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Scotland vs. Ireland: Which country should you visit for your next trip?

Mar 13, 2024 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

With their wild sweeping landscapes, rich history, cultural heritage, and centuries-old architecture, it’s easy to think that Scotland and Ireland are similar destinations that offer similar experiences—and you wouldn’t be wrong! Geographically, they’re not very far from each other, but a closer look at both places reveals just how unique they are. And our Scotland tours and our Ireland tours are all about digging deep to showcase the special elements and experiences that make these destinations so thrilling to visit. Whether you’re learning about Dublin’s literary history or seeking out the finest drams of whisky in the Highlands, these trips are unforgettable from start to finish.

The Ireland vs. Scotland battle might be too close to call, but read on to discover the differences between Scotland and Ireland, two European powerhouses that have so much to offer intrepid travelers. And maybe by the end of the article, you’ll have learned which of our Ireland tours or Scotland tours is right for your next trip to Europe.

Where are Ireland and Scotland?

Before we dive into the Scotland vs. Ireland debate, let’s get some geography out of the way. Both countries are on the westernmost edge of Europe. Scotland is the northernmost region of Great Britain—Europe’s largest island. In fact, Scotland takes up a third of the island. Plus, there are hundreds of Scottish islands split into four geographics groups. You’ll find the Atlantic Ocean to the north, and the North Sea to the east, separating Scotland from Scandinavia by some 200 miles.

When we talk about Ireland, however, remember we are referring to the Republic of Ireland, which occupies about 80% of an island located west of Great Britain. The northern 20% is called Northern Ireland, and that’s part of the United Kingdom. (Our Ireland tours often include activities on both parts of the island.) As a whole, this island is the second largest in Europe, with the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Irish Sea separating it from England to the east.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into it: Scotland vs. Ireland—which European country should you visit next?

If you’re a history lover, go to Scotland

Any trip to Europe will, of course, include history. The continent is rich with heritage. But in this Scotland vs. Ireland battle royale, we have to give a point to Scotland for its history. For one, on our Scotland tours, you’ll get to visit castles that are older than some countries. Whether you’re taking our 10-day Scotland & the Edinburgh Military Tattoo tour or our 10-day Edinburgh & the Castles of Scotland tour, you’ll enjoy guided visits to many of the country’s most spectacular architectural and historical marvels. In the capital city, there’s the towering Edinburgh Castle, but you’ll also get to explore Urquhart Castle, which has been sitting right next to Loch Ness since the 13th century.

And our 10-day Scotland for Solo Travelers: Highlands, Aberdeen & Edinburgh tour delves even deeper into Scottish history. You’ll visit Glencoe, the site of a famous 17th-century massacre. And while in Inverness, you can also add an excursion to Culloden Moor to your itinerary. This is where the British army claimed its final victory over the Jacobite uprising in 1746. History is just one of the many reasons why you should take a solo trip to Scotland.

Step back in time on a tour to Scotland

Pick Ireland for its arts scene

There’s so much to love about our Ireland tours, but one of our favorite parts of these itineraries is how much they explore the local arts scene. And we’re not just talking about trips to museums. Irish culture is packed with artsy flourishes, from trad music to literature.

When it comes to literary heritage, few cities can compete with Dublin, home to James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. On our 14-day Grand Tour of Ireland, there’s ample free time in the Irish capital to trace this history. In fact, if you’re a fan of Wilde, keep your eyes peeled for statues of the writer all over town, including one of him lounging on a rock in Merrion Square Park.

But if live music is more your speed, everywhere you go in Ireland provides a fantastic opportunity to experience trad music, a style of folk music that features sung storytelling and a variety of instruments. Most pubs feature nightly performances by Irish musicians, and sometimes the jam sessions are impromptu. But we especially love seeking it out in the city of Galway, and our 11-day Ireland: Traditions of the Emerald Isle tour includes free evenings so you can pop into a pub of your choice for a rollicking night out.

Music is such a big deal in Ireland that you don’t need to go into a pub or bar to experience it. Most days, you’ll find singers and musicians giving public shows on Dublin’s famous Grafton Street.

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Choose our Scotland tours if you prefer natural landscapes

When it comes to natural beauty, the Scotland vs. Ireland debate can go either way. After all, both are incredibly picturesque. But we decided to give this one to Scotland for the dramatic variety you’ll find when on one of our Scotland tours. Glistening lakes, lush countryside, rugged islands, and massive mountains are just some of the highlights you’ll get to experience during your visit.

Our brand-new, 15-day Landscapes of Scotland: Oban, the Highlands & Edinburgh tour is all about introducing you to this diverse country’s awesome beauty. You’ll drive through The Trossachs, one of Scotland’s two national parks, pass by Loch Lomond, and stroll through Aberdeen’s Footdee (pronounced “fittie”), a fishing village that will transport you to by-gone eras thanks to its well-preserved historic atmosphere. But what might be even more special are the trips to the Scottish islands. This itinerary will take you to the Isle of Skye, possibly the most beautiful place in Great Britain. Its sweeping meadows, jagged cliffs, and towering peaks are sure to take your breath away. One of the best things to do while visiting Skye is to see the Old Man of Storr, a 2,300-foot-tall rock formation that appears to pierce the sky.

If you want to see if the views are better in Scotland or Ireland, take our 15-day Landscapes of Scotland & Ireland tour; you’ll get to see for yourself which country is more naturally beautiful.

Discover Scotland’s natural beauty

Head to Ireland for its lively cities

If you prefer city travel, you can’t go wrong with either Scotland or Ireland. Both have urban areas that are fun to explore for art, food, history, and much more. But for this Scotland vs. Ireland head-to-head, we’re going to tip our hats to Irish cities. We can’t get enough of exploring Ireland’s most exciting urban centers, from its capital city of Dublin to coastal hotspots like Galway. They have their own unique personalities that appeal to different types of travelers and are often at the center of our Ireland tours.

Whether it’s our eight-day Ireland for Solo Travelers tour or our classic A Week in Ireland: Dublin, Cork & Galway tour, you’ll get to spend quality time in the country’s biggest cities. In Dublin, you’ll visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral—the country’s largest church since it opened in the 12th century—tour the Guinness Storehouse (don’t forget to head up to the Gravity Bar for the best views of the skyline), and take a peek at Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university. In Galway, you’ll want to reserve a night to pop into a pub or two to experience live trad music.

On our 14-day Grand Tour of Ireland, we add cities in Northern Ireland (the region of the island that’s part of the United Kingdom) for an immersive itinerary. Here, you’ll spend a couple of nights in Belfast, where you’ll learn about the city’s vast history, stretching from the Bronze Age to more modern points of interest, including the 30-year conflict known as “the Troubles.”

Explore Ireland’s cities

If you’re into Scotch and cocktails, travel to Scotland

Yes, Ireland produces whiskey, too, but there’s a reason why Scotch has become a collectable among global connoisseurs. (By the way, in Ireland, it’s spelled w-h-i-s-k-e-y, but in Scotland, the same stuff is spelled w-h-i-s-k-y.) To us, no Scotland tour is complete without visiting some of the country’s most renowned distilleries. If you’re not familiar with how Scotch differentiates itself from the world of whisk(e)y, here’s a quick tip: For whisky to be considered a Scotch, it has to be made in Scotland and aged in oak barrels for at least three years—though many of the finest you’ll find would have been aged for a lot longer than that.

If you want to learn more about Scotch and whisky, then you should opt for our brand-new 15-day Landscapes of Scotland: Oban, the Highlands & Edinburgh tour. On the stunning Isle of Mull, you’ll get to visit Tobermory Distillery, which specializes in single malt Scotch, for a tour and tasting. This is one of the oldest distilleries in all of Scotland. There are more than 150 Scotch distilleries in this whisky-obsessed country, and each Scotch varies with the local terroir (the subtle differences of soil, microclimate, and topography and its impact on the barley). So if Scotch and whisky are high on your list of must-dos, use your free time wisely and keep your eyes peeled for a distillery to pop into. Another great way to sip and sample Scotland’s finest is at top bars. In Glasgow and Edinburgh, bartenders masterfully mix delicious whisky cocktails.

Sip and sample in Scotland

If you travel for food, take our Ireland tours

So delicious and satisfying is a trip to Ireland that we built an entire tour around the country’s culinary traditions. Our 12-day Ireland: A Feast of Culinary Flavors & Local Traditions tour will show off exactly why we think the Irish win out in the Scotland vs. Ireland battle when it comes to food. From cheese tasting (and cheesemaking) in Kilkenny, to a farm tour in Cork, and to seaweed foraging in Kerry, this itinerary is made for adventurous foodies looking to discover Ireland’s rich (and tasty) culinary traditions. And there will be plenty of drinks, too: In the heart of Dublin, you’ll visit a whiskey distillery; in West Cork, you’ll sample mead; and you can even opt for an afternoon tea excursion at Bantry House and Garden, a grand home along the Wild Atlantic Way.

For us, the best way to spend 48 hours in Dublin includes eating at as many restaurants from up-and-coming chefs as possible. If you’re the same, this tour features a free evening in the Irish capital. That’s the perfect opportunity to make a reservation at one of the city’s most sought-after dining rooms. If you’re ready to start mapping out your foodie adventure, check out our list of the best food, drinks, and restaurants in Ireland.

Did you decide on your winner in this Ireland vs. Scotland head-to-head? Shop our Ireland and Scotland tours now for your next European vacation. But if you’d rather not have to pick between the two, our 10-day Highlights of Scotland & Ireland: Edinburgh to Dublin tour is just the ticket.

About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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