Scotland Backpacking Guide

Welcome to my ultimate Scotland Backpacking Guide – a dreamy destination for castle lovers and those seeking dramatic landscapes. Although Scotland may not be as popular among backpackers due to higher prices, it can still be explored on a budget. It’s also a place where you can feel like you’ve stepped into the world of Harry Potter – choose your character here. Haven’t discovered yet how to stick to a budget to enjoy this country? Let me show you how to enjoy Scotland on a budget.

All articles for backpacking Scotland

What to Expect: A Simple Overview

Scotland offers many experiences for backpackers seeking adventure and exploration. From its ancient castles to its dramatic and stunning landscapes.

1. Dramatic Landscapes: Prepare to be impressed by Scotland’s diverse landscapes, from the majestic peaks of the Highlands to the serene beauty of its lochs. Hiking trails will let you discover hidden waterfalls and peaceful wilderness too.

2. Historic Sites: Scotland is steeped in history, with ancient ruins, medieval castles, and historic cities waiting to be explored.  stones of the Orkney Islands.

3. Traditional Music and Festivals: There are plenty of pubs with traditional music all around Scotland offering live music every night. Also, Scotland hosts some international festivals in stunning buildings – like the film festival in Edinburgh castle.

4. Outdoor Adventures: Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do in Scotland, with opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and more.

5. Unpredictable Weather: We have to mention Scotland’s weather. It can be unpredictable, with rain, wind, and sunshine often occurring in the same day – all year long. Be prepared for changing conditions by packing layers and waterproof clothing. Don’t forget your sturdy footwear if you plan to hike.

Scotland is not particulary appealing to the backpacker community yet. In urban centers like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, and Stirling, the hostel scene is active. Many hostels organize tours, events, and activities that allow travelers to connect with fellow adventurers.

However, as you venture beyond these cities, the scene shifts. The rest of Scotland presents a more rustic charm, particularly in the mountainous regions, where traditional guesthouses and Bed and Breakfast predominate. These accommodations offer a unique, intimate glimpse into Scottish life, but it wont’ be easy to meet other fellow travelers.

Travel Costs: Detailed Breakdown

In Scotland, you can stretch your budget – when you know how. With about £30-£50 a day, you can cover accommodation, food, and transportation. For extra comfort, £50-£70 a day allows you to enjoy more luxurious experiences without breaking the bank.

Suggested Budget per Person per Day

  • Low: £25 – £50
  • Middle: £60 – £100
  • High: £100+

Accommodation

  • Low: Hostel dorms provide an affordable and social option, with prices ranging from £20 to £50 per night. Ideal for solo travelers and groups looking to meet fellow backpackers.
  • Middle: For those seeking a bit more comfort, mid-range hotels or boutique accommodations typically cost between £60 and £100 per night.
  • High: Luxury hotels or upscale resorts start at £100 per night and can go much higher, offering premium services, exquisite locations, and often breathtaking views of Scotland’s landscape.

Restaurants

  • Low: There is no local street food scene in Scotland. The cheapest place to get an authentic taste of the country’s culinary soups, with dishes ranging from £6 – £12, are the local pubs. Also, the fish and cheap local chains can offer you a fish and chips plate for around £12-£15 (no drinks).
  • Middle: A meal at a mid-range restaurant can cost between £20-£40.
  • High: Dining at high-end restaurants can start at £50+ per meal.

Things to See and Do in Scotland

Let’s get to see a few highlights of experiences awaiting you in Scotland.

Absolute Top Cities

Edinburgh: Explore the historic Edinburgh Castle, join a ghost walking tour, and visit the iconic Holyrood Palace. Don’t forget to take in panoramic views from Arthur’s Seat. We wrote also a complete Edinburgh backpacking guide.

Glasgow: stroll through the picturesque Glasgow Green street, and admire the stunning architecture of Glasgow Cathedral.

Inverness: visit the historic Inverness Castle, and explore the nearby mysterious Loch Ness.

Historical Landmarks

Stirling Castle: Discover the rich history of this well-preserved medieval castle, which played a crucial role in Scotland’s past, including the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Urquhart Castle: Situated on the banks of Loch Ness, this famous ruin offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape and a glimpse into Scotland’s turbulent history.

Skara Brae: Explore one of Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic settlements on the remote Orkney Islands, dating back over 5,000 years.

