Mini Travel Guide: Scotland

Looking for a travel guide to Scotland? Click through for from-a-local Scottish travel tips on what to do, where to go, what to eat, and how to do it all cheaply!
Looking for a travel guide to Scotland – that land of kilts, lake monsters, and amazing accents? I brought in a local to give us all the best Scottish travel tips and give us the lowdown what to do, where to go, what to eat and how to do it all cheaply!

Hi there! My name is Sarah and I’m a native of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. I work in marketing and communications by day, and spend my spare time exploring all that my home city has to offer from local food markets to museum after-hour events.
In my mini travel guide of Scotland, I’ll be concentrating on the mainland, as there is already a mini guide for the Orkney Islands, and Shetland and the Outer & Inner Hebrides deserve their own entries.

Must do in Scotland

Must Go in Scotland

The Scottish Highlands

‘The Highlands’, is renowned for its breathtaking lochs (Loch Ness, Loch Maree), magnificent mountains (Ben Nevis) and tranquil glens (Glen Coe). This beautiful northern region has plenty to offer sport enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. From skiing/snowboarding down the slopes of CairnGorm Mountain to discovering Scotland’s native birds and fauna – capercaillies, red deer, Scottish wildcats – at the Highland Wildlife Park.

If the great outdoors isn’t your thing, then visit the region’s ancient castles such as Eilean Donan, made famous in cult film, “Highlander”. Alternatively, head over to the Black Isle and take a tour of one of the local distilleries or organic breweries.

Glasgow

Scotland’s largest and liveliest city, Glasgow is the place to visit for shopping, art galleries, restaurants and nightlife. The city is also famed for its energetic live music scene ranging from traditional Celtic music to twee indie pop. Make sure you catch a gig at one of Glasgow’s iconic venues.

St. Andrews

St. Andrews may be the “Home of Golf” but there’s a lot more to this seaside town than the Old Course. This royal burgh boasts one the oldest universities in the English-speaking world, as well as a clifftop castle and gothic cathedral ruins.

Wander through St. Andrews’ cobbled streets and narrow alleys and explore the university’s stunning old stone buildings and quadrangles. Once finished in the town centre, indulge with an ice-cream from award-winning Gelateria ‘Janettas’ (try Scottish specialities, Irn Bru sorbet or the tablet ice cream) and take a stroll along West Sands beach.

Edinburgh

Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh is a bustling hub full of culture and history. Known as the ‘Athens of the North’ because of its striking neo-classical architecture, this cosmopolitan city features an array of art galleries, museums, grand cathedrals, 17th-century tall houses, and of course, Edinburgh Castle, perched high on volcanic rock.

As Edinburgh is a very compact it is best explored on foot. Get lost amongst the city’s winding streets and close passageways within the medieval ‘Auld Town.’ The more touristy sights are here such as Mary King’s Close, John Knox’s House and St. Giles Cathedral.

Then head to the Grassmarket for a look round the many quirky independent shops (‘Armstrongs’ is a must for vintage lovers). Venture down to the bohemian neighbourhood of Stockbridge, where you can sample Scottish produce at the Sunday market. Bring the evening in with a drink along the Leith shore, home to some of the city’s finest restaurants, bars and pubs.

Must do in Scotland

Must Do in Scotland

Attend one of the capital’s many festivals

Edinburgh is the world’s leading festival city, playing host to twelve major festivals annually. The biggest of which is the Edinburgh Fringe in August, attracting thousands of performing artists and even more spectators, to the capital.

The Fringe has thousands of shows, ranging from cabaret to children’s theatre and many free events such as street performances on the Royal Mile. Other highlights of Edinburgh’s festivals include Science Festival (April), Film Festival (June), the Book Festival (August) and the International Festival (August). Whether you’re a film fanatic or a bookworm Edinburgh’s festivals offer something for everyone.

Go to a ceilidh

A ceilidh (pronounced ‘kay’lee’) is a social gathering, where people come together to participate in traditional Scottish country dances, accompanied by a local live band. Don’t worry if you have two left feet, the locals will be sure to keep you right!

Experience Hogmanay

‘Hogmanay’, which takes place on the 31st December, is the Scottish equivalent of New Year’s Eve. In Scotland’s main cities, i.e. Edinburgh, Stirling, Aberdeen and Glasgow, this is celebrated with large-scale street parties which include live entertainment and stunning midnight firework displays.

Elsewhere in Scotland, Hogmanay is marked in a more traditional manner with local events such as bonfires and torch processions; reel balls; and informal get-togethers. This is the perfect time to try a wee dram of whisky and sing-along to ‘Auld Lang Syne’! However you wish to ‘bring in the bells’, it will no doubt be an unforgettable experience.

Must eat in Scotland

Must Eat in Scotland

Haggis

The humble haggis may seem like an obvious choice but there are plenty of different ways that this Scottish staple can be enjoyed! This is a savoury pudding, made of offal with oatmeal, onions and spices, and prepared in a sausage casing (originally in a sheep’s stomach.

Traditionally it’s served with turnips and potatoes “neeps and tatties.” Modern alternatives, however, include haggis burritos, pakoras and deep-fried in batter, served with chips “the haggis supper.”

Cullen skink

The perfect dish for a wintery Scottish day. Cullen skink is a rich, creamy soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes, onions and shellfish.

Cranachan

Scotland is well-known for its assortment of sugary delicacies, stodgy puddings and desserts. One of my personal favourites is Cranachan – a lighter, truffle-like dessert, made up of fresh raspberries, whipped cream or ‘crowdie cheese’, honey and toasted oats and whisky.

Cultural tips for travel in Scotland

Cultural Tips for Travel in Scotland

Be respectful. Scots are generally known for being friendly and welcoming. That said, it is important to be mindful when referring to nationality so as not to cause offense – “English” is not synonymous with “Scottish”.

Cheap travel in Scotland

Tips for cheap travel in Scotland

Buses are generally cheaper than trains between towns. For further savings on longer journeys try budget coach services such as Megabus.

Of course, Airbnb is cheaper than a hotel and much more authentic. Here’s an entire apartment in Glasgow for $49 a night and here’s a three-bedroom cottage with a hotub for $87! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking.

Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah! I’m sure there are plenty of Scottish readers – what would you guys add to this list? Any other Scottish travel tips?

P.S. Mini travel guides to Belize, Shanghai, and America’s Deep South

photos by Moyan Brenn // Thomas Jaworski // mendhak // Robbie Shade // lizsmith // Coralie Mercier // Martin Addison // cc

18 Comments

zoe

I lived in Scotland for a year in 2011 and I miss it so much! I’ll second the recommendation to go to a ceilidh – “traditional dancing” sounds a bit like it’s for school kids or something put on for tourists, but seemingly everyone I met in Glasgow loved a good ceilidh, even surly uni students 😉 It took me ages to get around to going to my first one, and now I feel like I missed out.

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JennyOH

Aw, seeing that Fife bus really brought my St Andrews days back (I studied there 1999-2004). I definitely recommend Janetta’s (especially the honeycomb ice cream), and if it’s a nice day out it’s a short wander up South Street to the cathedral grounds for a picnic, too. I’m guessing most travellers will be based in/arriving in Edinburgh or Glasgow, so I’d recommend renting a car or taking buses particularly so that you can stop in smaller villages along the way. There are several interesting fishing villages, many with local museums, along the route from Edinburgh to St Andrews, and many many wonderful places to stop if you are heading north from Glasgow into the Trossachs and Highlands.
Stirling is another great town to visit especially if you are interested in history, the castle is fabulous.

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Nomi

I went to Scotland on my honeymoon a few months ago and loved it! We were mostly in the Highlands and Aberdeenshire. Highlights were definitely Glencoe, seeing the dolphins so close to shore in the Black Isle, the ruins of Elgin Cathedral, touring a whisky distillery, and Glenfinnan/Loch Shiel (plus a sighting of the “Harry Potter” train, the Jacobite train). Amazing scenery, great wildlife and really friendly folks!

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Lauren

So timely as I’m leaving for a vacation to Scotland on Monday! I’ll make sure to look for some of these foods, and I’ll see if I can find time to work in some of the recommendations.

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Marie

I’m from Glencoe village, the most beautiful place in the world 🙂 – only thing is if you are advising people to visit Scotland (and the Highlands) you should really mention things to pack- waterproof jackets (brollies won’t cut it) and midgie repellent! Also you should try Tablet (a Scottish treat similar to fudge but so-much-better) and the infamous deep-fried mars bar!

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Julie

i come from North of Inverness and went to uni in Glasgow, if anyone visits Glasgow I’d definitely suggest heading to the west end for excellent museums, fab restaurants, and loads of tiny quirky cafes and shops – and it’s worth exploring Glasgow uni to see the cloisters… Straight out of Harry Potter. Speaking of Hogwarts, Nomi mentioned the steam train and you can take it from Fort William to Mallaig as a day trip, it’s great fun and you get to see some of the most beautiful scenery along the coast. From Fort William the drive up to Inverness (and those craft breweries on the Black Isle ) is one of my favourite roads, and you can stop at Urquhart castle on the way, or take a boat trip on the loch which goes to Urquhart castle, and see if you can spot Nessie 😉

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Trevor Huxham

Such great recommendations! I went to Edinburgh on a high school trip 7 years ago and really really enjoyed the city so I would love to go back to explore the Highlands and/or the Hebrides someday.

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lonestarsky

Some great recommendations and I agree with them all! I’d also add, if you’re driving, take a drive up the west coast from Ullapool then along the north coast to John O Groats. Arguably some of the most stunning scenery in the country 🙂

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BD

Hoping to take trip there next summer. Is there a bus from Edinburgh that goes to Culloden? Would you recommend buses for travel throughout Scotland or renting a car? I would be there about 8 days and it would be impossible to see everything!

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Emily

In Edinburgh, go to Cramond Island if that’s your type of thing! It’s a tidal island and one of my favourite places to pretend I’ve gone back in time. It’s fun for a morning or afternoon, especially if accompanied by tea or hot chocolate at one of the cute cafes on the walk there.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cramond_Island

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