Book in advance, especially in summer, at weekends, and on islands (where options are often limited). Book at least two months ahead for July and August. If you're going to be in Edinburgh in August (festival month) or at Hogmanay (New Year), book as far ahead as possible – a year is recommended.
- B&Bs Small, family-run houses that are generally good value. More luxurious versions resemble boutique hotels.
- Hotels Range from half-a-dozen rooms above a pub to restored country houses and castles, with a commensurate variety of rates.
- Hostels A good choice of institutional and independent hostels, many housed in historic buildings.
For budget travel, the options are campsites, hostels and cheap B&Bs. Above this price level is a plethora of comfortable B&Bs, pubs and guesthouses (£35 to £60 per person per night). Midrange hotels are present in most places, while in the higher price bracket (£65-plus per person per night) there are some superb hotels, the most interesting being converted castles and country houses, or chic designer options in cities.
If you're travelling solo, expect to pay a supplement in hotels and B&Bs, meaning you'll often be forking out over 75% of the price of a double for your single room.
Rates at almost all B&Bs, guesthouses and hotels (and even some hostels) include breakfast, either full Scottish or continental style. If you don't want it, you may be able to negotiate a lower price, but this is rare.
Prices increase over the peak tourist season (June to September) and are at their highest in July and August. Outside these months, and particularly in winter, special deals are often available at guesthouses and hotels.
B&Bs & Guesthouses
B&Bs – bed and breakfasts – are an institution in Scotland. At the bottom end you get a bedroom in a private house, a shared bathroom and the 'full Scottish' (fruit juice, coffee or tea, cereal and cooked breakfast – bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans and toast). Midrange B&Bs have en suite bathrooms, TVs in each room and more variety (and healthier options) for breakfast. Almost all B&Bs provide hospitality trays (tea- and coffee-making facilities) in bedrooms. Common B&B options range from urban houses to pubs and farmhouses.
Guesthouses, often large converted private houses, are an extension of the B&B concept. They are normally bigger and less personal than B&Bs.
Bothies, Barns & Bunkhouses
Bothies are simple shelters, often in remote places; many are maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association (www.mountainbothies.org.uk). They’re not locked, there’s no charge and usually no toilets – and you can’t book. Take your own cooking equipment, sleeping bag and mat. Users should stay one night only, and leave the place as they find it.
Camping barns – usually converted farm buildings – offer shared sleeping space for around £5 to £10 per night. Take your own cooking equipment, sleeping bag and mat.
Bunkhouses, a grade or two up from camping barns, have stoves for heating and cooking and may supply utensils. They may have mattresses, but you’ll still need a sleeping bag. There will be toilets but probably no showers. Most charge from £10 to £15 per person.
In Shetland, the Shetland Amenity Trust (www.camping-bods.com) has created a number of böds – converted croft houses or fishing huts with bunks, and washing and cooking facilities, but often no electricity or heating – many in remote and dramatic locations. Beds cost £10 to £12, but you'll need to prebook through the trust in Lerwick, which will give you the keys.
Camping & Caravan Parks
Free wild camping became a legal right under the Land Reform Bill of 2003. However, campers are obliged to camp on unenclosed land, in small numbers, and away from buildings and roads.
Most commercial campsites offer a variety of pitches for touring campers – hardstanding and grass, with or without electricity – and accept tents, campervans and caravans; some are caravan only.
- VisitScotland (www.visitscotland.com/accommodation) Book registered campsites; listings also available on a free map available at tourist offices.
- Cool Camping (www.coolcamping.com) Booking service for offbeat, remote and interesting campsites, including 'glamping' options.
- Camping & Caravanning Club (www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk) Listings of sites across the country.
Backpacker hostels offer cheap, sociable accommodation, and in Scotland the standard of facilities is generally very good. The more upmarket hostels have en suite bathrooms in their dorms, and all manner of luxuries that give them the feel of hotels, if it weren't for the bunk beds.
Hostels nearly always have facilities for self-catering, and, apart from very remote ones, internet access of some kind. Many can arrange activities and tours.
Independent & Student Hostels
There is a large number of independent hostels, most with prices around £16 to £25 per person. Facilities vary considerably. Scottish Independent Hostels (www.hostel-scotland.co.uk) is an affiliation of over 100 hostels in Scotland, mostly in the north. You can browse them online or pick up the free Scottish Independent Hostels map-guide from tourist offices.
Scottish Youth Hostels Association
The Scottish Youth Hostels Association has a network of decent, reasonably priced hostels and produces a free booklet that's available from SYHA hostels and tourist offices. There are dozens of hostels to choose from around Scotland, ranging from basic walkers' digs to mansions and castles. You must be an HI member to stay, but nonmembers can pay a £3 supplement per night that goes towards the annual membership fee. Prices vary according to the month but average around £18 to £25 per adult in high season.
Most SYHA hostels close from around mid-October to early March, but they can be rented out by groups.
There are some wonderfully luxurious places, including elegant country-house hotels in fabulous settings, and castles complete with crenellated battlements, grand staircases and the obligatory rows of stag heads. Expect all the perks at these places, often including gym, sauna, pool and first-class service. Even if you're on a budget, it's worth splashing out for a night at one of the classic Highland hotels.
In the cities, dullish chain options dominate the midrange category, though there are some quirkier places to be found in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Increasingly, hotels use an airline-style pricing system, so it's worth booking well ahead to take advantage of the cheapest rates.
Self-catering accommodation is very popular in Scotland, and staying in an apartment in a city or a cottage in the country gives you the opportunity to get a feel for a place and its community. The minimum stay is usually one week in the summer peak season, and three days or less at other times.
Accommodation of this type varies widely, from rustic one-bedroom cottages with basic facilities and sheep cropping the grass outside to castles, historic houses and purpose-built designer retreats with every mod con.
The best place to start looking for this kind of accommodation is the VisitScotland (www.visitscotland.com/accommodation) website, which lists numerous options all over the country. These also appear in the regional accommodation guides available from tourist offices. A quick internet search will reveal many websites listing thousands of self-catering places across Scotland.
Expect a week's rent for a two-bedroom cottage to cost from £250 in winter, and up to £600 or more July to September.
Many Scottish universities offer their student accommodation to visitors during the summer holidays (late June to August). Most rooms are comfy, functional single bedrooms, some with shared bathroom, but there are also twin and family units, self-contained flats and shared houses. Full-board, half-board, B&B and self-catering options are often available. Rooms are usually let out from late June to mid-September.