50 Scotland travel tips that are coo approved!
One of the things I love about travelling to another country is discovering the different ways they do things. Scotland is no exception, and after living here for almost 5 years, there are still things that surprise me when travelling this bonnie country.
Scotland is an old country with a plethora of history – this is one of the very reasons it attracts travellers from countries like New Zealand, Australia, the USA, and Canada, who live in relatively younger countries. As a Kiwi myself, I was drawn to Scotland because there were many things I couldn’t experience in New Zealand, such as castles built in the Middle Ages, Roman forts and ancient battlegrounds, and narrow country lanes that lead to tiny cottages built from horse hair and stone.
In my Facebook group, Scotland Travel Tips, many of the same questions about planning a trip to Scotland are asked. This inspired me to answer all of these questions, and offer other advice I think will be helpful to you when travelling to Scotland.
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My name is Yvette Webster – I chased my ancestry to Scotland, ended up meeting a Scot and falling in love, and now I live here with my husband, and our dog, Angus. We also have a baby on the way! I’m a full-time Travel Writer, and I travel Scotland for a living, writing helpful guides and helping people plan their trips to Scotland via my travel consultation service.
My favourite type of travel in Scotland is discovering the hidden gems and visiting the more off-beat places. In 2018, I was the first solo female to thru-hike the Scottish National Trail, an 874-kilometer / 536-mile hike that runs the length of Scotland. I got to know Scotland on such an intimate level and visit many places that tourists and locals never see – and I love encouraging people to get off the beaten path and explore the lesser-known places!
I have a degree in journalism and used to work as a travel agent. I combined my two passions and created my blog, Wayfaring Kiwi. I also run the popular Facebook group Scotland Travel Tips.
50 Scotland Travel Tips You Need To Know
Planning Your Trip
1. If you are in the stages of planning a trip to Scotland, be sure to read my blog post on Planning A Trip To Scotland. It gives you a great introduction to planning your trip, including things to do, car hire, using public transport, how to book accommodation and activities, and more!
Read it once you’ve finished this article.
2. Be sure to include at least ONE hidden gem in your itinerary. Some of my suggestions include South-West Scotland, the Scottish Borders, the Cowal Peninsula, an island that isn’t the Isle of Skye, the Moray coast, and the Speyside region.
3. Slow down! One of the most common mistakes people make when visiting Scotland is that they try to attempt too much in their itineraries.
Choose 2-3 main activities per day, and have backup activities in mind in case you have some extra time. Scotland is a country to be experienced at a slow pace – and remember, you can always come back someday to check everything off your bucket list!
4. Tipping isn’t compulsory in Scotland, however, it is common practice. Wait staff are paid much better wages than you’d get in the USA and Canada, hence why tipping isn’t expected, however, I always leave a 10% tip or round the bill up to the nearest 5 or 0.
I also tip taxi drivers and Uber Eats/Just Eat drivers £1. You don’t need to tip every time you get a drink in a pub, just leave a tip of a few pounds when you leave.
5. Are you wondering when the best time to visit Scotland is? This varies from person to person, however, I personally love travelling around Scotland in April and May. It’s spring and Scotland is colourful, there are fewer tourist crowds, there aren’t many midges around, and accommodation isn’t as expensive as it is during the summer months. The daylight hours are also better balanced.
I’ve written an in-depth blog post about the pros and cons of visiting Scotland each month, which will help you decide when it’s the best time for you to plan your trip.
6. Terrified of the Highland midge? You really don’t need to be! But it’s a good idea to be prepared.
- Midges start appearing in late June and die out with the colder weather (usually around the end of September).
- They hang around bodies of water, and usually appear in the morning and early evening when it’s cooler. If there is a slight breeze, this will blow the midges away so they won’t bother you.
- Only the females bite, and you’ll notice itchy bumps on your skin (similar to mosquito bites) if you’ve been bitten.
- You’re most likely to encounter midges if you are hiking or walking near rivers or lochs.
- You won’t generally encounter them in the cities, unless you’re near a river or canal.
- I recommend buying a few cans of Smidge to keep the midges at bay if you think you might encounter them on your travels. You can buy this in most grocery stores and outdoor shops.
7. Scotland has a large tick population, and to be honest, ticks worry me more than midges! Ticks can cause Lyme disease, but less than 10% of these beasties actually carry the disease.
