If you’re seeking gorgeous green landscapes, Celtic charm, and a fairytale-esque vacation, you should visit Ireland or Scotland. Both countries offer a vacation of wonders and magic — so how do you pick between them?
Ireland’s spirited blend of old-world charm and cutting-edge technology developments beckons you to hike through the rolling countryside hills and stroll the city streets. At the same time, the land of kilts, bagpipes, and a kaleidoscope of landscapes invites you to explore its rich history and diverse economy.
Whether you’re drawn to the lively atmosphere of an Irish pub or intrigued by the historical depth of the Scottish Highlands, you’re sure to find a collection of cultural and traditional delights. So, let’s dive deeper into which destinations you should visit in 2024.
Ireland or Scotland: Which to visit?
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Things to consider when choosing between Scotland or Ireland
Deciding whether to visit Ireland or Scotland is a personal choice. But if you’re stuck between the two countries due to their equal beauty and wonder, here are some logical comparisons to help you pick one.
Note: When talking about Ireland, most information is about the Republic of Ireland, although where mentioned, Northern Ireland is also considered.
Ireland vs. Scotland: Transportation and connectivity
Ireland and Scotland have efficient transportation options, and you have a selection of public transport and self-drive opportunities in either country.
Both Ireland and Scotland have busy city streets and narrow rural roads. Reliable and affordable buses and trains connect small towns to cities, and you’ll find it easy to book a tour.
There are also ferries readily available in both countries since plenty of tiny islands are dotted along the coast.
Verdict: For this one, both countries tie. Some of Ireland’s roads — like The Slea Head Drive — can be trickier, especially in winter.
Flying from North America is also a tie in connectivity. Each time, we flew to London (sometimes Hearthow and, at other times, Gatwick) to get to Dublin by flight and Edinburgh by road.
Scotland vs. Ireland: Accommodation
You’ll have no shortage of places to stay in Ireland, but Scotland offers just as much of an array. There are plenty of hotels, guesthouses, and BnBs. Camping and glamping is a stunning way to spend a few nights in Scotland and Ireland.
Verdict: Another tie. It’s impossible to compare these two since there are so many great options.
Is it cheaper to stay in Ireland or Scotland?
Ireland and Scotland have opportunities to make your vacation more affordable, but the latter wins a little. Scotland offers a few more budget-friendly accommodation options, especially for those who are looking to camp.
Scotland vs. Ireland: Which is more picturesque (and with major fairytale vibes)?
Scotland boasts misty mountains, shimmering lochs, and historic castles like Eilean Donan and Edinburgh Castle, adding to the country’s storybook charm. And did you know that the country’s national animal is a unicorn? The land is magical.
Ireland has a more dramatic backdrop, from the cliffs that meet the Atlantic Ocean to the lush landscapes, charming villages, and coastal views along the Ring of Kerry. The Irish folklore of Leprechauns is an enchanting tale told by many.
Verdict: We’re giving this one to Scotland because it has astonishing untamed wilderness and a slightly more magical flair, but the difference is minuscule.
Ireland vs. Scotland: Restaurants
The food in Scotland and Ireland differs only slightly. The Irish are big fans of their hearty meals like stew and potato-based dishes, while the Scots eat a bit more seafood and, of course, Haggis.
Both countries will happily offer you a drink to pair your meal with, though (except Irish whiskey and Scotch).
For restaurants, Ireland has pubs, traditional seafood places, and a host of international restaurants. There’s no shortage of places to eat in the cities, and even in the rural areas, you’ll find a BnB or pub along one of the roads.
Pub meals are also popular in Scotland, and seafood restaurants are aplenty. The country is also loved for its Michelin-starred international eateries, which offer a range of delicious meals.
Verdict: It’s almost impossible to give either country this win since they both have an abundance of restaurant options and different cuisines at a range of prices.
Scotland vs. Ireland: Which is touristy?
The level of ‘touristy’ you feel in either of these countries will often depend on where exactly you are. Both Scotland and Ireland have beautiful cities that welcome travelers all year round. They also boast unique landscapes, with dramatic cliffs and mystical castles.
However, Ireland has become busier and more commercialized. Dublin, the capital of Ireland, is a major tourist hub with attractions like Trinity College and the Guinness Storehouse.
The Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, and the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland are well-known tourist destinations.
Scotland still has areas not frequented by anyone not local, although hundreds of people do come to enjoy the sights of the Royal Mile, the Scottish Highlands, and the Isle of Skye and to search for the Loch Ness Monster.
Verdict: Ireland is just a smidge more touristy than Scotland, so the latter is better if you prefer to escape the crowds and find more off-the-beaten-path locations.
Ireland vs. Scotland: Which has more things to do?
Both of these countries have a great list of activities. These include indoor fun, outdoor exploring, and cultural tours.
Scotland has its cities with museums and galleries and its Highlands with hiking and camping opportunities galore. Ireland also has city excitement and its famous Ring of Kerry road.
Verdict: The number of things to do in either city is mostly equal, but because Scotland is about 10% bigger, this makes Ireland’s things to do somewhat more impressive since it’s smaller.
Scotland vs Ireland: USP for each country
Unique selling points for each country are a great way to choose between the two since this distinctively separates them.
Scotland is the birthplace of whiskey, and its whiskey tours are second to none. The country also has a strong cultural heritage, with traditions such as Highland games, traditional music (including bagpipes), and the famous Edinburgh Festival, which celebrates the arts and culture.
Ireland is known for its beer, specifically its Guinness stout, paired with its merry pub scene. It has a strong literary tradition with famous writers such as James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, and Samuel Beckett. You can also book a small group tour to discover their breweries.
Verdict: Scotland’s Highlands, culture, and history are as unique as they come. Both Celtic countries have their own USPs, but you’d battle to find another place like Scotland.
Scotland vs. Ireland: Best for Christmas and winter trips
Scotland and Ireland have something to offer depending on what you consider the perfect winter trip. You’ll find that Ireland has warmer temperatures than Scotland. But that also means that Scotland sees much more snow — while it rains more in Ireland.
If it’s just the Christmas wonderland you’re after, we’re pleased to announce that you’ll find feasts of food, lights, and festive cheer in Ireland and Scotland. You’ll also have no problem finding a cozy fireplace in a pub or hotel to keep you warm and toasty.
Verdict: We’d say Scotland for a winter snowy vacation, but you might want to opt for the warmer location instead.
Read next: Best places to spend Christmas in Europe
Ireland vs. Scotland: Which is better for couples?
Scotland has fairytale-like castles, rugged mountains, and stunning retreats with breathtaking sea views. And what could be more romantic than a train ride through the Scottish countryside?
Ireland’s welcoming farmlands and mesmerizing landscapes offer the perfect escape for just the two of you. A memorable souvenir for couples who visit Ireland is the Claddagh ring, a special piece of jewelry with a deep history, which can be found in Galway.
Verdict: This may come down purely to personal preference. You really can enjoy a romantic vacation in both Ireland and Scotland.
Scotland vs. Ireland: Which is better for families?
In Scotland, your family can enjoy historical sites, natural grandeur, and fun tours of filming locations. See where they shot so many Harry Potter movies, explore the castle ruins, let the kids imagine they are princes and princesses, and indulge in outdoor family time.
On the other hand, Ireland promises rich folklore and traditions, a generally friendly ambiance, and ancient castles to explore. There’s lots to do with kids in Dublin, like the Zoo and the Aquarium, and if the family loves farm life, a countryside road trip is ideal.
Verdict: This is also close to a tie, but Ireland offers its historical sites and natural beauty to provide an extra special family getaway.
Ireland vs. Scotland: Which is affordable to visit?
The cost of your trip will largely depend on when you visit, where you stay, and how much you plan on doing. You’ll generally find that the cost of transport, food, and even most accommodations are very similar in Ireland and Scotland.
However, Ireland’s costs are just a bit higher than Scotland’s. This is true for accommodation, as mentioned above, transport, and meals.
Verdict: Scotland wins by the slightest margin. It could be closer to a tie if you stay out of the cities and enjoy an Ireland road trip.
Scotland vs. Ireland: Which is best for visiting other European countries?
If you want to visit Amsterdam, France, or Spain, Scotland is a hop-skip-and-jump away. You can drive to a ferry, travel over the English Channel, or fly from any major airport. Some buses and trains go directly to airports and ferry terminals.
