Are you planning a trip to Scotland and find it a bit overwhelming? Here are 36 tips to make the task a little easier – an A-Z of Scotland Trip Planning full of advice ranging from accommodation to – yes – even zombies.
Scotland trip planning can be approached in many different ways. You might start with a timeframe or budget, a lengthy bucket list or a single idea of a specific place you’d like to visit.
This guide to planning a trip to Scotland takes you through some of the most important questions and points to consider. We’ll cover everything from when to start booking things like flights or accommodation, to how to choose which destinations to visit and what experiences to make time for. You’ll also find lots of practical advice about transportation, sightseeing and route planning.
In addition to these trip planning tips, also check out the following useful resources:
- Download my free trip planning checklist and follow it step-by-step.
- Get my Scotland Resource Library full of useful resources and a workbook to keep track of your progress.
- Buy one of my ready-made itineraries to take the guessing game out of planning your route.
- Invest in a trip planning session with me to get help planning a trip that fulfils your wildest travel dreams!
A like Accommodation
You can pick places to stay ranging from high-end luxury hotels to boutique B&Bs, basic guest houses, traditional inns, self-catering cottages, and hostels. Depending on the time of the year of your visit, you must book accommodation well in advance.
I use booking.com to find independent B&Bs, hotels or guesthouses all over Scotland. Click here for some of my favourite places to stay in Scotland.
A like Attraction passes
Visiting castles and attractions, most of which charge an entrance fee, can quickly add up.
It might be worth investing in an annual membership for the National Trust for Scotland, an annual Historic Environment Scotland membership, or a short term Historic Scotland Explorer Pass.
Note though, that privately owned castles are not included in these castles.
B like Best time to visit
Deciding on the time you’ll visit is one of the first steps of successful Scotland trip planning.
The best time to visit Scotland depends on many things including your budget and what you’d like to experience. My personal favourites are the late Spring/early Summer (April-June) and late summer into autumn/fall (mid-August-November).
Read more about why – and what other seasons have to offer here. (See also, Seasons)
B like Booking things
It is important to book as much of your trip in advance as possible – especially if you have a set budget or a specific route in mind. This includes places to stay, tickets for public transport or ferries, tours and attractions, and sometimes even dinner reservations. (See also, Eating out)
My Scotland Resource Library contains an overview of what to book when.
B like Budgeting
The total cost of your trip depends on where you travel from, your chosen transport mode, the standard of accommodation you desire, and of course your general spending habits.
Here are some average prices of common expenses:
- Accommodation: Double Room incl. Breakfast – £120-200 (for 2 people)
- Meals: 2 courses + drinks in a mid-range restaurant – £50-70 (for 2 people)
- Rental car: Expect £70-100 per day including insurance, although currently it may be more.
- Petrol: Click here to check up-to-date average petrol prices.
C like Car Hire
Personally, I think hiring a car is the most convenient way to get around, especially if you plan to explore the Scottish Highlands. Here is everything you need to consider when renting a car in Scotland. Remember, you most likely won’t need an international driver’s licence (check the full rules here), and the smaller car you can squeeze into the better – Scottish country roads are often narrow.
If you worry about driving on the left side, the driving guide by Tripiamo is a brilliant resource to give you peace of mind. It contains short and easy to follow video lessons that explain everything from common road signs, traffic rules, how to drive in a roundabout and more. You’ll particularly enjoy the guided drives with real footage from British roads – this will give you a sense for what it’s like to sit on the other side of the car.
D like the Duration of your trip
There is an easy answer to this question: as much time as you can. Spend at least one week or up to 10 days to get a good overview of what Scotland has to offer.
With fewer days, you will have to adjust your expectations accordingly and plan to cover less ground. There is so much to see, it would be a shame to rush through the country. (See also, Less is more)
E like Eating out
Scottish food is excellent! If you eat meat and seafood, order traditional Scottish dishes like haggis, Cullen skink (a creamy fish soup), steak and ale pie, fresh seafood, and of course the famous chicken tikka masala. If you are vegan, find out how easy it is to travel Scotland as a vegan.
You can make bookings at most restaurants via their website and I recommend doing this if you’re looking to eat out on a weekend or holiday, if you’re visiting a popular destination, and if your heart is set on a specific restaurant.
F like Finding flights and picking airports
Most people arrive at Glasgow airport or Edinburgh airport, the two largest international airports in Scotland. I generally recommend flying into Edinburgh airport as it’s located most conveniently for trips that start and finish in Glasgow and/or Edinburgh.
There are also international airports in Inverness and Aberdeen which are well-located if your itinerary focuses on the north-west or the north-east respectively.
Click here for my flight booking tips.
G like Gaelic language and culture
Gaelic is the native language of the Scottish Highlands and islands. Not all Scots speak Gaelic today, but it is still widely spoken in the Outer Hebrides, the West Highland Peninsulas, parts of the Isle of Skye and on the Small Isles.
