On my first visit to Scotland, there was so much that I didn’t know when I arrived. SO. MUCH. And as I scrolled through my Scotland content, wondering what else you guys would need to plan a perfect trip, I was dumbfounded that I had not written any Scotland travel tips?! SO, here I am, presenting a whopping FIFTY tips that will help you traverse your way around Scotland whether that be in the highlands, islands, cities, mountains, hills, valleys, and everywhere in between! This blog post might just be one of my favorites that I have written yet! I really want to start doing this for all the other destinations that I have visited: Iceland, Bali, The Philippines, Japan, Utah, and more, so keep an eye out for those up and coming posts on the blog!
Without further ado, here are fifty Scotland travel tips that will enhance and improve your traveling experience in this magical land!
This post may contain affiliate links for the products I mentioned, but as always, all opinions are my own. I make a small commission, at no extra cost to you, when you make a purchase or booking through these links. This helps to support this space and keep me blogging, which I am so extremely thankful for.
Headed to Scotland? Check out my other awesome resources!
- 11 Money Saving Tips For Traveling Scotland
- The Ultimate Packing Guide for Scotland: Summer Edition
- A Perfect Weekend Itinerary For 3 Incredible Days In Edinburgh
Tips For Planning + Booking Your Trip To Scotland
1 | Plan time to explore more than just the major cities and touristy locations.
Every part of Scotland is beautiful no matter where you go, but block off some extra time to go off the beaten path, explore some of the western islands, and even the northernmost parts of Scotland. Whenever I traveled there, I was with a large group for a tournament so I really only got to see the highlights, which, don’t get me wrong, I was still blown away, but I wish I would have gotten to see St. Kilda (a double UNESCO World Heritage Site), The Outer Isles, The Outer Hebrides, The Northwest Highlands, and a lonnnnnnng list of other sites. Your trip is going to be special regardless, but dig a little deeper in your research and find those places that will make your trip special.
2 | Plan Your Own Highlands Roadtrip > Booking A Guided Tour
Highland tours are expensive, they don’t give you any flexibility, and you’re not able to choose when you arrive in certain places, which means that you’re going to arrive in places at a similar time as all the other tour buses. The best option if you want to explore the Isle of Skye, The Highlands, or anywhere else outside of the major cities in Scotland, renting a car and crafting your own tour is going to be the best option. Hell, you could even rent a campervan and REALLY get that full Scottish road trip experience!
3 | Get To Know The History
Scotland is chalked full of history and stories about practically everything that you’re going to see and when you know of the stories and history, you’ll appreciate everything you see a whole lot more, at least I did. The key thing here is to bring a guidebook that will also teach you the history of the locations. You will look at certain landscapes, castles, and hikes with a different perspective once you dive deeper into the culture stories and history of them.
4 | Book Excursions, Day Trips, And Tours Ahead + Online
I rarely end up booking things ahead of time, but in Scotland, booking online and in advance is going to save you some money and guarantee you a spot. If you’re planning on riding the Glenfinnan Viaduct (AKA The Harry Potter Train), you want to book several months in advance no matter the season. If you’re really keen on saving money, check out my other tips for traveling Scotland on a budget!
5 | Spend More Than Just A Day In Major Cities Like Edinburgh + Glasgow
You can easily see the highlights of Edinburgh like The Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, and many other iconic spots in a day, but spending more than a day, ideally three days in Edinburgh is going to get you into the Scottish groove, possibly into some shenanigans, and a more thorough experience of the city. The same goes for Glasgow!
6 | Get Into The Scottish Spirit Before You Head Out Via Books + Movies
Scotland is the setting for many iconic movies and tv shows. To name a few, Game of Thrones, Outlander, Braveheart, Monty Python and the Holy Grail are all recognizable, more mainstream movies that will get you into Scotland before you even leave for the airport. However, as I just said, these are all pretty mainstream, some even being historically inaccurate, so if you really want to explore the true Scottish culture, ‘The Sunshine On Leith’ and ‘Trainspotting’ are both great movies to start with and the Outlander series are great books to go to from there.
7 | The best way to get around the city is by foot and public transport and the best way to get around the highlands is in your own rental car.
Once you get into the cities, there really isn’t a need to rent a car until you leave to go to the more wild parts of Scotland. You can get around the vast majority of the country via public transportation, but a car allows you to squeeze into those little roads and explore more off the main areas. There are some parts that a large bus cannot get to, so having your own car is going to give you access to absolutely EVERYTHING.
