Scotland is not just the land of Braveheart, haggis, and sheep herders. It is filled with castles, stunning lochs and mountains, beautiful parks, whiskey, and welcoming locals. If you spend time in the bustling cities, you can visit the University of Glasgow, admire the view of Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat or walk through one of the country’s many museums. But be sure to get out of the cities into the highlands with their rich rugged landscapes. Head west to the islands of Islay, Jura, and Mull. Wherever you are, you’ll find yourself occupied with rich culture and history. Scotland is one of the most scenic and beautiful countries in the world!
Accommodation – Larger hostel dorms with more than 10 beds start at 10 GBP while smaller rooms will cost between 15-25 GBP. For a private double or twin room in a hostel, it will cost around 40 GBP. All hostels provide free WiFi, and some have attached restaurants and bars. For budget hotel prices, the further you go toward the city centers, the more expensive they become, ranging in cost from 30 GBP to over 100 GBP.
Food – Eating out can be inexpensive if you stick to the pubs or cook your food (prices will be higher in Glasgow or Edinburgh). A typical pub meal will cost about 10 GBP. Fish and chips can be found for around 6 GBP. Nicer, sit-down restaurants with table service will cost around 20 GBP for a meal plus drink. If you buy groceries, you’ll spend around 55 GBP per week, although if you stop at budget grocery stores like Lidl, you will likely be able to get the same amount for cheaper. A pint of beer at a pub will cost you around 3-5 GBP, while a double of whiskey will cost between 7-10 GBP.
Transportation costs – Intracity buses cost around 1.50 GBP for a single ticket and 4 GBP for a day ticket. If you’d rather explore by bicycle, most cities offer rentals, usually starting around 15 GBP per day. There’s a robust train and bus system in the country (buses are cheaper). From Glasgow to Aberdeen, for example, will cost between 10-19 GBP for a bus and 30-47 GBP for a train. Busabout also offers many hop-on, hop-off backpacker tours around Scotland and prices start around 120 GBP.
Activities – All public museums are free to enter (although some special exhibits cost about 6 GBP). Most major tourist attractions such as the Edinburgh Castle cost about 16.50 GBP. Day trips into the country from Edinburgh and Glasgow range from 20-125 GBP, depending on the length of the tour. You can find free walking tours in the major cities. Hiking around Scotland can also be as simple as catching a bus to the edge of town or to a small village and walking.
Suggested daily budget – 55 GBP / 68 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Eat in a pub – The best food is often in the pubs and you’ll pay a fraction of the price than you would in a proper restaurant. Also, pubs generally give you a true taste of Scottish culture. Scotland is pub-land.
- Visit the free museums – The public museums in Scotland are free – take advantage!
- Picnics in the park – There are many parks in Scotland, and almost all are free to enter. Take advantage of this free outing – bring your lunch and admire the lakes, rivers, and nearby castles.
- Use buses – If you need to go anywhere, buses are by far the cheapest way to do so and can get you to the widest range of places.
- Avoid eating and shopping in the city centers – Both Glasgow and Edinburgh get significantly more expensive the closer you get to the city center. There are plenty of good restaurants and quirky shops outside of the center, so go for those. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
- Stay with a local – Couchsurfing is the best way to save on accommodation — it’s free! Not only will you save some money, but you’ll have access to a knowledgeable local who can help point you to some of the country’s hidden gems. It may not be fancy, but you’ll get a unique experience and learn far more about the destination than if you stayed in a hotel!
- Take a free walking tour – If you want to understand more about the history, architecture, and people of Scotland then be sure to take a free walking tour. They usually last a couple hours and are a great introduction to the city. All of the larger cities offer them.
- Cook your own meals – Food in the UK isn’t cheap. Save yourself some money and cook a few meals for yourself. It may not be as fancy as eating out, but your wallet will thank you!
Top Things to See and Do in Scotland
- Visit Edinburgh – Edinburgh is a glorious city filled with beautiful cobblestone streets, parks, museums, history, a castle, and maybe even ghosts. I celebrated my birthday here a few years ago and I couldn’t believe how great it was! There’s a lot to do here and, after a long day of sightseeing, spend the evening in a pub, hanging out with great locals.
- Drink fine whisky in Islay – Whisky has a long history on Islay. It’s been made there since the 16th–century — first in backyards and then, starting in the 19th–century, in big distilleries. Over the years, whiskey from the island came to be considered a specialty and was used to flavor a lot of other blends on the mainland. My visit here was amazing and, even if you don’t like whisky, there are tons of good hikes and walks throughout this magnificent island.
- Taste good pub food – Pub food is often the best in the country, which is why you see many locals eating lunch or dinner here. Since it’s so affordable, it’s also a good way to eat out. Pubs are a great place to try some good beer, food, and even haggis.
