Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!
Scotland Travel Tips

50 Useful Travel Tips for Scotland

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Last updated on October 11th, 2017 at 06:05 pm

Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or are just at the cusp of starting your life as a globetrotter, it is always a good idea to read and learn as much as possible about the destination of your next trip. I’m the kind of person who wants to know everything in advance, even though I know that the unexpected can (and will) always happen. I also know that no matter how well you do your research, the reality of a place is always different and usually ten times better than you could have ever imagined. Yet, I like to read up and gather travel tips for my holidays. Call it my way of anticipating a trip, or ‘Vorfreude’, as we say in German – pre-happiness.  And while Scotland is a very easy to navigate and accessible destination, even (or especially) for first time travellers, you can’t go wrong reading and sticking to these 50 travel tips for Scotland.

Most of my tips are handy to know for a smooth cultural encounter or to efficiently spend your budget on a trip around Scotland. Other are an inspiration for choosing an itinerary and some off the beaten track locations. Yet others will hopefully make you chuckle a bit. Here we go!

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Visiting Scotland Right:

1) Don’t ever call it England! Scotland as a sovereign nation is part of the United Kingdom, which is made up of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. For a great video explaining all the different terms used to describe the British Isles click here.

2) Ask locals to slow down and repeat what they just said, if you can’t understand them the first time.

3) Practice your ‘nod-and-smile’ technique for chatty cab drivers.

4) Get into the groove by watching Scottish films, TV shows or even interviews with Scottish personalities like Travis or Amy Macdonald. Pick up some Scottish words to add to your vocabulary. Start with wee (little), dram (drink) and skint (broke) – maybe someone will buy you a drink.

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5) Scotland has a second major language called Gaelic. You will see many bilingual signs along the roads (particularly in western Scotland) and you might hear/see it on the radio/telly (BBC Alba).

6) When you don’t know how to pronounce a Scottish place name, wing it – chances are various locals pronounce it differently too.

7) Carry a pen with you to write down street names for directions.

8) Don’t be afraid to bring up British politics or Brexit – most people here are very engaged in politics and like talking about it.

Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

In my experience Edinburgh’s bagpipers are particularly keen to talk politics.

9) Scotland uses its own Pound notes and they come in all kinds of designs depending on which bank printed them. However, they’re valid throughout the UK just like their English and Northern Irish counter parts. However, if you have a lot of money left at the end of your stay, make sure your bank at home is happy to exchange Scottish Pound notes back to your own currency – some might be picky and only accept English notes… (Had that issue in India, when the guy at the exchange desk looked at my Scottish Pound notes as if they were monopoly money!)

Getting Around:

10) When you look up public transport, always check buses as well as trains – it could save you lots of money!

11) Consider investing in a ScotRail Travel Pass if you travel Scotland by public transport. These passes usually cover most trains, buses and ferries.

12) Hiring a car is the most convenient way to get around, especially if you decide to do a road trip to the Highlands! Be careful though – a lot of roads in the Highlands and on the isles are narrow and windy.

13) Watch out for sheep on the road!

Read: How to drive in Scotland

Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

Road tripping in Aberdeenshire with my mum.

14) There are many tour companies taking people round Scotland, but I can really recommend Rabbie’s for their small group tours. Their drivers/tour guides are just the best!

Browse my archive of Rabbie’s tour review

 

Scottish Culture, Food & Drink:

15) Bring your dancing shoes and pray you’ll happen upon a Ceilidh – Sloans in Glasgow actually puts on a Ceilidh dance every Friday night (tickets are £10)!

16) 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 it.

17) Don’t order a single malt whisky with ice – every Scottish bar man/woman will tell you to first try it on its own, then maybe add a few drops of water, and only if you still don’t like it they will reluctantly give you some ice.

18) To learn more about the different whisky regions and find your preferred taste visit the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.

Read: Scotland and the thing with the whisky

Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

Learning how to taste whisky properly in Edinburgh.

19) Ask what’s in haggis after you tried it, not before!

20) Black pudding is not a pudding. Also, the same rule applies as with the haggis.

21) Order typical Scottish food like cullen skink (a creamy fish soup), steak (or mushroom) pie, stovies (a potato dish), fresh seafood and of course chicken tikka masala.

22) 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!

Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

Two Scottish classics: fish & chips and mac & cheese in Anstruther.

23) Drink all the craft beer you can get your hands on, but also try a pint of Tennent’s Lager which is Scotland’s most consumed beer.

24) For more Scottish beverages have a go at Irn Bru (a terribly sweet soft drink) and Buckfast (a very sweet and strong alcoholic drink, I probably shouldn’t recommend).

