“They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.” 10 points if you know which film that quote is from, and extra points if you read it in Mel Gibson’s Scottish accent!
If you’re thinking of or have started planning a trip to Scotland, then have we got the guide for you.
You may still be undecided, you may be wondering if a vacation in Scotland is possible on a budget. Fear not, just because you’ve got a shoestring budget doesn’t mean you have to miss out on an amazing vacation!
You’d probably be surprised at the number of cool things you can see and do when you visit this beautiful location, without breaking the bank. Explore Edinburgh and Glasgow, the vibrant and colorful cities, or take advantage of the beautiful (and free!), breathtaking views that this part of the world has to offer.
Whatever you fancy doing on your exciting trip, we’ve got some great money-saving tips and advice, from planning your journey there to finding the best budget accommodation.
We’ll also walk you through some FAQs so by the time you get to magical Scotland you’ll know how to have an awesome and budget-friendly trip.
Top Ten Tips for Traveling to Scotland on a Budget
1. Off-Peak and Flexible Travel
If you’re looking for affordable ways to travel around, then Off-Peak tickets are the way to go. With an Off-Peak ticket, you can take any route after 9:15 am during the week. By doing this you benefit from, not only saving money but from not being squashed in overcrowded buses during rush hour.
You don’t need to book in advance and you can stop off at various stations during the route. There are some restrictions during the evening peak period, so make sure you check these out so you don’t get stuck. If you plan to use public transport a lot during your holiday it may be worth buying a travel pass.
These passes include trains as well as buses and ferries, so it may be a much more budget-friendly option. If you want ultra-cheap tickets, you can buy Super Off-Peak, although this does limit you as you can only travel between 11 am and 3 pm, you’ll be saving money that could be put to much better use!
2. Plan Flights Carefully
Planning your flights carefully could be the difference between having a substantial amount of spending money, and arriving in Scotland broke! We want to avoid the latter, so try to book well in advance, ideally, allow 6-12 months.
If you don’t mind where you sit you could try booking basic economy seats with a cheap airline. It’s also worth signing up with a travel provider like Expedia. When you book car rentals and hotels through them you earn points. When you collect enough points you’ll earn VIP access. You’ll get bigger discounts and even hotel room upgrades!
3. Make Use of Flight Connections and Gateways
If you don’t mind your itinerary taking slightly longer, you could try booking a connecting flight. While it’s not guaranteed you will save money, it’s very common to save some, so always check thoroughly and compare the prices of connecting and direct routes.
It may feel like an inconvenience to stop off halfway, but try to think of it as a good thing. If you’ve got children, an 8-hour journey can sometimes feel like a nightmare. By stopping for a connecting flight they’ll have a chance to stretch their legs and have a break from the confines of an aircraft.
The same goes for the adults, most layovers are at least a few hours long. This gives you a chance to go to eat, relax, and chill out. Go for a walk and stretch your legs too! If you’ve got a 24-hour layover, then take the opportunity to visit a new city or town you would’ve missed otherwise!
4. Travel Between October and May
To get the cheapest travel deal, it’s best to travel to Scotland between October and May. In summer, prices go sky high which eats into your budget before you’ve even arrived there. Another benefit of going over the Autumn/Winter/Spring period is that there won’t be as many tourists visiting.
You can really appreciate Scotland for what it is without the overcrowding. In Summer you would have to deal with packed crowds of people all wanting to do the same activities, which is not only stressful and inconvenient, it also becomes ridiculously expensive.
If you’re a photography enthusiast then you’ll love the stunning fall colors in the Highlands. The views make for amazing photographs and every angle and view offers a treat for the eye.
5. Accommodation: Home Rentals and Air BnBs
Your accommodation is probably going to leave one of the biggest dents in your budget, so if you can get a place to stay relatively cheap, then you’ll be off to a great start! If you’re going on a family trip it may be more economical to rent an apartment for the duration of your stay.
Another tip to finding budget accommodation is to book well in advance. The earlier you book, the more chance you’ll have of choosing different options and saving money.
If you’re traveling to Scotland solo or in a couple, a hostel may be an option. Many hostels provide comfortable rooms at incredibly affordable prices, with private rooms becoming more and more frequently seen.
An Airbnb is also an option, although make sure you always book through a host that has good ratings. Most self-catering places will only rent out by the week, however, this can usually work out cheaper than just a few days.
If you’re up for it, you could try wild camping. In Scotland, you can pitch a tent anywhere you like, as long as you obey the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Although you wouldn’t need to spend a dime, bear in mind though if you go later in the year, the temperature will drop and the weather could turn quite nasty, so this option isn’t one for the faint-hearted!
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle
As the saying goes “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Don’t be afraid to bargain with accommodation owners, you never know what great budget accommodation you’ll get. This is more likely to happen during the quieter seasons when they won’t have as many guests.
If you and two friends are traveling in a trio, it may be worth asking to book a double room, while the third person sleeps on the floor or couch. This would be a more budget-friendly solution, rather than booking separate rooms.
7. Rent a Car
Renting a car unfortunately doesn’t come cheap, and if you’re traveling on your own or in a couple it may be best to stick to public transport. However, if you’re part of a group you could split the rental bill and hey presto! You may have just found an incredibly budget transport method.
Plus, a rental car is a super convenient way to get around and it will give you so much more freedom to explore Scotland at your own pace. Why not take a road trip and discover all the hidden secrets that Scotland has!
It’s important to remember as well that in the UK you’ll be driving on the left-hand side. If you’ve never done this before it may take some getting used to. Another tip is to remember that in the UK car rentals are called “car hire.” Bear this in mind to avoid any confusion when picking your car up!
If you’re able to rent a camper van, this would also be an awesome way to see Scotland in all its glory. You’d have the freedom to move around wherever you want and with no accommodation costs, you’d also save loads as well!
8. Book Through Third Party Providers
Consider booking through a third-party provider. Lots of flights on these sites are cheaper, however, always double-check and compare prices so that you get the best possible deal.
If you do decide to book this way, always read the fine print of any contract and be sure that you understand the company’s refund and cancellation policies too, so you don’t receive any nasty surprises.
9. Eat Locally
The food in Scotland is a good enough reason on its own to visit this amazing location. Scottish cuisine is hearty and filling, you’ll never go hungry in this part of the world! A great way to save money on eating out and experience traditional dishes at the same time is to find the pubs and restaurants that the locals frequent.
Going to the touristy places and chains will only mean you’ll pay ridiculous prices. The local places are going to be cheaper and you may discover some new flavors and combinations you’ll want to try when your trip ends. Not only that but you’ll get to meet some of the locals, a great way to make new friends and get some tips on the best sights and activities to do!
10. Consider Package Deals/ Attraction Passes
Save money by choosing a package holiday. By combining the plane journey and hotel prices you could potentially save yourself a whole load of dollars. You can book through your travel agent or use a vacation package site such as Orbitz.
This is a good option as they offer cheap flights to Scotland well in advance. Don’t make the mistake of booking last minute because the prices will rise more as the travel date gets nearer, and you likely won’t find a budget deal.
The Cheapest and Best Scottish Cities
The National Museum of Scotland? Edinburgh Castle? Whatever you fancy, this is just one of the major cities to see. With its charming cobblestone streets, breathtaking architecture, and an impressive fortress dominating the city’s skyline, Edinburgh really is special.
You could start your day sightseeing in the Old Town where you’ll find some of the best attractions. If you want to get into the culture of this beautiful city there are themed tours where you can discover the secrets and history of Edinburgh. However if your budget won’t stretch to a paid tour you can wander around the city on your own, you never know what hidden gems you’ll stumble upon!
Feeling adventurous? Why not climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, for a thrilling and spectacular view of the city. A trip to Edinburgh really isn’t complete without a visit to the world-famous Castle of Edinburgh.
Sitting atop Castle Rock towering over the city, the fortress contains important Scottish artifacts, including the oldest crown jewels in the UK – The Honours of Scotland. Immerse yourself in the grounds and listen to the audio guide as you take in this staggering fortress.
Looking for a rainy day activity? With free entry, the National Museum of Scotland is a perfect choice. With over 20,000 artifacts to view, you could spend the day learning about a whole host of new things, from ancient Egypt and dinosaurs, to how fashion has changed through the centuries, there really is so much for everyone to enjoy.
A vibrant and dynamic city, Glasgow has so much to offer its visitors. What’s great about this city is that there are so many free things to see and do. Visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for a day of learning and discovery. With beautiful architecture and 22 different themed galleries, you’re sure to have a fun-filled day.
