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 break the bank!
You just need to know where you can 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!
Table of Contents
Budget-Friendly Transport 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 usually find the best deals on Auto Europe, which compares prices from different rental companies and offers separate (and more affordable) insurance.
You might also like: A complete guide to hiring a car in Scotland
2. Compare petrol prices (gas prices)
You can use this website to find current petrol prices all over the UK. If you can, compare local petrol prices before deciding on a station to use
Additionally, petrol stations in larger cities and towns usually have lower prices. Small rural petrol stations where there are no other options nearby tend to be a lot more expensive.
3. Consider travelling by public transport instead of hiring a car
Bus and train tickets can be a lot cheaper than hiring a car and paying for petrol, especially if you are a solo traveller.
4. Always book intercity train and bus tickets in advance
It’s usually cheaper and less stressful to book bus and train tickets in advance.
Train tickets go on sale about 12 weeks in advance and the prices increase as you approach your travel dates. I usually book straight on the ScotRail app.
There are some exceptions, such as the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow – it’s the same price even if you buy your ticket on the day.
If you’re a Scotland first-timer, download my free Scotland Trip Planning Checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything important!
5. Take off-peak trains
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. Fares on peak time trains are usually more expensive.
Check here for everything you need to know about off-peak train travel.
6. Look into travel passes & RailCards
ScotRail offers travel passes which include trains as well as some 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. However, it pays off to double-check whether buying individual tickets might be cheaper.
The bus company Citylink offers Explorer Passes for unlimited bus travel over a set number of days.
ScotRail also offers RailCards for some passengers such as under 30 year olds or senior citizens. You have to pay a one-off annual fee, but it grants you at least ⅓ off regular fares at off-peak times.
You might also like: My Best of Scotland itinerary for public transport
7. Choose buses over trains
Choosing buses over trains can 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 Citylink.
8. Plan a cycling or walking holiday
Transport in Scotland could not be cheaper than walking or cycling!
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.
Alternatively, hire a bike and go on a cycling trip around Scotland!
Finding Budget-Friendly Accommodation
9. Book all accommodation in advance
You should always book your accommodation in advance, whether you travel during the busy summer months, or during quieter off season (when some accommodations are closed).
If you plan to visit popular destinations like Skye, Glencoe or Inverness, it’s particularly important to book places to stay well in advance. The earlier you book, the more options are still available and you are more likely to find something that fits your budget.
I recommend booking accommodation for the summer months (May-September) by January at the latest to have a good range of choices.
Find accommodation on the Isle of Skye here!
10. Don’t rule out hostels
Hostels are one of the cheapest accommodation options. There are many amazing hostels all over Scotland that offer high-quality accommodation – without the party stereotype. On the contrary, rural hostels are usually popular among hikers, families, solo travellers and small groups.
11. Many hostels also have private rooms
Many hostels offer private rooms with shared, private or en-suite bathrooms. And often these are still much cheaper than a bed & breakfast.
Additionally, at hostels you have access to self-catering facilities and sometimes even free breakfast options.
12. Family rooms can be cheaper than multiple double rooms
If you’re staying at hotels and B&Bs and travelling with kids or in groups of 3 or 4, ask if there are family rooms available.
Sometimes these are suite-style rooms with 2 sleeping areas, or large double rooms with space for an additional bed. Some hotels and B&Bs even have triple or quadruple rooms with 3-4 single beds. This is usually cheaper than booking multiple double rooms.
13. Longer stays are often cheaper, especially in self-catering accommodation
Staying longer in one place can easily bring down the cost of accommodation in Scotland.
Some cabins and cottages even only rent out by the week during the summer.
14. Check regional tourism sites for accommodation deals
Many regions (especially islands) have their own tourism websites with extensive accommodation listings. And many of these places to stay cannot be found on big booking platforms like Booking.com or Expedia.
Check out my favourite unique places to stay in Scotland – from hostels to B&Bs!
15. Don’t just rely on the popular booking platforms
Check accommodation availability on the VisitScotland website. Their system has access to the booking tools 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. Bring your tent and go wild camping
It’s legal to pitch your tent wherever you like in Scotland, as long as you obey the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and remember to leave no trace. Note that access rights do not extend to vehicles, so really you should walk to your wild camping spot and park overnight only in places where it’s allowed.
Check out my top tips for wild camping in Scotland.
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, such as a sleeping bag, a gas stove and food with you. Very few have any toilet facilities, although some have eco toilets.
The Scottish Bothy Bible contains a list of all bothies plus information on how to get there, what supplies you need to bring and what to do in the area.
You might also like: A Weekend at a beautiful self-catering cottage near Glencoe
Saving Money on Food & Drink
19. Book self-catering accommodation
If you stay in a self-catering accommodation, i.e. an apartment or house with a fully equipped kitchen, you can save money by preparing your own meals instead of eating out for every meal.
20. Eat out with restaurant vouchers
21. Get a takeaway
Eating out at restaurants can be pricey. Takeaway restaurants are usually a cheaper alternative. The most common takeaway restaurants are fish & chips shops, Chinese or Indian restaurants – you’ll find them in pretty much any town and larger village.
