The student's guide to exploring Scotland
There's a whole lot to see in Scotland beyond the university towns
Exploring your university town is an essential part of the student experience. However, once you’ve done the local tourist trail and sussed out the best bars and restaurants, you might hunger for another adventure. Luckily, Scotland has many well-connected transport hubs and a diverse range of accommodation across the country.
One of the easiest ways to get around Scotland remains by public transport. If you are a student, discounts can be quite an incentive. NatWest and RBS offer student accounts that come with a free railcard (normally £28 per year), which entitles you to 1/3 off rail travel. Likewise, Scottish Citylink buses have a student card offering a 20% discount. Both are great for visiting friends at other universities with, or, if you are in a less urban location such as St Andrews, taking a much-needed pilgrimage to a shopping centre.
The thought of bus tours can induce traumatic flashbacks of painfully dull school trips, but the industry is much more student-friendly now. Leading the way is MacBackpackers, a company operating from Edinburgh. They offer weekend trips, perfect for a cheeky break from university. Their three-day Loch Ness and Skye package starts at £99 (excluding hostel accommodation). Serious excursions to locations such as Glencoe are balanced with a bit of spot-the-Loch-Ness-Monster and whisky tasting. In Skye, any hangovers can be blown away by visiting the windswept Old Man of Storr, a desolate yet beautiful rocky outcrop featured in the blockbuster Prometheus.
If you’ve not had enough of halls, you can also find good deals by staying in student accommodation during the summer. From Aberdeen to Glasgow, universities rent out their rooms to travellers. In the latter, Cairncross House has twin rooms in the summer for £21.25 per person, offering much more privacy than the typical hostel experience.
Those looking for a quirky place to spend the night won’t be disappointed either. Some of them even meet the very exacting criteria of a student: they’re cheap. Airbnb is one such business, listing people renting out a room and sometimes their entire houses to holidaymakers. With rates from £10 a night in Edinburgh, it is certainly a way to avoid the sky-high accommodation costs of the capital in peak season. At the other end of the scale is Disney-esque Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland, the price of the average student loan (£5000), something to remember when you get that fabulous post-graduation job/are in a business management lecture day-dreaming about being a property tycoon.
The concept of booking something through a travel agent nowadays may seem like a retro novelty, but Scottish tourist body VisitScotland has made the service easily accessible and simple to use. Just walk into one of their tourist offices located throughout the country and a member of staff will be able to give you advice on accommodation anywhere in the country, and reserve a room for you (£4 booking fee applies). Acting as a direct line to accommodation providers on its books, this is a good option if accommodation falls through and you need somewhere fast, or simply just want more information on where in Scotland might be right for you.
The handy tips and tricks outlined here mean a Scottish break need not cost a lot, fortunately for the student wallet. If only everything else was as merciful on our bank balances…