How to Travel in Scotland on a Budget: 15 Money-Saving Tips

Last updated on September 25th, 2020

Scotland has plenty of sights and activities to attract wealthy tourists, but what about those of us who have to make our money stretch a little bit further? Learn exactly how to explore Scotland on a budget – from hire cars to train and bus – in this complete guide.

car snow

The complete guide to saving money when travelling in Scotland

So you want to go sightseeing in Scotland and travel around all the amazing tourist attractions that the country has to offer? Well, why not?

Year-on-year the number of global tourists visiting our shores has been increasing steadily, with a 15% increase in overseas visitors in 2019 alone.

This may be partly due to the weakening pound meaning that overseas visitors have got more ‘bang for their bucks’ but it’s also no doubt helped by the surge of people wanting to get new experiences that they simply can’t get anywhere else in Europe.

Vast, snow-capped mountain ranges? Check. Unspoilt wilderness and crystal clear lochs (some with monsters in them)? Check. Some of the most beautiful and fun-filled cities on the planet? Yup, check again.

Clearly, Scotland has plenty of sights and activities to attract wealthy tourists coming from all over the world, but what about those of us who have to make our money stretch a little bit further?

The Quiraing

While Scotland has plenty of cheap, and even free, activities to enjoy, travelling around to visit them all can be a huge pain in the wallet.

This isn’t necessarily because the cost of public transport is particularly expensive, but when you’ve got a country the size of Sweden and a population smaller than the city of London, you know it’s going to push transport prices up, especially with the additional 14 million tourists that come into Scotland each year.

So what can you do to save a few pounds while you’re here? Well, a little bit of common sense goes a long way, but taking the advice of the following tips will definitely help your Scotland sightseeing budget stretch a bit further.

And who knows? You might even be able to save enough money to take another Scottish holiday next year…

How to save money travelling in Scotland by car

mountain car

By far the most popular form of transport in Scotland is the car, with around 65% of all journeys using this form of transport.

Generally, the Scottish road network is excellent with well-maintained surfaces, easy to understand signs and a populace that has to pass stringent tests in order to drive their cars on the roads in the first place. The downside is that running the things costs an arm and a leg.

The cost of fuel has soared in the last couple of years and is currently (as of 2020 from the RAC website) around £1.30 per litre of petrol and around £1.35 per litre of diesel. That means to fill up an average hatchback like a VW golf will cost you an average £65 to £70, which would give you 400 to 500 miles of driving (as long as you’re not driving like Lewis Hamilton).

So a two-week self-drive holiday in Scotland covering about 1500 miles would cost in the region of £210 in fuel costs, and that’s before you’ve paid the hire car rental and insurance. Obviously using a car isn’t the best way to enjoy Scotland sightseeing on a budget, so what money-saving tips can you use if you really want to get out on the open road?


Tip 1: Beware Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) contracts.

car crash

Most car rental companies will feature their website prices in big bold numbers in an attempt to appear to be the cheapest to the unwary traveller, but 9 times out of 10 they’ll then hit renters with extortionate fees when it comes to insurance.

One of the biggest complaints is the cost of the CDW, a contractual term where the rental company waives its right to claim compensation from the customer for damage to the rented vehicle.

Unfortunately, basic CDW cover usually excludes damage to tyres, wheels, wing-mirrors, windows, hub caps, the undercarriage and even the roof of the car.

It also frequently excludes towing costs in the case of breakdown and clutch failure, and these policies often only cover damage to another vehicle so if you’re subject to single-vehicle damage (such as driving into a wall), then the CDW won’t cover you and you’ll still have to pay the excess (anywhere up to £2000).

The rule here is that before you pay for CDW insurance make sure you take the time to thoroughly read through the policy paperwork, and don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t like what you see.

Tip 2: Don’t use a rental car broker.

Car hire is big business and a new niche has opened up with car rental brokers advertising low prices on comparison websites where they offer to act as the middleman between the car hire company and the renter.

However, the broker is only a sales agent and the customer’s contract is always with the car hire company, so many customers find that when things go wrong their brokers just wash their hands of the problem and tell their customers that they must deal with the hire company direct.

