Advice for Your First Trip to Scotland
Going to Scotland for the first time? You couldn’t have picked a better option for your upcoming travels! I’m dead serious. You’re about to embark on a fairytale treat that includes rugged castles on lakes (or lochs), green mountains soaring into overcast skies, salmon cooked to perfection, and much more. Scotland was my first solo trip and holds a special corner of my heart hostage. In fact, it was the adventure that changed my entire life.
Yes, Scotland is a truly a magical destination. You’ll fall in love and never want to leave.
However, even though I adooooore Scotland from my the bottom of my blond heart, it’s always helpful to know some information ahead of time to avoid disappointments!
For example, I wish I had packed more comfortable hiking shoes on my first trip to Scotland. Don’t ask about how I sprained my ankle right outside of Loch Ness. It was a super duper embarrassing experience, haha.
Anyway, here are some suggestions for your first trip to Scotland. Bon voyage! Enjoy the haggis (yum!) and bagpipes!
1. Careful not to bust your budget.
First I gotta tell you the biggest heart breaker of all. Scotland isn’t a cheap trip. I know, I’m sorry to shatter your frugal heart into pieces, but I value honesty, haha.
In particular, Edinburgh is more expensive than other areas, especially in terms of accommodation and food, so make sure to budget your travel expenses accordingly to enjoy your visit to the fullest potential.
Now is Scotland’s cultural city as pricy as say … London? No, no definitely not. But, at the same time, don’t expect super cheap prices especially during major festivals like the Fringe. I paid over $80 for a dorm bed on my own stay in August. Ouuuuuch.
Furthermore, Scotland uses the British pound, and the exchange rate isn’t always forgiving especially for us Americans. Keep that in mind when you book tours and go to the pubs to eat and drink.
Let’s move onto more positive thoughts. How can you keep down the costs? Consider the following tips:
- Have a picnic: Instead of “eating out” for every meal, opt to have a picnic lunch in the Highlands or Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Supermarkets are always a good affordable option, and you can’t beat the views! Much better than an overpriced cafe.
- Keep your eyes peeled for “free” and low cost attractions: Yes, they do exist! For example, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is free although a donation is suggested. At the Fringe Festival, find cheaper quality shows. I went to a fun cabaret for only £5.
- Take some epic hikes. Scotland’s stunning scenery is free for you to enjoy! Take a long walk and soak up the nature. Pretend you’re William Wordsworth (and sssh, I know he technically wrote his poetry in England’s Lake District, not Scotland), and write some romantic poetry.
2. Pack layers. Lots and lots and lots of layers.
You experience all four seasons in a single Scottish afternoon. Yes, even in July and August, don’t expect warm sunshine to permeate every second of every day. Pack shorts and only shorts, and you might hate yourself once your trips ends. Cause you’ll freeze.
Does this mean you can’t savor gorgeous days in Scotland? Of course not! If you have blue skies in Scotland, you’ll enjoy a real treat and glorious weather isn’t as rare as you might think. Regardless you still need to be prepared for blustery wind and rain, because the weather changes every hour in this part of the world. Honestly, if you don’t like the weather, wait about thirty minutes.
In particular, you always want to have a rain jacket ready to go especially when spending an afternoon outside with no shelter in sight. I wore North Face Women’s Venture Jacket on both my trips to Scotland, and never once regretted it when a random batch of rain hit.
3. Remember: They drive on the left.
Scotland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, requires people to drive on the left of the road. This is a big change for American and Canadian visitors. Scotland’s wild Highlands are best experienced when you rent a car and thus have freedom to explore at your leisure, but make sure you’re comfortable driving on the left side of the roads.
Furthermore road conditions are very different than what you may be used to especially if you live in the United States. Some roads in western Scotland and the islands are tiny, meaning you need to pull over for other vehicles to pass you, which is nerve wracking if you’re near a mountain ledge.
Honestly, if driving on the left or rural conditions gives you major anxiety and/or road rage, then I would suggest booking a tour or using public transportation in Scotland. You’ll still have a remarkable trip without a car.
Finally, please keep in mind, even if you’re not driving in Scotland, remember this all important “drive on the left” rule when you’re crossing streets in towns and cities. I’ve seen buses almost mow down tourists in Edinburgh. It ain’t a joke. Be safe.
4. Prepare for crowds if you come for the festivals.
Ahhh, Scottish festivals! Who doesn’t dream about partying at the Fringe Festival? Or holding a fire torch at Hogmanay on New Year’s Eve? Or being a literature nerd at Edinburgh International Book Festival? Or pretending to be a real warrior at Up Helly Aa Viking festival?
Honestly, Scotland’s festivals are absolutely terrific. You should plan to come for a festival if it tickles your fancy.
However, don’t let the crowds surprise you! The Royal Mile during the Fringe promises wall-to-wall people. You need to book far in advance to score the best hostels and hotels, and then pack your patience with you.
You’ll also pay much more for accommodation when a festival is in town. Budget, budget, budget, and you can make your Scottish travel plans work.
5. Wear waterproof and comfortable shoes.
I personally adore Clarks shoes. When you explore cities and towns, such as Edinburgh or Saint Andrews, you want to wear a classy “all purpose” walking shoe such as Clarks Women’s Muckers Trail Rain Shoe.