8 | Scotland has its own currency, but it is valid all across the United Kingdom. The same goes for England and Northern Ireland currencies.
The prints on the currency vary depending on the bank that printed them in Scotland, but the Scottish currency can be mixed and matched with other currencies in the United Kingdom. It would basically be like if Texas printed it’s own dollar bills and I was visiting California, they are both technically the same currency, just different prints.
Packing + Adventure Tips For Scotland Travel
9 | Use every opportunity to exercise Scotland’s ‘Right to Roam’ law, but be respectful of the land and clean up after yourself.
Back in 2003, Scotland passed its ‘Right to Roam’ law that allows both tourists and locals to enjoy Scotland’s land and waters no matter who owns them. This means that wild camping is legal, AND you can expect to find some hidden and spectacular locations! If you do choose to exercise this, PLEASE make sure that you don’t leave any trash, destroy the natural environment, and leave the place how you found it.
10 | Pack the proper gear that will keep you warm and dry.
When I think of warm and dry, I think of my absolute favorite hiking essentials: my cozy fleece, stylish yet still functional raincoat, waterproof pants, and my tried and true hiking boots! If you’re out on a hike, or outside in general, you don’t want to end up a soggy mess, so I recommend investing in some high-quality gear if the outdoors is a large part of your life. Start out with some warm baselayers like the Patagonia Capilene Thermal Baselayers, and then layer up with the rainpants and outer shell. This is what my current layering system looks like:
Patagonia Capilene Midweight Longsleeve > T-Shirt > Sweater / Fleece > RAINS Classic Raincoat
This way I was able to strip down or add layers as the weather changed throughout the day!
11 | Pack comfortable shoes!
This is the FIRST thing you should even consider putting on your Scotland packing list because the hills and cobblestone streets are not going to do your back, hips, arches, or toes ANY favors. I made the mistake of trying to wear Vans around the city and let me just say, YIKES. I haven’t found the perfect pair of casual, yet still comfy walking shoes yet, but I want to give these adorable white sneakers a go, since they match with everything, but bring the pair that works best with your feet and back!
12 | “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute”
You can be in sunny, beautiful, partly cloudy weather one minute and then drive through a torrential downpour the next, seriously. It is both a blessing and a curse, but that is why you pack and wear those layers so that you’re unstoppable!
13 | Don’t rely on an umbrella to keep you dry; you’ll end up soggy.
If you encounter a light drizzle, sure, an umbrella will do the job, but when that afternoon, torrential downpour occurs, that umbrella is useless. Which is why I recommend having a waterproof shell, AKA a waterproof jacket, pants, and shoes that will keep your whole body dry!
14 | If you’re planning on taking a road trip, watch out for sheep on the road!
You’ll see these fluffy lil’ guys all over the country! Be careful on the roads and stay vigilant!
15 | Don’t stop in the middle of the road or street to take a photo.
If you try and stop in the middle of a bust street or road, 1. you might get hit, and 2. you’re going to get dirty looks and probably called a couple of names for not going off to the side. There are beautiful places all over Scotland, but make sure you walk to the side or pull off onto a spot on the side of the road before you take your photo.
16 | There are people that still speak Scotlands original language of Gaelic, so you will spot some bilingual signs on the road.
Practically everyone speaks English in Scotland, but as you veer away from the major cities, the more prominent Gaelic will be!
17 | If you get yourself into a bad situation where you need medical or emergency services, the phone number is 999.
There are tons of outdoor activities, hikes, and excursions that just might get you into a sticky situation. Ideally, you’ll never need this number, but just in case you need emergency help, the number is 999.
18 | ^^ and if you do need to make a call, that’s why it’s best to get a local, Scottish SIM card.
Throw you international phone plan out the window and step into the world of local SIM cards, my travel savior and my favorite way to stay safe while traveling. Generally, international phone plans cost around $10/day if it doesn’t already come with the plan you have, and that is WAY too much, especially if you travel for longer periods of time like I do. I’m not trying to drop that much coin to use my phone, so I opt-in for SIM cards, which are a one time fee, generally never over $30-40 USD, that will allow you to use your phone across the country you’re traveling in! You can make local calls and texts as well, so it’s a great way to save money and stay safe! All you have to do is make sure your phone is unlocked so you can pop out your SIM from home.
19 | The remote parts of Scotland are REALLY remote, so know where you’re going and don’t wander so far that you can’t find your way back.