25) Taste as much local and regional produce as you can. Aberdeenshire and the Royal Deeside in particular are well-known for their great veg and fruit, like Scottish strawberries.

Edinburgh:

Browse my Edinburgh archives

 

26) You could easily spend a lot of time in Edinburgh, but two days should be enough to cover the basics.

27) Rabbie’s City Tour of Edinburgh  or an Edinburgh Hop on Hop off tour* can give you a great overview of the town – I recommend doing this as soon as you arrive!

Great Activities in Edinburgh:

Edinburgh Hop on Hop off tour* – gain the perfect initial overview of the city

Edinburgh Castle* – dive into the medieval history of the city

Royal Yacht Britannia* – learn more about the Royal life at sea

Edinburgh Old Town Underground Tour* – you better not do this on your own!

Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

Passing Edinburgh Castle on Rabbie’s City Tour.

Read: Where to stay in Edinburgh for any budget

 

28) Accommodation in Edinburgh can be terribly expensive – so, if you are on a budget try hostels and AirBnB and avoid August (it’s the busiest month of the year due to the festivals) and weekends. Worst case you could even stay in Glasgow and take the train to Edinburgh for a day (only 45 minutes).

29) Explore Edinburgh beyond the Old Town: the Royal Botanical Gardens, Stockbridge and Leith are just a few highlights.

Glasgow:

30) Edinburgh is better than Glasgow when you’re in Edinburgh; and Glasgow is better than Edinburgh when you’re in Glasgow.

31) Don’t miss out on Glasgow in your itinerary – I think it’s the best and most fun city in Scotland.

Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

Glasgow’s City Chambers on George Square.

32) It’s easy to meet locals in Glasgow. Just go to a pub, stand by the bar and someone will start chatting to you.

33) Glasgow is all about its music. Listen to the buskers around the city centre, or stay overnight and check out a live music venue like The Butterfly & the Pig!

Read: 50 Travel Tips for Glasgow

 

What to Bring:

34) Always check the weather forecast, especially before heading out into the hills. I rely on yr.no, a Norwegian weather service.

35) Never trust a blue sky – expect every kind of weather on every day. A typical days in Scotland is going through all four seasons. Within an hour.

36) Invest in a good waterproof jacket and don’t let a bit of rain drag you down!

37) Bring proper hiking equipment, including waterproofs, hiking boots and map material – if you plan to hike in the Highlands.

 

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Making your Itinerary:

38) 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!

39) Highland cows aren’t as frequent as one might think (they’re more expensive to keep than Angus cows). A good place to see them up close is Pollok Park in Glasgow.

40) You don’t need to go far for an island adventure – the Isle of Bute is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Glasgow!

41) The Isle of Arran is an amazing weekend island getaway if you’re pressed for time. It’s easy to reach (with a train & ferry combo ticket), the culinary scene is delicious (Arran beer, cheese and ice cream!) and the hiking is gorgeous (Goatfell).

Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

A viewpoint in the Highlands.

42) Visit one of the Small Isles (Rum, Muck or Eigg) to go completely off the beaten track. Each island is owned by a community trust and only few people actually live there. The views however – particularly across to the Isle of Skye – are beautiful!

43) For beautiful beaches head to the Outer Hebrides (Lewis & Harris) or to the north east coast of Scotland.

Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

Rattray Head Lighthouse in north east Scotland.

44) 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. It’s happens twice a day during peak season only. Taking the train itself is still on my bucket list!

45) A wee dram increases your chances to spot the monster of Loch Ness.

Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

Another dram at Loch Ness.

My favourite Castles:

46) The gardens of Balmoral Castle are at their best in the end of July, just before the Royal Family arrives for their annual holiday in August. This is the best time to visit the gardens in full bloom.

47) My favourite castle experience so far was Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire – don’t miss out on it!

Browse my Castle archive

Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire.

Party like a Scot:

48) Start planning your trip to Shetland for Up Helly Aa as early as possible. Accommodation is scarce and fills up quickly as this festival is literally ‘bigger than Christmas’ (and I’m quoting a local here).

49) Experience the Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh (Hogmanay is Scotland’s New Year’s Eve) – especially the torchlight procession and midnight fireworks are an unforgettable experience.

What Else?

50) Don’t lift up a man’s kilt!

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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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Scotland is a great location for first-time solo travellers, and my 50 super useful travel tips for Scotland will make your trip even better!

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.

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22 Comments

  1. Pingback: How to Plan a Trip to Scotland | WatchMeSee.com

  2. Pingback: 50 Useful Travel Tips for Glasgow | Watch Me See

  3. Oh my god, this list is amazing! I am actually planning on visiting Scotland in November, so now I really can’t wait for this weird country. (Weird in a good way) …Thank you .)

