Bonnie Scotland! My home country, and one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Some people hate where they’re from, but not me! I love being Scottish, which makes it embarrassing to admit how little of this country I’ve actually seen. I mean, I’ve been to Los Angeles more times than I’ve been to Edinburgh…
The only real trip I’ve been on was in 2017, when I went up to the town of Oban and the Isles of Iona and Staffa for the weekend. It was actually my first ever solo trip, and it kicked off my love for travel, so I’ll always remember it!
The train up from Glasgow was amazing, and the town of Oban was a nice little spot. But the best parts were Iona and Staffa. Remote, beautiful, highland landscapes. I loved them, and can’t wait to see more of the Highlands soon!
The biggest tourist city in the country, which is understandable. It’s full of beautiful buildings, history, and culture. Edinburgh Castle towers over the city, and down below, you’ll find cobbled streets and narrow alleyways. There’s plenty to see and do, and it’s definitely the best city to visit in Scotland!
It may not have the charm of Edinburgh, but Glasgow is a more modern, artistic city which can provide a cheaper experience, more interesting museums, and a more vibrant nightlife. If you want to see more of the ‘real’ Scotland, and not a Scotland which puts on an image for tourists, then definitely give Glasgow a visit.
Argyll & Bute
This is where I grew up, and it’s beautiful! My top recommendations here are Inveraray and Oban. Sitting on the banks of Loch Fyne, Inveraray has a beautiful castle, a haunted jail, and some great hiking trails.
Oban is a more simple town, if you ignore the giant colosseum. But it is the gateway to the Isles, which are definitely worth visiting, especially the Isle of Iona and the alien-like Isle of Staffa.
If you want to see where I live, then take the scenic ferry from Gourock over to Dunoon! We have a growing culture, with a recent surge in local arts and events. Our biggest annual event is the Cowal Gathering, which occurs each August. It has Highland Dancers, large men throwing large things, pipe bands, markets, and fireworks! What more could you want?
The town of Fort William is in a perfect location within the Highlands. From a local hotel, you can walk over to the trail up Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. You’re also near Glencoe, and the Glenfinnan Viaduct (Harry Potter bridge!). A day trip to Loch Ness is also quite easy to do.
This is the crown jewel of the highlands, and if you can only visit one place in Scotland, it should be here. Some of the landmarks and scenery are just outer-worldly. Skye is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, never mind just Scotland! From Skye, a day trip to St Kilda is also highly recommended, if you have the budget.
North of the mainland, Orkney and Shetland are well worth visiting if you have the time to do so. Orkney has the ruins of a prehistoric civilization, the highlight of which is Skara Brae, a 5000 year old village. On Shetland, you can look out for whales, the Northern Lights, and even the adorable Shetland Ponys!
Glasgow & Edinburgh are the two main airports, so you’ll probably be arriving at one of those. From Glasgow, you can take the 757 McGills Bus to the Paisley Gilmour Street train station, or just take the Airport Express bus to go straight to the city centre. In Edinburgh, a tram links the airport to the city centre.
If you’re coming up from London, you can also get a train. It isn’t a very scenic journey, but it’s still nice. It won’t be much (if any) cheaper than flying, but it’s more comfortable. You can even get the ‘Caledonian Sleeper‘ overnight train, which if you book far enough in advance, can be decent value! About £150 for a private room / bed, transport, and breakfast.
If you’re coming in from somewhere outside of Europe, consider flying into Dublin or London, then connecting to Scotland. Flights to those airports can be SO much cheaper, and then connecting to Scotland is only an extra £50 or so. I do it all the time and it works fine, just don’t have too short of a layover.
Trains / Subway
The whole country is linked by train really well! Glasgow to Edinburgh will take you about an hour and cost £15 or so. Trains aren’t cheap, but booking in advance will save you a lot of money, and you can do that through ScotRail’s website. Scotrail also offer a lot of rail passes which might help you save some money.
Despite what people say, the Highlands are also fairly well-linked. Getting to some more rural areas for hiking will be difficult, but you can see most of the best spots through public transport. The Glasgow > Mallaig train journey is one of the most scenic in the world, and I highly recommend it! Or even Glasgow > Oban.
Glasgow has a subway system which makes getting around super easy, and Edinburgh has a great tram system which runs straight through the city centre.
Some of the more rural areas and islands require a ferry to get to. These are normally very scenic and beautiful, but weather dependent. In the winter ferries are frequently cancelled, so be aware! Calmac operates most ferries, so it’s worth checking their website for current the schedules and service status.
I don’t have much experience with the bus here, but the country is well linked. On McGills, you can pay by contactless card onboard, which makes things nice and easy. The bus will be a cheaper alternative to the train, and it will be necessary to visit some places like Skye and Loch Ness.
If you visit Skye, you might want to book yourself onto a guided bus tour, as getting around to some of the top spots without a car will be a real pain! You can even get ones which depart from Edinburgh.
I don’t drive so I can’t offer much advice, but driving is a great way to see the Highlands. Just be aware, the roads are often one lane and very twisty and turny. Take some motion sickness tablets if you are prone to it!
The North Coast 500 is known as one of the best road trips in the world, so it's definitely something worth considering on a visit!
Uber and Lyft are also options here, but don’t expect to find any in the Highlands. Thankfully most small towns will have a taxi company or two, which you should be able to get a number for from Google.
Hostels are a great accommodation choice in Scotland. They’re just about everywhere, and really cheap, especially for solo-travellers. Expect to pay maybe £15-25 a night.
If you’re visiting during the summer and staying in a single city for a week or more, you might be able to stay in student accommodation. This will be more comfortable than a hostel, but cheaper than a hotel! I’ve never done it, but it’s worth looking up local universities to see what they can offer.
Hotels and B&Bs are also found all across the country, but will set you back more, ranging from £40-100+ a night. Still, a private room could be worth it, especially in a B&B where you get a great Scottish breakfast!
You can self-cater in a lot of places by renting a small apartment or cottage for a short period of time. This could be a great money-saving idea, especially if you were travelling with a group. Hell, you can even rent a castle if your budget allows it! (£500+ per night)
More adventurous options are wild camping (which is legal), and glamping, which is like camping, but instead of a tent you stay in a little luxury house/tent thing! (Doesn’t that sound lovely?)
Wherever you decide to stay, book in advance. The more popular places in the Highlands (Skye, Fort William, etc) sell out fast, and last-minute bookings will leave you with very, very limited options.
Every town in Scotland will have one or two chippys. They serve wonderfully cheap, delicious, and horribly unhealthy fast food. You’ve got to try one! We love to ‘batter’ (deep-fry) our food, and you can get that done on just about anything. There’s battered fish, battered sausage, and even battered Mars bars. My favourite is a battered pizza. It’s better than any pizza you’ll get in Italy, New York, Chicago, or anywhere else. I swear!
If you’re proper hungry, head to a chippy and get a ‘Munchy Box’. These are boxes completely stuffed with food. They’ll cost around £10, and can have over 5,000 calories of diabetes-inducing, grease-filled deliciousness.
Pubs are great places for sit-down meals on the cheap. If you’re like me and are a bit of an anxious traveller, look out for ‘Wetherspoon’ pubs. They’re cheap, have decent food, and you can order meals from your phone and have the food brought to your table!
A pub meal should be about £10-15, and a chippy around £5-10. For cheap lunches, every supermarket does a meal deal, which is a sandwich, drink, and snack for about £4.
Our ‘must try’ food would probably be Haggis. It is an acquired taste (and not all that popular in Scotland), but it's worth ordering some from a chippy one night! For your sweet tooth, be sure to try some Tablet, which is sugar, butter, and milk formed into sweety goodness. Shortbread is also delicious!
