The Guardian, May 23, 2013
Dunvegan Castle and Gardens
Clinging to a rocky outcrop, Dunvegan Castle has been the MacLeod stronghold for eight centuries. Visitors over the years include Sir Walter Scott and Dr Johnson, who, according to his travelling companion James Boswell, "most strangely slept without a nightcap." Lucky then, that the chief's daughter made him one to improve his slumber. Along with the famous Fairy Flag, the castle collection includes impressive paintings, Jacobite relics and a wealth of clan history. The gardens have been restored over the last 30 years and should not be missed. Nor should the seal boat rides, which are every bit as enchanting for adults as they are for children. Viewing these creatures at such close quarters, it's easy to believe in selkies.
• 01470 521206, dunvegancastle.com. Open daily, end March-October, 10am-5.30 (last admission 5pm)castle and Gardens: adults £9.50, children (5-15 years) £5, families (two adults and three children) £27, concessions/groups £7; gardens only: adults £7.50, children £4, concessions/groups £6; seal boat trips: adults £6, children £4, concessions/groups £5
Clan Donald Skye: Museum of the Isles and Armadale Castle
Skye's often bloody history is dominated by two clans, the MacDonalds and the MacLeods. At Clan Donald Skye, the excellent Museum of the Isles illuminates 1,500 years of Highland history and culture through the exploits of the Clan Donald. Its six permanent galleries explore different themes, including clan warfare, the Jacobite uprisings and the Highland Clearances: a seventh gallery hosts a changing exhibition. In addition to the museum, visitors to Clan Donald Skye can wander the gardens and nature trails in the grounds surrounding the now-ruined Armadale Castle (pictured), and there is an adventure playground for children.
• 01471 844305, clandonald.com. End March-October, open daily 9.30-5.30 (last admission 5pm), adults £7.50, children (5-16) £6, families £25, concessions/groups £6
An Aird peninsula
Pack a picnic and spend the day at the An Aird peninsula. There are two beaches (either side of the isthmus) and the peninsula, where you'll find the remains of an ancient fort, Dunan an Aisilidh, as well as cliffs, natural bridges, caves, a sea stack and even a blow hole. Take the left-hand turn for Balmeanach off the Braes road and look out for the parking spot. The path down to the shore starts near the post box. It crosses a flat boggy area and then descends steeply to the shore where you will find a pebbly beach; the far end is sandy. Enjoy spectacular views towards Ben Tianavaig and across the Sound of Raasay and keep an eye out for seals, shags nesting on the cliffs and other wildlife as you explore.
The Fairy Pools
No visit to Skye would be complete without a brush with Fairyland, and where better to meet a fairy than at the Fairy Pools? In the shadow of the Black Cuillins, the icy water of Allt Coir a'Mhadaidh spills down a series of waterfalls and pools. Even on a cold day, it's difficult to resist slipping into the brilliant, clear blue water. In one of the pools, there's an arch, which you can swim under. And those with a limited sense of their own mortality might enjoy leaping from the rocks into some of the deeper pools. Just be wary of handsome strangers; they could be kelpies.
The island of Raasay is a 25-minute ferry ride from Skye and well worth the excursion if you're seeking thrills. Raasay House offers an array of courses to satisfy energetic holidaymakers. These include half and full day activities such as coasteering, a mixture of rock-climbing, swimming and cliff-jumping (wet suits, crash helmets and buoyancy aids provided); climbing and abseiling on the cliffs below the ruins of Brochel Castle; and sea-kayaking courses exploring Raasay's coastline and the neighbouring islands. There are one-hour taster courses on offer too: try your hand at archery, or learn some bush craft skills. Less hair-raising activities include bird and deer watching.
• 01478 660300, raasay-house.co.uk. Courses from £25 for adults and £15 for under-16s; one-hour taster courses £15
The Skye Museum of Island Life
First opened in 1965, the Museum of Island Life at Kilmuir offers visitors a fascinating insight into life in a crofting township at the end of the 19th century. The museum comprises a series of thatched buildings, each representing a different aspect of island life. The largest building, the Croft House, shows how most islanders lived. The kitchen was the main room in the house, an open peat fire kept burning at all times. The Weaver's Cottage displays an array of instruments and tools associated with wool working, while in the Barn, visitors can learn about the crofting system. Visitors will also see a smithy and a ceilidh house.
• 01470 552206, skyemuseum.co.uk. Open from Easter to October, Monday-Saturday, 9.30am-4.30pm; adults £2.50, children £50p, concessions/groups £2
Sea Eagles, Portree
In 1975, the Nature Conservancy Council (now Scottish National Heritage) began its successful scheme to reintroduce sea eagles to Scotland. In 2010, SNH recorded 52 breeding pairs across the western Highlands and the Hebrides. Visitors to Portree can learn about these majestic creatures at the Aros Centre, and, if they are lucky, see them in the wild by taking a wildlife boat trip from Portree harbour. The RSPB's Sea Eagle Exhibition at Aros features live and recorded footage of sea eagles and includes information about the birds and their reintroduction. From Portree harbour, various operators (including Brigadoon and MV Stardust) run wildlife boat trips for visitors hoping to glimpse sea eagles and other sea birds, as well as otters, seals, porpoises and other wildlife.
• Aros: 01478 613649, aros.co.uk; the sea eagle exhibition runs from April-October, adults £4.75, under-12s free, children over 12/concessions/groups £3.50, RSPB members £2.50, family ticket £15. Brigadoon's (01478 612 641, portree-boat-trips.co.uk) two-hour wildlife-spotting trip: adults £18, children £10, family £50, concessions £16. MV Stardust's (07798 743858, skyeboat-trips.co.uk) 1½-hour white-tailed sea eagle trip costs £12
Talisker Distillery, Carbost
On the shore of Loch Harport, visitors will find the home of the "king o' drinks" at the Talisker Distillery. Robert Louis Stevenson actually named three kings in The Scotsman's Return from Abroad, his 1880 poem – Talisker, Islay and Glenlivet. Distillery tours take place daily throughout the year (less frequently in winter). They detail the history of the distillery and reveal (bar a few trade secrets of course) how Talisker is made. The distillery is in Carbost; but do combine a trip here with a visit to the nearby Talisker Bay where you will find a stunning sandy beach.
• 01478 614308, malts.com/taliskerwhisky/index.html. Open all year, adults £7, children (aged 8-17) £3, under-8s are not permitted to visit
Bearreraig Bay, Flodigarry and An Corran
Embrace your inner archaeologist and explore Skye's Jurassic past along the Trotternish peninsula. Start your exploring at Bearreraig Bay, where, if you are lucky, you may find belemnites, ammonites and bivalves. Or, if you prefer to avoid the steep climb down to the shore here, begin your explorations at Flodigarry instead. Next, head to the beach at An Corran, Staffin. At low tide, you can sometimes see the footprints of dinosaurs that roamed here 165 million years ago. They are usually visible after a storm, when sand and seaweed have been swept away. If your appetite for archaeology is still not sated, visit the Staffin Museum at Ellishadder, where you will find numerous fossil remains and more dinosaur footprints.
• Map: Trotternish & The Storr, OS Explorer 408. Staffin Museum: 01470 562321, borve.net/staffin-museum.co.uk. Opening times vary, call for details; further information at skyeecomuseum.co.uk,
Dun Beag, Struan
Dun Beag, near Struan, is one of Skye's best-preserved brochs. The Countess Vincent Baillet de Latour excavated the Iron Age structure between 1914 and 1920. Interestingly, coins found at the site featuring Henry II, Edward I, James VI (and I), George II and George III suggest that the broch was occupied until the 18th century. Dun Beag is easily reached by bicycle from Portree. On a fine day, the 10-mile cycle is a lovely excursion, affording beautiful views of the Cuillins and Loch Bracadale. If you are not too tired from the cycle, the larger, though more ruinous, Dun Mor can be found about 500 yards north of Dun Beag. Bicycles can be hired from Island Cycles in Portree.
• Map: Portree & Bracadale, OS Explorer 410. Island Cycles in Portree (01478 613121, islandcycles-skye.co.uk) hire bikes for £15 for 24 hours or £8.50 for five hours
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk