Visiting Scotland: The Essential Guide On How To Plan Your Trip

Visit Scotland and explore its stunning landscapes, vibrant cities, and abundant activities. Are you looking to plan your vacation to Scotland? With the abundance of information out there, it can be hard to make heads or tails of it all; especially if that info is second or third-hand. It's tough to decide where to go when to go, and how much it will cost.

Planning a trip to Scotland for the first time can be overwhelming. Don’t worry – I’m here to help you out! Following Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s words, “A goal without a plan is just a wish”

This post provides you helpful tips for planning a trip to Scotland, especially if you visiting Scotland for the first time, so you can make the process smoother and free of stress. Get informed on how to make your journey effortless with this practical advice!

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Table of Contents

I am going to answer some questions you may have:

Royal Mile,Edinburgh self-walking tour
Royal Mile, Edinburgh Edinburgh self-walking tour

If you’re looking to take a trip to Scotland, the first step is to plan properly. There are many points of consideration, so it’s best to begin from the start and be prepared for your journey.

  • How much time do you have
  • What your budget is like
  • Is there a special interest that brings you to Scotland?
  • The places family and friends have recommended
  • Is there a special event you want to attend in Scotland?

Depending on the type of trip you are planning, criteria such as cost, convenience and safety might be more or less important.

For example, if it is a special occasion like a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, you probably want to make sure it is extra special.

Visiting Scotland with your mum to show her where she was born is a one-of-a-kind experience!

And, if you just want to explore our beautiful country for hiking and whisky tasting, then it will be an unforgettable adventure.

If you are unsure about where to go on your journey, familiarise yourself with a Scotland map to get an overview of the location. Make a list of ideas for places and activities you would like to explore, and research events or festivals that appeal to your interests. This approach will help you prioritise what you want out of the trip and help make your experience more memorable.

travel vacations planning stage

When to start planning a trip to Scotland?

Before you embark on your journey, be sure to thoroughly research the entry requirements such as travel documents and Health Declaration for the country you plan to visit Scotland.

Here, you will get all information plus hassle-free the entire process.

If you’ve done some research, then you should already be aware of what season to visit.

June to September is a peak season in most places – whether locales far or near. This is when the weather is typically best and the tourists come out in full force.

To get the best out of your holiday in summer, it’s always advisable to plan a year in advance. So, if you’re aiming for July or August as your destination, make sure to book early and save yourself the hassle of last-minute planning.

Booking in advance is key to getting the best deal for your holiday. It may sound ludicrous, but it’s true – this place is really busy with travellers and if you want the most out of your budget, start planning early!

Summertime in Edinburgh & the Highlands are always bustling with tourists, locals and those attending annual festivals – thus resulting in increased prices.

Visiting Scotland in July and August means being here in the busiest months for this region, so travellers should prepare accordingly.

Waiting until the last minute to plan a journey is certainly doable, however, it may cost you more money and trouble. To avoid this, we recommend planning your trips ahead of time.

What is the best time of year to visit Scotland?

You must ask yourself if you like being around lots of people or not when planning a trip to Scotland.

During the summer months, Scotland can be quite bustling with different festivals and events.

Furthermore, some places in Scotland may even witness over-tourism. Therefore, it is important to consider all these factors before taking the plunge.

I thoroughly enjoy travelling around Scotland during May and June. Besides the lengthy day-lit hours (it gets darker at around 11 pm in June), these months also bring a lot of pleasant weather.

Not to mention, gardens are filled with blooms and woodlands become lush with green foliage during this time.

I’m especially fond of September and October, as the scenery during these months is breathtaking with the vibrant autumn foliage.

Additionally, it’s usually less crowded and warmer, so it makes for an ideal time to take a trip to Scotland.

To make your visit to Scotland as smooth as possible, it is advisable to avoid certain dates such as school holidays, breaks and Bank Holidays. 

Bank Holidays are mostly on Mondays, giving us an extended weekend. People usually plan to go away for a few days during this time.

If your holiday dates match with Scottish Bank Holidays, be prepared to face accommodation availability issues and overcrowded places. You can find the detailed dates here.

Once you’ve decided when you want to go, it’s time to book your flights.

Let me plan a custom travel itinerary made for YOU!

What is the cheapest way to travel to Scotland?

