Skip to Content

Scotland vs. Ireland: Which Is Better to Visit on Vacation?

Are you looking to have an unforgettable vacation abroad in Scotland or Ireland? Both are home to beautiful landscapes with green hills, historical sites (including castles!), outdoor adventures, extremely friendly locals, and rich pub cultures.

Obviously, if you have the time, I highly recommend that you travel to Ireland and Scotland (from personal experience). However, if you have to make the difficult decision to choose one over the other and don’t know where to start, look no further!

In this blog post, I’ll weigh Scotland vs. Ireland and help you decide which bucket list country you should visit first. From unique attractions to delicious cuisine–let me be your expert guide as I make the ultimate comparison of these two awe-inspiring nations.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission when you purchase a product or book a stay through these links at no extra cost to you.

Top destinations in Scotland and Ireland

Glenveagh Castle in County Donegal, Ireland, showing the castle and surrounding gardensIf you need to decide between Scotland and Ireland quickly, one of my best suggestions is to look over the top places to visit in each country:

The most popular places to visit in Scotland

Colorful shops lining Victoria Street in Old Town Edinburgh in Scotland.

  • Edinburgh: Scotland’s capital is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with famous landmarks like Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
  • Isle of Skye: This enchanting island captivates visitors with its dramatic landscapes and scenery, including sites like the Fairy Pools, the Old Man of Storr, and the iconic Fairy Glen.
  • Loch Ness: This large freshwater loch is famous around the world as the home of the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Take a boat tour here or explore the ruins of Urquhart Castle.
  • Glencoe: This village in the Scottish Highlands features beautiful mountain scenery and waterfalls. Outdoor adventurers can go hiking, mountaineering, and even skiing in the winter months.
  • Loch Lomond & The Trossachs: Scotland’s first national park encompasses the stunning Loch Lomond, scenic mountains, and outdoor activities like hiking, walking, camping, cycling, and wildlife spotting.

The most popular places to visit in Ireland

The Long Room in Trinity College Library, showing the large main chamber lined with rows of books and statue busts.

  • Dublin: Ireland’s capital city is home to attractions like the Guinness Storehouse, The Book of Kells and Trinity College, Dublin Castle, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
  • The Cliffs of Moher: These sea cliffs on Ireland’s West Coast in County Clare receive over 1.5 million visitors annually, making them the country’s most visited attraction.
  • The Ring of Kerry: One of the most scenic drives in Ireland, it passes through the Iveragh Peninsula and County Kerry, with must-see stops like Killarney National Park, Ladies View, Moll’s Gap, and Kenmare.
  • Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone: Blarney Castle in County Cork is where you’ll find the legendary Blarney Stone. Kiss the stone to receive the “gift of the gab”!
  • Connemara National Park: This beautiful natural space in County Galway features Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden and views of the Twelve Bens mountain range.

Best time to visit Scotland and Ireland

The Jacobite Steam Train crossing across the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Fort William, Scotland.June through August marks the peak tourism season in both Scotland and Ireland, with warmer days and more hours of sunlight. For example, Sunset is as late as 10 p.m. around the summer solstice! Nonetheless, expect more crowds and higher prices for flights and accommodations.

The tourism seasons in Scotland and Ireland run from approximately Easter to October each year. With this in mind, shoulder season provides the ideal combination of fewer visitors with ideal weather. In my opinion, the best time to visit Scotland or Ireland is in April, May, September, or October.

The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland, showing a view of the green sea cliffs and the ocean next to them.However, you’ll want to consider local holidays when choosing your dates. For example, schools in both countries have two weeks of spring break around Easter. Moreover, don’t forget about Saint Patrick’s Day if you plan a trip to Ireland in early spring!

Read More: Harry Potter Locations in Edinburgh

Weather in Scotland vs. Ireland

A view of Dunrobin Castle in Scotland, as seen from the castle's gardens.Although Scotland and Ireland may seem similar on paper, thanks to their green landscapes and unpredictable weather, they actually do differ in climate. Since Scotland sits farther north than Ireland, it generally experiences cooler temperatures, including snowfall in winter.

By contrast, Southern Ireland has a much milder climate due to the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). Additionally, although both destinations are extremely, Scotland actually receives slightly more rainfall on average than Ireland.

View of the hiking trail leading to Steall Falls in Glencoe, showing the valley of mountains surrounding the waterfall.In fact, the Western Highlands receive up to 180.2 inches (4,577 mm) of rainfall yearly, making them one of the wettest places on the continent. With this in mind, make sure to bring a raincoat, umbrella, and waterproof shoes on your trip! Plus, consider packing hiking boots for outdoor activities in both countries.

The driest months in Scotland and Ireland are April and May, although you can still expect around 8-10 days with rainfall each month. Luckily, rainfall during the warmer months tends to be more of a light drizzle, while the wettest months (December and January), experience more of a downpour. 

Read More: What to Pack for Ireland

Cost of visiting Scotland vs. Ireland

View of Coumeenoole Beach along the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, showing the golden sand and the sea cliffs rising above itWhen planning a trip to Ireland or Scotland, budget is always an important factor to keep in mind. After all, both destinations features beautiful scenery, exciting outdoor activities, welcoming locals, and adorable traditional towns, but which one is cheaper to visit?

I think that the price difference between Scotland and Ireland comes down to a few different factors. Namely, the time of year, hotel and B&B costs, transportation costs, and activities on your itinerary. However, generally speaking, both destinations have similar vacation expenses.

The colorful town of Kenmare along the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.For example, in my experience, it was cheaper to rent a car in Ireland, while accommodation costs were slightly higher in Scotland. Of course, you could always save money here by wild camping (it’s actually legal in Scotland!).

The cost of food in both countries is relatively comparable. Of course, you’ll save the most money by buying groceries and cooking for yourself. In my opinion, Scotland may end up being more budget-friendly for some people thanks to its many free activities and museums compared to Ireland.

The Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye in Scotland on a cloudy day.In Scotland, I found parking fees to be more common. For example, attractions like Eilean Donan Castle, the Fairy Glen, the Old Man of Storr, the Fairy Pools, Quiraing, and Stirling Castle all require paid parking–typically around £5. While necessary for site upkeep, these fees can accumulate quickly!

Consider the exchange rate when planning your trip. In Scotland, the currency is the pound sterling, while in Ireland, it’s the euro. Typically, the pound is worth more than the euro, so Americans may find better value in Ireland.

Read More: Things to Do on Isle of Skye

Driving in Scotland vs. Ireland

A white car driving along the road on the Ring of Kerry in Ireland, surrounded by hilly terrain.Driving on the left for the first time can be stressful for many North American visitors. Stick to big cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Dublin for an easier experience, and be mindful of roundabouts where you’ll need to drive clockwise.

Nonetheless, back roads can be trickier, especially in less developed areas. Expect one-lane roads (single-track roads) with lay-bys (passing lanes) in both destinations, such as Slea Head Drive and parts of the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.

Cars driving on the left side of the road in Glencoe, Scotland.You’ll encounter them all over the Isle of Skye and along the North Coast 500 on a Scotland road trip. When encountering a vehicle on a single-track road, pull into a passing place on your left. If it’s on your right, wait on the left until the oncoming vehicle uses the passing place on their left.

In general, I would say that driving in Scotland is easier. Often, I found that passing places were better marked compared to Ireland. Plus, you’ll likely have to pay toll fees in Ireland, whereas I did not encounter this system in Scotland.

Cars driving up the winding road to the Quiraing Lookout on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.However, driving on the Isle of Skye in Scotland is an exception. The roads in many places are sub-standard with potholes, particularly on single-track roads where you may have no choice but to drive slowly over them. Be cautious, as flat tires for tourists are common in this area.

Read More: Best Books About Scotland

Public transport in Ireland and Scotland

A public bus driving down the road in the city of Dublin, Ireland.Both Ireland and Scotland have public transportation options for tourists (for those who don’t want to drive). In Ireland, the public transport includes a system of buses, trains, and trams (only in Dublin). The main train company you’ll see here is the Irish Rail.

Meanwhile, if you travel to Northern Ireland, you’ll mainly see Translink. Or, if prefer to take the bus, the leading bus company in the Republic of Ireland is Bus Éireann, while it’s Translink in Northern Ireland.

A red train at the train station at Aviemore, Scotland.On the other hand, Scotland’s transportation system features trains operated by ScotRail and buses run by First, Stagecoach, Lothian Buses, and National Express. Here, you’ll find that public transportation in bigger cities is easier to navigate. Nonetheless, you’ll want to rent a car in remote areas like the Isle of Skye. 