Natural Wonders

The Isle of Skye: Marvel at breathtaking landscapes, including the otherworldly rock formations of the Old Man of Storr, the stunning Fairy Pools, and the dramatic Cuillin Mountains.

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park: go on scenic hikes, enjoy water activities on the picturesque Loch Lomond, and explore charming villages nestled within the park.

The Cairngorms National Park: Discover Scotland’s largest national park, renowned for its rugged mountains, ancient forests, and diverse wildlife, including red deer and golden eagles.

Cultural Experiences

Traditional Music and Festivals: Immerse yourself in Scotland’s vibrant music scene by attending traditional ceilidh dances, live folk music sessions in pubs, or world-class music festivals like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Whisky Tasting: Visit one of Scotland’s many whisky distilleries, such as Glenfiddich or Laphroaig, to learn about the whisky-making process and sample some of Scotland’s finest single malts.

Highland Games: Experience the excitement of Scotland’s Highland Games, where you can witness traditional sports like caber tossing, hammer throwing, and tug-of-war, accompanied by bagpipe music and tartan-clad competitors.

Itinerary Ideas

Still not sure about traveling to Scotland? Let me picture you different travel itineraries.

3-Day Itinerary for Edinburgh

Day 1: Explore the Old Town

  • Morning: Start your day with a visit to Edinburgh Castle, Scotland’s most iconic landmark.
  • Afternoon: Walk down the Royal Mile, stopping at attractions such as St. Giles’ Cathedral and the Real Mary King’s Close, an underground street frozen in time from the 17th century.
  • Evening: Enjoy dinner at one of the traditional pubs, and perhaps catch a ghost tour for a spooky evening activity.

Day 2: Discover the New Town

  • Morning: Explore the Georgian elegance of Edinburgh’s New Town, starting with a visit to the Scottish National Gallery.
  • Afternoon: Walk through Princes Street Gardens and visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.
  • Evening: Relax with dinner at a restaurant in the New Town, followed by a stroll along Princes Street for nighttime views of Edinburgh Castle.

Day 3: Outdoor Adventures and Whisky Tasting

  • Morning: Hike up Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano located in Holyrood Park, for stunning views of Edinburgh and beyond.
  • Afternoon: Visit the Scotch Whisky Experience. Opt for a guided tour and whisky tasting to learn about Scotland’s national drink and its production process.
  • Evening: Enjoy a farewell dinner at one of Edinburgh’s top restaurants, perhaps sampling some traditional Scottish dishes like haggis or cullen skink.

7 days Scotland Backpacking Guide

Let’s mix city exploration with castle hunting

Day 1: Edinburgh

  • Explore Edinburgh Castle and walk along the Royal Mile.
  • Hike up Arthur’s Seat for panoramic views.
  • Experience Edinburgh’s nightlife with a visit to a traditional pub or live music venue.

Day 2: Edinburgh

  • Discover the Scottish National Gallery and stroll through Princes Street Gardens.
  • Take a guided tour of the Scotch Whisky Experience and sample some of Scotland’s finest whiskies.

Day 3: Isle of Skye

  • Travel to the Isle of Skye and explore the picturesque Fairy Pools and Old Man of Storr.
  • Visit Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, home to the Clan MacLeod.
  • Enjoy a traditional Scottish dinner at a local restaurant.

Day 4: Isle of Skye

  • Drive around the scenic Trotternish Peninsula. Make sure you stop at Kilt Rock and the Quiraing.
  • Explore the charming village of Portree.
  • Alternatively, take a boat tour to see marine wildlife, including seals and seabirds.

Day 5: Loch Ness and Inverness

  • Drive to Loch Ness and take a cruise on the loch to search for the legendary Loch Ness Monster.
  • Visit Urquhart Castle and learn about its turbulent history.
  • Continue to Inverness and explore the city’s historic sites, including Inverness Castle and St. Andrew’s Cathedral.

Day 6: Cairngorms National Park

  • Spend the day hiking or cycling in the Cairngorms National Park, exploring its scenic trails and wildlife.
  • Visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and learn about these animals.
  • Enjoy a traditional Scottish meal at a cozy pub in the park.

Day 7: Glasgow

  • Travel to Glasgow and visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
  • Explore the West End of Glasgow, including the University of Glasgow and the Botanic Gardens.
  • End your trip with a farewell dinner in one of Glasgow’s hipster restaurants.

