Scotland is a dream destination and a trip here has great potential to become a life-time memory. But planning can be overwhelming when you’ve built up a destination so much in your head. These 50 useful travel tips for Scotland will help you get the most out of your trip!
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Whether you are a seasoned traveller or just dabbling in globetrotting as a lifestyle, it is always a good idea to read and learn as much as possible about the destination of your next trip.
Scotland is no different!
While Scotland is pretty compact and fairly straight-forward to navigate, especially for first-time travellers, you can’t go wrong reading up on the ins and outs of travelling this country.
Get in touch and let me help you plan a trip that is 100% YOU!
The 50 travel tips on this list will…
- Prepare you with facts that are good to know before you go,
- Offer tips for planning every detail of your trip at the right time,
- Provide an overview of transport options,
- Give you plenty of inspiration for your itinerary,
- Sum up my top tips for visiting Edinburgh and Glasgow,
- Tell you tips for visiting castles and other tourist attractions,
- Help you with some packing tips,
- Provide tips for engaging with Scots and Scottish culture,
And make you chuckle from time to time!
Scotland FAQ: Good to Know Before your Trip
Scotland is a country, but it’s not independent
Don’t ever call Scotland “England”. Scotland is a sovereign nation that is part of the United Kingdom. The other countries in the UK are England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own parliament and a First Minister who leads the Scottish government; however, many decisions are made by the British parliament down in Westminster which is dominated by English MPs (Members of Parliament).
Despite a 2017 referendum vote to remain part of the UK, there is a significant independence movement in the country and a strong sense of national pride. In the 2016 EU Referendum, in which Scotland voted to remain in the EU, but the overall UK majority voted to leave. Many Scots are thus calling for another “Indy Ref”.
You might experience a “Language Barrier”
There are many different accents used all over Scotland and in some regions, the Scottish accent is so thick, even native speakers might struggle to understand.
Get in the groove by watching Scottish films, TV programmes and interviews with Scottish celebrities. I recommend watching Scottish productions as these will feature the most accurate representations of local accents.
Don’t be afraid to ask locals to slow down and repeat what they said.
Wee – small, little
Dram – small alcoholic drink, often refers to whisky
Skint – broke Maybe someone will buy you a drink.
What is Scottish Gaelic?
In some parts of Scotland, people still speak Gaelic which is related to, but not the same as Irish Gaelic. Particular areas where you might be able to hear native Gaelic speakers are the Outer Hebrides and parts of the Isle of Skye.
Road signs in the Highlands and islands are generally bilingual and there are Gaelic radio and TV stations (BBC Alba).
How to deal with Scottish weather
The Scottish weather is unpredictable at any time of the year. I know you are anxious to plan your trip around the best weather period, but the truth is that it could rain for a week in June or have glorious sunshine for a week in November – it’s impossible to predict.
In Scotland, it is feasible to experience all seasons in a day at any time of the year. Thus, it is important to be prepared:
- Check the forecast, but don’t rely on it.
- Pack in layers. (more packing tips below)
- Embrace whatever weather welcomes you. The weather makes Scotland.
Of course, I still have a personal favourite time to visit Scotland…
Scottish money or British money?
Scotland uses British Pound as currency (GBP, £). Scottish banknotes look different than in England as Scottish banks print their own with portraits of people like Robert the Bruce, Catherine Cranston and Sir Walter Scott.
Scottish Pound notes are theoretically legal tender throughout the UK, but some shops in England, Wales and Northern Ireland won’t accept Scottish banknotes either way.
Paying with debit and credit cards
Debit and credit cards are widely accepted throughout the country, even in rural areas. Mastercard and Visa are the most commonly used cards.
Contactless debit cards are very common and usually the easiest way to pay for bus tickets.
All that said, it is good to carry a small amount of cash with you, particularly as some B&Bs prefer cash payments (or can’t accept cards – make sure you double-check), some shops have minimum limits for card payments, and some very remote areas might only accept cash.
Tips for Planning a Trip to Scotland
Start Planning Early
I recommend starting to plan your trip approximately 9 months in advance.
Why 9 months?
Need help finding cheap airfare to Scotland? Check out my tips for booking flights to Scotland.
