Ireland Vs Scotland – Which Celtic Nation To Visit?

Highland cow
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As far as underrated European countries go, these two might just get the top prize! We think that a trip to either Ireland or Scotland should definitely be on your agenda, but, if you only have time for one…which should it be? Both countries have wild and untaimed landscapes, historic cities, and, despite what you may have heard, delicious food! However, when push comes to shove, which country should be crowned king?

On the one hand there’s Ireland, the so-called Emerald Isle. Sat on the edge of the vast Atlantic Ocean to the west of the UK, it’s a place of ancient mountain ranges and wave-bashed beaches and charming coast towns. Then there’s Scotland, which crumples up to the majestic highlands of the Cairngorms, boasts amazing cities like Edinburgh, and offers endless lochs and beaches for the budding adventurer.

This is sure to be a tricky choice, there’s no doubt about that. That’s why this guide breaks it all down into bite-sized chunks. We’ll weigh up the cost, the attractions, the beaches, the food, and a whole load more, all to help you decide what incredible Celtic nation is best for you and your travel crew this year…

Ireland vs Scotland: The cost 

Ireland coast
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Prices never lie, and if you’re on a budget, then you’re going to want to follow closely! Simply put, according to Budgetyourtrip.com, Ireland is cheaper than Scotland. On average, the cost for a couple staying one week in Ireland is 1,533 EUR (1,688 USD) compared to 1,651 GBP (2,165 USD) in Scotland. What can we say, folks, there’s a CLEAR winner! 

Scotland is more expensive than Ireland on all fronts, with the average person spending 31 GBP on food, 30 GBP on transport, and 114 GBP per night for a double occupancy room. This adds up to roughly 118 GBP (155 USD) a day per person. In Ireland, one person (assuming double occupancy) spends 109 EUR (121 USD) a day. This can be broken down into 32 EUR for food, 18 EUR for transport, and 101 EUR for accommodation. 

The biggest difference in cost between Ireland and Scotland is the accommodation. Travelers spend almost 40 USD more on average for a place to sleep! Luckily, both countries have options listed on Hostelworld.com for under 25 USD a night per person! So, staying in a hostel is a good way to save money AND close the price gap.

Winner: Ireland – There’s no denying it. Ireland is cheaper. 

Ireland vs Scotland: Things to do

Caslte, Scotland
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Both countries are packed with loads of fun things to do, and if you’re one for an action-packed holiday, then get ready! There are many ways in which Ireland and Scotland are quite similar. They both have more than a few castles, are known for their beautiful scenery, and have wild nights out. 

The Scottish countryside is dotted with more than 3,000 castles. From ancient ruins to fully preserved buildings (some of which are people’s homes!). Many of them are open to visitors and make an awesome day out! Some of our favorites are Eilean Donan Castle on the Isle of Skye, Dunnottar Castle on the northeast coast, and Glamis Castle in Angus. In Ireland, there are over 30,000 castles and remains (unofficially). But sadly, most of these have fallen to ruins. The Rock of Cashel in Tipperary and Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland are both magical ruins worth checking out. 

We can’t not talk about whisk(e)y, known as whisky in Scotland and whiskey in Ireland! Both countries have been distilling for centuries and have the process down to a T. However,  there’s strong evidence that whiskey was first distilled by monks in Ireland. Scotch is known to have a smokier flavor whereas Irish whiskey is smoother, but who’s to say which one is better! One thing we do know,is that whether you find yourself in Ireland OR Scotland, there are plenty of whiskey tours to go around! 

Clearly, Ireland and Scotland have more than a few things in common. But, a key difference between the two is their culture and history. Scotland is known for kilts, bagpipes, and the Loch Ness Monster, whereas Ireland has Riverdance, St. Patrick’s Day, and Irish folklore. Head to a local pub in Ireland or Scotland for the best chance of hearing their traditional folk music, but to hear bagpipes, the Scottish Highlands and local festivals are your best bet. For traditional Irish Riverdance, the Gaiety Theater in Dublin has performances.

Winner: Draw – we couldn’t pick, both countries have loads of cool things to see and do! 

Ireland vs Scotland: Getting around

Isle of Skye
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Of course, getting around is a big part of any holiday, so what is the best way to get around Ireland and Scotland? In Ireland, one of the best ways to get around is to use the train. It is probably the fastest way to get from A to B, except for flying, with stops in major cities and towns. If you plan on visiting smaller towns, villages, and attractions, then you may want to think about hiring a car, as some smaller villages and towns only have a bus service once or twice a week. 

Getting around Scotland is very similar to Ireland. There is a great public transport system with trains and buses to cities, towns, and villages. In areas like the Scottish Highlands, you may want to hire a car to get to more remote areas (and to control the stops along the way!). Air travel is the fastest and most convenient way to visit the Scottish Isles, but many major islands also have regular ferry crossings. You could take your car across or go on foot and find public transport on the other end!

