Every time I depart from Scotland I leave a little piece of my heart behind. Everyone I have helped travel there says the same thing. They all long to return.
I can’t actually pinpoint what it is about Scotland that is different from other places. There is a lot to love and I do feel there is a connection between Scotland and Australia and the States because of our connected history. Scotts and Aussies seem to think the same way and have a similar sense of humor, but it's more than that as people from other countries feel the same.
Maybe it's because my DNA says I’m 36% Scottish and I have traced my Scottish ancestry. I know it tugs at my soul but I’m not sure why. I do know of all the places in the world I visited it’s the place that stole my heart.
What’s not to love? Scotland is a land of Celtic myths, history, and breathtaking scenery is incredible and the people are friendly and easy to get along with, the history and the stories of Scotland are so riveting -The Picts - the tattooed blue warriors, Braveheart/William Wallace, Rob Roy, Robert the Bruce, the Jacobites, and Bonny Prince Charlie and the battle of Culloden, Mary Queen of Scotts and I could keep going on.
Scotland has some of the last significant wilderness areas left in Western Europe. You can see golden eagles soar above the lochs and mountains of the northern Highlands, watch minke whales off the coast of Mull, and spot otters tumbling in the kelp along the shores of the Outer Hebrides.
Scotland is a land with a rich and multilayered history, a place where every corner of the landscape is steeped in the past. A deserted croft on an island shore, a testament to generations past. These moors were once battlefields, caves that sheltered outlaws and rebels. The land boasts hundreds of castles, from the massive historic citadels of Edinburgh and Stirling to forbidding tower houses to the elaborate fortresses of Caerlaverock and Craigmillar which testify to an often turbulent past full of the sort of legend, intrigue, and tragedy that inspired Game of Thrones, including The Red Wedding as well as other popular series like Outlander. The Battles played a pivotal part in the building of these castles.
There is so much to see and do. Don a Kilt, try some haggis and whisky, explore the stunning scenery of castles, lochs, rugged mountains and valleys, and the white sandy beaches of the isles and quaint villages, there is something for everyone. The locals are so friendly and welcoming and so easy to talk to, they are always up for a chat. The food is amazing. Scotland has some of the best food I’ve ever had and now competes with the best in Europe. Top-quality local produce means you can feast on fresh seafood mere hours after it's been caught. I could go on and on.
I know I love visiting Scotland and hate leaving and I'm sure it will be the same for you.
It is an amazing place that I can never get enough of. The people, the jovial spirit, the landscape, the music, never disappoints and always leaves you wanting more. The cities have so much to offer but make sure you also visit Glencoe and the Isles, you won't be disappointed.
I hope this guide can help you plan your trip or even just to feel more comfortable even if you are planning to join a tour.
“It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful places in the world, the history is fascinating, the men are handsome and the whiskey is delicious. But don’t eat the macaroni pies.” -J.K. Rowling
- A quick overview
- Planning Your Trip
- Rough Budget
- Where to Stay
- What to Eat
- How to get around
- Best things to do
- Memories of your trip
A QUICK OVERVIEW
SCOTLAND has a population of approximately 5.4 million people and is part of the United Kingdom. It covers the northern third of the island of Great Britain. Mainland Scotland has a 96 km border with England to the southeast and is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. It contains more than 790 islands of which only 90 are inhabited.
The major cities are Edinburgh, which is the Capital, Glasgow which is the largest city, Aberdeen and Dundee.
The Scottish culture is one of the things that drew me to Scotland. I love the music, the history, the festivals and I love a man in a kilt and a Scottish accent. I can listen to it all day.
Scottish music is a significant aspect of the nation's culture, with both traditional and modern influences. The Scottish bagpipe would have to be one of the most recognizable musical instruments in the world and can evoke such joy or melancholy alike.
Although there is no official national anthem of Scotland, Flower of Scotland is played on special occasions and sporting events such as football and rugby matches involving the Scotland national teams, and since 2010 is also played at the Commonwealth Games after it was voted the overwhelming favorite by participating Scottish.
Pounds Sterling -GBP, £ or the Scottish Pound.
1 GBP/£1 = 100 pence.
Scotland has 3 Scottish banks.
You can exchange currency at banks, post offices, and some larger hotels and tourist offices. There are also exchange offices. I find it better to load currency onto a travel card before I leave and just take a small amount with me to cover the first day. You can use travel cards at most stores, cafes, and restaurants and you can withdraw at most ATMs. Check fees charged for each.