Less is more: Reduce your mileage and explore more in-depth
I think people sometimes wrongly equate stopping at as many sites as possible with “seeing more” or “experiencing more”. In reality, it just means that you have less time in each location to really take it in and you might end up feeling rushed.
I understand the wish to see as much as possible – I think it’s about striking a balance.
In my opinion, you will see the same amount of sites in, say, a week – whether you move on every night or stay in one or two locations and explore locally. A week is always a week.
Book accommodation in advance
Depending on the time of the year of your visit, you must book accommodation well in advance.
If you don’t book ahead, you run the risk of not finding availability or affordable options during the summer, or not finding B&Bs that are open for the season yet (winter).
For trips from April to October, I recommend booking accommodation by November or December. Particularly if you plan to follow my 8-day itinerary and visit popular sites like Glencoe, Fort William, the Isle of Skye or Inverness.
Here are some of my favourite places to stay in Scotland, which are worth a trip alone!
Book ferry crossings in advance
In peak season during the summer, it is essential to book ferry crossings on popular routes, such as the ferry to the Isle of Skye, Mull, Orkney, Islay or the Outer Hebrides in advance. This is to avoid disappointment or long wait times with “standby” tickets.
Note that some shorter crossings cannot be booked in advance – these are first-come, first-serve.
To plan an itinerary with ferry crossings, check out my Practical Guide to Island Hopping in Scotland.
Allow time for activities
Scotland is beautiful from the roadside, but I highly recommend planning some time for activities to really immerse yourself in the Scottish scenery.
Consider hiring an expert – ME!
How far can you make it in three, seven or ten days? Which attractions and activities are really worth the admission fee, and what are the best free things to do? What are the hidden gems you should not miss?
Planning a trip to Scotland can be overwhelming. There are so many things to do and places to see, where is one to begin?
I offer Travel Consultation Services including itinerary reviews, itinerary planning and accommodation research to help you plan a trip that is 100% tailored to you. Find out more here!
Transport Info: Getting around Scotland
Hire a car…
Personally, I think hiring a car is the most convenient way to get around, especially if you plan a road trip to the Highlands!
Check out my guide to hiring a car in Scotland!
Remember to drive on the left.
Pick up a leaflet at the car hire place with info on speed limits, roundabouts, parking rules etc.
Allow others to overtake you on single track roads.
Don’t park in passing places.
…or take public transport
Consider investing in a ScotRail Travel Pass if you travel around Scotland by public transport. These passes usually cover most trains, buses and ferries, and allow multiple travel days. It can, however, be cheaper to get individual tickets!
When you look up public transport, always check buses as well as trains – they can be a lot cheaper! Find out more about travelling Scotland on a budget.
To see the Jacobite Steam Train cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct (yes, that’s the Harry Potter train!) ask for the exact train times at the tourist info in Fort William.
Consider a guided tour
If you’d rather not drive yourself, there are many tour companies taking people around Scotland on day or multi-day trips.
Most scheduled day tours leave from cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness, in case you just want just a day’s break from driving yourself.
Splurge on a private driver
Hiring a private driver for your road trip in Scotland is the ultimate luxury option. Not only can you lean back, enjoy the scenery and listen to the stories of your driver-guide, your itinerary will also be entirely tailored to your interests.
Expect to pay £300-500 per day plus accommodation for the driver.
Check my Travel Resources page for recommended providers
Wonder which Scottish travel companies I recommend?
Check my Travel Resources page for my preferred car hire platforms, local transport companies, booking platforms, tour companies and activity providers.
Tips for your Scotland Itinerary
Explore Scotland off the beaten path
Do more than the typical bucket list items, 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!
Choose “YOUR” destinations
Don’t just follow the crowds.
Read up on different Scottish regions and make informed decisions. Choose destinations that tick the boxes that are important to you.
You don’t need to go far for an island adventure
The Isle of Skye is Scotland’s most popular island destination, but if you only have a couple of days in Scotland, I recommend choosing an island that is closer!
The Isle of Bute is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Glasgow!
