I’ve just returned from the most wonderful solo trip to Scotland, and it was absolutely incredible. Scotland absolutely took my breath away and the Highlands stole a piece of my heart. I hadn’t had high expectations but wow, the beauty of this country truly left me spellbound. The trip was surprisingly easy to do as a solo traveller on a budget and so this blog is to share exactly how I did it! Read on for my complete guide on how to do a 10 Scotland Road Trip as a solo female with no car, on a budget.
To be honest travelling to the UK was never really on my radar for anytime soon. A trip to the UK always felt too expensive, too tricky with the visa as a South African passport holder and the grey weather never really came out tops when compared to the sunshine of a tropical island. It was a place I was keen to visit but a trip I’d bagged for my older years when I could no longer backpack and had a bit more cash. However, this year saw me taking a work trip to London and I knew this was my opportunity to explore what Great Britain had to offer. The queen of Making-The-Most-of-Every-Situation, I decided to maximise the already paid for air ticket and visa by exploring more of the UK while I was over. I decided to take leave after the work trip to spend some time exploring London and then do a solo trip to Scotland. Read my London: Complete Guide for First Time Visitors here. I really enjoyed everything London had to offer and had some really fun experiences in this vibrant city. But Scotland was the real highlight for me.
The UK is a notoriously expensive travel destination. And while it wasn’t as cheap as a South East Asia backpacking trip, it was much more affordable than I thought it would be. There are a few budget-savvy decisions you can make on your 10 day Scotland Road Trip that will ensure your bank balance doesn’t weep.
Eating out in the UK is exorbitantly expensive. You can expect to pay around £15 for a sit-down dinner and as much as £10 for a cocktail. However, meal deals for lunch and self-catering dinners are very affordable. My advice would be to ensure your accommodation is self-catering (Hostelling Scotland hostels all have very well-equipped big kitchens) so that you can cook the majority of your dinners yourself. I bought a box of instant oats sachets (£3 for 10) for my breakfasts, often got Tesco or Co-op meal deals for lunch (£3 for a main meal, snack and drink) and then cooked simple dinners like pasta or potatoes, veg and fish cakes costing around £4-5 for a meal. So it is definitely possible to eat for under £10 a day if you’re really budgeting.
It is surprisingly affordable and easy to travel Scotland on the public transport system. When I originally had the idea to do this trip, I was worried it would be very difficult/compromised if I didn’t hire a car and drive myself. Car hire is just so expensive though and I didn’t feel comfortable driving around in a foreign country alone so that wasn’t really an option for me.
Upon investigation it turned out that Scotland’s CityLink bus system is incredibly well-connected taking you to some of the most remote locations of the country. It also turned out that while single tickets can start to add up, CityLink has a really nifty Explorer Pass option which can cut your travel costs hugely! I got the 3-day Explorer Pass which allows you 3 days of unlimited travel on the CityLink bus system within 5 consecutive days. This cost me £52 for ALL my long-distance transport (single tickets were due to cost over £120). They also have 5- and 7-day options available.
To purchase the CityLink Explorer Pass, go to the CityLink website and chose the Buy Explorer Pass option from the drop-down menu. This will then take you to a page which allows you to choose which day option you want and specify the date duration. You can then reserve seats on your buses (advisable) by choosing the ‘Redeem Explorer Pass’ option from the drop-down menu and entering your Explorer Pass number (when this is first sent to you please write it down! Thankfully I booked my tickets in the same sitting but later really struggled to locate my pass number as it isn’t written on your physical pass and I couldn’t find it in any of the email correspondence later). You will need to get the physical pass delivered to you so either get it delivered to friends/family in the UK or ensure you order it long enough in advance if it needs to reach you overseas. The buses are really great and I only had one issue with a delay when one of the buses broke down – life happens!
HOSTELLING SCOTLAND, I repeat, Hostelling Scotland! This is the most incredible network of hostels in the most beautiful locations across Scotland. The organisation’s aim is to provide affordable accommodation, primarily for youth, in the most beautiful locations across Scotland. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these hostels where the best I’ve ever stayed in – and I spent my gap year travelling around Europe staying in around 30 different hostels! They just didn’t really feel like hostels. They were located in the most gorgeous locations, in beautiful buildings/cabins and had some lovely open common areas, spacious kitchens and cosy dorm rooms. It felt more like a house-share vibe than a hostel. It may also be that I’ve never really stayed in hostels in the countryside before, only in big city hostels, but everyone staying in the hostels was so wholesome. The kind of people looking for nature and adventure, rather than a 3am party. This just made the hostel experience so much more pleasant as the nature of the occupants was much more considerate. Another great aspect was that the hostels felt incredibly inclusive. There were guests of all ages and plenty of Scottish locals staying too. On average I paid £25 per night for a bed in a female only dorm with 4-6 beds. Travelling during off season meant it was often only me and one other person in the dorm. In Europe in 2016 I was paying about €25 a night so with inflation considered I think that’s pretty good going. Again, it’s not the dirt cheap R150pp Bali villa prices but it’s not absolutely outrageous.
I flew in from Gatwick London to Edinburgh and out of Glasgow. I used easyJet and they had plenty of really affordable flights. You can also train up to Scotland from London but this tends to be more pricey than flying.
If it’s your first-time visiting Scotland, then this itinerary will give you a really good overview of the country. I absolutely adored everything I did on my trip and am happy with the amount I covered. If you’ve got more time for a more extensive trip I have heard that the island of Iona and the Isle of Aaron are really lovely too. The best Scotland inspiration has to be The Chaotic Scot so be sure to consult her blog if you’re planning a more extensive trip.
Day 1-3 Edinburgh (3 nights)
I really loved Edinburgh. This is every Harry Potter fan’s dream city. There are so many Harry Potter filming locations in the city that you can’t help but feel you’re stepped into Hogwarts or Diagon Alley.
Where to stay in Edinburgh?
I stayed at the CoDE Pod – The CoURT – Edinburgh Hostel. It is located in the heart of the Old Town in an old building that used to function as a holding centre for prisoners awaiting trial at the court. Filled with plenty of stories, the hostel has held onto this theme and is really well done. It was wonderfully central, affordable and a comfy bed to sleep in.
What to do in Edinburgh
Hike Arthur’s Seat
Arthur’s Seat is an absolute must while in Edinburgh! I originally thought I wouldn’t have enough time to do the hike but managed to squeeze it in and it was one of my absolute highlights of Edinburgh. To do the hike you can walk down to the bottom of the Royal Mile and will find the trail head located in the Holyrood Park. The hike is about 3.5km there and back which will take you just over an hour and the path is easy to find and follow. It is a bit of a steep climb up so you’re going to want proper walking shoes and a windbreaker for the top. I absolutely loved the hike and the crisp air and rolling green hills really made me feel like I was in Scotland!
Visit some Harry Potter Filming locations
J.K. Rowling is said to have spent a great deal of her timing writing the Harry Potter books while in Edinburgh. The Elephant House was one of her preferred cafes for writing and it’s not hard to see why people think Victoria Street inspired her depiction of Diagon Alley. Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh’s cemetry was a popular place for J.K. Rowling to gather names for characters in her books and you can see Tom Riddle’s grave if you visit. If you’re a Harry Potter fan you definitely need to add these locations to your Edinburgh must-see list or join one of the many Harry Potter walking tours. There are also plenty of Harry Potter stores with authentic merch which are worth a visit. One is allegedly an old broomstick shop that inspired Ollivanders.
Explore the Stockbridge area
The Stockbridge area of Edinburgh is located just outside the New Town area. It is easily within walking distance though and worth the visit! Pop Circus Lane into your maps and stroll on over. After you’ve explored this pretty street wander over to The Pantry for the most deluxe brunch! The eggs benny get a 10/10 from me.
View Edinburgh castle
The Edinburgh Castle stands proud over the city and there are plenty of places to view it from. Princes Street Gardens (autumn leaves foreground) and Grassmarket (purple wisteria foreground) both offer lovely vantages of the Castle.
The Royal Mile is the main street running through the heart of Old Town Edinburgh. It is lined with plenty of tourist shops, restaurants and local artsy stores. You’ll walk down this street to get to Arthur’s Seat. It has some lovely foodie spots including The Edinburgh Larder, Moo Pie Gelato (deluxe roasted marshmellow hot chocolates and gelato), and Oink which does the most divine hog roast rolls.