Some useful Gaelic words are ‘Slàinte’ which means ‘Cheers’ and ‘Tapadh leat’ which means ‘Thank you’. You can learn more on Duolingo!
G like Guided tours
If you’d rather not take care of transport yourself (or want a day’s break from driving), there are many tour companies taking people around Scotland on day or multi-day trips. It’s a “carefree” option because everything is taken care of for you – transport, itinerary and in some cases even accommodation or meals.
My favourite recommendation is Rabbie’s. They’re driver-guides are excellent and they only use 16-seater buses, which guarantees small groups. Their scheduled tours leave from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness. (See also, Tour guides)
H like Hidden gems for your itinerary
Do more than the typical bucket list items, like Edinburgh, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye. They are all beautiful, but Scotland has so much more to offer and it’s easy to go off the beaten track!
Check out these 20 trip ideas that are a bit out of the ordinary, or use one of my ready-made Scotland itineraries to make sure you discover hidden gems along your route. (See also, Itineraries)
H like Hiking
Scotland looks beautiful from the roadside, but nothing beats immersing yourself in the stunning landscapes of dramatic mountains, rugged coastlines and tranquil forests. But never underestimate the power of Scottish nature – from the unpredictability of the weather to sudden drops in the landscape. It’s important to stay safe!
My number 1 online resource for trail descriptions is Walk Highlands which also has a great page on mountain safety in Scotland. Click here for more essential hiking tips and here for my favourite hiking routes around Scotland.
If hiking and immersing yourself in nature is your top priority, check out my Mountains & Lochs itinerary.
I like Island hopping
There are over 900 islands in Scotland, most of which are uninhabited. Since many of them are within easy reach from the mainland and/or from each other, it is easy to do some island hopping in Scotland, for example round the Inner Hebrides or in the Outer Hebrides.
There are two major ferry operators, Northlink Ferries (to Orkney & Shetland) and CalMac (to the Inner & Outer Hebrides), as well as a number of smaller private operators servicing islands up and down the coast of Scotland. If possible, ferry tickets should be booked in advance (especially when travelling with a car).
Find more tips for using Scottish ferries here and an overview of Scottish islands here.
I like Itineraries
Check out my handy and easy-to-follow Scotland itineraries that will save you heaps of time on research, without compromising the quality of your trip. There are ten routes to chose from and each focuses on a different area or topic to explore in Scotland. They are all designed by my, full of personal recommendations and super easy to follow. Extras include a list of suggested accommodations and handy Google maps.
Take my Scotland Itinerary Quiz to find out where you should go!
J like Jeans
Avoid packing jeans – they are heavy and dry very slowly. I recommend packing in layers. That way you will be prepared for any kind of weather and can add or remove one or multiple layers as needed. Good waterproofs are non-negotiable.
Click here for my sample packing list & heaps of packing tips for Scotland.
K like Kathi’s Itinerary Planning Service
Planning a trip to Scotland can be overwhelming. There are so many things to do and places to see, where should you begin?
Let me take the pain out of travel planning for you! I offer Itinerary Planning Services including route planning and accommodation research to help you plan a trip that is 100% tailored to you. Find out more here.
L like Learning experiences
Travel is one of the best ways to learn more about the world, the environment and other cultures, so try to make time for a learning experience while you’re visiting Scotland. This could be something small, like a history tour or a cooking class, or a more in-depth experience led by scientists, like a whale watching cruise, stargazing experience or a geology tour. Find more ideas here.
L like Less is more
Many people wrongly assume that “seeing more” requires them to move on often and visit many different places. In reality, this just means that you have less time in each place and may end up feeling rushed. Less is more when you visit Scotland – slow down and explore each area you visit more in depth.
M like Money
Scotland uses British Pound as currency, just like England, Wales and Northern Ireland (GBP, £). Three different Scottish banks print their own banknotes, which means Scottish pound notes look different to English pound notes. You can look at the Scottish banknotes here: Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank, and Royal Bank of Scotland.
It’s useful to carry a small amount of cash with you – I recommend withdrawing some from a local cash machine (ATM). Debit and credit card payments are widely accepted, and so are Apple and Google Pay. Mastercard and Visa are the most commonly used cards.
N like Navigating transport options
You could hire a GPS with your rental car, or use Google Maps on your phone. Reception in the Highlands and on islands can be patchy, but you can download Google Maps areas for offline use. Of course, it never hurts to have a traditional paper map as backup.
For public transport, I recommend using the public transport directions on Google Maps, Traveline for rural buses and the ScotRail app to double check train times (and find out about any cancellations or delays).
O like Outdoor activities
Scotland is beautiful from the roadside, but I highly recommend planning some time for outdoor activities to really immerse yourself in the Scottish scenery. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme – a short walk or hiring an e-bike would do.
