April 2022 Update – The Historic Scotland Explorer Passes had been paused due to Coronavirus. They seem to be available again now!
We visit Scotland all the time and it’s one of our most favourite places to go. I love exploring the country and even through I grew up there there is so much still to see!
Over the years we’ve visited many castles and historic properties in Scotland and this past visit we decided to purchase the Scotland Explorer Pass which we’d never done before. If you’re considering buying it but then wondering is the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass worth it then perhaps our review will help you to decide on your purchase.
The Historic Scotland pass (also called the Scottish Explorer pass) is perfect for lovers of history and exploring the past of the places you travel – it includes castles, abbeys, churches, towers, gardens, prehistoric villages and much more! Spoiler alert – we really made the most of ours!
How much is the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass?
The Historic Scotland Explorer Pass is currently priced at £35 for the 5 day pass and £45 for the 14 day pass. When you consider that getting in to just Edinburgh castle alone is £19.50 you can see that this could certainly be worth purchasing!
There are concession prices of £28 / £36 for students and adults over 60.
Child prices are £21/£27 (aged 5 – 15). If you’re going as a family it might be worth getting the family pass which is £70/£90 and is for 2 adults and up to 6 children!
These prices are correct as at October 2019
Buy the pass in advance here: Scotland Explorer Pass
What sites are included in the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass
The main sites that people want to see are Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Doune Castle (there are a lot of castles near Edinburgh), Skara Brae (tick off those UK World Heritage sites!) and Melrose Abbey but there are so many more places that are included. Whether you’re interested in castles, abbeys, prehistory or more recent history there will be something to suit. The following is a list of the 70+ included sites in October 2019:
Edinburgh & the Lothians
- Blackness castle
- Carinpapple Hill
- Craigmillar Castle
- Chrichton Castle
- Dirleton Castle and Gardens
- Edinburgh castle
- Inchcolm Abbey and Island
- Linlithgow Palace
- Seton Collegiate Church
- Tantallon Castle
- Trinity House Maritime Museum (advance booking required)
The Scottish Borders
- Dryburgh Abbey
- Hermitage Castle
- Jedburgh Abbey
- Melrose Abbey
- Smailholm Tower
Dumfries and Galloway
- Caerlaverock Castle
- Cardoness Castle
- Dundrennan Abbey
- Glenluce Abbey
- MacLellan’s Castle
- New Abbey Corn Mill
- Sweetheart Abbey
- Threave Castle
- Whithorn Priory and Museum
Glasgow, Clyde and Ayrshire
- Bothwell Castle
- Craignethan Castle
- Crossraguel Abbey
- Dumbarton Castle
- Dundonald Castle
- Glasgow Cathedral
- Newark Castle
- Rothesay Castle
Central and West Scotland
- Argyll’s Lodging
- Bonawe Historic Iron Furnace
- Castle Campbell and Gardens
- Doune Castle
- Dunblane Cathedral
- Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel
- Inchmahome Priory
- Iona Abbey and Nunnery
- Stirling Castle
- Aberdour Castle and Gardens
- Dunfermline Abbey and Palace
- St Andrews Castle
- St Andrews Cathedral
Perthsire, Kinross and Angus
- Arbroath Abbey
- Edzell Castle and Gardens
- Elcho Castle
- Huntingtown Castle
- Lochleven Castle (Prior advance booking recommended)
- Meigle Sculptured Stone Museum
- St Serf’s Church and Dupplin Cross
- St Vigeans Sculptured Stones (Open by appointment only)
- Stanley Mills
North Scotland and Grampian
- Balvenie Castle
- Corgaff Castle
- Dallas Dhu Historic Distillery
- Duff House
- Elgin Cathedral
- Fort George
- Huntly Castle
- Kildrummy Castle
- Kinnaird Head Castle and Lighthouse and The Museums of Scottish Lighthouses
- Spynie Palace
- Tolquhon Castle
- Urquhart Castle
The Western Isles
- The Blackhouse, Arnol
- Calanais Standing Stones (Callanish)
- Kisimul Castle
Orkney and Shetland Isles
- The Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Kirkwall
- Broch of Gurness
- Brough of Birsay
- Hackness Martello Tower and Battery
- Jarlshoff Prehistoric and Norse Settlement
- Maeshow Chambered Cairn (advance booking advised)
- Skara Brae prehistoric Village
What is not included is entrance to Holyrood Palace which although is a Historic Scotland property comes under the Holyroodhouse Palace entrance fee. Do bear that in mind if you fancy seeing that while in Edinburgh.
