BLOG: How to find the perfect place to stay in Scotland

The Forth Bridge - Scotland

You want to find the perfect places to stay for your Scotland trip so you’ll have great experiences and wonderful memories. But Google shows big sites and chain hotels before anything else so the hidden gems are truly hidden, so how can you find quirky or unusual places to stay and be certain they’ll be great?

Step 1 – Looking for inspo for your Scottish adventure

Scotland has a wealth of beautiful places to stay if you want something different from a chain hotel from castles to cottages, from boats to glamping pods, from lightships to lighthouses. But how to find them? Instagram and Pinterest are great for ideas for your trip to Scotland. You can search specific hashtags in Instagram or type into Google Image search.

There are some friendly Facebook groups for advice while planning your trip to Scotland and general searches on Google like “unique place to stay in Scotland” will lead you to you features and blog posts.

AI tools are still learning how to write itineraries. One of them recommended breakfast at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe but the last time anyone cooked in a kitchen there was 1690!  So double check everything an AI tool suggests.

The ruined Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Step 2 – Planning your perfect trip to Scotland

You know your dates and you’ve made a list of where you want to go. But where to stay? Searching for inspiration has helped you decide between self-catering accommodation, B&Bs with a full Scottish Breakfast, pubs with rooms, or hotels with a restaurant, and it also popped up some really special places to stay.

But how to narrow down the choice?

Be canny when search

Remember the four double-yous and use them when you search:

  • What you are looking for (eg a self-catering holiday cottage, lighthouse accommodation)
  • Where you are looking, (eg on the NC500)
  • Who will be coming, (search “for couples”, “family-friendly”, “with dogs”)
  • Why it’s perfect for you, (eg “accessible”, “eco-friendly”, “EV charger”)

Don’t enter dates even though you know them, especially on the platforms like Airbnb, because a lot of the coolest places only use the big sites for late bookings, so the hidden gems won’t show up when you are plan ahead with dates.

Stag on the Moorland in Sutherland, Scotland, close to the North Coast 500

Places to look

Visit Scotland  is Scotland’s official website for visitors, and a great starting point for all aspects of planning your trip to Scotland. They visit in person when giving their star ratings, so the places with a star rating are all immaculately clean and professionally run, with the number of stars indicating the facilities and extras available.

Google Maps – a really useful tool when you want to see what’s near a particular place. Simply choose the area and enter “accommodation”. You will get the best results if you toggle between “hotels” and “holiday rentals”.

Google search – The big sites with the biggest advertising budget will always be at the top but biggests is not always best, so now is the time to be really specific (eg “lighthouse cottage on the NC500”). But if you aren’t quite at that stage search based on features like “dog friendly places to stay” to get niche websites you can visit for a deeper dive.

Niche websites – Some of the most amazing places will advertise on niche sites but not on places like Air or Booking, so these are great places to look

Facebook groups for places to stay – let you post your dates and location and let you chat with the host before you book. Use groups specifically for Scotland, or your particular needs (eg kid-friendly holidays). Beware of scams though. The best hosts will link to their website or listing on a site like Airbnb, and they should never ask for card details or direct payments via DM.

Contact the place direct – if you find the perfect place but the dates don’t quite work, it’s always worth getting in touch. They may have more flexibility than shows up online and be able to juggle rooms or cleaning schedules, or they may have some great suggestions of other places nearby.

Step 3 – It’s started to snow – I need somewhere tonight!

Google Maps – is brilliant for finding places near you.

Airbnb, Booking,com, TripAdvisor and VRBO – This is where these big sites come into their own. Many unusual places to stay only use these sites for late bookings because they get charged 15%-20% in fees, so their places don’t show up if you are looking ahead. Some hosts are moving off these platforms altogether making it harder to find truly unique places on them.

You can of course use them as search engines when planning ahead. Don’t include your dates when you do that, just search by location to get as many places suggested as you can. When you find somewhere you love, and do a google search to contact them direct.

A quick note about Trip Advisor – You’d think TripAdvisor includes every place to stay. Not So! They only show accommodation that you can book through them or their affiliated sites. If somewhere is not on TripAdvisor, don’t panic.

Chain hotels – Great when you are a bit stressed and want no surprises. We’ve used them when benighted by snow and I use them when I am on my own for business. Sometimes I just want a takeaway meal and old episodes of Friends. The most popular low- and mid-budget chains in the UK are Travel Lodge, Premiere Inn and IBIS.

And of course I think the perfect place to stay is the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage at Noss Head!

The Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage at Noss Head - Self-catering holiday cottage on the NC500

BenMy name is Ben, and I own and run the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage, a self-catering holiday cottage at a working lighthouse on the North Coast 500.

The cottage is a perfect getaway for couples, and a great home-from-home for families of up to six people. And we just love welcoming your dog! We have Four Stars from Visit Scotland so you know our standards are high, and we have a Gold Award for Green Tourism too.

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Check out the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage.