The concepts of power-levelling, grinding, and min-maxing your character have been an essential part of the Elder Scrolls series since its earliest days - and the inevitable streamlining we saw with Skyrim's release was never going to stamp it out. Much of the game's extraordinary longevity can be attributed to the fun that can be had at the higher levels, with the more interesting or outlandish skill perks unlocked.
This particular guide will take you through everything you need to know about levelling up both your character and every single individual skill as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A word of warning though: because enemies are themselves levelled in Skyrim - meaning their strength is tied to your own overall character level - power-levelling can make your life considerably harder in combat, particularly if you prioritise non-combat skills early on. We recommend you take frequent breaks from power-levelling to go clear some dungeons and explore, or at least focus on raising some combat-related skills from time to time, alongside the rest.
If you are playing the 2021 Anniversary Edition, we have explainers on features such as fishing.
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How to level up in Skyrim
Before diving into the specifics of each skill, it's worth taking a quick moment to explain how exactly Skyrim's levelling mechanic works.
Your character in Skyrim has both an overall level and a set of individual levels for each of the 18 skills. Those skills are roughly broken down into three disciplines, displayed under the starsigns for the Thief, Mage, and Warrior in-game, although aside from the benefits of the Standing Stones - which we'll discuss below - there's little other reason to worry about which 'class' your chose skills fall into.
That's because, unlike the Elder Scrolls games before it, Skyrim's levelling system is goverened almost entirely by your usage of the skills themselves. All characters level up their skills at the same speed with use, and as such you're able to, eventually, reach the maximum level of 100 in every skill tree.
Speaking of which, each individual skill has it's own skill tree that grants various Perks to the player. Levelling up your skills a certain number of times will level up your character, and each time your character levels up, you'll unlock a Skill Point to spend on a Perk within any skill tree of your choice. What Perks you can unlock within each skill tree is goverened by both that skil's level, and your progress along the tree itself.
With that in mind, you'll likely have two separate objectives when looking to level up: getting stronger in a certain skill, in order to do more damage with a bow or craft more potent potions, for instance; or unlocking a specific Perk within a skill tree, such as the additional 100 carry weight granted by the Extra Pockets Perk in the Pickpocket tree.
Where things get really interesting is the knock-on effects that levelling up some skills will have on others. The most frequently seen example is the combination of Smithing and Enchanting, which can also earn you a considerable amount of money and some Speech experience too, whilst a maxed-out Enchanting skill, for instance, can also make it significantly faster to level just about any Magicka-based skill.
When you've been through our tips for preparing ahead of the grind, below, you can find all of our skill-specific levelling guides here:
- Skyrim Crafting Skills - how to max Enchanting, Alchemy, and Smithing
- Skyrim Warrior Skills - how to max One-Handed, Archery and more
- Skyrim Mage Skills - how to max Destruction, Conjuration and more
- Skyrim Thief Skills - how to max Sneak, Speech, Lockpicking and Pickpocket
Want more help with Skyrim? Find out how to join every guild and faction, how to earn Gold fast, learning about XP and levelling to 100, max Crafting skills, max Warrior skills, max Thief skills and max Mage skills, how to get married, where to buy a house, how to start Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn DLC expansions. If you're on PC, we have a list of console commands and cheats, and you can learn about the remastered version and how to install mods with our Skyrim guide. Finally, with Switch owners, we have Skyrim amiibo support explained to help unlock special Zelda-themed items.
The fastest way to level 100 in every skill
Although skills will of course increase with regular usage, some are still far easier to level than others: archers, for instance, might find that thier Light Armor skill is almost never levelled because they're mostly taking out targets with one- or two-shot kills from stealth, whilst conjurers might find that their Conjuration skill is only trickling upwards because of how rarely they'll actually need to summon a new companion in battle.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take in-game, before you start grinding a skill, that can get you summoning Atronachs and prancing around the wilderness in weightless Light Armor in no time:
- Max your Enchanting, Alchemy and Smithing skills before you do anything else - The most important method for levelling is prioritising Enchanting and Smithing. Enchanting, in particular, is the key, with Smithing and Alchemy proving to be helpful additions that are also most efficiently levelled alongside Enchanting too. We strongly recommend using our Enchanting, Alchemy and Smithing levelling guide to max Enchanting at the very least, before you dive into grinding any other skills.
- Use Guardian Stones - The Warrior, Thief, and Mage Stones, located in a cluster Soutwest of Riverwood, increase your Combat, Stealth, and Magic skills 20% faster respectively (and are stackable with the rested bonuses below). The Lover Stone (incompatible with the resting bonuses below) increases all skills 20% faster meanwhile, which is better if you're looking to simply play through the game naturally or will be levelling two or three multi-discepline skills at the same time (such as Heavy Armor and Restoration).
- Take a nap - There are three bonuses available for sleeping in certain scenarios before you power level. 'Rested' grants a 5% bonus to skill experience for 8 hours after sleeping in someone else's bed. 'Well-Rested' grants 10% for 8 hours after sleeping in your own bed, and 'Lover's Comfort' grants 15% for 8 hours after sleeping with your husband or wife for a full night. Read our how to get married in Skyrim page for help getting this particular bonus.
- Find the Aetherial Crown to combine a Guardian Stone and Rested bonus - Normally, when you activate one Standing Stone, the previous bonus is removed. With the Aetherial Crown equipped however, the power which would normally be removed is transferred to the Crown instead, meaning two powers are available at a time. You can acquire the Aetherial Crown as one of three options for a reward, after completing the Dawnguard quest 'Lost to the Ages'. To add a Rested bonus too, you can active the Lover Stone, then the Stone you wish to combine with it, whilst wearing the Crown to store it. Next, remove the Crown, acquire your Rested bonus, then put the Aetherial Crown back on, and you'll have all three combined for a frankly huge levelling boost.
- Get grinding - For those hard-to-level skills, like the aforementioned Light Armour example for archers and assassins, you'll want to focus down on levelling that one in particular if you want to make progress. We've assembled guides for the Crafting Skills, Mage Skills, Warrior Skills, and Thief Skills separately, for you to peruse at your discretion.
Here's a quick table listing the Warrior, Thief, and Mage skills (note that some whilst Archery is listed as a Combat skill, it is affected by the Thief Stone, although it's seen as bug by many and may be fixed in the new Remastered edition's release):
|Warrior Stone||Thief Stone||Mage Stone|
By following those steps above, and then taking a look at our round up of the best ways to max Crafting Skills, Mage Skills, Thief Skills and Warrior Skills you'll be well on your way to crafting that Legendary Armour, banishing the undead and pickpocketing guards' weapons with ease.