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13 Must-Read Scotland Travel Tips for First-Timers

13 Must-Read Scotland Travel Tips for First-Timers

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Are you visiting Scotland for the first time? Check out these amazing Scotland travel tips for first-timers that will save you stress!
This list of Scotland travel tips was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

We just got back from a trip to Scotland with kids and we had a blast!

Scotland is a great place for anyone to visit, but especially European travel newbies, families, and solo travelers. It’s a welcoming, English-speaking country, with a small population and lots to see!

City lovers will adore Edinburgh’s medieval charm. Fans of the outdoors won’t be able to get enough of the Highland glens and glistening lochs.

But if you’ve never been to Scotland, it can be an overwhelming trip to plan! 

These Scotland travel tips for first-timers will help you navigate the best way to travel to Scotland. It covers top attractions, activities, destinations, and lots of Scotland travel advice that you didn’t know that you needed.

Dive into these travel tips for Scotland so that you have the most amazing vacation in this magical country!

Find out how to book an affordable Edinburgh photo shoot with tips by to family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. Image of Marcie Cheung and her family in Edinburgh
Photo credit: Kim with Flytographer in Edinburgh

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Super Scotland Travel Tips for First-Timers

Planning a Scotland Trip

Scotland is not a large country and it can be split up into four parts: the Scottish Borders in the south, the Central Belt in the middle (where Edinburgh and Glasgow are), the Highlands to the north, and the Islands mostly to the northwest.

Edinburgh is a must-do in Scotland, especially if you’re traveling to Scotland for the first time. You’ll probably land in Edinburgh Airport anyway, so take a day or two to explore. Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill, the Royal Mile, and Princes Street Gardens are can’t-misses.

Image of a boy wearing a Slytherin scarf in front of Tom Riddell's grave in Edinburgh
Harry Potter fans will love Edinburgh. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Other cities to consider visiting are Glasgow for music lovers and foodies, Stirling for Scottish history lovers, and Inverness for Loch Ness Monster hunters.

Want to plan a trip to Scotland for the countryside? Fort William and Glen Coe are top hiking destinations. Scotland has two national parks, the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, which also offer outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and even skiing.

Many of the top things to see in Scotland are on its scenic drives. The North Coast 500 is a popular choice, but the Southwest Coast 300 and North East 250 are off-the-beaten-path options.

Of course, the best part of Scotland to visit for magical adventures is the Isle of Skye. It’s a popular and accessible option thanks to its bridge. If you want to know what to see in Scotland that the locals like to visit, check out the Isle of Mull and the Isle of Arran.

How Many Days in Scotland?

If you’re only traveling in Scotland for a short time, three to four days is enough for a city break. Base yourself in Edinburgh and take a day trip to Loch Ness or Glasgow. We recently spent 5 days in Edinburgh including some day trips and it was lovely.

Image of Marcie Cheung at Loch Ness in Scotland
Loch Ness is pretty massive! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

This is fine if you’re working out how to get to Scotland and explore as part of an extended European vacation. But if you’re flying in from North America, it’s a long way to go for a short time!

Seven days is enough time for a small group tour to visit Edinburgh and one area of the Highlands, such as Fort William or the Isle of Skye.

Ten days is better if you’re renting a car, and two weeks in Scotland is the perfect amount of time to see all the highlights. We spent 10 days in Scotland just relying on trains and tours since we didn’t rent a car.

Accommodation in Scotland

Currently, there is no tourist tax on accommodation in Scotland. However, there is a ‘Visitor Levy’ bill in progress, so there may be an overnight tax by the time you are traveling in Scotland!

Cities and towns in Scotland have lots of great boutique and chain hotels. Here are some of our favorite Edinburgh hotels for families.

Check out the best Edinburgh hotels for families recommended by top family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. Image of View of the city centre of Edinburgh - Scotland
There are lots of great places to stay in Scotland.

Short-term rentals are usually better when staying in more rural areas, although don’t skip staying in guesthouses. There’s nothing better than waking up to a huge Scottish fry up in a bed and breakfast!