How long does the pass last for?
There are two different pass lengths you can choose from: 5 days and 14 days. The days you can use the pass are consecutive and you validate and start using the pass when you get to your first attraction. You can visit more than one attraction each day and there’s no limit to how many you can visit (although you can only visit each attraction once).
So, is the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass worth it?
The heritage pass is definitely worth it on a monetary level if you were planning to visit the locations anyway. Whether it’s worth buying is going to depend on a few things: where you’re based, how long you have for your trip, whether you have a car or are relying on public transport and how many other things are on your must see list for your vacation time.
For us we planned a trip to solely explore the historic abbeys in the Scottish Borders and as we had our dog on the trip it meant we could enjoy days out with her tagging along (not all sites allowed dogs but a good many do so check it out if you have your furry friend with you).
We planned it out, checked out the cost with and without and it made sense for us. We had our own car so could add a few sites in to each day and we were actually really lucky with the weather too so that didn’t call off any days for us.
If we’d had a few days of doing non pass related activities I think we’d have found that it wouldn’t have been as worth it and we’d have struggled to fit everything in.
If we’d been there for 2 weeks and had the 14 day pass it would be better as the cost is not too much more for the longer pass so if you’re in the country for that long I’d definitely suggest that.
One thing I like about having these passes is that it forces me to get out and make the most of it – I can be quite bad for not being decisive enough when I go on holiday and we can end up not doing very much, especially when I have to pay out on the day for 4 adults! Having the pass paid for in advance really helps me. I’m not sure if anyone else is like that – I think it goes back to when we used to go on holiday with hardly any money and I just had to stretch the pounds!
Where can you get the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass?
You can buy the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass at any of the sites where there is a manned entry point so if you’re not sure and just want to decide when you get there you can do that. If you know you definitely want to take advantage of the pass then I’d recommend getting the pass in advance.
I always use Viator lately – you can buy the pass through them and it keeps your booking on your mobile (less paper!) ready for you to validate when you get to Scotland.
You can get the pass in advance here: Scotland Explorer Pass
A note about using the Passes in Winter
Our trip to use the passes was in Scotland in Winter and so I did quite a bit of research to make sure that we’d get our money’s worth at this time. You need to bear in mind that in winter some sites close completely and some sites operate much more reduced opening times.
As it gets dark so early you might not get time to travel to all the places you want and get time to adequately look around. As it was, most of what we wanted to do were pretty close together and so it worked out well – we did still manage to plan a trip to somewhere that was closed though!
Weather can, of course, be an issue all year round in Scotland but also be aware that it could make or break a trip for you especially if you are doing outside attractions for the most part. Many castles have indoor areas but many of the more ruined castles and abbeys don’t so you’ll need an umbrella, sturdy boots and a plan for a hot chocolate afterwards!
Thankfully most sites have a small shop and sometimes a cafe. Do also check on social media before hand in case the weather causes any closures before you travel as it does happen.
There is another option if you’re visiting specific regions only. Historic Scotland does some regional passes which last for 30 days but they are only valid from April to September. They are perfect if you want to visit all of the sites and have the time frame to do so at a more leisurely pace.
Obviously these don’t include all the sites and none include Edinburgh Castle.
You can buy these at the properties or online at the links above.
Historic Scotland Membership vs Explorer Pass
If you live in Scotland, have an extended stay in the country or visit a number of times a year then perhaps a 12 month membership might be worth it for you. An adult’s annual cost is £52.20 so if you will have plenty of visits it could definitely work out better value for you – you wouldn’t be restricted to just one visit to each property too – see more about it here.
If you just have one visit to Scotland planned then I’d recommend just having the Explorer Pass – it is cheaper and is perfect for what you’ll want.
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