So you’re planning a trip to Scotland! Congratulations! The planning stages are always so exciting, but can also be overwhelming. We created this Scotland trip planner to help you get started and stay organized. If it’s your first trip to Scotland, this guide will be a huge help to get you started.
We’ve done Scotland trip planning for hundreds of clients and for ourselves over the last ten years, after spending time living in the southeast of Scotland. In recent years we couldn’t keep up with the demand that clients had, so we created this guide to help those who we couldn’t personally help. This will walk you through planning your own trip to Scotland and help you stay on track, making sure you’re not missing anything important.
Enjoy planning a trip to Scotland with ease and fun!
Use a Scotland Travel Planner
If you need a good way to stay organized while planning your trip to Scotland, you can download our free Scotland Travel Planner.
Decide When to Visit Scotland
The first step is deciding when to visit Scotland. This will depend on your own personal schedule and budget, but there are a lot of things to take into consideration.
When is the best time to visit Scotland?
Winter – Winter is a very affordable time to take an Scotland trip. Flights and accommodations will both cost less. You will also be battling fewer crowds during your time there. If you’re planning a trip to Scotland in winter, the weather can be unpredictable, so keep that in mind. But the weather can also be unpredictable year-round. So I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad time to go to Scotland.
Spring – Spring is a great time to plan your trip to Scotland. Prices are still cheaper than in the summer and the weather is usually warmer, however, can still be unpredictable with the rainy season.
Summer – Summer is definitely peak season and the most popular month to plan a trip to Scotland. You’ll find the warmest weather and the most crowds during this time. It’s also the most expensive time to visit. If you’re looking for a budget trip to Scotland, you may want to avoid the summer season.
Fall – Fall is another great time to plan your trip to Scotland. Like the spring you’ll see fewer crowds, but also less rain. As many tourists are back at school and work during the beginning of the fall, it’s generally a good weather time to go and avoid crowds. September is honesty my favorite time to be there.
Think About What Kind of Trip to Scotland You Want & Do Some Inspiration Browsing
Before you really start getting into the nitty-gritty of planning a trip to Scotland, consider whey kind of trip you really want to take.
Why are you taking this trip? Is it a vacation where you want to prioritize relaxation? Is it a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Scotland where you want to prioritize seeing as much as possible, famous attractions and iconic sites? Do you want to stay in the city center and do a day trip in each location? Do you want to focus on a small group tour or private tours? Is it a romantic trip with your significant other? Is it to connect with your Scottish heritage?
Really think about these questions and what the answers are. Spend some time browsing Facebook Groups, Pinterest, and Instagram and exploring ideas and places. Did you know that we have a Scotland Planning Facebook Group?
Figure Out Your Budget
After you’ve done the fun part of planning your Scotland trip, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and really figure out what kind of trip you can afford. So many people ask us how much a trip to Scotland will cost.
This is such a subjective question that it is nearly impossible to answer. When you plan a vacation to Scotland, determining factors for the cost of your trip are how flexible your schedule is, what kind of accommodations you prefer, how often you like to eat out, where you want to visit, what kind of transportation you prefer, etc. As you can see, it’s a very personal decision.
Again, our Scotland Travel Planner will help you figure that out…
Check Logistics for Entering Scotland
In your next step in planning a trip to Scotland, be sure to check that you can legally enter Scotland and that there are no extra steps that need to be taken. Most people living in the USA, Canada, the UK, and Australia won’t need a visa to visit Scotland for up to 6 months. The UK is not part of the Schengen Zone or the EU (after Brexit), and has its own 6 month rule separate from the Schengen.
Scotland has essentially dropped all other requirements regarding the word which shall not be named, so you’re good in that regard.
Decide Where to Go in Scotland
What to visit in Scotland is tough to figure out. At this point in your trip planning process, it’s time to decide where you want to go in Scotland. This can be one of the most difficult decisions to make while planning.
Scotland is not really that big, but it packs in a whole lot into a small piece of land. Where you go will depend on your preference, budget, time of year, and length of your trip. Besides the most popular cities in Scotland, consider visiting some lesser-known places as well. You may want to go all over the country or stick to one or two regions or just take day trips from Edinburgh.
Figure out Your Itinerary
Once you’ve figured out where you want to visit in Scotland, it’s time to nail down your specific itinerary. Make sure you’re not overscheduling yourself. Leave plenty of time to wander and relax, even if you’re packing in the destinations. If you’re struggling to pick an Scotland itinerary, try looking at this Scotland Itinerary we’ve created.
Book Your Flights
Once you’ve figured out your itinerary and know where you want to begin and end your trip, it’s time to start looking at flights. We recommend setting a travel alert on your favorite flight search engines like Hopper, Google Flights, Kayak, or Skyscanner. Read more of our tips for finding cheap flights.
You’ll most likely want to fly into one of the major airports in Scotland. The most affordable International airport to fly into is usually Edinburgh and sometimes Glasgow. If you’re flying into Scotland from Europe, you may want to check smaller airports like Aberdeen or Inverness, since budget airlines tend to fly into those more often and at a lower price.
Purchase Travel Insurance
In these uncertain times, it’s never been more crucial to have travel insurance. You just never know. We highly recommend getting it as soon as you book your flights.
Book Your Accommodations
Once your flights are booked and your itinerary is pinned down, it’s time to start booking your accommodations for your trip to Scotland. We recommend only booking hotels on official booking sites that offer full refunds, which is almost every hotel these days. But always remember to read the fine print.
I find the best way to search for hotels, houses and apartments in Scotland is to use Expedia. It allows you to search not only hotels, but also home rentals, similar to Airbnb, but better because of the great cancellation policies and customer support that booking offers. Other sites we like to use are and Hotels.com or Booking.com.
For home rentals, we always use VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner). We used to use Airbnb, but their fees have just gotten crazy and their customer service is just bad!
Book Tours and Activities
Once your accommodations are booked, you’ll want to start looking at activities, tours, and cooking classes. We love booking local tours that really elevate your time in Scotland and make it more meaningful. Some of our favorite tour companies to book through are Get Your Guide and Viator Scotland Tours.
Package Tours in Scotland
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the tours and options in Scotland, you can always book package tours in Scotland. These can be a great way to explore areas without stress. If you’re organizing a large group or a family reunion in Scotland, these can also be great options if you’re not up for planning a trip to Scotland all on your own.
These companies take care of most of the logistics. Just be sure to read recent reviews and have all your questions answered before booking. Always check refund or rescheduling policies.
Book Your Transportation
Now that your tours, activities, and classes are booked, you can move on to booking your transportation within Scotland. Depending on where you’re going, you’ll need to decide whether you’re going to travel by train, bus, rent a car, or hire a driver. If you’re traveling between major cities in Scotland, the rail system will be the best choice. If you’re venturing out of the city centers and heading to the countryside, smaller towns, or the coast, you may want to consider renting a car.
Make a Food Bucket List and Make Dinner Reservations Where Necessary
Scotland may not be known for their food, but it might just surprise you. The country has really gone through a food revolution in the past decade, and you’ll find a huge amount of great local Scottish restaurants and pubs, but also a really good variety in handcrafted farm-to-table options, as well as international food all over the island. Don’t forget to try haggis while you’re there. It’s better than you might think! A Scotch egg is always a must for me too!
Planning a trip to Scotland would not be complete without planning some time and money for food. If you’re a real foodie, take as many food tours and cooking classes as you’re able to fit in and afford. It will make your trip to Scotland so much more meaningful and fun!
If you’re eating at any restaurants in the popular cities of Scotland, we recommend making as many dinner reservations as possible. You don’t want to schedule every night. Allow room for exploration and spontaneity, but it will alleviate some stress if you can book places ahead.
Make a Packing List & Shop for Supplies
Once you’re done with the bulk of your Scotland trip planning, it’s time to make a packing list and shop for any items you may need before your trip. What you need will depend largely on the tie of year you take your Scotland trip and what season you visit. This Scotland packing list will help you find all the things you need.
Make Last Minute Preparations
Planning a trip to Scotland should be done one year to six months in advance, but there are a few things that need to wait until just before you leave.
If you’re planning to use international data during your trip to Scotland, you’ll need to contact your cellular phone provider, plan on purchasing an international SIM card on arrival, or use a portable WiFi Device. We use this one.
Contact Credit Card Companies
Before you visit Scotland, be sure to contact your bank and your credit card company to let them know that you’re traveling abroad. If you’re looking for a great international credit card, we love our Amex Platinum card. It offers so many benefits, including airport lounge access, Global Entry, TSA Pre Check, Airline Credit, Clear, rental car insurance, and more!
Sign up for STEP
Before your Scotland trip, sign up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). This is run by the State Department and is a free service that allows US Citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest embassy. This is important if there is a national emergency or if something should happen to you during your trip. You can receive alerts from the nearest embassy, input emergency contact information, and be accessible during an emergency. We have many friends who work at embassies and they agree that this is the most important step (see what we did there?) when planning a trip to Scotland.
Plan for Spontaneity
Learning how to plan a trip to Scotland is great, but be sure to leave room in your Scotland itinerary for fun and spontaneity. Leave time to get lost, make new friends, have fun, and explore Scotland like a local. Plan on something going wrong at least once during your trip! We always say “it’s either a good time or a good story.” Hopefully, your Scotland trip is both! Happy planning!
I hope this Scotland travel planner has been a helpful tool to you and that you’re able to stay organized and plan a trip to Scotland efficiently. And remember to download our Scotland Travel Planner for free below!