What do you need to know before planning a trip to Scotland? This question got me thinking recently.
I’m so used to living in Scotland that I sometimes forget what it’s like to be a visitor here. I run a Facebook group called Scotland Travel Tips for people planning a trip to Scotland [you can join here]. Many members are in the planning phase- so the same questions get asked quite a lot.
They’ve encouraged me to ‘think like a tourist’ again, so I’ve compiled a list of the questions I’m most commonly asked when talking to anyone planning a trip to Scotland.
I hope this helps you in planning your adventure to Scotland!
Planning a trip to Scotland: Most Common Questions Answered
Cockburn Street in Edinburgh
What is the best month to go to Scotland?
Can I pick two? Personally, I love April and May. It’s getting warmer and the days are longer, the spring colours are lovely, and there are less tourists around. Popular tourist destinations in Scotland start to get busier in June, and July and August are very busy! September and early October are also nice months to visit; you’ll still have some warmer days in September and the fall colours are spectacular in October. Most attractions, including castles, will close their doors to tourists sometime in October and reopen in April. Be sure to check closing dates for any attractions you want to visit during this time in advance.
In winter, the daylight hours are reduced from around 8.30am-4pm. Bear this in mind when planning a trip to Scotland. You will need to squeeze in a lot in a short time.
Read more: How to spend 4 days in Scotland
How many days do I need in Scotland?
The longer the better! My first trip to Scotland was for 4 days, and I just scraped the surface. I think 10 days is a good amount of time, but 14 days would be ideal. I’ve even written a blog post about all the places you can visit and things to do in Scotland in 10 days. This will give you a good idea about how much there is to see (there is a lot!).
Please note this itinerary crams as much in a lot and if you’re the kind of traveller who likes to fit in as much as possible you’ll love it. If you’re a slow traveller, I suggest following it over a longer period, and adding extra nights at the places that interest you.
I also offer itinerary planning and review services, so I can design the dream trip for you. Get in touch for more info!
What should I buy in Scotland?
A more important question is where should you buy in Scotland. If you’re buying gifts or mementos, I always recommend purchasing them in smaller towns and villages.
The Royal Mile may be packed with touristy shops- but these shops are often overpriced and they already get a lot of business.
Help out smaller communities by shopping there. You’re guaranteed to find special and unique items there.
Popular things you can buy in Scotland include tartan, cashmere, a hairy coo stuffed toy, clan memorabilia including pins and scarves.
I also have a list of my favourite Scottish items in my Amazon store if you need inspiration!
Can you see the Northern Lights in Scotland?
Yes you can- if you’re lucky! While it can be difficult to see the Aurora Borealis with the naked eye, you are most likely to see them in the parts of Scotland where it is dark and there is low air pollution. Areas include the northern parts of Scotland such as the Cairngorms National Park and Aberdeenshire, the Isle of Skye, Shetland, Orkney, Lewis and Harris, and the Isle of Coll.
I recommend following Aurora Watch UK on Twitter for updates on geomagnetic activity.
If the lights aren’t active I suggest heading to the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park for some star gazing. You’ll have the opportunity to see shooting stars, the rare Andromeda Galaxy and stellar nurseries (where stars are born).
What are some off the beaten track places you recommend visiting in Scotland?
Scotland is not short of things to see and do. It has SO much history, so much that a lot is left out of the guide books. For my favourite not-so-known places in Scotland, check out this article.
Here are just some of my favourites:
- Cairnpapple Hill (ancient ceremonial/burial ground in West Lothian)
- The Cross Kirk in Peebles
- Kinnoull Hill in Perth
- Sandwood Bay (wild camping here is amazing)
- Kinlochbervie (for white sand beaches)
- Speyside (for whisky lovers)
- Craigmillar Castle (the ‘other’ castle in Edinburgh)
- Jedburgh Abbey
- Loch Glencoul (you can only get here by hiking or kayaking/boat- there is an amazing bothy here too)
Cairnpapple Hill- ceremonies have been held here since the Bronze Age
What time of year are there midges in Scotland?
July and August are when midges are at their worst. They like warm, damp areas, so avoid lochs and rivers as this is where they hang out!
Midges don’t generally appear in cities- so don’t think you’ll be battling them away if you’re visiting Edinburgh and Glasgow! You may get some if you go walking in damp areas, but they won’t be as bad as they are in the highlands.
I recommend buying some Smidge and taking it with you if you plan on visiting the highlands or going hiking. It’s also great for keeping ticks at bay- which are also quite bad in Scotland from March until October.
Do you need an international driver’s license to drive in Scotland?
Generally no. If you hold a full driving license from your country of residence you can hire a car and drive with that license in Scotland.
If you’re moving to Scotland you can drive on your international license for 1 year, and then you’ll have to switch to a British license (this is what I did when I moved here).
What is the peak tourist season in Scotland?
June-August. If you don’t like people, avoid visiting during these months!
Is Scotland safe?
I moved here all by myself and I spent my first year travelling Scotland solo. I also hiked the length of Scotland solo in 2018 and spent many nights wild camping and I can vouch that it’s a really safe country.
The Scots are some of the nicest and most hospitable people you’ll meet.
What should I pack for Scotland?
