Scotland or Ireland: Which Country Should You Visit?


Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. That means if you click a link and make a purchase, we make a small commission at no extra cost to you. For more information, see our privacy policy.


There are few countries throughout the world that inspire so much awe and splendour than Scotland or Ireland. These two Celtic nations in the British Isles both boast incredible expanses of green scenery, beautiful nature, rugged coastlines, ancient archaeological sites, and famously friendly locals. However, they are two distinct nations with cultures and traditions all their own. Therefore, if you only have time to visit one of these amazing countries, it can be difficult to choose between Scotland vs Ireland.

Both countries have innumerable things to offer travellers and one could easily spend months and months wandering around both of them. But which is the right destination for you? This article will outline the pros and cons of visiting Ireland vs Scotland including things like affordability, activities, and attractions in order to help you pick the best country for your particular travel style.

Scotland

Scotland has become more and more popular each year, drawing tourists with its outstanding culture in cities like Edinburgh, mythical natural sites like Loch Ness, rugged islands like Skye and Orkney, and one of the best road trips in the world in the form of the North Coast 500. This beautiful country has so much to offer travellers of any budget or creed and, despite its relatively small size and population, keeps drawing people back year after year.

Sheep are ubiquitous in Scotland and Ireland

Accessibility

One of the first things you need to consider when attempting to choose between Ireland or Scotland is how accessible the destination is. Luckily for travellers, Scotland is an incredibly easy nation to get to and a fairly straightforward one to get around.

The major cities in Scotland are all well-connected within the UK’s extensive bus and train network, with frequent connections between London and the larger cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness. In fact, it is a fantastic option to begin your Scotland trip in London and explore the thriving capital city before catching one of the most scenic train rides in the world up north. Just make sure to book it in advance if you want to get a cheaper fare!

If your time frame or Scottish travel budget doesn’t allow for a long-distance train journey through the British countryside, there are airports in all of the bigger cities in Scotland that offer affordable flights from across the UK and the rest of Europe.

When it comes to getting around Scotland, this is where the beautiful country might get marked down a few points. Outside of the city centres in places like Edinburgh and Glasgow, it can be fairly tricky to get around if you’re planning on relying solely on public transport. As Scotland is the most sparsely populated country in the UK, bus and train links aren’t nearly as developed or frequent as they are in England and, if you want to get off the beaten path even a little bit, the easiest way by far to do this is to rent a car.

If you can’t rent a car and still want to see the incredible scenery and highlights of Scotland, it is very possible to book a day or multi-day tour of more rural areas that are difficult to reach without a personal vehicle.

Scotland or Ireland
The Standing Stones of Stenness in Orkney

Affordability

It may come as no surprise that, due to its location in the UK, Scotland isn’t easily considered a budget destination. However, it is possible to visit Scotland and not leave having to take out a second mortgage on your home. Meaning, Scotland doesn’t have to be an expensive destination. 

While there are certainly ample opportunities throughout Scotland that will have you spending all of your hard-earned cash in one fell swoop, there are just as many chances to save your money and still have an amazing experience.

For instance, if you have a sense of adventure and love the great outdoors, it is perfectly legal to wild camp most everywhere in Scotland. If you travel with your own tent, you can sleep for free and seriously offset any accommodation costs you may have otherwise accrued.

Also, while the price of meals in restaurants might be fairly expensive, grocery prices aren’t that steep and it can help save money to cook your own meals.

Another wonderful thing about Scotland is that most attractions that require entry fees (and very few actually do) rarely cost more than about £10-15. Most museums in the bigger cities are also free to enter, as they are in the majority of the UK.

All in all, Scotland can be quite affordable to visit if you do some research into your travel costs in advance and spend your money wisely.

Edinburgh Castle might be a factor when choosing between Scotland or Ireland
Edinburgh Castle

Things to Do

Though small in size, Scotland is a gorgeous country with an incredible array of wonderful things to do. In cities, there are ample cultural events and fascinating museums with which to occupy your time.

Throughout both cities and the countryside, there are hundreds of whisky distilleries making some of the finest single-malt whisky in the world, most of which are available for tours and tastings.