Avoid the problem by doing your own research on several well-respected hire car companies and making your own comparisons. You’ll often find that the saving you make from not having to pay the broker commission fees beats the ‘offer’ that they were advertising anyway.

So stick to the big guns in the rental business like SIXT, Hertz or Avis, and others who are members of the BVRLA, and be safe in the knowledge that should any problems arise you’ve got a trade body who will attempt to resolve the issue on your behalf.

convertible car

Tip 3: Watch out for sneaky upgrade offers.

Rental pick-up desks will often try to sell you an upgrade to a bigger car by hard-selling you the advantages of a larger vehicle over the one that you’ve already pre-booked online.

Many of these agents are working on a commission basis so it’s in their interests to make you spend as much money as possible, but frequently these ‘upgrades’ are completely unnecessary.

Quite often customers from the U.S. are picked out for these upgrade offers due to the fact the cars over there are generally larger than the compacts we tend to drive in the UK. But there’s a reason us Brits love our compact cars. They’re easy to park in cities, they’re economical, and they’re perfect for our narrow roads.

So before you fall for the hard sell think about your situation. If you’re only going to be driving in Scotland for a week and there are just 2 of you plus suitcases, do you really need a 9-seater Mercedes minibus?

Whole families of Brits quite happily spend years zooming about in Minis and Ford Fiestas so there’s no reason why you can’t cope with a compact car for a fortnight’s vacation.

Tip 4: Are you sure you even need a car?

man car

Sure, cars have their place and they make it easy to head off in any direction at a moments notice, but have you considered how much of your holiday will actually require a private car?

If you’re visiting Scotland from overseas then it’s likely you’ll want to spend at least a few days in our major cities and Glasgow and Edinburgh have more museums, art galleries, theatres, historical attractions and fun activities than you can shake a stick at, and both offer absolutely first-class public transport systems.

Edinburgh, in particular, has invested millions of pounds into its public transport infrastructure to the point where many residents don’t even own a car.

Not only is there the excellent Lothian Bus network but there’s an equally impressive tram system, and the national railway lines run straight into the heart of the city at Waverley station.

Glasgow, on the other hand, is only an hour away from Edinburgh by train and has the nation-wide First Bus network of buses running throughout the city, as well its own subway system and numerous black cabs.

Scotland Airports - Location, Travel Guide + Information

Another thing to think about is, have you decided if you’re going to take any organised tours during your holiday?

Tour companies like Rabbie’s small group tours of the UK and Ireland will be only too happy to drive you to the remote tourist attractions of Scotland, and many of their tours start and end in the major city centre so you don’t even have to travel far to find your tour bus.

If you’re planning to spend a couple of weeks in Scotland remember that you’ll likely not even need a car for a good chunk of it. If that sound like you, you might like to read my article about Travelling Around Scotland Without a Car.

Bonus safety tips for driving in Scotland

  1. If you’re driving in the Highlands fill up with fuel whenever you can because there are surprisingly few petrol stations once you get away from the towns.
  2. If you get stranded you can usually get a phone signal to call for help, but make sure you’ve got enough charge in it. It’s worth keeping a spare battery pack in the car at all times.
  3. Following on from the above tip – it’s illegal to hold a phone while driving in the UK so invest in a windscreen or dash-mounted phone holder.
  4. The remote areas of Scotland (the Highlands and Islands especially) can be confusing for new visitors, so take a good up-to-date sat-nav with you along with a good old-fashioned paper map as a backup.
  5. If you’re driving in winter take an emergency bag with you containing at the minimum: food and water, a warning triangle, a tyre foot pump, jump-start leads, and a blanket.
  6. And just in case you do break down make sure you’ve kept the fuel tank topped up so you can keep the engine running to keep warm.

I think it’s obvious that Scotland sightseeing on a budget doesn’t have to involve the use of a car, and the tips below will offer some alternatives that might be a whole lot cheaper…

How to save money travelling in Scotland by bus

edinburgh bus

By now you might be thinking that using a car isn’t the best way to experience Scotland sightseeing on a budget, although it certainly offers up lots of opportunities to see attractions that would otherwise be out of reach.