Figuring out the perfect time to book a flight can be one of the most difficult tasks. However, if you take into account certain factors such as price fluctuations and availability, you’ll be able to get the most bang for your buck. 

As flight prices depend on many factors, some as simple as supply and demand, it’s important to compare airline deals against booking engines.  

Before finalizing your booking, it’s wise to read the small print. Some tickets may be cheaper but they could have more restrictive terms & conditions compared to others. Make sure you know what you’re agreeing to before committing!

The most cost-effective way to visit Scotland is to come during the off-season, which is from November to the end of March. Additionally, starting your trip during the week, rather than on the weekend, may also be more economical. 

Travelling to Scotland from abroad can be expensive, but taking the bus is often the most economical choice. Unfortunately, this option isn’t available if you’re coming from overseas. You could save a lot of money on your flight tickets by considering indirect routes, which may take you through less common destinations.

For instance, for travellers from the USA and Canada, cheaper flight options could include a stopover in Dublin (Ireland) or through Reykjavik (Iceland) rather than London.   

Here is a list of the most popular flight booking engines

Skyscanner is good for searching the best deals when you know your dates. You can also see the cheapest flight within a month of those dates, which works great when you can be flexible.

Kayak is a very flexible booking engine. You can search for specific dates or for dates flexible up to 3 days before and 3 days after a specific date. You can also search per weekend or within a monthly simply by specifying how long you want to stay at your destination.

With Kayak you can set up flight alerts and it will let you know whenever the price for a route goes up or down.

Kiwi is quite special in that it has a “nomad” search function. With the nomad tool you can enter all the cities you’d like to visit, along with how long you’d like to stay in each city, and Kiwi.com will work out the cheapest possible option. Kiwi lets you search a number of different departure cities and/or countries as well as a bunch of different destinations, all at the same time. It also offers a guarantee that protects you should you incur any flight delays, cancellations, or changes. Other than that, it also offers flexible search engines and a flight alert function.

Tip: If you already have an idea if your itinerary/ trip/ road trip it might make a sense and is sometimes cheaper to start and end your trip in different airports. For example, you can start your trip in Glasgow and finish it in Edinburgh.

travel vacations planning stage visiting-scotland-first-time

Flying-free options

Whether you’re located in Europe, London, or somewhere else – getting away by ferry, train, bus and car can be overwhelming.

But no worries! I’m here to give you some useful tips and tools to make your journey more pleasant and stress-free.

Travelling by public transport is a cost-effective way to explore new places. It also offers more flexibility and spontaneity when you are planning for a trip, as it doesn’t need much time to get your bookings sorted out.

If you’re opting for a weekend away in Edinburgh from London, flying or driving doesn’t make the most sense.

Taking the train, which takes 4.5 hours, is usually the most comfortable option and will also get you there quickly.

If money’s tight, the overnight bus can be a great choice as tickets sometimes go as low as £20.

A leisurely ferry ride from Amsterdam to Newcastle provides an ideal, affordable way for families or groups of travellers from Germany, Belgium or Holland to reach Scotland.

It is a great option for a relaxed start to the journey and allows you to enjoy the scenery as well.

If you live in France or Belgium and are located near Eurostar station, such as Paris, Lille, Lyon, or Brussels, taking the train can be an excellent option for you due to its affordability when booked in advance (180 days). You may be pleasantly surprised by the price!

Travelling to Scotland from Paris can be a breeze, with an easy change in London. It takes just 8 hours with no airport hassle and gives you plenty of time for relaxation – such as reading, watching movies or taking naps.

Another option is to take an overnight train from London to Scotland. Whether you are travelling to London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen or Fort William, you will go there in comfort and enjoy a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

 



Travelling by car

Travelling either with your own car or a rented vehicle has some advantages and disadvantages. I would recommend this option only to drivers who are experienced and confident driving on the other side of the road.

Advantages:

  • Freedom- go as you please
  • No advance booking
  • Relatively low cost
  • Easy to get to remote places
  • Luggage space
  • You can travel roads less travelled

 

Disadvantages:

  • Long-distance trips can be stressful and exhausting
  • Expensive parking prices. For instance, in Edinburgh 24 hours’ parking will cost you at least £30. On-street parking in the city centre is for a maximum of 4 hours.
  • Often no parking spaces available
  • Environmental issue
  • Difficult to navigate within a city if you a) do not know the city b) if you are a first-time driver on the left-hand side

The most popular car rental in Scotland is Arnold Clark

Rentalcars.com is a comparison site to find a rental car. It compares hundreds of rental companies so you can find a good deal here. I would recommend reading the car rental reviews, fine print and T&Cs before the booking.

