A Solo Traveller’s Guide to Scotland

Quiraing, on the Isle of Skye, is home to some of the most dramatic vistas in Scotland
Quiraing, on the Isle of Skye, is home to some of the most dramatic vistas in Scotland | © Matjaz Corel / Alamy Stock Photo
Alexis James

Scotland may border England to its south, but this is a land with its own proud history, culture and heritage. That indie spirit sets it up perfectly for solo travellers who can set off on hikes in the wild, kayaking trips around the coast and dram-sinking stops at local distilleries, safe in the knowledge that travelling alone in Scotland allows you to expierence more fully the warmth of its hospitable locals. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s all bagpipes and haggis, mind: not when there’s snowboarding, seal-spotting and live comedy to be had, too.

What’s the vibe?

Easy to get around and with an eclectic variety of activities, Scotland is the ideal destination for solo travellers. The weather may not always be warm and welcoming, but the vibe certainly is – and some of the beaches, especially on Scotland’s islands, will make you think you’re in the Caribbean when you do catch a good day. Nothing in Scotland is off-limits, thanks to the Land Reform Act, which permits the right to roam and gives access to most land and water for recreational activities – and wild camping. Just make sure you bring a sense of adventure.

A Scotland solo trip overview

Seilebost, on the isle of Harris, is renowned for its clear waters

To explore everything Scotland has up its sleeve, blend city and countryside pursuits. Maybe bookend your trip with the country’s two biggest cities, starting in Edinburgh and finishing in Glasgow. In between, you’ll be able to head up through the Cairngorms National Park towards Inverness and the Scottish Highlands. Then head west towards the Hebrides, where Scotland’s beautiful islands bewitch and beguile with white-sand beaches and waters that wouldn’t look out of place somewhere altogether warmer. On your return south, adventurers should stop off at Fort William where the country’s largest mountain, Ben Nevis, awaits. As do white-knuckle escapades including rafting, climbing and mountain biking. If you’ve still time to spare before you arrive in Glasgow, head to Loch Lomond, home of red deer and golden eagles.

Where to stay in Scotland as a solo traveller

Sunrise is all the more intense in Glencoe, part of the Scottish Highlands

Scotland has a wide selection of hostels, both in its cities and also in its outer reaches. Dorm rooms provide the best value for money, while hostels often arrange tours and activities at knock-down prices. They’re also the best way to meet fellow travellers. If you have the desire and budget for something a little more upmarket, you’ll find charismatic guest houses and B&Bs happy to put you up in your own room, along with quirkier stays including luxury-camping sites like those found in Glencoe.

But beware of the midges from May until September. These minuscule flying beasts can be a menace in rural areas once the sun has set, so make sure you pack suitable insect repellent and wear clothes that cover.

What to do in Scotland as a solo traveller

You’ll not go wanting in Scotland, with an array of activities and cultural sites that will have your itinerary bursting regardless of the length of your stay. Whether you want to party in the country’s sophisticated and cosmopolitan capital Edinburgh, or would rather head to its rugged hinterlands for whiskey and capers, Scotland has it all in easy reach.

Visit the capital

The Edinburgh skyline is packed with centuries of rich history

No trip to Scotland is complete without a visit to its beautiful capital city. History and culture infuse Edinburgh’s every street, with both its old and new towns boasting Unesco-listed status. Its nightlife is a blast at any time, but the party really ramps up a notch twice a year. In August, the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival welcomes performers from all over the world, with crowds enjoying thousands of art, music and comedy performances in hundreds of different venues, over a month-long stint. Then on New Year’s Eve, the city’s Hogmanay celebrations see in the New Year to a celebratory soundtrack of bagpipes and fireworks.

Enjoy a dram or two

The Bowmore whisky distillery is a must-visit for connoisseurs visiting the Inner Hebrides

Scotland’s single malts are among the country’s favourite exported goods and a trip to see exactly how they’re made is popular, not only for a wee dram. The Whisky Coast, just off the Western Highlands, features stunningly isolated landscapes of jagged cliffs and fertile shores. A typical tour will include top distilleries in Islay, Oban and Bowmore.

Go dog sledding in the Highlands

Sled dogs are a common sight during winter in Glenmore Forest

The beautiful Glencoe Mountain Resort, carved out by volcanic explosions many moons ago, is a haven for winter sports. On Culture Trip’s Scottish Winter Wonderland adventure, you’ll visit Scotland’s oldest ski centre to try out snowshoeing, snowboarding and even dog sledding. Experienced skiers will be able to try “the Flypaper”, the UK’s steepest black run. The chair lifts continue to run into the summer, as the mountain’s winding descents transform into mountain-biking routes. On brisk and clear winter evenings, you might even get a glimpse of the Northern Lights from here.

Eat and drink in Scotland

Haggis, neeps and tatties is a traditional Scottish dish eaten on Burns Night

No conversation about Scottish food can be had without mentioning haggis, featuring sheep offal encased in the animal’s stomach. While Scotland’s reputation for having an overfamiliarity with battered foods is a tad unfair, combining the two traditions is actually a thing. Battered haggis may not sound like a party on a plate but when it’s combined with salt-and-vinegar-lashed chips and served in newspaper from the chippy, it’s a surprisingly delicious treat. Especially as a takeout supper following a night in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket on the Tennent’s ales.

Surrounded by water on three sides and with more than 30,000 freshwater lochs brimming with life, Scotland’s seafood – including lobster, mussels, oysters and fresh Atlantic salmon – is also not to be missed.

Getting around Scotland solo

The Jacobite steam train crosses the Glen Mama viaduct amid green hills

Going green? The flight-free Caledonian Sleeper connects London with various Scottish cities, with a choice of seats and smart cabin-style beds. If arriving by air, Glasgow and Edinburgh are among the airports offering international connections, while another dozen smaller hubs offer domestic links.

Once there, the comprehensive ScotRail network makes it easy to get around Scotland without a car, with rail links even going as far north as John O’Groats, with some spectacular scenery en route. But, as with the rest of the UK, prices can be expensive if purchased last minute, so advanced booking is advised.

Harry Potter fans may also be interested in taking the Jacobite steam train from Fort William to Malaig, which fans will recognise as the Hogwarts Express. Scotland also has a number of charming ferry routes to its famed islands in the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland.

Stay safe, stay happy

Stac Pollaidh looks towards Loch Lurgainn, Sgorr Tuath and Beinn an Eoin beyond

Scotland is a very safe and inclusive nation, including for solo female travellers. In recent years, it has even topped the Rainbow Index as the best country in Europe for LGBT+ rights. Where visitors should be vigilant is when hiking in the remote Highlands. Conditions can change quickly and phone signal is often non-existent, so solo hikers should ensure they have the right equipment, consult the weather forecast and inform others before setting off. Alternatively, join a small-group tour for added safety and security.

Cultural need-to-knows

Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven offers a taste of classic Highland coastal scenery

The Scottish people are notoriously friendly and chatty – and the best place to strike up a conversation with a local is usually in the pub. After a couple of drinks, you’ll find patrons happy to offer tips on the best places to see and visit, and there’s every chance they’ll be interested to learn about your travel plans. With a great sense of humour, the Scottish aren’t easily offended, but you should still tread carefully discussing potentially divisive subjects like politics, religion and – especially in Glasgow – football.

Travelling alone doesn’t have to be lonely. Join Culture Trip’s four-day adventure to Glencoe, or the seven-day island-hopping trip through the Hebrides, joined by a Local Insider, in the company of like-minded travellers.

This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Tori Chalmers.

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