With only three weeks to travel in Scotland we knew we’d have to be smart. In the end we not only coped, we also compiled a slow travel guide to Scotland.
After so many people sent us their thanks for the research and writing we put into our slow travel guide to Berlin, we came to the conclusion that for the duration that we’d be travelling in Scotland we’d try our best to repeat our previous success and hopefully help more people to travel on a budget.
Whereas in Berlin we had four months to explore and understand how to live cheaply and still experience aspects of local life, for Scotland we’d only have three weeks.
Would it be possible to collect all the info for a guide in such a small time frame?
We thought so.
Why Slow Travel?
For Franca and myself travel isn’t a race. It’s not about "countries seen before I’m 30", and certainly not about the number of stamps in your passport. For us it’s:
Slow Travel: to travel slowly, taking time to appreciate what’s around you, through relationships with locals, prolonged exposure, and the observation of foreign culture.
We travel slowly. We’re in no rush to be anywhere any time soon.
We travel slowly because we want to be more attentive to what’s around us, and more receptive to the occasional surprise a country may throw at us. Instead of being too tired from jetting around, or spending ten nights out of two weeks in eight different hostel dorms, we’re relaxed and calm enough to appreciate the world around us.
Without slow travel we may never have learned to love local life.
Why Travel To Scotland?
Scotland’s national parks and unrivalled landscapes have drawn tourists and travellers from around the world for decades, yet away from the green hills, incredible must-see coastlines, and islands rich with wildlife there are towns and cities where gastronomy is blooming and art scenes are exploding, all to the soundtrack being created by the next generation of songwriters and performers.
With such a rich legacy of literary greats such as Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Irvine Welsh there’s also a great history of poetry and storytelling that has enraptured and activated the imaginations of people across the world with dreams of visiting the same misty lochs and crumbling castles.
The largest draw for both Franca and myself – and the reason we started #VeganInScotland – is the growing vegan community in the country, especially in Glasgow where the number of vegan restaurants increases every year.
Our Slow Travel Guide to Scotland
The first step to slow travel in Scotland may be to decide just how long you wish to spend travelling around the mainland and Scottish isles, but every step that follows is just as important to help you get the best value for your money.
Once our itinerary is (loosely*) decided we take the following steps:
- Find accommodation in each town we travel to
- Choose if we want to eat out or to save money by eating in
- Determine which is the cheapest way to travel around
- Decide which attractions we might want to visit
* Thanks to our intentional choice to only pencil in destinations and dates, we’re able to add in small trips where and whenever we choose; however, you can still have a great holiday even if you want to plan out every hour, and every day.
Cheap Accommodation in Scotland
Once we’ve collected together a loose idea of the cities and towns we’d like to visit we will first explore our accommodation options. This can range from house sitting, to short term apartment rental and Couchsurfing (though Couchsurfing is best for short term stays only).
We’ll also keep our options open to longer stays in hotels and hostels too, but our top priority is always house sitting thanks to the multiple day and week durations they tend to offer.
Stay rent free with House Sitting
As regular house sitters with over 18 months of experience we will always hope to factor in at least a little house sitting into our time in a country, and fortunately enough for us we were able to do so on our recent trip.
We spent a week in Cupar in the region of Fife from which we were able to rapidly learn more about the country. Whilst living rent free in return for watching over the house and two cats we were able to explore the town, learn to understand which supermarkets offered the best value, as well as get to grips with slight variations in language between England and Scotland.
Obviously living rent-free is a large aspect of why so many people choose house sitting as an accommodation option, but for both Franca any myself it’s the ideal slow travel experience as you can relax and explore local life at ease, and not at 100mph.
You may like to read: How We Spent Less Than £600 on Accommodation This Year
Rent an apartment
For those hoping to travel around Scotland for a longer duration, renting an apartment in a major city like Glasgow or Edinburgh will not only serve as a shrewd financial saving (in comparison to staying in a hotel for a week or longer), but it can also provide a great home base to travel from if you have many places on your itinerary to visit.
With only two weeks in which to explore Scotland there wasn’t much need for us to rent an apartment or holiday home, however we did search for and record a number of rental options.
- Gumtree – typically used for buying and selling clothing, second hand cars, and also as a job listings board; Gumtree also includes a number of short and long-term rental accommodation choices with very few strings attached.