- You’ll encounter ticks in many parts of Scotland from March to October.
- They cannot jump, but will attach themselves to your clothing if you are walking through long grass. They will climb up your body until they find a warm, damp spot (for example, an armpit or belly button) and burrow into your skin for their dinner!
- Smidge will also repel ticks – be sure to reapply it every couple of hours.
- Be sure to do a tick check when you get home if you’ve been in an area known to be rife with ticks, or you’ve been hiking.
- Some good news – I’ve been bitten by ticks many times while hiking in Scotland and I’ve been fine. Don’t let the fear of ticks stop you from hiking! Just use a good bug spray, and wear long pants when hiking in Scotland.
8. The Isle is Skye is a lovely island but it suffers from over-tourism. Personally, I wouldn’t visit Skye during the busy summer months. My favourite time to visit Skye is in April or November when it’s quieter. If you’re visiting during the summer, I recommend pre-booking your accommodation, restaurants, tours and activities that require a booking as soon as you know what dates you’ll be there.
9. Many people think that in Scotland we still live in the dark ages, due to its long history and the pretty medieval-looking photos that marketing and tour companies love to share. Scotland is an advanced country, and we have everything that most Western countries have – including pharmacies where you can purchase most medicines that don’t require a prescription. Don’t worry, you’re not travelling back in time when you visit Scotland.
10. If you want to use your phone in Scotland, first, check with the phone provider you’re with to see what they can offer you.
If your phone is unlocked, you can purchase a sim card when you arrive in Scotland. The main sim cards you can purchase in Scotland are Vodafone, Three, and EE. You can purchase these from a phone store (Carphone Warehouse is a good one), a grocery store, corner shops – many places around Scotland.
For around £20, you can purchase a sim card on a 1-month plan that will give you around 4GB of data and unlimited texts and calls in the UK. If you’d like to keep in contact with your family back home, I recommend using the apps WhatsApp or Telegram to make texts and calls – these apps are free to use and all you need is data or a Wi-Fi connection!
If you purchase your sim card in England, it WILL work in Scotland, and vice versa.
11. If you are a tourist visiting Scotland on holiday and you require medical treatment, you will most likely have to pay for it. This is why I ALWAYS recommend purchasing travel insurance for your trip.
Residents in Scotland receive most medical treatment for free, because the National Health System (NHS) is funded by the taxes we pay.
So how much medical cover should you get through your travel insurance? Usually, 1 million + will give you enough cover.
12. Did you know there are 15 regions in Scotland? While it may be very difficult to visit every region on one trip to Scotland, you can learn what each region has to offer and which ones you should visit in my guide to the regions in Scotland.
13. The most typical itinerary in Scotland (the most touristy one) is Edinburgh – Isle of Skye – Inverness and back to Edinburgh or Glasgow. We jokingly call is the ‘tourist triangle’ in Scotland!
This itinerary is absolutely fine if you want to hit all the tourist hotspots – but believe me when I say there is SO much more to Scotland than just this route. I always recommend getting off the beaten track at least ONCE during your trip to Scotland – because, trust me on this one – these areas are the ones that will be most memorable.
During my first trip to Scotland (you can see the itinerary right here) my favourite memory was driving to Lochaber to see my ancestor’s castle, Achnacarry.
Packing For Your Scotland Trip
14. Are you wondering what to pack for your trip to Scotland? I’ve written a comprehensive guide on what to pack and wear in Scotland. I include recommendations on what I wear day to day for each season.
15. You do NOT need to pack waterproof pants unless you’re planning a multi-day hike or if you’re going hiking in the pouring rain. A rain jacket that covers your bum will be absolutely fine. I’ve written a short guide on the weather in Scotland that discusses how to dress for the rain in Scotland – be sure to read it.
16. Facecloths/washcloths/flannels aren’t something that accommodations provide in Scotland, so if you like to use them be sure to bring some from home. Do not pack disposable washcloths – think of the environment!
Currency and Money In Scotland
17. How much cash should you bring to Scotland? Most places in Scotland accept major credit cards, such as Visa and Mastercard. American Express isn’t often accepted due to the high fees carriers have to pay.