But if you’ve decided against driving yourself around our beautiful country why not let someone else do the work for you by using Scotland’s excellent bus network instead? With that thought in mind let me show you a few helpful tips you might find useful while using Scotland’s public road transport.

Tip 5: Use trams and buses whenever possible

Both Scotland’s capital city and it’s larger cousin to the west have excellent bus networks that will get you to anywhere in either city for a fraction of the cost of taking a taxi.

Edinburgh, in particular, has a world-leading public transport system with cheap, clean, and well-maintained vehicles. The bus network extends right through Edinburgh and out to the surrounding areas, while the trams provide a fast mode of transport over 14km from the airport to the city centre.

Visit Transport For Edinburgh for more information on Edinburgh’s Trams and buses or download the Transport for Edinburgh App. To help you find your way around the bus network more quickly you can get real-time information on the web and on your smartphone.

To find out when your bus is due go to:

If you’re going to spend some time in Glasgow and want to use public transport then the main bus operator is First Bus, who provide a regular bus service throughout the city with over 100 routes to choose from.

Most locals prefer to use the bus network as it’s one of the easiest and cheapest options for getting around the city centre and the outlying districts, and they also have regular links to the airport and train station.

Tip 6: Use coaches for journeys between cities

If you need to travel between cities on a budget then the coach company Mega Bus has got you covered with a transport network that not only connects the cities of Scotland but also includes England and Wales.

As an example of the savings that are possible, while a train ticket from Edinburgh to Glasgow can cost upwards of £15 depending on the time of day, a cheap-rate Megabus ticket will only cost you around £4, and you can occasionally find one-way journeys on special offer for £1.

While some people might turn their nose up at travelling ‘cattle-class’ (it’s not, they’re actually really comfy), you can upgrade your bus journey by choosing the Citylink Gold service instead.

This luxury bus service operates from Glasgow to Aviemore and Inverness, Glasgow to Aberdeen, and Edinburgh to Ferrytoll, Kinross, Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen, and offers a variety of upgrades over other coach operators.

Onboard you’ll find coach attendants, leather seats, Wi-Fi, and complimentary snacks and refreshments during your journey, with coaches leaving regularly from the main city centre bus terminals. 

Tip 7: Don’t buy individual bus tickets. Buy a day ticket instead

bus edinburgh

This is a great tip and one that you’ll find Scottish locals using all the time.

While there’s no doubt that using the bus is a quick and cheap way of getting around the big cities you can save even more money as a tourist by buying a day ticket. These bus tickets can be purchased for as little as £4 (Lothian Bus in Edinburgh) or £4.50 (First Bus in Glasgow) and will let you take as many journeys as you like in one day. Note that prices are as of 2020.

Let’s face it, you’re a tourist and you want to see as many attractions as possible, so you’ll no doubt be hopping on and off buses at every available opportunity.

The beauty of a day ticket is that once you’ve bought it all you need to do is keep it in your pocket and present it to the driver each time you want to head somewhere new so there’s no need for the embarrassing fumbling around in your pocket for the correct change with a bunch of tutting locals waiting in line behind you.


Taking this even further why not use a city tour bus as your main form of transport for one of the days you’re in the city?

While these buses are a little pricey (upwards of £15 per person in many cases) you’ll get the benefit of open-top travel with an experienced tour guide telling you all about the amazing attractions that the city has.

Follow this link to book your tour bus tickets in advance: Edinburgh Bus Tour from 15£

Where most people fail is that once they’ve done the tour they get off and go somewhere else, never to use it again. But us savvy travellers know that these tour buses are hop-on/hop-off services, so once you’ve done the main tour you can use it again and again, as many times as you like for the rest of the day. Bonus!

Taking a bus or coach has become increasingly popular with backpackers for travelling between cities while they’re enjoying Scotland sightseeing, but there’s another more efficient means of travel that could save you even more money if you know a few tricks of the trade. Read on…

How to save money travelling in Scotland by train

The Jacobite Steam Train

Britain has always had a love-hate affair with its rail network, with commuters frequently complaining about train services being cancelled due to it being too windy, too much snow on the line (an inch will usually do it), or mechanical failures (I think the UK must make most of their train’s critical components out of Lego).

