Reserve your accommodations as far in advance as possible, even in the so-called slow months from November to April. Sometimes you can get better rates by calling the hotel directly. Ask for the type of room you want. If you're sensitive to noise, for example, request a room that's quieter, perhaps in the rear so you won't hear traffic noise out front. Remember that in the older hotels and inns, guest rooms tend to be small and each room is different, often with different plumbing. If you need a bathtub, ask for one or else you might end up with a small shower cubicle.
Accommodation prices quoted throughout this guide include breakfast unless otherwise noted. To save money, try these rules of thumb:
- Choose your season carefully. The cheapest time to travel to Scotland is off-season: November 1 to December 12 and early January to March 14. In the past few years, airlines have been offering heavily discounted fares during these periods, with weekday flights even cheaper than weekend ones. Rates generally increase between March 14 and June 5 and in October, and hit their peak in the high seasons from June 6 to September 30 and December 13 to the end of December. Prices tend to be highest in July and August, are when most British people take their holidays. At many times throughout the year, you’ll often find the lowest rates midweek, or conversely, in business-oriented hotels, on the weekend.
- Buy a money-saving package deal. A travel package that combines your airfare and your hotel stay for one price may be a good bargain, particularly for Edinburgh. In some cases, you’ll get airfare, accommodations, transportation to and from the airport, plus extras—maybe an afternoon sightseeing tour—for less than the hotel alone would have cost. Be wary of packages that include meals and other extras, since these might be less expensive if purchased separately or outside the hotel. The usual booking websites (Priceline, Expedia) offer packages.
- Shop around. There are so many ways to save online and through apps. Once you’ve done some shopping, contact the property directly and ask for the lowest possible rate—it’s often that simple, and don’t be shy about asking for a better deal than the ones you’ve seen elsewhere. Then keep shopping—most reservations are fully refundable almost to time of check-in, so if you find a better price go back to the hotel of choice and renegotiate.
- Choose a chain. With some exceptions, we have not listed mass-volume chain hotels in this book. In our opinion, they tend to lack the character and the local feel that many independently run hotels give to the travel experience. That said, you may be able to use reward points or access some type of corporate discount at these chain hotels.
- Avoid excess charges and hidden costs. Use your own cellphone instead of dialing direct from hotel phones, which usually have exorbitant rates. And don’t be tempted by minibar offerings: Most hotels charge through the nose for water, soda, and snacks. Finally, don’t forget to factor in local taxes and service charges, which can increase the cost of a room by 15% or more.
- Consider rentals and private B&Bs. See below for more on this type of accommodation.
- Stay longer. Many hotels offer discounts of as much as 20% for week or sometimes even a few days.
- Forego a private bathroom. Many historic properties outside cities—castles, farmhouses, even lighthouses—have been converted to character-filled accommodations, in which not all of the rooms are en suite. These bathless rooms are often less expensive than others.
- Join the club. Some organizations, including AARP and AAA, offer hotel discounts to members, and these apply to some properties in Scotland and elsewhere abroad.
Turning to the Internet or Apps for a Hotel Discount
Before going online, it’s important that you know what “flavor” of discount you’re seeking. Currently, there are three types of online reductions:
Extreme discounts on sites where you bid for lodgings without knowing which hotel you’ll get. You’ll find these on such sites as Priceline.com and Hotwire.com, and they can be money-savers, particularly if you’re booking within a week of travel (that’s when the hotels resort to deep discounts to get beds filled). As these companies usually use major chains, you can rest assured that you won’t be put up in a dump. For more reassurance, visit the website BiddingTraveler.com. On it, actual travelers spill the beans about what they bid on Priceline.com and which hotels they got. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the quality of many of the hotels that are offering these “secret” discounts. Keep in mind, though, that since you won’t know the location of the hotel until you book, you can find yourself spending a lot of money and time reaching the hotel of choice—not necessarily a problem if you’re traveling by car, but a potential hassle if you’re relying on public transportation.
- Discounts on chain hotel websites. Major chains reserve special discounts, ranging widely from a few dollars and going as high as $50, for travelers who book directly through their websites (usually in the portion of the site reserved for loyalty members). Our advice: Search for a hotel that’s in your price range and ideal location (see below for where to do that) and then, if it is a chain property, book directly through the online loyalty portal.
- Use the right hotel search engine. They’re not all equal, as we at Frommers.com learned after putting the top 20 sites to the test in 20 cities (including Edinburgh) around the globe. We discovered that Booking.com listed the lowest rates for hotels in the city center, and in the under $200 range, 16 out of 20 times—the best record, by far, of all the sites we tested. And Booking.com includes all taxes and fees in its results (not all do, which can make for a frustrating shopping experience). For top-end properties, again in the city center only, both Priceline.com and HotelsCombined.com came up with the best rates, tying at 14 wins each.
- Last-minute discounts. Booking last minute can be a great savings strategy, as prices sometimes drop in the week before travel as hoteliers scramble to fill their rooms. But you won’t necessarily find the best savings through companies that claim to specialize in last-minute bookings. Instead, use the sites recommended in point 3 of this list. It’s a lot of surfing, we know, but this sort of diligence can pay off.
In Britain, regional tourist boards classify the standard of accommodation through a star rating system, with five stars being the highest rating and one star the lowest. Each property is judged on categories that may make no difference to the stay of the traveler, though it’s helpful to know that all establishments from two stars upward are required to provide en suite bathrooms, and in one-star accommodation hot and cold running water must be provided in all rooms. The ratings in this book go from one star to three stars and have nothing to do with the official rating system. Star ratings are posted outside the buildings. However, the system is voluntary, and many hotels do not participate.
