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How to Travel Scotland on a Budget: 35 Money-Saving Tips

The great thing about travelling to Scotland is that there is a way to go anywhere and everywhere on a budget and without breaking the bank. Even the places that are known for being a little more pricey, such as Edinburgh or Skye, can be done in a cheaper way.

However, there are some places that are cheaper than others. For instance, Glasgow as a city tends to be less expensive than Edinburgh, so it might be a good idea to seek accommodation in Glasgow and visit Edinburgh as a day trip, or perhaps spend only one night there. The same logic can be applied to visiting the islands, which can often be pricier than places on the mainland.

Much of this depends on when it is that you travel. Inevitably peak seasons will see a spike in prices of plane fairs, accommodation and even food, drink and tourist attractions. For this reason, if you are looking to save money then the best thing to do is to travel between the months of October and May, as June to September is when you could expect to see those price increases.

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Scotland on a Budget

Getting Around: Budget Transport in Scotland

Buses Instead of Trains

One unfortunate reality of travelling in Scotland is that train travel is rather expensive, and can significantly increase the cost of your trip if you do it regularly enough.

A great alternative to taking trains is to take buses instead. The best option is the budget bus company Megabus, offering tickets at a fraction of the price of a train. For even cheaper fares, book in advance on the Megabus website. This means booking a specific bus at a specific time, but cuts the price even further!

Off-Peak Trains

Booking train tickets in advance will save you a ton of money. There are different types of tickets that you can buy:

  • Advance (where you can save the most money) – With the advance tickets, you need to travel at the exact time and on the train stated on the ticket. These only go on sale 12 weeks before your intended travel date.
  • Off Peak – cheaper tickets than any time and allow you to travel any time off-peak. There may be restrictions on routes so double check beforehand.
  • Anytime – this ticket gives you the ability to travel anytime and will be the most expensive ticket available.
  • Group tickets – if there is more of you travelling and these can be cheaper than the advance ticket.

ScotRail is the official train provider for most national travel, however, some of the stream trains or trains from other parts of the UK cross into Scotland.

You can use Trainline to find the best ticket for your trip. They also have other information like live train times so you can track if there are any delays or what platform your train is leaving from.

Scotrail Travel Passes

Consider getting the spirit of Scotland travel pass which includes travel on trains, buses, coaches and ferries. 

There are two passes to choose from, four days unlimited travel over eight consecutive days or eight days unlimited travel over fifteen consecutive days. Find out more on ScotRail’s website.

RailCards

Consider getting a railcard if you’re under 30, over 60, travel as a family, travel as a couple, or have a registered disability. Railcards give 1/3 off Anytime, Off-Peak and Advance fares which are perfect if you plan on travelling Scotland by rail!

Even if you don’t live in the UK or not a British citizen you can still buy a railcard if you meet all the criteria. The best way is by buying online and downloading the digital rail app on your phone. When buying you will be provided instructions on how to do this.

If the system has an issue with your non-UK postcode then use EC1A 4HD, it’s the Rail Delivery Group’s postcode that runs the RailCards. At the payment stage, you can select your correct nationality then enter the correct postcode for your billing address.

Any other issues like invalid passport will be on the railcards website FAQ.

Once purchase you will be able to buy discounted tickets through approved suppliers like Trainline.

Subway and Local Buses

Modern-double-deck-bus-operated-by-Lothian-busses-in-the-centre-of-Edinburgh-Scotland

For travelling around local areas, there are budget options available as well.  In Glasgow, the underground will take you almost anywhere you need to go in the city, and a day pass is just £4 (5-6 US dollars), which you can use as many times as you like throughout the day.  If you need to get somewhere outside of the route of the underground, there are also excellent local train services in Glasgow that are inexpensive.

In Edinburgh, the local buses will take you anywhere in the city, and use a ‘tap in’ contactless system.  That means that if you tap your card whenever you get on a bus, you will automatically be capped at the cost of a Day Pass (£4.50) after tapping three times.  Similar to Glasgow’s underground, this means you can travel the entire city at this cost, no matter where you are going!

How to Explore Scotland Without a Car has more tips on how you can see Scotland with transport.

Local Taxi Companies

Rather than using the standard Black Cabs that can be found in all the major cities in the country, try using local taxi services instead, as they work out much cheaper.

  • Glasgow – Network Taxis
  • Edinburgh – Capital Cars
  • Aberdeen – Rainbow City Taxis
  • Dundee – Dundee Taxis

Car Hire in Scotland

Our rental car on the road with the Highlands in the background.

I always use car aggregators like Rental Car or Sky Scanner to find the cheapest cars or check my credit card for any offers for my road trips. Once I have a list of options I’ll either book the best-priced option or call those car companies to see if they can offer any other deals.

Things to watch out when booking a car:

  • Additional drivers will always drive up the price of car hire so if you are travelling with other people and wish to share the driving you can expect that to add an extra £8 to £10 a day.
  • Read the small print on whether the car company accepts third party assurance as this can save you. If you can use third party insurance then this can save you additional money if you want more coverage.
  • Where you rent the car will affect the price, normally renting within the cities like Edinburg or Glasgow can cost you more money than slightly outside of the city.

Visiting for a Month? Save on Long Term Car Rental

When I did my Great British Road Trip over the summer I used Europcar’s long rental option which gave us the car for half the price for 28 days, unlimited drivers and delivered to my door! This is a perfect way to save on the cost of renting a car and you can still get the long term hire if you’re visiting from overseas. Just pick it up at the closest location.

Here are some road trip ideas for your Scottish adventures:

Fill-up at Supermarket Petrol Stations 

Asda, Morrisons, Sainsburys, Tesco etc. will all offer cheaper petrol by some margin. If you stop at any of the petrol stations along the motorway you could easily see prices increased by 10 to 20 pence per litre! By searching for these petrol stations you’ll easily find savings.

Pre-Book Parking

Sometimes you can get better deals on parking if you pre-book. Use websites like Your Parking Space or Just Park to find any deals to save you money. I use this for when I park in cities as this is where the money adds up if your accommodation doesn’t offer cheap or free parking.

Download these apps before hitting the road; Just Park, Pay by Phone and Ring Go. They were by far the most frequent ones I encountered.

Save on Scotland Accommodation

Hotel Room in Oban

Book your Accommodation well in Advance

Affordable accommodation books out well in advance, especially if you’re visiting in the summer months. Once you’ve confirmed your dates look at booking your accommodation shortly after so you get the best deals. Having cancellation options will give you the freedom to cancel if you need to re-arrange your travel.

Stay Outside of the City Centre

The best way to find cheap accommodation is to look outside of the central areas of any given place.  Staying where other tourists tend to stay will almost always mean that there is a price increase, which can be easily avoided by researching areas a little outside of the centre of a city or town.

Airbnb

Like many other European countries, Airbnb is extremely popular in Scotland, particularly in the summer months as many Scots prefer to leave the business of the Fringe Festival and other tourist attractions, and instead rent out their home at this time.  The great thing about Airbnb is that the properties tend to be cheaper than on other booking sites which can be a huge money saver during busy times like the Edinburgh festival or Hogmanay.

Bothies

Bothies are a little known hidden gem of Scotland and make the perfect accommodation for those who love the outdoors and are travelling on a budget.  Bothies are normally situated in the Scottish mountains and require a hike to get there – some longer than others, and are a simple, basic shelter.  The great thing about bothies is that they are entirely free to stay in, making them the perfect budget travel option.

To stay in a bothy, you do need to be slightly more prepared, as they are very basic and do not have amenities.  This means bringing sleeping materials, food and water just like one would if they were camping.  Some of them even have fireplaces, so be sure to bring wood and a lighter if that is the case.  Staying in a bothy is a wonderful experience for any outdoor lover!

Find more about bothies here.

Hostels

There are many great hostel options all over Scotland which offer highly comfortable and very affordable options for accommodation on your travels.  The best thing about hostels is that they can even allow you to stay right in the centre of a popular city or town, at a fraction of the price of a hotel in those given areas.

The standard of hotels across the country also tends to be fairly consistent in terms of standards, meaning that you do not have to sacrifice your comfort in order to save money.

Student Accommodation

Some of the universities will rent out the student accommodation and this can offer a cheap way to stay in the cities. This is mainly during the uni holidays so Christmas (December, January), Easter (March, April) and summer (June, July, August, September).

  • University Rooms – Broker for handling short-term stays at many colleges and universities in the U.K.
  • Budgetstayuk – Offers accommodation for five universities in Edinburgh.

Camping

Wild Camping in Fort William

Camping offers perhaps one of the most budget-friendly ways to travel all around Scotland.  Many official campsites allow for you to stay there for as little as £5 each per night, bringing the cost in at much less than even a hostel could offer. 

Even better still, in Scotland, you can make use of the Freedom to Roam act and save a lot of money on your trip. The act means that all land is accessible to anyone in the country, which isn’t just great for walks and hikes but also for camping anywhere you like. 

Anyone camping in Scotland can pitch a tent in any non-closed off area and not pay even a penny to do so – this is, without a doubt, the most cost-effective way to see rural Scotland.

Food

Eat in pubs

A great part of Scottish culture is that almost every pub serves food as well as drinks.  This does not mean that there are simply bar snacks available, but more often than not that there will be a full menu available, often a similar sized one to an actual restaurant, with a huge selection of different starters, mains and desserts.  The great thing about this is that the meals in pubs are normally a fraction of the price of a meal in a restaurant, with main courses usually ranging from £7 to £10 on average.

Make Your Own Food

Supermarkets are a great way to save on food and I frequently create a picnic or cook my own food. The cheapest stores to purchase food at are Aldi and Lidl. Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury being your mid-range store, normally where I shop. Marks and Spencers (M&S) or Waitrose are on the high-end.

Meal deals are available at some supermarkets where you can normally pick up a sandwich, drink and crisp for £3. If you have a kitchen at your accommodation then there are also dinner meal deals options like stirfry deal or ready meals.

Tap Water = Free

Something that is important to remember in terms of saving money is that tap water is entirely free and safe to drink across Scotland, meaning that purchasing any drinking water at all is unnecessary.  Cafes, restaurants and bars will be happy to refill personal drinking bottles with tap water, and ordering it in a restaurant is also free.

Local Beer

Drinking local, Scottish beer in bars and pubs while in Scotland is by far the cheapest option when buying alcohol on your trip, and this is no bad thing.  There is a whole variety of Scottish beer to choose from and much of it is excellent.  While the prices of even local beers vary depending on where you go, you can certainly bring the price down by a couple of pounds just by choosing something local.

Here are some of the more affordable local beers to go for:

  • Tennents (a local favourite)
  • Innis and Gunn (a craft favourite)
  • WEST (for german beer lovers)
  • Brewdog (technically they are a big brewery now but they started as craft beer and originated in Scotland)

Malt of the Month

Kat drinking whisky at Tobermory

If it’s whisky you are looking to try, there is even an affordable way to do that.  As with other spirits, drinking whisky regularly can be expensive, especially when you aren’t sure what the affordable options are.

A great way around this is to opt for a Malt of the Month.  The majority of Scottish pubs, particularly the smaller ones and ones in the rural highlands, will have offers and specials where a type of whisky is less expensive than usual.  This is also a great way to try different types of whisky while you are in the famous drink’s home!

Street Food

Street food is massively popular in larger Scottish towns and cities and is a super affordable way to eat out.  Fish and chips is the best example of this, with a ‘fish supper’ coming in at around £5 normally, but there are many other types too; falafel is very popular in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as are kebabs.

Tips

It is important to remember to tip when eating out in Scotland, but it is also important not to over-tip, or tip unnecessarily if you are trying to save money.

It is customary when at a restaurant to tip 10% of what the total bill came to; it is not necessary to tip more than this. If you find that there is a service charge added to your bill then that is the tip so don’t add more to this unless you are impressed with the service.

Furthermore, in Scotland, it is not expected that you tip bartenders or delivery people – you can of course do so if you wish, but if you are trying to save money then remember it is not necessary.

Lunch Deals

If you are a foodie, and do want to eat out in restaurants while you are away, then the best way to do this on a budget is to look for lunch deals, which make eating out a far more budget-friendly option.

It is common for restaurants to offer a limited menu of two or three courses for a reduced price during certain hours of the day.  Be sure to research this before heading out to a restaurant to eat, to be sure that you are getting the best price.

Save Money On Scotland’s Tourist Attractions

Historic Scotland Explorer Pass

Historic Scotland Explorer Pass is a great way to save money on attractions. It allows groups and individuals to discover over 70 places in Scotland. For each day that a pass is valid, you can visit as many locations as you like – for no additional cost.

Historic Scotland also offer a yearly membership if you live here.

National Trust Membership

National Trust membership is perfect if you’re planning to visit a lot of the sights included within the trust. From coastlines to castles, art to architecture, wildlife to wilderness, there is something for everyone.

If you’re living in the UK then consider a yearly membership as you will get free or concessionary entry to places owned by National Trust organisations including in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Not only does this save you money at each individual place it includes parking!

Find out more about the National Trust Membership here.

Day’s Out Guide

Days Out Guide is a great way to save money on attractions in Scotland if you’re travelling there by train or hold a train ticket (i.e. London to Edinburgh). It offers 2 for 1 price for various attractions. To be able to use the deal you need to book the vouchers online or visit a rail station for the voucher (it needs to be a physical copy) and have a National Rail ticket for each person.

Walking Tours

A walking tour is a great way to get the feel of any city, from someone who lives there themselves.  A tour will normally take you around all of the key areas of the centre of a city or town, and teach you about the place’s history as well.

The great thing about walking tours is that the vast majority of them have no costs upfront and are based on tipping which means you can decide what amount fits in your budget. There are now walking tours available in every city in Scotland!

Bus Tours

Similar to the walking tours, bus tours are a great way to explore a city,  but taking a bus gives you the opportunity to see so much more!

Bus tours tend to take the structure of a one-off payment for a day ticket, which allows one to get on and off any tour bus in the city at any time based on what they would like to see.  This is great value and means that you don’t have to waste any time working out where to go!

The prices of tickets vary, but the best value tour is certainly to be found in Edinburgh, where an adult can buy a 24-hour ticket for just £8

Free Fringe

performers at Fringe Festival Edinburgh

Of course, the most inexpensive time to visit Edinburgh is in the off-season, but no one could blame you for wanting to visit the city during the Fringe Festival in August.  This is an expensive time to visit the city, but there are still ways to bring the cost down significantly.

The best way to do this is to stick to the free fringe shows as much as possible! Every time I have attended fringe these are 90% of the shows I go to! These shows are widely advertised throughout the city and are a great way to discover a huge variety of different shows and talents without paying any money for them!  Performing artists will ask for tips at the end, but it is up to you how much you want to pay them!

Do make sure that you bring change so that you can tip the performers!

Also on the first week of fringe lots of performances offer 2-4-1 tickets to warm up so it’s a great way to save some money. If there is a show you really want to see make sure you book this in advance! The biggest shows will book out months in advance, just like the accommodation.

Live Music

Live music is a huge staple of Scottish culture, and much of it remains unorganised in the sense that it still happens in bars and pubs – meaning that much of it is free.

There are lots of small music venues, especially around Glasgow and Edinburgh, that will advertise live music on different nights of the week; in Edinburgh, Leith Walk and the Old Town are the places to be, in Glasgow it’s Bath Street and Sauchiehall Street.

Even in rural Scotland, however, you can still expect to find pubs with traditional Scottish music, often on weekend evenings – if you find yourself in a small village on your travels, ask around at local pubs to find out more!

Cathedrals

For those who love history or architecture or both, Scotland has a whole wealth of cathedrals open to the public and completely free to enter.

The most popular examples are St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, situated right on the Royal Mile, or St. Mary’s Scottish Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, but a cathedral can be found in every city in the country!

Free Museums and Galleries

There are plenty of great free museums and art galleries all over Scotland, but they are especially great for making city breaks much cheaper.  Luckily, Edinburgh and Glasgow have a particularly high concentration of free attractions such as these:

Edinburgh

Museum of Edinburgh

One of the historic buildings on the Royal Mile, the Museum of Edinburgh houses a collection of pieces relating to the origin of the city, its history, and some of its most well-known legends!

The Museum of Childhood

This museum hosts a collection of children’s toys, books and games and was the first museum in the world to be dedicated specifically to the history of childhood.  The pieces date back to the 1800s.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is an art museum holding the country’s collection of portraits of all Scottish people.  Here can also be found the Scottish National Photography Collection.

The People’s Story Museum

This one tells the stories of the working-class people of Edinburgh from the late 18th century to the present day, as told through oral history and written material.

National Museum of Scotland

This museum holds collections representing the culture and histories of Scotland, as well as collections relating to science, technology, natural history and world cultures.

National Gallery of Scotland

This gallery holds Scotland’s national collection of fine art from the early renaissance to the end of the 19th century.  It is situated on the Mound in the centre of Edinburgh and is one of the city’s most popular free attractions.

Museum on the Mound

This museum focuses on money and economics, located in the Bank of Scotland Head Office building on the Mound.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

This is a part of the National Galleries of Scotland and is home to a collection of stunning pieces of modern and contemporary artwork.  It is comprised of two buildings, Modern One and Modern Two.

Glasgow

Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

This is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions and features an astounding twenty-two themed galleries and an impressive eight thousand different pieces, including Salvador Dali’s masterpiece ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’ which is the most famous piece in the gallery.

Gallery of Modern Art

This is the main gallery of contemporary art in Glasgow and it also offers temporary exhibitions and workshops too.  The gallery displays work by both local and international artists, and works to display social issues through many of its major projects.

Riverside Museum

Riverside Museum is Glasgow’s award-winning transport museum.  It hosts an amazing three thousand objects to look at – everything you could imagine, from skateboards to locomotives, to cars, to prams – there is even a Stormtrooper!  There are also over ninety touch screen panels which can be used to access more information.

St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art

This museum is dedicated to the subject of religion, one of the only of its kind worldwide, and hosts collections relating to all of the world’s major religions and also has a Zen garden.

The Tall Ship at Riverside

This is a restored Victorian sailing ship which can be explored.  It hosts maritime-themes exhibitions, tours, and a miniature cinema.

People’s Palace and Winter Gardens

This is a museum and glasshouse situated in Glasgow Green which has been open since the late 1800s.  Its purpose is to tell the story of Glasgow and its people from 1750 to the present day.

 Provand’s Lordship

A medieval historic house museum by Glasgow’s Cathedral.  It is one of the only surviving medieval buildings in Glasgow and is one of the two oldest buildings in the city.

Scotland Street School Museum

This is a museum of school education, located in a former school that was designed by Glasgow’s own Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the country’s most celebrated architects.  It now tells the story of education in Scotland over the time period of one hundred years.

The Lighthouse

This is Scotland’s centre for Design and Architecture, due to the fact that Glasgow has been named as the UK’s city of Architecture and Design.  It hosts many interesting events and exhibitions and boosts the creative industry of the city.

Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery

This museum and gallery is homed in the old buildings of the University of Glasgow and is the oldest museum in Scotland.  Inside can also be found the Mackintosh House, the Zoology Museum and the Anatomy Museum.

Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.

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