Backpacking Scotland Tours from Edinburgh: An Honest Haggis Adventures Review

Backpacking Scotland Tours from Edinburgh: An Honest Haggis Adventures Review

I’ve lived in England for most of my life yet haven’t travelled much in the UK.  However, after my backpacking trip to Ireland last year, I couldn’t wait to visit Scotland!   I was invited by Haggis Adventures to join them on one of their Highland Fling 5-day tours around Scotland and was excited to see everything on the itinerary.  Here’s my full and honest Haggis Adventures review, including highlights of our Highland Fling tour and what to expect on a Haggis Adventures tour.

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I received a complimentary tour from Haggis Adventures, but as usual all opinions are my own and this is my honest Haggis Adventures review.

About Haggis Adventures

Haggis is the sister company of Shamrocker Adventures, who I travelled around Ireland with in September.  Radical Travel is the parent company, who also own BusAbout.  They run various tours around Scotland of varying lengths, from single day tours to 10-day explorers.  The tours are a good combination of budget backpacking tours, mixed with culture, food and drink and incredible Scottish scenery. 

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When is the Best Time to Visit Scotland

Although you can take Haggis Adventures tours throughout the year, I’d say that spring and autumn are the best times to travel around Scotland.  The weather in winter can be very cold and wet, and although that could still happen throughout the year, Spring and Autumn have a mixture of sun and rain, without the crowds that flock here over the summer.  There are some parts of the Highland Fling itinerary which are only included from late May to Autumn, for example, the Harry Potter Jacobite steam train, so check the dates for that if you want to include that option.

Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye - White ouses reflected in the still water of the bay with hills in the background
Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye – Haggis Adventures Review

How Haggis Adventures Tours Work

The standard Haggis Adventures tours are aimed at budget or mid-range travellers who want the convenience of having transport included, with a guide and the chance to travel with other like-minded people.  The accommodation is in hostels, usually in dorm rooms of 4 to 12 people, but you can book private rooms for a supplement if you prefer.  Although I am a solo traveller and love my own space, the shared dorm rooms gave us more chance to get to know each other, even if a good night’s sleep isn’t always guaranteed.  A snooze on the bus is a welcome break if you need it!

All transport on the yellow Haggis Adventures buses is included, as was the ferry crossing to the Isle of Skye.  Some activities such as tree planting and a visit to Culodden National Trust site are included in the package price, whereas other optional activities are payable on top.  The Loch Ness boat trip, Jacobite Steam train, Ceileidh dance and whisky distillery visit were extra costs, but I loved them all so I’d recommend joining in what you can to get the full Scottish experience!

Our Haggis Adventures Wild and Sexy Yellow Bus
Our Haggis Adventures Wild and Sexy Bus

Our guide was also our bus driver.  Michael did a fabulous job driving us all over Scotland, sharing interesting facts, myths, legends and a varied playlist of music to keep us entertained.  I was thrilled on the first day when he turned up in a kilt, and although he didn’t wear it every day it was a nice surprise when he had it on again for our final day.  He was calm, fun, friendly and looked after us all very well.

What was the Tour Group Like?

As with any group tours, you can’t control who you travel with, and the group you get can make or break the tour.  We had a full bus of around 30 people and actually had a great group.  Although there were smaller sub-groups which formed over the week, and people travelling together didn’t mix as much as other solo travellers, there was a great vibe and we all made friends quickly.  I was on the older end of the age range at 36, I would say that most travellers were in their mid-20s, although we ranged from 18 to 40+.  I enjoyed the variety, so you could party if you wanted to or just chill out.  I knew I didn’t want a heavy party tour, so this suited me down to the ground.

Our Haggis Adventures Group Tour Photo
Our Haggis Adventures Group Tour Photo

Haggis Adventures Backpacking Scotland Tour Highlights

We covered a lot of ground on our 5-day Highland Fling tour, crossing Scotland from Edinburgh to the west coast and back again.  I won’t list the full itinerary here as there is too much to mention, but you can check out all the details of the tour on the Haggis Adventures website here.

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Glencoe

Glencoe was absolutely stunning.  We didn’t get to spend too long here which was a shame, although if it was raining I’m sure a quick stop is adequate!  We had the chance to take a short walk to admire the gorgeous scenery and stretch our legs before hopping back on the bus.

Walking in Glencoe - woman in blue coat walks between epic mountain scenery
Walking in Glencoe

A Scottish Ceilidh

The Ceilidh Dance was an unexpected highlight of our first day.  We were led to the venue by a handsome bagpiper, and walking through the streets we certainly got a lot of attention!  At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take part in the dancing, but after seeing how much fun everyone had on the first dance, I soon joined in.  Forget any embarrassment and get involved!  Just wear comfy shoes and light clothes – you will get sweaty as you fling each other around the dance floor. 

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Distillery Tour and Whisky Tasting

Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland without whisky!  Although I’m not a fan of the drink myself, visiting a Scottish Whisky Distillery was interesting, and we got to taste the whisky at the end as well.  (I donated mine to someone else!)

Distillery Tour & Whisky Tasting - whisky glasses and bottle from Deanston Distillery
Distillery Tour & Whisky Tasting at Deanston Distillery

The Jacobite Steam Train (aka The Hogwarts Express)

A trip on The Jacobite Steam Train across the Glenfinnan Viaduct is only included in the itinerary during the summer, so if you want to do this make sure you plan your trip accordingly.  The train is most famous for being featured in the Harry Potter films as part of the journey of the Hogwarts Express, and the journey is quite spectacular – especially when crossing the viaduct.