If you’re super outdoorsy or planning a trip to Scotland on a budget, wild camping is legal in Scotland. As long as you take your trash and put out fires, no one will bother you!

Public Transport in Scotland

Scotland’s primary rail network is called ScotRail, although different rail companies travel between Scotland and England. You can get trains between most major cities and towns in the Central Belt and parts of the Highlands

Image of two boys on the train to Edinburgh from London.
It’s easy to take the train in Scotland. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Download the Omio or Trainline app to buy tickets and get updates on your journey. Trains in the UK are frequently delayed and more expensive than elsewhere in Europe. 

Scotland’s islands and more mountainous regions in the north are only accessible by bus, not train. CityLink runs these buses, and they might be more expensive than you think. Traveling from Glasgow to the Isle of Skye, for example, is around £50 a ticket.

For local buses (like Lothain buses in Edinburgh) you won’t need to buy tickets before hopping on. Just use a contactless card to pay the driver!

Taxi and Ride Shares

One of the best travel to Scotland tips for new visitors is to use Uber to get around Edinburgh or Glasgow. It’s not available elsewhere, but it’s the easiest and most affordable taxi option in those cities.

Image of a taxi in Scotland
We used a lot of taxis in Scotland.

In more remote areas, it’s more unlikely that taxi companies will be available to order via an app. Your best bet is the FreeNow app, which connects many taxi companies. Ask your hotel or short-term rental host to recommend a service.

Expect a basic fee of around £2 with £1.20 added for every km traveled.

Renting a Car and Driving in Scotland

Planning to visit lots of remote places? Despite the narrow, winding roads, the best way to travel around Scotland is by car! 

Rent a car at the airport, but only if you’re leaving the city immediately. Edinburgh is a super walkable place, as is Glasgow

Image of Winding road in the hills of Scotland with cars, sunny sumer day.
Don’t forget to drive on the left!

One of the top Scotland travel tips for first-timers is to take note that drivers in the UK drive on the left-hand side of the road. And familiarize yourself with the road signs, as a lot of them are symbols unfamiliar to U.S. drivers.

Manual transmission is also the norm. You’ll need to request an automatic vehicle (and probably pay extra) for getting around in Scotland if that’s what you’re used to.

Money in Scotland

As part of the UK, Scotland uses the GBP (£) currency. 

One of the smartest traveling to Scotland tips is to carry a little bit of cash as well as a travel-friendly credit card. Some businesses often don’t like to accept card payments for small purchases, but everywhere else will gladly accept card payments.

Image of Scottish Pounds
Always have a bit of cash on hand.

If American Express is your preferred credit card, bring a Visa or Mastercard backup. Many establishments won’t take AMEX cards.

Keep in mind that Scottish pound notes look very different from English pound notes! They’re all valid GBP currency. 

Avoid using ATMs in souvenir shops or ones that require payment. Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, and Barclays Bank offer free cash withdrawals. Supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s do too!

Dining in Scotland

Scotland is famous for its hearty, eclectic cuisine. Haggis (liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep cooked in a sheep’s stomach or sausage casing) is a traditional dish. Cullen Skink (haddock and potato soup), porridge (oatmeal), neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) are also staples.

Image of a man holding a can of Irn Bru
We recommend the 1901 version of Irn-Bru. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Scotland is one of the few countries where Coca-Cola is not the most popular soft drink. Irn-Bru is an orange, citrus drink that you have to try at least once! We found that the 1901 version is far superior to the regular and sugar-free versions.

When dining in Edinburgh or Glasgow, make dinner reservations if there is a restaurant you don’t want to miss. Especially on a weekend! 

Tipping is expected in Scotland but don’t leave more than 10-15% unless it’s a big holiday (like New Year’s Eve) or you’re part of a large group. Sometimes there is a service charge already on your bill, in which case you don’t need to add more.

Adding a pound coin or rounding up your bill in a café is nice but not expected.

Consider the Scotland Heritage Passes

Most of Scotland’s top historic sites belong to one organization. For example, Edinburgh Castle is a Historic Environment Scotland building. 

Image of Marcie Cheung and her family in front of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland
Edinburgh Castle. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

The pass costs around £60 for one year. It sounds expensive, but one ticket to Edinburgh Castle costs over £22 so it could be worthwhile!