Travelling by train

Especially within UK and Europe, train travel is a good option when visiting neighbouring countries. Some of the benefits of train travel are:

  • more space to move around
  • easier to get some work done
  • simply get on board, take off, and get out again at your destination
  • more luggage allocation

I like Omio to book my train travels. It gives you a good overview of your transportation options from A to B. A train trip is an excellent way to explore Scotland. If you’re planning a trip, here are 9 steps to perfect your plan. 

How to choose accommodation?

Blackrock Cottage at Glen Etive
Blackrock Cottage at Glen Etive

Booking accommodation in Scotland is often overlooked by tourists or visitors. This can lead to difficulties as the region can be quite busy and there are limited options when it comes to where to stay.

Especially on islands and in remote places in the Highlands, it is sometimes not possible to stay in 4 or 5* hotels just because there are not many or not at all, to begin with.

Securing a place to stay should be the top priority. As mentioned before, during peak events like Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival (August) and Hogmanay (New Year), prices can skyrocket and it can be difficult to find accommodation.

Having worked at a destination management company for years, I know that to get the best value you must book your accommodations 6 months in advance.

Be sure to do your research and read the guide of common mistakes people make when booking hotel rooms.

During the off-season, there are rarely problems with accommodation unless there is a special event taking place like Up Helly Aa in Lerwick or Hogmanay in Edinburgh.

Before you book your accommodation, it is important to plan the details of your journey. Crafting an itinerary is especially helpful if you are taking a road trip and will be staying at multiple places.

Having a clear idea about where you need to go will help make reservations easier & more convenient.

When it comes to a place to stay, give your support to the Scottish economy by picking small local businesses over international chains. This way, you will also be contributing to the local community and engaging with its people more.

In my view, chain hotels may have the amenities you need, but lack the personalized experience that many travellers seek. They’re more generic and impersonal.

Taking the time to jot down what you need when choosing a place to stay is crucial. It helps ensure that you get the best fit for your needs and expectations.

  • How much do you want to spend?
  • An idea of what location you want to be in
  • Accommodation type or character (castle, manor house, pub or perhaps a cottage)
  • Uniqueness (a treehouse?)
  • Amenities (like a pool or spa)
  • Grading (2*, 3*, 4* or 5*)
  • Do you need breakfast?
  • Other recommendations?

When planning a city-based trip or if you are using one base for exploration, it is best to book your accommodation early so you have plenty of options to choose from.

Read detailed guide about ACOMMODATION IN SCOTLAND

Scotland itinerary planner

It can be quite overwhelming to find the best places to visit and activities to do when there is so much data available online.

However, with the right approach, you can narrow down your search and find exactly what you need.

Everyone needs to remember that time is limited when visiting Scotland. It’s definitely a good idea to explore as many places as possible, but it’s also essential to enjoy your stay and take the opportunity to relax.

Don’t be tempted to rush through your itinerary, ticking off a long list of attractions.

Therefore, leave some room for spontaneity or lazy days wandering in the countryside or through cobbled streets.

The best way to get organized is to create a spreadsheet or Google doc, or write it down in a notepad – whatever works for you.

 

Steps to create your itinerary;

 

Create headings for each day.

 

On Day 1 of your departure, please note that if you are travelling long-haul, such as from Canada or the USA, your arrival at your first night’s accommodation (car rental or any other activities) will be on Day 2.

 

If you’re travelling from overseas, consider jet lag. It’s better to have some lazy days until you can adapt to a different time zone and weather.

 

Other things to include:

 

How do you get from the airport to your hotel?

 

What time is the check-in at the hotel? For example, if you arrive in Glasgow at 8 am but check-in is at 2 pm, it might be worth contacting the hotel to let them know.

 

Could they possibly prepare your room earlier, or allow you to store your luggage at your accommodation until your check-in?

 

Tip: Some hotels, such as Travelodge, do not have the facilities to store luggage, so it’s better to check before going to the hotel. Your solution could be to store the luggage in a bus or train station.

