Scotland is a beautiful country well known for its dramatic scenery of mountains and valleys, rolling hills, green fields and forests, and rugged coastline. While most know about the magnificent scenery of the Highlands, Scotland is beautiful all around.
Bordering England to the south and separated from Northern Ireland by the Irish Sea, Scotland forms the northern part of Great Britain and includes over 700 islands. It is surrounded by the bracing waters of the North Sea to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and north.
Other characteristics that attract visitors include golf (the game was created in Scotland and it has some of the world’s most famous courses), whiskey (many distilleries can be visited), family history (who emigrated from Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries), hiking, wildlife, and winter sports.
Scotland has seven cities with Glasgow being the largest city and Edinburgh as the capital city. All Scottish cities are lively and friendly, and often of great architectural significance, and rich history and heritage dating back thousands of years with many ancient and historic sites.
- Edinburgh — the capital of Scotland, home to the World’s largest Arts Festival every August and the First European City of Literature. It is often known as the “Festival City”. Most of the city center, with the dramatic and contrasting architecture of its Old Town and New Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Glasgow — Scotland’s largest and most vibrant city, with some of the best shopping in the UK outside London and some of its most exciting nightlife. At one time, it was the center of the largest shipbuilding industry in the world.
- Aberdeen — Scotland’s third largest city. Known for its impressive granite buildings, it is known as the “Granite City”, the oil capital of Europe, and home to a large harbor and two renowned universities.
- Dundee — vibrant city with high population of students and one of the most distinct (perhaps incomprehensible) accents you’ll hear. It is known as the city of “jute, jam, and journalism”, and the “City of Discovery” for its history of scientific activities and the home of Scott and Shackleton’s Antarctic vessel, the RRS Discovery
- Inverness — the fast-growing capital of the Highlands, located on the River Ness and close to Loch Ness, where many tourists try (and fail) to find the monster. It is Britain’s most northerly city.
- Stirling — a royal fortress city dominated by the historic and dramatic castle. It was said that whoever controlled the castle controlled Scotland!
- Perth — an ancient royal burgh (i.e. a status of autonomous town/city granted by royal charter). Smaller than its Australian counterpart to whom it gave its name, it is sometimes known as “The Fair City” following a novel by Walter Scott. Once a major center of the court of Scottish kings and queens.
Things To Do In Scotland
There are many things and activities that you can do, see and enjoy in Scotland. First, we will list some of the things you should do and then the places to visit and see.
- Rail Travel – Scotland is home to the most scenic railway line in the world – the West Highland Line, and traveling the area by train is very much recommended. Fares can be high, but the scenery can be priceless.
- Hillwalking – Scotland is famous for hillwalking. You can try to climb all 284 Munros of Scotland (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 153 km (95 miles). Scotland’s official National Tourist Board publishes a free Scotland Walks guide, available from their Walking site. Walk Highlands is a free independent site giving lots of details including GPS tracks on over 420 routes throughout all of Scotland. See also Walking in the United Kingdom.
- Drive – rent a car and just drive around Scotland. The countryside is beautiful.
- 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.
- 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.
- Whiskey Tour – Many of Scotland’s distilleries welcome visitors and many have guided tours.
- Golf – Scotland is the birthplace of the game of golf and home to the oldest course in the world, St. Andrews.
- Edinburgh Festival – occurs during late July to Mid September. The Festival is an umbrella term for several festivals, including the International Festival, the Fringe Festival, the International Jazz and Blues Festival, and the International Book Festival. See Edinburgh for details. VisitScotland, the official Scottish Tourist Board, maintain a calendar of events and festivals taking place throughout Scotland
- Learn Scottish highland dancing – In the bigger cities, you can learn highland dancing.
- Learn Scottish Bagpipe – 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 and needs daily practice!
Most historic sites are maintained either by the National Trust of Scotland or by Historic Environment 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.
- Historic Environment Scotland: yearly membership starts at £47 adult, £87 family (properties include Edinburgh and Stirling Castles). Historic Scotland also offers a 3-day Explorer Pass.