Contactless payments are the preferred choice in Scotland, and Apple Pay is accepted almost everywhere. It is still worth carrying some cash with you, as there are still some places that accept cash only – usually small, independent shops that are located in remote areas.
It’s also useful to have some cash for tipping or paying for the bus (although contactless is now accepted on many buses in Scotland). I recommend carrying £200 cash, and topping this up whenever you need to by withdrawing money from an ATM.
A note: Always check with your bank to see what they will charge you for withdrawing cash from an ATM in Scotland.
18. Money changers don’t give you a good exchange rate (they have to make money somehow!). If you would like to bring cash with you to Scotland, I recommend going to your bank and purchasing currency there.
Whenever I travel overseas, I just use my credit card and withdraw cash from the first free cash withdrawal ATM I find. There are many free cash withdrawal machines throughout Scotland that will give you a much better exchange rate than a money exchanger or bank.
19. A note on Scottish and English money. You can spend English pounds in Scotland – but you may not be able to spend Scottish pounds in England.
It’s a complicated issue – albeit a stupid one, seeing as both Scotland and England are part of the United Kingdom where the currency is the ‘Great British Pound’ (GBP). Basically, there are three banks that print money in Scotland – the Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank – and England has its own printers.
To save yourself the stress, you can use English pounds everywhere in the UK, but try to only spend Scottish bank notes in Scotland.
You cannot use Euros in either England or Scotland.
Flying To Scotland
20. Book your flights directly with the airline. I use Skyscanner to see which routes are available and to see which airlines have the better/cheaper deal. Then I go to the airline’s website to book directly. This means that if there are any changes or cancellations to your booking, you can contact the airline directly for a solution, rather than going through third parties.
You can also book flights through a travel agent (they usually book directly through the airline too). Travel agents usually charge a fee to do the booking on your behalf, but they will also deal with the airline on your behalf if there are any issues.
21. Search for flights into Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness. These are the main international airports in Scotland. You can also search for flights into London, and catch the train to Edinburgh, or book an internal flight to one of the Scottish airports.
22. I recommend booking your travel with the same ticket or airline all the way to your final destination. That way, if there’s a delay and you miss your next flight, the airline will bump you onto the next flight.
Delays and flight cancellations are unfortunately pretty common now, so be prepared if something like this should happen.
23. Pack your valuables and essentials in your carry-on, just in case your luggage is delayed. Be sure to take a photo of the inside of your checked luggage too – in case you need to do an insurance claim for lost luggage.
24. Try not to stress or worry too much about travelling to Scotland – worry is one of the most pointless emotions because we can never predict the future. To help curb the worry, be as prepared as possible. I believe things happen for a reason – especially delays.
Whenever I’ve experienced a delay in life, it has always been for a reason – delays have allowed me to capture the most beautiful sunsets, meet lifelong friends, and have even better experiences. My first trip to Scotland was cancelled – if this hadn’t happened, I would have never met my husband!
Accommodation in Scotland
25. Should you book your accommodation in advance or wing it? My advice is to always book your accommodation in advance. Covid-19 has changed the way we travel in Scotland, and there is a lot of pent-up demand to travel here. As soon as you know where you’re going, book your accommodation. There are limited choices even when booking 3 months in advance!
26. I use Booking.com to search for accommodation in Scotland. This website has the largest range of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and self-catering accommodation for Scotland. I will always compare the price on Booking with the accommodation direct and book the better deal/price.
27. If booking your accommodation with Booking.com – make the booking on your mobile. They sometimes have mobile-only specials that will save you more money!
28. Top sheets aren’t really a thing in Scotland. A bed usually has a fitted sheet, with the duvet on top, and sometimes an extra blanket for extra warmth.
Food and Drink
29. Should you book all your restaurants in advance? In some places – yes. Here are the areas I recommend you pre-book:
- Most restaurants on Friday and Saturday night from June – September (book a couple of weeks or several days in advance)
- Edinburgh (on weekends in the summer in particular) at least 1-2 weeks in advance
- The Witchery By The Castle. This restaurant in Edinburgh is hugely popular with tourists, so I recommend you make a booking one month in advance or earlier to ensure you get a table for dinner. You can make a booking via their website.
