With more and more visitors traveling to Scotland than ever before, there is increasing concern about the potential negative impact of tourism on Scotland's spectacular natural environment, as well as its iconic cities and unique towns and villages.
Luckily, there are plenty of simple steps that you can take to help combat overtourism by ensuring your visit is as sustainable as possible. Discover the actions and considerations you can take to help support and protect Scotland's landscapes, cultural landmarks and communities, while still getting the most out of your holiday.
COVID-19 Phase 3 Restrictions
*Please check ahead at if your are planning to visit attractions for opening dates and times. Some places are still closed to the public or require booking in advanced.
You can now search our website for attractions, tours, and activities that are now open, and for those who are part of the Good to Go scheme, where they have carried out a Covid-19 risk assessment. Find out more about the current restrictions of Phase 3 and future phases.
1. Spend more time in one destination
Many first-time visitors make the mistake of trying to cram absolutely everything there is to see and do in Scotland into their entire trip. This is not only impossible but has the unintended effect of creating overcrowding in many of our most famous and beloved spots, especially in Edinburgh where many visitors spend just a couple of days. Unfortunately, this can not only make for an unpleasant visitor experience, but also undermine the quality of life for residents by placing undue stress on public transport and infrastructure.
By staying in the same place that little bit longer, you'll not only help to greatly reduce the pressure on the country's most famous attractions and destinations, but will allow yourself the time to explore at your own leisure, once the crowds and tour groups of the peak visitor hours have subsided. Savour the freedom of being able to see and do so much more during your visit, and take things at a more relaxed, enjoyable pace.
Tip: Time to spare? Go on an immersive tour of Scotland with our Delve into Scotland eBooks. Covering nine areas, find the most visited attractions, beautiful viewpoints, free things to do, and more.
2. Reduce your carbon foot print
Whether you're are thinking about visiting Scotland from within the UK or overseas, take the time to consider what is the most sustainable and eco-friendly mode of travel before booking your tickets. If travelling with friends and family, it may make more sense to drive, especially if the car is full. If travelling solo, it may actually be greener to fly or take the train or other public transport. Remember, while taking the train or bus is usually the most sustainable option compared to flying or driving, this can vary depending on the size of your group and the route taken.
Find out more about travelling to and around Scotland.
Tip: You can rent a Tesla or book an chauffeured guided tour of the North Coast 500 in the first mass-market electric powered vehicle with Ecosse EV (pictured). There are 11 charge points located along the route. You can find a reliable map of all the EV charge points in Scotland at ChargePlace Scotland, Scotland's national EV charging network; and Greener Scotland.
3. Consider the visitor accommodation you pick
Whether it's a boutique hotel or a self-service apartment; a family-run bed and breakfast or a rural rental cottage; choose from an incredible array of unique, high-quality, and quality-checked accommodation options. By reviewing our Quality Assurance properties, you can see clearly the steps taken by owners and operators to meet a certain level of standards.
Taking the time to evaluate your choice of stay is one of the best ways to show consideration to both your destination and the people who live there. This is because quality assured properties are purposefully set up to cater for visitors.
Look for accommodation providers which have been awarded accreditation by our Green Tourism scheme. It's one of the best places to find a place to stay with a high standard of green credentials.
4. Use public transport
Once you arrive at your destination, try to travel around as much as possible by foot or bike. For longer journeys, opt for the next greenest option - Scotland's extensive public transport network, which includes bus, rail and ferry. Using public transport is highly recommended if exploring popular destinations such as the Highlands and the Isle of Skye where the roads, parking bays and laybys can become congested and sometimes blocked by higher volumes of traffic and larger vehicles.
If public transport is not an option for you but you still want to access these areas, consider booking a private tour in a mini-van or bus. This will help reduce the overcrowding on small country roads and carbon emissions.
Be sure to also investigate what car share schemes are available in the area - a system which offers a greener alternative to renting a car or booking taxi.
Learn more about driving responsibly in Scotland.
5. Get off the beaten (tourist) track with a local guide
There is so much more to see and do in Scotland than what you can see on Instagram. Book a private or small-group tour with a local guide and reap the rewards of their insider knowledge. From a food tour of Glasgow's culinary gems, a guided hike through the Cairngorms, or a chauffeured road trip along the North Coast 500, discover sights, tastes and once-in-a-lifetime experiences you might not have had on your own.
What's more, any reputable tour operator or independent guide will allow you to experience a more authentic side of Scotland while supporting local businesses, shops, restaurants, distilleries and more along the way.
Browse a wide range of tours in Scotland.
6. Visit during off-peak seasons
Visiting Scotland during its off-peak or 'shoulder' seasons is highly recommended - and not just for your bank balance. If you have ever dreamed of visiting Edinburgh, the Isle of Skye or the Highlands, autumn, winter and spring are great times to do so. Accommodation providers drop their rates, flights cost considerably less; while roads are far quieter and crowds small to non-existent. The weather may be cold, but the welcome you receive will still be warm.
7. Do your research
The more time you spend on VisitScotland.com and our blog, the better an understanding you'll have of the places you want to visit on your itinerary and how much time to spend at each. Take Edinburgh, for instance. There are a wide range of hidden gems located in and around the city to suit all kinds of interests. In short, learning as much as you can about an attraction or destination in advance will allow you to spend your time more wisely, and make your visit much more rewarding.
Be sure to plan your route ahead of time, even if it's simply how to walk from one stop to the next. Help reduce travel congestion on roads, buses and trains during peak periods by exploring as much as you can on foot. After all, it's by far the best way to explore!
Plan your Scottish break using our inspiring itineraries.
8. Leave no trace behind
Whether camping or pulling over at a layby to take some pictures or lingering at a well-known beauty spot, always adhere to the simple rule: 'leave no trace'. Sadly, even in the most remote areas of Scotland, it's not unheard of to find bags of rubbish dumped at roadsides, bothies and beaches.
Visitors can also damage environments unknowingly through other kinds of behaviour, namely through 'love locks' fastened to bridges, and the social media-fuelled trend of #StoneStacking. Both are acts which cause erosion and damage to ecosystems and man-made structures. Set an example by refraining from these forms of vandalism which litter cities, UNESCO designated sites, and other beautiful places in Scotland.
Whether wild camping or visiting the Fairy Pools on Skye, educate yourself on how to respectfully and safely visit these natural spaces by reading the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
9. Support a social enterprise organisation
Local social enterprises are great way you can explore a city while also helping fund businesses which channel their profits into enhancing the well-being of their local communities. Gain a unique insight into the daily life of locals and how they are working together to meet the social, economic and environmental challenges facing their communities. Guides and representatives are also usually eager to provide useful insider tips and recommendations for places to see, shop and dine during the rest of your trip.
You can also download the Geotourist and Invisible Cities’ new audio tour of Edinburgh which helps visitors to support altruistic businesses and initiatives across the city.
Tip: Re-Union Canal Boats (pictured) are a social enterprise based in Edinburgh run by volunteers. Float down the Union Canal aboard the Lochrin Belle or Jaggy Thistle and enjoy afternoon tea or a gin tasting session and help support the regeneration of this historic waterway.
Voluntourism is a great way to help off-set your carbon footprint and make a positive difference to the Scottish environment.
The National Trust for Scotland offers dozens of volunteering holidays all over Scotland with its Thistle and Trailblazer Camp working holiday programme which provides conservation holidays where volunteers can get involved with everything from archaeological digs to surveying wildlife. You can even help restore what remains of the ancient Caledonian forest with Trees for Life, an organisation which undertakes tree planting and other essential conservation work.
Learn more about working holidays and volunteer experiences in Scotland.