The countryside is packed with walking routes and outdoor sporting opportunities. You can do anything from an easy day-hike to a weeks-long trek through the Scottish wilderness in this beautiful country.

The natural scenery in this country is incredibly beautiful and diverse and in one day, you can be scaling up Ben Nevis before seeing dolphins frolicking in the waters off the coast of Ullapool. There are subarctic plateaus that have a completely different ecosystem to anywhere else in the British Isles and there are beautiful white sand beaches that will make you feel as if you’re in the tropics. Scotland’s nature truly cannot be beaten.

Both Scotland’s mainland and thousands of offshore islands are home to ancient and historical sites that range from grand medieval castles to majestic standing stones. Gazing upon such sites can make one feel incredibly small and truly make you appreciate just how old Scotland is.

There are so many things to do in Scotland in so many different corners of this amazing country that travellers could easily spend months on end exploring the country and still leave longing to see more. The interesting sites, breathtaking nature, and incredibly friendly people will leave you always coming back for more.

So, if you’re trying to decide whether to visit Scotland or Ireland, those are just some of the merits of the former.

Scotland or Ireland
Scotland has some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world

Ireland

Ireland is a country that continually inspires awe in those wishing to visit and the Emerald Isle has a lot to offer visitors. Much like its neighbour, Scotland, Ireland is blessed with some of the most beautiful, pastoral scenery in the region and has one of the best and most renowned pub cultures in the world.

Littered with an amazing, long history, fascinating sites and nature, and some of the most friendly and helpful locals in the world, decided whether to visit Ireland or Scotland can become an incredibly tricky choice.

Accessibility

The Republic of Ireland is quite a small country, both in population and in land area, and it is likely that you will fly into the capital of Dublin, which is the highest traffic airport in the country.

Dublin airport is massive and has many flight connections to many destinations in North America and Europe. It is also conveniently located not far from the city centre so it isn’t difficult to access if you are planning on visiting the city without a car.

There are a few other airports throughout the country that you can access from airports across Europe and the UK, but it is unlikely that you will fly into one of them if you are arriving to Ireland from outside of this geographic area.

Once in Ireland, you will find it to be similar to Scotland insofar as that it can be difficult to get around if you don’t have your own personal vehicle outside of the bigger cities. In city centres like Dublin, Cork, and Galway, it is quite easy to get around by foot and if you’re only planning on visiting these cities on your Ireland itinerary, then it can be possible to go on the trip without a car. However, if you want to get to more rural areas or are interested in stepping slightly off the beaten path, then renting a car is often your best option.

If you don’t drive or otherwise can’t rent a car, there are a number of tours available, like in Scotland, that will allow you to visit sites that are hard to reach by public transport. These typically leave from major cities like Dublin or Galway and can last for one day or multiple days.

Ireland or Scotland
Views from the Sky Road in Connemara, Ireland

Affordability

Now that we’ve covered the accessibility of Ireland, it is time to cover, briefly, how much an Ireland trip will cost. Much like Scotland, Ireland has a reputation as being an expensive country and, depending on where you visit, this very well might be the case.

Dublin, for instance, is one of the most expensive cities in Europe and everything from accommodation costs to food costs to beer costs can seem wildly inflated. Varying activities in the Irish capital can come with an expensive price tag and there are times where it might seem that it is impossible to visit this iconic city on a budget.

If you are savvy about where you spend your money, however, you will find that you can make it stretch further than you might think. In Dublin, for instance, opt for a free walking tour rather than a paid one. Don’t go out drinking in the Temple Bar district, where the price of a pint can exceed €8.

Everywhere in the country, keep an eye out for state-run museums, which, like in Scotland and the UK, are often free. Not only will you certainly gain a better appreciation and understanding of the many fascinating aspects of Irish history, but you will also save yourself some money.

As for accommodation, opt for a private room on Airbnb, a bed in a locally run B&B, or even a plot on a campground. Wild camping is not legal in Ireland like it is in Scotland, however, you can still find many ways to save on your accommodation costs.

Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge

Things to Do

If you’re trying to decide whether to travel to Ireland or Scotland and you’re weighing in on the things to do each country, your choice might not become easier when you realise just how much there is to do in Ireland.

While the diversity of the natural scenery might not be quite as stunning around every corner in Ireland, there is still no denying that it is absolutely gorgeous. Planning a trip to Ireland with the sole goal of spending as much time outside in the country as possible is very much worth it. The rolling green hills, the bucolic farms, and the rugged coastline are all the perfect draws to this beautiful and wild country.

Despite its diminutive population, there are numerous fun and dynamic cities to explore in Ireland as well. Dublin might take the cake when it comes to size and renown, however, cities like Cork are considered to be the gastronomic heart of Ireland and historic Galway just begs itself to be explored.

When it comes to natural sites, you can’t beat the beauty of the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, or the impeccable Connemara peninsula. Ireland’s entire Wild Atlantic Way along the country’s west coast draws some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country and is considered to be one of the best road trips in the world.

If you’re interested in hikes and walks, there are no shortage of amazing trails of various lengths you could go on. Though there aren’t the plentiful mountains that you will find in Scotland, Ireland’s countryside boasts its own unique beauty of rolling hills and daring cliffsides.

Irish history spans millennia and, just like in Scotland, you can see ancient sites and centuries-old churches and imposing castles and manors scattered throughout the Emerald Isle. There are also myriad museums in almost every settlement that will allow you to learn more about the history of this small but mighty nation.

Ireland is a country that if firmly cemented on the tourist trail for a reason: there are seemingly infinite things to do in such a small island nation.

Beautiful Irish scenary

Scotland or Ireland: The Verdict

Sometimes, it can seem as if there isn’t much difference between Scotland and Ireland and it can be incredibly difficult to choose between the two. If you only have time to visit one, here is what we suggest.

If you’re interested in seeing the most diverse natural scenery in the shortest time span, choose Scotland. While Ireland’s nature is incredibly beautiful, Scotland’s is just slightly more stunning and more varied. As mentioned earlier, you can be at the top of the tallest peak in Britain in the morning and enjoying the seaside on a remote island off the coast by the evening.

Scotland might also be the best choice for you if you’re interested in ancient archaeological sites. Areas like the Orkney Islands and the Isle of Lewis and Harris are filled with standing stones and Neolithic villages, tombs, and burial grounds. There are so many, in fact, that it is a wonder Indiana Jones never made it there.

Scotland can also be the more affordable of the two, especially if are willing to wild camp. The amount of money that can be saved on accommodation just from that small aspect is enough to make many people choose to visit Scotland over Ireland.

However, if you’re choosing between visiting Ireland or Scotland and consider yourself a foodie, then Ireland might be the better choice for you. There is a high concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants throughout the country, the local produce is amazing, and there has been a very cool food scene happening in Ireland in recent years. Inventive chefs reimaging the local cuisine might well be the best thing that has ever happened to the Irish gastronomic scene.

If you’re more interested in recent history, then Ireland might also be the better option. While there is a long and fascinating ancient history in the country, you can also learn about Ireland’s fight for independence in the not-so-distant past. If you happen to visit Northern Ireland, it is also worth educating yourself about the Troubles and the conflict that wasn’t fully resolved until fairly recently.

Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s west coast

All in, it can be a tough choice to find out if it is better to visit Scotland or Ireland. Both countries are worth visiting and spending time in their own rights and have a lot to offer travellers. It depends on your travel style and preferences to figure out if travelling Ireland or Scotland is right for you.

Are you struggling to choose between visiting Scotland vs Ireland? Have you travelled to either country? Let us know in the comments!

Like It? Pin It!

Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. When she’s not dreaming of far-away lands, Maggie enjoys drinking copious amounts of coffee, Harry Potter, and coaxing stray cats into her home.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this article. I am interested in visiting both, but only have time for one at present. I was thinking renting a vehicle and driving “off the beaten path”. I like that idea. My plan is to travel the second week of September. After reading your article, both areas sound aweinspiring, but I think I will travel to Scotland first. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for the article. I am struggling with planning this trip, for two years now actually. I am beginning to plan a trip for 2020, likely August or September. Had hoped to visit both countries, and wonder if, in your opinion, they are doable in a 10-14 day span? Not hitting everything, but getting a great taste of each country this time around? Renting a car for sure, also travel with a parent whose mobility is slightly restrained (so no hikes unfortunately this time). Any recommendations are appreciated. Thinking Dublin as homebase and taking day trips, possibly an overnight in another town. Then heading to Scotland. Thank you for inspiring me to get back on the trip planning, I had been overwhelmed, but ready to dive in now.

    Reply
    • Hi Patti, thanks for your comment! Personally, if you’re just looking to see the highlights of Scotland and Ireland and don’t plan to do any hiking, then I see no reason why you couldn’t visit both countries in about a 2-week span. My suggestion would be to base yourself in Dublin and Galway in Ireland and do day trips from these cities and then do the same in Edinburgh and Inverness in Scotland. I think this would give you a good overall taste of the countries (and leave a lot of room to plan future trips!). If you want some more help planning, we have an itinerary that might be helpful for you here: https://www.theworldwasherefirst.com/london-scotland-ireland-itinerary/
      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  3. Thanks for the Article about Ireland and Scotland!!!!!!!!!!!! Firstly it was interesting to see(from just my Google Search of ‘Ireland or Scotland!?’) and here from Articles like yours exactly how Similar the Two Places are. I had no idea of this and was in the belief that they were very different places because I have only spent time in Ireland Republic and North so was unaware of how similar it sounds like Scotland actually is to Ireland particularly when it comes to The Nature side of it.

    Anyway I am still not entirely sure which one to visit both have Pro’s and Con’s, Ireland is Green and Lush however sounds like it could be a little more expensive mainly with regards to accommodation because it sounds like according to you Wild Camping is Illegal and therefore frowned upon and out of the question!!!!!!!!!! Which may be the deal breaker for me!!!!!!! Scotland sounds like it may be a cheaper Trip and maybe even more Beautiful than Ireland!!!!! Basically my Heart is saying Ireland(I also have Links/Roots in Ireland(I am Blood Wise Half Irish)) therefore feel like I have more reason to go there however have been before, my Head is saying Scotland though because overall I think it will be cheaper/more affordable as well as being at least equally Stunning if not more so than Ireland if your comments are anything to go by!!!!!!!!!! Thanks again!!!!!!!! BPR.

    Reply
  4. Hi! We are planning a 3 week trip to Scotland and Ireland in September but I am struggling with which one to fly into and out of. Would it be best to visit Ireland first or Scotland? I believe we will divide out time equally between the two countries. Any suggestions as to which airports to use? Thank you! Your help is very much appreciated!

    Reply
    • Hi Barbara, it really doesn’t matter which airport you fly into if you’re planning on dividing your time equally between the two countries. Dublin serves as more of a hub and is much higher-traffic than any Scottish airport, but whichever airport is cheapest for you to fly in and out of should be sufficient. Hope you have a great trip!

      Reply
  5. Great article. We are doing a 10 day trip in May/June 2020 and have decided to split the two countries. We plan on flying into Cork and staying somewhere around Tipperary, Athlone or somewhere near the south-central part of the country. Keep ourselves around 1-1.5 hours from most of the sights. We aren’t going to try and do everything other than enjoy seeing the country.

    We will follow up by flying from Cork to Glasgow and doing something similar there. I just have to finish planning the Scotland part of the trip.

    Reply
    • Sounds like you have a great trip planned, Matt, and thanks for your kind words! I think you have the right idea to find a base and then explore from there, especially if you have limited time. For Scotland, I would suggest maybe staying in or near Inverness — this is a great base to explore some of the most beautiful spots of the Highlands 🙂

      Reply
  6. I’m planning to go next year and visit both. I’ve been to Scotland and want to go back to explore Glasgow and Skye. This will be my first time in Ireland I have Irish ancestry and want to explore that a bit more too! I know 12 days is a bit of a rush but I guess I can get a taste of both and see where I’d like to return. I’m also spending a few night in London. I think I’m going to rent a car in both and do day trips still planning so let’s see but the article was very helpful! My plan Dublin -rent a car day trip from Dublin -Belfast- do a day trip tour -fly Glasgow – rent a car for day trip- London- then home

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment, Mera! Sounds like you’ve got a good plan for your trip! 12 days might be rushed, but I think you have the right idea to find a base and do day trips — that will save you a lot of time instead of moving destinations every 2 or 3 days 🙂

      Reply
  7. I’m planning a two week trip to either Ireland or Scotland or both. The group of family and friends consists mostly of seniors so we probably won’t be doing much hiking, just sightseeing. They are all depending on me to come through with an amazing adventure, so please help.
    A few questions: Can we rent cars in Ireland and return them in Scotland?
    Should we consider a bus tour or self drive to see more of the local fare?
    Is the Scottish Tattoo a must see?
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment, Darrell. Sounds like you’re putting together a great trip!

      Hypothetically, you could hire a car in Ireland and return it in Scotland, but it is going to be very expensive when you factor in the different pick-up/drop-off locations and the high cost of the car ferry, as well. It would be far more cost-effective just to hire separate cars in Scotland and Ireland and fly between the two.

      If you want to go more local, I would definitely recommend renting a car rather than going on a tour. You will have infinitely more flexibility if you are in full control of your own itinerary.

      As for the Tattoo, I have never been so I cannot speak as to whether it is a “must-see,” however, it is an incredibly popular thing to see and tickets there are expensive. Prices in Edinburgh will also likely increase while it is going on, as well.

      Reply
  8. Hi Maggie! Thanks for your article! I’ve been wanting to go to Ireland since I saw the movie Leap year, and moreso Scotland since I saw Half Light, P.S. I love you, and most current, Outlander (need I say why), LOL!!! I only have 13 days to split between the two, as I admittingly NEED to make a couple stops in my beloved Italy to visit friends and family- this is a must I cannot ignore, therefore I am cutting my time in the former two by five days- I know, crazy! But I’m Italian by decent and you know how the saying goes, “blood is thicker than water.” I did see that from Dublin there is an option called “Open Road” ticket, which is a hop on- hop off bus with unlimited travel for three days, for I believe around 60 Euros, that goes along the ancient east part of Ireland (or the west/ atlantic side), which has stops in must-see places like Newgrange, Wicklow Gaol (the scary place), and Trim Castle, just to name a few. I’m thinking this is definitely an option, since renting a car can bring on extra insurance, gas and parking expenses and headaches, I’m sure. Aside from those three days, I’m thinking about visiting a friend who lives in Dublin and wing it for just a couple nights, and then stay eight nights- I just might take your advice and rough it in a tent for maybe the first two nights? I’m going to definintely consider it. What are your thoughts on my planning ideas??? Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Hi Marina, thanks for your comment! Sounds like you’re planning a great trip. One thing that is worth mentioning is that Ireland doesn’t legally allow wild camping — it is only Scotland where it is legal. In Ireland, you will need to be at a campsite if you want to camp. Hope you have a fantastic time!

      Reply
  9. Having been to both, hands-down do Scotland. Ireland is pretty and there are many things you can go see, but Scotland has the “charm”.

    Also, don’t be put off by the “Troubles” of Northern Ireland. It’s extremely safe (at least as safe as Ireland) and very easy to get around. The history in Belfast is amazing. We enjoyed Ireland, but don’t have any compelling reason to go back and explore more. The food was great and the people were very friendly.

    (We flew to Belfast, AirBnB in Belfast, rented a car. Drove to Kilkenny and Waterford, then Dublin (AirBnB). 10 days total as part of a larger itinerary. If you visit Ireland, the Waterford Crystal factory is a must see).

    Reply
  10. We are in the very beginning stages of planning our trip to England, Ireland and Scotland. You mentioned Airbnb in your article. What are your thoughts on the safety of Airbnb over there? We are Airbnb hosts here in the US, but I was a little bit nervous about trying to use the service abroad.