Ireland also has plenty of transport options to Europe, but you may need to take a detour through the UK — if, for instance, you’re visiting Scandinavian countries.
If you want a European road trip from Ireland, you can take any of the ferries and keep your car with you. And if you prefer to fly, Dublin’s international airport has flights all over Europe.
Verdict: Both countries can only see Europe from, but Scotland has the advantage of being closer to much of Europe.
Ireland vs. Scotland: Choose Scotland or Ireland based on your travel style and interests
We could easily give you many reasons to visit Scotland or Ireland, but ultimately, your preferences will play a huge part in which one is best for you.
Things to do in Ireland
Whether you’re interested in exploring cities, coastal areas, or the countryside or embarking on the Wild Atlantic Way, the Emerald Isle has something to offer every type of traveler.
There’s plenty to see and do in Ireland’s capital city. It’s home to Trinity College and the Book of Kells, Dublin Castle, the Guinness Storehouse, and the Dublin Writers Museum.
Read next: Is Dublin worth visiting?
Tour the Ring of Kerry
This enchanting route takes you along some of Ireland’s most exquisite mountains, lakes, and coastal views.
Discover ancient castles
Blarney Castle, Bunratty Castle, and Ross Castle are just historic buildings dotted along the Irish countryside.
Pay a visit to Galway
This charming city on the West Coast is known for its colorful streets, lively arts scene, and traditional Irish music.
See the Cliffs of Moher
These cliffs are one of Ireland’s most iconic natural landmarks, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and creating mesmerizing scenes.
Go on a hike in Killarney National Park
Take to the trails of this lovely national park and discover the many lakes, mountains, and Muckross House.
Take a Boat Trip to the Aran Islands
The boat journey across Galway Bay to the Aran Islands provides stunning coastline views. Depending on weather conditions, the crossing can be a scenic and sometimes exhilarating experience.
Marvel at Giant’s Causeway
Located in Northern Ireland, this natural wonder features hexagonal basalt columns that create a unique and striking coastal landscape.
Read next: 10 EPIC Belfast Giants Causeway Tours
Where to stay in Ireland
Ireland is a relatively big country, with plenty of different types of accommodation. Here are a few top places to stay in the cities and rural areas.
- Marlin Hotel Stephens Green (Dublin) – Nestled in a prime location just 400 meters from Dublin Castle and a short 600 meters from the serene St. Stephen’s Green, this is where the city’s vibe meets modern comfort.
- Flannery’s Hotel (Galway) – Inside Flannery’s, each room is elegant, boasting hardwood furnishings, room-enhancing large mirrors, and beds in snug duvets with crisp white sheets.
- Clayton Hotel Cork City (Cork) – Gaze upon Cork City Hall from the comfort of the Clayton Hotel Cork, where the River Lee flows gracefully in view.
Things to do in Scotland
Scotland’s offerings are diverse, from historical landmarks and cultural events to outdoor adventures in its breathtaking landscapes.
Sightsee in Edinburgh
Stroll down the historic streets of Old Town and admire the Georgian architecture of New Town. See the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and the dynamic ambiance of the Grassmarket.
Don’t forget Glasgow
Explore the art seen in Glasgow, find the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, learn at the Glasgow Science Center, and walk the streets of the trendy West End.
Keep an eye out for the Loch Ness Monster
While Nessie remains elusive, the best way to see this pretty Loch and its surroundings is by boat cruising out on the water.
Take a Steam Train Journey
Embark on the Jacobite Steam Train, often called the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter films. The scenic journey takes you through the breathtaking landscapes of the West Highlands, passing by Glenfinnan Viaduct and Loch Shiel.
Visit the Cairngorms National Park
This is Britain’s largest national park, and it is packed with fun outdoor things to do. Enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, wildlife spotting, and perhaps a visit to the Highland Wildlife Park.
Experience the Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is known for its rugged landscapes, dramatic cliffs, and picturesque villages. Visit iconic landmarks like the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, and Dunvegan Castle.
Stirling boasts a rich history and is home to Stirling Castle, a symbol of Scottish independence. Explore the castle’s grandeur, visit the National Wallace Monument, and stroll through the historic Old Town.