Are you a shopaholic? Get your shopping fix on Buchanan Street. The city’s bustling shopping district offers a variety of choices, from big chains to small, local independent boutiques. Seeing as the climate in Scotland can be unpredictable, this would be the perfect way to escape any downpours.
If you’re a lover of architecture, Glasgow Cathedral is a must-see when you visit Scotland. As one of Glasgow’s oldest buildings, the Cathedral is an impressive sight. Used for worship for more than 800 years, it has the biggest displays of post-war stained glass windows. You can have a one hour guided tour if you’d like to immerse yourself in the history of this historic building. The tours are free, but donations are most welcome.
If all things botanical is your thing, then the Botanic Gardens is sure to please. Situated in the center of the city’s west end, the Botanic Gardens houses a variety of exotic plants. The stunning glasshouse located in the gardens was designed by John Kibble and it contains the national collection of tree ferns. Discover tropical rainforest plants in this fascinating attraction.
A real treat – St Andrews is brimming with history and beautiful views. Located on the coast of Fife, this small city is considered to be the home of golf! Full of charm, the city’s quaint and scenic streets are a real gem of Scotland.
With its medieval roots, there’s plenty to see and do in this picturesque city. With some of the most stunning beaches and parks, Saint Andrews is the perfect spot for a family picnic. Visit the ruins of Saint Andrews Castle, – nestled on a clifftop looking out to sea, it’s a truly impressive sight.
Since the 13th century, it’s been destroyed and rebuilt, being used as both a fortress and a prison. If you’re feeling brave, check out the bottle dungeon where prisoners were housed and discover underground tunnels that were made by invaders in the 16th century.
Even if you’re not a seasoned golfer, it would be a crime to leave this beautiful location and not visit the Old Course. The oldest and most famous golf course in the world is a place that all golfers aspire to visit. Walk in the footsteps of legendary golfers and take an expert tour to experience this incredible course in all of its beauty.
If golfing in Saint Andrews is on your bucket list, but your swing isn’t good enough to play on the old course, why not play a game at the Himalayas. Sitting next to the Old Course, this putting green is open to the public and one round will only set you back you £3.
If you’re looking for an authentic, paranormal experience then the Saint Andrews Ghost Tours are an essential visit. Based on thorough research and factual evidence, these tours are very real. Be warned, you won’t find any special effects or actors on these tours, the only noises you’ll encounter are the real ghosts!
Top 5 Low-Cost Activities You Can Do in Scotland
1. Visit The Isle of Skye
If you’re craving rugged landscapes, stunning views, and enchanting, medieval fortresses, then the Isle of Skye is the place to be. A magical part of the world, it has some of the best views in Scotland. With its miles of impressive coastline, riveting history, and abundance of wildlife, this is a location worth visiting.
Skye is also popular with walkers and hikers, so get ready to don your walking boots and go on an adventure. No matter if you’re an experienced hiker or a novice looking to get started, there are trails and scrambles to suit everyone. Don’t forget to take your camera, these are some views you won’t want to forget!
The Fairy Pools are one of the most famous attractions in Skye. Pools of crystal clear water enclosed by the Cuillin Mountains, this beauty spot is definitely worth a visit. If you’re feeling adventurous, swimming underneath the arch of the Fairy Pools is a unique and wonderful experience.
So-called because of Skye’s fairy myths, Fairy Glen is another hidden gem of Skye. This small but unique landscape is super cute and enchanting, with an otherworldly feel to it.
2. Search For Nessie
Loch Ness, home to the mythical Monster affectionately nicknamed ‘Nessie’, is a huge, freshwater loch in the Highlands. It’s around 600 feet deep and nearly 22 miles in length. It’s so big it can be seen from outer space! The area surrounding it is simply beautiful and a trip to this iconic location is essential when you visit Scotland!
Dotted with quaint villages, stunning walks, and captivating, historic attractions, the Loch is steeped in history, full of mystery and brimming with the rugged wilderness. With the magnificent scenery of the Scottish Highlands, you’ll get stunning views wherever you go! From ancient castles to boat rides and tours, there’s a highlight for all to enjoy.
If you want to geek out on the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, a visit to the Loch ness Centre and Exhibition is essential. The Nessie-themed center has a scientific approach – you decide if the elusive creature is fake or faux. On display, you’ll find the original equipment that has been used in various searches for the monster. You’ll also discover the hoaxes and optical illusions surrounding the mystery.
