Nicknamed The Athens of the North, Edinburgh is Scotland’s center of culture, history, art, and literature. With a history that spans centuries and reaches all the way back to the time of the Celts, Edinburgh is home to architecture and sights unlike any you’ll see elsewhere in Scotland.
Fancy staying at a posh Highland estate or a fancy Edinburgh flat for free? Then this article is for you!
1. Crash on a local’s sofa in Edinburgh for free
Or anywhere in Scotland, for that matter. The free-to-use Couchsurfing website matches people who need a place to crash for a few nights with local hosts who are willing to offer up their sofa or spare room for free. Reviews help make it a safe system, so make sure you read all the host feedback before you book.
2. Or spend a week at Forsinard Flows with friends
Love volunteering? The RSPB have hundreds of wild bird reserves across Scotland, usually in stunning locations. One of the most epic reserves they have is at Forsinard, a vast peatland in the far north of Scotland.
They are offering ‘Friends and Family volunteering’ at Forsinard, week-long group volunteering, staying in their brand new field center in the heart of the peatlands. This would give you the opportunity to not only experience the habitat and contribute to its conservation but share it with others – perhaps a group of friends or some adult members of your family.
3. Stay in this hand-built roundhouse in the Highlands
This quirky, independent, hand-built eight-bed roundhouse is set in the fields of a working farm overlooking the Spey valley in the Cairngorms. The bunkhouse is split into a mezzanine, a four-person room, and loft. The owner lets people stay for free in return for help on the farm.
There are other options too for helping out –
Fixing fences – good for building strength!
Tending pastures to bring on good grass and reduce weeds..you’ll develop a great tennis backhand slashing thistles!
4. Hike between Scotland’s remote mountain bothies
With the permission and support of the owners, these isolated, beautiful, but basic cottages and shelters are unlocked and are available for anyone to use. All of these maintenance activities are carried out by hikers and volunteers. There’s a handy book called The Bothy Bible that lists all of them, but if you decide to stay in one make sure you follow the Bothy Code, and leave it as you found it.
5. Chill at Roineabhal Country House beside Loch Awe
Volunteer in a beautiful guest house beside a loch in the highlands of Scotland. This guest house in the Highlands has a resident dog called Macduff, who loves nothing more than being walked. The owners let friendly, helpful travelers stay for free in return for help making breakfast for guests, serving the food, clearing the dishes and cleaning up. You’ll only be expected to help for (at most) five hours a day, so you can explore or walk the dog the rest of the time.
6. Perfect your coffee-making skills at Corrary Farm
Corrary Farm is a host member of the WWOOF organization (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and over the years many people from all over the world have come and stayed there. This beautiful smallholding is situated in a quiet glen in the Lochalsh area of the Highlands, not far from Skye.
There is plenty to do here, helping out with the salad growing an enterprise, gardening, building maintenance and a host of other activities. Visitors take turns running the wee coffee shop in return for free accommodation and plenty of food. So if you fancy yourself as a budding Barista, here’s an opportunity.
7. Take a tent and go wild camping anywhere you fancy
In Scotland, you’re allowed to pitch a tent almost anywhere, and you don’t have to pay anything unless you choose an official campsite. Wild camping is a great way to explore remote areas, but make sure you follow the guidelines in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and take plenty of supplies.
8. Or “glamp” in a treehouse at Troquhain in Balmaclellan
Come and help on Eco/woodland build project and stay in a treehouse in Galloway for free. The owner of this pretty stretch of Galloway forest is in the process of turning it into nature and wildlife reserve and needs a bit of help with woodwork and various building tasks for a few hours a day. The cozy treehouse is fitted with a wood burner to keep you snug, and it sleeps, two people.
9. House sit for free in a pretty Scottish cottage
House sitting is a great way to see an area for free, all you have to do is sign up to a vetting site like Trusted Housesitters or Mind My House. A lot of these owners also need pet sitters too, so if you like dogs and cats, this could be a great option for you.
10. Swap your skills for a free stay at The Dell of Abernethy
This extremely highly-rated holiday and wedding venue in the Cairngorms is looking for help with either a bit of day-to-day gardening and maintenance in return for free accommodation. Ex-helpers say it’s a wonderful, friendly place where you can go loch swimming, camping, hiking, or just sit and relax by the woodland fire pit.
11. Have an island adventure at Lismore Bunkhouse
Lismore is a small but perfectly-formed island not far from Mull off the west coast of Scotland. This fab eco-bunkhouse is on Airbnb for £20 a night, but helpers can stay for free. In return for a bit of animal care and tree planting you can enjoy spectacular views and scenery, and on a clear day, you can even see Ben Nevis.
If you love nature, wide open space, big skies and elemental weather you will be in seventh heaven here. The owners are looking for easy going, hard working, fun loving workaways willing to go the extra mile and who aren’t afraid of a challenge!
12. Be a seasonal helper at Ardlussa Estate on Jura
Jura is a remote, wild, and beautiful island with only 200 people but 6000 red deer. There are one shop and one pub and a whiskey distillery. George Orwell wrote ‘1984’ here and described Jura as an ‘unget-at-able’ place.
The keepers of Ardlussa Estate need a hand with maintaining paths and vehicles, feeding the deer, and processing venison. You also get to ride their horses on the beach, bonus.
13. Stay at the stunning Skye Forest Garden
Permaculture project on Isle of Skye looking for motivated long or medium term volunteers. This unique and scenic patch of the Isle of Skye is home to Rubha Phoil, a “forest garden” and eco-friendly permaculture campsite. It’s by the sea, surrounded by otters and seals, and if you’re lucky, you might even see some dolphins or whales. Lichen-covered trees, a rich under-story and an abundance of birdsong create a feeling of wilderness that is usually hard to come by. You can help with various garden projects and tasks in return for a free stay.
14. Have a grand time at Chisholme House
This amazing, Downton Abbey-esque 187-acre estate and stately home in the Scottish Borders is home to an organic garden and is run as a retreat and education center. Visitors can stay for free in return for help with cooking, dry stone walling, and tree planting. Plus they have a yurt, what more can you ask for?
You may be involved in diverse activities ranging from working in the organic garden to cooking a feast, splitting timber, putting up yurts or caring for chickens. As a volunteer, you are welcome to participate in all aspects of the Institute including study and meditation if you wish.
15. Stay in a historic Shetland guesthouse right by the sea
On the remote west side of Shetland, you can find spectacular scenery, peace and the ideal refuge for the escapist. The Shetland Islands are the northernmost inhabited place in Britain, so they’re not that easy to get to. But once you’re there, you can stay for free in this frankly amazing old house. You’ll lend a hand in the kitchen for a few hours, and in the afternoon there is free time to explore the aisle, going on the water or to be on your own having a rest.
16. Or live like a Laird at Attadale House and Gardens
This gorgeous house and country estate has a large garden open to the public, plus four-holiday cottages situated in wild country near the Isle of Skye.
If you help out the owners with housework and gardening for 30 hours a week, you get a cottage of your own like the one pictured, lifts to the local shops, and a free bike to use. You’ll feel like you’re living the high life without breaking the bank. Awesome.