- The Isle of Skye during the tourist season (late May – September) at least 2 weeks in advance
- Small villages that only have a few restaurants
Don’t go overboard with booking everything – my advice is to book the restaurants that are must-visits for you, and leave some time for you to discover hidden gems on your travels. If you spot somewhere you might like to have dinner during your wanderings, pop in and see if there’s a table available for that night or the following night.
30. Haven’t got a restaurant booking? Try to eat outside the peak times. I’ve secured tables without having a booking at some of Scotland’s most popular restaurants by eating outside the peak times in summer:
- 10am -11.30am for brunch/lunch
- 2.30pm – 4pm for lunch
- 4pm – 6pm for dinner
31. A nice backup plan to have is to visit a local grocery store and pick up some local food from there. Enjoy a picnic in a scenic spot, or take it back to your accommodation (this is when having self-catering accommodation comes in handy!).
32. Try the following local Scottish food and drink:
- Full Scottish Breakfast (tattie scones will change your life)
- Steak Pie with Roast Tatties
- Cullen Skink
- Scotch Pies
- Scottish seafood from one of the many seafood restaurants on the coast or the islands
- Fish and Chips
- Scone with jam and clotted cream (in that order)
- Sticky Toffee Pudding
- Porridge with whisky (popular on Islay)
- Whisky (try a whisky from each whisky region – Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown).
- Irn Bru (fizzy drink/pop)
33. The most common grocery stores you’ll find in Scotland are Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl, Marks and Spencer (M&S), and Waitrose. Co-op stores (similar to a 7/11, dairy, or corner store) have a good range of basic groceries, and you’ll find these in most towns and villages. Spar is another brand that carries basic groceries.
34. Most of the grocery stores above will have a £3 meal deal, which includes a sandwich, snack and a drink. These are very popular, and great to pick up if you have a long drive or hike planned. Look out for these meal deals in a refrigerated section.
35. The vast majority of pubs and restaurants in Scotland cater to all dietary requirements and will have gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan options. There are some fantastic vegan restaurants in Scotland – use the Happy Cow app to find vegan-friendly restaurants.
Driving and Transport In Scotland
36. Fuel is currently priced around £1.90 per litre and rising. Yes, it’s expensive at the moment!
37. If you hold a full driving license from your country of residence you can hire a small vehicle and drive with that license in Scotland. You generally do not need an international driver’s license. If your driver’s license is not in English, you may have to apply for an international driver’s license, or have an English translation available.
You can take this quiz you can take to determine if you can drive in Scotland on your current license.
38. I recommend driving for a maximum of three hours a day. Any more than that, and you’ll get bored of being in the car and you won’t see much!
39. Waze and Google Maps are popular driving apps to help you navigate Scotland. They will give you a general idea of how long it takes to get from A to B, but I recommend always giving yourself extra time to reach your destination.
For example, it takes around 3 hours to drive from Edinburgh Airport to Inverness without stopping. If you’d like to stop and see the sights along the way, I would recommend allowing yourself 5-6 hours for the drive and sightseeing along the way. As a general rule, double your driving time if you plan on stopping along your driving route.
If you don’t plan on making any stops, add an extra 15 minutes to every hour it says it will take you to reach your destination. This will allow for traffic, road works and other common delays.
40. The roads in Scotland are typically narrower than roads in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Many roads in the countryside or more remote areas are single-lane, and some of the roads are made of shingle!
There are passing places on these single roads – and the rule of thumb is that you should pull into a passing place if it’s on your left. If its located on your right – stop next to it and let the other car pass by driving around you.
A quick wave of thanks is always appreciated if someone stops to let you pass by.
You will have to drive more slowly on these roads, so when looking at a map of Scotland, even though she looks like a small country, it does take you longer to drive to your destination than you’d assume!
For more tips, read this guide on driving in Scotland for the first time.
41. Car hire is getting booked up very quickly due to the high demand for travel to Scotland after the pandemic. The price of car hire has also increased drastically. Be sure to book your car hire well in advance. I recommend Celtic Legend, Arnold Clarke, or Auto Europe (a car rental comparison site) for booking your car hire.
42. If you’re using public transport, you can purchase train tickets and bus tickets 3 months in advance. Due to the train strikes that are happening, I recommend travelling by bus this summer. At the very least, research bus options too so if your train is cancelled, you can get to your destination by bus.
