Fresh seafood, beef from Angus, cheddar cheeses and the mystery that is haggis – the first things that come to mind about Scottish cuisine are not necessarily vegan-friendly. And yet you’d be surprised how vegan Scotland really is! This vegan travel guide for Scotland will answer all your questions about eating vegan in Scotland, vegan restaurants in Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands, finding vegan accommodation in Scotland and a few extra tips for travelling vegan in Scotland!
As a frequent traveller and as a vegan it is probably the most frequently asked question I get – isn’t it difficult to unite my vegan diet with my frequent travelling?
There is a point to it – vegan travel is a challenge in many ways (which is why I wrote a post with general tips for travelling vegan here) but overall it is not as hard as people might think.
Travelling Scotland as a vegan, in particular, comes with its own challenges, but also many surprises waiting behind every corner and restaurant door. Not only is it possible to travel Scotland as a vegan, but I would also argue it is actually a great destination to give a plant-based travel diet a go, even if you’re normally an omnivore.
This vegan travel guide for Scotland will cover a variety of topics related to vegan travel and hopefully answers all your questions about planning a vegan trip to Scotland.
Vegan restaurants in Edinburgh & Glasgow
Eating out in the biggest cities of Scotland, is no difficult task for a vegan. There are many vegan restaurants in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, and most omni restaurants will have options, vegan menus or can at least figure out how to adapt a dish to suit your diet.
I have yet to come across a restaurant in the cities, where the staff is not sure about what ‘being vegan’ means – something I don’t take for granted anymore, since a waitress in London repeatedly asked me if I still ate bread. Many restaurants label their vegan dishes on the menu, and if you’re not entirely sure, the staff is usually very helpful in explaining what a dish contains or checking with the chef. It’s a bit trickier with drinks, as it is not too common yet for omni-restaurants to label their vegan drink options, but in vegan restaurants you can expect to be able to choose from a variety of vegan wines and beers.
I suggest downloading the Happy Cow app for general listings and a few reviews.
Vegan Restaurants in Edinburgh
The website Vegan Edinburgh is a useful resource for personal vegan restaurant reviews in Edinburgh – definitely check it out!
I’m not super familiar with the vegan restaurant scene in Edinburgh (check above mentioned Vegan Edinburgh for more info), but I’ve got a few favourites: Hula Juice Bar on Grassmarket has brilliant acai bowls and smoothies for breakfast; Harmonium in Leith is the new Edinburgh branch of the established Glasgow institutions Mono & Stereo – and serves all the vegan comfort food you can imagine; Tuk Tuk is an authentic Indian restaurant in Bruntsfield and I’ve heard only the best about it.
Vegan Restaurants in Glasgow
I’m much more comfortable to recommend vegan restaurants in my own home town – so comfortable, that my list of favourites is long enough to start a website… In fact, I’m working on a Glasgow Vegan Guide platform as we speak, so watch this space!
Let me give you just three quick options for breakfast, lunch and dinner: Soy Division in the West End is well worth visiting – I really like their French toast with strawberry “butter” (find more vegan breakfast options in Glasgow); Picnic is in a brilliant location for lunch in the city centre, and the raw pad thai makes me happy whenever I have it; The Glad Cafe is a social cafe and event space in the trendy Shawlands are in Glasgow’s Southside. Their evening menu is presented by Hen of the Woods, a plant-based food collective dishing up Asian-inspired comfort food.
Vegan-friendly restaurants in the Scottish Highlands & beyond
Travelling the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is where being vegan becomes a bit trickier – especially because these areas are famous for their fresh seafood, cattle, lamb and game… And yet, it is possible to travel these parts of Scotland with a vegan diet, it might just require a bit more prep and flexibility.
Outside of the bigger cities, unfortunately, Happy Cow does not have many listings and fully vegan restaurants are basically non-existent. Keep checking the app though, and more importantly, add vegan-friendly places you find to the listings!
