Are you planning a trip to Great Britain soon, but can’t decide how to allocate your time between England and Scotland? That is quite the dilemma, as both countries are so different geographically and culturally, yet have so much to offer. You could easily spend a lengthy trip exploring either one and never get bored.
As someone who traveled to both countries last year and tried to do too much during their trip, I can definitely understand your very wise choice to commit to seeing just one of these countries. Both have so much to see and do, even if you spend an extended amount of time in either country you could still not see all you wanted to.
Since either England or Scotland will give you a rewarding experience and memories to last a lifetime, we’ll need to hone in on what makes each one special. Then you can decide for yourself where your time will be best spent between the two based on your own preferences.
The Shambles in York, England
Similarities Between England and Scotland
Let’s get the big similarities between these two counties out of the way before we get into how they are different:
- England and Scotland are both English speaking countries.
- Both countries are on the island of Great Britain.
- Neither Scotland nor England are independent countries and are under control of the UK parliament.
- They share a queen, as Queen Elizabeth II reigns over the whole United Kingdom.
- They are both known for rainy and chilly weather, but perhaps a tad more so in Scotland.
- They use the same currency, the pound sterling (£).
- You can use the same adapter and voltage converter for your electronics in both countries, as the entire UK is on the same voltage and uses the same type of plug.
History of the Relationship Between England and Scotland
It would be remiss not to at least mention the deeply interwoven history between these two countries. If you’ve ever seen the movie Braveheart, then you know they’ve had a conflict or two through the ages.
For centuries, beginning as early as AD 122 when the Romans invaded England, these two countries struggled for power over one another but mostly involved England trying to control Scotland. Though at times battles were won by one side or the other, it never seemed to prevail and a new bloody fight would inevitably unfold.
After Queen Elizabeth I died without an heir, King James VI of Scotland inherited the English crown, which united both England and Scotland under one monarch. A short time later, in 1707 an Act of Union was passed to unite these two countries by creating the new state of Great Britain. Although this did not necessarily bring complete peace at that time, it does bring us to where we are today, with both countries presently being part of the United Kingdom.
Although the two countries are all-in-all living harmoniously under the rule of the United Kingdom, there are still modern-day attempts for Scotland to become independent again. In 1997, a referendum was passed to grant Scotland its own parliament. There has even been a recent, albeit failed, referendum to grant Scotland independence from the United Kingdom.
Both England and Scotland have impressive tourist attractions rooted in each of their respective histories and cultures. By far, the most famous city in England to visit is its sprawling capital. Famous sites in London include:
- Westminster Abbey
- Buckingham Palace (to watch changing of the guard)
- Big Ben
- Tower of London (and the famous Tower Bridge)
- St. Paul’s Cathedral
- London Eye
- Kensington Palace (for afternoon tea)
- World Class Museums (British Museum, National Gallery, Victoria & Albert)
Other cities and sites to visit in England:
- Bath: The Roman Baths
- York: The Shambles (Harry Potter-esque street with leaning medieval butchers’ shops)
- Cotswold Villages
Stratford-on-Avon: Where Shakespeare was born.
College towns of Oxford and Cambridge
England is huge, and a book could be written to describe all that there is to see, so we will leave it here for now. So, what all is there to see in Scotland?
Similar to England, Scotland’s most recognizable city is its capital. Edinburgh is a MUCH smaller city than London and lacks the multitude of world-class sites and museums that London has. That being said, there are still plenty of amazing sites in Edinburgh that will give you a totally different experience than London’s sites. Famous sites in Edinburgh include:
- Edinburgh Castle
- Palace of Holyrood
- Museums (National Museum of Scotland, National Museum of Edinburgh, etc.)
- Grassmarket District (shops and pubs)
- Literary Pub Tour
- St. Giles Cathedral
- Scott Monument
- King Arthur’s seat
Other cities and sites to visit in Scotland:
- Scottish Highlands
- Loch Ness
England vs. Scotland Tourist Attractions Winner: England due to having such a multitude of world-class sites right at your fingertips.
Ease of Tourism
So, can you get to all of the tourist attractions you want to see in England and Scotland without a car? For the most part, yes, but England may have an edge here.
England generally is extremely well connected by buses and trains. There are even buses that can take you into the countryside, although they may be a bit more few and far between. For more difficult to reach places, such as the Cotswolds and Stonehenge, consider joining a day trip minibus tour out of a larger city, such as London or Bath. That is what my husband and I chose to do on our trip, and it allowed us to see so many more sites that we otherwise would have missed.
Scotland has a good public transportation system as well. This is particularly true between major cities, as well as between England and Scotland. Scotland also takes pride in its abundant bus stop availability in Scottish suburbs.
Although a road trip is the best way to experience the Highlands or Scottish Isles, day trips and organized tours are a way to see these hard to reach places if you don’t want to rent a car. In most cases though, self-driving these areas would likely be the most cost-effective option.
If you look at the ease of tourism between the two capital cities alone, the story changes a bit. London is huge and sprawling compared to Edinburgh (607 square miles vs. 101.9 square miles). While the Tube (subway system) greatly assists with getting around London efficiently, it doesn’t change the fact that there is just so much to see over a much greater distance than Edinburgh. Edinburgh is much more compact, and the main tourist locations are closer together, making it much more manageable to tourists than London.
England vs. Scotland Ease of Tourism Winner: Tie, as each country has different advantages in this category.
Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands
Nature and Hiking
Getting outdoors on your trip is one of the best ways to get to know the country you’re visiting on a whole new level. There’s nothing like feeling the terrain of a foreign land right under your own feet. Plus, partaking in activities like hiking or kayaking forces you to slow down and really take in the details of your surroundings. So, the only question is whether England or Scotland can offer more of these outdoor experiences.
Hiking and nature are not quite the first things that come to mind when one thinks of England. A lot of travelers focus solely on London, and sadly may not realize how much more there is to see in England. Getting outside more may just help you discover a whole other side of England.
Did you know there are 10 national parks in England? Mostly located in either the far north or far south of England, visiting one of these parks will give you a true picture of England’s moorlands, mountains, and coastline. Activities can range from bike trails, hiking, or wildlife viewing. You may even encounter the occasional medieval village along the way.
Some of the more notable parks to visit are:
- Lake District: UNESCO world heritage site where you can explore England’s highest mountains, deep glacial lakes, and quaint rural villages.
- Dartmoor: Hop on a bike or set forth on foot through England’s moorlands. Be sure to take in the quaint medieval villages and wild ponies on the way.
- Northumberland National Park: Visit Hadrian’s wall or stargaze at “Europe’s largest area of protected night sky.”
- Peak District: The UK’s original national park where you can hike through moorlands, cycle past limestone dales, discover historic houses, and do some world-class rock climbing.
- South Downs: View some of the famous white cliffs England is known for.
On the other hand, Scotland is one of those countries that just beckons to you to spend time outdoors. Picture craggy landscapes, shadows of mountains in the distance, deep blue lochs, and ferrying to various Scottish Isles. There is so much dramatic scenery to behold in Scotland. Here’s how you can immerse yourself in it.
- King Arthurs Seat: Do some hiking right in Edinburgh. This ancient volcano is the highest point of Holyrood Park and offers sweeping views over the city.
- Cairngorms National Park: The UK’s largest national park that also has the UK’s highest mountain range. This park is twice the size of Lake District National Park. Visitors can partake in hillwalking, climbing, cycling, and skiing. View diverse wildlife like red squirrels, pine martens, and golden eagles.
- Loch Lomond & the Trossachs: This park boasts the largest lake in the UK, lots of forests, more lochs, and large mountain ranges. Walking, boating, and climbing are all activities that can be experienced here.
- Ben Nevis: Climb this mountain to claim bragging rights for reaching the top of the UK’s tallest mountain.
- St. Andrews: It’s hotly debated whether St. Andrews was actually where modern golf was invented. Nevertheless, you can still experience playing a round of golf where others have since the 15th century.
England vs. Scotland Nature and Hiking Winner: Scotland, due to its depth of rugged yet awe-inspiring dramatic scenery.
Overall, neither Scotland or England are exactly famous for their culinary scene. Their food is generally perceived to be rather bland and lacking color or flavor. That’s not to say you can’t find good food in either country though, so long as you choose wisely.
What comes to mind when thinking of the English food scene is things like mutton and dry crumbly scones. Of course, these are stereotypes, and you can actually find all kinds of food in England, especially London.
London is a very cosmopolitan city, and you can find a wide range of dining choices here. There is everything from American chain restaurants like Chipotle to high-end five-star dining. The food scene is very diverse thanks to the melting pot that this city has become. I highly recommend trying some Indian food if you do spend time here, as there is a huge Indian presence in London’s culinary scene that you cannot find in many places.
England is known for its fish and chips. Being a fried dish, it is a pretty safe bet almost anywhere you go to eat. I would avoid eating pub food, as this is where you’ll tend to find the gravy-smothered brown food that England gets a bad rap for.
Scotland’s reputation for food is not much different than England’s. You’ll want to be careful where you choose to eat here as well.
Scotland is famous for its haggis, which per Wikipedia is described as “a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck”. Yum, right? I personally passed on the haggis, but you can try it at your own risk. Like England, Scotland also has good fish and chips. My favorite was at The Boathouse restaurant right next to Loch Ness.
In both countries, you can’t go wrong with ordering a sandwich. Smoked salmon seems to be a very common choice in both countries, but perhaps even more so in Scotland. Whiskey drinkers can enjoy the prevalence of Scotch whiskey tastings in Scotland.
England vs. Scotland Food Winner: England, mostly due to the fact that London alone has so much more variety available.
In general, infrastructure is an area where both England and Scotland do quite well. Both have good public transportation systems, with extensive train and bus route availability and well-maintained major highways. However, England has a small lead due to having fewer remote areas where connectivity is more difficult, whereas Scotland does have more of these hard to reach places.
Both England and Scotland have several international airports serviced by most major airlines. Although London Heathrow is by far the most recognizable major airport of the options available with its broad range of international access, Scotland has very good airline connectivity as well and it is not difficult to fly there.
In general, both England and Scotland have good access to high-speed internet. However, the availability tends to be a bit less widespread in Scotland, particularly in less populated rural and highland areas. The good news is that Scotland is currently making a large investment in its infrastructure, with the goal of having “100% of Scottish premises covered by 5G internet by 2021”.
As far as healthcare, England and Scotland are both very highly regarded worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks the United Kingdom 18th out of a total of 191 countries. In fact, many individuals living in the UK qualify for free health care on the UK’s National Health Service.
The cost of living in either England or Scotland will vary depending on the city. Larger cities will have higher overall prices for costs like rent, food, and transportation. For example, in England, London is known to have the highest cost of living, but much more reasonable rates can be found in smaller towns and suburbs.
England vs. Scotland Infrastructure Winner: England, due to the higher availability of public transportation and high-speed internet connectivity.
Good nightlife can be found in both England and Scotland, but there will be much more of it in larger cities. In general, the abundance of evening entertainment will depend on where you are going.
If you are sticking to major cities, then you are bound to find plenty to do after dark. In fact, both London and Edinburgh are known to have lots of good bars, pubs, and clubs to visit at night. That being said, London, being the huge metropolis that it is, simply has more of everything and offers numerous world-class entertainment options. This includes high-end bars and clubs to be seen at, as well as more refined activities, such as catching a play in the West End theatre district.
Other large cities, such as Manchester in England and Glasgow in Scotland, are going to have a much livelier nighttime scene than a smaller town would. Also, college towns such as Newcastle and Liverpool tend to have good nightlife thanks to all those students looking to blow off some steam on the weekends.
Basically, the more remote you get, the more peace and quiet you’ll find.
England vs. Scotland Nightlife Winner: England, due to London’s exceptional nightlife options and the existence of numerous large cities and college towns.
Tower Bridge in London
So, who’s the overall winner between England and Scotland?
Well, on paper it would hands down be England. It is a bigger, more populated country with a multitude of world-class sites and very advanced public transport systems that are a great convenience to tourists.
However, we all know that the on-paper answer does not always translate into real life. Some people prefer the experience of traveling to picturesque yet more remote locations. Although Scotland and England overall offer similar perks, there will definitely be a trade-off somewhere that you make when selecting one over the other.
At the end of the day, there are very good reasons to visit either of these countries. Whether you choose to visit England for its incredible museum exhibits and historical treasures like Westminster Abbey or Scotland for its whiskey and rugged yet stunning Highland landscapes, you cannot possibly make a bad choice. In fact, if you have the opportunity, each of these countries has much to appreciate and absolutely deserve a dedicated visit.
Theresa is an accountant by day and travel blogger by night from Cleveland, Ohio. Follow along with her journey at FueledbyWanderlust.com