National Trust Scotland membership is another to consider.

Take Advantage of Free Museums

One of the best things about visiting the UK is that most of its museums and galleries are free to visit!

National Museum of Scotland. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

The National Museum of Scotland, The Writer’s Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery are just some of the best free museums to visit in Edinburgh. There are plenty more in Glasgow, Inverness, and elsewhere too.

Learn the Scottish Lingo and Customs

Scotland’s official language isn’t just English. Scots and Scottish Gaelic are also listed! 

There are lots of fun slang words and customs to learn before visiting Scotland for the first time which will score you points with (or at least not offend) the locals.

Image of the Scotland flag and red tartan

Most Scottish people prefer to be called Scottish, not British. Definitely don’t call them English!

When drinking whisky in Scotland, it’s spelled without an ‘e’ and it’s not called scotch. It’s sold in a unit of measurement called a ‘dram’, not a ‘shot’. 

You can say ‘cheers’ when drinking in Scotland but ‘slàinte mhath’ is more traditional. It’s pronounced slan-ja-var, which is very different from how it is spelled!

Get a Travel Adapter

Like Malta, Hong Kong, and the rest of the UK, Scotland uses the Type G electrical socket. It has three rectangular prongs and a 230V supply voltage, which is more than the US.

Invest in a travel adapter with USB ports so you only need to travel with one. Choose one with a surge protector if you’re worried about damaging your electronics.

Don’t bother packing your regular hairstyling tools – they won’t work! Instead, make sure to pack dual voltage ones.

Safety and Awareness in Scotland

Scotland is a very safe country and it’s statistically safer than England. Violent and dangerous crimes are rare (especially involving tourists) and the climate is generally mild.

However, it can be dangerous to hike in certain areas during wet and windy weather. Always check the forecast before heading out.

Police vehicle in Edinburgh city with old building. Vertical

Drinking culture can be a problem in bigger cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness and Scotland has introduced laws to crack down. Drinking before driving is extremely strict and buying alcohol outside the hours of 10 am to 10 pm isn’t allowed either.

While petty crime like pickpocketing might be more prevalent in busy, touristed areas, it’s not common in Scotland.

Tips for Traveling in Scotland FAQs

Is Scotland safe?

Yes, Scotland is a very safe country! 

Dangerous crime levels are very low and the weather is generally mild year-round. Some of the only things to be aware of are petty crimes and disorderly behavior in city pubs, but that’s rare.

How do you dress like a local in Scotland?

If you’re from North America, you can probably wear what you usually wear every day at home and look like a local in Scotland! Opt for ‘smarter’ casual clothes like jeans, knitted sweaters, and leather boots over sweatpants and hoodies.

Bring a good waterproof jacket and hiking boots if you’re visiting the countryside. All the locals will have them and you’ll need them!

When is the best time to visit Scotland?

Planning a visit to Scotland in June, May, and September are the best times. These months are in the shoulder season. They have mild weather (you can never guarantee sun and warmth in Scotland!) without the crowds of summer. 

August is festival season in Edinburgh which is great fun (the Fringe Festival is the biggest arts festival in the world), but accommodation prices can be astronomical.

Scotland Travel Tips for First-Timers Wrap-Up

Those are all the Scotland travel tips for first-timers that you need before you go.

You’ll know to avoid visiting Edinburgh in August unless you like festivals, and to visit museums if you’re on a budget. And to rent a small car for the narrow roads!

Focus on taking 1,000 photos of Glen Coe, working out what Irn Bru tastes like, and enjoying your incredible trip to Scotland!

Looking for more Scotland travel resources? Check out 13 Best Day Trips From Glasgow by Train, 13 Best Day Trips From Edinburgh by Train, Planning a Trip to Scotland: Step-by-Step Guide, How to Plan a Budget-Friendly Photo Shoot in Edinburgh, Scotland, Best Harry Potter Places in Scotland Worth Visiting, Ireland or Scotland: Which is Better for Families?, and 9 Best Edinburgh Hotels for Families Worth Booking!

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