When I travel around Scotland, I like to get an idea of where I might stop for lunch or stay overnight, and do a quick Google search of local gastro-pubs and restaurants. A few phone calls later, I usually already know whether it will be an eating out or eating in day. Many restaurants also have their menus online, so you can check without having to call ahead.
If you’re interested in a certain area, have a browse through my archive, as I try to always include a section on vegan travel in my travel guides!
In general, you might have to do a little more explaining in smaller towns and less touristy restaurants, as to what you can and cannot eat. Vegan options are also not necessarily clearly marked on the menu, so it’s always best to ask. However, as the Scots are a very friendly people, they will usually try their best to get a hot plate of food in front of you. Awareness is growing all over the country, as well as the numbers of vegans in Scotland, and I’m always surprised to find how flexible and accommodating restaurants can be!
Common vegan options in Scottish restaurants
- Soups | Unless they’ve got cream in them, vegetarian soups are usually good to eat for vegans. They are widely available in restaurants, cafes and gastro-pubs, particularly during lunch time.
- Hummus sandwich | Another popular lunch option is the hummus sandwich in all its variations.
- Pasta dishes | Unfortunately, pasta dishes are not super common around the Highlands, but when you find them, they are often the vegetarian option on a menu and can easily be veganised.
- Curries | Curries are a staple in the Scottish diet, no matter where you are, and the next Indian or Pakistani restaurant is usually not that far. In my experience, curry houses are a great choice for vegans, as long as they serve curries without cream in them.
- Burgers | Another common veggie option on countryside menus are burgers – often, but not always they are vegan; better check with the restaurant staff!
“Traditional Scottish” Vegan Foods & Drinks
Scottish cuisine is not exactly famous for its heavy use of vegetables, but there are a few traditional Scottish dishes, you can try anyways!
Vegetarian haggis | Arguably, this is not entirely traditional, but the meat-free alternative to “real” haggis is not far off from the real thing in terms of taste, and many omni actually prefer it! Google what’s in haggis, and you’ll know why. Vegetarian haggis is usually vegan by accident, so when you spot it on the menu of a restaurant or a chip shop you should be able to order it without a worry!
Curries | Again, some might argue that this is not traditional, but considering how staple they are to the Scottish diet, I consider curries to be traditional “Scottish” food; IMHO. They are also just delicious and often accidentally vegan – a carefree feast for vegans in Scotland.
Irn Bru | While I’m not a huge fan of Irn Bru myself, this bright orange soft drink, more popular in Scotland than Coca Cola, is absolutely suitable for vegan. If you’ve never tried it before, you’re in for quite a ride!
Single Malt Whisky | If you’re vegan and a whisky fan you will be happy to hear that single malt whiskies are vegan! Unless it is whisky cream liqueur or has honey in it, whiskies are perfectly vegan-friendly. A dram for you, and a dram for me!
Unfortunately, that is just about it. The most famous Scottish dishes contain meat or seafood, or are at the very least sprinkled with lots of cheddar cheese or drowned in cream. Eating traditionally Scottish food as a vegan requires a bit more creativity in the kitchen, which you usually only find in the vegan restaurants in the large cities.
Preparing a vegan picnic
When vegan options are scarce, it is important to be prepared. When I travel around Scotland, I always have a few snacks with me, and when I’m not sure I will get a full meal, I bring packed lunch or picnic supplies with me. In general, picking up vegan food in Scottish supermarkets is not a problem. Humus is widely available and allergens in bread usually labelled, so that making sandwiches becomes an easy feat. If you insist on things like tofu, fake meats or vegan cheese, you’re better off taking these with you from the big cities.
Vegan accommodation in Scotland
When you book accommodation, I suggest finding a place with a kitchen or at least available fridge space to store food overnight. Some B&Bs provide shares kitchen facilities, as well as hostels, but if you prefer your own kitchen space, holiday rentals are the way to go.
