A while back, I was writing a blog entry on how to travel to a few destinations around the world for really cheap. My girlfriend read the blog entry and said, “Wow! This is really cheap. Only $330 round-trip to Scotland? We should go.” I agreed, and we booked the flight on SkySurf.Travel for one week (August 24-31, 2017). The airport we were flying from was Stewart International Airport (SWF) in New Windsor, NY. We live in Brooklyn, NY, so we purchased round-trip bus tickets from New York City (Port Authority bus station) to SWF for $40 per
person. We rented a car for the entire week from Edinburgh Airport for the price of $190 USD (we got an automatic. Manual was even cheaper!) Since this was my first time driving on the left side of the road, I decided to get the full-coverage insurance for about $200, which comes out to be $390 total for the car rental. We did a lot of driving and gas cost us £70 (about $92). You’ll read more about our entire journey later on in this blog entry. Each night, we stayed at a different hotel or hostel, since we were in a different city every night. The total cost for accommodations was about $618. The total cost for flight, bus, car, and hotels was $1,840. That comes out to be $920 USD per person! That’s about the average price for round-trip flights from the United States to Europe. You can go even cheaper if you decide to travel around by public transportation and by booking really cheap accommodation, such as hostels, shared rooms, camping, or private rooms through Airbnb or other “place to stay” websites. Scotland was definitely worth the trip, especially for the price we paid!
We arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland. The first thing we did was take a shuttle bus to our car rental agency, Green Motion, to pick up our vehicle. There was only one thing we were not too happy about, and that was the long wait at Green Motion (two hours!) for our rental car. It seemed as if many people rent cars from Green Motion, most likely because of the great deal; however, the company should definitely hire some more representatives to speed up the process. Once we got our rental car, we were on our way to our hostel (Euro Hostel Edinburgh Halls) in Edinburgh. The cost for the night (private room) was $86.65. After we settled in, we were walking to the city center, and then were suddenly stopped by a poet. He wanted us to see his show, so we decided to make our first stop at the Pilgrim Bar. It was quite an interesting show. We learned what dogging is through one of his poems. It’s British English slang, and if you’re not 18 yet, do not click on the link. After the bar, we decided to take it easy our first day in Scotland, after our long journey, so we postponed visiting any Edinburgh attractions until our last night in Scotland. We did, however, visit a Scottish restaurant. It was my first time trying haggis. I didn’t know what to expect, but once I tried it, I realized it was quite good. We then walked around the city and visited a few pubs and parks. Finally, our night ended with a bike taxi taking us back to our hostel.
Destination: Stirling Castle! One of the largest and most famous castles in Scotland, it’s been home to Mary, Queen of Scots, where several Scottish kings and queens have been crowned. We were pretty lucky with the weather throughout our trip. Scotland is one of the rainiest places in Europe, and the only time there was a considerable amount of rain was on this day.
After our free guided tour at the Stirling Castle, we visited the William Wallace Memorial. In case you don’t know who is William Wallace and haven’t watched the movie Braveheart, he is one of Scotland’s greatest national heroes, leader of the Scottish resistance forces for Scottish Independence. Along with Andrew Moray, Wallace defeated an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297. At the top of The National Wallace Monument, you can view the scene of Scotland’s victory at The Battle of Stirling Bridge. The views are breathtaking, as you can see from the photos below:
After the Wallace Monument, we made our way to Fort William to the Croit Anna Hotel, where we stayed our second night. The price for one night was $140 with a view of Loch Linnhe (“Loch” means Lake in Scottish). Once we arrived, checked in, and settled in, we were on our way to the city center for dinner. While looking for a good restaurant, we came across a booth which was selling tickets for boat cruises around Loch Linnhe. The boat cruise was leaving in about an hour and a half, so we ended up purchasing tickets. We made our way to a traditional British Fish & chips stand and ordered Haddock. There’s nothing more British than fish & chips. Freshly cooked, smothered in salt and soused with malt vinegar, then wrapped in newspaper. Britain’s fish & chips simply cannot be beaten! After our dinner, we made it right on time for the cruise. As soon as we sat down in the boat, it started pouring rain. As we got deeper into the Loch, the rain stopped and the views were amazing.
After our lovely cruise, we made it back to the hotel, where we had a few drinks at the hotel bar before calling it a night.