Tour the Scottish Highlands
Journey through the Scottish Highlands, where you’ll encounter breathtaking scenery, serene lochs, and charming villages. Visit Glencoe, Ben Nevis, and Fort William to appreciate this region’s majesty fully.
Where to stay in Scotland
Scotland doesn’t disappoint if you thought Ireland had many places to stay. But there are a few must-see accommodations in the country.
- The Merchant City Inn (Glasgow) – Discover the charm of Glasgow with a stay at the welcoming 3-star Merchant City Inn, privately owned and tucked away on a quiet street just off the famous Argyle Street.
- Market Street Hotel (Edinburgh) – Enjoy boutique-style rooms adorned with locally made fabrics, curated artwork, and bespoke designs that reflect the city’s character.
- Ness Walk (Inverness) – Whether you’re here for business or leisure, Ness Walk invites you to enjoy a human touch in the heart of Inverness.
How to add Scotland and Ireland to your Europe itinerary
Since there is so much to see and do in Ireland and Scotland, you’d need at least 10 days to visit them. Longer is, of course, better – since these are two countries you aim to explore, but here’s how you can fit the trip into a little over a week.
Day 1+2 Edinburgh: Begin your trip in the capital city of Scotland, exploring landmarks like Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, and Arthur’s Seat. Immerse yourself in the cultural scene, visit museums, and enjoy the lively atmosphere all over the city.
Read: 3 days in Edinburgh
Day 3 Glasgow: Next, travel to Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, known for its modern art, spirited nightlife and cultural attractions. Don’t forget to see some of the city’s museums and galleries, and stop at the Glasgow Botanical Gardens.
You can also visit Glasgow on a day trip from Edinburgh by train.
Read: More day trips from Edinburgh by train
Day 4+5 Scottish Highlands: Make your way to the Scottish Highlands, experiencing the breathtaking landscapes of Loch Ness and Glencoe. Along the way, spot historic sites like Urquhart Castle and go hiking or book a scenic boat ride.
Day 6 Scotland – Ireland: You can take a ferry or a flight to Ireland. The flight will be faster and cheaper, but the ferry is more comfortable and scenic. If you take an early-morning ferry from Scotland to Belfast (±2 hours), you can explore Northern Ireland before traveling the ±2 hours further to Dublin.
Read: One day in Belfast
Day 7 Dublin: Spend a full day wandering around Dublin, stopping at Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, and Temple Bar. Local culture, festive traditional music, and captivating landmarks are everywhere.
Day 8 Galway: A smaller town, Galway is a must-visit for shopping, cultural museums and landmarks, and the National University of Ireland. See the River Corrib, the Spanish Arch, and the Latin Quarter.
Day 9+10 Cliffs of Moher and Irish West Coast:
You can’t leave Ireland without seeing the Cliffs of Moher, just a short distance from Galway. And the West Coast has plenty of other stunning sights, like the Burren and the Aran Islands; fit these in as you can.
How far apart are Ireland and Scotland?
Regarding general distances, traveling from Dublin, Ireland, to Glasgow, Scotland, by air is approximately 500 kilometers (310 miles). However, the distance can vary depending on each country’s departure and destination points.
If you’re considering travel by sea or land, the distance may be longer depending on the route.
The closest points are the northeastern coast of Ireland and the southwestern coast of Scotland, where the North Channel separates them. The narrowest part of the North Channel is about 21 kilometers (13 miles) wide at the Strait of Moyle.
Ireland or Scotland: The final verdict
In case you haven’t guessed, choosing between these countries is tricky. They’re both close to each other and very similar, but also so different. You’ll find gorgeous landscapes and magical history stories throughout both countries.
We’d suggest visiting Scotland if you want to escape the world. The wild Highlands offer a much more serene vacation. Loch Ness’s mysteries and the Scottish clans’ stories will enchant you.
If it’s local pubs and busy city streets that you’re after, we’d send you right to Ireland. You’ll get a brilliant mix of rolling green hills, picturesque roads to drive, and fascinating places like Trinity College to visit.
And if you’re also having difficulty deciding which you’re more in the mood for, plan enough time to visit the best of both!
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