New 'eco-tourism' guide to Scotland suggests visitors give Edinburgh Castle a miss

A new official guide on how to take “eco-friendly” holidays in Scotland suggests people “skip” a trip to Edinburgh Castle, shun large tour buses or hire cars, and consider visiting during autumn, winter or spring instead of summer to help curb crowd congestion and traffic chaos.

A view of Edinburgh Castle from the Esplanade

Scottish tourism chiefs are warning potential holidaymakers they may face “unpleasant” overcrowding at popular sites, growing concern from locals about the impact of “overtourism,” roads blocked by motorhomes, caravans and coaches, and rubbish piled up at roadsides, bothies and beaches.

VisitScotland’s first official guide on “how to become an eco-tourist” has been launched in the wake of growing concern about the impact of growing visitor numbers in parts of the country.

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These locations include Edinburgh city centre, the Isle of Skye and parts of the Highlands, including those linked to Harry Potter or Outlander books, films and TV series.

The guide states: “With more and more visitors travelling to Scotland than ever before, there is increasing concern about the potential negative impact of tourism on Scotland’s spectacular natural environment, as well as its iconic cities and unique towns and villages.

"Luckily, there are plenty of simple steps you can take to help combat overtourism by ensuring your visit is as sustainable as possible.

"Discover the actions and considerations you can take to help support and protect Scotland's landscapes, cultural landmarks and communities, while still getting the most out of your holiday."

Published ahead of the launch of a ten-year industry vision today, the eco-guide features links to suggested “slow travel experiences”, advice on help keep beaches clean, and tips on the easiest public transport trips to make. It urges people not to indulge in the “social media-fuelled trend” of stone stacking or fastening “love locks” to bridges due to their environmental impact.

The guide adds: “Many first-time visitors make the mistake of trying to cram absolutely everything there is to see and do in Scotland into their entire trip. This is not only impossible, but has the unintended effect of creating overcrowding in many of our most famous and beloved spots, especially in Edinburgh where many visitors spend just a couple of days.

“Unfortunately, this not only makes for an unpleasant visitor experience, but also undermines the quality of life for residents by placing undue stress on public transport and infrastructure.”

The eco-tourism guide recommends travellers either book a private or small-group with a local guide to tap into their insider knowledge or do extensive research in advance.

It states: “The more time you spend on our website and our blog, the better an understanding you’ll have of the places you want to visit on your itinerary and how much time to spend at each.

“Take Edinburgh, for instance. Unless you have a deep interest in military history, you might want to limit your visit to Edinburgh Castle or skip it all together and instead indulge your deep and abiding love of spirit at the Edinburgh Gin Distillery. Learning as much as you can about an attraction or destination ahead of time will make your visit much more rewarding.”

Chris Greenwood, VisitScotland’s expert on global industry trends, said: “There is a real recognition amongst travellers that their behaviours are now having an impact on the world around them, whether it is on the environment or on local communities.

“Destinations that have significant issues with overtourism cannot just continue to attract more and more people in. It is about managing visitor numbers and growing tourism without having a detrimental impact. There are overtourism messages coming out of certain places in Scotland at certain times of the year. We need to improve the seasonality and regionality of the industry.”

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, which is holding its annual conference in Glasgow today and tomorrow, said: “Tourism is acknowledged as having a significant role in delivering Scotland’s wider economic strategy as it cuts across every sector and touches every part of the economy.

"However, Scotland’s new tourism strategy goes beyond that. It will look to enrich the lives of those who live here and visit us; and will protect and preserve our places, with the tourism industry acting as pioneers for delivering responsible tourism.

"It is a bold new approach that will see tourism act positively in the common interest of Scotland’s communities, businesses and everyone who visits and stays with us.

"It recognises that the role of tourism has changed as a result of our climate crisis, advances in technology, EU exit and changes in consumer behaviour which is reflected in the demands of today’s traveller."

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