Day 4,5 Glencoe, Scottish Highlands (2 nights)
The Highlands STOLE MY HEART. I didn’t expect to love the Scottish Highlands this much but it was the absolute highlight of my 10 day Scotland Road Trip!
Where to stay in Glencoe?
You need to stay in Glencoe for the most wonderful and authentic Scottish Highlands experience. I stayed at the Glencoe Youth Hostel which was an absolute gem. It is the most gorgeous mountain cabin with a few cosy dorm rooms and a common area which gave all the retro ski cabin vibes. To get here you can take a direct 3 hour bus with CityLink from Edinburgh. Tell the bus driver you are staying at the hostel and they will drop you at the road you need to walk down to get to the hostel. It is a 2.5km walk down this road but you might be able to grab a lift from someone staying at the Clachaig Inn. There are no shops close by so make sure you stock up on supplies in Edinburgh. You can also order packed lunches from the hostel but this needs to be done in advance. The packed lunches are really cute with sandwiches, fruit, water, crisps and some sweet treats- the perfect hiking packed lunch!
What to do in Glencoe
Hike Pap of Glencoe
You come to Glencoe to hike and spend time in the mountains. And if you’re keen to do a substantial hike while in Glencoe then I’d highly recommend the Pap of Glencoe. The start of the trail is a short distance down the road from the hostel making it a perfectly accessible hike if you’re travelling without a car. I’m not going to try explain the details of the hike as Walk Highlands have already done a stellar job (their guides are the go-to for any hikes in the area), but the hike is 7km (although my watch said a few more) and will take you 3.5 – 5 hours depending on your fitness level. It is a toughie so be prepared with proper shoes and plenty of water.
Signal Rock & An Torr Walk
This is a lovely 2.5km walk through the most gorgeous wood in Glencoe. Coming from the hostel you’ll walk down toward the Clachaig Inn and turn right down the path there. At the wooden bridge turn right and walk up and through the deer gate. From then on you can follow the Walk Highlands instructions. It is a lovely easy forested walk with the most beautiful scenary. I did this walk in the late afternoon after I’d arrived and it was so wonderful.
Go for a swim at Glen Etive
This one is only going to be possible if you’ve got a car or if like me, you make friends with someone at your hostel who has a car. The Glen Etive road is apparently one of the Skyfall movie film locations and is honestly so breathtaking! The road follows a river and if you drive along you will eventually find a pool with a waterfall that is a stunning spot for wild swimming. It is absolutely freezing but such a thrill to swim in the fresh Scottish Highlands mountain water.
Day 6,7 Isle of Skye (2 nights)
After a glorious 2 days in the Highlands it’s time to make you way to Isle of Skye. Isle of Skye has to be one of the most beautiful places in Scotland and is on many people’s global bucket lists for good reason.
Where to stay in Isle of Skye?
You’re going to want to stay in Portree as this is the town closest to all the amazing photographic locations on Isle of Skye and where most tours depart from. I stayed at the Portree Youth Hostel which was amazing! It is located right on the water with the most gorgeous views from the common area and is 50 metres from the Somerled Square which is where you bus will arrive and also where most Isle of Skye Tours depart from. the hostel is 300m from the co-op shop and there are plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance. To get here there is a direct 7 hour bus from Glencoe to Portree.
What to do in Isle of Skye?
My number one recommendation for Isle of Skye is to do a full day tour. Exploring Skye without a car is near impossible (although there were a few people staying at the hostel who were doing it using the public bus plus some hitchhiking). The best way to maximise your time and see all the hot spots is by going on a full day tour. The tour I did was with Skye Minibus Tours and it was a lovely small group. Our guide was such fun and filled with plenty of Scottish folklore and history. I find a tour is also always a great way to get a good amount of history in from a local. The tour was the best way to see all the sites in a short space of time.
The tour costs are:
Child 5 to 16 £49
The following spots were all stops on my full day tour with Skye Minibus Tours.
This is a dramatic waterfall pouring over a cliff face into the ocean. Incredible!
Old Man of Storr
Unfortunately, the mist was too heavy for us to see Old Man of Storr but it is the most iconic view.
This is a gorgeous mountainous area on the Isle of Skye. If you’re here on your own steam then I would recommend doing the 7km Quiraing circuit hike.
