Experience Scotland without breaking the bank! This list of 50 useful money-saving tips will show you how to travel Scotland on a budget and still get the most out of your adventure!
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A holiday in Scotland does not have to cost a fortune! You just need to know when you can easily save some money, and when it’s worth to splurge on a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Read on for an expansive list of budget travel advice for Scotland, including:
- Saving money on transport around Scotland,
- Booking budget-friendly accommodation,
- eating out and going for drinks,
- the best (free) activities, tourist attractions and tours,
- how to safe on entrance fees,
- tips for shopping and exchanging currency,
- and lots of specific tips for Edinburgh and Glasgow on a budget.
Please note, that these tips are all related to budget-friendly choices IN Scotland.
If you need help finding cheap airfare TO Scotland, check out this post about finding affordable flights!
Book approx. 9 months in advance with Aer Lingus (AER LINGUS US or AER LINGUS CANADA).
Budget-Friendly Transport Options in Scotland
1 | Pick up and drop off your rental car at the same destination.
One-way car rentals are always subject to additional fees. I always find the best deals on Auto Europe, which compares prices from different agencies and offers separate (and affordable) insurance.
2 | Compare petrol prices online here to find the best rates.
3 | Always book inter-city train tickets in advance.
It’s usually cheaper and less stressful. I find them to be cheapest around 12 weeks in advance and I always book via Trainline. They send you a code which you can use to pick up your tickets at any ticket terminal throughout Scotland.
The only exception is the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow – it’s the same price even if you buy your ticket on the same day.
4 | Take trains at off-peak times.
Scotrail Off-Peak time starts after 9.15 am on weekdays and any time on weekends. Exceptions apply for trains leaving Glasgow and Edinburgh’s central stations during after-work hours.
Check here for everything you need to know about off-peak train travel.
Get in touch and let me help you plan a trip that is 100% YOU!
5 | Look into Scotrail Travel Passes & RailCards
Scotrail offers travel passes which include trains as well as many bus and ferry routes and are valid for several days. If you plan to use a lot of public transport, a travel pass might be a cheaper option!
There are also RailCards which can pay off if you use several trains.
However, it pays off to double-check whether buying individual tickets might be cheaper.
6 | Choose buses over trains to save money on public transport.
You can get really cheap bus fares between Scottish cities in advance, for example with Megabus, Stagecoach, National Express or Scottish Citylink.
7 | Browse BlaBlaCar for budget-friendly carpooling options.
8 | Plan a cycling trip or walking holiday.
Transport in Scotland could not be any cheaper! I travelled for two weeks around the Outer Hebrides on foot and only spent £600 – and I didn’t even try my hardest to travel on a budget, so it would be possible to get by with even less.
Finding Budget-Friendly Accommodation
9 | Book your accommodation well in advance.
Especially if you plan to travel during the summer months or visit popular destinations like Skye, Glencoe or Inverness. The earlier you book, the more likely you. can choose different options and potentially save on accommodation cost.
I recommend booking accommodation for the summer (May-September) by January.
Find accommodation on the Isle of Skye here!
10 | Don’t rule out hostels.
Hostels are by far the cheapest accommodation option. There are many independent hostels and Hostelling Scotland offers high-quality accommodation all over Scotland.
11 | Many hostels also have private rooms.
Many hostels also offer private rooms with shared or private bathroom facilities. And often these are still much cheaper than a B&B!
Also, they include self-catering facilities and sometimes even free breakfast.
Many of the hostels I have stayed at in Scotland are aimed at mature travellers and families, rather than young party people.
12 | Family rooms can be a lot cheaper than booking multiple rooms.
If staying at hotels and B&Bs and travelling with kids or in groups of 3 or 4, ask if there are family rooms available. Often they have twin/double rooms and enough space to add 1 or 2 beds. This is usually cheaper than booking 2 double rooms.
13 | Longer stays are often cheaper, especially in self-catering accommodation.
Many cabins and cottages will even only rent out by the week during the summer.
14 | Check AirBnB for good deals, especially in cities and for self-catering stays.
However, make sure you book with hosts who have a good rating and preferably at sites that are either independently owned.
In Edinburgh, AirBnB is having an effect on the local housing market. If you can’t avoid AirBnB in Edinburgh, try to book an apartment from someone who is just going on a holiday, rather than booking agency-owned apartments that should otherwise be on the long-term housing market.
Check out my favourite unique places to stay in Scotland – from hostels to B&Bs!
Sign up here and get £25 towards your first trip!
