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Scotland

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Stirlingcastle.jpg

Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Alba) [1] is a country in north-western Europe. Sharing a 60 mile (96 km) long land border with England to the south, and separated from Northern Ireland by the North Channel of the Irish Sea, Scotland is surrounded by the bracing waters of the North Sea to the east, and the North Atlantic Ocean to the west and north. The capital is Edinburgh; the largest city is Glasgow. It is the most politically independent of the four home nations of the United Kingdom, boasting its own legal and educational systems, and since 1999, has had its own separately elected devolved government which deals with exclusively Scottish affairs.

Apart from these and several other cities, the popular image of Scotland for most travellers, of course, centres on the "Highlands and Islands" - a wonderfully diverse land, Scotland has much to offer virtually any traveller.


Regions

Administratively, Scotland has been divided into a large number of traditional counties and (currently) 32 modern unitary authorities. These are of only limited use to the traveller, however, and an alternative regionalisation — based on culture and geography — is far more practical. From south to north:

Regions of Scotland
Borders
The eastern two-thirds of the districts north of the border with England, dotted with ruined abbeys and battlefields.
South West
Home of Rabbie Burns and the Solway Coast ("Scotland's Riviera").
Central Belt
Scotland's most urbanised region around and between the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Highlands
Scotland's spectacular, mountainous north-west, encompassing the Great Glen and Loch Ness and John o'Groats.
North East Scotland
The centre of two of Scotland's most important industries, oil and whisky, with the Grampian mountains at its heart.
Hebrides
The many islands off the north-west Scottish coast.
Orkney Islands
Immediately to the north of the Scottish mainland.
Shetland Islands
North of the Orkney Islands.

Cities

Scotland has six cities. Glasgow is the largest with a population of approximately 620,000 people (more than two million in the metro area) while the capital, Edinburgh, has around 450,000, with Aberdeen next at about 220,000 inhabitants.

  • Edinburgh (Gaelic: Dùn Èideann) - the capital of Scotland, home to the World's largest Arts Festival every August and the First European City of Literature. Most of the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Aberdeen (Gaelic: Obar Dheathain) - Scotland's third largest city, the Oil & Gas Capital of Europe, home to two universities
  • Dumfries (Gaelic: Dùn Phris) - main town in the southern Scotland/Borders area
  • Dundee (Gaelic: Dùn Dè) - vibrant city with high population of students and one of the most distinct (incomprehensible) accents you'll hear
  • Glasgow (Gaelic: Glaschu) - Scotland's largest city and at one time the largest ship building industry in the world.
  • Inverness (Gaelic: Inbhir Nis) - fast growing capital of the Highlands
  • Stirling (Gaelic: Sruighlea) - a royal fortress city with a vibrant modern outlook. It was granted city status in 2002

Other destinations

Scotland has extensive wilderness areas, some of which have been proclaimed as National Parks:

Many world-class scenic areas are not (yet) protected as National Parks, though some have other designations such as National Scenic Areas or Forest Parks. The Lochaber region contains the impressive Glencoe as well as Scotland's highest mountain, Ben Nevis. The Torridon and Wester Ross areas are also popular mountaineering destinations. Most popular of all with climbers are the Black Cuillin of Skye - but there's plenty of scope for walkers here as well.

It has many historic Islands. Islay is known as the Queen of Hebrides, has eight whisky distilleries, and you can still see today the parliament site of the Clan Donald from 1200 AD, when the Clan Donald ruled the western seaboard of Scotland. The Isle of Arran is also a fantastic destination as well.

There are nice little villages such as Inverkip, John O' Groats, Bettyhill and Langbank, all which have nice beaches. There are good places to fish down at a couple of these villages as well.

Understand

Scottish Highlands
Another view of Scottish Highlands

A person from Scotland is called a Scot, or described as Scottish. The word "Scotch" applies only to things - for example, whisky, Scotch eggs, Scotch beef and Scotch Corner (a road junction leading to Scotland). Do not to refer to Scotland as England, or to Scottish as English - it is very likely to cause serious offense!

History

Scotland has a rich cultural history much of which is preserved in historic buildings throughout the country. Prehistoric settlements can be traced back to 9600 BC, as well as the famous standing stones in Lewis and Orkney. The Romans, fronted by Julius Caesar in 55 BC, made initial incursions but finally invaded Britain in 43AD, moving into the southern half of Scotland, but not occupying the country due to the fierce resistance efforts of the native Caledonian tribes. Today, Hadrian's Wall to the south of the Scottish-English border is perceived by some as one of the most famous Roman remains in the world, arguably on a par with the 8-foot-arch on Naxos.

After the withdrawal of the machinery of the Roman Empire around AD 411, the so-called Dark Ages followed. However, since the Roman occupation affected mostly just the south of the island of Britain, Scotland was unaffected as it had been even at the great battle at Mons Graupius. Because the grip of Roman hegemony had now loosened, all sorts of invaders now saw the island as open season. So the Angles arrived on the east coast around North Berwick. It has to be said that the natives here fared rather better than their southern counterparts did at the hands of the Saxons, who, for example, sacked the Isle of Wight, such that not a native male Briton was left alive.

The early history of the new nation is marked with many conflicts with the English, and also the Vikings who invaded the north of Scotland. Today the Shetland Islands retain a strong Viking cultural identity. Wars with the English would dominate Scottish history for hundreds of years until the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when the Scottish King, James VI, inherited the English throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1707, the Parliaments of Scotland and England were united, creating Great Britain.

From the 18th century, the Scottish enlightenment saw vast industrial expansion, and the rise of the city of Glasgow as a major trading port and eventually "Second City" of the British Empire. Universities flourished, and many of the great inventions of the world including television, the telephone and penicillin were invented by Scots. 20th century Scotland saw increasing calls for autonomy from London, and a Scottish Parliament was again established in Edinburgh. Recent calls for full independence are gaining ground among the younger population.

Scotland's history and geography is reflected in the wide range of visitor attractions available, from castles and cathedrals, to stunning countryside, and more modern attractions showcasing Scottish cultural achievements.

Culture

Scotland has rich and strong culture, one of which its people are fiercely proud. Scotland has a great tradition of festivals, art and literature. It has produced some of the greatest literary personalities, actors and writers of the world. Irvine Welsh has made a heavy impact on the international literary scene and the prestigious Edinburgh Festival is a hotspot on international arts calendars.

Scotland has also produced some of the greatest scientists of the world including the inventors of the television, telephone and penicillin. It was Scottish scientists who created Dolly, the cloned sheep. Scotland is known the world over for whisky, haggis, Aberdeen Angus beef, porridge, shortbread, tartan, and bagpipes, as well as some cultural treats which haven't made it onto the world stage - Irn Bru, clootie dumpling, cranachan, and the battered deep-fried Mars Bar.

Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, is home to a fantastic music scene; must-visits include King Tut's Wah Wah Hut (where Oasis were spotted and signed for their first record deal) and the Barrowlands Ballroom, a Glasgow institution.

Get in

Immigration and visa requirements

There are no border controls when travelling within the United Kingdom including the land border with England. Scotland has the same immigration and visa requirements as the rest of the United Kingdom.

  • Non-EU graduates from a Scottish university may apply to remain in Scotland to live and work under the Scottish Government Fresh Talent Scheme for up to two years.

By plane

Until recently, there were few direct international services to Scotland, meaning many travellers would have to fly into London or Manchester and then transfer to a Scottish airport on a UK domestic flight. However, there are now a growing number of European and long haul destinations served by the five international airports in Scotland:

  • Aberdeen Airport, 8 miles north west of the city, has direct flights from Alicante, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bergen, Copenhagen, Dublin, Esbjerg, Faro, Groningen, Kristiansand, Malaga, Murcia, Oslo, Palma, Paphos, Paris, Stavanger and Tenerife.
  • Edinburgh Airport, 10 miles west of the city, has direct flights from Alicante, Amsterdam, Avignon, Barcelona, Bergen, Bergerac, Bratislava, Bremen, Brussels, Cologne, Copenhagen, Cork, Dortmund, Dublin, Faro, Frankfurt, Galway, Gdansk, Geneva, Hamburg, Helsinki, Ibiza, Katowice, Krakow, Madrid, Mahon, Malaga, Marseille, Milan, Munich, Murcia, New York, Nice, Oslo, Palma de Mallorca, Paris, Pisa, Poznan, Prague, Pula, Rennes, Rome, Shannon, Sharm el Sheikh, Stockholm, Szczecin, Tenerife, Toronto, Toulouse, Warsaw and Zurich.
  • Glasgow International Airport, 8 miles west of the city, has direct flights from Alicante, Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Belfast, Berlin, Bourgas, Calgary, Copenhagen, Dominican Republic, Dubai, Dublin, Faro, Geneva, Gran Canaria, Halifax, Heraklion, Las Vegas, Madeira, Malta, New York (Newark), Nice, Orlando, Ottawa, Palma de Mallorca, Paris, Philadelphia, Prague, Pula, Reykjavík, Sharm el Sheikh, Tenerife, Toronto and Vancouver.
  • Glasgow Prestwick International Airport, situated 30 miles south west of Glasgow, is a hub of budget airline Ryanair [2] with domestic flights to London Stansted and Bournemouth; and international flights to Brussels, Bergamo, Budapest, Cork, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Girona, Gothenburg, Hamburg, Kaunas, Krakow, Milan, Murcia, Oslo (Torp), Paris, Pisa, Reus, Riga, Rome, Shannon, Stockholm, Warsaw and Wroclaw. Be aware that there is an additional train journey of up to an hour from this airport into Glasgow city centre. Aer Arann [3] flys twice weekly from Donegal International Airport into Prestwick.
  • Inverness Airport, situated 7 miles north east of the city.

There are many UK domestic flights operating to Scotland including:

  • BMI [4] flights from London Heathrow, Manchester, Leeds-Bradford, and Norwich
  • BMIbaby [5] flights from Birmingham, Cardiff and Nottingham East Midlands.
  • British Airways [6] flights from London (Heathrow, Gatwick and City)
  • Eastern Airways [7] flights from Birmingham, Durham Tees Valley, Humberside, Leeds-Bradford, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham East Midlands, and Southampton.
  • Easyjet [8] flights from London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, Bristol, and Belfast.
  • Flybe [9] flights from Belfast, Birmingham, Exeter, Jersey, Manchester, Newquay, Norwich and Southmapton.
  • Ryanair [10] flights from Bournemouth, Liverpool, and London Stansted.
  • Scotairways [11] flights from London City.

No airport in Scotland, except Glasgow Prestwick, is connected to the rail network, meaning travellers have to use a dedicated bus service to the city centre, or take a taxi. However, a tram line is currently under construction between Edinburgh Airport and Edinburgh city centre, and is expected to be operational by 2012. Passengers arriving at and departing from Prestwick may use their boarding pass to claim a 50% discount on single train tickets between the airport and any station in Scotland.[12]

By train

For those unused to the vagaries of the UK rail network, Wikitravel has a useful guide to Rail travel in the UK.

There are five train operators linking Scotland with England:

For further information regarding UK rail travel consult National Rail [18].

For international travellers, Scottish Rail passes [19] are available, as are BritRail passes [20].

By car

The main road linking Scotland and England is the M74 motorway which runs from south of Glasgow to Carlisle. The A1 road links Edinburgh and the North East of England; this road is single carriageway in some areas, however, and not considered to be the best route into Scotland. Hence the place name Scotch Corner on the A1 where traffic heading for most Scottish destinations turn to cross the Pennine hills to enter Scotland via the M74.

By bus

Bus and coach services are the cheapest way to get to Scotland, but are probably also the longest and the least comfortable. National Express [21] is the main operator, with services from Glasgow's Buchanan Street Station, for example, to most other major UK cities.

By boat

Get around

"PlanaJourney" [26] is a free integrated public transport journey planner that covers much of the internal Scottish public transport network. It includes bus, rail, Glasgow underground, Scottish ferries and flights. It can assist with planning journeys throughout Scotland.


By plane

Scotland is a small country, making air travel uneconomical on most short routes. Air travel is, however, the fastest way to reach many Scottish West Coast islands. Be warned, as the planes used are small Saab 340s & Twin Otters, flights are often very turbulent, as Scotland is notorious for rain, wind and storms.

Loganair[27] operates the majority of Scotland's internal flights, under a franchise to FlyBe[28] through whose website you can book flights (note that until July 2008 Loganair had been a franchisee of British Airways). FlyBe offer a number of connections to UK and European airports from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow.

The Scottish Government own Highlands and Islands Airports which operates the remote Scottish airports. Flights are available from Glasgow International Airport to Campbeltown, Islay, Stornoway, Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands. Flights from Edinburgh Airport also operate to Inverness, Wick, Stornoway, and the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Barra's tiny airport is unique in Britain in that the runway is a beach.

The Orkneys also have the Airports Westray and Papa Westray which hold the world record for the shortest Scheduled Commercial Flight, taking a whole 2 minutes!

Westray Airport is on Aikerness, at the north of the Orkney island of Westray. Papa Westray Airport lies to the north of Holland on the west side of the Orkney island of Papa Westray.

It should be noted that flights can be disrupted or cancelled due to weather conditions.

Flights can be expensive, although Loganair operated flights to the islands are sometimes included in FlyBe sales. Flight time from Glasgow to Barra is 1hr, and From Glasgow To the Shetland Islands lasts 2hrs & 30 Mins.

Loch Lomond Seaplanes also operate from Glasgow Science Centre with flghts to Loch Lomond, Tobermory and Oban. Flights however are expensive. A return flight to Oban for example costs £129. The plane can also be chartered, but to do so generally costs in excess of £1000.