There are endless opportunities for outdoor activities in Scotland like hiking, sea kayaking, cycling, paddleboarding or swimming. (See also, Hiking)
P like Public transport
Public transport in Scotland offers an extensive network of buses, trains and ferries, which is reliable and safe to use. Combining trains, buses and ferries you can travel the entire country – you might just need a bit more time and flexibility to reach every destination on my itineraries. Check out my complete guide to exploring Scotland by public transport for detailed advice.
Q like Questions to ask yourself before your trip
I’m sure you want to plan a trip that fulfils your travel dreams. These questions are a good place to get you started:
- What brings you to Scotland? What enticed you to visit?
- When can you travel and how much time do you have?
- What do you want to get out of your trip?
- Are there any must-see places or experiences on your wish list?
- What’s your budget and what kind of spending do you prioritise?
- How would you like to get around?
(See also, Your priorities)
R like Road trips
I love exploring Scotland by car and there are endless opportunities for scenic drives all over the country. There is no shortage of epic road trip routes in Scotland.
From the famous North Coast 500 which loops around the far north-west of Scotland’s Highlands, to the North East 250 in Aberdeenshire or the South West Coastal 300 in Dumfries & Galloway. (See also, Itineraries)
S like Scottish regions
Scotland is made up of many varied landscapes from the tall peaks of the Scottish Highlands and rugged coastlines of the north-west to the endless sandy beaches of the east coast and the lush rolling hills of southern Scotland.
There are many destinations and regions waiting to be explored – check out my overview of Scottish regions here!
S like Seasons
Every season in Scotland has a different appeal. From seasonal wildlife experiences to recurring events, there are many reasons why you may prefer one season over the other. If you are visiting Scotland with a purpose, make sure that the time of the year is right for you.
My Scotland Travel Resource Library includes a month-by-month overview to help you decide. (See also, Best time to visit, Weather and Your Priorities)
T like Tour guides
Hiring a private tour guide for your trip to Scotland can massively enrich your experience here. Note that there are driver guides, who also offer transport and step-on guides, who will join you in your vehicle or for walking tours.
On average, expect to pay £100-200 for a full day with a step-on guide, and around £500 per day for a private driver guide (plus their accommodation on overnight trips).
My Scotland Resource Library contains a few personal recommendations for private drivers. (See also, Guided tours)
U like Unicorn
Did you know that the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland? Of course, they are incredibly hard to spot…
Instead, focus on more realistic wildlife sightings, like puffins and gannets, seals, whales and basking sharks, red deer and red squirrels – among many others. Wild Scotland is a great platform to find responsible wildlife tour providers.
U like Useful resources
Wonder where to book flights, hire cars, accommodation, train tickets, or activities?
Check out my Travel Resources page for my preferred car hire platforms, local transport companies, booking platforms, tour companies and activity providers.
For more detailed advice, check out my Scotland Resource Library, book an itinerary review with me or buy one of my ready-made itineraries.
V like Visa requirements
All US, Canada, Australia, EU, EEA and Swiss nationals (except Irish citizens) will need a valid passport to enter the UK and can remain for up to 6 months without a visa. Irish citizens just need a national ID card.
If you hold a different passport, check if you need a visa to enter the UK here.
W like Weather
Scottish weather is unpredictable. You may experience all four seasons in a day at any time of the year.
Maybe you’re anxious to plan your trip around the best weather period, but the truth is that it will probably rain during your trip, no matter when you visit. It can be cold and wet in June, or gloriously sunny in November. (See also, Best time to visit and Seasons)
X like Xmas (or Christmas)
The Christmas period is a lovely time to visit Scotland. There are countless Christmas markets and winter festivals to attend. But note that restaurants are busier than usual, daylight hours are very limited and many businesses close down between Christmas and New Year, including eateries, tours and tourist attractions.
Check out my tips for winter travel if you’re planning a trip around Christmas time.
Y like Your Priorities
Being clear about your priorities is the most important step to successful Scotland trip planning.
Is there a specific place you want to visit? A dish you want to try? An activity you want to do? Don’t just think about destinations, but about experiences that will make your trip memorable.
In other words, make your own bucket list – or rather, wish list – than blindly following someone else’s!
Read up on different Scottish regions and make an informed decision on where to go. Choose destinations that tick the boxes that are important to you.
Z like Zombies
Did you know that Brad Pitt’s zombie movie World War Z was filmed in Glasgow?
Luckily we don’t really have zombies in Scotland – but there aren’t that many words starting with ‘z’ 😅
Scottish folklore is full of mythical creatures and tricksters, like kelpies and faeries. It’s well worth learning about these myths and legends to better understand Scottish traditions.
You might also like: 25+ Movies filmed in Scotland
And now, I leave you to plan your trip to Scotland like a pro. Any questions – drop them, in the comments!
Happy trip planning!
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