15 | Don’t rely on popular booking platforms.
Check accommodation availability on the VisitScotland website. They have access to the booking systems used by many small hotels and B&Bs. I have found amazing deals and options that I hadn’t spotted on regular online travel agents’ websites.
16 | Hunt for special deals on voucher platforms.
17 | Rough it, bring your tent and go wild camping.
18 | Sleep in a bothy for FREE.
There is a wide network of basic mountain cabins across the Scottish mountains and islands. It is free to stay there, but you will have to bring basic supplies with you.
The Scottish Bothy Bible contains a list of them all plus info on how to get there, what supplies you need to bring and what to do in the area!
Saving Money on Food & Drink
19 | Book self-catering accommodation.
That way you can save money by preparing your own meals instead of eating out for every meal.
20 | Shop for restaurant vouchers.
21 | Take it away.
Restaurants can be pricey. Food markets and takeaway restaurants (for example, fish & chip shops) are a cheaper alternative!
22 | Make it a meal deal.
Many supermarkets have special meal deals, which usually include a sandwich or wrap, a piece of fruit or a bag of crisps and a drink. It’s not very eco-friendly as everything is individually wrapped, but a quick solution for an emergency snack.
23 | Bring a reusable coffee cup
Many coffee shops will give you a discount for using a reusable coffee cup.
24 | Tap water is safe to drink all over Scotland.
It’s not only more eco-friendly to fill a reusable water bottle with it throughout your holiday – it’s also cheaper than buying plastic bottles or ordering drinks at restaurants.
25 | Choose local beers at pubs.
Local beers are usually cheaper than imported beers, wine or spirits. Lager beer, such as Tennents, is usually more affordable than speciality ales or craft beers.
Cheap import beer on draft includes Amstel, Heineken and Fosters.
26 | Ask for the malt of the month.
Most pubs have a different whisky on special offer each month.
Planning a Budget-Friendly Itinerary & Activities
27 | Visit Scotland in the off-season.
The busier summer months (May to August), as well as December around Christmas and Hogmanay, are generally more expensive for accommodation, activities and transport.
Read my tips for visiting Scotland in off-season.
28 | Avoid tourist magnets.
If you visit during the summer, try to avoid popular areas that struggle with over-tourism – visit those in off-season instead to avoid the crowds!
This includes the Isle of Skye, Fort William and Edinburgh.
If you still want to visit these places, two tips: 1) book early and 2) stay longer (4+ nights) to explore more in-depth.
29 | Go off the beaten track.
Visit less known regions like Fife, the Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, Aberdeenshire or Moray & Speyside – overall they are usually cheaper than the more sought after destinations, but no less breathtaking. Here are some posts for inspiration:
- One Week in South Scotland: Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway.
- One Week in North East Scotland: Aberdeenshire, Cairngorms, Dundee & Fife.
- Island Hopping on Scotland’s West Coast: Kintyre, Gigha, Islay, Jura & Colonsay.
- 11 Things to do in Fife.
- 13 Places to visit in Aberdeenshire.
- Nature Tourism in the Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere.
- Hiking the Speyside Way.
30 | Become an NTS Member.
Membership for the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) includes free entry to all NTS sites in Scotland, as well as worldwide partner attractions, and free parking at NTS car parks.
NTS runs and maintains over 100 protected places in Scotland, including castles, gardens, battlefields and natural sites. The annual NTS membership costs £61.20 for an individual, £108 for a couple and £114 for a family (2 adults + up to 6 children). Join here! [2020 price update]
31 | Get the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass.
For a more short-term solution, get the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass from £33 (for 3 days), £40 (7 days) or £45 (14 days). [2020 price update]
This pass gives you access to all Historic Environment Scotland sites which are different from NTS sites, though. It thus makes sense to research which sites you are most interested in and whether a pass or a membership makes financial sense.
Historic Scotland also offers annual memberships from £46 (Concession, £58 Adults).
32 | Buy the Scottish Heritage Pass.
Visit Britain offers a Scottish Heritage Pass and is valid for 7 consecutive days of your choice between April and October. The pass includes access to all NTS sites and all Historic Scotland locations – over 120 attractions in total.
33 | A great alternative for the Jacobite Steam Train.
If you want to ride a train over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, but the Jacobite Steam Train is fully booked (or the ticket simply too expensive), book the regular train between Fort William and Mallaig – it uses the same tracks. Tickets can be booked via Trainline.
34 | Go on a guided tour.