We decided to head up to Loch Ness, in search of Nessie, the legendary Loch Ness monster. Our first stop was Urquhart Castle, which played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. The castle is situated on a headland and overlooks Loch Ness.
After spending about two hours at this castle, it was time for lunch, so we headed to the city center of Drumnadrochit. Drumnadrochit has a charming city center. Here are some photos:
We had considered going on a boat cruise around the Loch Ness from Drumnadrochit; however, we weren’t too fond of the price or length of the cruise, so we ended up not purchasing tickets; and it’s good we didn’t! After leaving Drumnadrochit, we were on our way to our guesthouse in Inverness, and drove by Loch Ness by Jacobite – Cruises in Inverness-shire. We decided to check out the prices, and they were both cheaper (£14) and longer (1.5 hrs)! The cruise starts from the north end of the Loch Ness and makes its way south to Urquhart Castle and back. If you want, you can get off the boat and visit the castle before jumping on a return boat a little later.
After the cruise, it was time to head to our guesthouse in Inverness to check in and head out for dinner. We checked into the Inverness Guest House for one night for the price of $73. Once we settled in, we were on our way to find a good Scottish restaurant in the city center of Inverness. We ended up going to the Victoria Restaurant, where my girlfriend had a pasta dish, and, I, chicken stuffed with haggis. What else did you expect?
It was Saturday night, so we decided to stay out all night and enjoy the Scottish culture & music. Live Scottish music at the pubs, plenty of dancing, and good Scottish beer was easily found in all the local pubs and bars. This was the night of the Mayweather vs. McGregor boxing match. I’m a fan of boxing and was hoping to watch the fight. However, it aired sometime between 4-6am Scottish time, so we decided not to stay up until the morning and to get some good rest.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. defeated Conor McGregor by TKO in the 10th round. I’m a fan of Mayweather, so I was glad he won. Speaking of battles, the Culloden Battlefield, the site of the last bloody battle of the Jacobite Rising and the last battle on British soil was the next stop for us! We had a free guided tour around the battlefield, where the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart were decisively defeated by loyalist troops commanded by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. All I could do was picture myself fighting in this battle. I’m more of a rebel, so I saw myself fighting alongside with the Jacobites.
After the tour, we made our way to Fort George, which was built to pacify the Scottish Highlands in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745. The barracks are still in use as a military establishment, but much of the site is open to the public (there’s an entrance charge of £9).
Here’s a tip for anyone planning to travel to Scotland and is interested in visiting a few museums, castles, forts, monuments, etc. There’s a thing called the “Member/Explorer Pass”. A seven-day pass costs only £42, so if you’re planning to do a lot of exploring, it’s worth purchasing and will save you money. There are also 3-day passes. We learned about this at Fort George, and if we had known earlier, it would have saved us money.
Next stop was the Insh Hall in Kincraig, where we spent a night next to the Loch Insh in Cairngorms National Park. A single night at the Insh Hall cost us $62. After we checked-in, we had a romantic dinner next to the Loch. We then went back to the hotel to decide what to do the next day. We decided to go horseback riding in Kingussie, and then visit the whiskey distillery Dalwhinnie before our next stop to Blair Atholl.
We enjoyed free breakfast with a view of Loch Insh. We had hoped to go kayaking; however, the weather was cloudy, a bit cold and windy with a misty rain over the Loch, so we decided to go horseback riding for our next adventure. After breakfast, we headed back to our room to check out. I then took a few final photos of the Loch before heading out.
Our next stop was Kingussie for horseback riding. On our way there, we crossed paths with an old ruined barracks, so we decided to stop and take a look. The name of the barracks is Ruthven Barracks. The plaque next to the entrance reads: “After the 1715 Jacobite rising four defensible barracks were built to police the highlands. Ruthven, holding a company of infantry, was completed in 1721. Later a stable was added for the horses of Dragoons patrolling General Wade’s new military road. In 1745 Ruthven was successfully defended against a detachment of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s army, but surrendered to his main force in the following year, when the barracks were burnt.” We then entered the barracks to explore this Scottish relic and to snap a few photos.
We arrived at Highland Horse Fun in Kingussie. We were there about 3 hours early, so we booked a time in the afternoon for horseback riding, and were told that, in the meantime, we could visit the Highland Folk Museum, which is located only 2-3 miles away. The Highland Folk Museum gives visitors a flavor of how Highland people lived and worked from the 1700s up until the 1960s. Over 30 historical buildings are displayed and furnished to their time period. It’s a great place to visit if you’d like to get a feel of how Highlanders lived in the past. This museum is free, but it accepts any generous amount of donation for entry.
