How does a holiday sound without the stress of airports, border controls and language barriers? Scotland is a beautiful place to visit in the UK and full of surprises. Read on for tips and tricks to plan an EPIC staycation in Scotland that will rival any trip abroad.
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In the light of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, international travel will be off the table for the foreseeable future. However, that does not mean you can’t go on exciting holidays that expand your horizon and enrich your life.
Once it is safe to travel again, a staycation in Scotland is the perfect remedy for your wanderlust!
15.5 million people visited Scotland in 2019 and nearly 80% came from Scotland or further afield in the UK. The Brits certainly love their staycations – not a surprise at all!
With so many beautiful beaches, towns and mountain regions at your doorstep, there really is no reason to travel far for an unforgettable holiday. If you live in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK, why not consider a staycation in the Scottish Highlands, on one of the 790 islands off the coast or even further off the beaten path?
Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway, a relaxing beach break, a family holiday, a road trip or an outdoorsy adventure holiday – Scotland has it all.
This post contains answers to the following questions…
- When is the best time to plan a staycation in Scotland?
- What are some of the highlights in each season?
- How to turn any staycation into epic adventure?
- What kinds of staycations can you experience in Scotland?
- and lots of practical tips for your Scotland holiday, from hiring a car to packing your bags.
Keep Reading for Planning Advice + INSPIRATION!
Want something more concrete? Head over to my 20 epic trip ideas for Scotland!
The basics of planning a staycation to Scotland
You might already live in Scotland and know the country like the back of your hand – skip straight to the next section about turning your staycation into an epic adventure!
How to get around Scotland?
From renting a car or taking public transport to hiring a private driver or joining a guided tour – there are many ways you can explore Scotland.
Personally, I think a car gives you the most flexibility and many of my favourite places would be difficult to get to by bus or train. If you come to Scotland from the south of England though, you might want to consider taking the train up to Glasgow or Edinburgh and hiring a car there – it would save you a lot of time and effort spent on the motorway. If you choose this option, you have to read my car hire guide for Scotland – it will help you choose the right car & get the best price.
That said, the train and bus system is very good in Scotland and there are many places you can visit that don’t require a car – one of my favourite places for a train trip is Stonehaven!
If this is your first trip to Scotland and you wonder about the best booking platforms for public transport, accommodation and activities, check out my travel resources page.
When is a good time to visit Scotland?
Scotland is beautiful year-round. If you live in the UK, you already know how unpredictable the weather can be. A sunny week in winter is just as possible as wet and windy weather at the height of summer. But that should never stop you from planning a holiday.
My personal favourite months to visit Scotland are May to June and September to October – you can read more here to find out why – but there is something unique about every season in Scotland.
Highlights in each season in Scotland
Highlights in Spring (March to May)
Spring in Scotland is when nature awakes from its winter sleep: flowers are blooming and there are baby animals wherever you look. People relish in the longer daylight hours and increasingly warmer temperatures. Many B&Bs and activity providers open their doors for the season and there is a lot to do.
Now is the time for city breaks and road trips. Drive the North Coast 500 before the summer crowds arrive. Spend a weekend in Aberdeen and check out the new murals at Nuart street art festival. See the trees of Glasgow and Edinburgh bloom in hues of pink and white – making photos of the castle and museums even more beautiful.
Highlights in Summer (June to August)
Scottish summers are blessed with the longest days in the UK. This has an effect on people as well as animals and makes staycation in Scotland even more enjoyable.
Summer is the time for adventure holidays in the Scottish Highlands or other mountain ranges, full of hiking, kayaking and other outdoor activities. Visit the islands and enjoy a coastal walk or book a wildlife experience from whale watching to visiting a puffin colony.
It can get very busy during the summer, especially around hotspots like Skye or Inverness – so seek out destinations off the beaten path.
Highlights in Autumn (September to November)
Scotland is beautiful in autumn, especially if you plan a road trip through Perthshire to see the trees changing colours. Now is a great time to visit popular places like the Isle of Skye or Glencoe as there are fewer tourists around.
Autumn is also a great time for festivals in Scotland – from comedy and art festivals in Aberdeenshire to food and music festivals on islands like Jura and Islay.
Highlights in Winter (December to February)
Winter might be dark and gloomy in Scotland – but there is nothing that Christmas lights can’t fix! In fact, winter is a brilliant time for city trips in Scotland as most cities from Edinburgh to Inverness host winter festivals and Christmas markets from mid-November.
The festive season goes on after the holidays – first and foremost on Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year’s Evening celebration. Apart from Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay festival, you should look into the mesmerising Fireballs of Stonehaven. The winter festival season culminates in a series of Viking celebrations held in various towns across Shetland: Up Helly Aa.