- National Trust of Scotland: yearly membership starts at £45 adult, £100 family (properties include Craigievar and Crathes Castles, numerous wilderness areas).
- Callanish Chambered Cairn and Standing Stones (Lewis), a setting of tall megaliths
- Clava Ring Cairn (Inverness), ring cairn between two passage graves
- Dun Carloway Broch (Lewis), one of the best-preserved brochs with an elevation of about 30 ft above ground
- Jarlshof Early Settlements and Broch (Shetland), occupied from the early 2nd millennium BC, in the Late Bronze and early Iron Age until the erection of the broch,
- Maes Howe Chambered Cairn (Orkney), chambered cairn representing the high standard of workmanship in Neolithic Britain,
Mousa Broch (Shetland), the best-known example of a broch, with walls 50ft in diameter at the base and 43 ft above the ground, with complex internal stairs and galleries
- Ring of Brodgar (Orkney), large henge monument magnificently placed between two lochs and remarkably well preserved
- Rough Castle (Falkirk), Roman remains
- Skara Brae (Orkney), Neolithic settlement of houses built largely of stones which were buried under a mixture of midden material and blown sand until discovered in the 1930s
- Traprain Law (East Lothian), hill fort occupied for 1000 years from the middle of the first millennium BC onward
Early Christian Monuments
- Aberlemno (Angus), Pictish Symbol Stones in the churchyard
- Iona (Inner Hebrides), the island where St. Columba landed from Ireland in 563 AD, the beginning the Christianisation of Scotland
- Meigle (Perthshire), Pictish Symbol Stones
- Ruthwell Cross (Dumfriesshire), one of the best examples of Anglian sculpture and one of the major monuments of Europe in the Dark Ages
- St.Vigean’s (Angus), Pictish Symbol Stones
Castles in Scotland
- Balmoral Castle (Aberdeenshire). Summer residence of the Queen in the Dee Valley
- Blair Castle, Blair Atholl (Perthshire), the seat of the Duke of Atholl
- Craigievar Castle (near Alford, Aberdeenshire)
- Crathes Castle (Aberdeenshire), L-Plan tower house with magnificent early 18th-century formal garden
- Culzean Castle (Ayrshire), fantastic castle created by Robert Adams in the 18th century overlooking the Firth of Clyde
- Dunnottar Castle (Aberdeenshire), on an isolated rock projecting 2 miles off the coast
- Dunvegan Castle (Skye), the seat of the Clan MacLeod
- Edinburgh Castle (Edinburgh)
- Edzell Castle (Angus) with a fine tower house and a spacious walled garden with symbolic decorations of the Cardinal Virtues, Liberal Arts and Planetary Deities, unique in Britain
- Eilean Donan Castle (Lochalsh), a picturesque island castle on the road to Skye
- Falkland Palace (Fife)
- Glamis Castle (Angus), castle dating mainly from the last quarter of the 17th century
- Palace of Holyroodhouse (Edinburgh)
- Inveraray Castle (Argyll), the seat of the dukes of Argyll, completed in 1770
- Linlithgow Palace (West Lothian), one of Scotland’s four royal palaces, one of the most historic places of Scotland, where the ‘Stone of Destiny’ (the coronation stone of the Scottish kings), was kept from the 9th century until the stone was stolen by King Edward of England
- Stirling Castle (Stirling), with a superb view and survivals of domestic buildings of the 16th, 17th and 18th century
- Tantallon Castle (East Lothian), a stronghold of the Douglas family, in a magnificent situation on the coast opposite Bass Rock
Abbeys and Ruins
- Dunfermline Abbey (Fife)
- Dryburgh Abbey (Berwickshire)
- Jedburgh Abbey (Roxburghshire)
- Kelso Abbey (Roxburghshire)
- Melrose Abbey (Roxburghshire)
Churches and Cathedrals
- Elgin Cathedral (Moray). Known as “the Lantern of the North”, once the most perfect of the Scottish cathedrals, burnt by Alexander
- Earl of Buchan, the “Wolf of Badenoch” in 1390
- High Kirk of St Giles, High Street, (Edinburgh), the first church of the Church of Scotland,
- Roslyn Chapel (Midlothian) well known for its sculpture and elaborated carving with the famous “Prentice Pillar”
- St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall (Orkney) built in the 12th century, the only undamaged pre-Reformation cathedral
