Travel 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 experience. A holiday in Scotland does not have to cost a fortune, as long as you know where you can save a few pounds or more and when it’s worth to splurge!
The tips on this list include advice on saving money on transport around Scotland, accommodation, food and drink, activities, sites and tours, shopping and exchanging currency, as well as tips specifically for budget travel in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Getting around on a Budget
1 | Pick up and drop off your rental car at the same destination. One-way car rentals are always subject to additional fees. I always find the best deals on Auto Europe, which compares prices from different agencies and offers separate (and affordable) insurance.
2 | Compare petrol prices online here to find the best rates.
3 | Always book train tickets in advance – it’s usually cheaper and less stressful. I find them to be cheapest around 12 weeks in advance and I always book via Trainline. They send you a code which you can use to pick up your tickets at any ticket terminal throughout Scotland.
4 | Travel during off-peak times. 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. Check here for everything you need to know about off-peak train travel.
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5 | Scotrail offers travel passes which include trains as well as many 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! There are also RailCards which can pay off if you use several trains.
6 | Choose buses over trains to 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 Scottish Citylink.
7 | Browse BlaBlaCar for budget-friendly carpooling options.
8 | Plan a cycling or walking holiday – transport in Scotland could not be any cheaper! 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.
Finding Budget Accommodation
9 | Book your accommodation well in advance, especially if you visit during the summer months or choose popular destinations like Skye or Inverness. Find accommodation on the Isle of Skye!
10 | Hostels are by far the cheapest accommodation option. There are many independent hostels and Hostelling Scotland offers high-quality accommodation all over Scotland.
11 | Many hostels also offer private rooms with shared or private bathroom facilities. Often these are still cheaper than a B&B! Also, they include self-catering facilities and sometimes even free breakfast.
12 | If staying at hotels and B&Bs and travelling with kids or in groups of 3 or 4, ask if there are family rooms available. Often they have twin/double rooms and can add 1 or 2 beds, which is usually cheaper than booking 2 double rooms.
13 | Longer stays are often cheaper, especially in self-catering accommodation. Many cabins and cottages will even only rent out by the week during the summer.
14 | Check AirBnB for good deals, but only book with hosts that have a good rating.
15 | I have found some amazing accommodation via the Visit Scotland website that was not available on booking platforms.
16 | Browse Itison for special deals for hotel rooms and packages all over 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 with you. The Scottish Bothy Bible contains a list of them all plus info on how to get there, what supplies you need to bring and what to do in the area!
Saving Money on Food & Drink
19 | Book self-catering accommodation, so you can save money by preparing your own meals.
20 | Browse Itison for special deals at restaurants and bars. They have restaurant deals in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee.
21 | Restaurants can be pricey. Food markets and take-away restaurants (for example, fish & chip shops) are a cheaper alternative!
22 | Many supermarkets have special meal deals, which usually include a sandwich or wrap, a piece of fruit or a bag of crisps and a drink. It’s not very eco-friendly, but a good solution for a quick emergency snack.
23 | Bring a reusable coffee cup. Many coffee shops will give you a discount for using it!
24 | Tap water is safe to drink all over Scotland. It’s not only eco-friendly to fill a reusable water bottle with it throughout your holiday – it’s also cheaper than buying plastic bottles or ordering drinks at restaurants.
25 | Choose local beers at pubs – they are usually cheaper than imported brands, wine or spirits, and lager is usually more affordable than ales. Cheap import beer on draft includes Amstel, Heineken and Fosters.
26 | Ask if there is a malt of the month. Most pubs have a different whisky on special offer each month.
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.
28 | If you visit during the summer, try to avoid popular areas like Skye, Inverness and Edinburgh – or at least start booking well in advance.
29 | Visit less known regions like Fife, the Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, Aberdeenshire or Moray & Speyside – overall they are usually cheaper than the more sought after destinations, but no less breathtaking.
30 | A membership for the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) includes free entry to all NTS sites in Scotland, as well as worldwide partner attractions, and free parking at NTS car parks. NTS runs and maintains over 100 protected places in Scotland, including castles, gardens, battlefields and natural sites. The annual NTS membership costs £57 for an individual, £96 for a couple and £102 for a family with up to 6 children.
31 | Similarly, you can join Historic Scotland as a member which costs £49.50 per year for an individual, £86.40 for a couple and £90.90 for a family with up to 6 children. It gives you free access to all Historic Scotland Sites.
32 | Visit Britain offers a Scottish Heritage Pass which costs £50 and is valid for 7 consecutive days of your choice between April and October. The pass includes access to all NTS sites and all Historic Scotland locations – over 120 attractions in total.
33 | 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 train between Fort William and Mallaig – it uses the same tracks. Tickets can be booked via Trainline.
34 | 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.
Edinburgh on a Budget
35 | Try to visit Edinburgh during the week if you can – accommodation will be cheaper than on weekends.
36 | Unless you come specifically for the Edinburgh Fringe or the Tattoo, avoid visiting Edinburgh in August. Prices during the festivals are soaring!
38 | There are several free walking tours in Edinburgh. Sandemans might be the most established provider and covers a lot of ground in 2.5 hours. City Explorers offers 4 different free walking tours (Old Town, New Town, Ghost Tour and Harry Potter sites). Another option is the free walking tour by Little Fish Tours.
39 | There are a lot of free things to do in Edinburgh, like visiting the National Museum of Scotland or the Royal Botanic Garden, climbing Arthur Seat or Calton Hill, exploring the lanes off the Royal Mile or soaking up the local life in Leith.
40 | Booking tickets in advance for popular attractions like Edinburgh Castle can save you money and, almost more importantly, time.
41 | My personal favourites for an affordable bite in Edinburgh are Civerino’s (pizza and pasta), Hula Juice Bar (lunch cafe) and I love browsing the “cheap” category on the Vegan Edinburgh website for new ideas.
Glasgow on a Budget
43 | Check out my list of 45 free things to do in Glasgow!
44 | Street food is super budget-friendly in Glasgow! Try a fish supper (= a chippy), get a £2 falafel wrap at Falafel To Go on Hope Street, or pick up a lovely vegan burger at Platform street food market during the weekends.
45 | Some of my favourite budget restaurants in Glasgow are Ranjit’s Kitchen (Panjabi / Indian), Bread Meats Bread (burgers), Paesano and Romans Pizzeria (pizza), Wagamama (pan-Asian) and Yo! Sushi (Japanese).
46 | During weekends, keep an eye out for promoters in the streets or in pubs, who are handing out free entry tickets for local clubs.
More Money-saving Tips for Scotland
48 | Exchanging foreign currency 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 bank in cities with lots of options.
49 | Tipping is common in Scotland, but if you visit from North America you will be happy to hear that 10% is an appropriate amount to tip your waiter in a restaurant. In pubs, when you buy your drinks at the bar, it is not necessary to tip and the same counts for taxi drivers.
50 | If you visit the UK from outside the EU, you can claim back the 20% VAT you paid for many goods and souvenirs during your stay in Scotland. 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!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.