If you’re debating whether you should visit Scotland vs. Ireland, this guide can help you decide which is the best choice for your travel style and preferences.
In fact, I’d say they both are on our list of best road trips in the world.
How do they compare, you ask?
If I’m totally honest, I feel like Scotland and Ireland are very similar.
During our recent Ireland road trip, we couldn’t stop comparing it to our road trip through Scotland. Around every turn, we’d say, “That view reminds me of Scotland,” or “This pub brings me back to Scotland!”
There are definitely differences between Scotland and Ireland too, but the good news is that if you like one, you’re nearly guaranteed to like the other!
Wondering where to travel: Scotland or Ireland?
If you’re looking for a short and direct answer, here it is: No matter which you choose, you will have an incredible time.
However, if you’re looking for a more in-depth comparison between Ireland and Scotland, we can do that, too…
In this article, we’ll discuss the similarities Scotland and Ireland have, as well as what makes them different.
We’re going over everything from the food to the weather to the landscapes (as well as which country we’d name the winner for each category) so that you can determine where you’d prefer to travel.
Spoiler Alert: If you want to just jump straight to the point and see our personal pick between Ireland vs. Scotland, click here!
Scotland or Ireland: Where should you travel?
- Similarities & Differences
- Things to Do
- Small Towns
- History & Culture
- Which is more family-friendly?
- How much time do you need in each?
- Our opinion: Ireland or Scotland
Similarities & differences between Scotland and Ireland
Before we dive into personal opinions, let’s go over the facts and compare the similarities and differences between Ireland and Scotland.
- Scotland: pound sterling (£)
- Ireland: euro (€)
Fun fact: If you travel to the north of Ireland, you will be using pounds instead of euros.
Scotland and Ireland are relatively similar in size.
Scotland is slightly bigger than the Republic of Ireland. However, if you compare the island of Ireland (including Northern Ireland), it is roughly 2,500 square miles larger than Scotland.
- Scotland is 30,090 square miles (77,933 km2)
- Ireland (the whole island) is 32,595 square miles (84,421 km2)
- Republic of Ireland is 27,133 square miles (70,273 km2)
Even the two countries’ populations are similar. The Republic of Ireland and Scotland have roughly the same population.
- Scotland: 5.5 million people
- Ireland: 5.1 million people (7 million on the entire island, including Northern Ireland)
When you factor in the size of each country, you’ll find that Ireland is more densely populated.
Also, the major cities in Ireland are bigger.
Ireland’s largest city (Dublin) has twice the population of Scotland’s largest city (Glasgow).
- Glasgow: 600,000 people
- Dublin: 1.2 million people
English is the most widely-spoken language in both Ireland and Scotland. However, each country also has pride for their native language.
The native language of both Scotland and Ireland is a form of Gaelic. While they have similar origins, each language is distinctly different.
- Scotland: Scottish Gaelic
- Ireland: Irish Gaelic
In our experience, we found that Ireland has much more Gaelic across the country (on signs and menus) than we saw in Scotland.
- Scotland: majority Church of Scotland
- Republic of Ireland: majority Catholic
- mix of Protestant and Catholic in the north of Ireland
Weather in Scotland vs. Ireland
Both Ireland and Scotland are known for drizzly weather and gray, gloomy skies.
It’s a vibe – lean into it, pack correctly, and you’ll be fine!
This is anecdotal, but we had great weather in both Scotland and Ireland. In fact, when we traveled to Ireland for 2 weeks in early June, we only had (slight) rain one day. ONE DAY. We even had to buy new clothes while we were there because what we had packed was too warm.
The weather between the two countries is relatively similar, and you could get really lucky or really unlucky with either choice.
If you’re comparing the countries as a whole, Ireland tends to have milder weather and slightly less rainfall than Scotland.
Compare those rainfall amounts to our hometown of Bend, Oregon, which averages just 12 inches annually, and it is easy to see why both countries are known for being so rainy!
Our winner: Ireland
We wouldn’t recommend choosing Ireland over Scotland based just on weather because you can get lucky or unlucky anywhere. However, if you’re purely looking at the stats, Ireland is slightly more mild and has a bit less annual rainfall.
Food in Scotland vs. Ireland
This is a toughie… both Scotland and Ireland are known for cuisines that are, well, heavy on the meat and potatoes.