Winner: Draw –  it’s a tie. In both countries, public transport is good and reliable, but car travel is better for remote areas. 

Ireland vs Scotland: Capital cities

Edinburgh Castle
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When we’re talking about “Ireland or Scotland” we HAVE to consider their capital cities of Dublin and Edinburgh! Both are picturesque, medieval cities that are full of charm. For nightlife, neither city will disappoint! Head to the Old Town in Edinburgh for Scottish pubs and bars, nestled in the narrow, winding streets. In Dublin, you’ll find an Irish pub on practically every street, ranging from the more traditional pubs to trendy, modern establishments. But, for the city’s best nightlife, head to Temple Bar, a lively neighborhood with crowds every night of the week! 

Anyone who loves a good festival will be torn between Dublin and Edinburgh. In Dublin, you’ve got rip-roaring Saint Patrick’s Day, where you can lose yourself in a sea of green, watch the colorful parade, and drink pint after pint of Guinness. There’s also Longitude, the city’s biggest music festival, Pride, and many others! However, Edinburgh is known worldwide as a festival city with amazing festivals all year long. There’s the Edinburgh Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay (Scottish New Year), the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, and many more! 

Now to compare the sights… Both Dublin and Edinburgh have famous castles, there’s Dublin Castle and Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified buildings in Europe, it is absolutely spectacular and sits 135 meters above sea level, overlooking the city. Dublin Castle sits in the historic heart of Dublin and is a major tourist attraction as well as an important government building. We have to say, we think Edinburgh castle is more impressive, but that’s just us! 

Winner: Scotland – it was a tough one, but Scotland takes the biscuit shortbread. Edinburgh has awesome festivals year-round and a 10/10 castle. 

Ireland vs Scotland: Landscapes

Giant's Causeway Ireland
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Everyone knows that both Scotland and Ireland have incredible landscapes, but which country comes out on top? Scotland has the majestic Scottish Highlands, a vast wilderness with just about every type of scenery you could imagine. There are mountains, beaches, forests, and lochs. The highlands are even where Loch Ness is located, so you could spend the day hunting for fairy-tale monsters!

If you’re up for a lot of adventure, making the journey up north and across to the Isle of Skye could be the highlight of your trip! It’s wonderful for cute fishing villages, rugged clifftops, and beautiful beaches. The island is also a haven for wildlife with deer, seals, eagles, and the infamous highland cow (or airy coo in the local dialect). Scotland also has Ben Nevis, which is the highest mountain in the British Isles.

Ireland also has miles upon miles of natural beauty. The Causeway Coast is really something to behold (and it’s waaay more than just the Giant’s Causeway!). The Causeway Coast is roughly 200 miles of castles, dramatic cliff cafes, and the most beautiful bays. The highlight is, of course, the Giant’s Causeway with its mythical stone formations. 

The country’s most famous islands are the Skellig Islands. The larger island, Skellig Micheal, is remote, rocky, and is home to an ancient monastery. You might even recognize it from Star Wars: A Force Awakens! If you do want to pay a visit, be aware that only 180 visitors are allowed there daily, and the one-hour crossing from the mainland can be rough.

Winner: Scotland – we have to give this one to Scotland. The Highlands are too good to miss out on, AND we wanna see a cute highland cow!

Scotland vs Ireland: Beaches

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We’ll say this: The coastal landscapes in both Scotland and Ireland are, simply, jaw dropping. You’ll gasp and gasp again as you scour the cliff-rimmed edges of both these nations. There’s not a tropical beach with palm trees in sight, but the reward is true northern European ruggedness.

Let’s start in Scotland. There, the highlights are the islands. The Western Isles fragment into the Atlantic in a series of shards of stone and rock. Skye has needle-like mountains looming above long, salty pebble beaches. But go further and you’ll come to isles that have long wisps of white sand that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean (were it not for the 20-degree water!). We’re talking the likes of Luskentyre on the isle of Harris and Uig Bay on the Isle of Lewis. They are seriously amazing spots but you’ll have to work hard to reach them.

The beaches in Ireland are more accessible. They’re on two coasts – the west and the east. The former are wilder and have bigger waves for surfers. The latter tend to be closer to major towns like Dublin and Cork. There are some that channel those tropical-esque white sands, like Dog’s Bay in Galway. Most are rugged and windblown but nonetheless beautiful, like Inch Strand and Banna in County Kerry.

Winner: Scotland. This is a hard one. A really hard one. But there’s something mystical about those far-flung island beaches in Scotland that can’t be beaten.

