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Getting to the Isle of Skye on a budget can be quite a challenge. Not only is the UK expensive in its own right, the Isle of Skye is one of the top tourist destinations in the UK. In fact, nearly 70% of the total revenue of the island is made of tourism.
However, if you’re willing to rough it a little, you can get around the Isle of Skye for hardly anything. Some of the tips are those “everybody knows” actions for the average budget traveler, while others are special just for the Isle of Skye.
Whether leaving from Edinburgh or Glasgow, there is no cheap way to get to the Isle of Skye. From Edinburgh, there are no direct routes by bus unless you get a tour. While they aren’t cheap, they can still be cheaper than taking public transportation.
In 2015 when I went on a tight budget, I took a bus to Glasgow for £1 ($1.30), another bus to Fort William for about £24, a train to Mallaig for £12, a ferry to Armadale for £5 and a bus to Portree for £3. At the time, the conversion made that about $70. Certainly not a cheap trip.
If you’re leaving from Edinburgh, the Megabus has risen to 4.50 to get to Glasgow. From Glasgow to Portree, the bus is currently £42.80.
The train will take longer but can be cheaper. Advanced tickets from Glasgow or Edinburgh to Inverness are as little as £8.10, but you have to book a month in advance to get that deal. Then tickets from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh are £5 a month out. Then grab a bus or hitchhike to Portree.
If you’re tight on time, as well as your budget, renting a car is still a viable option. Just make sure you between the ages between 25 and 75, and are ready to drive on the left side of the road. The cheapest rental is Easirent, but you get what you pay for, and their service is horrible. The other companies are still as low as £10 a day, but don’t forget about gas. Edinburgh to Portree is 230 miles by the fastest route, and driving around the island adds up. If you’re going for three days, expect to be driving around 600 miles. At current gas prices, that’s about £50 in a Fiat 500.
Another option by car is hitchhiking. you might be able to find a ride from Glasgow or Edinburgh using Blablacar. Once you get to the island, hitchhiking is very simple. The only exception might be weekends in the summer when everyone else is hitchhiking too.
There are no cheap restaurants on the Isle of Skye. There is a Coop in Kyle of Lockalsh, another in Broadford and two more in Portree. They all sell their food for a little more than normal. Sometimes they have some amazing deals, if you have the facilities to cook and store the food.
The cheapest option would be to stock up on food before you go to Skye at any of the Superstores in the UK (Tesco, Morrisons, etc). The second cheapest would be to use any of the Coops on the island. There is also a Village Shop outside of Staffin selling cheap, hot meals such as soup, chili, hamburgers and such.
While there aren’t any cheap restaurants, there is a handful which are cheaper. The Oyster Shed is my personal favorite. Located in Carbost up the street from Talisker Distillery, they serve all kinds of seafood. The oysters are a little much – £1 each – but you can get a decent meal for £6.50. The smoked salmon and chips are now £9; it was £7.50 when I went in 2015.
Down by Portree Harbor, you’ll find the Harbor Chip Shop. Somehow I’ve managed to miss eating there on every visit, but I hear they have the best fish and chips on the island. Personally, I like Stein Inn, the oldest inn on the island, but that’s not a budget option. I have on good authority that if you tell the Harbor Chip Shop that you’re a local, you can get a fish and chips for £4. You certainly can’t beat that.
With so many tourists, the number of Airbnbs on Skye far outnumber the local residences, but hardly any of them would be considered budget-friendly. The hostels are better at about £20 a night, but they can be booked weeks or months in advance. Cheaper still are the many campgrounds around the Isle of Skye, including several recently opened ones. If you’re traveling alone and are a walk-in, you can find them as cheap as £7 a night.
Your cheapest option is to utilize Scotland’s law for wild camping. Basically, you can camp almost anywhere. Just make sure you follow the common sense guidelines for wild camping, and leave no trace behind. In terms of your shower and cooking, the Portree Independent Hostel offers day use of the hostel for £3/day. That’s for the full day, so I recommend going there in the morning for breakfast, and the evening for dinner on the same day. Their showers downstairs are really nice, and the owner is great for advice on the island.
The best part about traveling to the Isle of Skye on a budget is that most of the attractions are free. The ones you’ll have to pay for are bus tours (which I highly recommend for a full experience of the island), boat tours, Talisker Distillery, Dunvegan Castle and the couple museums on the island.
By far, the best parts of the island are the natural attractions. These include, in no particular order: the fairy pools, the fairy glen, the Quiraing, the Old Man of Storr, Neist Point, Trumpan Church, St Columba’s Island, the gold cave, Sligachen and the old bridge, the fairy bridge, Dun Beag broch, Skye Bridge, Caisteal Maol, Dunscaith Castle, the red and black Cuillin mountains, an ancient Viking shipyard, and many more. Most of those can be found in my detailed itinerary guide for the Isle of Skye.
One other great attraction I like to send people to (which is also free) is Skyeskyns – the only by-hand tanning facility in the world. You can get a free tour of the whole tanning process. In the summer of 2017, they opened up a yurt cafe on the premises. It’s a great location to relax after a day of touring the island before you head to Trumpan Church or Neist Point for sunset.
For those on the tightest budget, it’s possible to visit the Isle of Skye for as little as £10-15 ($13-$20) a day, depending on what food you pack ahead, how much you hitchhike around the island, and a provident use of the hostels during the day.
If you want a few more comforts, such as a pitch at a campground, a couple warm, prepared meals, local buses and a visit to Talisker Distillery, chances are you going to spend closer to £40-50 ($52-$65) a day.
These amounts are based on each person. Usually, it’s cheaper for each person when you travel in a group, but on this budget, you’ll only start saving money if you move into the next bracket up. Finding an Airbnb to split, cooking a pasta dish for two and splitting the price of a rental car are all options for saving money when not traveling solo.
However, you get to the Isle of Skye or whatever your budget is, the point is that this is a location you absolutely cannot pass up. The Isle of Skye is one of the most beautiful places in the world (the best in my opinion). While one side of me doesn’t want any more tourists to mar its stunning landscapes, the other half of me wants every person in the world to glimpse its beauty. When will you be making your journey?
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- For a one- or two-day itinerary for the Isle of Skye, click here.
- To find the elusive but beautiful Gold Cave, click here.
- If you want to continue to the Outer Hebrides for more beautiful locations, click here.
- For the best tour of all Scotland, including the Isle of Skye, click here.
- To read the story of my first arrival on the Isle of Skye, click here.
- Just for fun, if you want to read about how I brought my dad to the Isle of Skye for the first time, click here.