The Isle of Arran makes for an amazing island getaway if you’re pressed for time. The island is easy to reach with a train & ferry combo ticket and suitable for a day trip or longer stay. The beaches and mountains are gorgeous (try climbing Goatfell) and there are endless things to do on Arran, from Brodick and Lochranza Castle, a brewery and whisky distilleries, to standing stones and wildlife experiences.
There are many other Scottish isles to explore that are much closer than Skye – no need to spend hours in the car only to be able to say you’ve been to Skye.
Visit the Small Isles
Visit one of the Small Isles (Rum, Eigg, Muck or Canna) to go completely off the beaten track.
The ferry to all four islands leaves from Mallaig and it’s easy to combine an island adventure with a road trip on the epic Road to the Isles or a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train.
The Small Isles are car-free and incredibly welcoming. All the islands are great for hiking, long walks by a beach and other outdoor activities.
There are standing stones all over Scotland
No need to travel as far as Orkney or the Isle of Lewis to see standing stones in Scotland, unless you have enough time to visit such far-flung destinations.
There is no shortage of standing stones and stone circles all over Scotland. Some of my favourites are the Machrie Moor standing stones on Arran, the Nether Largie standing stones in Kilmartin Glen and the stones at Clava Cairns near Inverness.
Go on an epic road trip
I love exploring Scotland by car and there are endless opportunities for scenic drives all over the country.
From the famous North Coast 500 which loops around the far north-west of Scotland’s Highlands, to the North East 200 in Aberdeenshire, the South West Coastal in Dumfries & Galloway and the Heart 200 in Perthshire.
There is no shortage of epic road trip routes in Scotland.
Island hopping is easy
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.
One island region where island hopping is particularly easy to do, is the Outer Hebrides, also called the Western Isles. Cycling or walking the Hebridean Way, you can easily visit 10 islands in a week or two, and add a few more to the count by taking breaks for day trips to nearby islands.
Closer to Glasgow and Edinburgh, the southern Inner Hebrides are also a great island-hopping destination. Following my west coast itinerary, you could easily hop from one Isle to the next, including Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Gigha.
Follow the wildlife
If you want to see Scottish animals, read up on where they roam and what time of the year they are easiest to spot!
Many marine mammals and seabirds are best observed during the summer from mid-April to early August.
Puffins and many other seabirds form massive nesting colonies up and down the Scottish coast, but they prefer places that are less frequented and take some effort to get to (usually a potentially choppy boat ride). One of my favourite areas to see them are the Isle of Staffa and the Treshnish Isles.
Other animals you can see seasonally are basking sharks and whales. Seals and dolphins are more permanent residents on the Scottish coast.
And of course, no trip to Scotland would be complete without seeing some Highland cows. They are not commonly used as farm animals anymore but are kept as treasured “pets” all over the country (for example by farmers or at hotels). A great place to see them up close is Pollok Park in Glasgow, but there is also a famous Highland cow on the Isle of Coll called Wonkey.
Visit Scottish Beaches
Ever thought about a beach holiday in Scotland?
Some Scottish beaches are so beautiful, the sand so white and the water so clear, that images have been accidentally used to promote tropical beach destinations!
Only the temperatures would give it away…
Some of my favourite beaches in Scotland can be found…
- in the Outer Hebrides: Vatersay, Berneray, Bosta,
- along the North Coast 500: Red Sands, Achmelvich Beach, Sango Sands,
- in Fife: St Andrews, Elie,
- in Aberdeenshire: Rattray Head, Balmedie,
- and the Inner Hebrides: Colonsay, Coll, Tiree.
Book a travel consulting session with me!
Visiting Scottish Castles + Attractions
Visit a variety of castles
I recommend visiting castle ruins as well as fully preserved or restored castles to experience a variety of Scottish castle architecture.
- Stirling Castle: very well preserved & a great self-guided tour,
- Dunnottar Castle: my favourite ruined castle in a breathtaking location,
- Balmoral Castle: only the grounds + gardens are accessible since it’s an official Royal residence, but it’s incredible,
- Kilchurn Castle: a stunning castle ruin on the way to Oban,
- and Culzean Castle: overlooking the sea and the Isle of Arran.
Follow the Scottish Castle Trail in Aberdeenshire
If you want to see many castles in a short amount of time, follow the Scottish Castle Trail through Aberdeenshire – it covers 19 (!) castles that are all just a short drive from each other!
