Scotland is a very easy to navigate and accessible destination, even (or especially) for first time travellers, but you can't go wrong reading up on the ins and out of traveling this country. These 50 travel tips for Scotland should help you get going!

50 Useful Travel Tips for Scotland

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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 out 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. Other again, will hopefully make you chuckle a bit. Here we go!

Good to know before you go

A bagpiper in front of the Scotts Monument in Edinburgh.
A bagpiper in Edinburgh.

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 Scottish people speak not only English or Scots, but Gaelic – a completely different language of its own. 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).

6 | When you don’t know how to pronounce a Scottish place name, wing it – even locals might pronounce it differently.

7 | Carry a pen with you to write down street & town names for directions. Chance are, you pronounce it wrong

8 | 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.

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 tied to its open hours.

Tips for getting around Scotland

A single track road on the Kintyre peninsula.
A single track road on the Kintyre peninsula.

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, and allow multiple travel days.

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 worried about driving on the left or navigating small mountain roads, red my 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 drivers/tour guides are just the best!

Browse my archive of Rabbie’s tour reviews

 

Scottish Culture, Food & Drink

The treasure rooms at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh is filled with thousands of bottles of whisky.
The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh

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!

Vegan fish & chips at Mono restaurant in Glasgow.
Vegan fish & chips at Mono restaurant in Glasgow.

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.

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

View of the Old Town of Edinburgh from Princes Street Gardens.
The Old Town of Edinburgh

25 | Spend at least 2 full days in Edinburgh to cover the highlights.

26 | 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!

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: 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 Glasgow

A skate park at Kelvingrove Park with Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in the background.
Kelvingrove Park in 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!

Book me for a private Glasgow tour!

 

31 | Visiting Glasgow is about meeting the locals. It’s easy to meet locals at the pub – jsut 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: 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 Do | Check my one-day itinerary and my 50 travel tips for Glasgow!

 

What to Pack for Scotland

A good waterproof jacket is the most important thing to pack for a trip to Scotland.
Braving the weather of Shetland in my favourite waterproof jacket.

33 | Forget umbrellas, invest in a high quality waterproof jacket (it’s worth the money). Stay dry and don’t let a bit of rain drag you down!

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.

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.

Are we connected on Instagram yet? Follow me here!

 

How to plan a Scotland itinerary

The Isle of Arran is a brilliant weekend getaway from Glasgow or Edinburgh.
The bay by Lochranza on the Isle of Arran.

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 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 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!

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

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’s happens twice a day during peak season only.

44 | A wee dram increases your chances to spot the monster of Loch Ness.

Need more help planning your itinerary? Book a travel consulting session with me!

 

Visiting Scottish castles

Kilchurn Castle on the banks of Loch Awe
Kilchurn Castle on the banks of Loch Awe

45 | I’d 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!

Browse my Castle archive

 

Party like a Scot

Up Helly Aa in Lerwick had been on my bucket list for years, and at the end of January you have a chance to see it too. Here is everything you need to know!
The Jarl Squad of Up Helly Aa in Shetland.

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?

***

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Scotland is a very easy to navigate and accessible destination, even (or especially) for first time travellers, but you can't go wrong reading up on the ins and out of traveling this country. These 50 travel tips for Scotland should help you get going!

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.

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28 comments on “50 Useful Travel Tips for Scotland

  1. Linda Logan

    Oh, my. Thanks for the giggles. I have been to Scotland four times from The States, and am planning my fifth go for late summer – early fall. Your fun insider’s take on the endless joys to find there are inspiring. And I haven’t gotten to your take on The Shetlands. I hope you have some info on The Orkneys in here too. Have joined your newsletter. Well done and thanks again!

  2. I like that you provided some tips when traveling to Scotland such as looking for public transportation when getting around. It is recommended that you tour the city via public transportation as this can definitely save you lots of money. Plus, you are able to communicate with locals who can give you tips and recommendations on the best local restaurants and bars. If I were to visit Scotland in the near future, I would make sure to keep this in mind. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: How to Plan a Trip to Scotland: Driving in Scotland

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

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

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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

  9. 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!

  10. 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 😀

  11. 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 🙂

  12. 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! 🙂

  13. 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!

    • Mary A. Geissler

      Hi Edith — just beginning exploring the possibility of traveling to Scotland alone – and I am kinda old but good shape! I do not know what a midge is — is that a mosquito? A gnat? And you mention the Scottish mid he — what is that? Is bug spray enough to ward them off? Thanks for any input!

      Mary

      • Hi Mary, I think Edith’s had a typo there – she’s of course also talking about midges (not mid he) 😉 I would describe midges as a mix between mosquitos and flies – they’s quite small (hence there are specific midge nets to keep them away – they can slip through normal mosquito nets), they bite and can itch like crazy! Mosquito repellent might work, but there is also a spray called Smidge, which you can pick up in most outdoor shops here, which was specifically designed with the Scottish Highland midge in mind. It helps really well, but it is also advisable to wear long sleeves around sunset to keep them off your skin! Hope that gives you an idea of how to protect yourself from the ‘wee beasties’ – as we call them here!

  14. 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 🙂

  15. 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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