But the humble commuter is fighting back, and online services like The Trainline offer instant online ticket booking at prices that are up to 43% discount compared to buying the same ticket from the station.

With British train tickets among the most expensive in Europe it’s always handy to get a little extra help when it comes to buying your rail fare, and with a little prior planning Scotland’s railways could be the ideal way to experience Scotland sightseeing on a budget.

Glasgow Travel Information - Complete Guide

That being said, if you want to spend a little extra and take part in what has been voted the best railway journey in the world I wholeheartedly recommend you save up a few extra pennies and book a ticket on the Jacobite steam train that runs from Fort William to Mallaig.

It’s an absolutely stunning journey and you can read more about it with my complete guide to The Jacobite Steam Train. You can find the starting point for The Jacobite at Fort William train station with this handy directions map:

Click the map for directions.

Google Map of fort william train station

Tip 8: Use railcards, split tickets and advance tickets whenever possible

1. Railcards

Railcards can save you up to 33% on train tickets, and you can sometimes get a discount on buying railcards (RRP is £30). You can also use Tesco Clubcard Points (the UK supermarket points card scheme) to purchase railcards to save even more. Remember that you MUST travel with your railcard to get the discount.

2. Split Tickets

On some journeys, it might be possible to split your ticket to save some money. For example, a single ticket from city ‘A’ to city ‘C’ could cost £50, but a ticket from city ‘A’ to city ‘B’, plus a ticket from city ‘B’ to city ‘C’ might only cost a total of £40. Remember that the train MUST stop at each station on your ticket itinerary.

3. Advance Tickets

Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy 2 single tickets instead of a return, or book an advance ticket rather than buy on the day. On most rail booking sites you can usually search for all routes for a specific journey which sometimes brings up cheaper on-the-day tickets, as well as a variety of cheaper advance tickets.

Most advance tickets go on sale 12 weeks before the date of travel, though some rail booking sites offer tickets 24 weeks ahead of the journey, but be aware that there’s usually a small additional fee for booking these advance tickets.

It’s best to weigh up the pros and cons of booking from a particular site before getting your credit card out.

Tip 9. In Glasgow, use the subway system

jacobite train

Glasgow is unusual in Scotland as it’s the only city which has its own subway system.

Although not the cheapest option, the subway is by far the easiest way to get around the city centre and the west end. Trains run every 5 minutes at peak times and take just 24 minutes to complete a circuit of the 15 stations.

You can either buy a single ticket or a Subway Smartcard, which offers the best fare prices and allows you to top up as you go. The Glasgow Subway map is a great way to find your way around the stations.

The south of Scotland is linked to the city by Glasgow Central Station, while Glasgow Queen Street Station has links to Edinburgh & the north of Scotland. The ScotRail website has information about all the available routes and timetables.

The SPT Roundabout ticket gives one-day unlimited travel by rail and subway to over 110 stations in the Greater Glasgow area. You can purchase these tickets through ScotRail or SPT Travel Centres.

Please note that they are only valid after 09:00 Monday to Friday, all day at weekends, and Scottish public holidays. You can buy them either through ScotRail or SPT Travel Centres.

If you want to find out information about the various travel options in the Glasgow and Strathclyde areas then check out the SPT Travel Centres in the city, as they provide all the information you need during your visit, while Traveline Scotland covers public transport across the rest of Scotland if you’re intending to travel further afield.

Download the Traveline Scotland app for more information.

If you intend to do some inner-city Scotland sightseeing, Glasgow’s underground rail system might be your best and most affordable option.

Infographic about Glasgow


Information about Scottish train tickets

Like the rest of the UK, there are three different types of train tickets you can purchase for your rail journey in Scotland. These are:

  • Off-peak tickets which are restricted for use only between the morning and evening peak times. These times are dependent on the train operator so check with them before purchase.
  • Anytime tickets are valid for use at any time of the day and are usually more expensive than off-peak tickets.
  • First class tickets are more expensive than the other two types but offer a higher standard of service, including free wi-fi and refreshments.

