Ah, Bonnie Scotland. Famous for whiskey, tartan, Nessie the Loch Ness monster, Harry Potter, men in kilts and Outlander (so, basically men in kilts again). And you can go it alone: solo travel to Scotland should be smooth sailing.
One of the best things about Scotland is how easy it is to explore. Even a few days can give you a strong sense of the country, whether you're on a road trip or using its picturesque rail network.
This is not an in-depth guide but a quick snapshot of Scotland for those of you who know very little about this welcoming country, who are contemplating their first trip to Scotland, or, why not, their first solo trip ever.
As an English speaker (or even if you’re not), Scotland is one of the best places for a woman to travel alone.
Apart from the fact that the Scots speak English (even if the accent can be difficult to understand at times), you’ll find things like public transport and the lifestyle much like anywhere else in Europe, different enough to be interesting but similar enough to be relatively familiar.
Of course there are some places where you shouldn’t venture out alone, especially after dark. Glasgow has a poor reputation but major cities anywhere in the world have their less-than-desirable neighborhoods. Even hiking in the Scottish Highlands is considered safe for solo holidays, as long as you tell someone where you're headed. Some areas can be so remote you won't even get a phone signal.
The problem with Scotland is that there is so much to see, all of it beautiful. The good thing is that the country, because of its huge sea inlets, isn't that wide so getting from one place to another takes less time than you might think.
Here's a peek at places that are perfect for a solo Scotland trip.
There's every chance you'll start your Scottish trip in a city, whether you're arriving by train or by plane.
The capital, Edinburgh, is the country's literary heartland, the first ever UNESCO City of Literature. In fact both its Old and New Towns are on UNESCO's World Heritage List. It's the perfect jumping off point for a Scotland trip.
You can wander on your own and follow this one-day literary itinerary, or take one of the many thematic tours Edinburgh offers – Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Underground Vaults... Or why not a free walking tour, the kind that doesn't charge you anything but leaves the tip up to you?
Scotland's largest city isn't the capital, though – it's Glasgow, an hour's train ride away. The city has a thriving arts scene and great music venues, with plenty of great food and much to do. The two largest cities in Scotland are quite complementary.
There are plenty of other cities, of course, such as Dundee and Aberdeen on the East Coast or Inverness on the North Coast, the jumping off point for Loch Ness, where you too can take a stab at sighting the legendary monster! (If you're not headed there, you can still visit Loch Ness on a day trip from Edinburgh.)
Scotland is known for its stunning natural beauty, from the Highlands to the jagged seashores to the nearly 800 islands that dot its coastline. It is a paradise for hikers, climbers, birdwatchers and nature lovers of all types.
The Isle of Skye is probably the most visited, and the Orkney Islands are for lovers of prehistoric sites. From Orkney in summer you could catch a ferry to John O'Groats, a bit touristy perhaps, famous as the finishing line (or starting line!) of the Great British Walk that starts at Land's End some 1500km (874 mi) away.
Scotland has two national parks: Trossachs National Park, which includes the stunning Loch Lomond, and the Cairngorms National Park, the country's largest.
For more on what to see, here's a good Scotland guidebook.
Festivals are wonderful but there is plenty more to enjoy.
Choosing the best time to visit Scotland will depend entirely on what you’re hoping to do while you’re there.
If you want to explore the outdoors and enjoy hiking, outdoor sports, birdwatching or wildlife photography, anytime between April and October gives you a chance of better weather − although this is never guaranteed in Scotland! However, summer is also peak midge season, especially on the West Coast, which can make being outdoors miserable.
If you’ve never heard of ‘midges’, by the way, they are tiny mosquitoes with a nasty bite. They swarm around water, especially stagnant water like lakes and ponds. Sitting outside near them is almost impossible and you’ll see plenty of people wearing hats with netting (a little like a bee keeper) to keep the ‘blighters’ at bay.
If you want to ski, snow is most likely between January-March, but you can get lucky outside of these times. Scotland has the only proper ski resorts in the UK, so expect them to be busy.
