is an island set off the west coast of Scotland and is known to be a good location for aurora sightings in Scotland – especially to the north of the island. There are many remote regions which are away from light pollution, so you won't struggle to find somewhere quiet to sit and wait.What food is Isle of Skye famous for? ›
The basic building blocks of the Highland diet were traditionally oats and barley; hardy vegetables such as kale, turnips and potatoes; dairy products; all kinds of seafood and occasionally lamb or mutton. These might be supplemented by wild plants such as nettles, sorrel, seaweed and berries.Is January good time to visit Isle of Skye? ›
You have to be a wee bit crazy to go to Scotland's Isle of Skye in January. It's cold, it's dark, and it's empty. Except if it's unseasonably warm, the sun rises late enough to see the sky glowing orange and pink at nine in the morning, and you like visiting beautiful places free of crowds.Should I visit Scotland in the winter? ›
Is it worth travelling to Scotland in winter? Absolutely! There are so many reasons why travelling to Scotland in the offseason is a good idea – it's cheaper, less crowded and the snow-capped peaks of the Highlands are breathtaking.What is the Isle of Skye like in January? ›
What's the temperature like in Isle of Skye during January? The temperature reaches around 7℃ during the daytime in January, falling away to 5℃ at night. The UV index will be low at this time of year, so not something to worry about.Is it worth visiting Isle of Skye in December? ›
Although daylight hours are fewer and the weather can be wild, visiting Skye during the winter months offers a unique and magical experience. The lack of crowds means you can fully enjoy the mesmerising landscapes and attractions, without constantly battling for somewhere to park or a space on the trail.What is the best month to visit Scotland to avoid midges? ›
Come between late September and late May
If you arrive in Scotland, before the weather has warmed up too much you are unlikely to see many midges. Also if you visit in May or early September, you are also likely to encounter the best weather conditions Scotland has to offer.
Places like Applecross, Lochinver and north of Ullapool are great spots on the far north west coast of Scotland to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.Do I need snow chains for Scotland? ›
No. There is no legal requirement to use winter tyres. Central Scotland's relatively warm and wet climate means many drivers will not need them for drives in typical conditions, with all season tyres being sufficient. However for drivers in the Highlands and throughout rural Scotland, they may be necessary.
We're not saying you shouldn't drive in Scotland in winter, but you should definitely drive to the conditions, and stick to the more major roads where possible, which are more likely to have been treated for snow and ice. For more advice, see our guide to driving in the UK.