This is true in Scotland, The United States, Europe, and really anywhere that is rich in nature, so just don’t do anything stupid, know your limits, and don’t go so far that you get lost and have to call the emergency number. I do encourage everyone to exercise the legality of wild camping, but just don’t be dumb, like with anywhere else you travel to.
20 | Get lost in the wildlife + help save it!
Something that I found out recently via a Scottish Youtuber was that Scotland is in a major climate crisis due to 1-in-11 of their wildlife in threat of extinction, illegal wildlife hunting, and other practices that have destroyed the natural landscape and wildlife.
She says, “We need to show the Scottish government that wildlife is valuable and worth saving. So come to the Isle of Mull to see white-tailed sea eagles and otters, come to Shetland to go whale watching, come and see the Eurasian beavers in Argyll and the ospreys that make the trip from Africa to the Cairngorms every year. We need to show them that ecotourism and wildlife tourism are greater assets to the tourism industry and the economy than shooting estates are.”
You can watch her video here and she describes the entire situation very very well.
General Scotland Travel Tips + Tips For On The Road
21 | Scotland is not England or a part of England.
Some people get confused and think that Scotland and England are the same thing, or at least within the same realm, and that is totally false. Scotland is very much its own country and is a part of the United Kingdom, which is made up of England, Scotland, Wales (that make up Great Britain), and Northern Ireland. So, yes, Scotland is its own country and even the accents there are drastically different than they are in England.
22 | English is widely spoken, but you may not understand what they’re saying. Just ask them to repeat it again slowly.
Understanding a Scottish accent is going to get easier and easier as you spend more time in the country, but at the beginning, sometimes you really need to focus on what they’re saying to understand. If it all goes over your head the first time, just ask them to say it again more slowly, and don’t feel dumb or embarrassed for having to ask because some of those accents are thick!
23 | Dive into and learn some Scottish slang words before you arrive.
With the heavy Scottish accents around, knowing a couple of slang words is both fun to know and good practice when you’re traveling to a new place. Some great words to know are wee, dram,
wee / wee bit | a little bit
bevvy | a drink
juice | anything that isn’t alcohol (juice)
ah dinnae kin | I don’t know
tatties | potatoes
awright | are you alright? / i agree / yes
braw | good
blether | you talk a lot / you talk a lot of rubbish
24 | Cards are widely accepted, especially in major cities, but keep extra cash on you once you venture outside of them.
This is a travel tip that goes beyond just Scotland, but most of the time, the farther you are from a major city, the less likely they’re going to accept cards. It’s best to keep cash enough cash to last you at least a couple of days: not so much that if you’re robbed you’re screwed, but not so little that you’re screwed if they don’t accept cards.
25 | Don’t shy away from public transportation. It can save you a lot of money!
Every time I travel somewhere in Europe, I am blown away by the efficiency of their public transportation systems. Living in the US, basically, if you’re outside a city and don’t have a car you’re screwed, but this is not the case in Scotland! You can use buses or trains to get around and in between major cities and other places around the country and it’s a whole lot cheaper than renting a car! When you’re looking at how to get around, don’t forget to check out routes and prices for buses and trains!
26 | If you decide public transport is your way to get around Scotland, consider buying a Scotrail pass.
A Scotrail Pass is great if you plan on going all around Scotland via bus/train/etc.. There are multiple ticket tiers that you can buy for your individual trip, which you can view here, and they cover buses, trains, ferries, trams for whatever region you choose to buy your ticket for. It is quite useful whether you plan on hopping around a certain area or thoroughly traveling the whole country. It isn’t always the cheaper option, so compare rates before you buy to make sure it’s worth it for you.
27 | Taking the bus? Bring exact change!
The bus drivers don’t give change back if you overpay, so make sure that you have smaller coins to pay the transport fees! There are also day passes available for purchase so that you don’t have to worry about getting the change right every single time.
A lil Update | January 2020
I was notified via the comments from a traveler that visited Edinburgh recently and the bus drivers were able to give him exact change back for his ride! It looks like some changes are being made to help things run a little smoother, so an exact change may not be necessary as you can now pay with a card as well!
28 | Tipping is customary in Scotland, but the standard is 10%.
Tipping culture isn’t as widespread and stressed as it is here in the United States, but the standard is 10% for services, but there are some exceptions:
Taxis | Round up to the nearest pound
hotels / tours | none
29 | Sales tax is included in all the prices, so you’ll always know exactly what you’re paying.
Unlike SOME places, ahem *cough* the United States, the prices that you soo on products and goods is exactly what you’re going to pay for that item. All the tax is included in the price so you don’t have to play guessing games as to how much something actually costs. This was a really nice switch coming from the United States and I’ve always wondered why we don’t do that ourselves… At any rate, this makes buying things SO much easier!