- St Mungo’s Cathedral, (Glasgow), the only example of pre-Reformation Gothic architecture on mainland Scotland
- Bannockburn (Stirlingshire), under the leadership of ‘’Robert Bruce’’ Scotland gained the freedom that was kept for centuries
- Culloden (Inverness-shire), scene of the last battle fought on the soil of the United Kingdom
- Glencoe (Argyll), site of the massacre of the Macdonalds in 1692
- Killiecrankie (Perthshire)
- Charles II, Parliament Square (Edinburgh)
- Prince Charles Monument, Glenfinnan (Inverness-shire)
- Robert Bruce. Bannockburn (Stirlingshire)
- Scott Monument, East Princes Street Gardens (Edinburgh) — in honour of Scotland’s greatest novelist Sir Walter Scott
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow
- National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
- National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
- Cairngorm Mountains – A magnificent range of mountains between Speyside and Braemar
- Duncansby Head, John O’Groats (Caithness), North East point of the Scottish mainland, sheer sandstone cliffs up to 210 ft high
Fingal’s Cave, Staffa, Inner Hebrides (Argyll)
- Glen Affric (Invernesshire), the old East-West route through the Highlands of Inverness-shire
- Glencoe (Argyll), famous pass from the Moor of Rannoch to Loch Leven in Inverness-shire, the most celebrated Glen in Scotland
- Glen More (Invernessshire), National Forest Park in the North West corner of the Cairngorms, covered with pine and spruce woods
- Glen Trool National Forest Park (Kincardineshire), National Forest Park with the highest hill country in the Southern Scotland
- Inverewe Gardens (Ross and Cromarty) benefits from the warm and moist Gulf Stream climate
- Loch Lomond (Dunbartonshire, Stirlingshire), the largest and most beautiful inland water in Britain
- Loch Maree (Ross and Cromarty), a magnificent loch overlooked on all sides by beautiful mountains
- Loch Ness (Inverness-shire), Great Glen, extending from 7 miles South West of Inverness for 24 miles to Fort Augustus
- Loch Torridon (Ross and Cromarty), a magnificent sea-loch opposite the North East of Skye
- Queen’s View (Perthshire)
- Smoo Cave, Durness (Sutherland), the largest cave being 200ft long and 12o ft high
- The Trossachs (Perthshire), romantic valley between Loch Achray and Loch Katrine
Places with Literary Connections
- Abbotsford House (Roxburghshire), seat of Sir Walter Scott
- Burn’s Cottage, Alloway, (Ayrshire)
- The Trossachs (Perthshire), one of the most celebrated literary beauty spots in Scotland
Other Places of Interest
Scotland has extensive wilderness areas, two of which have been proclaimed as National Parks:
- Cairngorms National Park — the largest National Park in Scotland, containing the Cairngorms mountain range
- Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
- Glencoe — impressive valley in the Lochaber region
- Ben Nevis — Scotland’s highest mountain
- Torridon and Wester Ross — the two areas are popular mountaineering destinations
- Skye — with the Black Cuillin which is most popular of all with climbers, but there’s plenty of scope for walkers here as well
- The Blacksmith’s Shop, Gretna Green (Dumfriesshire), famous as the place where runaway couples from England got married under 18th cent Scottish law by means of a declaration before witnesses.
- Caledonian Canal (Invernessshire), running across Scotland from the Beauly Firth near Inverness in the North East to Loch Linnhe near Fort Williams in the South West. The canal was built in order to avoid the dangerous sailing around the North of Scotland by the Pentland Firth and Cape Wrath by the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford.
- Islay — known as the Queen of Hebrides, has eight whiskey 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
Scotland has a rich culture that is distinct from the other nations in the UK, though it has similarities (as is typical for countries which are located close together). Scottish people are often fiercely proud of their culture, which in the past was the target of attempts to suppress it to create a single “British” culture – based on English culture.