ATMs are located in all cities and most small towns and villages and anywhere there is a bank.
Most places also take Visa, Mastercard, Diners, and Amex.
I personally use a Qantas Travel Card with Pounds loaded onto it and a credit card if needed but usually, the travel card is enough.
ADAPTORS AND CONVERTERS:
220 -240V or 30 Hz electrical power outlets. You will need a travel adaptor for the UK. It should have 3 rectangular pins. Shaver sockets take 2 round pins.
I use a universal Travel adaptor so no matter where I go I always have the correct one and I use an adaptor with 4 USB outlets. If you only have a phone to charge the single one is fine. You can pick them up at any departments store, bag shop, even supermarkets often have the single ones. Or you can buy online which is my preferred option.
VISA AND PASSPORT
Usually, in the UK, you don't need a visa if staying for less than 6 months if you are an EU citizen. If not you may need to apply for a visa. Most Asian Citizens need to apply for a Visa ahead of time. Your Passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months by the end of your trip.
Scotland is a fairly safe place to travel but it's always a good idea to take precautions. I have spent a lot of time in Glasgow on my own or with a friend and have always felt safe walking around during the day and at night, obvious you need to be sensible and don't walk down back streets at night on your own. Just apply common sense and you will be fine.
Travel safety - I always book Travel Insurance as soon as I book my flight, accommodation, or a tour, whichever comes first. I have used Tick Travel Insurance a few times and it seems good value for money.
I make sure I have all my contacts and numbers and trip itinerary and contacts
See my full article on Safe Travel.
Scotland has 3 officially recognized languages: English, Scots and Scottish Gaelic. All travel signs etc are in English so it's easy to find your way around. And the locals are usually pretty friendly and helpful.
Some words vary from country to country. - check out my blog on Scottish words and slang.
FLIGHTS TO SCOTLAND
There are 5 international airports in Scotland -Aberdeen, Edinburgh, 2 in Glasgow, and Inverness. They operate services to Europe, North America, and Asia as well as domestic services to England, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
There are 4 airlines, Directflight, Hebreidan Air Services, Loch Lomond Seaplanes and Loganair. I think all major airlines fly into Scotland, if not you can fly or train up from London.
BEST TIME TO GO.
Any time is a great time to go to Scotland but obviously, the weather can be a factor. I’ve visited in January, August, September, and October and the weather has been pretty good every time. I don’t mind the rain and cold though. No matter what time of the year you go to Scotland weather tends to be very changeable and is known for producing all the seasons in one day so be prepared.
This is a general Weather overview
The weather fluctuates between 5 °C to 17°C or 37 to 63 °F and is very changeable. The most recommended time is March to May or September to November. I've been there in January and it was cold with frost on the ground but it was still nice. I do prefer the cold to the heat though. Temperature is also very subjective depending on what you are used to. I know I've been rugged up when the locals are yelling "taps off" but I come from a warm climate.
- December to February is Cold and Rainy with an average maximum temp of about 5°C (41°F).
- March to May is cool with a mix of sun and rain. Most will say this is the best time to visit with an average temperature of 6°C (43°F) to 15°C (59°F)
- June to August Warm and sunny with rain average maximum temperatures of 15°C (59°F) to 17°C (63 °F).
- September to November is Cool with a mix of sun and rain and similar temperatures to April and May.
There's no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothes.” — Billy Connolly
The UK is in the GMT/UTC time zone. Like most countries in Europe, Daylight Saving Time (DST) is observed, with the clock shifting forward one hour at the end of March and one hour backward at the end of October.
Because of its northerly latitude, Scotland in particular experiences big differences in seasonal sunrise and sunset hours. At the height of summer, it might not get dark until 22:00, and in the depths of winter the darkness may set in as early as 15:00.
We usually run our Spirit of Outlander tours from August to September as the weather is great and it's at the end of Peak.
This page is aimed more at mid to high-range travel for the mature young at heart but I have included budget as a comparison.
There are all types of accommodation available in Edinburgh from Hostels to 5-star Hotels so you are sure to find something within your budget. Just read the reviews and check the location.
- Budget -£15 to £30 GBP
- Mid Range £40 to £100
- 3/4 Star + £130+
Check-in is usually about 14.00 but some places have earlier or later check-in so check with the place when you book.
- 1 person = one single room
- 2 sharing = one twin/double room
- 3 sharing = not always available but often they will move a fold-up bed in or in apartments there is usually a sofa bed.
