Like most of the Highlands, the Isle of Skye is sparsely populated. The people who do live there tend to live in small towns and villages, all grouped together in some idyllic locale. The main town on the Isle of Skye is no different.
There are roughly 10,000 people who live on the Isle of Skye. For some comparison, the Isle of Skye is about half the size of Rhode Island, which claims a population of over 1,000,000 people. Of the people who live on Skye, 2,000 live in the town of Portree.
No one can really decide where the name of the town comes from. Some say that the name is derived from the Gaelic Port Righ, meaning “king’s harbor.” They claim that the name was given to the harbor when King James V visited the island in 1540. Others say that that’s a load of baloney, because the people on the Isle of Skye didn’t really like King James at the time, and that he received a less than warm welcome. Naming the town after him would be out of the question. Other people still – the Isle of Skye tourist webpage, namely – point out that the town has only been around since the early 19th century, and that the name comes from the name given to the harbor: Port Ruighe, meaning “port on the slope.” Don’t ask me to pronounce either of those names (I’ve bought a book on Gaelic, but haven’t figured out the pronunciation just yet – the one shortcoming of books). Personally, I can see the Port Righ option based on the spelling, but the story behind the Port Ruighe option makes more sense.
The town itself is very small – it takes about two minutes to walk from one end of downtown to the other – and there’s not much in it, aside from a few pubs and a few shops. I highly recommend the bookshop; the staff know what they’re about, and they have a good selection of Scottish authors, including a few from Skye! (In other words, they were enablers who fueled my urge to buy books by authors from the places I visit.) But one of the best things to do in Portree is to walk around the waterline.
Up the hill from the downtown area, there’s a lookout point from which you can take in the views of the cute little harbor that’s caused so much etymological contention over the years. It’s an easy walk, and can definitely be done in less than ten minutes (I managed to fit lunch, the walk, and the bookstore into my one free hour in town).
Down the hill from the downtown area there’s another lookout point where you can get those pictures that everyone dreams of capturing, of the reflection of the snow-capped mountains framed by little white cottages in the early morning light. Again, this walk can be done in less than 15 minutes – just go down the stairs between the two hostels from the main square, and you’ll see it.
If you’re visiting the Isle of Skye yourself, Portree will probably be the place you’ll come into. It’s the biggest town on the island, and the buses will all end up there. It’s also got the best range of accommodation, from B&Bs to hotels to hostels (which have better views than the hotels). There are bus services out of the Glasgow and Inverness bus stations that terminate in Portree.