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. While Scotland is a very easy to navigate and accessible destination, even (or especially) for first time travellers, you can’t go wrong reading up on the ins and outs of traveling this country. These 50 travel tips for Scotland should help you get going!
Most of the tips on this list are handy to know for a smooth cultural encounter or to efficiently spend your budget on a trip around Scotland. Others are an inspiration for planning your itinerary and some off the beaten track locations. Others again, will hopefully make you chuckle a bit. Here we go!
Good to know before you go
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 | Get into the groove by watching Scottish films, TV shows or even interviews with Scottish personalities like Travis or Amy Macdonald. I recommend Sunshine on Leith, Local Hero, all films by Bill Forsyth, and anything by Lynne Ramsay.
4 | 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.
5 | Some people in Scotland speak Gaelic, the old language of the country. You will see many bilingual signs along the roads (particularly in western Scotland and the islands) and you might hear/see it on the radio/telly (BBC Alba).
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6 | When you don’t know how to pronounce a Scottish place name, wing it – even locals might use various different pronounciations.
7 | Carry a pen with you to write down street & town names for directions. Chances are, you pronounce it wrong.
8 | Scotland uses its own bank 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.
9 | While cards are widely accepted in the cities and towns, on some islands you’re better off having enough cash with you. In small communities cash machines (ATMs) can be located inside the village shop or post office, and thus access is limited to open hours.
Tips for getting around Scotland
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 around Scotland by public transport. These passes usually cover most trains, buses and ferries, and allow multiple travel days.
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12 | Hiring a car is the most convenient way to get around, especially if you decide to do a road trip to the Highlands! If you’re a little nervous about driving on the left or navigating small mountain roads, read my top tips for driving in Scotland.
13 | Watch out for sheep on the road!
14 | If you’d rather not drive yourself, there are many tour companies taking people around Scotland. I highly recommend Rabbie’s for their small group tours. Their driver-guides are just the best!
Scottish Culture, Food & Drink
15 | 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. Try a few different ones before you give up!
16 | 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.
17 | To learn more about the different whisky regions and find your preferred taste visit the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.
18 | 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!
19 | Black pudding is not a pudding. Like with haggis, don’t overthink it, and maybe try the veggie version.
20 | 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. If you are vegan, find out how easy it is to travel Scotland as a vegan here!
21 | 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!
22 | 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 and has been brewed in Glasgow for over 400 years.
23 | 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).
24 | 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.
Tips for visiting Edinburgh
25 | Spend at least 2 full days in Edinburgh to cover the highlights.
27 | Explore Edinburgh beyond the Old Town: the Royal Botanical Gardens, Stockbridge and Leith are just a few highlights.
28 | Accommodation in Edinburgh can be expensive and hard to come by – book ahead and if you are on a budget try hostels and AirBnBs; avoid August, which is the festival season; and also weekends. Worst case, you could even stay in Glasgow or Dunfermline and take the train to Edinburgh for a day trip.
Travel Info for Edinburgh
Where to Stay | Browse my suggestions for accommodation in Edinburgh.
Where to Eat | Giving away some of my favourite eateries (no tourist traps) in this weekend guide.
What to Do | 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!
Tips for visiting Glasgow
29 | Edinburgh is better than Glasgow when you’re in Edinburgh; and Glasgow is better than Edinburgh when you’re in Glasgow.
30 | Don’t make the mistake to leave Glasgow off your itinerary – it’s an amazing city!
31 | Visiting Glasgow is about meeting the locals. It’s easy to meet locals at the pub – just stand by the bar and someone will start chatting to you.
32 | Glasgow is a budget-friendly city and there are many free things to do – like most museums, a tour around the lavish City Chambers, hikes through the country parks and a walk back in time along the River Clyde.
Travel Info for Glasgow
Where to Stay | Browse my suggestions for accommodation in Glasgow.
Where to Eat | Giving away some of my favourite eateries (no tourist traps) in this vegan food guide.
What to Pack for Scotland
34 | Rule #1: Never trust a blue sky! Rule #2: Never trust a cloudy sky. Weather in Scotland can change very quickly, and there is a saying that in Scotland you can experience all four seasons in one day. Expect every kind of weather year-round and pack layers accordingly – even when you visit in summer. I use the Norwegian weather service yr.no as well as the Met Office forecasts for reliable predictions, but they only work a couple of days in advance (at most).
35 | Comfy shoes that keep your feet dry and warm are an absolute must! For hiking I love my Zamberlan boots, in the city I tend to wear sturdy chelsea boots.
36 | If you plan to hike in the Highlands, bring proper hiking equipment, including waterproofs, hiking boots and a map. Never underestimate the weather in the hills and only go as far as you can safely navigate back.
How to plan a Scotland itinerary
37 | 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!
38 | Highland cows aren’t as frequent as one might think (they’re also more expensive to keep than Angus cows). A good place to see them up close is Pollok Park in Glasgow.
39 | 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!
40 | The Isle of Arran makes for an amazing weekend-long island getaway if you’re pressed for time. It’s easy to reach with a train & ferry combo ticket, the hiking is gorgeous (try climbing Goatfell) and there are many more things to do (Brodick Castle, Arran brewery, Lochranza Castle, Arran distillery, Machrie Moor standing stones, Holy Isle etc.).
41 | Visit one of the Small Isles (Rum, Muck or Eigg) to go completely off the beaten track. You reach them by ferry from Mallaig (perfect to combine with a road trip on the Road to the Isles or a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train). The hiking is great and the views – particularly across to the Isle of Skye – are beautiful!
43 | 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 happens twice a day during high season only and once a day in spring and fall.
44 | A wee dram increases your chances to spot the monster of Loch Ness.
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Visiting Scottish castles
45 | I recommend visiting ruined castles as well as fully restored palaces! My favourite castles to include on your itinerary are: Stirling Castle (best restoration & self-guided tour); Dunnottar Castle (my favourite ruined castle in a gorgeous location); Balmoral Castle (you can only visit the gardens, but it’s incredible); Kilchurn Castle (a ruined castle on the way to Oban) and Culzean Castle (overlooking the sea and the Isle of Arran).
46 | If you want to see more castles, follow the Scottish Castle Trail through Aberdeenshire – it covers 19 (!) castles!
Party like a Scot
47 | 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)!
48 | Visit one of Edinburgh’s Festivals – whether you come for comedy, art and music during the Fringe in August or a wild night to celebrate the end of the year at the Hogmanay festival – there is no party like it!
49 | Or maybe there is – the viking fire festival Up Helly Aa in Lerwick, Shetland, is one of the craziest festivals around the world! It happens every year in the end of January – but book ahead, the festival is “bigger than Christmas” (quoting a local).
50 | No matter how wild the party gets, don’t lift up a man’s kilt!
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?
Planning a trip to Scotland?
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.