Scottish foods to try
- Haggis (there are also vegan options)
- Cullen skink (fish chowder)
- Indian cuisine (while obviously not Scottish, Indian cuisine is incredibly popular in Scotland and excellent Indian restaurants are abundant)
- Fun fact: Chicken tikka masala is said to have originated in Glasgow, and this dish can be found on pub menus even in the countryside
Irish foods to try
- Irish stew
- Botxty (like a potato pancake meets a savory crepe)
- Irish whiskey
In recent years, the foodie worlds of both Scotland and Ireland have been growing and elevating. And what were once thought of as – dare I say – bland cuisines have gotten facelifts in pretty major ways.
In the larger cities, you’ll find world-class dining where chefs are taking traditional foods to the next level while still honoring their roots. And in seaside towns of both Scotland and Ireland, don’t miss the seafood, it is incredible.
We had fantastic food experiences in both Ireland and Scotland and we think you will, too.
Good to know: We found vegetarian and vegan options readily available in both countries.
Our favorite food experiences in Ireland
- Fresh seafood with a lake view at The Misunderstood Heron food truck
- Fresh oysters at Morans Oyster Shack
- Lunch at The Bulman Bar & Restaurant (just outside of Kinsale) was one of our most memorable meals in Ireland
- We splurged on a nice dinner at the super cozy Ard Bia in Galway and loved every bite!
Our winner: Ireland
While I think it partially comes down to the restaurants we chose, we personally would pick Ireland as the winner. Almost every one of our meals in Ireland was excellent. (Psst! I did TONS of research to choose the best restaurants, which I share in our perfect Ireland itinerary!)
Budget for Scotland vs. Ireland
Overall, we didn’t find the prices to be too drastically different in Ireland vs. Scotland.
If I had to say which is more budget-friendly, I’d probably choose Scotland, but not by much. I think you could travel to either country with the exact same amount of money and be just fine.
If you’re on a tight budget, then we’d recommend you limit your time in the big cities, as Dublin and Edinburgh are by far the most expensive places in each respective country.
Good to know: The Republic of Ireland uses the euro while Scotland uses the pound. If you’re traveling from the USA, the euro has a slightly better exchange rate.
Our winner: Scotland
While we found Scotland to be a tad more affordable, I wouldn’t solely make your decision based on budget, because like I said, the costs aren’t all that different.
Landscapes in Scotland vs. Ireland
Rushing waterfalls, rugged cliffs that drop into the sea, white sand beaches with turquoise waters, deep blue lakes flanked by towering mountains, thick forests where the fog clings to the treetops…
Do you think I’m describing Ireland or Scotland?
Whichever one you answered with is correct because you can truly find all these landscapes in both places.
Overall, the types of landscapes are somewhat similar.
But if you pushed me to further contrast the two, I’d tell you that Scotland is more rugged. More remote. The mountains are higher, the coastlines more removed.
On the other hand, Ireland is greener and has some of the most spectacular seaside cliffs we’ve ever seen. So it depends on your preferences, really.
Our winner: Scotland
Scotland has more varied and dramatic landscapes. Think higher mountains and more remote coastlines.
Hiking in Scotland vs. Ireland
If you love hiking as much as we do, you’ll want to be sure to pack your boots for your trip regardless of whether you choose Ireland or Scotland.
While Scotland has higher peaks, both countries have a slew of incredible adventures to be had. From coastal trails to long-distance routes to steep-but-rewarding climbs, you’ll find your hiking bliss in both Ireland and Scotland.
Our favorite hikes in Ireland:
- Diamond Hill
- Keash Caves
- Slieve League
- Secret Waterfall
- Giant’s Causeway
- Benwee Head (on our bucket list!)
- Slieve Doan (on our bucket list!)
Our winner: Tie!
We think both countries have amazing hiking opportunities. Personally, the hikes we did in Scotland were a bit more epic, but that was based mostly on our route and the amount of time we had. We think Ireland has just as many great hiking trails.
Castles in Scotland vs. Ireland
If you love castles, then you’ll be pleased to know that you’ll find plenty in both countries. Truly, you might even get a little sick of them because there are so many.
After some digging, I found that there is no exact count of the number of castles in each country. However, it is estimated that Ireland is home to more than 30,000 castles (and ruins), while Scotland has more than 3,000.