The Jacobite Steam Train on The Glenfinnan Viaduct
The Jacobite Steam Train on The Glenfinnan Viaduct

The Isle of Skye

Hiking to the Old Man of Storr was probably my favourite activity on the whole trip.  We were very lucky with the weather on Skye and had glorious sunshine to hike to the top of this incredible viewpoint.  The hike was quite steep but definitely worth the effort!  We spent nearly 2 full days on Skye and also visited a waterfall, a castle and a brewery among other places.

Hiking on the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye - Woman standing looking at the spiky rock formations and view of a loch beneath
Hiking on the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye

Loch Ness

You can’t visit Scotland and not go to Loch Ness.  We stayed in Fort Augustus on the Loch for 2 nights and could take an optional boat tour on the Loch which I highly recommend.  We took the boat tour with Cruise Loch Ness and the guide Shaun pointed out interesting things around the Loch, and we also spotted a couple of deer on the bank.  The most interesting (and entertaining) part of the tour was the talk given by Shaun about Nessie and the various attempts to find the Loch Ness Monster.  If I wasn’t a believer before, I am now!  You might even be able to snap a photo of Nessie herself if you’re lucky.

toy Loch Ness Monster in Loch Ness
You might spot Nessie in the waters of Loch Ness

Planting Trees

This may seem like an odd highlight, but I really enjoyed this part of the tour.  Haggis Adventures partner with Trees for Life UK to help repopulate an area now known as Haggis Wood.  We planted two trees among the others that previous Haggis tour groups planted, doing a small bit for the environment.  Trees for Life is a wonderful project, and you can volunteer there to plant trees for a week yourself.  To me, it highlighted that Haggis Adventures really do care about Scotland and the environment and are making a contribution to help.

Planting Trees in Haggis Wood - Green Countryside with new trees
Planting Trees in Haggis Wood with Trees for Life

Culodden

Culodden probably isn’t somewhere I would have visited by myself but learning about a period in Scottish history I knew nothing about was actually very interesting.  It was sobering to visit the battlefield, which is essentially a mass grave, where thousands of Highlanders were killed in a brutal battle which ended the Jacobite uprising and destroyed the Highland Clan way of life.  The weather was fitting for the sombre day; grey clouds hung low in the sky and the drizzle fell as we walked around the field. 

Stone Monument at Culodden Battlefield
Culodden Battlefield

Extra Stops Along the Way

There were some fab stops along the way which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was travelling on my own by public transport.  We visited some hairy coos and could buy some vegetables to feed them, or just snap a few pics.  We also visited the Kelpies, Portree, Kilt Rock on Skye, Eilean Donan Castle and Dunkeld, among others.

The Kelpies Roadside Art - silver Horses Head Sculptures
The Kelpies Roadside Art – silver Horses Head Sculptures

What I Loved about Haggis Adventures

What I loved about the Haggis Adventures tours was the varied itinerary, local guides and schedule to help you get the most of a short time in Scotland.  As with any group tour, there are pros and cons with relinquishing control of your itinerary to someone else.  In this case, I loved the extra stops which were included, things which I wouldn’t have made the effort to visit – or indeed couldn’t have visited at all with public transport.

Hazel the Hairy Coo - Big Orange Highland Cow peering over the fence
Hazel the Hairy Coo

I also really enjoyed the variety of activities on the tour, it was well thought out and there really was something for everyone.  Hiking, nature, history, cute villages, Scottish dancing, drinking and jaw-dropping scenery really showed us the best of Scotland in a very short time.  If you didn’t want to do anything, you didn’t have to, but the range of activities meant most of us did everything we could! 

Caisteal Maol on the Isle of Skye - Castle ruins in the background across a bay with an old boat and purple flowers in the foreground
Caisteal Maol on the Isle of Skye

Anything I didn’t like?

Checking 30 people into a hostel at the same time isn’t the easiest task, and in the first hostel, there was only one person on the reception who checked us in one at a time as we had to leave a deposit for the room key.  This took longer than it should have done – there must be an easier way, like collecting deposits beforehand or handing out keys in groups.  The next hostel was quicker, and the final hostel had 2 people working, although the process took a while as most people paid for the option breakfast and dinner as we checked in. 

The hostels were decent, but generally didn’t have enough toilet facilities or showers, especially when we were all aiming to leave around the same time.  However, the overall quality was pretty good, and I slept well each night.  My favourite hostel was Morag’s Lodge in Fort Augustus, we stayed there for two nights so had time to settle in and do the pub quiz there too which was great fun!

Haggis Adventurers Hiking in Glencoe
Haggis Adventurers Hiking in Glencoe

Again, it’s hard to balance the right amount of time in each place, there were places I would have happily spent more time like Glencoe and the beautiful Isle of Skye, but that was also due to the gorgeous weather.  With Scotland’s weather being so unpredictable I guess you have to hedge your bets a bit with where to spend your time – hiking Glencoe in the rain would not have been that tempting!

Would I Recommend Haggis Adventures?

100% YES!  After my Shamrocker Irish Adventures tour, I had no concerns about taking a tour with Haggis Adventures, but the trip really did exceed my expectations.  That might have been partly due to fabulous weather, our great guide Michael, the lovely bunch of people on the tour and all of the amazing things we saw – all together they made me fall head over heels in deep Scottish love with Scotland!  My only regret was not spending longer here.  I would love to explore more of Scotland when I can, but the 5-day Highland Fling tour gave me a wonderful taster to really whet my appetite.  Scotland, I’ll be back!

Have you taken a Haggis Adventures backpacking tour of Scotland?  I’d love to hear your review as well, please let me know in the comments below.

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Last updated: June 20, 2019

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