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa, there is really no difference between using Airbnb in the UK & Ireland vs using it in the US. We’ve used it all over the world and we used to host Airbnb in our flat in London and have never had a safety issue. Also, the UK & Ireland are also statistically much safer in general than the US, as well. Hope you have a great trip!

      Reply
  11. Hi Maggie,

    First of all thank you so much for this! Super helpful! We’ve been debating between Ireland and Scotland for a while. Would love to do both unfortunately we don’t have the time to spend. Thanks to your article we decided to visit Scotland first. Planning on a 4 day trip in October. About to read through your other articles!
    If you’d have a four day trip to pack in history, nature and if you had a car what would be the must see places? We would love any recommendations.

    Thank you!
    Laura

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment, Laura! If you only have four days to spend in Scotland, I would recommend basing yourself in either Edinburgh or Inverness (depending on your interests) and doing day trips from there — it will be a lot easier if you have a car, as well. If you want some more inspiration for your trip, you can have a look at all of our Scotland content to help you plan: https://www.theworldwasherefirst.com/tag/scotland/

      Reply
  12. Hi Maggie,

    We are trying to decide between touring Scotland or Ireland for the last week of March. We would like to mix outdoor activities, museums, history, shopping, and eating (not in that order 🙂 Our dates are fixed and we are wondering if the weather in late March would be more conducive to one country or the other. We are also wondering if tourist sites and amenities are closed or have reduced hours prior to April.
    Thank you,
    Jay

    Reply
    • Hi Jay, thanks for your comment! As weather goes, you’ll temperatures between Ireland and Scotland to be more or less the same at that time of year, however, it can get colder in Scotland if you’re farther north. I don’t think you should be impacted with tourist attraction closures or reduced hours then, either. It’s the time year when people begin to travel and most places are open for business as usual.

      Reply
  13. We have been debating Ireland vs Scotland for our family of 5 (kids 13,11,9). We went to Iceland in summer ‘18 and the kids really enjoyed. My husband said some of what we saw in Iceland reminded him of Scotland (he spent a semester in Scotland). What do you think would be better for a family that enjoys being out in nature (though not into long hard hikes) vs being in metro areas (London last spring break was a good trip but kids liked Iceland better)
    Thanks
    J

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment, Jean! Personally, if you want to spend a lot of time out in nature and enjoy some dramatic scenery, then I would recommend visiting Scotland. Ireland is certainly incredibly beautiful, however, I just find that Scotland has more surprises and more absolute jaw-dropping scenery. I don’t think you can go wrong with either choice, though! Have a great trip 🙂

      Reply
  14. Hi Maggie,
    Looking at a Aug / September 2020 visit to Scotland / Ireland. Tossing up whether to do 4 weeks (two weeks in each) or 2 1/2 weeks in Scotland / few days in Great Britain then pick up Ireland another time. Would be interested in your thoughts. Cheers Mark

    Reply
    • Hi Mark, if you think that you’ll be back in the region again, then I would recommend spending all of your time in Scotland this time around. There is so much to see and do that if you have it, it is better to dedicate more time to one place. Hope you have a great time whatever your decision!

      Reply
  15. Loved reading these comments. I am a Scot with strong Irish ancestry. Both countries are beautiful. Having been all over both countries, the place I love the most is Scotland. Even my jaw dropped on the road from Fort William to the Isle of Skye – (Loch / Glen Garry) simply stunning. However, ultimately you will love both countires – Fàilte gu Alba ??????? & Céad Míle Fáilte ?? ?

    Reply
  16. My husband and I have been married for 40 years and we have always talked about going to Scotland as his ancestry is Scottish. We have no idea where to start. Would it be best to go with a travel guide? Guided tour group? Also, what time of the year (temperature wise) would the best time to go. We live in the Midwest where our seasons are beautiful and change gradually. We may get very frigid temps in Winter but don’t usually last and it’s not consistent from year to year. Like, today, November 7, the weather was beautiful and we went hiking in short sleeve t-shirts as the temp was 72. However I’ve seen it snow on Halloween. I just want to be prepared for whatever weather we may experience.

    Reply

Leave a Comment