Of course, trains and buses are more cost-effective, but renting a car is really important if you want to fully explore smaller towns and the countryside in both countries. I often find people are overwhelmed by the idea of driving on the left side of the road, but you’ll adapt quickly!

However, if you’d really prefer to not drive, I suggest booking a multi-day guided tour to truly immerse yourself outside of the big cities and experience a more authentic side of Ireland or Scotland. Another alternative would be to base yourself in one of the bigger cities and take day trips

Scottish vs. Irish Cuisine

A table set with a sandwich and scone and an incredible view of the Dingle Peninsula along the Western Coast of Ireland.When it comes to Irish cuisine, you’ll notice dishes like hearty stews, savory pies, and seafood. One of the most famous dishes has to be corned beef and cabbage, which, of course, you have to taste with a side of Irish soda bread. Of course, the Irish experience isn’t complete without visiting a quintessential pub complete with traditional Irish music!

On the other hand, Scottish food often features game meat and potatoes at its center. For example, picture the traditional haggis meal, served complete with neeps and tatties. You’ll also want to try porridge, an important staple, and shortbread, my favorite Scottis dessert.

A view of the front facade of the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland.Now, we can’t talk about famous Scottish and Irish cuisine without mentioning the beverage industry! After all, Dublin is home to the Guinness brand, the Irish dry stout sold around the world. Then Ireland as a whole is known for its whiskey production, including popular brands like Jameson, Tullamore Dew, and Bushmills.

As far as Scotland’s beverage of choice, you probably think of Scotch Whisky and its smoky flavor! In fact, this country has over 100 whisky distilleries, like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Highland Park, just to name a few. If you’re visiting Edinburgh, it’s a great opportunity to go to the Scotch Whisky Experience!

If you break down the overall food scenes in both of these countries, foodies may end up leaning towards Ireland. After all, it’s home to 21 Michelin-starred restaurants as of 2024, while Scotland has a lower total of 11.

Capital cities: Edinburgh vs. Dublin

View of Edinburgh Castle as seen from the Vennel Viewpoint in Edinburgh, Scotland.It’s hard to choose between Edinburgh and Dublin! After all, they’re two of the most visited cities in Europe. As the capitals of Scotland and Ireland, respectively, both are ideal for all types of travelers, packed with history, family-friendly attractions, and foodie spots.

Edinburgh is a popular choice for history buffs, famous for its iconic castle, medieval Old Town, and loads of museums. Other top things to do here include sampling Scotch whisky along the Royal Mile or exploring the real-life Harry Potter locations that inspired J.K. Rowling.

The famous Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland.On the other hand, Dublin has in its favor a deep literary history, friendly locals, and lively pub scene! Top attractions include the Trinity College Library, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, and Temple Bar, along with a tour of the Guinness Storehouse.

Ultimately, whether Edinburgh or Dublin is the better choice for you really differs from person to person. For example, you may want to consider that Edinburgh offers more of a quaint vibe, while Dublin is more modern. Or, that Dubliners are generally friendlier, while Edinburgh may be more budget-friendly.

View of a pretty street in Edinburgh called Circus Lane, showing stone homes surrounded by greenery.If you were to make me choose between the two, I’d personally always opt for Edinburgh. For me, personally, I found it to be a more picturesque city than Dublin. Plus, I enjoyed that all the main attractions in Edinburgh were easily within walking distance to one another! 

Currency in Scotland and Ireland

A mix of euros and pound sterling bills laid out togetherRemember that Scotland forms part of the United Kingdom, along with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So, you’ll use the British pound sterling (£) for currency here. By comparison, when traveling in the Republic of Ireland, you’ll use the Euro (€).

Since these two countries use completely different currencies, it may be helpful to check the currency exchange rate with the U.S. dollar before making your decision. For example, the euro has been almost on par with the dollar recently, while the pound is often stronger than the dollar.

Which country is more family-friendly?

A view of the Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, showing rocks laid in a circle in a green valley.When it comes to deciding between Ireland and Scotland for your family vacation, there are a few different factors I would recommend taking into account. 

In my experience, Scotland tends to appeal more to families with older children and teenagers thanks to activities like hiking, skiing, and mountain biking activities. If you prefer indoor activities, there are also lots of free-entry museums (like the National Museum of Scotland) for kids.