By train

First ScotRail [29] operates the majority of the Scottish rail network, which covers most of the country. A few Inter-City services operate within Scotland (however these may start or terminate in England are provided by East Coast, Virgin Trains, TransPennine Express and CrossCountry Trains. The main rail terminals are:

  • Aberdeen Station- with trains to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness. Also connections for the East Coast and London
  • Edinburgh Waverley Station- with trains to Aberdeen, Fife, Glasgow Queen Street Station, Inverness, Perth and Stirling. Also connections for the East Coast and London
  • Glasgow Queen Street Station with trains to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Cumbernauld, Fort William, Mallaig, Perth and Stirling. For trains to Inverness, change at Perth.
  • Glasgow Central Station for trains to South West Scotland including Ayr, Kilmarnock and Stranraer; West Scotland including Dumbarton and Greenock; and Lanarkshire including Hamilton and Lanark. Also connections for the West Coast and London
  • Inverness Station for trains to Wick and Kyle of Lochalsh. Also connections for the East Coast and London

The train services to Fort William and Mallaig from Glasgow Queen Street take in some wonderful views of the Scottish landscape, and footage from the line was used in the Harry Potter movies.

Note there are no train services to the Scottish Borders, although there are plans to re-open a former railway line to the area, running from Edinburgh.

Generally train fares in Scotland are comparable to the rest of the UK, and are more expensive than most European countries. Typical off-peak fare between Glasgow and Edinburgh is £10 return, and between Edinburgh and Aberdeen £40 return. However, for longer journeys advance purchase tickets offer competitive fares. The First ScotRail [30] website has details of the Central Scotland Rover and Highland Rover tickets, which offer good value for extensive travel within the areas covered by the pass. It is best to avoid peak time services between Glasgow and Edinburgh, as they are often overcrowded. Do take care also on some of the rural lines, the far north line (Inverness to Wick) and the Kyle of Lochalsh line (Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh) have only around 3 to 4 return journeys Monday to Saturday and 1 on a Sunday. So take due care when travelling along these lines, it could be a while to wait for the next one.

By road

Although Scotland is not a big country, travel can take significantly longer than you may expect depending on where you're from. With the exception of motorways and dual carriageways where travel is fast and easy, road conditions in Scotland are generally below Western European standards. Beware of defects such as potholes, ruts, cracks and patches in both urban and rural roads. Many rural roads follow old horse trails and have an overabundance of bends and twists. In remote areas many roads are single track. Passing places are provided at intervals. These are marked by diamond shaped white signs labeled "Passing Place". Sometimes these are incorrectly installed as a square sign. On older less used single track roads black and white striped poles may still be used as markers. If faster traffic comes up behind you it is the rule that you should pull into a passing place and allow the other vehicle to pass. When two vehicles approach each other on a single track road, experienced drivers will both adjust their speed so as to reach the passing place at the same time and pass each other slowly, avoiding the need for either vehicle to come to a stop. You should pull in to the passing place on your left or if the passing place is on the right hand side, stop opposite it so that the oncoming car can pull into it. Many of these roads are poorly maintained and lack crash barriers, so drive carefully and never assume that it is clear around the the next bend or over the next hill. You may also find cattle grids (also known as cattle guards or Texas gates). These are used if livestock is loose in the area and should be negotiated very slowly as they can have an adverse effect on your vehicle's steering. In these areas keep your speed down and watch out for livestock such as horses, sheep, cattle and deer.

Visitors from outside Scotland should take special care when driving if they are not used to driving on the left. It is easiest to slip into previous habits on unmarked rural roads. Well marked city streets should give the driver enough information to select the correct lanes. Many by-passes have been built to allow faster travel, but the visitor will miss out on some of the beautiful scenery of Scotland. In some areas road signs will indicate that the road on the next exit will re-join the main route by showing a semi-circular exit and entrance with the destination name in the middle. This allows the driver confidence to take more scenic diversions into small towns or to find a place to stop and have lunch.

See also the Itinerary: Driving tour of Scotland.

By bus

The bus is one of the cheapest way of getting around in Scotland, however it is also the slowest and least comfortable. You can get to most large towns and cities on the Citylink bus, but it is more expensive than Megabus. Megabus is a very cheap way to travel, as ticket prices start at £1 if booked weeks in advance, and rising to over £10 for peak-rate or last-minute fares. A 50p booking charge is applied to every ticket.

Megabus departs from Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Perth, going between these Scottish cities as well as to English destinations. Note that with Megabus you can book only online (from 45 days to 30 minutes before departure).

Citylink runs a quarter-hourly bus service between Edinburgh and Glasgow which costs £4--you pay the driver. This service runs out of the main bus stations (Buchanan Street in Glasgow and Saint Andrew Square in Edinburgh), and the journey takes about an hour and ten minutes--some twenty minutes slower than the train but half the price of a peak-rate train ticket.

  • Citylink [31] - journey information and ticket sales
  • Megabus [32] - journey information and ticket sales

By ferry

A regular and extensive ferry service operates between most large islands, and across the Clyde estuary.

  • Caledonian MacBrayne [33] (usually known colloquially as CalMac) is the largest ferry operator and provides services on the west coast and Clyde. Discounts are available in the form of "Island Rover" tickets which allow unlimited travel on the entire network for 8 or 15 days and "Island Hopscotch" tickets which often give discounts on various itineraries.
  • NorthLink Ferries [34] is the state-sponsored ferry operator running services to Orkney and Shetland, from Scrabster (near Thurso) and Aberdeen.
  • Pentland Ferries [35] and John O'Groats Ferries [36] provide alternative routes to Orkney from the Scottish mainland.
  • Orkney Ferries [37] and Shetland Islands Council [38] operate ferry services within Orkney and Shetland respectively.

Hitching

Hitch-hiking is surprisingly easy in Scotland, but better to do outside the big cities. In the Highlands you might need to wait for a long time until a car comes by. General caution must be taken.

Talk

English and Scots Gaelic are the languages of Scotland. English (sometimes spoken with a varying degree of Scottish dialect) is the everyday language spoken by all. Dialects vary enormously from region to region, and even between towns! Don't let this frighten you, however, as all Scots can speak standard English.

Scots Gaelic (Gàidhlig, pron. Gah-lig), meanwhile, is spoken by only around 60,000 people, mainly in the Highlands (a' Ghàidhealtachd, pron. a Gale-tach)) and the Western Islands (Na h-Eileanan Siar, pron. Na hyale-inan shar) (e.g Barra, where 80% speak Gaelic). Almost all Gaelic speakers also speak English with the exception of a possible tiny fraction of rather isolated elderly people ; the chances of meeting such a person are infinitesimally small. You will more than likely hear locals speaking in Gaelic in the Western Isles and on ferries to and from them. Signs on board some CalMac ferries to the Western Islands are in Gaelic first and English second and may have an announcement in Gaelic after the safety announcement upon departure.

Scots ('Oor ain leid' lit. 'Our own language') although not an official language of Scotland, is spoken by around 1.5 million people in Scotland, throughout the whole country except for the northeast corner. As with modern English, the language evolved from Anglo-Saxon. Scots is more or less intelligible to native speakers of English, especially in written form. There are debates over whether Scots is in fact a language or a dialect - in some ways it resembles Old English - and rather than actually being spoken purely, it is often found influencing informal English spoken by people in Scotland. It is also found on the north coast of Northern Ireland.

The Scots generally have rather poor foreign language skills, although those in tourism-related industries generally have better language skills. French, German and Spanish are the most commonly known foreign languages.

Here are some useful English words derived from Gaelic, Pictish or Old Norse:

Here are some Gaelic phrases often found in the Highlands and the Western Isles:

  • Failte gu ...... = Welcome to ......
  • Deas = South
  • Tuath = North
  • Aiseag = Ferry
  • Port Athar = Airport

Buy

Scotland offers a range of products, souvenirs and memorabilia unavailable authentically anywhere else in the world. A few examples:

  • 'Scotch' Whiskies
  • Scottish Tartans (colourful check-woven woolen fabric) and tartan products (such as kilts). If you have a Scottish family name like McDonald or Clark, it may be worth trying to find your own family's tartan.

Visitors from outside northern Europe may find Scotland a relatively expensive country.

Currency

As in the rest of the United Kingdom, Scottish currency is the Pound Sterling (£). Scotland's three national clearing banks continue to issue their own sterling banknotes (including £1 notes, not produced south of the border). These are The Bank of Scotland, The Royal Bank of Scotland and The Clydesdale Bank. These notes are very common in Scotland, but are sometimes (wrongly) not accepted in shops in England (English banks, however, will exchange them for Bank of England notes). ATMs operated by Scottish banks will usually dispense the Scottish notes, but bank tellers will cash travelers cheques into Bank of England notes on request. Scottish banknotes may be difficult to exchange outside the UK, where foreign banks are generally unfamiliar with the notes. If in doubt, exchange your Scottish notes for Bank of England notes before you leave the country.

A guaranteed way of getting Bank of England notes is simply to make a withdrawal from an ATM run by an English bank (e.g. NatWest, Barclays or HSBC)--although they tend to be found only in major cities.

As Bank of England notes are more commonly forged than their (lower-circulation) Scottish equivalents, smaller shops are sometimes wary of larger-denomination Bank of England banknotes, particularly when the note is in an uncirculated condition (as is common with sterling notes sold abroad).

Euros are accepted at a small number of High Street stores and tourist shops, but this should not be relied upon so change your money into sterling.

Scotland is relatively expensive when compared to some other European countries. As a basic rule, the further north you venture, the more expensive it likely gets, mostly because of the difficulty and expense of supply.

Currency conversion table (February 2010)
Foreign currencyEither onePound Sterling
€1.15 Euro1£0.87
$1.57 US Dollar1£0.64
$1.76 Australian Dollar1£0.57
$1.64 Canadian Dollar1£0.61

Souvenirs

The classic tourist souvenir is a kilt and everything else involving the tartan. Note that a real kilt costs about £300-£400 and is made of heavy wool (so it will not reveal what you are wearing underneath even in strong winds), but most souvenir stores offer only unauthentic thin ones. If you really want a genuine kilt or full traditional outfit (kilt, sporran, jacket, shirt, and shoes) the best place to look is a clothing hire shop. These specialise in hiring suits and kilts for weddings and often sell stock at reduced prices. The traditional highland kilt is a section of cloth about 6 feet wide and 14 feet long. This is wrapped about the body then then brought up over the shoulder and pinned in place, a little like a toga. The modern short kilt was introduced during the industrial revolution to give more freedom of movement.

Whisky is also a common buy. There are huge differences in price and taste.

Cost of living

Most visitors are disappointed by the high cost of living in Scotland. Although prices in Scotland are not as bad as in the south of England, compared to the USA or most other parts of Europe basic living expenses are still high. Most goods have an additional 17.5% Value Added Tax (VAT) applied although this is always included in the marked price for general consumer purchases. Petrol (gasoline) has a massive 70% excise tax and 17.5% VAT on top of that. Costs are highest in Edinburgh and in very remote places such as Stornoway - petrol prices often hit £1.50 per litre in some areas.

Eat

Haggis

While Scotland has suffered from the stereotype for dreary food, things have changed now with numerous quality Indian, French, Italian and Modern Scottish options on offer. In fact, in parts of the country such as Edinburgh, it has become quite difficult to get a really bad meal.

  • Cullen Skink - A hearty and delicious fish soup made from smoked haddock, potatoes, cream, and shellfish.
  • Seafood-Scotland produces some of the best seafood in the world. Its langoustines, oysters, scallops, crabs, salmon and lobsters are prized by the finest chefs all over the world...and hence are mostly exported. Try half-a-dozen fresh oysters followed by langoustines in garlic butter mopped up with a chunk of organic bread at the Three Chimneys in Skye. Heaven on a plate. If youre lucky enough to be near the coast you can buy freshly caught seafood at very good prices just go to the docks and wait, its worth it.
  • Sizzling Sirloin of Scotch Beef- The five best beef breeds in the world are Scottish, the best-known being Aberdeen Angus. The others are Highland, Longhorn, Shorthorn and Galloway. There is a vast difference between how beef cattle are raised for the lower-cost end of the market and the top end of the market. Slap a sirloin of Aberdeen Angus on a hot grill and find out why.
  • Game- Scotland has game aplenty, from pheasants to venison. An inexpensive Highland autumn favourite is pheasant layered with a few strips of bacon and baked with seasonal vegetables.
  • Haggis - Scotland's national dish does sound quite disgusting to foreigners because of its ingredients, but doesn't really taste as bad as one might think. Haggis is made up of chopped heart, liver and lungs of a sheep and then cooked in a sheep's stomach bag. Nowadays, you can buy and cook Haggis in plastic bags. It is served with turnips and mashed potatoes (often referred to as "neeps and tatties").
  • Porridge is an oat meal the Scottish eat at breakfast, usually with salt as topping, although it is not the everyday breakfast anymore.
  • The square sausage another common breakfast favourite -- it is a flavoured thin square of beef (steak sausage) or pork (lorne sausage), fried or grilled, often served in a roll.
  • Scotch Pie is a much-loved local delicacy. Originally containing mutton, but now usually made with an undefinable meat. Good ones really are good - slightly spiced and not greasy. Try one from a branch of the ubiquitous Greggs bakery shops.
  • Scotch tablet is another local delicacy. It is, very similar to fudge - but is slightly brittle due to its being beaten for a time while it sets! Great for any cold hikes you may be planning.
  • the Deep Fried Mars Bar, regarded by many as an urban myth, does exist in Scotland. An NHS survey reported that roughly 22% of fast food joints and fish and chips shops in Scotland sell the item, at roughly 60 pence a go, mainly to school children and young adults. You will have to ask them to put one in the fryer, though. A chippy in Stonehaven claims to be the birthplace of this, er, "delicacy." Another equally improbable artery-clogging treat is deep-fried pizza.

Vegetarian food isn't as hard to find as you would think, with virtually all restaurants and cafés offering more than one vegetarian option. Vegan food is harder to find, but not impossible. Edinburgh especially has a good number of exceptional vegetarian restaurants.

Drink

Scotland (especially the highlands) is famous for the hundreds of brands of Scotch whisky it produces. It seems to the visitor that every village makes its own particular brand, so much so that somebody compared a tour of the highlands as being similar to "driving through a drinks cabinet"! There are around 100 whisky distilleries in Scotland and nearly half of them welcome visitors. Opening days and times can be up to seven days a week in Summer and sometimes they close in the Winter.

Bars are the places you meet people and where you have a good time. More than in other countries, bars are very lively and it is easy to get to know people when you're travelling alone. The Scottish are very welcoming, so it's not unusual that they will buy you a beer even though you just met them.

The legal drinking age is 18 years old, and many pubs and clubs will ask for ID of anyone who looks younger than mid-twenties, penalties for those caught buying drink for those under 18 can include a large fine. The penalties for drinking and driving are severe. Drinking laws are complicated slightly by the fact that a single glass of wine may be served to a 16-year old, provided it is with a meal.

  • Beer - beer, especially the ales, is measured in pints. One pint equals just over half a litre (568ml). Scottish micro-breweries are doing quite well, possibly thanks to the "Campaign for Real Ale" in recent years.
  • Irn Bru [39] - a highly popular, fizzy, bright orange-coloured soft drink that is supposed to be the best cure for a hangover (be aware that it is loaded with caffeine and is acidic enough to clean coins!). Supposedly it is made from Iron Girders (!) (To provide a balanced view however, it should also be noted that Coca Cola will clean coins as well.)
  • Whisky - Scotland's most famous export (note the lack of an 'e' that makes Scotch whisky unique!). A good way to instantly endear yourself to the locals is when ordering Scotch in a pub, always ask for a "whisky" or simply "a half" - and the bartender will know exactly what you mean (in much the same way as asking for a "pint of beer" in Ireland will mean you are automatically served Guinness). Asking for a "Scotch" will immediately identify you as a foreigner!

Sleep

Self Cater

Self catering holidays, in cottages or wooden lodges, in Scotland have become very popular over recent years. Many cottages are now furnished to a very high standard.

Budget

Scotland has plenty of Hostels, both the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) [40] and a large and developing network of Independent Hostels. Some of the buildings are very impressive, like the one on Loch Lomond and the Carbisdale Castle Hostel. The SYHA traditionally involved guests performing chores and a ban on alcohol. The new breed of independent hostels have eschewed these concepts, causing the SYHA to loosen up its attitudes too.

Camping is another inexpensive way of touring Scotland, though the unpredictable weather makes it less appealing than in some other countries. In remote areas camp sites can be a significant distance apart so buy an up to date guide and plan your route. Booking is not usually necessary except in peak season. Generally, the rule is the more remote the camp site, the better the scenery and the lower the cost. Some camp sites may provide only basic amenities. Camping rough is possible in remote areas, but observe local signs, and never camp next to a stream that could rapidly become swollen by overnight rain. Midges (tiny biting insects) can be a particular nuisance during August and September: the insects are harmless but incredibly irritating.

Bed and Breakfast accommodation is widely available, even in remote areas and some very good deals can be found. Many people consider these to be more friendly and welcoming than a hotel. Local tourist information centres will help you find a room for the same night, and you may expect to pay in the region of £25 per person per night for room and full Scottish breakfast. The Scottish Guest House and Bed & Breakfast Association (GHABBA) [41] have a range of Bed and Breakfasts and Guest Houses across Scotland.

If visiting the major cities, try staying in Falkirk or Polmont. Both are far cheaper than the hotels in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and only 1/2 hour away from both on regular train services.

The Premier Travel Inn chain of motels in Scotland are widespread, with double rooms priced at around £55. In cities these are likely to prove cheaper than a hotel.

See

Most historic sites are maintained either by the National Trust of Scotland or by Historic Scotland. Both offer memberships (with free priority access and other discounts) for a year or a lifetime - and have reciprocal arrangements with their English and Welsh equivalents. Depending on how much you get around and how long you are staying, they may well be worth buying... Membership also contributes to the sites' preservation and new acquisitions.

  • Historic Scotland [42] - sites and prices, yearly membership starts at £34 adult, £65 family (properties include Edinburgh and Stirling Castles). Historic Scotland also offers a 3-day Explorer Pass
  • the National Trust of Scotland [43] -sites and prices, yearly membership starts at £33 adult, £54 family (properties include Craigievar and Crathes Castles, numerous wilderness areas)
  • Football is easily the most popular spectator sport. If you are in Scotland between mid-August and mid-May you should be able to obtain tickets for a match.