Platforms, such as VeggieHotels make it easier to find vegetarian and vegan accommodation, although there are only a few listings of purely vegetarian guest houses across Scotland. Luckily they are all located strategically, so they all make great bases to explore popular Scottish regions:
- Edinburgh | Claymore Vegetarian Guest House in Edinburgh and True Living Retreats in Roslin.
- Stirling | Number 18 Vegetarian B&B in Stirling.
- Fort William | Cuildorag House – ideal for Loch Lomond, Glen Coe, Loch Ness. CLOSED THROUGHOUT 2019
- Isle of Skye | The Old Croft Vegetarian B&B near Portree, Bunaite Vegetarian B&B near Armadale, Clachamish House Vegetarian B&B near Portree
- NC500 | Between the Rocks & the Sea B&B near Thurso, The Braes Vegan B&B near Berridale, Suilven Vegetarian B&B near Ullapool and The Green Cruachan B&B near Lochinver.
- Argyll | Kings Reach B&B in Kilmartin Glen – one of Scotland’s richest historical sites – and Garragh Mhor Vegetarian B&B near Oban.
- Isle of Mull | Arle Lodge (self-catering cottage with continental vegan breakfast) in Tobermory.
- Dunfermline, Fife | The Cosy Vegan B&B – ideal to explore Edinburgh, St Andrews, Fife and Falkirk.
- Perthshire | Vegan Guesthouse & B&B in Kirkmichael and Saorsa 1875 in Pitlochry – the first fully vegan hotel in Scotland!
- Isle of Arran | Ferghan Mhor Vegan B&B in Sannox and Stonewater House in Lamlash.
- Dumfries & Galloway | The Barn B&B near Dumfries
Many more B&Bs and hotels will be able to accommodate vegan guests though. If you book a place including full Scottish breakfast, it’s a good idea to talk to your host about your dietary requirements in advance. Make sure that they can accommodate your needs and discuss which options they can provide – beans on toast with mushrooms and tomatoes is always an option and they might even be able to source some vegan sausages. I have been both, disappointed and positively surprised before, so I learnt to always make sure to ask before I book!
Vegan Travel Tips for Scotland
Here are my top tips for vegans travelling through Scotland at a glimpse:
- Download the Happy Cow app | It’s particularly useful in the cities, but also keeps surprising me with options in the countryside. Download here!
- Join the Vegan Edinburgh & Glasgow group on Facebook | Not only do members exchange information about restaurants in the cities, it is also OK to ask for recommendations further afield – usually people are super helpful and share which options you might have somewhere in the Highlands or Islands. Join here!
- Call ahead | Researching lunch/dinner options and calling ahead has made it easier for me to relax on a trip around Scotland – I can simply enjoy travelling more if I know I will find a full meal later on.
- Don’t be afraid to ask | If you can’t see a vegan option on the menu, don’t be afraid to ask if any of the dishes can be adapted. If you’re not sure whether a dish really is vegan, ask the staff to clarify ingredients with the kitchen. You will find, that restaurants staff in Scotland is very sensitive about dietary requirements.
- Bring travel snacks | Whenever I travel, I always have a few travel-friendly snacks in my backpack: bags of nuts, snack veggies like carrots or sugar snap peas, oatcakes or crisp bread, sometimes even humus or a tub of olives. These snacks help between meals, particularly when all you had for lunch is a small bowl of soup…
- Book accommodation with access to kitchen | No matter which budget you have, you should be able find accommodation where you have access to your own or shared kitchen facilities. If you stay at B&Bs without kitchen access, talk to your host and ask if it is possible to store a few essential items in the fridge overnight. Find out more about booking accommodation in Scotland here.
Just in case you wonder whether travelling through Scotland as vegan is easy or even doable – yes it is! It might require a bit more prep and flexibility – like vegan travel always does – but don’t think you’re missing out on any culinary delights!
Are you vegan and plan a trip to Scotland, or did you travel Scotland as vegan or with other dietary requirements? I’d love to hear what questions you might have, or what your experience was like!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.