Scotland Trip Costs

We created Secret Scotland to help people plan Scotland tours that would deliver great experiences without breaking the bank.

You don’t need to be rich to have a great time in Scotland, you just need sound local knowledge to make your money go further. And that’s where we can help.

So how much is your Scotland trip going to cost if you book it all by yourself?

Here are some guidelines and money-saving tips to help you.

Flights

If you are flying from North America there are only a few Trans-Atlantic flights that take you directly to a Scottish Airport. So most North American visitors will need to make a transfer at one of the London airports.

But there is an alternative.

Have a look at flights that transit through Reykjavik Airport or the Irish airports of Shannon and Dublin.

Naturally, we can’t estimate what an airfare will cost you as there are so many variables that influence the rate you’ll pay, but the airlines that often have the best deals on these routes are Icelandair, Aer Lingus, Norwegian Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

The other thing that can save you some money on trans-Atlantic flights is to book as early as you can. In most cases, you can book a flight 11 months in advance, but we’ll need to see what happens in 2021 after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cost of Car Hire

The best way to tour Scotland is by car and there are lots of vehicle rental companies to choose from.

We favour Arnold Clark Rental as they are Scottish owned, have a large network of garages all over Scotland, and our clients always have good feedback about their service. We’ve set up a discount scheme with Arnold Clark so you can get 10% off your hire car costs when you book online using the Secret Scotland code that is in your itinerary. We don’t get anything out of this, we just like to help out Scottish businesses that do a good job.

If you are travelling as a couple with 2 large suitcases and 2 carry-on bags, you will get by fine with a small car of Vauxhall Corsa size. A manual Corsa would cost you about £30 - 35 per day.

Vauxhall Corsa - typical of the small compact class of hire car

But you may want an automatic shift. If so you will need to get something larger (the smallest Automatic models available are typically VW Golf / Kia Ceed sized). You pay a bit more as automatics are considered a luxury option in Scotland. Rates for an automatic car start at around £48 - 50 a day.

Kia Ceed - typical of the medium sized hire car which is typically the smallest Automatic car type

Travel Tip: Don’t bother with hiring a car whilst staying in Edinburgh. The city is quite compact and most of the main attractions are within walking distance or are easily reached by bus. Furthermore, City centre parking is expensive and parking spaces can be a pain to find so a car in Edinburgh can be more hassle than its worth unless you are staying outside of the city centre. In saying that, there are lots of good places that you can do as day trips by car from Edinburgh and all our tour plans detail routes you can drive as a day trip from the city.

Fuel Costs

It’s obviously hard to give a figure for this as it will depend on the miles covered, the type of car you have and the way you like to drive.

Please note, at the time of writing, June 2020, Lockdown restrictions have caused a drop in fuel prices, but we will update this webpage to reflect changes.

What you need to know is that fuel is heavily taxed in Scotland so a litre of Unleaded Petrol costs about £1.05 a litre, and Diesel costs around £1.10. Remember: a US Gallon is 3.78 litres and an Imperial gallon is 4.55 litres.

A small manual car can be expected to return around 40 miles per Imperial gallon in the mixed driving conditions you’d encounter whilst touring Scotland. So that equates to roughly 11 pence per mile for fuel costs.

A medium sized automatic would probably return a figure closer to 30 miles per gallon, which works out at about 15 pence per mile.

If you browse our Scotland Tours, you will see that we give you the mileage involved in driving the core route covered by the itinerary. That's just mileages for the route legs between stopover locations without adding on day trip and detour options. You can use this information to get an idea of what to budget for fuel costs.

Travel Tip: Fuel costs more in rural areas of Scotland. It’s great to support the petrol stations in these remote communities as they provide a vital service, but if you want to save a few pounds you’ll find that fuel is cheaper in the larger towns.

Ferry Fares:

Almost all of the ferry routes in Scotland are operated by a company called CalMac.

Calmac Ferry leaving Oban

The only major islands not served by CalMac ferries are the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Northlink Ferries sail to Orkney and Shetland. There is also a service to Orkney run by Pentland Ferries.