At 2pm, it was finally time for horseback riding. After touring the Highland Folk Museum, we returned to Highland Horse Fun. It started to drizzle, but that didn’t stop anyone! Everyone there was determined to ride horses, rain or shine. We mounted the horses: my girlfriend’s horse’s name was Gracie, and mine was Bella… and we were off. First, we rode around in the forest, and then, on the streets with views of the scenic Highland mountains. The horse ride was about 1.5 hours for £40 per person.
After the horseback riding we decided to take a detour to visit a Scotch distillery to learn how Scotch whisky is made in the Highlands. We visit the Dalwhinnie distillery en route in (you guessed it) Dalwhinnie, Scotland. The tour lasted about an hour and cost £12 per person. Here’s a few things I learned about how Scotch is made: The level of smokiness of a whisky is determined by the time the barley grain is exposed to the pungent smoke of peat during drying. All of the natural color observed in whisky comes from the barrel – as does many of its aromas and flavors. The majority of barrels used for aging Scotch Whisky were originally used to age bourbon in the USA. Scotch Whisky is almost always aged in used barrels while bourbon is required to be aged in new oak barrels. Since bourbon is required to be aged in new oak barrels, the used barrels get sold to Scottish distilleries for a fraction of the price. The used bourbon barrels arrive to Scottish distilleries disassembled, which are then charred in order to sterilize and remove any flavors of bourbon. Once charred, the barrel is assembled and spirits are poured into the barrel for the aging process, which must last for a minimum of 3 years in order to be called a Scotch Whisky.
At the end of the whisky tour, we were invited for whisky and chocolate truffle tasting. Before we left the distillery, we purchased a single malt 15-year-old Scotch bottle of Dalwhinnie with a £5-off voucher that was included with the tour ticket.
Our final destination for the night was to our guesthouse, the Dalgreine Guest House in Blair Atholl, next to the Blair Castle. We were welcomed by the friendly couple, John and Rhona, who run the guesthouse. After we settled in, we decided to look for dinner at a local restaurant in Blair Atholl. Blair Atholl is a small charming town with scenic views. There is not much of a nightlife scene; however, we did find a nice pub where we enjoyed food, music, and drinks for the rest of the night.
We had breakfast at our guesthouse, included with the price of a night’s stay, which cost us $96 total. If you’re ever looking to stay next to the Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, we strongly recommend the Dalgreine Guest House. You’ll be sure to find nice tidy rooms with awesome hosts!
Our first stop was Blair Castle. It is the ancestral home of the Clan Murray, and was historically the seat of their chief, the Duke of Atholl. It has been and remains today the home of the Atholl family for over seven centuries. Before entering the castle, we went for a stroll around the Hercules Gardens. This unique creation of James Murray, 2nd Duke of Atholl, and his gardener, John Willson, took more than ten years to complete, between about 1744 and 1756.
After the Hercules Garden, we made our way inside the Blair Castle to see how the Dukes have lived. Today, you can rent out the Blair Castle if you’re planning a wedding. Every so often, a man dressed in Highland wear will play the bagpipes outside the castle.
We then made our way to Perth, to visit the Scone Palace. Scone was for nearly 1,000 years the crowning-place of Scottish kings and what used to be the home of the Stone of Scone. This stone is an oblong block of red sandstone that was used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland, and later the monarchs of England and the Kingdom of Great Britain. On Christmas Day, 1950, four Scottish students from the University of Glasgow removed the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey in London and took the stone back to Scotland. In April 1951, the police received a tip-off and the stone was found. The Stone was returned to Westminster Abbey in February of 1952. It was then returned to Scotland to Edinburgh Castle on November 30, 1996, where it currently remains alongside the crown jewels of Scotland in the Crown Room. If you’re ever planning to make a visit to the Scone Palace, you’ll find lots of peacocks roaming around the gardens. You’ll also find a garden maze where in the center sets a bronze statue in a fountain.
Next destination: St. Andrews via Dundee and the Tay Road Bridge. This is where we spent our 6th night in Scotland. We had a lovely stay at St. Nicholas Farmhouse B&B for $79. This was a bed and breakfast, so breakfast was included. We settled in and first thing we did, as usual, was look for a place to eat. St. Andrews is on the coastline of the North Sea. We walked by the panoramic shore to get to the city center, which is made up of only three streets: North, Market, and South street. St. Andrews is a small town, most notable for Scotland’s first university found in 1413, where Prince William attended and met Kate Middleton; as well as for St. Andrew’s Castle & Cathedral, and golf. Our first stop was Forgan’s St. Andrews. They had a special for Tuesday night, which was either a 3-beer or wine taster board at a reduced price, so we decided to stay and have some tasty appetizers with our taster boards. I recommend going here if you’re looking for place to go out for food & drinks in St. Andrews. The food looked and tasted delish. We decided to stay in the city center for a night out of fun & drinks in St. Andrews.
We enjoyed our breakfast at the St. Nicholas Farmhouse B&B with a pleasant couple from Germany. We then made our way out to St. Andrews Castle, which was a bishop’s palace, a fortress and a state prison during its 450-year history. It sits on a rocky promontory overlooking a small beach called Castle Sands and the adjoining North Sea. The principal remains of the castle are a portion of the south wall enclosing a square tower, the “bottle dungeon,” the kitchen tower, and the underground mine and counter-mine. We followed up with a visit to the Cathedral of St. Andrew, which is nearby the castle. The cathedral was built in 1158 and became the center of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland as the seat of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and the Bishops and Archbishops of St. Andrews. It fell into disuse and ruin after Catholic mass was outlawed during the 16th-century Scottish Reformation. During your visit, you can climb to the top of St. Rule’s Tower, which has a captivating view of St. Andrews.
After touring the cathedral, we headed back to Edinburgh for our final night in Scotland. Our pleasant host told us to take a scenic route of the sea and to cross the new bridge, the Queensferry Crossing, which had just opened the day before. We stopped for a coffee in a shop with a lovely view of the sea from its backyard patio in Crail, Scotland; and then continued our journey to Edinburgh. Once we arrived at the bridge, we were stuck in our first and only traffic jam in Scotland, most likely because many people wanted to drive across the newly opened Queensferry Crossing. We then drove to the Edinburgh airport to return our car, since we didn’t need it anymore, and then took a tram to the Edinburgh city center.
We checked into the High Street Hostel for $82 (private room). Our room was called the “Will & Kate” room. We then went out for dinner, and then at 8pm, we met with a group of people in the city center to go on a pub crawl. The pub crawl was a tour of about 6 pubs in Edinburgh with a group of tourists from around the world. We met people from Argentina, Spain, Germany, the United States, and other countries. The pub crawl costs only £7 per person and includes a drink/shot in each bar. There was lots of cheer and dancing.
Our final day in Scotland! We booked a tour for 10:30am at Mary King’s Close, which is a historic close (alleyway) located under buildings on the Royal Mile, in the historic Old Town area. It took its name from one Mary King, a merchant burgess who resided on the Close in the 17th century. Our tour guide was excellent and we would definitely recommend this tour to everyone.
Finally, we ended our adventure with the famous Edinburgh Castle! Our free guided tour started at 12:30pm, which lasted a half hour; just in time for the One O’clock Gun! The firing of the One O’clock Gun dates back to 1861 when it allowed ships in the Firth of Forth to set the maritime clocks they needed to navigate the world’s oceans. Before leaving the castle, we made our way to the Crown Room, to see the crown jewels, and the Stone of Scone! What a magical moment to conclude our trip in Scotland! It was then time for us to return to our hostel, grab our luggage, and walk to the tram stop. We got to the airport 3 hours early and immediately started to reminisce about our unforgettable adventure.
Here’s a visual map of our entire travel route in Scotland:
MapQuest directions: http://mapq.st/2f5UVrx
As you can see, we took an awesome trip for less than $1,000 per person (that excludes food & drinks, entertainment, and tours), and it’s possible to pay even less. If you plan on doing a lot of touring around Scotland, it’s a good idea to purchase a Member/Explorer Pass to save you money. The flight cost us only $330 per person with taxes included, which was purchased at SkySurf.Travel. You, too, can create your own inexpensive adventure by purchasing a cheap flight at SkySurf.Travel. If you do go on a trip where you’ve purchased a flight from SkySurf.Travel, please send me your story, photos and/or guest blog, and I’ll happily post your adventure on this blog.
Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye.