The enigmatic Isle of Skye was named Skuy (misty isle) by its Norse settlers, no doubt due to the almost constant veil of mist that shrouds its most spectacular landmarks before vanishing as though it was never there, thus revealing the island’s full beauty to startling effect.

The Isle of Skye is a magical place of eerily still lochs, colossal mountains, and improbable geographical features, such as the dagger-like peaks of the Quiraing. So surreal is its landscape that it has spawned countless myths and legends—of giants turned to stone, lovelorn fairy queens, and mysterious kelpies. Many visitors to Skye come to bag (climb) one of its many munros (hills over 3,000 ft/914.4 m) amid the gabbro rock of the sensational Cuillin mountain range, swim in its silent pools, and marvel at its myriad waterfalls and rugged coastline. While its dramatic landscape makes the largest of the Inner Hebrides isles also its most visited, it’s not hard to escape the flock of day-trippers as long as you are open to leaving behind the main thoroughfare to explore the less ventured single-track roads and hidden walking trails.

Lying off Skye’s east side and with awe-inspiring views across to Applecross on the northwest mainland, Raasay is an intriguing island where the repercussions of the Highland Clearances, a period in the 18th and 19th centuries when tenants were evicted from ancestral lands across the Highlands, can still be felt.

To the south of Skye are the Small Isles—an archipelago rich in local fauna, flora, and wildlife, where you can just as easily find solace amid the hillsides and cliff-top paths as you can be swept away by the friendliness of locals.

Though the pull is strong, don’t rush your way to Skye. Plot a road trip that takes you past Eilean Donan Castle, which stands on an island at the point where three sea lochs meet and looks like a relic of a forgotten time, and over the bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh onto Skye. Alternatively, admire the scenery from a window seat aboard the West Highland Line, one of the most beautiful rail routes in the world, particularly in summer when the final stretch can be done by steam train. The rail route takes you all the way to Mallaig in Lochaber, from where it’s a short ferry ride across to the island.

Orientation

Skye is the largest isle in the Inner Hebrides, just off the northwest coast of Scotland. For a long time, it was only accessible by ferry, and the original crossing was from Kyle of Lochalsh on the shores of Loch Alsh on the mainland to Kyleakin on the southeast of Skye—a distance of around 1,640 feet (500 m). Since 1995, however, people can now drive onto the island at Kyleakin via the Skye Bridge, just a mile west of Kyle of Lochalsh, which has rendered the Kyleakin ferry obsolete. The other year-round way of reaching Skye is to take the ferry from Mallaig, farther south on the mainland, which comes into Armadale on the south of Skye. From Easter to October, you can also take a short ferry crossing from Glenelg, also on the shores of Loch Alsh, to Kylerhea, just a few miles south of Kyleakin.

Raasay is located between Skye and the northwest mainland. It is separated from Skye by the Sound of Raasay and is accessed by ferry from Sconser on the east coast of Skye.

The Small Isles, a collection of four islands also in the Inner Hebrides and just south of Skye, are accessed by boat charter from Skye or by ferry from either Mallaig or Arisaig, just eight miles south of Mallaig. Eigg is the closest isle to the mainland and, to its southwest, is the tiny isle of Muck. Northwest of Eigg is the largest isle in the archipelago, Rum, and just beyond this lies Canna.

Lewis and Harris is a large isle north of Skye, which forms part of the Outer Hebrides. It is renowned for its two distinct parts (hence the name), which leads many people to presume it is two isles. Harris has a varied landscape of Caribbean-esque beaches backed by swathes of machair (low-lying grassland rich with wildlife) in the west, with a rugged necklace of inlets to its east and mountains to its north. Lewis, in comparison, is much more desolate (despite having the larger population, most of whom live in the isle’s main town of Stornoway) and home to flat peatlands that stretch into the horizon. Although the Outer Hebrides has a reputation for being very remote, Lewis and Harris is relatively easy to get to from Skye via the ferry from Uig on the Trotternish Peninsula on the north side of the island.