How To Not Look Like A Tourist In Scotland
43. A note on your Scottish ancestry – some Scots will roll their eyes if you bring up that you’re related to Mary Queen of Scots or Robert the Bruce*.
Some Scots also don’t like it if you claim you’re Scottish, but were born and raised in another country. I’m telling you this so you can be prepared if, in the middle of a conversation, you proudly announce your Scottish heritage and you get a muted response. This has happened to me plenty of times! I don’t take it to heart – I’m proud of my Scottish ancestry, and it’s the reason I became so interested in visiting Scotland in the first place.
I think it’s great that so many people feel passionate about their Scottish heritage and want to visit their ancestral home. This has done wonders for Scottish tourism – and has kept the history and culture alive all around the world. Just don’t expect others to be as excited as you are!
*Fun fact: I actually am related to Robert the Bruce! He’s my 23x great grandfather and I love visiting areas in Scotland where he once visited.
44. Don’t make assumptions about the Scots – they don’t all drink whisky, play the bagpipes down at the local pub, speak Gaelic, eat haggis, and travel via standing stones.
Think of it this way – what’s an annoying stereotype from your country? What annoys you about tourists when they visit your country?
Modern Scotland is different from what is marketed around the world. Most Scots will choose beer or wine over whisky, go out for dinner at an Indian/Italian/Chinese restaurant, and jet off to Europe for a sunny holiday.
On the flipside, many Scots are proud of their history, and love to chat about it too – especially those who work in the tourism industry.
Be open-minded when you visit Scotland – learn about modern Scotland too – it’s pretty interesting!
45. I don’t want the above two points to make you feel uneasy about visiting Scotland, because the Scots are some of the kindest, most hospitable people on earth! They have amazing wit, are generous, and love to have a good time.
Try staying in a bed and breakfast, to experience Scottish hospitality at its finest!
46. The Scots are passionate about sustainability and looking after the environment – so my advice is to think carefully about what you pack and use during your trip to Scotland. Do not pack or use single-use products, such as make-up wipes, cotton buds, and plastic bottles.
Instead, pack reusable facecloths, a water bottle, reusable shopping bags, and washcloths (or use your hands!). Please recycle when in Scotland – if you can’t find a recycling bin, just ask a shop, pub, or restaurant if you can use theirs!
For more helpful hints, check out my blog post on tips for sustainable travel in Scotland.
Important, Final Scotland Travel Tips
47. Join my Facebook group, Scotland Travel Tips, if you haven’t already. There is plenty of helpful information to help you plan your trip in this group – be sure to use the search function to find information on the area you want to visit.
48. If you’d like a shortcut to planning your Scotland trip, I created the Ultimate Scotland Travel Bundle which contains an eBook, 70-page printable planner, and 7 must-see Scotland travel planners which list all the must-sees in Scotland’s major tourist destinations. It will save you hours and hours of searching the internet (and wading through misinformation!).
49. A note on Covid-19 in Scotland: all covid rules and restrictions have been lifted in Scotland. You do not need to take a test to enter Scotland (or the UK). You can travel to Scotland if you are vaccinated or unvaccinated. You do not need to wear a face mask, unless you are visiting the hospital or doctor’s office.
You also do not need to self-isolate in Scotland if you test positive for coronavirus (though it is recommended).
We are living with the virus in Scotland now. My advice is to be considerate of others, continue to wash your hands, and practice good hygiene. You will still see many people wearing masks in Scotland, so be sure to give them space and be respectful.
Personally, if I tested positive for Covid I would self-isolate, even though it is no longer required in Scotland. The NHS recommends that you should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 5 days after a positive test. For more information, visit the Scottish Government website.
Read more: 10 Must-Sees in Scotland You Can’t Miss
50. And finally – have a great time in Scotland! I have a saying, and that is it’s impossible to plan a bad trip to Scotland.
After reading this article, you now know the most common questions that travellers ask – so you are already equipped with some solid knowledge on travelling to Scotland!
Try not to stress if you don’t get everything ticked off your bucket list, or if your flight is delayed – Scotland has a magical way of bringing you into the present moment, and enjoying what’s in front of you.
Have an amazing time in Scotland, and please share this article if you found it useful!
Are there any tips you’d add to this list? Leave a comment below and help out your fellow travellers!