Tips On Scottish Food, Drinks + Culture
30 | The local foods and dishes are very interesting but try them, AND THEN ask what they are or try veggie versions of them!
Haggis and black pudding are two foods that you for sure want to give ago while you’re in Scotland. I didn’t try them since I am vegan, but some of Edinburgh’s best vegan restaurants serve a veggie version of this dish that is quite tasty! If you’re not vegan, ask what the food is after you’ve tried it so it doesn’t steer you away from eating it. It’s all in the fun and mystery of experiencing Scotland!
31 | Get restaurant and meal recommendations from locals instead of eating at all the touristy restaurants.
Scotland’s cities are chalked full of incredible local and international cuisine; seriously, it’s some of the best food I’ve tasted! Not to mention, touristy restaurants are expensive, typical, and not as high-quality food than real local dives in the city. Food is probably, like, half the reason I travel to places so I looooooove trying new dishes and combinations while I travel. I know some people don’t care for the food in certain places, but if you can manage it budget-wise, try out local breakfast spots instead of the one offered at the hotel and go out of your way to find those special places!
32 | Indulge in the whiskey and craft beers while you’re here.
While you’re in Edinburgh, make sure you pay a visit to the Scottish Whiskey Experience! They have a display of over 4,000 bottles of whiskey and it is one of the seven wonders of the Scotch whiskey world! Also, the Scots know how to party, so don’t shy away on having some fun and trying new drinks!
33 | When you order a scotch, don’t take it like a shot. It’s meant to be sipped and savored.
Many people make the mistake of ordering a scotch and tossing it down the hatch immediately, buuuuuuut you’re going to get some looks if you do that. Slow down and savor the flavors!
34 | The vegan/vegetarian food scenes in Glasgow and Edinburgh are some of the best in the United Kingdom! I had some of the best vegan breakfasts, coffees, and dinners while in Edinburgh!
I didn’t know if I was going to starve or indulge while I was in Edinburgh, and I am pleased to say that I indulged! There are many incredible restaurants that offer vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options for visitors, so check out the links above and scope out some awesome eateries!
35 | The men do wear kilts (do not call it a skirt) and the pattern on it is called tartan, not plaid!
Kilts aren’t a taboo thing in Scotland. In fact, each clan has its own specific tartan that has been passed down over generations! It’s not uncommon to see these on the streets of Edinburgh, but not everyone is going to be wearing them. Back in the 19th century, kilts became formal wear that was only worn for ceremonies, weddings, and sporting events, but they’re slowly making their way back into informal, casual wear, so expect to see them while you’re strolling around the cities and highlands!
36 | Whatever you do, don’t lift up a man’s kilt!
Well, okay, not that you would do that anyway, but don’t say I didn’t warn you (;
Tips For Visiting Edinburgh
37 | Edinburgh is pronounced Ed-in-burr-uhh, not Ed-in-burg (I messed it up the first time too lol).
Come to my surprise, and maybe yours as well, the g is silent in Edinburgh… I looked like a total goober pronouncing it with the g the first time I ever tried to say it, so make sure you the correct way, which sounds way cooler than what I thought it was.
38 | Avoid traveling to Edinburgh in the month of August unless you’re attending The Fringe Festival.
Edinburgh turns into an absolute zoo in the month of August from the Fringe Festival, so unless you’re planning on paying it a visit, I would avoid this month. The prices skyrocket, the crowds are massive, and it’s an all-around madhouse among the streets. Personally, there isn’t really a bad time to visit Scotland, much like most other countries around the world, as long as you pack the proper gear and attire! If you want to avoid crowds, go in the spring and summertime!
39 | Among your time in Edinburgh, consider a day trip to Glasgow. You don’t want to write it off your itinerary!
Glasgow is only an hour away from Edinburgh by bus, so make sure you head over there and roam around for a day. I wasn’t able to visit myself, but I know many people who love Glasgow over Edinburgh, and vice versa! Take the time to see both, indulge in both cultures, and decide for yourself!
40 | Stay in Airbnb’s and guesthouses over hotels to save money and experience Scottish culture. You’ll also want to book this in advance as they fill up fast!
Hotels are more than likely going to be close to the Royal Mile, AKA expensive, so I recommend renting out a flat or apartment through Airbnb to get a feel for local life, save a bit of money, and have a unique experience! That isn’t to say that this is an uncommon practice, so book as soon as you can! These places book up fast!
