From ancient standing stones to remote mountain peaks, Scotland is packed with stunning scenery and wild countryside.
It’s also a surprisingly affordable destination for budget travelers thanks to a range of great hostels in Scotland catering for backpackers keen to get off the beaten path in the UK and explore some of its beautiful, unspoiled spaces.
Setting Off from Edinburgh
The capital, Edinburgh, makes a great starting point for travelers exploring Scotland. The city’s international airport is served by a range of low-cost flights and its coach and train stations have extensive connections throughout both England and Scotland.
Edinburgh, however, has plenty to recommend it besides such convenient transport links. The city glows with history and culture, from the famous castle which overlooks the busy streets below to one of the most vibrant nightlife scenes in Europe.
There’s also a great range of Edinburgh hostels offering affordable accommodation for travelers passing through or staying a few nights in this exciting city.
Loch Ossian and Glencoe
From Edinburgh, it’s easy to head north by bus or train to the Highlands, where Scotland’s dramatic scenery starts to unfold. One of the most famous glens in this region – and indeed the country as a whole – is Glencoe, a place renowned for its history as much as its beauty.
The rugged peaks are infused with a story from 1692 involving the massacre of the MacDonald clan. Having accepted the MacDonalds’ legendary ‘Highland hospitality’, the Campbells put them to death in a shocking rejection of the trust and honor inferred by the guest/host relationship. It’s said that the brooding, atmospheric landscape still reflects this dark tale.
To the east is the equally striking (but rather less morbid) Loch Ossian. Remote and starkly beautiful, there’s even an eco-hostel by the lake providing budget accommodation to travelers wishing to spend some quality time in this secluded, scenic part of Scotland.
Not far to the north lie the Cairngorms, forming Scotland’s largest National Park. This vast mountain range offers more spectacular countryside – in an even less accessible setting than Loch Ossian.
There are more unbeatable views and a wealth of plants and wildlife throughout the park, but hiking these steep climbs is not recommended for the inexperienced, especially during winter.
The small town of Aviemore forms the main hub of activity among the Cairngorms and it’s here that backpackers will find accommodation and activities from skiing, to kayaking, as well as a funicular railway to the top of the main peak, Cairn Gorm.
The Outer Hebrides
Off the west coast of Scotland (and further north still) sit the unspoiled archipelago of islands known as the Outer Hebrides. Reached by ferry from Ullapool on the mainland, they’re a haven of ancient archeological sites and pristine beaches.
The largest of these is the Isle of Skye, where the Cullin Mountains and intriguing ‘Old Man of Storr’ monument are just some of the many scenic attractions. There are also castle ruins to explore at Duntulm and plenty of locally made beers and whiskies to sample.
Lewis is home to the most important of the islands’ towns, Stornoway, which forms the heart of their trade and transport links. There’s more opportunity for adventure here with sailing, surfing and kiting just some of the activities on offer on the island. There’s also some more great history, as the prehistoric standing stones at Callanish on Lewis are second only to Stonehenge in importance.