14-Day Itinerary

Follow the 7 Day Itinerary mentioned above.

Day 8: Stirling and the Trossachs

  • Visit Stirling Castle and the nearby Wallace Monument.
  • Explore the village of Callander and drive through the scenic roads in Trossachs National Park.

Day 9: Aberdeen and the Northeast Coast

  • Travel to Aberdeen and explore its historic sites, including Marischal College and Aberdeen Art Gallery.
  • Visit Dunnottar Castle, perched on a dramatic cliff overlooking the North Sea.
  • Drive along the scenic Northeast Coast, stopping at small fishing villages and sandy beaches.

Day 10: Dundee and Angus

  • Discover the cultural attractions of Dundee, including the V&A Dundee museum and RRS Discovery.
  • Visit Glamis Castle, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Day 11: Perthshire

  • Explore the town of Pitlochry and visit Blair Castle.
  • Take a scenic drive through the Perthshire countryside, stopping at picturesque lochs and waterfalls.
  • Visit the Hermitage, a beautiful forested area with scenic walks and historic sites.

Day 12: Fife

  • Explore the historic town of St. Andrews, known for its university and golf courses.
  • Visit St. Andrews Cathedral and St. Andrews Castle.
  • Enjoy a seafood lunch in one of the town’s restaurants overlooking the North Sea.

Day 13: Dumfries and Galloway

  • Travel to Dumfries and Galloway and explore its charming streets.
  • Visit Threave Castle and Gardens, a medieval castle on an island in the River Dee.
  • Drive through the Galloway Forest Park, stopping at scenic viewpoints and walking trails.

Day 14: Return to Edinburgh

  • Return to Edinburgh and spend your final day exploring any sights you may have missed.

Where to stay on a Budget in Scotland

Scotland may not have as many ultra-budget options as some destinations, but there are still some affordable accommodations available for budget-conscious travelers.

In big cities, you’ll find hostels. When exploring in smaller villages, look for Bed and Breakfast.

Few Hostels we love

Of course you expect some cool hostels from us, we are Hostel geeks. Here are some of the best hostels in Scotland you should not miss.

Castle Rock Hostel: Situated in the heart of Edinburgh, Castle Rock offers prime location.  It is very near Edinburgh Castle and other major attractions.

CODE Hostel: located in the lively New Town area of Edinburgh, Code Hostel stands out due to its high-tech modern design and innovative pod-style accommodation. With a focus on privacy and comfort, each pod comes equipped with its own socket-outlet and lighting, offering guests a unique and contemporary hostel experience in the heart of Scotland’s capital city.

Great Glen Hostel: Surrounded by mountains and lochs, Great Glen Hostel provides a peaceful retreat for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, with easy access to hiking trails and scenic viewpoints. It is an ideal base for exploring the stunning Highlands of Scotland.

The Sail Loft Bunkhouse: Overlooking the picturesque village of Portsoy, The Sail Loft Bunkhouse offers cozy accommodation with a charming maritime-inspired ambiance. With BBQ facilities, a garden, and shared lounge spaces, guests can relax and unwind while taking in the tranquil surroundings.

How to get around Scotland

Scotland has an extensive public transportation network, including buses, trains, and ferries, making it convenient to travel between cities and regions. Therefore, backpackers can navigate Scotland’s enchanting landscapes and cities while staying within their budget.

Local Bus Tours: Many cities and towns in Scotland offer hop-on-hop-off bus tours, allowing you to explore major attractions at your own pace. These tours are often affordable and provide informative commentary about the history and culture of each destination.

Cycling: For eco-conscious travelers, cycling is a fantastic way to experience Scotland’s countryside and coastal paths. You can rent bicycles in major cities or bring your own and embark on scenic cycling routes such as the North Coast 500 or the Isle of Arran Circular Route.

Scenic Train Journeys: Scotland is renowned for its scenic train routes, offering breathtaking views of the countryside as you travel. Don’t miss the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Mallaig, which passes through the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct featured in the Harry Potter films. The Highland Main Line and the Far North Line also offer stunning vistas of rugged landscapes and picturesque lochs.

Intercity Buses: Intercity bus companies provide affordable transportation options between major cities. Be sure to book tickets in advance to secure the best deals. The most know companies are Megabus and Citylink.

