The Fairy Pools are arguably one of the most popular attractions on the Isle of Skye. Located in Glen Brittle, over 200,000 tourists visit these magical pools every year. And, as you’d imagine, this level of tourism is inevitably taking a toll on the natural environment and visitor experience.
As somebody who has worked seasonally on the Isle of Skye for a few years now, I’ve visited in all seasons. As word about these crystal clear waters has spread far and wide, I constantly get asked are Skye’s Fairy Pools worth the visit?
If you’re hoping to tick the Fairy Pools off of your bucket list, this post will tell you everything you need to know. From the best time to go, the wild swimming experience and the logistics of planning your visit, it’s all covered in this comprehensive post.
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A Guide to the Isle of Skye’s Magical Fairy Pools
What are the Fairy Pools?
The Isle of Skye’s Fairy Pools are a series of deep blue pools found on the River Brittle. Water flows down from the epic Black Cuillin Mountains and through the Fairy Pools on its way to meet the sea at Glen Brittle Beach. Thanks to the clear turquoise waters and stunning backdrop, the pools are popular with wild swimmers and photographers alike.
Although these pools have long been one of Skye’s major tourist attractions, after photographs of the turquoise blue water shadowed by purple trees went viral online (spoiler: they were fake), Skye’s popularity rocketed in a new way.
Fairy Pools Legend
Ask many of the locals about the legend behind the Fairy Pools and they will probably look at you with puzzlement. Although some legends such as the ones behind Spar Cave, Sligachan Bridge or even Dunscaith Castle are well-acknowledged, many locals attribute the name of these pools to clever marketing tactics and the clarity of the water.
However, if you dig online, you can see that some have hypothesised about a mythical link to the Fairy Pools. Selkies are a type of mythological creature which disguise themselves as seals during the day before shedding their skins at night and metamorphosing into their human form.
It has been rumoured that they come to the Fairy Pools to bathe in the light of the full moon.
Best Time to Visit the Fairy Pools, Glen Brittle
While Scotland sees the majority of its visitors during the summer season and particularly the in months of July and August, this is definitely not the best time to visit. The Scottish midges are out in force as are hoards and hoards of tourists.
It will take an age to drive anywhere, you’ll need to book everything months in advance and you’ll share all of the beautiful tourist attractions with crowds that would make you think George Clooney was hiding around the corner.
Spoiler alert: He might be. Keep an eye out for helicopters flying A-list celebs about the island!
October to March is arguably the best time to visit, as this is the off season. While many accommodation options and other tourism businesses will be closed during winter on the Isle of Skye, this is often worth the trade-off for the quieter days, more peaceful atmosphere and an absence of midges.
To keep it simple, I’ve broken down what you can expect from a visit to the Fairy Pools in each season.
|Big crowds||More daylight hours|
|Competition for car park|
|Fewer crowds||Pleasant temperature|
|Fewer midges||Days are still getting longer|
|Fewer crowds||Pleasant temperature – warmer than spring|
|Less midges||Days are still getting longer|
|No crowds||Bad weather is more likely|
|No midges||Short days|
|See the Fairy Pools freeze||Very cold|
|More chance to see wildlife|
Visiting the Fairy Pools in winter offers a completely different experience. If it gets cold enough, the pools actually freeze. And the best thing? The off season means that you are likely to get them all to yourself!
Wild Swimming in the Fairy Pools
The Fairy Pools are one of the most photogenic spots for wild swimmers in the whole of Scotland. And, it is easy to see why, the crystal clear water is something that dreams are made of! Be warned though, swimming in the Fairy Pools is not for the faint of heart… the water is cold year-round and rarely gets above 11°C. You’ll want to remember your wetsuit!
Even though incidents are rare, it would be negligent of me to not mention that there are risks associated with swimming in the Fairy Pools. The waterfalls can be surprisingly strong and it is possible to get caught in a whirlpool. This was sadly the case for PC Shazad Saddique who drowned in the pools back in 2019.
There are no lifeguards at the pools so wild swimming comes at your own risk. This is only recommended if you are a confident swimmer with wild swimming experience.
Fairy Pools Walk
Although there are detailed directions for this walk on Walk Highlands, they probably aren’t needed in this instance. Simply follow the path from the car park up the manmade trail. Parts of the trail are connected by stepping stones which can be slippery in muddy conditions. Unfortunately, this does mean that the Fairy Pools are off-limits for wheelchair users and those with pushchairs.
The hike to the top of the falls is an out and back trail which can be completed in around 40 minutes with no stops. It will take around an hour with frequent stops for photo taking. If you wanted to continue your hike, search for the Fairy Pools and Coire na Creiche route on Walk Highlands.
Overtourism at the Fairy Pools
Sadly, it is impossible to talk about visiting the Fairy Pools on Skye without acknowledging the huge overtourism issue that is plaguing both individual tourist attractions and the island at large. As visitor numbers continue to increase, this fragile ecosystem is beginning to suffer.
As more and more of the landscape is trampled by increased footfall, it becomes harder for plant life to grow. This means that parts of the river bank are now devoid of vegetation. It presents a number of challenges for those in charge of land maintenance.
Using funding from the nearby car park, a wide path has been constructed from the road’s edge right up to the main part of the falls. While this should limit further damage to the main trail, you still see visitors diverting from the path to overtake the crowds.
During the summer season, the Fairy Pools get incredibly busy. Unless you visit first thing in the morning, it is all but impossible to get a car parking space and the experience is marred by huge crowds of people.
The situation isn’t this bad year-round though. If you are somebody who doesn’t enjoy large crowds, you should avoid visiting Skye during the summer months.
Fairy Pools FAQs
What are the opening hours of the Fairy Pools?
The Fairy Pools are open around the clock.
How much does the car park cost?
The car park is run by the Minginish Community Hall Association and costs £5. All money generated goes into maintaining the pools and path.
Are there any facilities close to the Fairy Pools?
There has long been talk of installing toilets in the car park at the Fairy Pools. At present, this has not yet been done. There are no cafes, restaurants or toilets within close walking distance of the pools. The nearest pub is the Old Inn in Carbost which I definitely recommend for a drink and a bite to eat. As for cafes and coffee shops, head to either Cuillin Coffee Co in Glen Brittle or Caora Dhubh Coffee Company in Carbost.
Can I take my dog to the Fairy Pools?
The Fairy Pools are dog-friendly.
How do I get to the Fairy Pools?
The Fairy Pools are around a 10 minute drive from Carbost and half an hour from Portree. If you are travelling from the Skye bridge, the journey is around 50 minutes. Bear in mind that if you are visiting in the summer, the roads get very busy and journeys will likely take longer.
Although most people visiting the Fairy Pools will drive, there is the option to hop on a tour with a company like Rabbies.
What accommodation is near to the Fairy Pools?
This is a great budget choice for backpackers, located just one mile from one of Skye’s top beaches, Glen Brittle. A popular choice in the area for walkers and climbers, the hills are on your doorstep.
This hillside cottage benefits from wonderful lochside views. Located in Sconser, it will take around 20 minutes to drive to the Fairy Pools.
Sligachan Hotel £££
For a luxury choice, head to the Sligachan Hotel. Home to a micro-brewery, bar and restaurant, it is an ideal choice for foodies. The hotel sits next to the enchanting Sligachan Bridge.
Have you visited the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye? What was your experience?