Many hotels, especially older ones, still lack private bathrooms for all rooms. However, most have hot and cold running water, and many have modern wings with all the amenities (and older sections that are less up-to-date). When making reservations, always ask what section of the hotel you'll be staying in.
All hotels once included in the room price a full Scottish breakfast of bacon and eggs, but today that is true of only some hotels. A continental breakfast is commonly included, usually just tea or coffee and toast.
Hotels vs. Rentals
It is impossible for us to include reviews for the thousands of apartments, houses and other “one-off” rentals that are available in Scotland through such online giants as Airbnb.com, Wimdu.com, VRBO.com, Homeaway.com, and others. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them for your next vacation. The savings can be tremendous. Take for example a 1-week vacation in Edinburgh. If you’d booked a nice, midrange hotel for a week in the city you’d be looking at a something south of £800 for 6 nights in a double room with bathroom. Go to Airbnb, or one of its compatriots, and you’d be able to get not only a bedroom, but an entire flat for the week (including a kitchen, so you can save a bit of cash cooking) for almost half: £490.
Well, sort of. That’s because you will likely have more fees to contend with on a rental than on a hotel stay. So before entering your credit card info, always factor in all costs, looking in particular for:
- The fee that the booking company charges. This can add 6% or more to the total cost.
- Cleaning fees: These come to an average of £40, so often the longer you rent, the more this cost can be amortized.
A big perk of this kind of stay: truly unique digs. Not only will you find rentable castles in Scotland (yes, actual ones), you’ll also find a decommissioned church (in Urquhart, Morayshire), yurts in the Orkney Islands, a re-tooled giant whiskey vat turned house (in Findhorn), and even a cozy home on a 600-acre private island on Loch Sunart in Argyll.
Bed & Breakfasts
A mainstay of accommodation in all areas of Scotland and the U.K. are bed-and-breakfasts. Sometimes this type of accommodation can be an extension of a family home; at other times the property can be a modern stylish guesthouse. What they all have in common is that they’re small, typically offering between two and 15 rooms. They can be far friendlier than big large hotels, and some offer a homemade evening meal at a reasonable extra charge.
Bed and Breakfast Nationwide (www.bedandbreakfastnationwide.com; tel. 01255/672-377) is an agency specializing in privately owned bed-and-breakfasts all over Britain. You’ll also find B&Bs on Wimdu.com, Airbnb.com, and Bed and Fed (www.bedandfed.co.uk), networks of affordable guest rooms, often in private homes, for as little as £30 per night.
Many farmhouses set aside rooms for paying guests on a bed-and-breakfast basis. These traditional farmhouses might not boast all the modern conveniences and luxuries of hotels, but they’re packed with rural charm, provide a unique insight into Scottish life off the beaten track, and are famous for some of the best home-cooked breakfasts in Scotland. Staying in farmhouses, which are often also private homes, can be cheaper than many other types of accommodation, and many farms also offer self-catering accommodation in converted barns or cottages as well as camping and caravan sites on their land.
Farm Stay UK (www.farmstayuk.co.uk; tel. 024/7669-6909) is the main national organization for accommodation of this type. The approximate prices range from £30 to £60 per person per night and include a full home-cooked breakfast and usually private facilities. Farm stay self-catering accommodation costs from £200 per week and usually include amenities such as dishwashers and central heating. Each property is inspected annually by both Farm Stay UK and regional tourist boards, and most are open year-round.
Holiday Cottages & Villages
Throughout Scotland, fully furnished studios, houses, cottages, “flats” (apartments), and even trailers suitable for couples, families, or groups can be rented by the day, week, or for longer periods. This type of holiday accommodation can often be an economical option, not least because you can cook all your own meals.
Alongside such multinational companies as Airbnb.com, HomeAway.com, and Fliplkey.com, U.K. companies that offer this type of accommodation include Cottages.com (tel. 0345/498-6900), representing rental properties from thatch-roofed island cottages to castles; Embrace Scotland (tel. 01866/822-122); Unique Cottages (www.unique-cottages.co.uk; tel. 01835/822-277); and Wilderness Cottages (www.wildernesscottages.co.uk; tel. 01463/719-219). The perk of using U.K.-based properties is they vet the properties they rep, and will be on hand should anything go wrong with the rental.
The National Trust for Scotland (www.ntsholidays.com; tel. 0131/458-0200; from outside U.K., 0131/458-0303) also rents many incredible historic properties around the country from flats in old tenements on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile to lighthouse cottages and castles. In addition, the Landmark Trust (www.landmarktrust.org.uk; tel. 01628/825-925), a national building preservation charity, also has a large collection of historic buildings available for holiday lets.
Many American chains, such as Best Western, Hilton, Sheraton, and Travelodge, are found throughout Britain. In addition, Britain has a number of leading chains with which North American travelers are generally not familiar. Thistle Hotels (tel. 020/7138-0000; www.thistle.com) is a well-regarded chain of upscale-to-moderate full-service hotels that caters to business and leisure travelers alike. An exclusive chain of government-rated three-crown hotels is called Malmaison (tel. 0845/365-4247; www.malmaison.com). There's not a bad hotel in their post. Premier Travel Inn (tel. 0870/242-8000; www.premiertravelinn.com) is a chain of modern, moderately priced accommodations across the U.K., each one featuring a licensed restaurant.
The market leader in home exchanges is HomeLink International, 2937 NW9 Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311 (tel. 800/638-3841 or 954/566-2687; www.homelink.org), which costs $110 to join. This is the oldest, largest, and best home-exchange holiday organization in the world.
A competitor is Intervac U.S. & International, 30 Corte San Fernando, Tiburon, CA 94920 (tel. 800/756-HOME ; www.intervacus.com). To hook up with this outfitter, you pay $65 annually. Intervac is adept at securing a list of home exchanges throughout Great Britain.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.