Psst! Check out our list of the best castles in Scotland!
That means there are quite a lot more castles in Ireland than Scotland. That actually surprised me because I personally felt like I saw more in Scotland, but the numbers don’t lie!
Our winner: Ireland
There are more castles in Ireland; but if I’m honest, you’ll see more than enough in either country.
Fun things to do in Scotland vs. Ireland
Which has more to do: Ireland or Scotland?
Oh, gosh, I don’t think I can answer that question fully. I think both have endless adventures to be had and many ways to get off the beaten track.
We had truly incredible and action-packed trips to both Ireland and Scotland. And we still have huge bucket lists for each country because we didn’t get to it all. (You never can!)
Instead of choosing a winner for this category, I’ll leave you with some of our favorite activities in both Ireland and Scotland:
Best things to do in Scotland
- Trek into Cairngorms National Park to see reindeer.
- Road trip around the Isle of Skye.
- Have afternoon tea in Edinburgh.
- Watch the sunset from the beach on the northeast shore of Loch Ness.
- Go hiking in Glencoe.
- Keep reading our whole list of amazing things to do in Scotland!
Best things to do in Ireland
- Road trip around the Dingle Peninsula on Slea Head Drive.
- Marvel at the cliffs around Ireland (Cliffs of Moher, Slieve League, Kerry Cliffs, and more!)
- Enjoy live music in an Irish pub.
- Take a black taxi tour in Belfast.
- Watch a sheepdog demonstration.
- Keep reading our entire list of fun things to do in Ireland!
Our winner: Tie!
Like I said, both countries will keep you plenty busy with all sorts of fun things to do!
Cities in Scotland vs. Ireland
I’ll get straight to the point: We’re not big city people.
When we travel, cities aren’t our main focus. We almost always love the smaller towns and countryside much more than the big cities.
However, we couldn’t very well go to Scotland without seeing Edinburgh, now could we? And same with Dublin in Ireland.
In both Scotland and Ireland, our favorite places were in nature. That said, we really were blown away by the big cities in Scotland. I could live in Edinburgh!
While we didn’t dislike the cities in Ireland per se, we liked the cities in Scotland more.
Our winner: Scotland
We liked the cities in Scotland more than those in Ireland. While we didn’t dislike Dublin or Belfast, we really loved Edinburgh and Glasgow (each for different reasons).
Smaller towns in Scotland vs. Ireland
Not to confuse you, but if we change the parameters to small towns, our winner is now Ireland. Again, not by much, but we found so many charming small towns in Ireland that we adored.
Our favorite small towns in Scotland:
Our favorite small towns in Ireland:
Our winner: Ireland
There’s just something about the villages in Ireland that beg you to stay!
Culture & History in Ireland vs. Scotland
Both Ireland and Scotland have a shared Gaelic culture, and you can find oodles of historic places and cultural attractions in each.
It’s hard to compare because each country has a vivid and complex history which you can learn about on your trip.
We personally felt like the pub culture is stronger in Ireland than in Scotland. It’s not by a ton, but noticeably more, which we expected. Irish pub culture and folk music is legendary, after all.
Additionally, in Ireland we felt like there was more Gaelic pride visible to outsiders, as it is on all signs along with English in the Republic of Ireland (we didn’t notice it as much on signs in Northern Ireland).
Our winner: Ireland
With more visible Gaelic pride and a stronger pub culture (as well as nightlife, if that’s what you’re into), you can just feel the culture in Ireland.
Driving in Ireland vs. Scotland
We rented motorhomes in both Ireland and Scotland, so we have quite a bit of personal driving experience to speak from.
Left-hand side of the road
In both countries, you drive on the left side of the road, so if you’re used to driving on the right (like we are), it can be a bit different at the start.
In both countries, the roads are quite well-marked in towns and cities. Ireland, especially, had a lot of “stay left” indicators.
After a little practice and some chanting (“left side, left side!”), you shouldn’t have too much of a problem remembering which side to stay on.
Both Ireland and Scotland have very narrow roads through the rural areas. You’ll quickly get used to single lane roads where you will pull out to let oncoming traffic pass.
When passing small villages, your vehicle may brush the hedges. For this reason, we’d recommend choosing the smallest vehicle that will work for you in both Ireland and Scotland.
Between the two, Ireland’s roads seemed narrower.
Driving in cities
Our least favorite part of driving in both Ireland and Scotland was in the major cities.
Part of this is due to the fact that we were driving large vehicles in each, so maneuvering them on busy city streets in traffic wasn’t fun.
Plus, parking in big cities can be difficult with a motorhome or campervan, as you can’t enter parking garages due to height restrictions.
Our winner: Scotland
With more stretches of open road, Scotland felt slightly easier for driving (especially in a big vehicle).
Accommodations in Scotland vs. Ireland
Both Ireland and Scotland have plenty of accommodation options, from traditional hotels and inns to unique Airbnbs and cozy glamping stays (we have glamping guides for both Scotland and Ireland!). We had memorable stays in both countries.
Where you stay is going to depend a lot on whether you’ve chosen to rent a car or a campervan (more on that in a sec!).
With the exception of Edinburgh, Scotland’s cities tend to have slightly cheaper accommodations than Ireland’s cities. Both countries have budget, mid-range, and luxury options.
Psst! Make sure you read the secrets to how we never book a bad Airbnb – we’ve basically got it down to a science!
Our winner: Scotland
We’ll give this one to Scotland for having slightly better prices, but in terms of quality, uniqueness, and variety, it would be a tie.
Camping in Scotland vs. Ireland
As we mentioned above, we did campervan trips in both Ireland and Scotland, and had incredible experiences in both countries.
We’d highly recommend this as a way to experience both Ireland and Scotland, and we’ve got lots of tips for you if this is how you choose to travel:
Overall, the campgrounds are very similar in Ireland and Scotland. Sites are not exactly private or wooded like you’d find in much of North America. Instead, you’ll find parking spots and hookups with a range of facilities.
We found the quality of campgrounds was pretty similar in both Ireland and Scotland. We had a couple of really nice campgrounds as well as a few, let’s just say, rustic campgrounds. Prices were also pretty much the same.
On a similar note, it is legal to wild camp in both Ireland and Scotland (aka camp in a non-designated campground). If you’re in a self-contained vehicle and looking for a little adventure, then this can be a great option. We did a bit of wild camping in both places and had great experiences.
Insider Tip: Park4Night is the best app for finding legal places to wild camp in both countries.
Our winner: Tie!
Again, this one is too close to call. Both Scotland and Ireland offer great opportunities for camping, as well as for getting a taste of #vanlife.
Crowds in Scotland vs. Ireland
Which is more popular with international tourists: Scotland or Ireland?
The data is understandably a little hard to read over the last few years, but in the last full year of truly “normal” travel (2019), Ireland saw more than three times as many tourists as Scotland.
- Ireland: 11.3 million international tourists (2019)
- Scotland: 3.5 million international tourists (2019)
While there are certainly crowded areas in both Ireland and Scotland, we definitely felt it more in Ireland. Well, except for the Queen’s funeral procession, which we just happened to be in Edinburgh for. But that was obviously a one-off thing.
We visited Ireland at the beginning of peak tourist season, but even still, it didn’t feel nearly as crowded as some European countries we’ve traveled to in the summer (I’m talking about you, Croatia!).
The Cliffs of Moher were definitely the most crowded place we visited in Ireland. Most other places didn’t feel too terribly crowded, even on the weekends.
Our winner: Scotland
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, there are definitely places you can do that in both countries, but Scotland is less touristy overall.
Which is more family-friendly: Scotland vs. Ireland?
We found both Ireland and Scotland to be family-friendly.
We traveled with our daughter to both places and found we didn’t have to sacrifice much.
Tips for traveling with a baby in Scotland or Ireland
We have tons of tips for traveling with a baby to make your family trips feel more doable! But here are a couple of tips specific to Scotland and Ireland:
- In both Ireland and Scotland, we found that some distilleries allow minors and some don’t, so this is an activity that you’d want to research in advance.
- We found many cocktail bars allow minors until a certain time (usually 6 or 7 p.m.). Pubs that serve food tend to allow children later, but it can be a good idea to reach out and ask if it’s a place you really want to go to.
Our winner: Tie!
Round-up of the winners: Scotland vs. Ireland
Are you keeping score?
If you want to see how Ireland and Scotland compare on all categories in one place, here ya go:
- Weather: Ireland
- Food: Ireland
- Budget: Scotland
- Landscapes: Scotland
- Hiking: Tie
- Castles: Ireland
- Things to do: Tie
- Cities: Scotland
- Towns: Ireland
- History & Culture: Ireland
- Driving: Scotland
- Accommodations: Scotland
- Camping: Tie
- Crowds: Scotland
- Family-friendly: Tie
Note: I hope you read the descriptions of each category so you can see why we chose the winner and what the differences are. In most categories, they are very close, and choosing a winner was hard.
How much time do you need in Scotland vs. Ireland?
We think 2 weeks is a perfect amount of time in either Ireland or Scotland. Even 10 days can still give you enough time to see a lot in each place.
Our Personal Opinion: Scotland vs. Ireland
I’ll be honest and tell you we are terrible at choosing favorites. Of anything.
Ask me my favorite foods and you’ll be in for a 5-minute conversation that you weren’t prepared for. I’ll ramble on about all my favorites and how it changes day to day because, well, I can’t just choose one. That would be crazy talk.
Okay, now that you know me a little better (hey, let’s be friends!), you can understand why I can’t just give you a straight answer to the question, “Which is better: Ireland or Scotland?”
First of all, I don’t think you can ever definitively say one country is better than another.
But I also know you came here to get some sort of answer, so I won’t just leave you hanging. If you’re wondering which country to travel to – Ireland or Scotland – here’s what I’d tell you:
- Ireland wins just slightly when it comes to culture and history.
- Scotland wins for landscapes that are more varied, and as Ben says, just a little more epic.
They are tied in many other categories and are both excellent choices, so honestly, don’t overthink it. (Easier said than done, I know.)
At any rate, I’ll leave you with this little gem… I hope it helps you make a decision (or at least makes you laugh!).
- Katie: “Hey Ben, let’s play a game.”
- Ben: *looks up from his computer, a little weirded out* “Okay…?”
- Katie: “Summer or winter?”
- Ben: “Summer.”
- Katie: “Hot dog or hamburger?”
- Ben: “Hamburger.” *kind of catching onto the game*
- Katie: “Apple or orange?”
- Ben: “Orange.”
- Katie: “Ireland or Scotland?”
- Ben: *long pause* “Umm… Scotland? Well, wait now…”
- Katie: “Ha. Got it! Can’t change it now!”
- Ben: *stares at me* “Why?”
- Katie: “Because those are the rules. And I need you to pick one because I can’t!”
Ben went on to defend his decision, “In terms of overall epicness, I think Scotland wins by 1%. The mountains are bigger… the coastal drives are… well, actually they’re equal. That’s why it’s only one percent. It’s the mountains!”
So there ya have it. And I kind of agree with him. If I had to choose, Scotland wins by 1%.
Please, no hate mail from our Irish friends. We love you and your country, and can’t wait to return!
Remember, both Ireland and Scoland are truly incredible places to explore and they make amazing road trips. Whichever you choose will be a fantastic choice, I can guarantee it.
And the good news is that if you love your trip, you know you’ll love the other country, so why not plan that as a next vacation!?
We have quite literally all the resources you need for both trips, after all!
More resources for planning your trip to Ireland
We’re creating lots of resources for travel in Ireland and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Ireland Travel Homepage for everything you need to know, or read some of our favorite articles below.
- Ultimate 2-week Ireland Road Trip Itinerary
- Essential Ireland Packing List: FREE Download!
- Best Time to Visit Ireland: When to Go & When to Avoid
- Places to Visit in Ireland You Can’t Miss!
- Unforgettable Things to do in Ireland: Ultimate Bucket List
More resources for planning your trip to Scotland
We have lots of resources on travel in Scotland and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Scotland Travel Homepage for everything you need to know, or read some of our favorite articles below.
- Ultimate 2-week Scotland Road Trip Itinerary
- Complete Scotland Packing List: FREE Download!
- Best Time to Visit Scotland: When to Go & When to Avoid
- Best Places to Visit in Scotland
- Unforgettable Things to do in Scotland
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We want to hear from you!
Okay, let’s hear it: what’s your opinion on this debate? Which would be your personal pick in Scotland vs. Ireland? Do you have any other questions for us? Leave your comments below and we’ll try our best to bet back to you!