Overtourism in Scotland and Where To Go Instead

sustainable travel in scotland

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Scotland is the love of my life.

So much so that sustainable tourism in Scotland has become a big focus for me.

I’m not going to tell anyone to not visit certain places- I adore each and every part of Scotland. However, there are some areas that receive much more attention than others- to the point they’re suffering.

The fact is, there are SO many other amazing places you can visit instead.

I’ve asked a few Scotland travel experts for their opinions on areas suffering from overtourism in Scotland and some of their favourite [and lesser known] places to visit instead. I’ve given my recommendations too.

We are shining a light on the places that we personally love and would rather visit.

So be brave; get off the tourist trail and explore these other amazing places instead!

>> Planning a trip to Scotland? Read my ultimate guide

Overtourism In Scotland: Where You Should Visit Instead

Instead of Edinburgh visit Scotland’s ‘Fair City’ of Perth

edinburgh suffers from overtourism in scotland

Perth, Scotland as recommended by me

I love Edinburgh and for a while it was my home- but I noticed a huge influx of tourists during the summer season, especially when the festivals arrive in August.

Many of my Scottish friends avoid the city during August, choosing to holiday overseas instead.

Edinburgh has also been called one of the world’s most serious ”overtourism hotspots.”

Edinburgh home owners have taken to renting their properties out on Airbnb, causing rent shortages in the city for residents. As a result rental prices have soared.

And in 2019, Edinburgh City Council voted in favour of a tourist tax of £2 per tourist. 

I recommend visiting another Scottish city instead: Perth.

Perth is known as Scotland’s ‘fair city.’ I visited Perth three times in 2019, and I found it really fascinating!

Perth was once a hotspot for ancient ceremonies. In nearby Scone, the kings of Scotland were coronated upon the Stone of Destiny.

Today you can explore this area on the grounds of Scone Palace, which also has a pinetum and life-size maze within the grounds.

Perth is easily navigated on foot, and is filled with cute traditional pubs and restaurants [including a pub where a Scottish king was murdered!]. 

Kinnoull Hill, within walking distance from the city, has some fantastic walking trails with views across the city and the River Tay. You also have the opportunity to spot Scotland’s endangered red squirrels playing in the park.

You are far more likely to mingle with locals in Perth, as Edinburgh is mainly filled with tourists.

Trust me- I lived in the city centre and barely encountered a Scot!

Still want to visit Edinburgh? When you should visit

Edinburgh is busy all year round, however it is quieter in winter, early spring and October-November. Personally I recommend visiting in April or October when the temperatures are slightly warmer, and the spring and autumn colours are in bloom!

Instead of the Isle of Skye, visit the Isle of Mull

isle of mull scotland

Recommended by Kay from The Chaotic Scot

There’s no denying Skye’s magical and otherworldly allure, but it’s important to note that there are over 700 other islands in Scotland – of which around 100 are inhabited. In recent years, Skye has become the most hyped and well-advertised of our islands, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best fit for your Scottish adventure. If you’ve already been to Skye and would like to try a different island, or you just want to avoid the crowds altogether, why not shift your attention to the Isle of Mull?

First, let’s talk about its accessibility. Mull is just a 50-minute ferry ride from the bustling port town of Oban, which makes the journey considerably shorter than the one to Skye. The island can easily be incorporated into a west coast road-trip, and it can also be reached on public transport by taking the train from Glasgow to Oban, and using local buses on the island.

Mull is the second largest of the Inner Hebrides, so there’s loads to see and do. Day-trippers flock to the colourful harbour in Tobermory, where you can munch on the best seafood ever at Café Fish, followed by an Isle of Mull Ice Cream overlooking the water. From the opposite end of the island at Fionnphort, you can visit the famous islands of Iona and Staffa. If that’s not enough islands, a visit to The Boathouse on the Isle of Ulva is a must!