22. Get a meal deal for lunch
Many supermarkets sell meal deals. This usually includes 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 a cheap lunch.
You might also like: How to travel Scotland as a Vegan
23. Bring a reusable coffee cup
Many coffee shops will give you a discount for using a reusable coffee cup – and even if not, it’s good for the environment.
24. Drink the tap water
Tap water is safe to drink in Scotland – and it’s delicious!
Not only is it more eco-friendly to fill a reusable water bottle, it’s also cheaper than buying plastic bottles or ordering drinks at restaurants. When you eat out, you can always ask for tap water, which usually comes without ice by default.
25. Choose draft beer at pubs
Local beers are often cheaper than imported beers, wine or spirits. Lager beer, such as Tennents, is usually more affordable than speciality ales or craft beers.
Cheap imported beers on draft include Amstel, Heineken and Fosters.
26. Ask for the malt of the month
Most pubs have a certain whisky on special offer – this is usually called the Malt of the Month. Many pubs advertise which one it is on a blackboard.
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.
It can be much cheaper to travel Scotland during the off and shoulder season.
Read my tips for visiting Scotland in off-season.
28. Avoid tourist hotspots
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 and extortionate prices. This includes the Isle of Skye, Fort William and Edinburgh.
If you still want to visit these places, here are two tips: 1) book early and 2) stay longer (4+ nights) to explore more in-depth.
29. Go off the beaten track
Overall they are usually cheaper than the more sought after destinations, but no less breathtaking.
Browse my ready-made Scotland itineraries for more ideas off the beaten path.
Find out how to choose the best Scotland itinerary for you!
30. Get heritage memberships
There are two large heritage organisations in Scotland and both offer memberships or attraction passes.
Historic Scotland offers an annual membership (£52.20) which includes popular castles such as Edinburgh, Urquhart and Stirling.
The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) offers an annual membership which includes free entry to all NTS sites in Scotland, as well as worldwide partner attractions, and free parking at NTS car parks (£63 for an individual, £114 for a couple, £117.60 for a family of 2 adults + up to 6 children). Join here! [2022 price update]
31. Get the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass
For a more short-term solution, get the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass from £35.
This pass gives you access to all Historic Environment Scotland sites over 7 consecutive days.
32. Visit free castles and attractions
There are countless historic attractions and castles all over Scotland that are free to visit. Most commonly these are ruined castles and outdoor sites such as standing stones, chambered cairns or brochs.
Stay away from privately owned castles – these are often very expensive to visit, which reflects the huge expense that goes into maintaining and upkeep these historic buildings.
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 ScotRail train between Fort William and Mallaig. It uses the same tracks and you’ll enjoy the same views.
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.
They are great value for money because you get transport and live commentary from an experienced tour guide. Additionally, driver-guides always know alternative things to do if you’re not keen on the additional paid-for attractions en route.
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 Festivals, such as the Fringe, the Military Tattoo, or the Edinburgh Christmas markets, avoid the city in August and December. Accommodation prices during the festivals can be extortionate!
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 privacy.
Want more options? Check out my favourite accommodation in Edinburgh for every budget.
38. Join a free walking tour in Edinburgh
Sandemans is one of the most established providers of free walking tours around the world and covers a lot of ground in 2.5 hours. Note that this is a tips-based walking tour.
City Explorers offers 4 different free walking tours – a general Edinburgh tour, a tour around New Town, a ghost tour and a Harry Potter tour.
It is customary to make a donation to your guide at the end of a free tour.
You might also like: The best city tours in Edinburgh
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 wynds 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.
Extra tip: Don’t miss out on these Edinburgh museums, galleries and monuments off the beaten path!
40. Book advance tickets for attractions
Book tickets for popular attractions, such as Edinburgh Castle or the Palace of Holyroodhouse in advance. It will save you time and is usually cheaper than buying tickets at the door.
Get a skip-the-line ticket for Edinburgh Castle with a guided tour.
41. Budget-friendly restaurants in Edinburgh
My favourite affordable restaurants in Edinburgh are Civerinos (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. Try free things to do in Glasgow
Check out my list of 45 free things to do in Glasgow – there is a lot to choose from! Most museums and historic sites are free to visit.
44. Indulge in street food
Street food is very 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 market during the weekends.
You might also like: Vegan-friendly eateries in Glasgow
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) and Yo! Sushi (85 W George St, Japanese).
Haggis or veggie haggis is usually a really cheap option, even at higher-end restaurants like the Ubiquitous Chip (Ashton Lane).
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
You might also like: 50 useful travel tips for Glasgow
More Money-saving Tips for Scotland
48. Get cash at a cash machine (ATM)
Exchanging foreign currency back home or 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 banks 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 £1 in a cab or bar.
50. Shop tax-free
You can buy tax-free goods from shops in Scotland, England and Wales if you have them delivered straight to an address outside the UK. Check with the retailer if they offer this service. 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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