And, if you want to party, Hogmanay (New Years Eve) is the time to visit. The entire country becomes one giant celebration and you’ll feel the warmth and friendliness of the Scots wherever you go.
Clearly the Scots love a good time and Scotland is famous for its festivals. Barely a week goes by without a major celebration taking place in some part of the country, and here are some of the best known?
This is festival prime time and some of the most famous include the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Military Tattoo and the international festivals of jazz, books and art. If you can make it here in August, you'll get an overdose of culture. Of course you'll also pay premium prices for accommodation!
Like many countries, the Scots celebrate the New Year with fireworks and by singing Auld Lang Syne, but there is also another tradition: being ‘first foot’ over each other’s threshold to welcome in the New Year, something which harks back to Viking times.
And while you're singing Auld Lang Syne, you might consider the poet Robert Burns, whose authorship of the song is only one of his many claims to fame.
He is so revered in Scotland that he has his own national day, 15 January. Burns Night is a great time to see experience some Scottish traditions first hand, as many places organize ‘Burns Night dinners’ with food and traditional dancing.
If you like competition and men in kilts, head to one of these! The games usually take place on weekends throughout the summer and are held in a range of locations. Sports include favourites such as the caber toss (throwing a log − yes, for real), hammer throwing, running and tug of war.
The games will also include bagpipes, traditional dancing, live music, tartan and whiskey.
All in all, it’s a brilliant event to attend. The most famous is the Braemar Gathering, which is held in the Cairngorms National Park on the first weekend in September. Members of the British Royal Family can usually be found enjoying the spectacle.
If you’re staying in one of the big cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow, you can get around just fine by public transport.
However, if you want to go off into the Highlands, visit John o’Groats or drive the NC500, you’ll be much better off with your own transport.
A car is the best option (preferably one with a roof as the weather can be changeable even in summer) but if you want a real adventure, hire a motorcycle and go motorcycle touring in Scotland. The country has some of the best driving roads in the UK, and there are so many places to stop and admire the beautiful scenery you’ll really appreciate not being on a bus or tied to a tour. Bear in mind, though, that driving in Scotland is on the left, unlike North America.
If you can’t get your own vehicle, it is possible to travel between towns and cities by train, many of which enjoy the most incredible views along their route.
If you’re planning to ride the ‘Hogwarts Express’ train, which runs from Fort William to Mallaig and is actually called the “Jacobite”, you’ll need to book well in advance as tickets sell out quickly.
Even if you are touring in your own vehicle, this train ride is worth taking, as you see some of the most incredible places in Scotland. It was named one of the best train journeys in the world by Condé Nast.
Scotland is also famous for two types of food. The first is its incredibly fresh fish and seafood – Scottish salmon, anyone?
The second is its slightly quirkier fare and local specialties, like these:
Scottish people are famous for their hospitality. Wherever you choose to stay, you’ll be greeted with a friendly smile and made to feel very welcome.
You'll find the entire range of accommodations in Scotland, from the most luxurious of hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts. You could even rend a cabin out in the wilderness and spend your nights gazing at the Milky Way!
That said, hotels in major cities can be expensive, especially in Edinburgh. Even worse, prices can almost double over New Year and during the festivals. If you’re visiting during those times, you might prefer to stay just outside the city and take public transport in.
But outside these cities, prices are fairly reasonable and in-line with the rest of the UK.
Budget: Old Waverley Hotel (many rooms have incredible views of Edinburgh Castle)
Mid-Range: The Bonham (every room has a city view)
Luxury: Balmoral Hotel (with a Michelin starred restaurant)
Before you visit, here are some more things you should know about solo travel to Scotland.
I hope that all this helps you have an amazing trip to Scotland- you won’t regret it.
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Kathryn Bird never planned to get her own motorcycle. She certainly never planned to quit her job and set off to explore the world. She has visited 17 countries and driven nearly 30,000 miles (not including the times she was lost), passionate about inspiring others to experience the freedom of travel. Read more about Kathryn’s adventures, tips and ‘How to’ guides at bikergirllife.com, and follow her on social media on YouTube, Instagram or Facebook.