    • Have a fantastic trip – November can be a bit rainy, but also so eery and mysterious in the mountains. And the colours are amazing – I love it!

  4. My husband and I will be visiting August 31st to September 14th. We plan to take the train to get around (Edinburgh, ft William, skye, Inverness, pitlochry & Glasgow) Are there any tips or websites you recommend. I’m a little nervous about it honestly.
    Thanks

    • That’s absolutely doable, although you’ll have to take a bus to Skye. For trains I always use trainline.co.uk – I find the best deals around three weeks prior to my intended travel dates, and the site is a lot more user-friendly than the Scotrail websites; plus it lists various train companies in its search results! For buses check our citylink.co.uk, which is as far as I know the main bus company operating in rural Scotland. Prices are usually reasonable if you book in advance or do short routes! Traveling by public transport can be a bit more time consuming, but particularly the train routes are so scenic, you’ll actually want them to last longer 😉 Have a great trip!

  5. Gonna hold my hands up and say I came to read this list (as a Scot in Scotland) to see what ridiculous advice was being doled out. I’ve never been happier to admit I am completely wrong and this was a very useful, interesting and well-written list – a must-read for anyone coming to visit Scotland.
    I would add that for number 28, Fife (an area north of Edinburgh, over the iconic Forth Bridge) is also worth a mention in terms of cheaper accommodation if you want to see Edinburgh, even in August. There are very regular trains (more and later running during the festival) and it’s as little as 35 minutes away.

    • Good shout about Fife – I’ll add this tip to the article if I may. I’m glad I could surprise you with my list! I’ve lived here for several years and was hoping that by now I’d have a pretty good idea of what travelers should know about 🙂 I hope you’ll share it with friends coming to visit you! X

  6. Love this list! We are heading there in March and will only be there for a week. I wish I could stay a month or longer and do so much more. Still working out our itinerary, though, so this has given me many ideas. (Sorry to hear the highland cows aren’t as easy to spot as the travel websites make them seem. But it’s good to know. 🙂 )

    • Oh a week really isn’t enough, but it’s a good time to get a first overview! In terms of highland cows – maybe I was just always not lucky enough… I wish you a great journey and all the best spotting coos 😀 Thanks for your comment!

  7. Believe me, Adele is from Tottenham, London. Definitely not Scottish

    • Haha I was totally thinking of Amy Macdonald there – neither of them make it into my playlists, so it’s easy to mix up 😀

  8. Love this so much! And agree with all of them!! The thing about not lifting a man’s kilt made me laugh, it’s my man’s biggest fear when we’re out and he’s wearing his kilt. At graduation in St Andrews, people randomly asked him to take photos because he was wearing one. Also, I invested in a Craghoppers last year and it was by far my favourite purchase ever! It’s doing really well in currently -15 Canadian weather too! And agreed about the classic trifecta, Edinburgh, Loch Ness and Isle of Skye. I always try to get people to think further than that!

    • Thanks for your comment – I’m glad I picked some you could personally relate to. I wish my partner was wearing a kilt more often – he’s Scottish, but he doesn’t have one – I’m often disappointed ha ha 🙂

  9. Ruth Cronan

    Thanks for the advice! I will be heading to northeast Scotland in March (Inverness and the Black Isle), I will definitely be using some of your advice. This is my first time to Scotland and really appreciate your time to dish out some advice.

    • Oh what a fantastic trip waiting for you! I’ve never been to the Black Isle, but they have a great brewery up there, if you’re into that sort of stuff! Have a fab trip! 🙂

  10. Edith gillian

    I was interested in your take on Scotland, as I once lived there, and still have relatives there, it is a beautiful country, except for the dreaded Scottish mid he, especially in the west, it absolutely eats you to bits, especially the English, so be warned from May to October beware the midge

    • You’re right – the midges are the worst! They can really ruin your trip to some extent – but the landscape makes up for it 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  11. Great tips for Scotland. I will bookmark them for when I visit. I would especially love to see the castles and the Jacobite Steam Train .

    • Thanks for your comment! The steam train really is a great experience – hope I get to take it maybe this year 🙂

  12. I was just in Scotland and did the Loch Ness, Isle of Skye, and Edinburgh. It was all we could fit in for that trip, but I really wanna go back and see more. I will put Glasgow on the top of the list. I did try haggis while I was there and loved it!

    • Thanks for your comment! Those three places are a great introduction and all classics! Next time do Glasgow for sure, and maybe Oban <3

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