Much like the WG Gesucht website from our budget travel guide to Berlin, you can rent an apartment for a month at time with all utility rates included – a great money saver.
- Roomorama is aimed more at holiday home and vacation accommodation market online, but seems to be in regular and high use in Scotland for short term rentals of a month or more. It’s a service we’ve yet to use yet, but it comes highly recommended on expat forums for both Glasgow & Edinburgh.
Book a long stay in a hotel/hostel
Okay, so whilst it’s probably not the cheapest option between all of the accommodation choices, at least with a hotel or hostel you’ll be able to stay based in singular place of comfort; plus, if you’re staying with full board you’ll be able to save on your eating budget by staying in for meals instead of eating out.
Book your own apartment with airbnb
We were slow in starting to use the airbnb platform and we’re constantly kicking ourselves for not beginning sooner.
If you’re not familiar with airbnb, it’s an online accommodation rental program from which you can rent private rooms or entire apartments from home owners around the world for a fraction of the cost of booking with most hotels. Sometimes you can book entire apartments for the same price of a double room in a hostel, yet you have all the comforts of home instead.
airbnb is now the first website we check during our slow travel preparation.
Stay with a local
Alternatively to staying in airbnb apartments we do love to stay with locals via home stays, but in truth we don’t do that half as much as we should. It’s something we need to explore much more through the rest of 2015 and our intended slow travels through Europe.
Instead we regularly use Couchsurfing to spend at least two or three days with a local. Whilst the financial benefits are certainly welcome, it’s more about the connection with a local that makes it such a valuable asset in our slow travels.
Grocery Shopping in Scotland
Once you’ve travelled to Scotland and you’ve somewhere to stay during your holiday or prolonged travel in the country, you’ll quickly need to understand which shops offer what, and which offer the best bang for your buck.
As a rule the cheaper you go, the lower the quality of the goods you buy, but that’s the same the whole world over. However, if you know where to go you can find a good deal or two that’ll keep your costs down.
Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, and Morrison’s
These three supermarket chains can be found across the UK and are all moderately priced. Of the three, the value brand at Tesco’s is probably the cheapest, but with a lower price comes a lower quality. If you’re really on a budget you can get by here, but there are a couple of other better value supermarkets that you can try called Aldi and Lidl.
Aldi & Lidl
Travellers from Europe may already be aware of both Aldi and Lidl, but for those who are travelling from further afield; they’re both low price, moderate quality supermarkets.
They’re both commonly known as "tin can supermarkets" due to the quantity of packaged foods they sell, but in reality they both offer really well priced fresh goods and other necessary foods that both taste well and are priced well too.
Smaller grocery stores
Within each town there will be a number of smaller shops and grocery stores from which you can purchase all you need for an early breakfast or packed lunch for the road. Unfortunately, due to the highly competitive market in the UK these smaller shops aren’t as cheap as they once were, but are still worth supporting with your money, and may include a cheap surprise too.
Where To Eat in Scotland
Scotland boasts a large gastronomy sector that has really exploded in recent years, as seen with 2015’s Year of Food & Drink in Scotland.
Most of Scotland’s traditional meals and speciality foods will bring a smile to most meat-eating travellers, with haggis being amongst the most unique examples of what a Scottish diet consists of; however, in recent years Scotland’s food landscape has greatly changed and been brought new life with the introduction of international flavours from its now mixed population.
As with the rest of the UK, a large selection of the restaurants in Scotland are the same carbon copy chains that you’ll find in every city and town across the country, but there are other smaller places to be found if you keep your eyes open. Most restaurants are typically family run and average at about £15 per two course meal. You can also eat within the many pubs and bars in Scotland, and prices are typically similar, if not slightly cheaper than the other choices.
For vegetarians and vegans the choices across the country are fair, with most restaurants offering at least one or two vegetarian meals which (in our experience) are either vegan by default, or easily made vegan-friendly. For a greater choice of vegan restaurants you’ll have more luck in cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Read our list of favourite Vegan Restaurants in Glasgow.
Getting Around in Scotland
People in the UK love to complain about public transport. They say that it’s too expensive and always late. They’re not wrong.