Then, there’s everything else that makes this island so special: ancient castles, stunning beaches, standing stones, waterfalls, mountains, amazing local produce, quirky accommodation, and all the cute local businesses along the way.

It’s important to spread the tourism love around Scotland’s Islands, and switching your plans from Skye to Mull is a decision you won’t regret.

Still want to visit the Isle of Skye? When you should visit

To avoid the crowds, visit Skye out-with the peak season. I would get in there before Easter weekend if you can, or in October when the landscape is bathed in a beautiful orange colour.

Go south to the Mull of Galloway instead of John O’Groats

overtourism in scotland visit the mull of galloway

Recommended by Susanne from Adventures Around Scotland

The most northerly part of the Scottish mainland has always drawn visitors thanks to the various challenges to travel between John O’Groats and Land’s End.  Although John O’Groats is not actually the most northerly point, that accolade goes to nearby Dunnet Head, it is the northernmost settlement with numerous souvenir shops and cafes.  It also has a rather famous signpost that has become a popular photo stop for tourists travelling through this part of the country.

Since the introduction of the North Coast 500 road-trip route, the visitor numbers have increased significantly.  During the tourist season, the public car park is bursting with coaches, tour buses, motor-homes, camper-vans, motorbikes and cars.  Cafes can get queued out the door and people line up to tick off a photo of the iconic sign.

Meanwhile, the Mull of Galloway at the southernmost part of Scotland attracts significantly fewer visitors and has retained its wild charm.  However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing to do.  The area is an RSPB Nature Reserve with a small visitor centre and Ranger led wildlife walks introducing you to the flora and fauna, birds and marine mammals that can be seen locally.

The Mull of Galloway Lighthouse is one of the few lighthouses in Scotland that is open to the public.  For a small admission fee you can explore behind the scenes and even climb to the top of the tower for views of Scotland, England, Ireland and the Isle of Man.

It is easy to find open space to yourself along the dramatic clifftop trails and the only cafe at the site blends in to the landscape thanks to its turfed roof.  These sympathetic developments don’t detract from the scenery, but it does mean those adventurous enough to visit still have plenty to do when they get there.

Still want to go to John O’Groats? When you should visit 

Visit John O’Groats in May and September when attractions are open but visitor numbers are generally fewer. Plenty of daylight hours also mean early morning and late evening outdoor exploring is still possible.

Visit Loch Tay instead of Loch Ness

loch tay perthshire

Recommended by Sonja from Migrating Miss and Scotland For Families

Loch Ness is arguably one of the most famous lochs in Scotland, if not THE most famous, thanks to it’s possible resident monster, affectionately known as Nessie. However, there are so many beautiful lochs in Scotland to rival Loch Ness, and many that have plenty more to offer. Loch Tay is found in Perthshire, and it’s a wonderful place to visit. It’s one of the deepest lochs in Scotland, alongside Loch Ness and Loch Morar, and stretches along the Ben Lawers mountain range.

As well as the stunning views along the narrow loch, you’ll find plenty of things to do there. Take a boat trip to make the most of the changing views along the loch, hire a kayak or paddleboard out into the serene waters. Visit the Scottish Crannog Centre located near Taymouth Marina to see how ancient settlers once lived on the shores of the loch.

Loch Tay is also a great base for exploring the surrounding area and for hiking. Ascend Ben Lawers, the highest mountain in the southern part of the highlands, for panoramic views of the area, or walk part of the Rob Roy Way along the southern shores of Loch Tay. The Falls of Dochart in Killin and the Falls of Acharn near Kenmore are easier but no less beautiful options.

If it’s a castle you’re after, then Finlarig Castle ruins, located near Killin, are free and open to walk around.

So while you may pass by Loch Ness on your adventures north of Scotland, there are so many more things to do around Loch Tay that make it worth at least an overnight stay and spending more of your time there.

Still want to go to Loch Ness? When you should visit

Avoid peak season if possible, which is around July and August. Otherwise opt to stay close by and visit earlier in the morning or later in the evening when there will be less day tourists there. 

