Scottish B&Bs in May: Book in advance, or arrive as a walk-in?
April 4, 2014 5:05 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are in the midst of planning a driving tour through Scotland for the first week of May. (Main destinations: Glencoe and the Isle of Skye). Finding a hotel in Edinburgh was a piece of cake, but the Glencoe and Skye areas, after looking through the listings on Trip Advisor, seem to be booked in advance.

However, there's no end of small B&Bs and inns to be had in these areas. The pickings hardly appear to be slim.

On recent drives through the UK and Ireland, we've generally taken a pass on booking in advance for rural towns and villages, showing up where we like in the evening and finding a place on the fly. We've always found a vacancy or two. However, would this be a risky strategy for Glencoe and the Isle of Skye for early May, a "shoulder" season on the tourist calendar?

What have been your experiences with Scottish B&Bs, hotels and inns in the rural highlands? Are owners generally friendly and accommodating to walk-ins, hoping to fill a sudden cancellation or vacancy? Is it relatively easy to find accommodations without advanced notice, or have you been plagued with endless "No Vacancy" signs?
posted by Gordion Knott to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My parents recently returned from a trip like this. They booked most of their accommodations in advance but had to make some arrangements on the fly. They reported that "no vacancy" wasn't a problem at all, but then again Scotland in May is going to very different than Scotland in early March. In their experience the B&B owners were incredibly accommodating and generally lovely. I think they found the towns where they made arrangements on the fly a little stressful because although every town has several inns and B&Bs available, there is a lot of driving/walking around involved to find the ones with vacancy and that meet your needs. I would expect this to be even more true in May.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:27 AM on April 4, 2014

Have you tried any hostels?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:33 AM on April 4, 2014

I was in both those places in the shoulder season (although September) and we did not book in advance. The B&B owners all seemed to treat this as perfectly normal.
posted by something something at 5:36 AM on April 4, 2014

Also - the ones on TripAdvisor are probably booked because, well, they're on TripAdvisor. The rural highlands really are full of B&Bs everywhere you turn, though. Unless you're really picky I think you'll be fine. We also found the local tourist offices really helpful in the smaller towns (Ullapool and Portree especially). Stop in when you arrive and they'll be able to give you some suggestions on where to stay.
posted by something something at 5:42 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just to elaborate on my previous answer: I was in the highlands in August 2008, and while there were places that were booked, I was able to get a bed by calling around and in one case by showing up to get a hostel bed in Broadford. That said, I was traveling solo and did not have a set itinerary, so if you are trying to stick to a definite schedule, you probably don't want to be winging it like I did.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:54 AM on April 4, 2014

Not to be all doom and gloom, but when we went to the Scottish highlands and islands in the summer (June), we were booking probably the Christmas/January before, and many things (B&Bs, self-catering houses, with a couple of hotels and hostels) were already fully booked by that point. These were places with an online presence, obviously; as people above said, possibly places that are not online are still available.
posted by ClaireBear at 8:08 AM on April 4, 2014

I just finished my Skye, Mull, and Edinburgh bookings for late June without any trouble (although I had to move my schedule a bit to accomodate one place because I really wanted to stay at that one place), although that's getting close to high season. We have mobility issues, so booking ahead makes more sense for us (we can email back and forth with the owners to get details like 'do you have stairs?' 'how high are they?' and so on).
posted by Mogur at 9:31 AM on April 4, 2014

Bear in mind that May 4 is the early May bank holiday, so many people will be vacationing that week/weekend (including B&B owners!). My wife and I were on Skye for that week last year and booked in advance, and the spots we stayed mentioned that it was a very busy time for them given that it's normally the shoulder season.

I'll MeMail you the two spots on Skye we stayed, which were both terrific if you're looking for an advance booking.
posted by j.edwards at 10:00 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's any help, here's a list of links to Scottish school holiday dates (arranged by county) which might help you navigate how busy they're likely to be.
posted by penguin pie at 1:12 PM on April 4, 2014

I found that most Scottish B&Bs were not listed on Expedia or other sites, so we wound up doing some last minute bookings in the highlands and Orkney Islands. The Tourist Information Offices were the key. They had lists of B&Bs that they could give us, or they were happy to call around for us. When they found something and booked it for us, they charged us a small fee (3 pounds, I think). They really saved us and were super nice and helpful.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:47 AM on April 7, 2014

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