Scotland vs Ireland: History

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Both Irish and Scottish histories are riddled with enthralling tales of kings and clans and fighting Vikings. We don’t think you’ll be bored in either spot.

Scotland has arguably the best castles in the UK. Edinburgh Castle starts the ball rolling – it’s an amazing citadel atop a volcanic spur that was raised in 1103 AD! Further north is Stirling Castle, the site of a famous battle, and then Glamis Castle, the haunted home of a certain MacBeth. Keep delving and you’ll find UNESCO wonders like Skara Brae, a pre-historic settlement on the Orkney Isles, or the remains of the Antonine Wall, a onetime Roman bulwark against the barbarians of the north.

Ireland has past that’s wrapped up in Nordic raiders and fearsome tribes. It starts in pre-history here, with locations like the Hill of Tara and the Newgrange burial mound – both of which are thought to pre-date even the Pyramids of Egypt. From there, check out the medieval Rock of Cashel, a 5th-century dynastic home, or the old middle of Cork, much of which was built by the Vikings.

Winner: Draw. There are millennia of history on display in both these countries. Neither could possibly win.

Ireland vs Scotland: The climate

Irish Coast
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Sometimes the weather is the best thing for deciding between two countries. In the case of Ireland or Scotland however, it may not be so simple. Both countries have an oceanic climate that makes them damp, cool, and rainy throughout the year. They also both have narrow temperature ranges, so (for the most part), scorching summers and freezing winters aren’t too common. 

In Ireland, winters are cold but rarely freezing. Average daytime temperatures are 46°F inland and 50°F around the coast. But, during milder years, winter temperatures can climb as high as 59°F! Scottish winters are colder than in Ireland, with maximum winter temperatures reaching around 41°F on average. The Highlands and Northern Scotland, however, are a whole different story. Average winter temperatures in the Highlands can be as cold as 26.3°F, but this will depend on altitude! One thing to watch out for during the colder months is the Highland winds, which can be quite intense! 

If you’re dreaming of a scorching summer, then we hate to break it to you, but neither country is going to deliver *cries*. Summers in Ireland and Scotland are cool and tend to be quite rainy! In Ireland, the average temperatures from June to August are around 64°F in the north and 67°F elsewhere. Scottish summers are even cooler, with summer temperatures reaching a maximum of 66°F in major cities, 61°F on the Hebrides Islands and Orkney, and an even colder 58°F on the Shetland Islands! 

Winner: Ireland – We’re going to have to give the win to Ireland! Even though it’s only a tad bit warmer, those few degrees could make ALL the difference. 

Ireland vs Scotland: Food

Smoked salmon
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We definitely think these two countries get an unfair rep when it comes to food. Sure, they’re no Italy… but, they DO still serve up some delicious meals! You’ll find that both countries have hearty, warming food (probably because of the cool weather) and that some dishes are very similar! Something they both share is their traditional breakfast. A Full Irish Breakfast has *takes a deep breath*:  bacon, sausages, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, potatoes, bread, and white and black pudding. The Full Scottish Breakfast usually has all of this (bar the white pudding), with the addition of Lorne Sausage and a tattie (potato) scone! Both countries also have baller smoked salmon, although Scotland is renowned worldwide for its high-quality salmon. 

Something Scotland is known for (aside from Haggis), is Aberdeen Angus Beef, which originally came from Aberdeenshire – the beef is noted for its marbling which gives the meat a better flavor and helps it to keep its tenderness. There’s also Scotch Pie, a double-crust meat pie filled with mutton or other meat. Plus, all sorts of oat-related goodies like Cranachan (a layered oat, raspberry, and cream dessert), Oat Cakes, and Porridge!

A trip to Ireland wouldn’t be complete without trying some Irish Soda Bread (recipes are passed down generation to generation!), Irish Stew, a comforting dish cooked slowly in one pot until the meat (usually lamb) is tender, and Boxty, delicious potato pancakes! Then, to wash that all down, you HAVE to drink Irish Coffee. A sweet, decadent (and boozy), coffee drink. Bottoms up!

Winner: Draw – It’s another tie, we could stuff our faces in both countries.

Ireland vs Scotland: The final verdict

Alright, people, it is time to answer the nail-biting question “Ireland or Scotland?”. We have to say, our winner is… IRELAND! It was a really close call, with both countries having mouth-watering food, lots to do, and awesome capital cities. BUT, Ireland takes the win for its (slightly warmer weather) and (not so slightly) cheaper prices!

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Alex is a marine biologist-turned-freelancer who spent parts of her childhood and adult life living on a small island in the Philippines. She is an enthusiastic (but super uncoordinated) surfer who also loves scuba diving. She's travelled throughout Southeast Asia and Europe, but her heart is in the Philippines. As a massive foodie, you'll always find her chowing down on some of the tastiest street food around.