Okay, so it’s a slight exaggeration that the buses and trains in Britain never leave or arrive on time, and that whilst the price is almost beyond ridiculous, it’s completely worth the money for how well connect the country is. Compared to other parts of the world, I can’t really complain.
The transport network in the UK is one of the best connected I’ve ever used, with a spiderweb train network that spreads across the country, and a fleet of buses that connect cities, towns, and even the smallest of villages.
Scotland is no exception.
Trains in Scotland
Most cities in Scotland have one or two central transportation hubs. Typically you’ll find one for the trains and another for the bus and coach companies that serve the region. The easiest for beginners to navigate and use for reliable time keeping is the train network. Tickets are easily purchased ahead of time via websites like The Train Line or directly via electronic ticket booths at each station.
Your ticket is your proof of travel and also your access to the train. In fact, at some stations you’ll need to put your ticket into the barriers at the station to make your way to your required platform.
Trains run throughout the day but will close nationally approximately between the hours of midnight and 06:00.
Buses in Scotland
Bus and coach transport in Scotland is organised regionally by privately run companies, with the national carrier Stagecoach offering the most regular coverage.
From each bus station you should be able to find buses that run not only between cities, but also across country and nationally to cities in England and Wales.
To purchase tickets for your intended travel it’s wisest to arrive early at the bus depot to buy them. It’s not normally required to purchase intercity tickets ahead of time, but for busier routes it might be wiser to purchase them at least a day in advance.
Most regional bus services will offer singular one-way tickets, but for a minimal discount you can purchase a return should you be taking only a day trip. For a prolonged period of travel in one day on multiple buses it’s best to by a daypass which offers a significantly discounted total rate. For longer stays there are a number of weekly bus passes too, but these differ in price and coverage from region to region.
By far the cheapest intercity and national bus company is Megabus, a company we’ve both regularly used over the years due to their Ryanair-like cheap prices for advance ticket purchases.
You can find more of the cheap transport companies we use in our Travel Resources page.
Places To Visit in Scotland
Green hills, misty valleys, and some of the worlds most wonderful wildlife attract millions of people every year for holidays full of trekking, bird watching, and early mornings walks along Scotland’s major hills.
Scotland is an adventure travellers paradise.
But it’s not all about the great outdoors. There’s an abundance of places to visit full of cultural attractions to be experienced that will satisfy every one in every age group.
As the capital city of Scotland it’ll come as no surprise that within the city limits of Edinburgh there are many fantastic and fun things to see and do, not forgetting cultural landmarks like Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh Castle.
Things To See and Do in Edinburgh
- Climb Arthur’s Seat – popping up in the very centre of the city, this gentle inclined hill never fails to draw your eye and once climbed offers the best view of the city.
- Explore the Old Town of Edinburgh – Listed in the UNESCO Heritage List, the Old Town of Edinburgh offers a small glimpse into how the modern city once looked.
- Meet the locals at the National Portrait Museum – not only does the Portrait Museum contain one of the most interesting collections of portrait works in the country, it’s also housed within one of Edinburgh’s most interesting older buildings.
- Walk the Royal Mile – from Edinburgh Castle at the top, all the way down through the old streets and past the many shops that line the way; the Royal Mile is a perfect place for a stroll through the city.
- Visit the seat of the Scottish Parliament – with the political landscape in Scotland constantly shifting, why not visit the seat of the Scottish Parliament and see where so many decisions are being debated and made.
- See the world from the Camera Obscura – this unusual and fun attraction sits in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and has cemented itself as one of the Top Thirty Things To Do in Edinburgh.
- Visit the Graveyard of Greyfriar’s Bobby – whilst the graveyard is incredibly popular due to the folk story of Greyfriar’s Bobby, the graveyard itself is really interesting to wander through.
- Join a Free Walking Tour – want to learn more about the history and identity of the capital? Join a free walking tour with Sandemans Free Walking Tours and immerse yourself in the words of their enthusiastic guides.
The people of Glasgow love life. They live, breath, and hunger for culture. It’s also a former European Capital of Culture and – going on how active the city is today – deserves to reclaim the crown once more.
It’s a fantastic place where so much is possible, and it’s arguably the most exciting city in Scotland.
Things to See and Do in Glasgow
- Explore the art world at Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum – Whilst there’s a great art gallery at Kelvingrove that includes the work of Dalí – one of Franca’s favourite artists – there’s much more to be seen and enjoyed here, especially for those travelling with children.
