You’re Going to Scotland!
Planning is one of the best stages of the adventure. Anticipation is like a delicious appetizer to the main course. It can also be quite daunting, but knowing in advance what you want to see and do, exploring new options and then prioritizing those options can take a lot of doubt and stress away.
We chose to travel independently. At first, we did toss around the idea of a group tour, but couldn’t find a package that we felt fit our specific plans. We also considered a group tour thinking it would remove any transportation and destination concerns. Once we started exploring on our own, we discovered Scotland to be extremely travel-friendly! Train, bus and taxi service was readily available, accommodation options were plentiful and day tours were fun to select as well as being very affordable. In comparing the cost of a group tour versus independent travel, we found the expense was nearly equal. Once we decided to customize our own itinerary, off we went to plan!
Deciding when to go
November through March tend to be the coldest months with shorter days. These would be the least expensive months to travel, with the exception of holidays and other special events.
April and May are good times to travel. The weather is getting warmer and the days are starting to get longer. Hotel prices are still at good rates and the busy tourist season hasn’t quite yet begun.
June, July, and August are the peak times for crowds. Festivals are underway, warmer temperatures have arrived and the days are longer. Expect to pay more for hotels. Reservations are in higher demand so you will need to plan and reserve a little earlier.
September and October are two other great months to travel. You may need some extra layers, but the winter temperatures haven’t yet arrived. Hotel rates drop back down and the crowds have decreased.
Booking your flight
If you aren’t familiar with flying internationally, one important thing to keep in mind is to leave plenty of time on your return flight to clear customs and immigration. For us, this occurred at our first entrance back into the United States. If this is your final destination as well, then you are good to go after clearing. If you have to catch a connecting flight, make sure you leave a minimum of three hours between flights. When returning, it took me 2 ½ hours to get cleared, re-check my luggage, go back through customs and get to my next gate. I wasn’t selected for a luggage check and an extensive interview, but there is a chance of this happening, resulting in further delays. If you miss the next flight, the cost of booking another flight might be at your expense and not a courtesy of the airline, if you didn’t plan an appropriate amount of time. Cost of flight re-scheduling will all depend on the airline or even the judgment of the airline agent. While booking my flight, I read that a three-hour minimum is quite reasonable. Again, no guarantee as to how a travel delay might be handled, just a heads-up to consider this!
We found TripAdvisor as the best tool to shop for hotels and compare rates from different popular booking companies. Whether you prefer hotels, B&B’s, a rental house or a hostel, you can search by preference. Airbnb and HomeAway are a few other popular accommodation booking sites if you are searching for a house, cabin or condo rental.
If you are staying at hotels, most include a Full Scottish Breakfast or offer a reduced rate to include breakfast at the time of your reservation. You may want to explore that option for convenience and savings.
We traveled independently, booking our own rooms, transportation and day tours. There are plenty of group tours that you can also search for that include all your transportation, tours and lodging in one package.
If your plans include renting a car, you will certainly have more flexibility but remember, in Scotland, they drive on the left-hand side of the road. We avoided renting a car, thinking the concentration required would distract us from being able to enjoy the scenery (and possibly avoid an accident, too).
We found public transportation in Scotland to be both convenient and affordable. Major cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness all have a variety of options for train, bus, and taxi service. In our encounters, we found them all very reliable. All three of these cities also offer a large variety of options for day tours as well as a few overnight tour packages. We especially liked being able to add day tours to further customize our itinerary.
If you are not on a tour that stops at a site on your list and you don’t have a rental car, ask a few taxi drivers for flat rate quotes. If time allows and you want to spend more than a few minutes, you can also arrange a pick-up time. We did this in a couple of places and it worked out well for us. Just be aware that cell service may be spotty or non-existent in many places, so you can’t count on just calling when you are ready to leave.
If you are considering a trip to Scotland, you have most likely already dreamed of traveling to certain places and that’s a great place to start for planning your trip.
Make a list of all the places you want to see and things you want to do in Scotland. Don’t hold back! For guided tours, we highly recommend going to TripAdvisor or Viator and researching available tours for the areas where you are staying. You’ll most likely find a lot of tours that include destinations from your list and you will surely see some other amazing tour options that you hadn’t thought about.
If traveling with someone else, compare preferences and prioritize the things you want to do. Once you map the locations of your choices, you will be able to tell how long you may want to stay in each area. Leave yourself some flex time for local activities and things you can do in the city or village where you are staying. The local taverns and shops were fun to explore and many areas offer museums, historical sites and walking tours within walking distance to where you are staying.
We can’t say enough good things about our tours and our tour guides! Our guides were very informative, telling fabulous stories and answering questions. They were all so humorous and entertaining as well! We absolutely loved all of our tours, but the Isle of Skye day tour from Inverness, provided by Happy Tours was the stand-out favorite!
All of our tours were in small groups on a luxury minibus, with the exception of the tour we took with Loch Ness by Jacobite. They provided a lovely tour, but it was on a large bus, with a large group of people. This particular tour was short-distance travel so it was fine. On the other tours, we traveled great distances and preferred traveling on the smaller buses with fewer people.
If you read the feedback and the details of the tours on the booking site, you will discover information that will really help with your tour selections. You will find tour itinerary details, as well as tour size and the type of bus provided for the tours. Reading traveler’s feedback also gives you a better sense of what to expect.
We were skeptical about being on a bus all day, but all the tour guides we experienced made us very comfortable. I thought there might be restless moments but there were numerous opportunities already built into the tour stops if you needed a restroom break or a coffee break (and tea, of course). It worked out perfectly and now I am a big fan of day tours! It was so enjoyable to be guided to locations, taking in the views along the way and listening to some of the most interesting stories and backgrounds of each location.
It was very exciting to explore through castles and historical monuments on our tours. Some castles were in walking distance to where we were staying. If you plan on visiting many castles and historical sites, you may want to look into Historic Scotland Explorer Pass or the National Trust for Scotland Discover Ticket. They both offer a 3-day or 7-day pass. The 3-day pass must be used on any three days in a period of five consecutive days. The 7-day pass, on any seven days in a period of fourteen consecutive days.
Click on the highlighted pass name for current prices, detailed list of attractions and more information.
Each site lists the attractions included in the passes. We purchase the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass and found that if you only visit Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, it’s a near break-even deal. If offered at the attraction, passes also allow you to get in a fast-track ticket line to avoid long waits to get into the attraction. Look into the pass information and see if it works for you!