There are lots of tour companies that offer guided tours around Scotland. Rabbie’s and Timberbush Tours are great value for money, and Haggis Adventures caters specifically to a budget backpacker audience.
Edinburgh on a Budget
35 | Visit mid-week.
Try to visit Edinburgh during the week if you can – accommodation will be cheaper than on weekends.
36 | Avoid August and December.
Unless you come specifically for the Edinburgh Fringe, the Tattoo or another summer festival in Edinburgh; or the Edinburgh Christmas markets, avoid visiting Edinburgh in August and December. Accommodation prices during the festivals can be obscene!
Alternatively, consider staying outside of Edinburgh during these times. Train & bus connections from Glasgow, Falkirk or Dunfermline are great. Find cheaper accommodation there & take public transport to Edinburgh.
37 | Stay at an Edinburgh hostel.
There are a number of budget-friendly hostels in Edinburgh. Castle Rock Hostel is a popular and cheap choice. CODE Pod Hostels are not the cheapest, but a great budget option if you prioritise your privacy.
Want more options? Check out my favourite accommodation in Edinburgh for every budget.
38 | Join a free walking tour in Edinburgh.
Sandemans might be the most established provider of free walking tours around the world and covers a lot of ground in 2.5 hours.
City Explorers offers 4 different free walking tours (Old Town, New Town, Ghost Tour and Harry Potter sites).
Another option is the free walking tour by Little Fish Tours.
Note, that it is customary to make a donation to your guide at the end of the tour.
39 | There are a lot of free things to do in Edinburgh
Visit the National Museum of Scotland or the Royal Botanic Garden (although the glasshouses are not free). Climb Arthur Seat or Calton Hill, explore the lanes and closes off the Royal Mile or soak up the local life in Leith.
Check out this list of free things to do in Edinburgh.
Don’t miss out on these Edinburgh museums, galleries and monuments off the beaten path!
40 | Book advance tickets for attractions.
Booking tickets in advance for popular attractions can save you money and, almost more importantly, time.
41 | Budget-friendly restaurants in Edinburgh.
My favourite affordable restaurants in Edinburgh are Civerino’s (5 Hunter Square, Italian), Hula Juice Bar (103-105 W Bow, healthy food cafe) and I love browsing the “cheap” category on the Vegan Edinburgh website for new ideas.
Glasgow on a Budget
42 | Book a hostel in Glasgow.
43 | Discover free things to do in Glasgow.
Check out my list of 45 free things to do in Glasgow!
44 | Indulge in street food.
Street food is super budget-friendly in Glasgow! Try a fish supper (= a chippy), get a £3 falafel wrap at Falafel To Go on Hope Street, or pick up a lovely vegan burger at Platform street food market during the weekends.
45 | Budget-friendly restaurants in Glasgow.
Some of my favourite budget restaurants in Glasgow are Ranjit’s Kitchen (607 Pollokshaws Rd, Panjabi / Indian), Bread Meats Bread (104 St Vincent St + 701 Great Western Rd, burgers), Paesano (94 Miller St + 471 Great Western Rd, pizza), Romans Pizzeria (26 Candleriggs, pizza), Wagamama (97 W George St, pan-Asian) and Yo! Sushi (85 W George St, Japanese).
46 | Make use of free club passes.
During weekends, keep an eye out for promoters in the streets or in pubs, who are handing out free entry tickets for local clubs.
47 | How to find cheaper taxis.
More Money-saving Tips for Scotland
48 | Get cash at an ATM (cash machine).
Exchanging foreign currency at the airport can result in unnecessarily high fees. It’s better to use your ATM card at a local cash machine or compare the rates at exchange offices and bank in cities with lots of options.
49 | Don’t tip unnecessarily high.
Tipping is common in Scottish restaurants, but you don’t have to tip as much as you would in North America.
10% is an appropriate amount to tip your waiter in a sit-down restaurant/cafe with table service.
In pubs, when you buy your drinks at the bar, it is not necessary to tip and the same counts for taxi drivers. However, in both cases, tips for good service are very welcome. I’d usually tip a pound in a cab or bar.
50 | Claim VAT at the airport.
If you visit the UK from outside the EU, you can claim back the 20% VAT you paid for many goods and souvenirs during your stay in Scotland. Find out more here.
The best thing is, now that you know how to save money and avoid unnecessary expenses, you can start making decisions about which must-have experiences in Scotland you want to spend your money on instead!
Do you have any more tips for travelling Scotland on a budget?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.