Driving Route to Skye – take your time, it’s a great drive

A driving route to Skye from  Edinburgh (or Glasgow) should include Glencoe and Glen Shiel on the way. Make a day of it – lots to see en route including Eilean Donan Castle. (And yes, we prefer heading for the Great Glen via Rannoch Moor, not via the A9 and Dalwhinnie etc.)

Road trip to Skye

All set for a road trip to Skye, eh? I love these all-day drives.

Well, not quite all day, but by the time you’ve had a coffee or two, stopped for pictures and all that stuff…there isn’t a lot of day left by the time you’re across the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh.

From starting points in Lowland Scotland, Google tells you it is more than 200 miles / 320km if you go via Glen Coe (and you should). Sure, you could skelp along and drive it in, ooh, under five hours – but why would you want to? There is so much scenery to enjoy on the way.

Skye Road Trip: Edinburgh to Skye via Perth and A9 or via Stirling and Crianlarich?

Sketch of the route from Edinburgh to Skye
Must See Scotland says: don’t rush this Edinburgh to Skye route by road. Lots of scenic places to stop. The route from Glasgow up the side of Loch Lomond joins at Crianlarich.

The difference is only a few miles. (Going via Perth and up the A9 ‘Highland Road’ is fractionally shorter. It’s c 200 miles [320km]).

As you can see from the map – oh, I so hope it’s nearby – this page describes the route by way of Callander, Tyndrum, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe etc.

Honestly, it’s more interesting and scenic than going via the A9 and cutting west – though a friend who lives in Skye always goes via the A9

Let’s get going…

Well, we’re off from Edinburgh on our Skye road trip, whizzing along the M9, past those weird but impressive Kelpie horse-things that actually slow the traffic as people gawp at them.

Take care there – and also where the M80 from Glasgow joins us – though by then the fastest part of the driving route to Skye is almost over. Just by Stirling, it’s off north-west on the A84 to enter the Highlands just beyond Callander.

The River Teith at Callander
The River Teith at Callander, with Ben Ledi in cloud. The edge of the Highlands. From now on it gets interesting. The main A84 road enters the Highlands proper at the Pass of Leny, just beyond Callander.

Callander, Lochearnhead, left and westward at Lix Toll and into Glen Dochart

Through the Pass of Leny – no time for the waterfalls here today – on past Loch Lubnaig, Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, then over the watershed at Glen Ogle, finally, turning west.

Good roads now, easy and, remember, if you are driving from Glasgow, then your route, via Loch Lomond, joins this driving route to Skye north of the loch, at Crianlarich.

Grab a bite on the road to Skye

Peckish, eh? Here’s Tyndrum, minutes west of Crianlarich, with a landmark for plenty of visitors in need of refreshment.

The Green Welly Stop is quite a magnet on the driving route to Skye (and the west).

Ooh, they come from miles around for the soup and the scones, the mince and tatties and the souvenirs and the Ordnance Survey maps you forgot to get before you set off…and the (very clean) toilets, sorry, rest rooms, and good Wi-Fi.

If you just fancy a mug of soup or a plate of fish and chips then try the award-winning Real Food Café, just along the road. It’s also in Tyndrum. Big sign. Can’t miss it. Their coffee is good as well.

The massively popular Green Welly is just fine of course, but it’s just a habit.

Having said that, its popularity over the years is testimony to the fact it definitely fills a need as a kind of clean and efficient ‘service area’ – it’s the real deal for all kinds of Scottish stuff – on the road to and from the west.

Ben Dorain, on the way to Rannoch Moor
Ben Dorain beyond the watershed and Rannoch Moor. As well as the road – your driving route to Skye described here – note in the cutting the Fort William/Mallaig railway line (great journey) and, further right, walkers (white and red dots!) on the West Highland Way path, en route north to the Blackmount.

On to Rannoch Moor and into Glencoe

North again on the Road to Skye, hmm, looks like rain… The landmark cone of Beinn Dorain like a child’s drawing of a mountain. Then on to Rannoch Moor with big hill vistas opening up and (often) completely berserk drivers not appreciating them.

Once, I climbed Ben Dorain (pictured above) – because it is a Munro (a Scottish mountain over 3000ft). And I came down on the skyline. And I just kept going, wading through the river and back to the car.

It’s a pretty dull triangle, to be honest. But I always remember that day when I drive north from Tyndrum and on to Rannoch Moor.

A brave cyclist, in Glencoe
Cyclist in Glen Coe enjoying the fact that no traffic has overtaken him for at least, oh, ten seconds or so…

(Pictured) Cyclist in Glen Coe. It looks deceptively quiet in this picture, but streams of traffic and heavy goods vehicles use the road. Good on him…

Next, the gloomy portals of Glen Coe, high on atmosphere, closing in on both sides. This is probably landscape that’s actually improved by lowering clouds and dramatic light.

(Nah. Who am I kidding?)

The NTS Glencoe Visitor Centre is a popular stop here – learn about the massacre and the glen in a walk-round exhibition– and there is a small cafe, gift shop and toilets here too.

Glencoe, the 'Glen of Weeping' in October
Glencoe, the ‘Glen of Weeping’ in October
Laggan Locks, Caledonian Canal
At Laggan Locks in the Great Glen – always something going on. Crikey, how did that big cruising-thing squeeze through?
Into the Great Glen…

Soon, there’s a decision to make. Further on, along the bendy road by Loch Linnhe: is there any reason to stop at Fort William? No, really…do you need a supermarket shop? Or some outdoor gear?

Fort William is a natural route centre, or, putting it another way, hard to avoid. The town itself doesn’t do picturesque. And time might be pressing…och, keep driving.