Visit Glen Affric instead of Glencoe

responsible travel in scotland glen affric

Recommended by Kate from Love From Scotland

Glencoe is one of the most famous places in Scotland – and is on most visitors to Scotland’s bucket lists.

However, with a queue of tour buses snacking through the glen, a sea of selfie sticks in front of the Three Sisters, people stood in the middle of the road flying drones over Rannoch Moor, dangerous driving and awful parking in front of the ‘wee white hoose’ and most depressingly, people feeding the red deer in front of the Kingshouse Hotel a diet of polos and chocolate biscuits – leading them to leave their herds behind – it’s safe to say Glencoe is suffering the effects of overtourism.

Instead, let me introduce you to one of my favourite glens in Scotland – Glen Affric. Deep in remote Inverness-shire to the south of Beauly is the stunning Glen Affric. With ancient Caledonian Forest, beautiful lochs and huge Munros, Glen Affric is described as Scotland’s most beautiful glen. Hike out into the glen to follow the 13-mile path around the stunning Loch Affric, walk part of the Affric to Kintail Way or find the pretty and dramatic Dog Falls. You will be lucky to see a couple of other people all day!

Still want to visit Glencoe? When you visit

In winter Glencoe is quite spectacular – without the crowds blocking the view. However, don’t attempt to climb up into the hills – take a stroll around Glencoe Lochan instead.

Hiking in Scotland? Hike a section of the Scottish National Trail over the West Highland Way

Scottish National Trail

The Scottish National Trail, recommended by me

The West Highland Way, that takes you through much of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, is the busiest long-distance hiking trail in Scotland. 

I hiked a section of the West Highland Way in 2018, and I agree- it was buzzing with people.

The Land Reform Act [also known as ‘freedom to roam’] means that everyone in Scotland has legal access to land and inland water throughout Scotland.

This is great news for hikers and outdoor lovers in Scotland; you can wild camp nearly anywhere and walk through farmland as long as you are acting responsibly.

However, due to the popularity of the West Highland Way and increasing pressure on the national park, bye laws have been put in place to control wild camping and limit damage to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

Wild campers now require a permit and can only camp in designated wild camping areas.

So instead of hiking the West Highland Way, I recommend choosing a section of the Scottish National Trail instead.

The Scottish National Trail runs the length of Scotland, and offers a variety of terrain.

If you like smaller hills and hiking over farmland I recommend hiking the Scottish Borders section. If you enjoy cities and towns and history, I recommend hiking the canal path from Edinburgh to Drymen, or if you’re an experienced hiker and want some wilderness- the section from Invergarry to Cape Wrath is for you.

Still want to hike the West Highland Way? When you should do it

The trail is less busy over the winter months, however this requires knowledge of hiking in winter in Scotland. I suggest hiking the West Highland Way in March, April, or October when the trail will be a little quieter.

Remember- always adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code when hiking in Scotland.

PIN FOR LATER

PLANNING A TRIP TO SCOTLAND?

Hostelworld is the best place to book hostels

Airbnb is another affordable alternative to accommodation in Scotland (psst- get $33USD credit for your first booking here)

For booking a variety of tours and attractions I recommend Get Your Guide

Visiting lots of attractions in Scotland? I recommend purchasing the Explorer Pass

For booking hotels, I recommend comparing prices with Booking.com, Expedia & direct

Going on a road trip? I recommend booking car hire with Auto Europe

Check the Scotrail website for train times and to buy tickets in advance

I recommend buying these Scotland maps: Northern Scotland, Western Scotland + Southern Scotland.

Shop my favourite travel guides on Scotland

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ABOUT YVETTE

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Hello, I’m Yvette! I’m originally from New Zealand, I now call Scotland home. I left New Zealand three years ago to go on an adventure around the world. I help people to go on their own adventures, whether it’s travelling to a new country, hiking or outdoor activities.

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