A person from Scotland is called a Scot, or described as Scottish. Do not to refer to Scotland as England, or to Scottish as English – it is very likely to cause serious offence! Further, do not refer to Britain or the United Kingdom as England. England, as is the case with Scotland, forms only a part of Britain and the United Kingdom.
It is important not to confuse or assume that Scotland is a part of England as this could cause offence to some. Although a Scottish person is likely to understand what is a simple mistake by a tourist, it could certainly cause annoyance to some Scots.
It is considered respectful to refer to Scottish citizens as Scots or Scottish as opposed to British as most citizens of Scotland generally feel more Scottish than British
Although most Scots respect and have strong ties with England, Scotland is a very proud nation and many still feel it important to differentiate themselves as having a separate sense of nationality, especially in areas with strong historical affiliation with the SNP.
Kilts are not to be confused with skirts. It’s insulting to have parts of the traditional outfit mocked or called the wrong name. The “skirt” is called a kilt. The “purse” at the front (commonly accented with deer skin, leather and tassels hanging from a chain) is called a sporran. The hat with the red pom pom on top is called a glengarry. It’s common practice to carry a small knife in the sock whilst wearing a kilt. Don’t be alarmed by this as they are primarily for aesthetics (although in past times did serve their proper use for a knife) and are usually quite dull. This knife is called a Sgian-dubh (pronounced skee-an-doo). Very few Scottish men wear kilts on a daily basis, but they are common at formal and/or festive events such as weddings and traditional dances.
Scotland has a great tradition of festivals (e.g. the Edinburgh Festivals), literature and achievement in the arts. Since the Scottish Enlightenment that followed the Act of Union, it has produced some of the greatest literary personalities, thinkers, and writers of the world. Many ideas now seen as key to the modern world derive from the work of Scottish scholars, scientists, and authors, such as Adam Smith. Scottish novelists have also enjoyed success in recent times, such as Irvine Welsh. Scotland’s great tradition of science has produced some of the greatest scientists and inventors of the world, including James Watt (pioneer of the Industrial Revolution), John Logie Baird (inventor of the television) and Alexander Fleming (discoverer of penicillin). More recently, scientists in Aberdeen developed the MRI scanner and those in Edinburgh created Dolly the Sheep, the first cloned animal.
There is also a thriving Scottish music scene. Outdoor popular music festivals such as T in the Park attract vast crowds and attract internationally-renowned live music acts. Scottish bands and musicians are also prominent, particularly those originating from in and around Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. This city is home to a fantastic music scene; must-visit destinations include King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (where Oasis were spotted and signed for their first record deal).
Scottish folk music is also flourishing, with traditional and modern folk music sung in both English, Scottish Gaelic (and sometimes Scots). Folk music often features instruments such as fiddle/violin, acoustic guitar, harp, accordion, piano, various sorts of bagpipes, and other traditional instruments as well as voice. You may also encounter Scottish forms of dance which are also popular. This may range from simple, as at a ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”, a mix of dances performed to traditional music and descended from ballroom and country dancing), to more complex Scottish Country Dancing which is a form of social dancing descended from renaissance dance styles, to solo Highland Dancing (which has a military heritage) if you go to a Highland Games. These styles exist alongside other popular forms of music and dance also found in other modern countries. See also music on the British Isles.
Scottish people suffer from a stereotype which portrays them as “dour” (i.e. unemotional, reserved and staid), and while this may have been accurate in the past, it no longer is. You will find most Scots to be friendly, warm, and with a strong sense of humour, although it can take more than one meeting with you for them to warm up. Younger Scots are often hedonistic, with the “night out” being a basic unit of social interaction for many people and packed pubs, bars, nightclubs and live music and comedy venues in cities. On the other hand, heavy drinking is a part of Scottish culture and has been increasing in recent years; you are likely to hear younger people talk of being drunk as a nirvana-like ideal state. However, the flip side to this is that public drunkenness, disorderliness and alcoholism is a problem. While they may not be overly willing to make conversation with a stranger at a bus stop or other public place, nor trust you with their life story the first time they meet you, you will find most Scots to be enjoyable, lively and satisfying companions.