The Fairy Glen was one of my favourite spots on Skye. This magical glen is so lush and green and filled with a number of stepped rocky towers which have been formed up from the earth and folklore says these towers are where the fairies live. The tallest tower, Castle Ewan, is said to be the residence of the Fairy Queen. In the middle there is a stone spiral which if you take a pebble and walk around the spiral, place it in the centre and then walk out backwards while making a wish, your wish will come true. It is truly a magical spot.
Neist Point Lighthouse
This has to be one of the most beautiful locations on the Isle of Skye! This is a gorgeously green peninsula on the Westerly tip of the island. At the end of the peninsula is a lighthouse set against the backdrop of the Western Atlantic Ocean. The coastline is dramatic and stunning. The best view point is a short walk to the right of the parking lot where you can get the iconic shot of the lighthouse. There is a path all the way down to the lighthouse so you can also walk down to the lighthouse if you wish.
The final stop on our tour was Fairy Pools. This is a stunning collection of waterfalls, fresh water pools and rivers nestled in a beautiful glen. On the day I was there it had rained a lot and the pools were overflowing. It was a bit of a wet walk up but just felt like the most authentic wet and wild Scottish outdoorsy experience. Some brave people bring their cossies along and go for an icy wild swim in the pools.
Scorrybreac Circuit Hike
My final Isle of Skye recommendation was not part of the tour but a really lovely addition to your Isle of Skye itinerary if you’ve got a morning or late afternoon free. The start of the hike is a short walk from central Portree and the trail follows a 3km loop along the coastline. It’s a really gorgeous and accessible walk and well worth popping on your Isle of Skye to-do list.
Day 8, 9 Glasgow (2 nights)
I was really pleasantly surprised by Glasgow. I had included it in my itinerary because it made sense to fly out of there as I had already spent time in Edinburgh and there were direct buses from Portree in Isle of Skye to Glasgow. I hadn’t had high expectations for the city but ended up finding some real gems and really enjoying the experience!
Where to stay in Glasgow?
My number one piece of advice for Glasgow is to skip the city centre and focus your time on the West End. The Glasgow Youth Hostel is located in the West End and it can be tempting to rather look for a more ‘centrally located’ hostel but staying in the West End was one of the best decisions I made! There are so many lovely restaurants, parks, theatres, the Glasgow University (which looks just like Hogwarts!) and an abundance of cool thrift stores located in the West End. The city centre on the other hand is pretty grungy, and feels a bit unsafe, with the only noteworthy spots being the Singl-End cafe in Garnet Hill and the amazing street art (which are both well worth the visit!).
What to do in Glasgow?
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum is located within the Kelvingrove Park and the building itself is a work of art. Entrance is free making this spot well worth the visit! They have so many amazing pieces including work from Van Gogh and Monet.
Walk through Glasgow Univercity Campus
The Glasgow University Campus looks just like Hogwarts (although surprisingly no scenes have ever been filmed here). Take a stroll through the grounds on your way to the heart of the West End.
Go Thrift Shopping in Ashton Lane, Byres Road and De Courcy’s Arcade
This area of Glasgow is really lovely. There are so many bars, restaurants, thrift shops and artsy shops.
Have lunch at Chaakoo
Curry in Glasgow is an absolute must and Glasgow is allegedly the birthplace of the chicken tikka masala curry, created by the Ali family for the Scotts to suit their milder taste buds. Chaakoo is a restaurant in the West End which strives to keep the authentic feel and style of Indian cooking as similar as possible to the original Bombay Cafés. The restaurant is decorated beautifully, the chai masala is out of this world and the curries are delish! Top tip – come for lunch and choose from a number of brilliant lunch specials.
Visit the Glasgow Botantic Gardens
This is a gorgeous spot in the West End and well worth a visit. Free admission, glasshouses filled with tropical plants and an in-house palace? Doesn’t get better than this!
Check out the street art in the city centre
The city centre of Glasgow may be pretty grungy but the street art is REALLY cool! Follow this guide to find all the cool street art murals around the city.
Brunch at Singl-End Cafe
This is Glasgow’s number one recommended brunch spot and it totally lived up to the hype!
Day 10 Fly home
Hopefully this guide serves as a useful resource in planning your 10 day Scotland Road Trip. I absolutely fell in love with the country and already have ideas for a second trip! Happy travelling!