- See amazing architecture at the University of Glasgow – today the campus spreads much further across the city than the original brick building that stands as the central hub today, but it’s the main building itself that is the most spectacular and a great place for those who really enjoy architecture photography.
- Surprise yourself at the Hunterian Museum – this particular museum isn’t like most others. The collection of artefacts is full of Victorian-era medical curiosities and other oddities.
Explore more things to see with our travel tips for Glasgow.
Things to See and Do in Scotland
It would require several months, if not years for us to truly experience all there is that Scotland has to offer, but with only a couple of weeks there was only so much we could experience of it. From this and one previous trip to Scotland we have two strong recommendations to make:
- Taste the best whisky in Scotland – We visited the Glengoyne Distillery on a past trip to Scotland with friends of ours a few years ago and it’s been in our minds ever since as not only the best distillery tour either of us have taken, but also the finest whisky we’ve ever tasted.
- See the remains of Caerlaverock Castle – explored on a past trip to Scotland, Caerlaverock Castle is a triangular shaped castle situated in the centre of a moat. It’s partly destroyed on one side, but even so it doesn’t lose any of it’s charm or uniqueness.
- Explore the "Scottish Cinque Terre" – walking along the Fife Coastal Path was the highlight of our short time in Scotland. The way the coastline has been tailored by nature of the millennia is outstanding, if not both breathtaking and beyond description altogether.
Things We’ve Yet to See and Do
With each day we travelled our combined list of "things we’d love to do if we had more time" continued to grow. We’ll have to return to do the following, but maybe during your trip to Scotland you can try them and let us know how they were.
- Cheer from the crowd at the Highland Games – this centaries old sports and games event has drawn crowds from all over the world and continues to do so today. We’d both love to watch games such as the caber toss in person.
- Ski or snowboard in the Highlands – neither of us knew just how huge the culture of snow sports is in Scotland and only found out after we’d departed. It would have been really special learn to snowboard in such beautiful surroundings.
- Sail along the coast – the coastline of Scotland is so diverse and so complex that the idea of drifting along in a sailboat to explore it from an alternative angle is enough for us to want to return immediately.
- Laugh at the Fringe Festival – this yearly festival of comedy draws a crowd of thousands to the more than 100 individual shows. If ever there’s a reason to travel, it’s for fun and laughter.
- Kayak along the white waters of Cairngorms National Park – whilst we’re not the adventure travel type, there’s a part of us both that would like to experience the same thrills here that everyone keeps writing about.
- Hire a bike and explore the Scottish countryside – as with kayaking, neither of us are big bikers either; but we’d be prepared to make an exception for cycling around Scotland.
- Hire a canal boat – this one could refer to anywhere in the UK, but it’s only in Scotland that you’ll see such impressively green valleys.
- Visit the Scottish Highlands – We couldn’t possibly leave this off the list. Best explored during a longer holiday or period of slow travel, the Scottish Highlands deserve more than a long weekend or a half day trip.
Have you done any of these or have something to recommend? Let us know in the comments!
Get Out of Scotland
If your slow vacation leaves you with plenty of time to use Scotland as a base to explore more of the UK, then there are a number of options to choose from.
You can either choose to use one of the many airports in Scotland to fly either around the UK, or to places like the Republic of Ireland or the Netherlands on one of the many low cost airlines that operate at Glasgow Airport.
To find the cheapest flights we always use Skyscanner.
Alternatively if you’re looking to explore just the United Kingdom you could use Megabus again to get from A to B. They’re now operating several European routes and connect most of the major cities. Potentially you could take a bus from Glasgow to Barcelona and back again.
If exploring the countries around Scotland as a tour interests you also, why not consider a Celtic Western Wander tour with Intrepid Travel as it explores the tribal routes of the two nations?
What would you recommend in Scotland?
Even at a slow pace we were not able to see as much of Scotland as we would have liked, but we’d love to return to explore it more. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what there is to see and do in Scotland, with certainly many more places and attractions that we yet to find out about.
Have you travelled to Scotland before?
Do you have a slow travel tip for the Highlands and islands?
Share it with us in the comments and we’ll add it to the post.
What’s your travel tip for Scotland?