41 | Edinburgh is a busy, popular city year-round, so get to more touristy places, like Edinburgh Castle, as early as you can to avoid crowds.
I believe we can all admit that a large crowd can really damage an experience, that is unless you’re attending an awesome concert, so I suggest that you get to popular places like Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, St. Giles Cathedral, The Elephant House, Arthur’s Seat, and many other popular destinations either when they open or as early as you can. This tip is more stressed in the summer months since those are a lot busier than other times of the year, but I always think this is a great practice to have no matter where you’re traveling to! Early bird gets the worm (and the best photos)!
42 | Walk the Royal Mile more than once. You’ll see new things every single time.
Since I was in Edinburgh for a tournament, I walked up and down the Royal Mile multiple times and I saw new shops every single time. There is so much you miss and look past if you only walk it once, so if you can manage the time and are up to hunt down some wee shops, do it! You’ll find some true treasures!
43 | Explore the outskirts and small villages of Edinburgh like Leith and Stockbridge. You’ll escape crowds and feel like you’re in a fairytale!
If you’ve ever imagined a Scottish fairytale, Leith and Stockbridge are those imaginations coming to life. These villages are quaint, floral, adorable, picturesque, and everything in between! The best part is that not many people roam out to these two spots, so you’ll be able to see the quieter towns and sides of Edinburgh!
44 | Get lost and take the stairs.
There are many ‘closes’, random stairways, and other corridors that are begging for people to come and get lost in (in a good way). If you see a small alleyway or staircase going down somewhere, GO! It is going to lead you to some awesome, hidden and beautiful parts of the city!
45 | Geek out at all of the Harry Potter spots in the city: Greyfriars Kirkyard, The Elephant House, Spoons.
If you didn’t know already, J.K. Rowling wrote and gathered inspiration for Harry Potter right in the heart of Edinburgh! I can understand how because it’s hard not to be inspired in a city like this! If you visit the Greyfriars Kirkyard, you’re able to see Professor McGonagall and Tom Riddle’s gravesites, which are known for being an inspiration for these characters! Also, you can pay a visit to The Elephant House, which claims to be the birthplace of Harry Potter, but it is more likely that she wrote the first book of the series in a cafe called Nicholson’s own by one of her relatives at the time, which is now called Spoons. The Elephant House tends to be extremely crowded, so if you want to avoid that, but still feel the magic, pay a visit to Spoons, instead!
46 | Spend a night watching a classic or modern film at The Cameo Picturehouse.
The Cameo is one of the oldest cinemas in Scotland that is still in use! It was built back in 1914 and most, if not all, of the original decor, has either been restored or kept as is. If you want to take a deep dive into a taste of what life was like back in the 1910s/20s, pay a visit here and step back in time!
47 | Avoid the typical tourist souvenir shops and get a handmade souvenir while you’re in the highlands, Isle of Skye, or other parts of Scotland.
Most of the souvenirs on the Royal Mile are massed produced, overpriced wares that are not worth holding your memories of Scotland in. Once you venture out into the highlands and more remote parts of Scotland, find a local artist or artisan that you can buy a unique souvenir from, such as pottery or a piece of art. This way you’re giving back to the local community and you have something more special than, let’s say, a t-shirt or shot glass.
48 | If you’re there on a weekend, go to the farmer’s market to try local produce and local vendors!
Heading to the Edinburgh Farmer’s Market on a fine Saturday morning was one of my favorite things I experienced during my entire time in Edinburgh! I ate some drool-worthy vegan food, bread, and even picked up some skincare items that I loved every last drop of! I recommend picking up some Scottish strawberries and tomatoes and sourdough from the local bakery vendor. The market is right under Edinburgh Castle so it’s a great place to visit after you’re done exploring the quarters.
49 | DO visit one of Edinburgh’s festivals!
Indulge in art, music, and movies during the Fringe Festival or party like there’s no tomorrow at the Hogmanay Festival! If there is one thing for sure, the Scottish sure know how to host a party!
50 | If you want to get really crazy, hit up Scotland’s Viking Festival, Up Helly Aa, in Lerwick, Shetland!
This party is so wild that people even say its bigger than Christmas… Yes, CHRISTMAS. Must be pretty off the chain if you ask me! It normally takes place in January each year and is filled with fire, food, and fury! If you need any information about the festival, that is linked above and if you need information on staying and getting to Shetland, then you can visit their tourism website here for all the information!
Do you have any useful tips for traveling Scotland? Share with me in the comments below!