- 4 sharing = two twin/double rooms
- 5 or more sharing = as requested
Check-out is usually either 10 am or 12 pm with the option to pay for late check-out. Again check when you book. If you are going to eat in the hotel restaurant it's a good idea to check they aren't booked out if you are arriving after a long flight. If they are a busy restaurant make a booking to be sure you have a seat.
- Cafe and Pub £10 to £15
- Restaurant £15 to £25 GBP
- High-End Restaurant £25+
Tipping is not expected in most cases, however, I personally tip if I received good service.
- TAXIS: it's usually just round up to the nearest pound.
- UBER: this gives you the option to tip after your ride is completed.
- TOURS: Guides and bus drivers on tours are usually tipped although it's not compulsory. We include the tips in our tour price to be sure they don't miss out as they are well worth the extra acknowledgment of their great service and dedication.
- HOTELS: it's not expected but always appreciated. Especially the concierge or porters. About £1 per bag is standard.
The airport and most hotels, restaurants, cafes, and public places including the public transport have free wifi in the bigger cities. It may not be so once you are out in the more remote areas so check with your accommodation. Sometimes it's nice to unplug though. Most places are free but always check as some do charge.
If you want to stay connected when you are out and about, you could put your phone on roaming if your service provider has that option or purchase a pre-paid plan. You can get these at newsagents and convenience stores.
BUS -£4 to £10 pounds local or £15 to £30 longer distance
TRAIN - £10 t £90 -Trains have 1st class or standard so it depends on what class & distance
CAR RENTAL - FROM £35 PER DAY ( I've not done this myself so it was just from research)
FERRIES -There are services from the Scottish mainland to the outlying Islands.
DRIVING IN SCOTLAND
I personally have never done it but from touring around I don‘t think it would be that hard, you just need to apply common sense.
They drive on the LEFT (like we do in Australia).
In the cities, the roads and motorways are well signed and easy to follow. Use google maps to be sure you arrive at your destination.
In the countryside, the roads can be very narrow and winding. There are usually passing spots on the left-hand side of the road and the general rule is the car that arrives at the passing spot first needs to pull over for the other to pass. They are often marked by black and white poles or signs.
Always give way to a vehicle coming uphill when you can, even if it means reversing into a passing spot. Most people give a friendly wave as they pass.
- usually posted in Miles per hour mph.
- urban areas - usually 20 to 30 mph or (48kmph)
- single roads 60 mph (97 kph)
- motorways and duel roads 70 mph (113 kph)
In remote and rural areas be alert for animals on the road and the road conditions may change. Keep an eye out for signs warning of this but even if there are no signs be away.
Some bridges are very narrow and don’t allow for passing so always drive carefully.
As long as you have a valid license from Australia, the USA, India, China, Malaysia, Canada, Europe, or other parts of the UK your license is valid in Scotland. Any restriction on your license ie what sort of car you can drive still applies.
There are NO TOLLs in Scotland but there are parking meters.
On roundabouts - give way to all vehicles coming from your right and always turn left on entering the roundabout.
You must wear a SEATBELT - all passengers.
Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal.
Drink Driving - The blood alcohol limit is 50ml in 100ml blood. - I would not drink and drive at all.
There are petrol stations everywhere in urban areas and some are open 24 hours however in rural areas they may be far and few. You may need to pay by credit card so make sure you always have a card handy.
FOOD IN SCOTLAND
Isn't it said that the way to a person's heart is through their stomach? Scotland has that covered.
Scotland's natural larder of game, dairy products, fish, fruit, and vegetables is the chief factor in traditional Scots cooking, with a high reliance on simplicity With its multicultural population there is such a variety of food it's hard to choose a place to eat.
Scotland has some of the best seafood in the world with miles of coastline and an abundance of Lochs and streams they are one of the largest seafood producers in Europe. Salmon, Trout, Oysters, Langoustines, Lobster, and all types of fish it's a smorgasbord of taste. For the meat-eater, there are mouth-watering steaks or venison, pheasant, grouse partridge, hare and so much more.
More traditional fare includes haggis (Scotland's national dish), black pudding, and tattle scones.
While you are in Scotland I urge you to try their traditional dishes, I know I was quite surprised how much I loved them. There is even a vegetarian haggis for the nonmeat eaters.
MY LIST OF SCOTTISH DISHES TO TRY
- Cullen Skink (my favorite) is a thick creamy seafood soup.
- Haggis-try a good quality dish on your first try.
- Black Pudding - I think Stornaway Black Pudding is the best. Try a good quality one on your first try.