Calmac fares are heavily subsidised by the Scottish Government and are really not too expensive on the shorter ferry routes. They operate a simple pricing structure with different fares for winter and summer, but the price doesn’t otherwise vary.

To give you some feel for ferry fares, we’ve quoted Summer 2020 single ticket prices for the more popular ferry routes:

Route Passenger Single Fare Car Single Fare
Skye (Mallaig to Armadale) £3.10 £10.25
Mull (Oban to Craignure) £3.70 £13.75
Arran (Ardrossan to Brodick) £4.00 £15.95
Lewis (Ullapool to Stornoway) £9.75 £52.20

 

Travel Tip: Book early to avoid disappointment. CalMac and Northlink Ferries both operate online booking systems and it is wise to get your tickets booked as soon as you know your dates of travel. Some routes book up faster than others and you need to move fast if you want tickets for sailing to Lewis or Harris in the peak summer months.

Accommodation:

If you are on a budget but don’t want to compromise on comfort, we recommend you book accommodation with Bed & Breakfasts.

One of the B&B's recommended in the Secret Scotland accommodation guide.

We offer accommodation guides that feature B&Bs which we have personally visited and selected because we are confident that we can recommend their services and the hospitality of the hosts.

The B&Bs we recommend are professional businesses and you will not find yourselves in a situation where you need to feel like you are intruding in someone’s home. The guests’ rooms are separate from the owners living areas and all have their own private bathroom facilities.

Prices vary for B&Bs depending on the popularity of the location, Edinburgh and Skye being expensive places and the season. But we would advise you to budget for an average nightly room rate of £110 if travelling in the peak summer months. You can go cheaper than this, but £110 will get you a B&B that offers bedrooms of comparable standard to a 4-star hotel.
Example of the standard of bedroom to be found in a good Scottish B&B.

Travel Tip: If booking 3 nights in the same place, you should ask if there are any reductions. B&B owners will quite often be happy to knock a few pounds off for long stays (3 nights or more is considered a long stay)..

To get the best room rates, book your accommodation directly with the B&B / Guesthouse / Hotel instead of using an intermediary website like Booking.com. These websites charge commission on bookings and this often gets added onto the price of your room. 

Eating Out

Good food is important to us. In fact, it was a great meal in a remote Scottish restaurant that sparked off a conversation that led to us getting the idea for Secret Scotland.

You see, Scotland has lots of great restaurants doing brilliant food with fresh local ingredients, but these restaurants are often small places that tourists don’t find so they don’t appear in Tripadvisor or mainstream travel guides. As a result, a lot of people visit Scotland and fall into the trap of going to the touristy restaurants which make an easy living out of serving mediocre food because they have a prime location that is easily found.

For the Secret Scotland guides, we go out of our way to find the places that offer great food at reasonable prices. We’re not the sort of people that blow £60 per person on a Michelin star restaurant. Our budget is much smaller, but we appreciate good food. After all, Aury is French so her benchmark is set high.

Plate of fresh Mussels from a Scottish restaurant featured in the Secret Scotland guides

So what should you budget for food during your Scotland Tour?

Well, the first thing to realise is that a Full Scottish Breakfast at a B&B can set you up for most of the day so lunch doesn’t need to be a big affair. After a morning plate of bacon, eggs, haggis, mushrooms, tomato (and maybe some black pudding) plus several slices of toast and jam, we can make it through to dinner with just a coffee and cake for lunch.

So maybe just budget £6 - £10 per person for a lunchtime snack and a drink.

For an evening meal, you can use the following guidelines for pricing:

Starters: £4 - £8

  • £4 would get you a bowl of soup
  • £8 would be something more exotic like smoked salmon or mussels.

Main courses: £10 - £20

  • £10 - £12 : This will typically get you something simple like Haggis, Neeps & Tatties, a vegetarian dish, or Haddock & Chips.
  • £13 - £17 : This would buy you something more interesting and for this price range you might expect duck breast, salmon fillet or lamb.
  • £17 - £25 : For £17+ you can get a good steak. A seafood platter with langoustine, mussels, smoked fish scallops etc. is likely to cost you over £20.