If you rent a car, the problem is solved. If you rent a car at the airport, does the hotel you will stay in have parking and how much will it cost?

 

Check the opening times/days, costs, and whether advance booking is required for any attractions or activities you want to do or see.

 

Do you need to exchange currencies or get money from the ATM upon your arrival?

 

On your last day, what time is your return flight, and what time do you need to leave to get to the airport? Plan it carefully, as some airports may be very busy during peak season. Will you take a taxi or transfer? If you need to drop off a rental car, consider the time required to do so.

Where should you visit in Scotland?

Thorough research is key for any successful planning, so take care to look beyond blogs and get your info from various sources.

Reading guidebooks, browsing social media forums and tapping into personal networks can give you useful insights.

Don’t forget to ask friends & family for their advice – they might have great ideas that could be beneficial!

Leave the bucket list aside and opt for a more leisurely and in-depth travel experience.

Rather than trying to visit multiple places in a short span of time, it’s better to get acquainted with one particular destination and take your time exploring it.

When you search the internet, you will often find a list of popular sites along the same route: Glasgow-Loch Lomond-Fort William-Isle of Skye-Inverness-Pitlochry-Edinburgh.

But do you know what lies behind each of these places? Let’s take Fort William as an example. The town itself is not that attractive, and I would say it is rather ugly.

What is great is the area around Fort William; the mountains (Glencoe), hiking paths, Munros, scenic drives and walks, and the scenic-route Jacobite train.

Unless you’re interested in activities like hiking, there’s really no need to visit Fort William.

You should instead do your research and find something else that fits your needs better. Having knowledge is key when it comes to making the right decisions.

 

Want to get an authentic insight into life in Scotland? Read blog posts written by locals. Don’t fall prey to the numerous misguiding content on the internet about Scotland – often created by people who have stayed here for a week or two only and call themselves experts!

 

Unfortunately, some people tend to stick with the same routine and simply change locations each night. This doesn’t allow for a truly immersive experience or even the chance of relaxation.

That’s why it’s important to plan ahead and make sure that your holiday is the best it can be!

 

Add these items to a separate tab on the spreadsheet. When you feel you have enough material to build an itinerary, go to Google Maps and create a personal account (which is very easy if you have a Gmail email).

 

This feature allows you to pin the places you want to visit, allowing you to visualize how they fit together. You will also be able to see the distances between the places and get a brief overview of them.

 

Based on this, you are ready to build your itinerary in the spreadsheet. Group attractions or visits into the same areas, then choose two for each day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

 

Combine activities such as hiking and visiting the castle with a culinary experience, including whisky tasting. Visit a museum and take some time to go shopping or listen to live music in the evening.

Maybe you can hire a local guide who can show you a road less travelled, less touristy, and more authentic. 

 

Maybe you want to attend a masterclass to learn more about whisky, or take a private golf lesson in the famous St Andrews, where Kate and Prince William met? Seek out slower and more meaningful experiences.

 

Your plan should also allow for some flexibility and be ready to adapt. Sometimes the weather can be unpredictable, so if there is heavy rain and you had planned for a hike, it is best to change the plan.

 

It is better to adapt and, for example, go for a whisky tasting or spend a nice evening in a pub with live music.

 

When I travel, I usually wander around the village or city on the first day and then go to a local tourist information office. I ask a local (e.g. hotel receptionist) for a dinner reservation or other recommendations. Maybe there was something going on in the town, or a good story I hadn’t heard.

Final thoughts

I hope the above will help you plan a visit to Scotland. Don’t stress yourself out about missing out; go slow!

Your holidays are the best time to enjoy and appreciate life; experience it and make it memorable.

Don’t follow the same path as everyone else. Have a more meaningful and positive impactful experience.

Move from being a passive traveller to an engaged socio-cultural ambassador. Make it yours.

Need help with your planning and itinerary?

Book one of my services for stress-free holidays!

Visiting Scotland:  The Essential Guide On How To Plan Your Trip
About me
Scotland Itinerary planning

My name is Kate and I created Scotland Itinerary Planning to give you those life-changing experiences right in the beautiful country I call home.

I’m proud to live in Edinburgh, Scotland, one of the world’s most beautiful capital cities. Living in Edinburgh has provided me a base to explore extensively around this magical little country.

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