As mythical sounding as you might think from their name, the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye are an easy foot hike through the Glen Brittle forest to pristine, turquoise-blue swimming holes. You can practically feel the Scottish legends and Celtic myths coming to life around you. To feel the natural magic of the landscape, here’s how to walk to the Fairy Pools … as well as what else to do nearby when visiting the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
Where Are the Fairy Pools?
An easy 1.5-mile, roundtrip walk from the parking lot, the magical Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye are a delightful walk near the village of Carbost in Glenbrittle. These beautiful rock pools full of crystal-clear, turquoise spring water running from the Cuillin Mountains feel as enchanting as their name suggests.
If you’re in Portree, drive north and then west towards Carbost. Just before town, turn south toward Glenbrittle. Parking is available in the Forestry Commission Fairy Pools car park 5.5 miles from Carbost – look for the sign reading “Glumagan Na Sithichean/Fairy Pools.” Your walk starts at the car park along a gravel path bordered with heather, peat and rocks. After about 20 minutes of walking, you’ll reach the largest waterfall and the start of the pools. The smaller pools are a bit farther on. If you’re looking for especially bracing wild swimming, feel free to dip into the icy water. Some even brave the height of the first waterfall to jump into the deep pool and go swimming. The next pool up the path is the most famous for its beautiful blue water and natural arch – the water is so brilliantly clear, you can see every moss-colored stone on the bottom. As you’re walking, expect some stepping stones across the water in places.
What Else Can I Do Near the Fairy Pools?
Once you’ve explored the magical Fairy Pools and possibly gone swimming, return to Portree for some more, authentic Isle of Skye experiences. This is the isle’s largest town and its cultural center. Use it as your base for exploring the rest of the island. Overlooking a sheltered bay, this capital of Skye is surrounded by the Ben Tianavaig hills to the south, the Suidh Fhinn (Fingal’s Seat) to the west and Ben Chrachaig hills to the north. Look out across the bay and you can see the Island of Raasay, known by its conical hill, Dun Caan.
North of Portree, visit Trotternish Ridge, with its Kilt Rock and Old Man of Storr rock formations. The Trotternish Peninsula features sea-battered basalt columns, where the colors appear to be tartan (so Scottish!), hence the name Kilt Rock. Listen carefully – when the wind blows, some say they can hear a haunting sound, similar to bagpipes. Walk to the cliff viewpoint to look at Mealt Falls, a 328-foot waterfall over Kilt Rock.
The Trotternish is also home to the spectacular Old Man of Storr, a 164-foot-tall rock pinnacle that bears a striking resemblance to an elder’s profile. The outcrop of basalt is the highest point on the ridge and was formed by a huge landslide eons ago. It’s a local favorite hiking destination.
While you’re in the area, take the scenic drive over Quiraing, part of the Trotternish Ridge and brimming with photo opportunities. Be aware the narrow road features a number of hairpin turns and 17 percent gradients.
Venture into the Black Cuillins, more rugged and dramatic than the Red Cuillans, which are more gentle. Together, these ranges make up the Cuillin Mountains. Some jagged, some sloping, the hills are all about the same height – the tallest is Sgurr Alasdair at 3,255 feet.
Go further into the local legends of Skye at Fairy Glen (or Faerie Glen), also on the Trotternish Peninsula. The believe in the existence of fairies dates back ages – they were believed to live deep in the heather fields of Fairy Glen. Walk this otherworldly landscape, off the A87 south of Uig.
Also in the north end of Skye, in the sea loch between the Waternish and Durinish peninsulas, you’ll find the village of Dunvegan. There’s a wide range of accommodations here, making it another choice jumping-off point for Isle of Skye wanderings. Buses run daily from here to Portree. Perhaps the most popular attraction here is the Dunvegan Castle, the ancestral seat of the MacLeod clan. During your visit, look for the famous Fairy Flag, which is said to call fairies to the clan’s side for battle. There are plenty of walking trails here, as well as countless cake shops, art galleries, studios and craft shops. Pick up a picnic at Dunvegan Bakery and make your way to the Claigain coral beaches for a picnic.
On the Minginish Peninsula, explore Carbost, known for the Talisker distillery, the oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye. The visitor center is a favorite sightseeing attraction for lovers of single malt Scottish whiskey. While you’re here, explore further in Fiscavaig and Portnalong, with their low-lying hills and superb sunsets over Loch Bracadale.
Other Isle of Skye Highlights
- The Old Sligachan Bridge: Great views toward the Black Cuillin mountains
- Armadale Castle: Abandoned and hauntingly beautifully, with lovingly maintained gardens
- Elgol Beach: Located in a sea loch, a serene beach with views of the Cuillian Mountains, as well as the site of the Boonie Prince Charlies cave, used by a prince before his death
- Loch Coruisk: A deep loch that many don’t seem to know about, rich in fairy lore – reach it by boat from Elgol
- Camas Daraich Beach: Another favorite spot for wild swimming for hardy souls – walk in from the road
- Neist Point Lighthouse: Guarding the western tip of Skye by Glendale, one of the country’s most beautiful lighthouses – plus, an excellent spot to look for whales, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds
- Rubha Hunish: The northernmost point of Skye, accessible via a 5.25-mile walk and a prime spot for seeing minke, orca and humpback whales