I have written blog post on what to pack for a trip to Scotland, but I’ll list my favourite essentials:
+ Waterproof Boots [I love these women’s Wrangler boots– they’re perfect for navigating cobblestone paths in small towns and cities)
+ Rain jacket (My Rab rain jacket is a godsend- plus it’s flattering! The men’s version is here)
+ A hat and gloves (I love this hat and these North Face gloves for women and men– you can use your phone and keep your hands warm)
+ Layers! Weather is changeable so wear layers
+ A warm, snuggly down jacket (This is the exact duck down jacket I have from The North Face)
+ If you’re going hiking I love my Scarpa Terra hiking boots. You can find the men’s style here.
Sea cliffs in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire
Does it snow in Scotland?
Yes it does. It can snow anytime from November through to April, however snow usually arrives late December/January. You’ll get the odd snowy day in April if you’re lucky (or unlucky- it all depends on how you view it!).
What is the warmest place in Scotland?
Dundee is known for being the city that has the most hours of sunshine in Scotland.
Edinburgh is also a relatively sunny Scottish city. My rule is, the further south you go, the warmer it usually is. The further north, the more drastic the climate and temperature.
What is the oldest city in Scotland?
As well as being the sunniest city, Dundee is also believed to be the oldest city in Scotland!
Which part of Scotland is the most beautiful?
This question is totally subjective, but personally I think the most beautiful parts of Scotland include the Kylesku in the North-West (the North Coast 500 takes you through here), Glen Coe, and Killin (especially in autumn).
How many castles are there in Scotland?
There is a bit of a debate around how many castles there are in Scotland today, but it is said there has been over 2000 castles in Scotland.
The key takeaway is that there are a LOT of castles in Scotland, and potentially some that are yet to be discovered. One of my favourite things to do is open up my View Ranger app (a hiking app that has all the OS maps in Britain) and search for castles on there. You’ll be surprised at how many you can find this way!
The most popular castles to visit in Scotland include Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Craigievar Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, Dunnottar Castle, Blackness Castle and Urquhart Castle.
What is the oldest castle in Scotland?
Aberdour Castle is the oldest castle in Scotland. It’s located in East Aberdour in Fife, and takes around 40 minutes by car from Edinburgh. Parts of the castle date back from the 13th century!
Where was Outlander filmed in Scotland?
All over the place, but mainly in Fife, which is an area north of Edinburgh. The small village of Falkland was used to film scenes of ‘Inverness.’
Once when I was hiking in a forest in Pitlochry I accidently stumbled across them filming season 5 on Loch Faskally!
Many scenes from Outlander were filmed in Falkland, Fife
What is Scotland famous for?
Ridiculously attractive men. I jest, but if you’re in favour of a Scotsman, I suggest you read this article my Scot wrote. It might just help you in that department 😉
Aside from that, Scotland is known for bagpipes, kilts, tartan, heilan’ coos, haggis, seafood, castles and its romantic history.
What food is Scotland famous for?
Scotland is known for its hearty and sometimes bizarre cuisine, including: haggis, tattie scones (these are the best), black pudding, lorne sausage, Cullen Skink, salmon, seafood, bacon rolls, stovies, scotch pies, shortbread, tablet, and broth.
Wash the above down with whisky or gin, and you’ve got yourself a traditional Scottish meal.
What is the best car hire in Scotland?
I personally compare prices on Auto Europe when booking a hire car in Scotland, the UK and Ireland. They compare prices of all the major car hire companies and have good deals on insurance too. Be sure to search for Scotland under ‘Great Britain’ rather than the ‘United Kingdom’ otherwise cars won’t show up.
Do you need to make dinner reservations in Scotland?
Yes, although you can just turn up and ask for a table. Check the time of year you’re visiting; June-August is often very busy and you’ll need to make reservations especially if you’re eating out in a city.
Busy areas like Victoria Street in Scotland will need dinner reservations
Where can you see puffins in Scotland?
I saw my first puffin at John O’Groats. If you don’t want to travel too far north, you can catch a ferry to the Isle of May, which isn’t too far from Edinburgh.
What is a good day tour from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye?
Firstly- I do not recommend you try to see the Isle of Skye in just one day. It takes around 5 hours to drive from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye and it may look as though it isn’t that far on a map, but you need to take Scotland’s roads into account. Scotland’s roads are very narrow compared to the USA and other parts of the world. The Isle of Skye has many shingle roads that are on a single track too- and you have to stop for oncoming traffic!
I recommend the following: spend one day driving to Skye, and stop off at the many attractions along the way (you WON’T want to miss them), spend 2 nights on Skye, and spend day three driving to your next destination. At the absolute minimum.
You can follow my 2 day Isle of Skye itinerary for more inspiration on how to best spend your time here.
When is the best time to visit the Isle of Skye?
This brings me to another important question. During July and August the Isle of Skye gets incredibly busy and suffers from over tourism- especially attractions such as the Quiraing and Old Man of Storr. Traffic can be backed up for miles on the single track roads, so avoid visiting Skye during these months if you can.
Scotland has 789 other islands you can visit- I recommend visiting Cramond Island in Edinburgh, Handa Island on the north-west coast, or the Isle of Mull if you’re visiting during the peak tourism period.
I hope this article has helped answer some of your questions about Scotland! Do you have a question for me that wasn’t answered? Drop it in the comments below and I’ll answer it!