You can also purchase travel passes from Scotland’s various rail operators which offer unlimited travel across the network for the duration that the pass is valid:

  • The Spirit of Scotland travel pass offers unlimited rail travel throughout Scotland for either four or eight days. As of April 2020, four days unlimited travel over eight consecutive days costs £149, while eight days unlimited travel over fifteen consecutive days costs £189. Note that these prices can vary depending on available special offers so check the website in advance before you buy the pass.
  • The Highland Rover travel pass gives you four days unlimited travel over eight consecutive days across the Highlands for £95 (as of April 2020). Although it’s only valid for standard class you can travel at any time and you’ll get 20% off Northlink ferry services to Orkney and Shetland.
  • The Central Scotland Rover travel pass lets you take unlimited journeys between Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the surrounding area for just £55 (as of April 2020). The pass lasts for three days and is valid for standard class journeys on ScotRail trains, but unfortunately you can’t use it on the new Borders railway line.

If you want to buy a ScotRail travel pass you can order them from the ScotRail website, by calling 0344 811 0141, or direct from ticket offices at staffed stations.

If you want to learn more about Scottish rail travel read my Guide to Touring Scotland by Train.

The cheapest way to travel around Scotland is on foot

Scotland Hiker

Tip 10: Forget all about buses, trains and cars and use your own two feet for the ultimate budget Scottish sightseeing journey

While many visitors to Scotland spend countless hours route planning the ultimate road trip through country back-roads along with the most efficient use of the railways, there are others who are quietly putting on their backpacks and walking boots to experience arguably the best – and cheapest – way to travel around Scotland on a budget. Their own two feet.

Hiking in Scotland has always been popular thanks to the incredibly beautiful landscapes that we have here, with walking trails like the West Highland Way, The John Muir Way and The Southern Upland Way crying out to be explored. Getting out and about in Scotland under your own power is one of the best ways to really experience our country, and the extra tips below will help you do just that.

1. Prepare for the weather. No matter how much of an experienced hiker you are, nothing can prepare you for the changeable Scottish weather.

The phrase ‘4 seasons in one day’ is particularly appropriate to describe the climate we experience in this country and it’s not unusual to set off in freezing-cold snow in the morning and finish the day in blazing sunshine in the evening.

And if you’re setting off into the mountains for some ‘munro-bagging’ then be extra-prepared. The wind can pick up from a gentle breeze to a raging howl in an instant and it’s not uncommon for hikers to get lost and confused, even experienced ones. So do your research and pack well before you leave.

2. Don’t get lost. Scotland’s landscapes are open to the public by right of way so you can pretty much roam where you like, although you should try not to enter privately owned land unless you get permission first.

That being said it’s pretty easy to get lost in the dramatic scenery of Scotland which can easily lead you to get lost with your bearings as well.

As a rule of thumb, never head off the beaten path without a good quality map to hand, and the ones produced by Ordnance Survey are by far the highest quality UK maps you’ll find, covering every square inch of Scotland from Gretna Green to John O’ Groats.

Even better they now have a mobile phone app so that you can load as many maps onto your device as you need, meaning you’ll (hopefully) never get lost again.

Aberdeen Travel Information - Complete Guide

Buy OS Explorer Maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

3. We’ve got bothies – so use them! If you’re asking ‘ok, so what’s a bothie?’ then you might want to do a little more research into Scottish hiking before you venture out.

A bothie is an unlikely little dwelling seemingly abandoned in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason, but they can literally be a life-saver.

These simple shelters have been erected for anyone to use and take refuge in, and although they’re not exactly up to hotel standard they’re completely free to use and will keep you warm and dry if you find yourself lost in some remote part of the Scottish wilderness.

Open at all times throughout the year they just require you to leave them in the same condition that you found them. Check out The Mountain Bothies Association for more information.

The top 3 cheap places to visit in Scotland

If I’ve whetted your appetite for coming to Scotland and enjoying a budget holiday you might be wondering where the best places to visit are.

That’s a difficult question to answer. While Scotland is jam-packed full of fantastic destinations a lot of them have jumped on the tourist-trail bandwagon and have introduced entrance charges (which seem to be going up and up with every passing year).

