Complete Guide: Solo Travel to Scotland
Are you planning on solo travel to Scotland? Congratulations! You couldn’t have chosen a more magnificent destination for your upcoming adventures. I highly recommend traveling alone in Scotland for many reasons.
Scotland is known for the Highlands, lush green mountains with crumbling castles and crystal clear lochs, and culturally rich cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. Not to mention, Scotland’s salmon and whiskys are the stuff culinary dreams are made of, although I suppose you can eat a Fried Mars Bar if you’re feeling in an unhealthy mood.
I love Scotland so much that I wanted to write an entire post bragging about why it’s a great choice for all solo travelers. Or, just, everyone. Seriously, people, come to Scotland. You’ll fall in love like me.
Solo Travel to Scotland Changed My Life!
I’m not kidding whenever I talk about how solo travel to Scotland changed my entire world for the better.
True Story Time: I was a walking disaster when I took my first ever solo trip to Scotland in 2013. I was “under” employed, living at my parents’ house, and completely lost in life. My social life took a hit as friends moved out of state, and my anxiety soared through the roof. I was beginning to regret every single educational decision I made simply because I couldn’t find a job, all thanks to New Jersey’s lousy economy. I read travel blogs to mentally transport myself to faraway places, but wanted to make my fantasy a reality. So I saved money (from substitute teaching of all things!) to give myself a treat: the solo trip of my dreams to Scotland.
Without a doubt, going to Scotland pushed me far beyond my comfort zone and made my confidence blossom. It set me on the path to creating this blog and taking many other adventures around the world – even though I’m scared to fly and hopeless at directions.
But enough about me. I wrote this guide to help other solo travelers (like myself, yay!) plan their trip to Scotland with ease. Let’s do it!
Four Challenges When Traveling Scotland Alone
(Unsurprisingly) I think Scotland is a wonderful place to travel alone. No doubt. But I value honesty on this blog and as much as I adore Scotland, solo travelers will face some challenges. So let’s get the “bad news” out of the way first so we can focus on the many positives for the remainder of the post. Buckle in.
1. Scotland is Expensive
Your bank account will hate Scotland, sorry. Why’s that? Well. The currency of Scotland is the GBP pound (pound sterling), which means the exchange rate isn’t great for other countries. $1 was equal to £0.75 in March 2019. Check your country’s exchange rate and try not to cry too hard. Prices soar even higher in August when the Fringe and other festivals take Edinburgh by storm.
What’s a solo traveler to do? Only one thing…
Budget your money wisely in Scotland. For example, go to a supermarket and pack picnic lunches, especially if you’ll spend a lot of time hiking outdoors. Limit pricey adventure tours and seek out free attractions instead. Scotland can be done on a budget, but I’d lying if I said doing a cheap vacation here was as easy as visiting Poland or Lithuania. You’re gonna spend money. Period.
2. You Need to Rent a Car
Don’t get me wrong. Scotland has a wonderful train system. For example, taking the train from Edinburgh to St. Andrews isn’t a big deal, and a day trip between them is easy without a car. The buses are also extensive and regular between major cities. So, if you itinerary takes you to larger towns, you’ll be able to do a lot of hiking and sightseeing without ever driving on the left side of a tiny road. It’s a win, right?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m guessing that you’re coming to Scotland for nature, aren’t you? In that case, you’ll probably have to rent a car if you’re not taking a guided tour of Scotland. Some of the most beautiful areas of the Highlands are also the most remote with limited (re: nonexistent) access to public transportation. For example, I don’t know how you’d reach Iona Abby, which is one of the oldest religious centers in Western Europe, without the use of a car. Finally driving in Scotland might be nerve wrecking due to road conditions that are much different than your home country’s. Plan accordingly.
3. Safety in the Scottish Highlands
Hiking in the Scottish Highlands is very popular for holiday seekers. And can you blame them? The Highlands have some of the most beautiful nature that I’ve ever seen in my life. Ruined castles and prehistoric stones perch proudly against sweeping green cliffs. You feel as if you’ve transported into a fairy tale. But you need to be safe and smart about the Highlands.
Nature doesn’t mess around. Weather changes quickly and injuries happen. Need an example? I twisted my ankle hiking around Loch Ness and had to limp to the nearest pharmacy for painkillers. Luckily, I wasn’t alone or wandering in a desolate area without cell service. Score one for Team Me.
Particularly, the Highlands in Western Scotland are very remote. Both times I visited my phone service dropped to nothing. No phone, no internet. Prepare to go “off the grid.”
My advice is to leave your itinerary with friends and family. Hell, even let your hostel or guesthouse host where you’re going for the day.
4. Avoid the Midges at All Costs
Midges are gross. They’re tiny flying insects that bite, bite, and bite you. No good. Midges are especially annoying near still water when winds are low or nonexistent. Windy weather shouldn’t bring any midges.
How to ward them off? Wear light colors that cover the body, and be sure to pack DEET free insect repellent for long hikes in the Highlands. You don’t want insect bites.
Scotland Solo Itinerary
Your itinerary in Scotland depends on how much time you have to spend in the country. You don’t want to rush through your trip. It’s much better to see a few scenic places and enjoy them than live on a train or a bus. For example, I wrote a nice week itinerary for Scotland on this blog that doesn’t require too much running around. As you construct your itinerary, aim to spend two nights at each of your chosen destinations to maximize efficiency and time.
Anyway, to get you started on your itinerary, I want to share some of my favorite spots in all of Scotland.
Any first timer visitor to Scotland needs to go to Edinburgh. Hike Arthur’s seat, take photos from Edinburgh Castle, pretend you’re in Diagon Alley as you stroll the Royal Mile, ogle at the prettiness of Dean Village, and much more! Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I know you’ll love visiting it, too. See my guide to a city break in Edinburgh for more information.
2. The Isle of Skye
Scotland’s well known for its islands. As you probably know, the Isle of Skye is the most popular island for tourists due to all the unique geological wonders and magnificent hiking opportunities. Go on a clear sunny day. My favorite attractions here include Quiraing, Dunvegan Castle & Gardens, Neist Point, and nearby Eilean Donan.
3. The Orkney Islands
Orkney Islands are located in the far north of Scotland. You’ll visit prehistoric sites, such as the village of Skara Brae and Ring of Brodgar, as well as taking distillery tours at establishments like Highland Park Distillery. You’ll feel like a true Viking in this part of Scotland!
4. Loch Ness and Its Surrounding Area
Sure, Loch Ness is touristy, but it’s also very beautiful with fantastic infrastructure for solo travelers. Popular sites around Loch Ness include the Caledonian Canal and Urquhart Castle. And, of course, the loch itself is a great attraction for monster hunters and legend seekers. Take a boat ride and try to find the monster. I still haven’t seen him yet. Alas.
Is Scotland Safe for Solo Travelers?
Yes, absolutely. I’d highly recommend Scotland to all solo travelers even to those taking their very first international trip alone.
Scotland, as a whole, is incredibly safe. Violent crime is low and tourists aren’t really targets for petty scams. Honestly, you’re safer in Scotland than many other places in the world.
However, don’t throw common sense completely out the window either. I don’t want you to have a false sense of security. In Edinburgh, exercise ordinary street smarts. Don’t wander down desolate alleys at night, drink too much alcohol, or pick fights at the local pubs. You don’t want to feel isolated. Believe it or not, I thought Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile was very quiet at night and wouldn’t necessarily recommend hanging out there. Granted, it could have been an “off night” or whatever, and I didn’t feel unsafe, but still, you’re better off staying in an area with lots of people if you plan to go out at night.
I’d also recommend to Scotland to solo female travelers. As a woman, you won’t stand out traveling by yourself, and the locals are very helpful. Although street harassment is sadly a reality in all corners of the globe, I never experienced any problems in Scotland including Edinburgh.
Where Should I Stay in Scotland?
Luckily, Scotland has a wide variety of accommodation options for solo travelers. When traveling to Scotland alone, staying at hostels helps you make a lot of new friends who are in the same situation as you. You’ll have hiking buddies and pals to enjoy the festivals with. One of my favorite hostels in Scotland is Morag’s Lodge in Fort Augustus. It’s warm and friendly, and the dinners are bomb.
Not diggin’ hostels? Never fear! Scotland has an abundance of guest houses and bed and breakfasts for you to choose from. There’s nothing quite like a home cooked breakfast of smoked salmon and fresh eggs. Yummy!
As for hotels, I’d limit spending time in them unless you really want the additional comforts. Hey, no judgement here, but I think small hostels and bed and breakfasts provide a much more authentic experience in Scotland. More reasonable prices, too.
Do You Recommend Haggis Adventures?
Ahhh, yes, yes, yes, I do!
You’ve probably stumbled upon Haggis Adventures while doing your research for traveling to Scotland alone. Haggis Adventures are amazingly fun backpacker budget tours of Scotland. Their tours range anywhere from 2 to 10 days. If you don’t want the stress of planning your own itinerary, then Haggis Adventures might be perfect for you!
Sure, you have to sacrifice some things on a tour, such as complete control of your itinerary, but the guides are hilarious and very passionate about Scotland. I learned so much on my Haggis Adventure, and I wish I could take another tour with them in the future.
Time of Year: When to Travel to Scotland Alone
Honestly, I think summer is the best time to travel to Scotland. All the attractions are open, and festivals are in full swing, You’ll meet plenty of people if you’re staying at hostels too since summer is such a popular time to visit Scotland. Furthermore, Scottish summers are wonderful if you’re like me and haaaate heat and humidity. I don’t think a single day rose above 72 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 22 degrees Celsius for the rest of the world). It was amazing.
“But what about rain? What’s the best time to avoid it?”
Uh, I think it always rains in Scotland even in the summer. Always bring a rain jacket, an umbrella, and good rain boats with you to Scotland. However, in the summer months, you’ll also enjoy gloriously sunny days with cerulean skies and puffy white clouds reflecting on the lochs. I don’t think I had a single day when it rained from morning to night. Lastly, summer is a great time to go to Scotland, because the sun stays out late. Like past ten o’clock late. It’s wonderful. Just keep in mind that summer brings the highest prices.
I hope you enjoyed reading about solo travel to Scotland! Have you ever visited Scotland? Do you plan to? Share all your thoughts in the comments.
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