Do

  • Motorcycling - Scotland has some of the best motorcycle touring roads in the world, although you'll need good weather to get the most out of them. With good surfaces, little traffic outside of the main conurbations and welcoming cafes touring is a real pleasure. It is also possible to hire a motorcycle [44]
  • Cycling - Even though there are only a few cycle trails compared to England, Scotland makes a great cycling country as there are many roads with little traffic. See Cycling in Scotland.
  • Rail Travel - Scotland is home to the most scenic railway line in the world - the West Highland Line, and travelling the area by train is very much recommended. Fares can be high, but the scenery can be priceless. [45]
  • Hillwalking - Scotland is famous for hillwalking. You can try to climb all 284 Munros of Scotland [46] (which are mountains higher than 3000 feet / 914.4 m) and become a Munroist, or you could hike the popular West Highland Way, which stretches for 153km (95 miles). Scotland’s official National Tourist Board publishes a free Scotland Walks guide, available from their Walking site [47]. There is also an independent site giving lots of details on over 420 routes - Walk Highlands of Scotland [48]
  • Whisky Tour - Many of Scotland's distilleries welcome visitors and many have guided tours. Map of Scotch Whisky distilleries open to the public: [49].
  • Golf - Scotland is the birthplace of the game of golf and home to the oldest course in the world, St. Andrews. Scotland’s National Tourist Board publishes a free guide to golfing in Scotland [50]
  • Edinburgh Festival occurs during late July to Mid September. The Festival is an umbrella term for several festivals, including the International Jazz and Blues Festival, the Fringe Festival, and the Literary Festival. VisitScotland, the official Scottish Tourist Board, maintain a calendar of events and festivals taking place throughout Scotland [51]

Learn

In the bigger cities you can learn highland dancing. If you're interested in learning how to play the Scottish bagpipe, you should know that it takes about one year to play on an actual bagpipe for the first time. It is really more difficult than it looks like and needs daily practice!

If you are interested in learning more about Scotland you can visit www.scotland.org [52].

Work

The regulations governing who can work in Scotland is the same as for the rest of the UK.

A general shortage of skilled labour in the health sector means the British health service actively recruits abroad, making it easier for those with specialist health care skills to work in the UK. The Scottish Government is also keen to attract immigrants to Scotland to plug a perceived declining population.

Stay safe

Visitors to Scotland are unlikely to experience any crime. Petty crimes such as thefts and pickpocketing are lower than in many other European countries. Violent crime is a problem in inner city urban areas. However most violent crime occurs amongst gangs, thus violent crime against tourists is rare in Scotland.

Today Glasgow's former reputation as a violent city is unfair. It is near impossible to accidentally wander into one of the "less desirable" parts of town.

However it is wise to avoid the subway in Glasgow on any football match day, as the confined spaces and heated tensions can lead to violence, if it is an 'Old Firm' match day - AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS, also if you get travel sick easily, as many football fans like to partake in an activity known as "The Bouncy Bouncy" where up to 100 football fans bounce up and down at the same time, causing the tiny carriages to rock and rise to the peak of their suspension.

English visitors will find a warm welcome despite traditional rivalries, thus proving the myth that it's not safe to have an English accent in Scotland is indeed just that. They should of course expect a bit of - generally good-natured - teasing whenever either Scotland or England are playing football.

Stay healthy

When hillwalking, you should always take along a compass, detailed maps, waterproof clothing, a torch (flashlight), and a good pair of boots. A charged mobile phone can be a lifesaver as some mountain areas have cell coverage, but networks like T-Mobile and Orange don't cover the Highlands very well - however, ANY phone is capable of making a 999 or 112 call if there is a signal available on any network, so an Orange phone with no Orange signal is most definitely better than no phone. The weather on the hills can change suddenly, with visibility falling to just a few metres. If hillwalking alone tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. More advice is available from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland [53]

Beware of midges! These small biting insects are prevalent in damp areas, particularly Western Scotland, from around May to September. The bites can be itchy but they don't carry disease. Midges don't tend to fly in direct sunshine or if it's windy, the worst times are dawn and dusk.

Tap water in Scotland is safe to drink everywhere.

Respect

Don't expect Scottish stereotypes to be reflected in modern Scotland.

The issue of nationalism and independence is certainly much debated, and whilst it is nowhere near as sensitive or divisive as in other parts of the world where such movements exist, expect controversy if you argue an extreme position on either side. Scotland has been a part of the United Kingdom for just over 300 years, although in recent times it has had some autonomy. Being a proud Scot does not always equate to wanting the UK to break up.

Rivalry between various football clubs is a rather more sensitive issue. It's a bad idea to wear the colours and shirts of football clubs on match days as this may cause offence or in some cases provoke a violent reaction if worn in the wrong place. This is a problem mainly confined to Glasgow (Celtic wear green and white, Glasgow Rangers wear blue and white however, orange is also often associated with them).

Contact

See the UK contact entry for national information on telephone, internet and postal services. See Contact entries under individual cities for local information.



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