- Celebrate Hogmanay like a true Scot – Hogmanay (a Gaelic word for the last day of the year) is one of the largest New Year’s celebrations in the world, attracting over 75,000 people for the two-day celebration (December 30-31). Though the Scots have been celebrating this day for centuries, the modern iteration with musical acts, a torchlight procession, multiple fireworks displays, and a large street party dates back only to 1992. It’s an incredible celebration and one you definitely don’t want to miss!
- Wander around Glasgow – Glasgow is a busy and growing area, with a university and the River Clyde finding spots at the heart of the city. It is the largest city in Scotland and the main source of Scotland’s industrial needs. With plenty of parks, historical monuments and museums, there is plenty to do here for practically nothing. Don’t forget to walk into a pub or two, if not for the great food, then simply to talk to a friendly local who will tell you the spots you have to hit before leaving town.
- Visit Glasgow University – The university houses an art gallery, museum, and dates back all the way to 1451. You can take walking tours and marvel at the architecture.
- Puzzle over Rosslyn Chapel – Figure out the Da Vinci Code at this historic chapel with its intricate artwork and symbolism. The place raises a lot of questions: why is there corn on the wall if it wasn’t discovered until centuries later? Admission to Rosslyn costs 9 GBP for adults, 7 GBP for concessions, or are free to people who are under 18 with their families. The price of admission includes a free tour.
- See the Cathedrals – The cathedrals in Scotland are marvelous with their unique Gothic architecture and imposing heights. A few of the top cathedrals to visit are: Dunfermline Abbey and Palace in Fife, St. Magnus Cathedral in the Orkney Islands, and Melrose Abbey in the Borders. One of the best is Glasgow Cathedral, admission to which is free with an encouraged donation.
- Try the local markets – Scotland is full of farmers markets where fresh produce lies at your fingertips. The bigger cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh have several of them, but you can usually find smaller markets in towns outside of the cities as well. Edinburgh has two farmer’s markets on Saturday alone, located on the Castle Terrace and in Grassmarket.
- Play golf – The Scottish invented golf. If you’re not lucky enough to play around at St. Andrews, there are plenty of immaculate-kept greens to keep any golf player happy. Try to play during the low season (between November and March) if you want the lowest prices.
- Try to find Nessie – Visit Loch Ness and try to find the famous monster that is said to be swimming in its’ depths. When you get tired of that, simply cruise around this amazing lake. The hills nearby provide for good hiking too. The best way to get there is to travel to Inverness, from which Loch Ness is close enough to take a day trip to.
- Visit Inverness – Inverness is a beautiful, historic, and thriving city with a rich variety of places to visit and things to do both in the city and around. Besides all of the historic buildings in the Old Town, there is a great selection of places to eat and drink, Inverness Castle, the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and a Victorian Market. Plus, it is close to Loch Ness (try to find Nessie), a bunch of distilleries, and a few golf courses. It also provides a great jumping off point to the Scottish highlands.
- Visit Melrose Abbey – Robert the Bruce’s heart is said to be buried here in the ruins of this Cistercian abbey. The abbey was repeatedly destroyed by the English in the 14th century. The ruins are surrounded by beautiful rivers and are also known for their decorative artwork. Admission costs 5.50 GBP for adults and 4.40 GBP for concessions.
- See the Cuillins – This dramatic mountain range dominates Skye and has attracted walkers, climbers, and artists for centuries. There are two peaks (red and black) and this can be done as a day trip or a longer two-day hike.
- Explore the Scottish Highlands – Visit the highlands of Scotland for gigantic mountains, rugged terrain, glaciers, lochs, and kilt-clad Scotsmen. For centuries, people have carved out a living here. While the land may be harsh and unforgiving, it’s beautiful landscape and you haven’t seen Scotland until you’ve been here.
- Get your history fix in Dundee – Dundee is a bustling student city with a lot of interesting museums. It is known as Scotland’s center of “jute, jam, and journalism.” The jute museum is surprisingly interesting. You can also visit Discovery Point to learn about the famous Antarctic expedition that launched from here on the RSS Discovery, which you can actually board at the visitor center. Both attractions cost 9.25 GBP for an adult ticket, but you can get a joint ticket to both Discovery Point and Verdant Works (the jute museum) for 16 GBP.
- Visit the Mystical Smoo Cave – The sleepy town of Durness is the access point for Smoo Cave, a coastline cave complex that can be explored on a tour. The cave is eerie and mysterious, and evidence from charcoal samples show that it may have been inhabited over 4000 years ago. It’s not the most impressive cave in the world, but there’s something about it that peaks your imagination. The cave is free to enter but guided tours are quite cheap at 5 GBP.
- Head to the Isle of Arran – In the southwest of Scotland, this isle is a popular tourist destination for its charming scenery, good walking trails, and quaint villages. Visit Brodick Castle; go for a hike or a trail ride; keep a look out for seals and golden eagles, and just enjoy the scenery.