There are few countries throughout the world that inspire so much awe and splendour than Scotland or Ireland. They both boast incredible expanses of green scenery, beautiful nature, rugged coastlines, ancient archaeological sites, and famously friendly locals.
However, they are two distinct places 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 and 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?
In general, choose Scotland if you want countless archaeological sites, myriad islands to explore and a well-established walking and camping culture. On the other hand, choose Ireland if you’re interested in great food, recent history and bucolic landscapes.
This article will outline the pros and cons of visiting Ireland and Scotland including things like affordability, activities, and attractions in order to help you pick the best country for your particular travel style.
Table of Contents
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 all kinds and, despite its relatively small size and population, keeps drawing people back year after year.
One of the first things you need to consider when attempting to choose between Ireland and 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 largest airport in Scotland is located in its capital of Edinburgh. It serves countless destinations internationally and it makes an easy and convenient starting point for a Scotland trip. There are also smaller airports in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness that have connections across the UK and continental Europe.
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.
It is also 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.
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. There are also plenty of amazing private rentals you can rent like this stunning cottage on Skye!
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.
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.
Read More: Dublin or Edinburgh: Which City to Visit?
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.
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, 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, deciding whether to visit Ireland or Scotland can become an incredibly tricky choice.
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 and even the US, 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.
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 (do remember to tip your guide, though!). Don’t go out drinking in the Temple Bar district, where the price of a pint can exceed €8.
Everywhere in both the Republic and Northern Ireland, keep an eye out for state-run museums, which, like in Scotland, 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 one like this restored barn in Connemara, 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.
Things to Do
If you’re weighing in on the things to do in 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, Achill Island, 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.
In Northern Ireland, you have gritty and historic cities like Belfast and Derry to explore. Not only that but the incredible Antrim Coast and the inimitable Giant’s Causeway are unmissable attractions.
If you’re interested in hikes and walks, there is 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 is firmly cemented on the tourist trail for a reason: there are seemingly infinite things to do in such a small island nation.
Scotland vs Ireland: The Verdict
So should you visit Scotland or Ireland? Sometimes, it can seem as if there isn’t much difference between 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.
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, beyond this, there isn’t much of a price difference between the two countries.
However, if you’re choosing between the two 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. Even in the smallest of villages, you can find exciting and fantastic gastropubs which are excellent eateries with incredibly high quality. The same doesn’t exist to the same degree in Scotland.
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.
All in all, it can be a tough choice to find out if it is better to visit Ireland or Scotland. 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 which country is right for you.
Are you struggling to decide between visiting these countries? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!