Desserts: Typically around £5 - £6

Drinks: 

  • Glass of Wine: Small (175ml) ~£4.50 - £6 / Large (250ml...why not?) £6 - £8
  • Bottle of Wine: starting from £16
  • Pint of Beer: ~£4
  • Soft Drink: £1.50 - £2.50

So as a rough rule of thumb, we’d advise you to budget a baseline of ~£25 per person for a good 2-course dinner with a drink.

Of course, you could save money by buying take-away food, and you can expect to pay ~£7 for a very filling portion of Fish and Chips from a traditional “Chippie”. But a week of eating fish and chips is a daunting thought.

Travel Tip: If you are staying in a city or reasonably large town, you’ll often find that the restaurants do a discounted pre-theatre menu for sittings before 6pm. The pre-theatre menu will typically have fewer options, but if you don’t mind eating early it is a good way to save on the cost of dining out without compromising on the quality.

Attractions

There are simply too many variables involved in this to enable us to give you a steer on what this will cost as it depends on what you want to do and how long you have to fit it in.

Cawdor Castle - tourist attraction near Inverness

We have tried to give you some idea of admission costs with the example below of what you might visit if using our Historic Scotland itinerary for planning 7 days in Scotland.

There are, however, some deals on passes for attractions that are worth mentioning. And the most useful is the Explorer Pass from Historic Environment Scotland (HES). This organisation maintains a large number of historically important buildings and sites. A lot of the properties they manage are ruined castles, but they also look after some of the famous places that you are likely to have on your wish list. For example; Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle.

Fans of the “Outlander” TV show will also be interested to know that the filming locations of Linlithgow Palace, Blackness Castle and Doune Castle are all HES properties.

HES offers Explorer Passes that give you access to more than 70 properties in summer. They are priced according to how long the passes are valid for and they come as 3 day, 7 day and 14 day passes. The prices for an Adult Explorer pass are £33 (3 day), £40 (7 day) and £45 (14 day).

But are they worth getting?

Well if you plan to spend a week in Scotland with visits to Edinburgh, Stirling and Urquhart castle, the combined admission fees for an adult would be £45.50. So a 7 day Explorer Pass would save you £5.50 and you could enjoy lots of other castles without worrying about the entry fee.

HES also does cheaper Explorer Passes for specific regions of Scotland. We found their pass for Orkney to be particularly valuable as so many of the historical sites on Orkney are maintained by Historic Environment Scotland.

Travel Tip: If you plan to visit Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse Palace, the Royal Yacht and do a bus tour, then you should look at the 48 hour Royal Edinburgh Ticket which can save you a combined total of £7 on the admission fees at these attractions.

Example of How Much a Scotland trip might cost:

To give you some idea of what you might spend on your Scotland tour, we have taken one of our itineraries for 7 days in Scotland (in this case the Historic Scotland tour plan) and detailed how you might schedule the trip and how much you might spend on visitor attractions.

  • We are basing this on 2 adults spending 7 nights in Scotland.
  • We assume that the hire car is collected on the Morning of Day 3 and returned around 5pm on Day 7.
  • We assume that you will have pre-purchased a 7 day Explorer pass for 2 adults and we flag up the attractions that will be covered by this.

Day 1 - Arrive in Edinburgh

You may just want an easy start to your trip as you might be suffering from jet lag. So start your time in Edinburgh with a relaxed wander from the castle down the Royal Mile, but just take it easy and don’t aim to cram in too much today.

You may wish to start with a city sightseeing bus tour. These are priced at ~£16 per adult and the tickets are valid for 24 hours so hold onto your tickets for Day 2. We assume you will wish to visit Edinburgh Castle, but this is a busy attraction and we actually rate Stirling castle as a more historically interesting alternative. From the castle, you can then walk down the Royal Mille and stop for visits to Victoria Street, Greyfriars Kirk, the National Museum of Scotland and St Giles Cathedral.

