Travel Sustainably in Scotland
You’ll soon be travelling to Scotland and we’re here to help you get prepared in the best way possible.
During your trip, you’ll be experiencing the local culture and heritage and exploring the magnificent Highlands. Through all this, it’s good to keep in mind the importance of preserving it all for future generations to enjoy.
At Nordic Visitor, we believe in doing our part for the planet and our local environment. For that reason, we want to encourage you to do the same when visiting our beloved nation, Scotland.
That said, sustainable travel is not just about conserving the environment. It’s also about supporting local economies and having a positive impact on the local communities.
On this page, you’ll find some friendly suggestions on how you can do your part.
Packing for your visit to Scotland
Arrive in Scotland prepared to be as green as possible by bringing a couple of items from home, including reusable water bottles and shopping bags. This way, you can save money and be environmentally friendly all at once.
The drinking water in Scotland is clean and water quality standards are extremely high. The majority of water comes from rivers, natural springs and rain. It is collected in reservoirs before going through water treatment works.
That means it’s safe to drink the tap water and you can refill your bottle as you go. Cafés are often happy to refill for you too, and you might find water fountains in cities and at popular attractions.
When it comes to shopping bags, shops in Scotland are required by law to charge you for them. So an easy way for you to reduce the amount of waste from your holiday and save money is to bring a reusable shopping bag with you. Win-win situation!
Making the most of the local culture
When you visit Scotland, you’ll soon be immersed in the beauty of its Highlands and islands. You’ll also discover a culture rooted in Celtic heritage, with a storied past stretching generations. The country and its people have developed their own festivals, traditions and tasty food.
By supporting the local culture, you’ll embrace a true Scottish experience while making a positive impact on the economy and people.
1. Shop local for souvenirs
If you plan on buying souvenirs while in Scotland, why not purchase items made locally? Here are some suggestions of real Scottish souvenirs:
- Harris Tweed® clothing or accessories – the world-famous shop has outlets in Inverness and the Isle of Harris. You can buy a huge range of products, from clothing to smaller accessories like purses and hip flasks. All products are made by the very talented family-run business.
- Heathergems jewellery – here you’ll find sustainable, handmade jewellery and accessories crafted from Scottish heather stems.
Or why not purchase souvenirs from a social enterprise? Purchasing goods from social enterprises means that your money is reinvested into tackling key social and environmental issues in the local communities you visit and shop in. Here is a directory of social businesses in Scotland.
2. Visit sites outside peak times
If you can, try to visit popular attractions outside peak times. Not only will you help reduce the pressure on these spots, but you’ll enjoy a more relaxed experience when you visit.
3. Eat local
An easy way to support the local economy while travelling is to eat out at Scottish restaurants. You need to eat, after all!
We recommend especially looking for menus that feature local, seasonal produce. Scotland is fortunate to have a varied natural larder that changes throughout the seasons, so it’s always worth looking at the special menus when dining out.
For example, Scottish soft fruits such as strawberries and raspberries are particularly good in the high summer. Why not visit a local fruit farm where you can “pick your own” to enjoy on your onward travels – if they last that long!
4. Visit farmers’ markets
Another way to sample local produce is to visit farmer’s markets. These are usually held once or twice a month in towns and cities around the country, including Edinburgh.
Farmers' markets bring the area's top producers together to sell their fresh, locally grown produce. It’s a great way to meet local suppliers, learn about Scotland’s food heritage and try some really delicious food.
Farmers’ markets usually have stalls selling local crafts such as pottery, textiles and artwork. So they are a great place to pick up some unique souvenirs as well.
5. Attend Scottish events
Going to festivals and special events hosted in Edinburgh, Glasgow and further afield is a great way to soak up Scottish culture.
Check out Visit Scotland’s Events page to find cultural and sporting events on the dates you’re visiting. And don’t forget about the famous Edinburgh International and Fringe Festivals. These take place every August in Edinburgh.
6. Be respectful of local traditions and customs
When visiting cultural and historical sites, remember to be mindful of the importance these sites have for locals. Sometimes they represent our culture and hundreds of years of tradition and are great sources of pride.
Using sustainable transportation
1. Walk around if you can
Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, is very easy to get around on foot. Stroll along the grand avenues of the New Town or wander through the winding alleyways of the Old Town. Your accommodation is likely to be central so you can access restaurants and shops.
2. Hop on public transport
An easy, cheap, and sustainable way to travel around both Edinburgh and Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, is by public transport.
In Edinburgh, Lothian Buses run a very regular and extensive network of routes throughout the city, including a range of Hop On Hop Off buses. Edinburgh Trams provide an easy and clean alternative. To buy tickets and plan routes for both the buses and trams, you can download apps onto your phone.
If you want to visit Glasgow, there is a frequent train service between the 2 cities. For more information, visit ScotRail, Scotland’s national rail service.
Much like Edinburgh, Glasgow is very easy to navigate by public transport, including its subway service. It is locally known as “The Clockwork Orange” thanks to its colour and route shape.
3. Drive in an eco-efficient way
If you are going on a self-drive tour, there is still a way for you to be more sustainable if you want.