Of course, you could also go skiing in one of Scotland’s five ski resorts or hunt the stars and northern lights in Scottish Dark Sky Parks.
Tips for making your staycation EPIC
When you think about your next epic holiday, it might involve a bit more than a few hours on the train or in the car. You might think of a faraway place where everything feels, looks, smells and sounds different than what you are used to at home – I get it. A staycation in the UK just does not have the same appeal…
But there are many reasons why you might have to consider a holiday in the UK. Maybe you can’t take a lot of time off, maybe your bank account does not allow for an extravagant vacation abroad. Or maybe, like in the case of the 2020 Coronavirus crisis, it is simply not safe to travel out of the country.
It might not sound like your dream vacation, but a staycation in Scotland can still be EPIC!
You can see different landscapes and environments every day. You can try new activities, new foods and new drinks. You can visit places that are the opposite of what your home looks like. You can make memories that will last you a lifetime. And in Scotland, you might even be able to experience a language barrier!
Here are some tips for making sure that your Scotland staycation is as epic as any adventure abroad:
Let Scotland surprise you
Maybe the idea of a staycation in Scotland does not sound very exciting to you. You feel like there is just nothing surprising about a trip to Scotland… You need to do your research!
Book a workshop to learn a new skill like Scottish cooking or basket weaving. Visit a town, region or island you hadn’t heard about before. Attend a festival about a topic you don’t know anything about. Try wild camping and pitch your tent in a remote bay – you’ll wake up feeling like the King or Queen of the world.
There are many surprising things to experience in Scotland – things that are out of the ordinary and guaranteed different than your average day-to-day life.
Think outside the box and Scotland might just surprise you!
Give it a Scottish twist
A holiday can serve many purposes from relaxation to adventure and cultural enrichment – all of these things are possible to find in Scotland too. Just think about what you’d normally look for in a holiday, and find a Scottish alternative.
If you’d normally go on a warm beach holiday, book a getaway to a Scottish beach. The water might not be as warm, but the views may rival faraway tropical beaches. Stay in a hotel with a heated pool or a B&B with a sunroom, that way you can still go for a dip in the water or lie in the sun without feeling chilly.
If your trips are normally about immersing yourself another culture and deep-diving into a country’s history, Scotland has a lot to discover. From the archaeological sites on Shetland and Orkney to the fascinating castles and monuments all over the country.
Ever had a stab at learning Gaelic? Or tried your hand at survival and foraging skills in the Highlands? There is always something new to learn and a different way of life to experience.
Plan unique experiences
Did you know, you could try river sledging near Loch Lomond? The activity is a huge deal in the US and New Zealand but still relatively new to the UK. Or try your best at fat biking on the beaches of Islay, a sport usually associated with the snowy landscapes of Oregon or Colorado.
There are zip lines in Scotland and treetop adventure courses. You can learn ice-climbing in the Highlands or join groups of wild swimmers taking a refreshing dip in the Scottish sea.
Stay in a castle, rent a houseboat or spend a night glamping in a treehouse. And that’s just three unique places to stay you’ll find in Scotland.
Instead of booking a regular tour in a whisky distillery, sign up for a special tour with the distillery manager or master blender. My tour with the distillery manager of Glen Scotia in Campbeltown is hands-down one of my favourite whisky experiences I’ve ever had.
People working in the Scottish tourism industry are incredibly creative and resourceful – they are doing everything they can to create unique experiences for their guests, whether they come from far afield or from down the road.
No matter your budget, there are endless unique things to do in Scotland you could not find anywhere else in the world.
A staycation in Scotland might not sound as exciting as backpacking through South America or a wildlife safari in sub-Saharan Africa, but there is a lot to discover.
Just don’t think of it as an inferior alternative – consider it an opportunity to appreciate the amazing landscapes, culture and histories at your doorstep.
Different kinds of Scotland staycations
What kind of staycation are you looking for?
Scottish Beach Breaks
Scottish beaches are so stunningly beautiful, they can easily rival the Caribbean! You will find some of the most beautiful beach getaways in the north-western Highlands (from Achmelvich Bay to Sango Sands, NC500), in the Outer Hebrides (especially on Lewis & Harris, Berneray, South Uist and Vatersay), on islands like Colonsay, Coll or Islay, and along the east coast from Rattray Head and Banff in the north to Elie and St Andrews further south.
Whether you choose the west coast or the east, Scottish beach breaks are where it’s at!
Maybe you are looking forward to a romantic getaway with your partner (but without the kids)? Don’t look any further – there are many different options for your Scottish couples staycation. To me, the perfect getaway starts with a unique place to stay.
In Scotland, you can choose from an endless variety of options: outstanding luxury hotels where you get pampered and looked after, cosy cabin getaways in the middle of nowhere some even with a hot tub, special glamping experiences like sleeping in a yurt or a treehouse, traditional B&Bs where it’s all about the delicious food, local tips and hospitality. Treat your loved one!
With 790 islands to choose from, Scotland is a perfect destination for island hopping. Whether you escape to just one island, or bag several of them in one trip, you’ll be welcomed with stunning sea views, quaint remoteness and island hospitality that is second to none.
Nature is one of Scotland’s biggest assets and there are many hidden gems to discover.
Wildlife enthusiasts will love a trip to the coast to see puffins and other seabirds, try to spot dolphins and whales from aboard the ferries or spot otters playing on remote beaches. You can visit seal colonies and with a bit of luck, spot a rare basking shark in the clear waters off the west coast.
All over the country, there are pristine nature reserves with unique wildlife, flora and geology – there is a lot to discover & learn.
Whether you are looking for challenging hiking trails or just want to be immersed among the peaks on the porch of a cosy cabin, there are hills and mountain ranges all over Scotland.
Nothing beats an escape to the Scottish Highlands, the Cairngorms National Park or the hills in the Southern Uplands. Some of my personal favourites are getaways to the stunning valley of Glencoe, the remote plateau around Loch Ossian and the central peaks of Perthshire.
Adventure tourism in Scotland has come a long way and there is an activity for every taste.
For mountain adventures, plan a walking holiday: go hiking alone or with a hiking guide, try wild camping or even tackle a long-distance trail. You could also step it up a notch and take a climbing course or climb Scotland’s only Via Ferrata. In the water, book a sea kayaking adventure, go rafting or try your hand at stand-up paddling.
There are so many outdoor activities to try in Scotland, the biggest struggle will be choosing which ones!
History & Heritage Trip
Scotland is filled to the brim with fascinating history & heritage sites. History buffs have a lot to work through on their Scotland staycation. From discovering Neolithic archaeology in Orkney to prehistoric monuments like standing stones and chambered cairns all over the west coast – I recommend Lewis and Kilmartin Glen to begin with.
Continue on the Scottish Castle Trail through Aberdeenshire and visit grand mansions like Scone Palace or Abbotsford House.
Follow in the footsteps of famous Scottish writers and artists and learn about more recent history from WWII to the suffragette movement. I guarantee this won’t be a boring history class!
Scotland has seven thriving cities and each offers a completely different experience and atmosphere. Medieval Edinburgh is Scotland’s poster child with its historic castle, narrow lanes and awe-inspiring architecture. Glasgow in comparison is a bit more down to earth and offers a wide mix of architecture styles, a colourful mural trail, great live music scene and more.
Stirling is a great getaway for history fans who are looking for a small, walkable city to explore on a day trip. Dundee is a creative surprise with the brand-new V&A and a quirky street art trail. Perth offers a relaxing getaway on the River Tay, while Inverness is a grand home base to explore the northern Highlands.
Aberdeen on the east coast is my favourite pick for a city break in Scotland: an endless beach promenade, interesting history, great vegan food scene & lots of colourful street art!
Hit the road and discover Scotland from the roadside. Road trips are my favourite way to explore Scotland off the beaten track. From the world-famous single-track roads of the North Coast 500 – particularly enjoyable in off-season – to the many other regional routes that came after.
The NE250 through Aberdeenshire and the Cairngorms, the SWC300 along the coast and mountain roads of south-west Scotland, the Heart 200 through Perthshire – and that does not even include the many scenic drives through Scotland that are not part of these named routes.
Food & Drink Trip
Are you a foodie or a whisky lover? A food & drink-themed staycation is just what you need to taste the best of Scottish produce.
Follow the Speyside Whisky Trail or visit the Isle of Islay to get your fill of single malt whiskies, throw in one of Scotland’s many gin distilleries for a change, or indulge in locally brewed craft beers.
Discover traditional Scottish cuisine and the freshest seafood by the coast, or try something different and indulge in the up-and-coming vegan cuisine of the country. Your taste-buds will thank you for that staycation!
As you can see, Scotland has a lot to offer! Whether this is your first holiday within Scotland or you are just looking for inspiration a special getaway, I hope you will consider planning a staycation in Scotland with this post!
Now, I’d love to hear from you! What’s your favourite holiday memory from Scotland?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.