Your best bet, therefore, is to go to the Scottish destinations where they haven’t been able to introduce a fee yet – at least until they start charging for fresh air.

But until then, Scotland’s wilderness areas are the ultimate budget holiday resort where you’ll see the very best of this magnificent country for a fraction of what it would cost for a day trip to the cities.

For me, the best bang-for-buck adventures can be found in the Highlands, mainly because you can drive there (or even hitch-hike if you’re that way inclined) and there are also train routes that run to the main towns.

It’s this comparative ease of access that allows backpackers and budget holidaymakers to enjoy this vast area of Scotland for very little money, and while I’d have loved to have also included one of the west coast islands in this list I’m afraid the ferry costs to get between them is just too expensive in my opinion.


Tip 11: Climb Bidean Nam Bian at Glencoe

Bidean Nam Bian

Bidean Nam Bian, located to the south of Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands, is well-known amongst hill walkers and munro baggers for the fantastic views it offers from the ‘Three Sisters of Glen Coe’, the three steep ridges on the north face that extend into the Glen.

The huge mountain complex rises to 1150 metres at its highest point and has several ascent routes of varying difficulty, though the easier path from Glen Coe car park is by far the most used.

As a destination for a cheap place to visit you really can’t beat this mountain region as not only is it free (apart from the car park cost), but the views are gob-smackingly gorgeous. And I mean, completely, absolutely, drop-dead amazing.

Two of the peaks of the three sisters, Beinn Fhada and Gearr Aonach are separated by a partly concealed glen known as the lost valley which at one time was used by Clan Macdonald to hide their livestock from thieves but is today mainly used by hikers making their way up to the Bidean ridge.

The most popular route up into the mountains heads out over a 2.5-mile path starting at the Glen Coe car park near Loch Achtriochtan and finishing at the peak of Stob Coire nan Lochan. This route is quite busy at times so during the summer it’s probably best to avoid it at weekends, especially as the car park gets clogged up with coachloads of tourists visiting the nearby loch.

The path is easy-going at the start but it becomes a fairly tricky scramble across several rocky sections in the middle, although the views at the finish point 2/3 the way up the mountain make up for the work needed to make the ascent.

Part way along the route you’ll come across an impressive waterfall thundering down the mountainside while the wooded ravine following the path makes a great place to stop and take a breather, but be careful if you try to get down to the pool under the waterfall as it’s very slippery.

The path continues up in the direction of Stob Coire nan Lochan where you’ll find another waterfall in a small box canyon before exiting out onto the summit of the north ridge. From here you’ll get amazing views in all directions and you can either head back down to the car park or push on further into the mountain range.

Address for your sat nav: Ballachulish, PH49 4HX, UK. Lat/Lon 56.64419°N / 5.03345°W

Tip 12: Cycle around Loch Ness

loch ness

Loch Ness is without a doubt one of the most famous, most visited and most photographed tourist attractions in the whole of Scotland. Not only is there an abundance of wildlife living both in the loch and along its banks, but there’s a rich history to be discovered thanks to famous locations like Urquhart Castle and the city of Inverness.

Although the loch has more than its fair share of tour operators it’s possible to explore the region for very little money thanks to the A82 which follows its shoreline the entire way along its western edge.

This road is perfect for cycling along and you’ll see as many cyclists loaded up with tents as you will cars towing expensive caravans. I’ll even go so far as to say that in summer the best way to enjoy the loch is on a bike. After all, who wants to miss out on all those amazing views by being locked inside a car all day?

If you want to give the bike a rest then there are some really good walking trails running right through this area of the Highlands, and there are even a couple that run along the water’s edge, like the very enjoyable Fort Augustus Heritage Trail.

This walk takes in some of the best scenery in the Highlands and it’s completely free to follow, so if you think you’re up to it check out the trail website for maps and route itineraries.

There are lots of pretty villages dotted along the 23-mile length of Loch Ness including Fort Augustus on the southern edge, and you might consider going there too as it’s a favourite stopping-off point with tourists looking to explore the loch.

If you’re well-versed with the intricacies of a fishing rod then you might be keen to catch some of Scotland’s largest fish in this area, and you’ll find several species living in the water of Loch Ness with the famed Scottish Atlantic Salmon living alongside Brown and Sea Trout, Perch, Roach and Char.

However, be sure to check that you’ve purchased the appropriate fishing licence before you start casting away, details of which you’ll find posted across the notice boards of Fort Augustus.

Fort Augustus can be found on the A82, at the head of Loch Ness in the heart of the Highlands.

  • From Glasgow take the A82 via Crianlarich and Fort William to Fort Augustus – 132 miles.
  • From Edinburgh take the M90 to Perth, the A9 to Dalwhinnie, the A86 to Spean Bridge and the A82 to Fort Augustus – 157 miles.
  • From Aberdeen take the A96 via Nairn to Inverness, then the A82 to Fort Augustus – 141 miles.

Tip 13: Go wildlife watching in the Cairngorms

deer stag

As I frequently mention, the best things in life are free, and to my mind one of the best experiences you can have in Scotland is seeing its wonderful wildlife. There’s an incredibly diverse range of animal species to see in Scotland but arguably the best sightings are located throughout the Highlands, with my personal favourites being the majestic red deer.

These animals are the largest in Britain and it’s a real privilege to watch them roaming around the countryside, especially when the stags are in their rutting season and can be seen battling against each other using their enormous (and very spiky) antlers.

Alongside red deer you’ll frequently find mountain hares, ptarmigan (a type of grouse), pine martens and badgers all scurrying about as they forage for food in the cold winter climate, while otters and dolphins can often be seen along much of the Highlands coastline.

Edinburgh Travel Information - Complete Guide

You’ll find loads of places to go on a Scottish safari in the Highlands but if you want my recommendation I’d suggest heading to the Cairngorms during the winter months.

Winter in the Cairngorms is one of the highlights for any visit to Scotland thanks to the number of animals that descend from the mountain tops for the slightly warmer climate at the bottom.

Although many Scottish animals hibernate throughout the winter (red squirrels being one), you can still see plenty of other creatures and the fact they’re on lower ground means they’re much easier to spot and photograph.

While you could go all-out and pay an experienced guide to take you out into the wilderness perhaps the best way to experience Scotland’s winter wildlife is to just pack your rucksack, pull on your boots, and set off on a trek across the rugged landscape.

But before you go make sure you check the weather and pack plenty of warm hiking gear. The last thing you want is to be stuck in the middle of nowhere without thermals when the temperature drops, and as the old Scottish saying goes, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’.

Cheap places to stay in Scotland

So we’ve seen that it’s possible to travel around Scotland on a budget if you just have a little common sense and follow some of the travel tips I’ve mentioned above, but what if you’re looking for somewhere to stay? Isn’t it true that hotels in Scotland are way overpriced?

My answer to that has to be ‘yes and no’ because it all depends on where you’re intending to take your overnight accommodation.

If you’re planning to enjoy cheap sightseeing then I can’t really recommend you stay in Scotland’s city centres because the hotels are massive tourist traps and even the so-called ‘budget’ options are a complete rip-off (in my humble opinion).

Take the UK’s main budget hotel operator – Travelodge – for example. Spend a night in June at their Edinburgh Princes Street hotel and it’ll cost you a not-inconsiderable £140 (ish) for accommodation that can be best summed up as ‘adequate’, and yet head a few miles out to the town of Livingston and you can get a similar Travelodge room for around £60.

That’s less than half price for a room that’s going to be damn-near identical.

And yes, I know in Princes Street you can roll out of bed and step straight into Edinburgh’s tourist attractions, but have you ever tried to park your car in the city centre?

It’s not something I’d recommend to a new visitor, and besides, if you stay in Livingston you can get a Scotrail train to the centre of Edinburgh in around 30 minutes at a cost of just £5-6. I know what I’d rather do when I’m on a budget.

Anyway, with that rant over I’ve included a few options below for cheap overnight accommodation in Scotland that offer a decent room at an affordable price, which aren’t quite up to Hilton standards but are a hell of a lot cheaper.

I cover the cost of food, attractions and accomodation in Scotland in my guide: How Much Does it Cost to Visit Scotland?

Tip 14: Find cheap accommodation in Glasgow

  • Euro Hostel Glasgow is located just 2.6 km from the city centre and features mixed and female-only dorms, as well as en-suite rooms if you want a bit of privacy. Prices start at just £10 per night and include free Wi-Fi.
  • The Tartan Lodge provides affordable accommodation 4 km from central Glasgow in a former church which has been converted into a collection of male and female dormitories and private rooms. A dormitory room bed can be had from just £18 per night and includes access to a social room and showers.
  • The Glasgow Youth Hostel offers rooms in a Victorian townhouse overlooking Kelvingrove Park in the city centre. There are private rooms as well as shared apartments and prices include Wi-Fi, social room and secure storage. Prices start at £13.50 for a bed in a shared room.
  • Hampton Court Guest House is a bit more up-market than a hostel but offers reasonable prices for rooms only a 20-minute walk from the SSE Hydro and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. A single en-suite can be found for only £30 (depending on the time of year).
  • Crosshill House in Glasgow features 12 budget rooms with Wi-Fi, an outdoor pool, breakfast buffet and a gym around a mile from the city centre. Standard rooms can be reserved for a very reasonable £30 per night (depending on the time of year).

Tip 15: Find cheap accommodation in Edinburgh

  • Kick-Ass Hostels in Edinburgh offer fun and friendly mixed and female-only dorms in the centre of the city with views looking out across to Edinburgh Castle. Rooms in a mixed dorm can be had for only £18 while a private twin room costs around £50 per night.
  • High Street Hostel is located less than a mile from the city centre and is the city’s original backpackers hostel. Close to all the attractions of Edinburgh, High Street Hostel features a great social room and has prices starting at £10 for a bed in a mixed dorm room.
  • Edinburgh Backpackers Hostel has over 150 beds in dormitories and double, twin and single rooms less than a mile from the city centre across four separate buildings. A basic single private room can be had for as little as £25 depending on the time of year you visit.
  • St. Christophers Edinburgh is a hostel nestled right in the heart of the Old Town and features free Wi-Fi, free breakfast and free city walking tours. There’s an on-site bar and bistro, and prices for a bed in a mixed dorm start at a reasonable £13 per night.
  • Cowgate Tourist Hostel is one of the few 2-star hostels in the city and has a selection of mixed dorms and private rooms. Located in the Cowgate area in the heart of Edinburgh, prices for a budget twin room start at around £50 for 1 night.


Well, I hope these tips have at least given you a few bits of useful information that you’ll be able to take with you when you come to visit us in Scotland, and perhaps you’ll be able to save a few pounds over what you’d originally budgeted for as well.

Travelling in Scotland on a budget isn’t easy, but at least now you’ve got a little bit of extra info that will help you save a few pounds.

That, of course, means that not only can you come back and visit us again next year, but you’ll have some extra money in your pocket to purchase some Scottish essentials while you’re here. So don’t forget to stock up on Irn-Bru and Tunnocks Tea Cakes before your next adventure! Happy travelling 🙂

Frequently Asked Questions

How much will it cost to fuel a hire car in Scotland?

The cost of fuel (as of 2020 according to the RAC website) is around £1.30 per litre of petrol and around £1.35 per litre of diesel. That means to fill up an average hatchback like a VW golf it will cost you an average £65 to £70, which would give you 400 to 500 miles of driving.

What are the main bus operators in Edinburgh and Glasgow?

The Lothian Buses network extends through Edinburgh and out to the surrounding areas. The network includes trams that provide a fast mode of transport over 14km from the airport to the city centre. Glasgow’s main bus operator is First Bus who provide a regular service throughout the city with over 100 routes to choose from.

How can I save money on Scotland’s trains?

The Trainline offers instant online ticket booking at prices that are up to 43% discount compared to buying the same ticket direct from the station. You can also save money with a Scotrail Travel Pass and by buying train tickets up to 12 weeks in advance.

What are the best walking trails to travel in Scotland on foot?

Hiking in Scotland has always been popular thanks to the incredibly beautiful landscapes that we have here, with walking trails like the West Highland Way, The John Muir Way and The Southern Upland Way being amongst the most popular routes.

Scotland sightseeing on a budget Pinterest