The easiest way to limit the fuel consumption of your vehicle is to drive gently, evenly, and smoothly. Acceleration and braking require more energy, so avoid sharp acceleration and abrupt braking. Try maintaining a constant speed to be more economical and eco-friendly.
You can read more advice on driving safely in Scotland on our travel guide.
Conserving the natural environment
One of Scotland’s main attractions is its rugged landscape, with craggy mountains, sandy seaside and vast valleys. There is lots you can do or keep in mind to help preserve it during your trip.
1. Leave no trace behind
Scotland is known for its unspoiled natural habitats. Help keep it this way by putting your litter in bins and recycling if possible. If there are no bins where you are visiting, take your rubbish back with you to your accommodation so you can dispose of it there.
We also encourage you to recycle your travel documents if you do not plan to bring them home with you as a keepsake. Make sure to place them in a designated paper recycling bin.
2. Don’t go off-road driving
Driving and parking sensibly will help preserve Scotland’s natural landscape. Keep to marked roads and parking spots and do not create an obstruction.
3. Hike along marked trails
Hiking is a great way to discover more of the natural scenery in Scotland. You’ll find many beautiful hiking trails of all levels and through a variety of landscapes.
Good to know is that Scotland provides visitors and locals with the unique right to access most of Scotland’s land and water. All parts of the great outdoors are accessible. The only exceptions are areas marked as private property, most land where crops are growing and areas that are closed off for health and safety reasons.
While exploring, please tread lightly and follow the Outdoor Access Code’s 3 main principles: respecting others, caring for the environment and taking responsibility for your actions. If marked paths are available, please use these. They are there to keep you safe and to help protect our natural habitat.
A comprehensive guide of footpaths and rights of way can be found on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code site.
4. Be mindful when visiting national parks and protected areas
You need to show extra consideration for the natural environment when visiting national parks and protected areas. Some sites in national parks may have restricted access during wildlife nesting and breeding seasons. Make sure to honour these restrictions so as not to disturb the wildlife.
5. Observe wildlife without disturbing it
When visiting Scotland and going wildlife spotting, your goal should be quiet observation. Make sure to keep your distance. To not disturb the different species, we recommend you do not make quick movements or loud noises. And do not try to touch them.
Scotland boasts some fantastic wildlife and is home to over 90,000 varied and diverse species. Here are some you might spot during your visit:
You might instantly recognise the red deer. They are even more noticeable in the autumn. When exploring the great outdoors, you might see or hear the annual rut. This is when male deer battle each other to ensure a claim over their territory and mating rights.
Scotland is a paradise for bird watchers, as you can find a vast array of species while exploring over land and sea. Native breeds include the lesser spotted ptarmigan and capercaillie.
The most famous bird species is probably the adorable puffin. The best time to see puffins is during their breeding season, between late April and mid-August. They can be spotted in many places around Scotland, but the best locations are Orkney and the Isle of May off the coast of Fife. National Nature Reserve.
Scotland is a great place to see native red squirrels. The species has been threatened with extinction by the spread of disease and competition from the non-native North American grey squirrel.
Red squirrels have been wiped out in many parts of the UK, but thanks to successful breeding programmes they are present in Scotland. The best spots to see them are in Dumfries and Galloway, Argyll and in the Caledonian pine forests of the Highlands.
The Cairngorm Mountain Range is home to Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer, which were historically native to Scotland. The Cairngorm Mountain herd was established in 1952 and there are now over 150 reindeer roaming the mountain range. You can visit the herd at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre while visiting the Aviemore area.
You can also see many domestic animals on your travels around Scotland, mainly sheep and cattle.
After the lambing season in May, the sheep can roam freely around rural areas in the Highlands and islands, including on land where single-track roads run through farmland. Please be mindful of that when driving in Scotland during the summer as they can often be close to the roads.
A good thing to keep in mind is that if you see the ewe (female sheep) on one side of the road and her lambs on the other side of the road, you should slow down. That’s because you might scare the lambs and they might try to run into the road to join their mother.
Highland cows, or “hairy coos” as they are sometimes affectionately called, are often the face of Scotland. You’ll recognise them easily from normal cattle as they usually have long hair and horns.
Highland cattle can be seen in fields dotted all over the Scottish countryside. There are some locations where you can stop to take pictures and even feed them, including in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
If you find yourself in a field with these beautiful creatures, please be mindful, respect their space and do not approach them. This is even more important if they have calves (babies) with them as they can be very protective.
Reducing your carbon footprint
If you appreciate the incredible nature that Scotland has to offer, you may want to think of other ways to reduce your carbon footprint while in the country. Scotland’s carbon-neutral target is becoming increasingly important, especially in the efforts to preserve the country’s wild and incredible landscapes.
There are many ways that we can all play a part, such as leaving the car behind when possible. Public transport is easily accessible in towns and cities. You might also enjoy discovering the landscape on foot, bike, horseback, kayak and such.
If you’re looking for more resources, you can also check out our Scotland Travel Guide. Here you’ll find information on weather conditions, health and safety, what to pack and other useful tips to prepare for your trip.
By travelling in a sustainable way you are helping us preserve our beautiful country so that future generations can also enjoy visiting.