Want a pair of classy boots instead? I personally like Clarks Women’s Faralyn Star WP Boot.
Going hiking in Scotland’s beautiful Highlands? Then you want to invest in a quality pair of hiking boots such as Clarks Women’s Wave Hiker Ankle Boot.
In summary, leave the strappy high heels at home. You don’t need to look glamorous for the hairy coos even if the fluffy red cows are adorable!
6. Explore beyond Edinburgh and Loch Ness.
Edinburgh and Loch Ness are popular for several reasons. Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities in the world and reminds me of Harry Potter. Furthermore, who doesn’t want to see Edinburgh Castle and try to find Nessie in Loch Ness? I love both places!
However, Scotland offers so, so, much more to visitors, and I suggest branching out your trip as much as possible.
Personally, I could hang out in Scotland forever, but my practical advice is for you to spend at least a week exploring Scotland and including a variety of regions in your itinerary. Here are some of my suggestions, but keep in mind this list isn’t exclusive:
- Orkney Islands: These islands are located near the far north of Scotland. See the Ring of Brodgar or Skara Brae, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Europe’s most complete neolithic village.
- Glencoe: One of the most beautiful valleys in all of Scotland. Glencoe has a tragic history worth learning, but go for the majestic scenery. You may even hear some bagpipes in the distance.
- Saint Andrews: Do you love golf? Then you must visit the famous golf course at this beautiful university town. The views of the ruined cathedral are marvelous too.
- Staffa: This rugged island is a magnificent natural wonder similar to Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. It takes an hour to reach Staffa from the small island of Iona, but the journey is well worth it. You may even see puffins!
- Isle of Skye: A popular island that draws many tourists, but nonetheless, a magical place. The geological formations on Skye need to be seen to be believed. Photographs don’t do justice.
- Lewis and Harris: This gorgeous island is Scotland’s largest. Located in the Outer Hebrides, come for the spectacular beaches (such as Luskentyre Beach) and the Callanish Stones.
7. Tell someone your itinerary if you hike in the Highlands.
I’ve always wanted to complete an epic hike in the Highlands. I don’t know if I’ll ever scale Ben Nevis, the highest point in Britain, though, haha.
Outdoor enthusiasts will fall in crazy love with Scotland’s insane amount of natural beauty. Endless hiking awaits you, my friends. For example, the West Highland Way is Scotland’s most popular long distance walk and takes you through some truly picturesque areas.
However, even though Scotland’s nature is wonderful, don’t forget the remoteness and harshness of the Scottish Highlands. Preparedness is not optional unless you wanna get into deep, deep trouble and share your survival story at motivational conferences (if you’re not dead).
Always leave a copy of your itinerary with a trusted friend or family member.
Bring medication with you and plenty of clothing layers to protect against the elements.
Have a portable charger for your devices, though keep in mind cellular service is spotty at times, especially in western Scotland.
Finally be extra careful if you’re climbing Scotland’s beautiful mountains. Tragic stories like this one happen every single year. Don’t be a statistic.
8. Young at heart? Take a Haggis Tour!
Eeeeee, Haggis Adventures! I’m a total fangirl of this tour company!
Even if you’re an independent traveler, please give Haggis Adventures an honest chance and I promise you’ll have a good time. The guides are so passionate about their love of Scotland. You learn all about Scotland’s history and legends, making your trip even deeper.
Haggis Adventures runs a variety of tours. Although it’s geared toward backpackers (you’ll stay in hostels), their tours are good for anyone who feels young at heart. People of all ages went on my 10 Day Compass Buster tour, and we get along very, very, very well!
Haggis Adventures has a variety of tours, ranging from 1 to 10 days, to appeal to different interests. This company even has festival tours!
For more information on Haggis Adventures, check out their website and book an awesome trip.
9. Midges are gross but don’t let them scare you!
Ewwwwww. Midges? Yuck.
For those of you who don’t know, midges are small flying insects that are prevalent in Scotland starting in early spring and lasting throughout the summer, which is probably the time you’re gonna visit.
Honestly, on both my summer trips to Scotland, I didn’t find the midges that annoying. I wasn’t bitten at all, but who knows. Maybe bugs simply don’t think I’m very attractive.
To avoid midges, don’t linger around still bodies of water. Wear light color clothing. And bring bug repellent with you.
Again, I want to reiterate: don’t let midges scare you. Are they annoying? Yes. Do they bite? Yes. Are they dangerous? No.
So have fun outside!
10. Enjoy the magic of Scotland.
Finally, Scotland is one of the most magical destinations in the entire world. You deserve to soak its wonder all in.
So turn off your phone. You can screw around on Snapchat and Instagram in your dreary apartment, not here.
Take plenty of pictures, but don’t experience Scotland through a camera lens either. Photographs don’t do Scottish scenery true justice, so just savor any and all precious moments in the Highlands.
Trust me, with Scotland’s lush greenery and ruined castles, you’ll feel as if you’ve transported into a fantasy novel.
What advice would you give a first time solo female traveler to Scotland? What was your first trip to Scotland like? Share in the comments. Enjoy your visit to Scotland!
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