Walking: Scotland offers an abundance of hiking trails and walking paths, allowing you to explore its natural beauty on foot. Whether it’s a leisure stroll along the shores of Loch Lomond or a challenging trek in the Cairngorms National Park, there’s a route suitable for every level of fitness.

Car Rental: If you prefer more flexibility in your itinerary, consider renting a car to explore Scotland’s remote regions and hidden gems. Keep in mind that driving in Scotland may require adjusting to narrow roads and driving on the left side.

Best Time to visit Scotland

High Season (June to August): During the summer months, Scotland experiences its peak tourist season. You can expect warmer temperatures, longer daylight hours, and bustling cities and attractions. This is the best time for outdoor activities, festivals, and exploring the countryside.

Shoulder Season (April to May, September to October): The Shoulder Season offers a balance between fewer crowds and reasonably good weather.

National Holidays & Peak Festivals

Scotland celebrates a range of national holidays and peak festivals throughout the year. Here are some of the most notable ones:

  • Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve)
  • Burns Night (January 25th)
  • St. Andrew’s Day (November 30th)
  • Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August)
  • Edinburgh International Festival (August)
  • Highland Games (from May to September)
  • Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (August)

Backpacking Essentials & Safety Tips

Essentials

Weather-Appropriate Clothing: weather can be very unpredictable. Pack layers, waterproof clothing, and sturdy footwear for hiking. This applies at any time of the year.

Navigation Tools: Carry a map, compass, or GPS device if you plan to hike in remote areas.

Emergency Supplies: Bring a first aid kit, flashlight, and emergency blanket if you plan to hike. You might need them in case of emergencies.

Reusable Water Bottle: Stay hydrated by refilling your water bottle from tap sources or natural springs.

Safety Tips

Stay Informed: Check weather forecasts and local regulations before setting out on any outdoor adventures.

Tell Someone Your Plans: Inform a friend or family member of your itinerary and expected return time, especially if heading into remote areas.

Respect Wildlife: Admire Scotland’s wildlife from a distance and avoid feeding or approaching animals.

Beware of Tides: If exploring coastal areas, be aware of tide times and potential risks of getting stranded.

Follow Outdoor Codes: Respect the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which promotes responsible behavior in outdoor spaces, including leaving no trace and closing gates behind you.

Cultural Norms

Politeness: Scots value politeness and appreciate a friendly demeanor. Always say “please” and “thank you” when interacting with locals.

Respect for Nature: Scots have a deep connection to their natural surroundings. Avoid littering and respect protected areas and wildlife habitats.

Local Customs: Familiarize yourself with Scottish customs and etiquette, such as greeting with a handshake and respecting personal space.

Tipping: Tipping is not mandatory in Scotland, but it’s appreciated for exceptional service in restaurants, taxis, and other service industries. Check if a service charge is included in your bill before tipping.

Pub Etiquette: When visiting pubs, it’s customary to buy rounds of drinks for your group rather than ordering individually.

Mind the Queues: Be patient, polite, and respect your fellow queue-dwellers.

Public Transport Etiquette: Give up your seat for those who need it most, like the elderly, pregnant women, or people with disabilities, on buses, trains, and trams. Avoid eating strong-smelling food on public transportation and be mindful of your noise levels.

Things Not to Do

Underestimate the Weather: Scotland’s weather can change rapidly. Don’t venture into the wilderness unprepared for rain, wind, or sudden drops in temperature.

Disrespect Historic Sites: Many of Scotland’s historical landmarks are protected. Avoid climbing on ruins or defacing ancient monuments.

Assume Everyone Speaks Gaelic: While Gaelic is spoken in some areas, English is the primary language. Don’t assume locals speak Gaelic or attempt to imitate the accent unless invited to do so.

Be noisy: Scottish culture places a strong emphasis on politeness and consideration for others. Making excessive noise can be seen as rude or inconsiderate, especially in enclosed spaces where people are unable to escape from the disturbance.

Resources and Planning

Find all our favorite websites and apps for travel planning here.

Conclusion

Beyond the picturesque landscapes and historic castles landmarks in Scotland lies something far more profound – a sense of connection to the land and its people. Whether you’ve shared stories with fellow travelers in the hostel common rooms or received a warm welcome from locals in remote villages, you’ll experience Scotland’s hospitality.

I am sure that after your Scotland Backpacking trip you will take with you not just photographs, but a deeper understanding of what it means to wander with an open heart and an adventurous spirit.

Slàinte mhath,