A colorful street in the town of Dingle, Ireland.Ireland’s picturesque countryside and friendly locals, in my opinion, make it an ideal destination for families with younger children. You can find loads of playgrounds and age-appropriate activities, like Dublin Zoo and the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History, here.

Read More: Ride the Harry Potter Train in Scotland

Hotels in Scotland vs. Ireland

Dromoland Castle Hotel in Ireland, showing the castle entrance surrounded by gardens and a fountain.Hotels in Scotland and Ireland share similarities in terms of hospitality and comfort, with accommodations ranging from B&Bs to luxury castle hotels. B&Bs are likely to be your only option in smaller towns in both countries.

Since B&Bs tend to have a smaller capacity for guests, one of our best travel tips is to book your accommodations well in advance. In particular, availability will fill up quickly in more rural areas of Ireland and Scotland, like Doolin (near the Cliffs of Moher) or on the Isle of Skye.

Overall, there are more chain hotels in Ireland, primarily in larger cities. Additionally, accommodations tend to be pricier in cities like Dublin, Galway, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. By comparison, B&Bs are often the more budget-friendly option in smaller towns.

Castles in Scotland vs. Ireland

Eilean Donan Castle in the western Highlands of Scotland on a cloudy day.Overall, it’s hard to say which country has the best castles. I generally preferred the exterior architecture and grounds of Scottish castles while finding the interiors of Irish castles more impressive.

Historically, Scotland has been home to over two thousand castles. Some of the most famous Scottish castles to visit include Edinburgh Castle, Balmoral Castle, Dunrobin Castle, Glamis Castle, and Eilean Donan Castle.

View of the side of Kilkenny Castle in Kilkenny, Ireland.By comparison, Ireland boasts over three thousand castles and ruins, including well-known ones like Blarney Castle, famous for kissing the Blarney Stone, as well as Kilkenny Castle, Bunratty Castle, and Dublin Castle.

Scenery in Scotland vs. Ireland

View of the Dingle Peninsula along Slea Head Drive in Ireland, showing green rolling hills and turquoise coastal waters.Ireland tends to be greener; hence, its nickname is “the Emerald Isle.” You’ll find that much of the country looks like green rolling hills or is relatively flat. The country is also home to natural wonders such as the Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, and the Slieve League Cliffs.

The main difference regarding scenery is that Scotland is more diverse, with taller mountains. Scottish national parks like Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs are renowned for their mountainous landscapes, unlike Ireland, which lacks comparable features to the Scottish Highlands.

View of the mountains in Glencoe, Scotland, surrounded by clouds on a rainy day.Ben Nevis is the most impressive natural wonder in Scotland. At a height of 4,413 feet (1,345 m), it ranks as the highest mountain in the United Kingdom and the British Isles. Meanwhile, the highest peak in Ireland is Carrauntoohil, standing at 3,407 feet (1,038 m).

Of course, Scotland is renowned for its lochs, including the famous Loch Ness and Loch Lomond in The Trossachs National Park—a popular day trip from Glasgow. Depending on your preferences, you may favor the landscape in Scotland for mountains and Ireland for coastal drives.

Flying to Ireland or Scotland from the U.S.

View of the entrance to Lough Eske Castle in Ireland, showing stone castle with a large fountain in front.Most Americans fly into the Dublin Airport (DUB) when visiting Ireland. You can book nonstop flights to Ireland’s capital from major cities like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

Nonetheless, the Shannon Airport (SNN) is another excellent option, especially if you want to explore Ireland’s West Coast. You can find direct flights here from Boston (via Aer Lingus), Chicago (ORD with United), and New York (JFK with Aer Lingus and EWR with United).

View of Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland, showing Ross Fountain.Edinburgh Airport is a popular choice for American visitors thanks to its direct flights from NYC, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Orlando. However, note that some direct air travel options may be seasonal, mainly offered during the summer months.

Many people don’t realize that you can also fly into the Inverness Airport (INV) for easy access to the Highlands. Just keep in mind that there are no direct flights from the United States to INV! So, you’ll have to do a quick layover in Edinburgh or elsewhere.

Read More: Books to Read Before Visiting Ireland

Did you enjoy this post? Pin it for later!

We compare Scotland vs. Ireland in terms of popular attractions, trip cost, driving, public transport, cuisine, and more to help you choose!

This post was first published in May 2023 and has since been updated.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.