Travel Tips Scotland for planning and on the go
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Scotland is a relatively expensive place to visit, with travel, food and accommodation costs higher than the EU average. The minimum expenditure for a couple travelling on public transport, self-catering and camping, is in the region of £30 each a day, rising to around £50 a day if you’re staying at hostels and eating the odd meal out. Staying at budget B&Bs, eating at unpretentious restaurants and visiting the odd tourist attraction, means that you’re looking at at least £75 each per day; if you’re renting a car, staying in comfortable B&Bs or hotels and eating well, you should reckon on at least £100 a day per person.
For the most part the Scottish police are approachable and helpful to visitors. If you’re lost in a major town, asking a police officer is generally the quickest way to get help. As with any country, Scotland’s major towns and cities have their danger spots, but these tend to be inner-city housing estates where no tourist has any reason to roam. The chief urban risk is pickpocketing, so carry only as much money as you need, and keep all bags and pockets fastened. Out in the Highlands and Islands, crime levels are very low. Should you have anything stolen or be involved in some incident that requires reporting, contact the local police station.
Most attractions in Scotland offer concessions for senior citizens, the unemployed, full-time students and children under 16, with under-5s being admitted free almost everywhere – proof of eligibility will be required in most cases. Family tickets are often available for those travel-ling with kids.
Once obtained, youth/student ID cards soon pay for themselves in savings. Full-time students are eligible for the International Student Identity Card or ISIC (isiccard.com), which costs around £10 and entitles the bearer to special air, rail and bus fares, and discounts at museums, theatres and other attractions. If you’re not a student, but you’re 25 or younger, you can get an International Youth Travel Card or IYTC, which costs the same as the ISIC and carries the same benefits.
The current is the EU standard of approximately 230v AC. All sockets are designed for British three-pin plugs, which are totally different from the rest of the EU. North American appliances need a transformer and adapter; Australasian appliances need only an adapter.
For police, fire and ambulance services phone 999.
Citizens of all European countries – except Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and all the former Soviet republics (other than the Baltic states) – can enter Britain with just a passport, for up to three months (and indefinitely if you’re from the EU). US, Canadian, Aus-tralian and New Zealand citizens can stay for up to six months, providing they have a return ticket and adequate funds to cover their stay. Citizens of most other countries require a visa, obtainable from the British consulate or mission office in the country of application.
Note that visa regulations are subject to frequent changes, so it’s always wise to contact the nearest British embassy or high commission before you travel. If you visit ukvisas.gov.uk, you can download the full range of application forms and informa-tion leaflets and find out the contact details of your nearest embassy or consulate. In addition, an independent charity, the Immigration Advisory Service or IAS (iasuk.org), offers free and confidential advice to anyone applying for entry clearance into the UK. If you want to extend your visa, you should contact the UK Border Agency (ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk), a month before the expiry date given in your passport.
Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have reasonably prominent gay and lesbian communities, with a well-established network of bars, cafés, nightclubs, support groups and events. In Edin-burgh, the area around Broughton Street is the heart of the city’s “pink triangle”, while in Glasgow the scene is mostly found in the Merchant City area; our entertainment listings for both cities include a number of gay bars and clubs. Elsewhere in Scotland, there are one or two gay bars in both Aberdeen and Dundee, and support and advice groups dotted around the country. Details for these, and many other aspects of the gay scene in Scotland, can be found on the website for the monthly Scotsgay newspaper (scotsgay.co.uk).
Pharmacists (known as chemists in Scotland) can dispense only a limited range of drugs with-out a doctor’s prescription. Most pharmacies are open standard shop hours; local newspapers carry lists of late-opening pharmacies, or you can contact the local police for current details.
If your condition is serious enough, you can turn up at the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of local hospitals for complaints that require immediate attention. Obviously, if it’s an absolute emergency, ring for an ambulance (999). These services are free to all. You can also get free medical advice from NHS Direct, the health service’s 24-hour helpline (0845/4647, nhsdirect.nhs.uk).
Even though EU health-care privileges apply in the UK, it’s as well to take out travel insurance before travelling to cover against theft, loss and illness or injury. For non-EU citizens, it’s worth checking whether you are already covered before you buy a new policy. If you need to take out insurance, you might want to consider the travel insurance deal we offer.
Internet cafés are most common in the big cities and towns, though you’ll usually find somewhere you can get online even in the Highlands and Islands. The tourist office should be able to help – sometimes they will have an access point – and public libraries often provide cheap or free access. If you have your own laptop or smart phone, it’s relatively easy to find a café, bar, restaurant, B&B or hotel that offers wi-fi, either for a fee or for free. The site kropla.com gives useful details of how to plug in your laptop when abroad, phone country codes around the world and information about electrical systems in different countries
Coin-operated laundries can be found in Scottish cities and towns, but are becoming less and less common. A wash followed by a spin or tumble dry costs about £3; a “service wash” (having your laundry done for you in a few hours) costs about £2 extra. In the remoter regions of Scotland, you’ll have to rely on hostel and campsite laundry facilities.
A stamp for a first-class letter to anywhere in the British Isles currently costs 60p and should arrive the next day; second-class letters cost 50p, taking three days. Note, however, that in many parts of the High-lands and Islands there will only be one or two mail collections each day, often at lunchtime or even earlier. Stamps can be bought at postoffice counters or from newsagents and local shops, although they usually only sell books of four or ten stamps.
For general postal enquiries visit the website royalmail.com. Main post offices are open Monday to Friday 9am–5.30pm, Saturday 9am–noon. However, in small communities you’ll find post office counters operating out of a shop, shed or even a private house and these will often keep extremely restricted hours.
The most comprehensive maps of Scotland are produced by the Ordnance Survey or OS (ordnancesurvey.co.uk), renowned for their accuracy and clarity. Scotland is covered by 85 maps in the 1:50,000 (pink) Landranger series which shows enough detail to be useful for most walkers and cyclists. There’s more detail still in the full-colour 1:25,000 (orange) Explorer series, which covers Scotland in around 170 maps. The full Ordnance Survey range is only available at a few big-city stores or online, although in any walking district of Scotland you’ll find the relevant maps in local shops or tourist offices. If you’re planning a walk of more than a couple of hours in duration, or intend to walk in the Scottish hills at all, it is strongly recom-mended that you carry the relevant OS map and familiarize yourself with how to navigate using it.
Virtually every service station in Scotland stocks at least one large-format road atlas, covering all of Britain at around three miles to one inch, and generally including larger-scale plans of major towns. For an overview of the whole of Scotland on one map, Estate Publications’ Scotland (1:500,000) is produced in cooperation with various local tourist boards and is designed to highlight places of interest. They also produce regional maps that mark all the major tourist sights as well as youth hostels and campsites, perfect if you’re driving or cycling round one particular region. These are available from just about every tourist office in Scotland.
Many Scots see the UK’s “national media” as London-based and London-biased, and prefer to listen to Scottish radio programmes, read Scottish newspapers, and – albeit to a much lesser extent – watch Scottish TV. Local papers are also avidly consumed, with the weekly papers in places like Orkney and Shetland read by virtually the entire adult population.
The Scottish press centres on two serious dailies – The Scotsman, published in tabloid format and based in Edinburgh, and The Herald, a broadsheet published in Glasgow. Both offer good coverage of the current issues affecting Scotland, along with British and foreign news, sport, arts and lifestyle pages. Scotland’s biggest-selling dailies are the downmarket Daily Record, a tabloid from the same stable as the Daily Mirror, and the local edition of The Sun. Most of the main UK newspapers do produce specific Scottish editions, although the “quality” press, ranging between the right-wing Daily Telegraph and the left-of-centre Guardian, are justifiably seen in Scotland as being London papers.
The provincial daily press in Scotland is more widely read than its English counterpart, with the two biggest-selling regional titles being Aberdeen’s famously parochial Press and Journal, read in the northeast, Orkney and Shetland, and the right-wing Dundee Courier, mostly sold in Perth, Angus, Tayside and Fife. The weekly Oban Times gives an insight into life in the Highlands and Islands, but is staid compared with the radical, campaigning weekly West Highland Free Press, printed on Skye; both carry articles in Gaelic as well as English. Further north, the lively Shetland Times and sedate Orcadian are essential weekly reads.
Many national Sunday newspapers have a Scottish edition, although Scotland has its own offerings – Scotland on Sunday, from the Scotsman stable, and the Sunday Herald, complementing its eponymous daily. Far more fun and widely read is the anachronistic Sunday Post, published by Dundee’s D.C. Thomson publishing group. It’s a wholesome paper, uniquely Scottish, and has changed little since the 1950s, since which time its two long-running cartoon strips, Oor Wullie and The Broons, have acquired cult status.
Scottish monthlies include the glossy Scottish Field, a parochial version of England’s Tatler, covering countryside interests along with local travel and fashion, and the widely read Scots Magazine, an old-fashioned middle-of-the-road publication which promotes family values and lots of good fresh air.
In Scotland there are five main (sometimes called “terrestrial”) TV channels: state-owned BBC1 and BBC2, and independent commercial channels, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five. BBC Scotland produces news programmes and a regular crop of local-interest lifestyle, current affairs, drama and comedy shows which slot into the schedules of both BBC channels. The commercial channel ITV1 is divided between three regional companies in Scotland: populist Scottish Television (STV), which is received in most of south-central Scotland and parts of the West Highlands; Grampian, based in Aberdeen; and Border, which transmits from Carlisle. There’s also the quirkier though often trashy Channel 4, and downmarket Five, which still can’t be received in some parts of Scotland.
The BBC radio network broadcasts six main channels in Scotland, five of which are national stations originating largely from London: Radio 1 (pop and dance music), Radio 2 (mainstream pop, rock and light music), Radio 3 (classical music), Radio 4 (current affairs, arts and drama) and Radio 5 Live (sports, news and live discussions and phone-ins). Only the award-winning BBC Radio Scotland offers a Scottish perspective on news, politics, arts, music, travel and sport, as well as providing a Gaelic network in the Highlands with local programmes in Shetland, Orkney and the Borders.
A web of local commercial radio stations covers the country, mostly mixing rock and pop music with news bulletins, but a few tiny community-based stations such as Lochbroom FM in Ullapool – a place famed for its daily midge count – transmit documentaries and discussions on local issues. The most populated areas of Scotland also receive UK-wide commercial stations such as Classic FM, Virgin Radio and TalkSport. With a DAB digital radio, you can get all the main stations crackle-free along with special interest and smaller-scale stations.
The basic unit of currency in the UK is the pound sterling (£), divided into 100 pence (p). Coins come in denominations of 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. Bank of England £5, £10, £20 and £50 banknotes are legal tender in Scotland; in addition the Bank of Scotland (HBOS), the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and the Clydesdale Bank issue their own bank-notes in all the same denominations, plus a £100 note. All Scottish notes are legal tender throughout the UK, no matter what shopkeepers south of the border might say. In general, few people use £50 or £100 notes, and shopkeepers are likely to treat them with suspicion, since forgeries are widespread. At the time of going to press, £1 was worth around $1.60, €1.20, Can$1.60, Aus$1.60 and NZ$2.15. For the most up-to-date exchange rates, check the useful website xe.com.
Credit/debit cards are by far the most convenient way to carry your money, and most hotels, shops and restaurants in Scotland accept the major brand cards. In every sizeable town in Scot-land, and in some surprisingly small places too, you’ll find a branch of at least one of the big Scottish high-street banks, usually with an ATM attached. However, on some islands, and in remoter parts, you may find there is only a mobile bank that runs to a timetable (usually available from the local post office). General banking hours are Monday to Friday from 9 or 9.30am to 4 or 5pm, though some branches are open until slightly later on Thursdays. Post offices charge no commission, have longer opening hours, and are therefore often a good place to change money and cheques.
Traditional shop hours in Scotland are Monday to Saturday 9am to 5.30 or 6pm. In the bigger towns and cities, many places now stay open on Sundays and late at night on Thursdays or Fridays. Large supermarkets typically stay open till 8pm or 10pm and a few manage 24-hour opening (excluding Sunday). However, there are also plenty of towns and villages where you’ll find precious little open on a Sunday, with many small towns also retaining an “early closing day” – often Wednesday – when shops close at 1pm. In the Highlands and Islands you’ll find precious few attractions open outside the tourist season (Easter to Oct), though ruins, parks and gardens are normally accessible year-round. Note that last entrance can be an hour (or more) before the published closing time.
Public payphones are found in the Highlands and Islands, though with the ubiquity of mobile phones they’re now less common and less assiduously maintained. Payphones take all coins from 10p upwards, some take only phonecards and credit cards, and others take all three – the minimum charge is usually 60p. Phonecards are available from post offices and newsagents, but discount call-cards with a PIN are generally cheaper for international calls.
If you’re taking your mobile/cellphone with you to Scotland, check with your service pro-vider whether your phone will work abroad and what the call charges will be. Unless you have a tri-band phone, it’s unlikely that a mobile bought for use in the US will work outside the States and vice versa. Mobiles in Australia and New Zealand generally use the same system as the UK so should work fine. All the main UK networks cover the Highlands and Islands, though you’ll still find many places in among the hills or out on the islands where there’s no signal at all. If you’re in a rural area and having trouble with reception, simply ask a local where the strongest signals are found nearby.
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) – equivalent to Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC) – is used from the end of October to the end of March; for the rest of the year the country switches to British Summer Time (BST), one hour ahead of GMT.
There are no fixed rules for tipping. If you think you’ve received good service, particularly in restaurants or cafés, you may want to leave a tip of ten percent of the total bill (unless service has already been included). It’s not normal, however, to leave tips in pubs, although bar staff are sometimes offered drinks, which they may accept in the form of money. The only other occasions when you’ll be expected to tip are in hairdressers, taxis, and upmarket hotels where porters, bellboys and table waiters rely on being tipped to bump up their often dismal wages.
The official tourist board is known as VisitScotland (visitscotland.com) and they run tourist offices (often called Visitor or Tourist Information Centres, or even “TICs”) in virtually every Scottish town. Opening hours are often fiendishly complex and often change at short notice; consequently, we’ve simply put the days and months in which the offices are open in the relevant sections throughout the book. Beware that phone enquiries are often directed to a central call centre in Livingstone, where the staff have no knowledge of local information other than what appears on their computer screen. Consequently, we’ve only given telephone numbers for tourist offices where you’ve got a good chance of getting through to that specific office.
As well as being stacked full of souvenirs and other gifts, most TICs have a decent selection of leaflets, displays, maps and books relating to the local area. The staff are usually helpful and will do their best to help with enquiries about accommodation, local transport, attractions and restaurants, although it’s worth being aware that they’re sometimes reluctant to divulge information about local attractions or accommodation which are not paid-up members of the Tourist Board – and a number of perfectly decent guesthouses and the like choose not to pay the fees.
Scottish attitudes towards travellers with disabilities still lag behind advances towards independence made in North America and Australia. Access to many public buildings has improved, with legislation ensuring that all new buildings have appropriate facilities. It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that installing ramps, lifts, wide doorways and disabled toilets is impossible or inappropriate in many of Scotland’s older and historic buildings. Most trains in Scotland have wheelchair lifts and assistance is, in theory, available at all manned stations – for more, go to scotrail.co.uk and click on “Facilities”. Wheelchair-users and blind or partially sighted people are automatically given thirty to forty percent reductions on train fares, and people with other disabilities are eligible for the Disabled Persons Railcard (£18 per year; disabledpersons-railcard.co.uk), which gives a third off most tickets. There are no bus discounts for the disabled. Car rental firm Avis will fit their cars with Lynx Hand Controls for free as long as you give them a few days’ notice. As for accommodation, modified suites for people with disabilities do exist, but are often available only at higher-priced establishments and perhaps the odd B&B.
All Swiss nationals and EEA citizens (except those from Bulgaria and Romania) can work in Scotland without a permit, although citizens of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia or Slovenia must register under the Worker Registration Scheme. Other nationals need a work permit in order to work legally in the UK, with eligibility worked out on a points-based system. There are exceptions to the above rules, although these are constantly changing, so for the latest regulations visit ukvisas.gov.uk