- Have a Full Scottish Breakfast - if you aren't a big eater you may want to share it.
- Sausage links
- Tattie scones -very tasty flat scones made from potato
- Porridge for breakfast - I swear it tastes better there.
- Smoked Haddock or Kippers
- Scottish Fish and Chips
- Oat Cakes - are my favorite and they have a long history way back to the 14th century.
- The local cheeses and relishes are delicious.
- Any seafood is all wonderful
It's safe to drink the water in Scotland so you can carry a refillable bottle with you. You can also purchase bottled water but be careful not to leave it behind. There are lots of small supermarket chains where you can buy groceries or ready-made meals like Tesco and Sainsbury’s. They are usually open from about 9 am to 6 pm but may vary in the cities and on holidays.
And of course, try the whisky and gin is also becoming very popular there. Because whisky has to be casked (or barrelled) for a min of 3 years (by law) to be called whisky. A lot of distilleries make gin which is quick while they are waiting for the whisky to be ready.
The Harris Whisky Distillery was fairly new when we visited and they had a Harris Gin which is very popular.
There are over a hundred whisky distilleries in Scotland, and they are divided into 5 district regions. Lowland, Islay, Speyside, and Campbeltown.
The other Scottish favorite is Irn-Bru which is a nonalcoholic soft drink and the number one bestseller in Scotland. known as Scotland's other national drink" (after whisky). It's a bit sweet for me as I don't drink soft drinks.
You could try our tour cocktail. A few of us got together and made this one up.
- The Outlandish Cocktail A shot of Kahlua and 1 shot of Drambuie.
The Sassenach which is the above mix with cream on top.
There are a variety of accommodation choices from budget backpacker hostels to high-end hotels, Air BnB and Bed & Breakfasts are also abundant. I have personally stayed in a few high-end hotels, some budget and used Air BnB and most have been really comfortable and welcoming. Also easy to book Depending on the time of year you are visiting it's probably a good idea to book ahead. There are a number of booking services or you can contact the accommodation directly. Booking resources like booking.com give you the option of a no-payment booking with cancellation up to 48 hours prior however they do take a cut of the cost so for smaller businesses, this can be difficult. if you book direct, you may get a better price but you will need to pay upfront and you need to check what the cancellation options are.
Always look at the reviews and location. Is it a shared bathroom and toilet? Are there lifts if multi-story? Check-in and Check-out times. What services and facilities do they provide.
Souvenir shops are everywhere and most have similar items and are more expensive than markets or local shops
Tartan/Kilt shops are also everywhere in the bigger cities in Edinburgh there is a good one near Edinburgh Castle.
Markets are usually the best and cheapest place to shop.
There are pound shops everywhere in the UK that stock lots of great items and they are good places to grab a shampoo, disposable poncho or umbrella, or things you have forgotten.
There are a lot of high-end shops as well. Pretty much anything you want you can get in the bigger cities. Smaller regional areas have specialty cottage crafts that are definitely worth checking out.
If you forgot something and want to replace it without spending a lot of money, check out the Pound shops or Primark. They both have very reasonably priced things and Primark, in particular, is good for clothing, etc. You could check a local op shop too.
See my articles for shopping on travel guides.
A great way to save money is if you plan on visiting a lot of the sites on offer.
- FREE entry to Historic Scotland Attractions if pre-booked online including Edinburgh and Stirling Castle. Others include Blackness Castle, Craigmillar Castle, Linlithgow Palace, Glasgow Cathedral Aberdour Castle and Gardens, Urquhart Castle, Skara Brae Prehistoric Village, and 67 others.
- Discounted entry to other attractions (again pre-booking online is required)
- A membership pack containing cards and a handbook
- FREE quarterly members magazine
- 20% discount in Historic Scotland Shops
- Members-only area with quizzes, photo galleries, and access to HES resources
- 10% in Historic Scotland Cafes
- Life Member Benefits.
- FREE Visitor App.
- Concession -One person aged 60 or over, a full-time student, in receipt of state benefit, a YoungScot cardholder, or Serving Member of the British Armed Forces. monthly £3.45 Annually £41.40
- Adult -one person aged 16 to 59 £4.35 Annually £52.20
- There is a surcharge when paying by credit card. There are life memberships too but unless you live in Scotland probably not worth it.
I hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Scotland. If you have any questions please contact. If you are interested in any of our tours please contact me. I will post the tour and Outlander sites on another page soon.
Drop us a line.