If castles are your jam, then a visit to Urquhart Castle is definitely needed. This impressive former fortress, situated on the shore of Loch Ness harbors deep, dramatic history.
3. Visit The The Kelpies
If you’re interested in Scottish folklore, you’ve probably heard of Kelpies – mythical shape-shifting creatures of Scottish legend. They are said to haunt rivers and lakes, commonly taking the form of a horse. They lie in wait for unsuspecting travelers, before dragging them back into the lake.
The Helix Park is now The Home of the Kelpies – two horse head sculptures measuring a gigantic 30 meters each. The biggest equine sculpture in the world, it’s become an iconic attraction, with tourists flocking from all over the world to learn about the story.
The Kelpies are a truly impressive work of art. They are inspired by real-life equine heroes Duke and Baron – two purebred Clydesdale horses. Clydesdales are the heavy horse breed of Scotland and the Kelpies represent their roles in the Scottish trade and workforce.
Visiting the Kelpies is completely free at any time of the year, and its prime location means it’s an accessible attraction for anyone! If you’re interested in how these magnificent statues were built, you can go inside them and see the brilliance yourself.
The Helix park itself is a brand new park, offering activities such as numerous cycle paths, walking areas, and various watersports.
4. The Royal Mile
If you want to discover the historic joy of Edinburgh, then you must visit The Royal Mile. It has earned its name from being the procession route that kings and queens have been taking for the last 500 years. It’s one of the most famous roads in Edinburgh and it has so many pubs, restaurants, quaint shops, and cozy cafes, all waiting to give you a warm welcome!
At the beginning of the Mile sits the ever famous Edinburgh Castle. At the end of the Mile, you have the magnificent Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II.
In between these two impressive buildings, there is an array of fascinating attractions to see and do. If you enjoy a tipple every now and again, the Scottish Whisky Experience is sure to please. The Scots sure know about their whisky, learn from the experts, and discover the secrets behind this famous drink. Marvel at the world’s largest whisky collection at this fascinating distillery.
Dating back to the 14th-Century, St Giles’ Cathedral is a magnificent building. From the sky-high ceilings to its baroque woodwork, it’s definitely a must-see. The well-known crown steeple contributes to Edinburgh City’s marvelous skyline.
Discover the eye-catching architecture of the Scottish Parliament building, situated at the end of the Mile. Free to enter, this building was erected from a combination of steel, oak, and granite and earned the praise of being one of the most ingenious designs in the United Kingdom.
5. Discover The Beauty Of Dean Village
If you’re a photographer or an aspiring one, then Dean Village is a wonderful place to practice those photography skills. Just five minutes away from Princes Street, this sweet place can be found right next to the Water of Leith.
In the past, it was made up of watermills and a few remains of these mills can still be seen today. Be on the lookout for millstones and stone plaques adorned with pies and baked bread. If you follow the path along the Water of Leith you’ll find the Dean Bridge – an imposing and fascinating piece of architecture, well worth the visit!
The most famous building in this location is Well Court. Local mill workers lived there in the 1880s and if you love all things historic, this beauty spot will be right up your street!
A real tranquil oasis, it’s the perfect place to escape the city life, relax and take in this undisturbed beauty spot of Scotland. The walkway offers a scenic stroll away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
It is one of the quieter parts of Scotland so if you’re after adventure and excitement then it may not be for you, but for those seeking a quiet and peaceful afternoon stroll, it’s just what you’ve been looking for! Not only that, but it won’t cost you a dime, perfect for a shoestring budget trip to Scotland!
How much should I budget for a trip to Scotland?
A trip to Scotland doesn’t have to be hideously expensive. It’s completely possible to budget without sacrificing quality or fun. Before you go, put some time aside to work out what is most important to you, do you want to be able to eat out a lot and sample traditional cuisine? Is traveling to various places something you’d love to do? Or do you want to hit the high street and spend your dollar there?
On average, you could probably expect to spend around $70 each per day. If you stick to your budget plan, you can reduce your costs by cooking your own meals, wild camping for a few days, or taking advantage of the many free attractions that Scotland boasts.
If you’re able to stick to an ultra-strict spending plan then you can expect to pay around $1600 for a Scottish vacation for one person or up to $5000 as a family. However, if your budget stretches slightly more, your average spendings would be around $2300 for a solo vacationer or up to $6000-7000 for a family, including flights, accommodation, food, and daily sightseeing. It’s also wise to take out travel insurance as well before you fly.
