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Reserve ahead or wing it?

My sister, husband and I are traveling to Scotland for the first time the second half of August (15-29th). We're going to reserve rooms for the first two nights, and last night in Edinburgh, but were thinking about not making reservations for the rest of the trip.

Our rough plan for the trip is Edinburgh ->Cairngorms -> Inverness -> Skye -> Oban/Iona -> Edinburgh. We've got several places along that route that we've decided we want to see, but (aside from knowing we'll probably want 3 days on Skye) we're thinking about not booking rooms so we can keep our actual schedule flexible.

Is this a good idea in late August? Or are we likely to have problems finding rooms?

Thank you!

Posted by
7885 posts

Just be aware you're going at high tourist season.

And carry a laptop or notebook with you to make reservations online.

Posted by
795 posts

Good luck with that. This is a time when everyone else will be there too and they likely will have already booked up the rooms even in B & B's. Unless you plan on staying in a tent, I'd book now. Even campgrounds will be full.

Posted by
270 posts

We just got back from Scotland and drove over 1000 miles in the Highlands and Skye. The majority of B&B's even in the remotest areas had mostly "no vacancy" signs out. Inns & hotels usually did not have any signs indicating if they still had rooms. Internet was spotty much of the time. I'd suggest pick your areas, pick a town or 2 to consider staying in, post your ideas and see what responses come in! Especially with 3 of you - this would probably avoid much potential conflict on the trip.

Posted by
5314 posts

I was in Scotland last August. I'd highly recommend booking in advance as you will be there in the height of the tourist season. Edinburgh will be crazy expensive due to the festival so definitely book as early as you can there. We booked in Skye in May for mid-August and had a very difficult time finding a place in Portree.

Posted by
5677 posts

Okay, I don't mean to be contrary, but when I traveled with my mom and dad a few years ago, we did what you plan and had no problems. We used the TI's service to find a room. So, no lap top needed. We didn't always wait until the end of the day, but we found places. We were looking for a double and single. The single can be tricky, but if you tell them that you'll take a double--they are more expensive--as a single it opens up opportunities. I've also done this on my own in the end of August.

The real exceptions this to reserve in Edinburgh in advance during August. Check to see if there are festivals in the towns you want to visit. If there is, you need to book ahead. You also have to be accepting of a wider range of accommodations--be wiling to walk down the hall to the restroom. I was willing to accept this in a trade off for flexibility. Using the Book a Bed Ahead service does cost a pound or two, but I think it is worth it. They really have never put me in an unacceptable place.


Posted by
1036 posts

TIC's..........tourist information centres.
All the places worth seeing have one.
As you are a 3 ,even booking (very small fee) in the morning will save you a near certain fraught early evening search.
Met a single canadian on skye last June(before HIGH) season) who had to sleep in his car,

Posted by
5677 posts

Here's a link to Visit Scotland where you can look up the locations of all the TIC's in Scotland. Note that many are seasonal, but the good news is that you are in season! You don't have to book the bed in the town of the TI that you are in. For example, if you are in Inverness in AM you could run into the local TI and book your bed for Portree from the Inverness TI. I have searched the Visit Scotland site for the rules and not found them. I emailed them and asked for an update or a link. I won't hear back until Monday. My recollection was that you could book a bed the day before. so, if you are in Edinburgh and have decided Thursday that you want to spend Friday night in Dunkeld, you can nip into the TI at Waverly and have them book the bed for you. They would do B&B, hotel, Inns etc. You tell them your budget and they do the best they can. Nothing is booked without your okay. You also, can tell them if you really must have an En Suite.


Posted by
32104 posts


At that time of year (peak tourist season), I'd definitely recommend pre-booking accommodations. Edinburgh especially will be packed as the Royal Military Tattoo will be on, as well as the Festival Fringe. It will be busy there!

Posted by
6908 posts

For our visit last year (early to mid-August), we thought about leaving some of the dates open and getting rooms on the fly, but it became obvious that rooms were going to be difficult to find in most places if not reserved in advance. Visiting Orkney, we found out that the annual Agricultural Show had filled up most of the rooms, and we got one of the last on the island. We saw signs throughout the countryside advertising other locations' Shows throughout the summer, so that's clearly a big deal in many parts of Scotland. We wanted a room on the west side of Skye, and booked ours to guarantee we'd have a place on the dates we needed.

In Ireland, Belgium, Croatia, and elsewhere, we've stopped in the T.I. in one town and had them call (free to us, maybe a booking finder's fee for the B&B owner) to reserve a room for us in our day's destination down the road. We've also just shown up (including in Edinburgh in April one year and Ieper, Belgium in June on another) but when first B&B was already full, we asked the owner if they had a recommendation for another B&B that might have room . . . and that second one did!

Making reservations (even if made just earlier on the day you need the room) gives you peace of mind and might be very necessary in popular places in August, early or late. Being able to keep a flexible schedule might also require you to be more flexible about just where you wind up, at what price, than you might have bargained for.

Posted by
5677 posts

Here is the official info from Visit Scotland.

Our VisitScotland Information Centres can search for and book accommodation for you in any location in Scotland. You pay a non refundable deposit of 10% and a booking fee of £4 to secure the room then pay the balance at the establishment.

The Information Centres can book as many nights ahead as you require.

So, I've been trying to figure out why I have had no problem using this service on trips to Scotland in the latter half of August. I certainly don't want Jennifer to find herself with no room, but unless Scottish Tourism has totally skyrocketed in the last five years, I am a bit baffled as to all these firm posts indicating that it would be a disaster. Now, granted, there are some caveats if you want to place flexibility over the sure thing.

  1. You must be open to different types of accommodations--B&B with no ensuite, staying in small hotel instead of a B&B and so on. If you have your heart set on cosy B&B's with the sweetest hostess and other requirements, then don't wait to book. Also, if you are a threesome, be open to a single and a double or twin or a family room, or two doubles.
  2. Your budget cannot be rigid. I never got stuck with an over the top bill, but I did have to upgrade from a single to a double a couple of times.
  3. You shouldn't be rigid about location. For example, I wanted to stay in Dunkeld, but ended up in a lovely B&B just outside of town.
  4. You should check for Festivals and Business conventions. This is easy enough to do in Scotland; just check the town website or the region/island website.
  5. Weekends can be more problematic than weekdays--except for business locations such as Aberdeen.

When I have traveled to Scotland, I usually have booked, my first night's stay--longer if I am spending multiple nights in the same place--and the last night's stay. I will also book a "special" place in advance. One year I stayed at Stonefield Castle. I booked that stay in advance. The last time I went to England, I was in London for business in July and didn't book my Cambridge hotel until I got there. I used

So, as I said, it comes down to how you way sleeping certainty vs. flexibility. How would you react if you were to arrive on Orkney and be told that you have to stay on Hoy and not the Mainland? Is that a disaster or a new adventure?