The first thing we need to set straight about Portree is that this is not a destination that is famous for attracting a party going crowd. The town is sometimes referred to as the capital of the island of Skye, but don’t put too much focus on the “capital” description: It’s nature and scenery that are at the center here on the Inner Hebrides.
That’s reflected, in fact, in a book: A Book of Silence, written by the British author Sara Maitland. She went to Skye after experiencing a strong desire for stillness.
It would seem that the mixture of silence, nature and scenery is a favorable one – at least if you ask the Brits. According to a survey by Virgin Travel Insurance in 2009, the Isle of Skye was one of the favorite destinations for travel hungry Brits (according to the same survey, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and New York’s Times Square were some of the largest disappointments for travelers).
The Isle of Skye, in fact, is one of Scotland’s biggest tourist destinations. Add the fact that Skye was recently voted fourth best island in the world by National Geographic magazine, and it should stand clear that any visitor could be in for a real treat.
Portree is known for its picturesque harbor, protected by the dominating cliffs of Ben Tianavaig. Cruise passengers who venture further on the island will find that Skye features a large number of monuments from the early Middle Ages. Castles are plentiful, with some of the more well-known including Dunvegan Castle, Armadale Castle, and Dunscaith Castle.
The different castles are a reminder that the island has not always been as peaceful and friendly as today. As different clans have ruled over different parts of the island, they have sometimes found their interests to be in conflict.
Another reminder of past times is the Gaelic language and culture that are still very much alive on Skye.
Skye has a population of close to 9,500 inhabitants, some 2,500 of which live in Portree.
Cruise ships drop anchor, passengers tender ashore to Portree. The town center is within easy access from the quay, where a pontoon provides easy embarkation and disembarkation. Tourist information and taxis are available quayside. There are a number of shops in Portree, selling locally made crafts.
- Skye Museum of Island Life gives a good overview of the island, its history and its inhabitants throughout the centuries. The museum consists of a group of old thatched cottages, with the dwelling house dating back to the middle of the 19th century. The museum is located about six miles north of the town of Uig.
- Another way to get an introduction to the Isle of Skye is to visit the Àros Experience, located just outside Portree. For anyone interested in music, film and exhibitions about the island, this is the place to visit. Àros also features a restaurant.
- Not far from the Skye Musuem of Island Life, you will find Duntulm Castle. Located at the northernmost tip of the island, on the Trotternish peninsula, the castle that was once the seat of the MacDonald clan is now a ruin. The castle was built in the 14th and 15th centuries.
- By car or coach, it’s some 36 miles/58 kilometers from Duntulm to Dunvegan Castle. One of the best-known castles on the Isle of Skye, Dunvegan is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. For close to 800 years the castle has been the stronghold of the Chiefs of MacLeod (who sometimes kept members of the MacDonald clan imprisoned in the dungeons). The castle gardens are worth exploring.
- To some, at least, Scotland is strongly associated with whisky. The local distillery on the Isle of Skye is Talisker, which has regular tours of the process of whisky making on the agenda.
- Well-known for its outstanding nature, the Isle of Skye is an excellent destination for hiking and walking. The local Tourist Information Centre will be able to give route advice.
- Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles are but some of the species that birdwatchers will be able to spot on the Isle of Skye. In other words, the island is a paradise for anyone with an interest in birds. If you’re more interested in marine wildlife, you will not be disappointed: This destination has been acclaimed as the best marine wildlife watching destination in Europe. Species in the waters off the island include whales, dolphin, basking shark and seals.
A range of shore excursions can be available on the Isle of Skye. Examples include:
- By coach or car, experience the scenic surroundings of this northernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. Some excursions will continue to the Scottish mainland and the West Highlands.
- Some tours of the island will include one or several of the castles that can be found here. Dunvegan Castle is a popular destination on shore excursions (see above, under Do Not Miss). Eilean Donan Castle, on the Scottish mainland, can be another option.
- Some of the excursions on the island will include a stop at the Talisker Distillery (see above under Do Not Miss).
Across the Scottish Highlands, the distance to Scotland’s capital Edinburgh is some 235 miles/380 kilometers. It’s more than double the distance to London: 600 miles/965 kilometers.
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