Some of the possible visitor attractions on this day would be:

  • Edinburgh Castle - included in the HES Explorer Pass
  • The Museum of Scotland (Free)
  • Greyfriars Graveyard (Free)
  • St Giles (Free)

Day 2 - Explore Edinburgh

Our guides contain suggestions for day trips around Edinburgh that you can do by car, but if you are not collecting a hire car until Day 3 you can still explore a lot with public transport.

The “Majestic” hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tour costs £16 per adult and it takes you along the Royal Mile from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. After a visit to the palace, you can hop back on the bus and travel across town to Leith where the Royal Yacht Britannia is moored. By this stage of the day, you might be grateful for the chance to slow things down a bit so hop-off the Majestic bus tour at the Royal Botanic Gardens for a wander around this inner-city oasis where you can also get something to eat whilst watching the squirrels.

Alternatively, you could venture out of Edinburgh by taking the bus to Rosslyn Chapel (£9 entry fee). A visit by bus from the city centre to Rosslyn and back would take ~3 hours as it is a 45 minute bus ride and the return fare would be £3.60.

Some of the possible visitor attractions on this day would be:

  • Majestic Bus Tour (£16)
  • Palace of Holyroodhouse (£15)
  • Royal Yacht Britannia (£16.50)
  • Royal Botanic Gardens (free)

Day 3 - Collect Hire Car and drive to Pitlochry

Some of the possible visitor attractions on this day would be:

  • Dunkeld Cathedral (free)
  • The for a woodland walk to Black Linn Falls (£3 car parking)
  • Blair Athol Distillery (£10) or Edradour Distillery (£12)
  • Blair Castle (£13)
  • Drive from Blair Castle to Loch Tummel before returning to Pitlochry

Mileage for today: ~120 miles

Day 4 - Pitlochry to Inverness via Cairngorms National Park

Some of the possible visitor attractions on this day would be:

  • Highland Folk Park museum at Newtonmore (free)
  • Cawdor Castle (£12.50)
  • Culloden Battlefield (£11)
  • Fort George - included in the HES Explorer Pass

Mileage for today: ~115 miles

Day 5 - Inverness to Oban

Some of the possible visitor attractions on this day would be:

  • Urquhart Castle - included in the HES Explorer Pass
  • Glenfinnan Visitor centre - £3 for parking / access to monument is £4
  • Glen Coe Visitor centre - £4
  • Dunstaffnage Castle - included in the HES Explorer Pass

Mileage for today: ~150 miles

Day 6 - Day Trips from Oban

Our tour plan suggests lots of day trip options from Oban and you could pick from a tour around Argyll, a visit to the Lorn Islands, a day trip on the Jacobite steam train, or a day trip excursion to Mull, Iona and Staffa.

For this example, we are using the day trip to Mull, Iona and Staffa as it is one of the more expensive options at £71 per adult, but it is a very full day trip and that price includes the ferry from Oban to Mull, coach travel across Mull and the boat trips to Iona and Staffa. Admission to Iona Abbey is not included.

Day 7 - Oban to Edinburgh Airport

Some of the possible visitor attractions on this day would be:

  • Dunstaffnage Castle - included in the HES Explorer Pass
  • St Conan's Kirk - free but donations welcomed
  • Kilchurn Castle - free
  • Doune Castle - included in the HES Explorer Pass
  • Stirling Castle - included in the HES Explorer Pass

Mileage for today: ~125 miles

So for 2 adults travelling together following this outline of an itinerary for 7 days in Scotland, the costs would be:

Car Hire for 5 days = £150 - £250 (depending on the type of car)
Fuel costs for example route (~510 miles) = ~£60 to £75

Accommodation for 7 nights = ~£770 - £800
2 course Dinner for 2 for 7 nights = ~£350 - £400

2 x Explorer Pass for 7 days = £80

Admission to listed attractions for 2 adults = £216
Day Trip to Mull, Iona & Staffa for 2 adults = £142

Total for 2 adults = £1,768 to £1,963

We’ve tried to be as accurate as we can be, but there are obviously lots of variables that you need to factor in. So please realise that this is really just meant as a basic guide of what to budget for.

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