Invest in an attractions pass
Visiting many 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 (join here), an annual Historic Environment Scotland membership, a short term Historic Scotland Explorer Pass or the VisitBritain Heritage Pass.
Write down which castles and attractions you’d like to visit, look up entrance fees and research which passes would cover them. Then do the maths.
Edinburgh Travel Tips
Spend 2 days in Edinburgh
2 days in Edinburgh gives you plenty of time to cover the highlights and explore off the beaten path.
The city is very walkable, there is an easy-to-navigate bus system or you can use Uber.
My personal must see’s are:
- Scott Monument for the best views,
- Grassmarket for pubs + castle photos,
- Calton Hill and/or Arthur Seat for a hike,
- National Museum of Scotland for heritage and rooftop views,
- the Water of Leith Walkway to escape the crowds,
- The Shore + surrounding neighbourhood in Leith for pubs and food,
- the Scottish Design Exchange in Leith for shopping.
Start with a city tour
Explore beyond the Old Town
Particularly in the summer, Edinburgh seems full of tourists – but it is easy to escape the crowds in the Old Town.
Explore beyond the major tourist attractions and go off the beaten path:
- Visit the Royal Botanical Gardens,
- the Stockbridge neighbourhood,
- and Leith.
Book accommodation well ahead
Accommodation in Edinburgh can be expensive and hard to come by, so book well ahead of time. I recommend staying in the Old Town, West End (Haymarket area), New Town or Leith.
On a budget? Check hostels, avoid August and December (festival season) and stick to weekdays. Alternatively, you could stay in Glasgow or Dunfermline and take the train to Edinburgh for a day trip.
Glasgow Travel Tips
Don’t make the mistake to leave Glasgow off your itinerary
Glasgow is an amazing city with a thriving cultural scene, beautiful architecture and parks, a great food scene and plenty of things to do. I recommend spending at least one day in Glasgow.
Mingle with Glaswegians
Visiting Glasgow is all about mingling with the locals – the city’s slogan is “People Make Glasgow” after all!
It’s easy to meet locals at the pub – just stand by the bar and someone will start chatting to you.
Discover free things to do in Glasgow
Glasgow is a budget-friendly city and there are many free things to do.
Most museums are free of charge, the City Chambers offer free tours during the week, there are beautiful parks and nearby hiking areas and lots of beautiful architecture to discover.
Book a walking tour with me
Glasgow is a city best seen through the eyes of a local. Whenever I can, I offer private walking tours through Glasgow to show you my favourite places, take you off the beaten track and answer all your questions about life in Glasgow.
Book me for a private Glasgow tour!
Packing Tips for Scotland
Since the Scottish weather is so unpredictable it is important to pack layers. That way you will be prepared for any kind of weather and can add or remove one or multiple layers as needed.
Invest in GOOD waterproofs: jacket + trousers
And don’t forget: don’t let a bit of rain drag you down. It’s all part of the Scottish experience.
Wear comfortable walking shoes
Comfortable walking shoes that keep your feet dry and warm are an absolute must on your Scotland packing list!
For hiking, I love my Zamberlan boots, but I also often wear them for active road trips with shorter walks. They are just so comfortable and keep my feet dry.
On city trips, I tend to wear Chelsea boots or lace-up boots.
If you go on a road trip in Scotland, it is important to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty. Waterproof/-resistant shoes are ideal, but it is not necessary to go as far as wellies (rubber boots) – these might be really uncomfortable to wear.
Pack hiking equipment
If you plan to go hiking in the Scottish Highlands, on islands or on the coast, bring proper hiking equipment to protect yourself from the elements.
This includes waterproofs (jacket + trousers), sturdy hiking boots, a map and compass, and emergency supplies. Hiking in inadequate clothes or shoes, or getting caught in bad weather without required emergency supplies can cause unnecessary search + rescue missions for the local mountain rescue teams. Make smart choices.
Never underestimate the weather in the hills and only go as far as you can safely navigate back.
If wild camping, pack what you need to leave no trace. Check out my guide to wild camping in Scotland for tips.