If you’re able to book cheap flights and budget accommodation, then you’ll be off to a good start, as these are the two things that are going to cost the most. You’ll then have more freedom to see and do more events and attractions.
Is Scotland expensive to travel to?
So how expensive is it to travel to Scotland? This really depends on how much you plan and budget for it. If you’re strict with yourself and stick to your budget you can save yourself a whole load of bucks. Are you traveling alone? As a couple? Or maybe in a big group?
If you have children with you, a lot of attractions allow kids under 5 free entry so this will save a lot. If you’re traveling in a group, splitting costs of travel, food, and entertainment will drastically reduce your spendings.
When looking at accommodation, the cheapest hostel dorm room will probably be around $25 per night. However, if you don’t want to stay in a hostel, there are many B&Bs all over Scotland, however, these prices will be a lot higher, averaging $65-$130 a night and a hotel room will probably be a similar price range. If you intend to eat out a lot, you can probably expect to pay $15-£25 per person, so definitely keep track of these costs.
If you’re super adventurous and looking for the ultimate budget accommodation, you could stay in a bothy. A bothy is a small cottage-like building that was used many years ago by nomadic workers as shelter from the unpredictable climate. These days, a lot of them have been given makeovers and are offered as a completely free of charge form of accommodation for hikers and travelers.
If you decide this is something you’d like to do, remember that bothy’s are miles away from main roads, so expect a hike to reach one! They only offer very basic amenities, so you’ll need to bring essentials such as warm clothes, a sleeping bag, cushions, and a sleeping pad.
You may need a camping stove as well to prepare meals. As you can probably guess, a bothy is not really for the faint-hearted, but if you take it for what it is, you’ll get a camping experience like no other!
What is the best way to get around Scotland?
This does depend on what you’re planning to do while you’re in Scotland. If you want to stick to just exploring the main cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, traveling around on public transport is the best method. Train travel is a great option for getting around Scotland and you’ll get to admire all of the beautiful views from the comfort of your seat.
The rail company in Scotland, ScotRail, offers all domestic train journeys. If you buy tickets in advance you can usually benefit from a discount, however, for extra convenience, you can buy them at the station on the day.
If you’re going to be taking multiple train journeys then a rail pass may be a great money saver. If you want the freedom to travel wherever you like, the BritRail Freedom of Scotland Pass is an excellent option. However, if you’re focusing more on cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh you may want to choose the Central Scotland Pass.
If you’re looking for an even cheaper option, catching the bus may be the ideal choice. Bus fares tend to be the most budget-friendly option and provide an awesome way of getting around the different cities. A one-way ticket would cost around $2-$3.
Although public transport will offer a super convenient way to explore the cities, if you want to take a road trip and visit the countryside that Scotland has to offer, you may want to think about renting a car. Definitely make sure you’ve got a valid driving license, if you have then you’re all set!
When it comes to car insurance, it’s a good idea to book online in advance to save time, although if it does slip your mind, you can usually buy insurance from the rental desk in the airport. Keep in mind all of these extra costs, as they can quickly add up!
Fuel can work out expensive in more remote parts, so if you’re planning to travel to Stornoway or the Highlands, definitely fill up before you head out.
What is the cheapest time to fly to Scotland?
Generally, going on vacation to Scotland will cost way more during the high season through June-August than it will through the low season. Even waiting until early September instead of late August could see a drop in prices. Unless you go especially for the annual Fringe Festival, it’s best to avoid going in August. Mid to late December is also a period that will cost you more due to the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Even though many people’s idea of a perfect vacation is during the summer months, there are a ton of reasons to go during the autumn, spring, or even winter months too! You’ll still have the enjoyment of plentiful sunshine, whatever the season. While the weather can be unpredictable, it’s nothing that warm and waterproof clothing can’t sort out.
When the temperature is cooler and more comfortable, you’ll probably find it easier to participate in more strenuous outdoor activities like hiking, bike riding, or long rambles without feeling like you’re melting, like you would in the heat of midsummer.
Even if there are sudden downpours that threaten to ruin your outdoor plans, there are so many great indoor attractions for you to pass the time while you’re waiting for the rain to clear.
Not only that, but Scotland’s rugged landscapes are stunning come rain or shine. Imagine taking in the beautiful Scottish countryside on a crisp, cold, crystal clear morning, with beautiful blue skies and brilliant sunshine!