No, wait, second thoughts: tell you what; buy a picnic in Fort William and keep going to, say, the great mountain views from the car park at the Commando Memorial just after Spean Bridge, or at the Laggan Locks, signed off the A82.  They are between Lochs Lochy and Oich on the Caledonian Canal.

Always something to look at there. (You’ll be glad of a break anyway, the Fort William to Invergarry section in the Great Glen is fast and busy at peak season and my least favourite section of the driving route to Skye.)

Left (west) for Skye, out of the Great Glen at last!

It’s left and west again at Invergarry, the A87 out of the busy coast-to-coast route through the Great Glen. Then it’s climbing, climbing to where lots of folk stop because Loch Garry looks a bit like the map of Scotland.

The trees are growing high here, but a wee path opposite the car park gives a better view from a high bank, though the midges may have got there first

Loch Garry on the road to Skye
Does that loch down there look like a map of Scotland to you? Well, I suppose, a bit. The hills on the horizon are in that famously remote part called the Rough Bounds of Knoydart.
Heavy rain forecast for the road to Skye
The road to the Isle of Skye – with a not very encouraging road sign, weather-wise.

Then onwards and further west to where you don’t want to see this road sign (pictured) lit up on your driving route to Skye.

Well, thanks. I drive all this way and you tell me it’s going to rain, big time?

Note the road signs in Gaelic to (A87) Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Skye Bridge, Uig and Outer Hebrides Ferry and (A890) Lochcarron in Gaelic.

The Dramatic Peaks of  Glen Shiel

Then it’s into the drama of Glen Shiel. (I love it.) The mountains on either side, also alluded to in our Skye and Lochalsh page, are spectacular mini-alps.

There are quite a few road-side stopping points for photography, but the traffic can move quite fast through the glen, so give plenty of warning before you bounce on to the verge for just one more shot.

Entering Glen Shiel from the east
Eastern approaches, Glen Shiel, en route for the Isle of Skye and well on your way.

(Pictured) The eastern end of Glen Shiel and it looks like the heavy rain that the illuminated road-sign mentioned won’t be far away. (However, on this occasion, it stayed off most of the time and didn’t arrive till next morning!)

A highlight on this driving route to Skye: Eilean Donan Castle

You’ll meet the salt waters of the west coast at Loch Duich, beyond Shiel Bridge, then the main road goes by the shore and passes probably one of the most famous landmarks of the journey: Eilean Donan Castle.

This restored fortress turns up as a film location, on postcards, shortbread tins and many a guidebook as an icon of Scotland.

And visitors of all nationalities come in their thousands, though fortunately there’s a car and coach park that is usually (just about) big enough to hold them.

The iconic Eilean Donan Castle on the road to Skye
The iconic Eilean Donan Castle on the road to Skye

This angle (pictured) on the famous Eilean Donan Castle can be found by driving past (if northbound), then turning left at the end of the bridge/causeway over Loch Long.

Lighting effects of cloud and sun are ever changing – classic Scotland – so if you see some dramatic illumination, then leap out and get that shot – it won’t be there two minutes later.

That’s what happened on the August day I took this picture: there were overseas visitors tumbling out of their hire cars in all directions, dropping their phones and camera cases and fumbling with settings. (As indeed was I.)

It isn’t far from Eilean Donan Castle to the Skye Bridge and the road is easy, alongside Loch Alsh. The white houses of Kyleakin soon come into view.

Over the Skye Bridge – you’ve arrived!

The Skye bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh is an elegant structure – though remember there are two other ways of reaching Skye from mainland Scotland. The Mallaig to Armadale ferry to the south is an option to make a circular tour.

Meanwhile, the Glenelg to Kylerhea ferry is a real piece of history – a small community-owned car ferry – running in summer and using a traditional crossing point.

It is also a great vantage point for spotting sea eagles. The only turntable ferry in the UK. Consider it a possible part of your Isle of Skye experience.

Well, that’s us over the bridge and bowling along to Broadford…what will Skye have in store?

Wait. Essentials. Something to keep away the midges. Avon Skin So Soft has many fans and has a good reputation. As it happens we’ve always been Smidge that Midge people. It works for us. Oh, and if the beasties get really bad you’ll need a midge hood.

An Isle of Skye guide-book, on the other hand is optional, though the one on the Amazon link is recommended.

On Skye, the road to Broadford
On Skye, view to the Red Cuillin from the road to Broadford

Is Skye really worth your while? Well, fine time for me to be asking you this, when you’ve just checked out the driving route!

Skye and Lochalsh on the mainland go well together.

There are also some pics of Skye in the 1980s – before the crowds arrived – see the (nostalgic) 35mm scanned pics page.

Oh, and here’s a link to a company who checks all the car rental prices in the UK – so you can get the best deal. (And we get a small commission.)

Buy the best bits of must-see-scotland.com advert-free!

Like the tell-it-like-it-is-approach? The most helpful and entertaining pages on this website are now available as ebooks covering many aspects of travel in Scotland. 

Get them right here in my ebookstore for £1.99 each and look out for future titles!

Download and enjoy each ebook for the price of a (cheap) coffee from CostBucks. 

Read them off-line. (Well, you know what the signal can be like in the Highlands…)

Scotland – Know Before You Go

Midges, weather, tipping, driving, best time to visit and more…essential background for your trip to Scotland. Fully illustrated in colour but easy to read on your smartphone or e-reader.

Buy Now – £1.99

Scotland – Where to see…

All the favourites in Scotland: Highland cows, puffins, dolphins and more  – plus top ten lists – best beaches, views, walks – positively a treasury of information to make your trip a success…

Buy Now – £1.99