Experiencing Scottish Culture, Food & Drink
Give whisky a chance
Be open-minded when it comes to whisky. It took me three years and multiple visits to whisky distilleries to realise that I kind of like single malt whisky. Try a few different ones to find a whisky you like.
To learn more about the different whisky regions and find your preferred taste visit the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.
Have a dram at Loch Ness
A wee dram (= drink of whisky) increases your chances to spot the monster of Loch Ness.
Don’t order a single malt whisky with ice or pour water in right away.
Try the whisky neat at first, then maybe add a few drops of water to release the full aroma.
Only if you still insist, ask for some ice – some bartenders won’t be very happy.
Experiment with Scottish cuisine
Scottish food is excellent, whether you go for traditional dishes like haggis or Cullen skink, or try contemporary fusion cuisine.
If you eat meat and seafood, order typical Scottish dishes like…
- Cullen skink (a creamy fish soup),
- steak or mushroom pies,
- stovies (a potato dish),
- fresh seafood,
- and of course chicken tikka masala.
For the best fish & chips head to a seaside town where the fish is the freshest. I highly recommend the fish & chips shop in Anstruther close to St Andrews!
Ask what’s in haggis after you tried it, not before! And if you don’t eat meat (or you’re vegan) give veggie haggis a go – it’s delicious!
Black pudding is not a pudding. Like with haggis, don’t overthink it, and maybe try the veggie version.
If you are vegan, find out how easy it is to travel Scotland as a vegan here!
Tap water is safe to drink in Scotland. No need to buy single-use plastic bottles – bring a reusable water bottle & fill it up frequently!
Be aware of Seagulls
When buying fish & chips to take away, especially by the seaside, watch out for seagulls. Scottish seagulls are big and fierce – they are known to try and steal fish & chips out of people’s hands.
Taste Scottish (craft) beers
Scottish appreciation for alcoholic beverages does not stop at whisky. The Scots also love their beer!
Tennent’s is by far the most famous lager, so make sure you try a pint of that. It has been brewed in Glasgow for over 400 years. The brewery also offers a great tour + tastings.
There is also a growing craft beer scene in Scotland and there are many small breweries you can try. Some of my personal favourites are Loch Fyne Ales from Argyll, six°north from Stonehaven, and Hangman’s Rock from Colonsay Brewery on the Isle of Colonsay.
Try Irn Bru in all its forms
Irn Bru is an iconic Scottish carbonated soft drink. It is bright orange and a staple in many Scots’ regular diets. Produced by Barr’s in Cumbernauld near Glasgow, only 3 people know its secret recipe.
You can drink it, or try Irn Bru-flavoured sweets or ice cream.
Find local live music and join a local dance
Scotland has a rich music scene. Many bands and singers from Scotland are famous around the world – Belle & Sebastian, The Proclaimers, Amy Macdonald and Franz Ferdinand, just to name a few.
Traditional music is also big in Scotland and there are many bands who play old-fashioned or contemporary versions of trad music, such as Skerryvore, Talisk or Breabach. Many pubs around the country are known for their regular trad music nights, such as the Edinbane Inn on Skye, the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe or the Crofters Music Bar on the Isle of Arran.
Another important part of Scottish music culture is the Ceilidh, a traditional social gathering that involves lots of dancing and traditional music. Many Scottish weddings end with a Ceilidh and many rural communities host regular Ceilidh dances.
Attend a Scottish festival
Edinburgh is famous as a festival city, particularly during the summer festivals in August, such as the Fringe theatre, comedy & performance festival and the Military Tattoo.
Many islands host music, food and whisky festivals, and each city is home to a variety of cultural festivals throughout the year.
Whether it’s Hogmanay in Edinburgh or other Scottish winter festivals, a music festival, an arts festival like NEOS in Aberdeenshire, a cultural festival like Up Helly Aa, a food event or a whisky festival – the Scots love to celebrate. Join them!
No matter how wild the party gets, don’t lift up a man’s kilt!
Do I have to say more?
I hope my travel tips for Scotland will prove useful to you on your upcoming trip or inspire you to get started planning a holiday to Scotland – or at least I hope they made you laugh a bit!
What is your top tip for a journey to Scotland?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.