Our top drink is Irn-Bru. It’s a soda which tastes like… girders? It’s hard to describe, but it’s fantastic. Scotland is actually the only country, on the planet, where Coca-Cola isn’t the top-selling soda. It’s Irn-Bru!
We’re also well renowned for our alcohol, especially Whisky (also known as Scotch). There are distillieries you can visit all across the country, but primarily in the Highlands and West Coast.
Mastercard and Visa will be accepted everywhere. American Express is also accepted in most high street shops, but in local businesses and smaller shops it is a 50/50, so I wouldn’t rely on it. Most card readers allow for contactless payments which makes things easy.
ATMs are easy to find and offer free withdrawals, so there’s no need to carry large amounts of cash. Personally, I never use any physical cash, but you might want some to buy onboard tickets for the train or ferry, or for use at the local markets.
Speaking of markets, haggling isn’t really a thing in Scotland. You are expected to pay the written price.
The variations of cash are: 1p/2p/5p/10p/20p/50p coins, £1/£2 coins, and £5/£10/£20/£50/£100 notes.
At the time of writing in June 2022, the exchange rates are: $1 = £0.82 / €1= £0.86
In Scotland, we use Scottish notes, which are legal tender in the rest of the UK, but some places (especially in England) can be iffy about it. If you’re heading to another part of the UK after Scotland, I would suggest maybe exchanging your Scottish notes at a bank for the local equivalent, just to avoid any potential issues.
You can tip, but it isn’t expected in most places. Normally tipping is just in the form of ‘keep the change’. If you want to tip, round up the bill to the nearest £5 or leave 10%. But don’t feel bad if you don’t, tipping is not very common!
Scotland is a fairly expensive country. For cheap hotels, cheap food, and public transport, I would advise a budget of £100 a day. Go down to £50 if you opt for a hostel, or up to £150 for a nicer hotel and a rental car.
We are a wonderfully mild country. In winter the average temperature is around 4c (39f), and in summer that goes ups to 14c (57f). Occasionally we’ll have a cold winters day (-3c / 27f) or a summer heatwave (21c / 70f), but most of the time the temperature is very comfortable.
Rain, rain rain. You can expect up to 200+ days of rain a year in Scotland. Entire months without a sunny day aren’t even that uncommon. I’m not joking! In 2019, where I live in Argyll & Bute, our summer months (June/July/August) had an average of 27 rainy days each. Yes, 27! In summer!
The further East and South you go, the better the weather gets, which is a shame considering the best parts of Scotland are North and West. Thankfully the rain is typically small showers as opposed to large downfalls. You can also expect full cloud coverage most days, and plenty of wind.
To get the best weather, try to visit in spring or summer. May is statistically the month with the best weather, and normally has a good week or two of sunshine. But as I said, don’t be surprised if it rains the entire time you’re here. You should visit with the expectation of being in the rain most of the time, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.
Snow isn’t very common outside of the Highlands, but it typically falls between December and February. The snow in the Highlands causes chaos, but also creates some incredible landscapes.
In winter, Scotland can have as little as 7 hours of daylight, with the sun rising at 8:45am and setting at 3:45pm. In summer, it can be as much as 17.5 hours, with the sun rising at 3:30am and setting at 9pm. Visiting in the summer definitely gives you more time in the day to see the country, in addition to the best weather.
Scotland is a super safe and boring country. No need to worry about earthquakes, tornados, large storms, freezes, heatwaves, volcanos, or anything like that. At worst there’s some small flooding and windy days.
No need to worry, Scotland has very safe wildlife! Well, other than the Midges. They’re horrible little insects found all across the country during the summer months. Imagine Mosquitos, but they’re smaller and travel in packs of 100. They’re mostly found in the Highlands and like to hang out in wooded areas. So when you go hiking, make sure to wear insect repellant!
Also, watch out for wild Haggis. Not normally a threat, but if you make eye contact they might attack you.
Our national animal is the Unicorn, however, spotting one of these in the wild is tough. A good alternative is a Highland Cow, which can be seen all across the Highlands. They’re beautiful animals! Also, Shetland is home to the Shetland Pony, an adorable little miniature-sized horse!
In the air, be on the lookout for some big birds of prey. Falcons, Golden Eagles, and Ospreys can be seen in the Highlands. If those birds are too scary for you, then head to the coast and look for Puffins! You can see them all around the country's coast, but you’ll have more luck up north.
The oceans and rivers around Scotland are filled with great marine life. Seals and Bottlenose Dolphins can be seen all across the country, with the Moray Firth being the best spot for viewing them. Basking Sharks are also common in West Scotland. You can even go diving with them on a day trip from Oban!
Best of all, pods of Orcas can be seen around the country! They’re most common up north near Caithness and Shetland. If that’s not enough, then we’ve also got Minke and Humpback Whales!
And of course, we also have Nessie waiting to be found at Loch Ness! If you can’t find her, head down to Loch Lomond where you might have better luck trying to find the mysterious Wallabys.
Scotland is a pretty left-leaning country. Our governing party is the SNP (Scottish National Party), and our First Minister is Nicola Sturgeon. About half the country wants independence from the UK, and the other half doesn’t. Discussions on it can get pretty heated, so I would try to avoid it if I were you!
Scotland is an English-speaking country, with virtually everyone in the country being fluent in the language. If you can speak half-decent English, then you can get by anywhere in the country without any difficulties. The Scottish accent is notorious for being difficult to understand, however, this hard-to-follow accent is only really found in Glasgow. In most of the country, you shouldn't have much difficulty understanding people.
In addition to English, there are a couple of minority languages in Scotland. The most widely spoken is Scots, which is similar to English, but also unique in its own way. Although not spoken by many, Gaelic is another minority language, and in the Highlands, you'll likely see road signs in both English and Gaelic.
The biggest sport here is football. Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers are the two biggest teams, and the rivalry between them is unlike any other. I would definitely tread carefully when talking about that too.
In general, Scotland is a super safe country, but we do have a huge drinking culture, and on Friday/Saturday nights the streets can be full of drunks. A lot of these people can become violent, so it might be best to avoid going out alone during those times. Or if you do, just keep your wits about you.
The tap water in Scotland is very fresh and safe to drink!
Scotland is very gay-friendly, so nothing to worry about there. We’re accepting of all religions and races, but at the same time we’re very white, with about 96% of the population being white Europeans. People from different backgrounds and colours may stand out, especially in the Highlands and rural areas.
The lack of diversity leads to some close-minded people, but the vast majority of the country is very accepting and friendly. Scotland has a reputation among travellers as a very, very friendly country! 🙂
Most people in Scotland aren’t religious, but if you are, then there are plenty of churches to visit across the country. In most small towns, the church will probably be the largest and most beautiful building!
Healthcare in Scotland is run by the National Health Service (NHS). Emergency care is free, regardless of where you’re from, although you may need to pay for follow-up treatments and other types of care, unless you’re from a select group of countries. Even if you are eligible for free NHS care, you should still have travel insurance!
If you need to see a doctor, phone up a local GP office and ask for an appointment. This is hard to do though, and you might need to resort to a walk-in clinic or go to A&E. Every town will have a chemist or two where you can buy a large range of medicines, but for stronger stuff, you’ll need a GP prescription.
Citizens of many countries, such as the EU, USA, Canada, Australia, and more, can visit Scotland for up to 6 months without a VISA. You can check here to see if your country is on the list! Citizens from other countries will likely require a VISA to visit. However you enter, just make sure you have proof of funds and onward travel.
Scotland has type G three-pin power sockets. Adapters will be pretty easy to find, and you could get one before leaving the airport.
Thanks for reading my Scotland travel guide! If you’ve spotted something that doesn’t seem quite right, or think there’s anything I should add, please let me know! And if you found this guide helpful, please consider supporting me on Ko-fi 🙂