NESTLING in a sheltered bay below Ben Tianavaig and Fingal’s Seat, Portree is the vibrant capital of Scotland’s most famous island.

Skye has long attracted Scots and international visitors to its mythical, brooding landscapes, of course, but it’s perhaps not until recently that its main town has received the attention it deserves.

Packed with natural and cultural attractions – including an abundance of the fine food the island has become globally renowned for – it’s an enticing and hospitable destination in itself rather than just a stop-off on the way to somewhere else.

The National: Ben Tianavaig, which looks down on Portree. Picture: Cameron McNeishBen Tianavaig, which looks down on Portree. Picture: Cameron McNeish

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Historic highlights

Meaning “King’s Port” in Gaelic, Port Righ as you’ll often see it displayed on road signs, has played an important role in Scottish history.

The town’s main drag, Bank Street, is home to MacNab’s Inn (now the site of the Royal Hotel) where Bonnie Prince Charlie bade farewell to Flora MacDonald during the second Jacobite rebellion.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Portree was the harbour from which many poor and destitute Highlanders set sail for North America.

These days the town is much more prosperous, with tourism, culture, fishing and farming providing a good living for the growing population of around 2,200.

Skye’s only secondary school is in Portree, while Harry Potter fans know it as home to the fictional professional quidditch team Pride of Portree.

What to do

On arrival in Portree a stroll round the pretty harbourside, with its cheerfully painted cottages, bobbing boats, Thomas Telford-designed pier and views over the Sound of Rasaay is a must.

If the weather is fine, jump aboard one of the pleasure boats that regularly leave from the harbour offering sightseeing trips. Most sail around the coastline of Skye, taking in the islands of Rasaay and Rona, and landmarks such the Cuillin mountains and the Old Man of Storr. Look out, too, for the seals, dolphins, minke whales, eagles and seabirds that call the island and its waters home. Go to for a list of vessels.

The National: The south edge of Ben TianavaigThe south edge of Ben Tianavaig

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If you’d rather stay on dry land, the two-mile Scorrybreac Circuit is an accessible walk that helps you fully appreciate Portree’s magnificent setting, with views across Loch Portree and beyond. In woods above the harbour you’ll come across the old Apothecary's Tower, built to let passing ships know medical supplies were available. Keep an eye out for sea eagles, too.

Youngsters, meanwhile, will love the Portree Treasure Hunt Trail, which takes around 90 minutes to complete and offers historical insights through a series of fun and solvable clues. All you have to do is grab a booklet at and you're off.

More serious history buffs will want to visit the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre (, which has records dating back to the 17th century and an extensive collection of photographs, many of which are on display.

If it’s a taste of Skye’s contemporary culture you’re after, Portree's bustling arts scene delivers on every level. 

The Skyeworks Gallery ( is the island’s biggest exhibition space and represents an eclectic rosta of artists, many of whom live and work on Skye.

Atlas Arts, meanwhile, showcases Skye’s impressive contribution to Scotland’s contemporary art scene, producing and commissioning a full programme of exhibitions and public projects.

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Where to eat

Situated on the quayside, Sea Breezes (, open from April) offers fabulous views as well as locally-sourced ingredients. The plump langoustines from the Sound of Rasaay, mussels from Loch Eishort and Skye oysters are as delicious and fresh as you’ll eat anywhere.

Dinner at Scorrybreac, just above the harbour, is also a memorable affair. Expect wonderful local seafood, simply and elegantly cooked, not to mention Skye-grown accompaniments. The venison served with red cabbage, juniper and chestnut is simply stunning.

The National: Skye, with its abundant seafood, has become a renowned destination for food touristsSkye, with its abundant seafood, has become a renowned destination for food tourists

If it’s a more casual fish supper you’re after, Alex Smith recommends The Chippy Portree on Bank Street. “I ordered a jumbo fish and it didn’t disappoint. The fish was fresh, the batter crispy and the chips super tasty. Great value. Eaten on a summer evening’s walk round the harbour after a great day’s walking in the hills, it is hard to beat as a food experience.”

Isle of Skye Baking Company on Dunvegan Road is pure shortbread heaven, with 12 different flavours to try, not to mention eight types of oatcakes. The homemade scones, breads and bannocks served in the café make for a delicious lunch or afternoon tea.

If it’s a breakfast bagel you’re looking for, The Red Brick Café @ Jans in Bloom Place has been pulling in the locals for years.

The bright décor and friendly atmosphere at Café Arriba on Quay Brae, meanwhile, is sure to lift your spirits even on a dreich day, and the food is just as cheerful.

Where to shop

For some foodie treats to take home, pay a visit to Relish on Wentworth Street. Be careful, though – while you’re browsing the shelves it can be hard to resist the delicious hot sausage rolls.

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You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to crafty gifts in Portree, with Cuillin Crafts, Isle of Skye Crafts, OR and the Isle of Skye Soap Company all stocking lovely locally-made products. The An t-eilean Gallery sells work by renowned photographer Ronald MacDonald.

Skye Batiks on The Green sells unique, colourful handmade and woven clothing and homeware, while you can easily lose an entire afternoon browsing in Carmina Gadelica (‘song of the Gael’), which has books and gifts as well as music.

Where to stay

Central: The Portee Hotel is friendly, traditional pub and inn that serves great food. Rooms from £100 a night.

Boutique: The Bosville Hotel and Marmalade Hotel both offer contemporary style and luxury in beautiful old buildings. Both have rooms from £135.

Cheap and cheerful: Portree Youth Hostel has a range of value accommodation, from small private en-suites to shared rooms, that particularly appeals to walkers. Many of the rooms have gorgeous views over the Sound of Rasaay, and all have USB charging points.

Vegetarian: The Old Croft House B&B, four miles from Portree, serves great excellent veggie breakfasts. From £65 a night.

What to do nearby

For stunning views of Portree and beyond from above, conquer Ben Tianavaig, one of the most accessible climbs on the island. The paths are mostly good and in fair weather it takes two to three hours to ascend the 424m.

The National: The isle of Rasaay is a short ferry sail from SkyeThe isle of Rasaay is a short ferry sail from Skye

Beautiful Rasaay, birthplace of the poet Sorley MacLean, is just a 25-minute ferry from Sconser and makes for a lovely day out. You’re assured a warm welcome from the 170 inhabitants, whether you’re looking to explore the history, flora and fauna of the island or just enjoy the peace and quiet and great views of Skye. There’s also the new Isle of Rasaay Distillery to visit, which even has its own luxury accommodation should you choose to make the most of your visit.