English, Scots and Scottish Gaelic are the languages of Scotland. English, sometimes spoken with a varying degree of Scots, is the everyday language spoken by all. Dialects vary enormously from region to region, and even between towns! However, all Scots can speak standard English.
Scots (nicknamed Oor ain leid, literally “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 Middle English, and rather than actually being spoken purely, it is often found influencing informal English spoken by people in Scotland. A variety of Scots is also spoken on the north coast of Northern Ireland.
Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig, pronounced “Gah-lig”), meanwhile, is spoken by only around 60,000 people, mainly in the Highlands (a’ Ghàidhealtachd, pronounced “a Gale-tach”) and the Western Isles (Na h-Eileanan Siar, pron. “Na hyale–inan shar“).
However, within these areas, Gaelic fluency / proficiency can be very high, for instance, the island of Barra, where 80% speak the language. You will more than likely hear locals speaking in Gaelic in the Western Isles and on the ferries to and from them. Signs on board some CalMac ferries to the Western Isles are in Gaelic first and English second. In addition, announcements on some ferries may be at least partially in Gaelic. Everyone, however, speaks English as well.
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.
The world’s shortest flight
The shortest scheduled flight in the world is operated by Loganair between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands. The flight lasts two minutes and is operated by a Britten-Norman Islander aircraft.
As in the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland uses the pound sterling (£). Euros are accepted at a small number of High Street shops and tourist stores, but this should not be relied upon so change your money into sterling
While Scotland has suffered from the stereotype for producing dreary food, things have changed now with excellent modern Scottish restaurants, and numerous quality Indian, French, and Italian options on offer. In fact, in parts of the country such as Edinburgh, it has become quite difficult to get a really bad meal. Below are listed some of the highlights of the Scottish culinary scene:
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 you’re 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. Scotland also has some truly glorious fish and chips: fresh haddock fried and battered to perfection with a side of golden chips and vinegar. Kippers (cured and smoked herring) are a breakfast favorite.
Scottish smoked salmon is world-famous and is eaten for breakfast all over the UK, typically served with scrambled eggs. If you’re from North America, some fish, particularly cheaper ones, have different names in Europe than you’re used to – for example, “plaice” refers to what you likely know as “flounder,” and “coley” is the same as “pollock.”
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 favorite 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 is in fact surprisingly good. The texture is fairly similar to meatloaf like you might find in the USA, with a slightly stronger, more pungent flavor. Unless you simply can’t abide any hint of organ-meat flavors, you should give it a try. Haggis is made up of chopped heart, liver and lungs of a sheep, mixed with onion, oatmeal, and spices 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 Scots words “neeps and tatties”). For the faint-hearted, vegetarian haggis is available.
Porridge – an oatmeal many Scots eat for breakfast, usually with salt as a topping however other toppings like milk, cream, honey, fruit, and jam are popular.
The square sausage is another common breakfast favorite — it is a flavored 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 are really good – slightly spiced and not greasy. Try one from a local bakery. The ubiquitous Scotch Egg is another perennial dodgy favorite, which is essentially a boiled egg breadcrumbed with sausage meat.
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. Despite being extremely rich and feeling very unhealthy, they are quite tasty. Your best bet is to share one with a friend. A chippy in Stonehaven claims to be the birthplace of this, er, “delicacy.” Another equally improbable artery-clogging treat is deep-fried pizza. The ultimate ‘heart-attack-on-a-plate’ has to be the fribab, the deep-fried kebab which can be done for ya in some of the crazier parts of Glasgow. Really, Scottish chippies will deep fry just about anything, including haggis.
The munchy box is probably the ultimate in late night Scottish takeaway cuisine. The exact contents vary, as you can get them variously from chip shops as well as Middle Eastern, Indian, and Chinese places, but it’s a variety of fast food classics, e.g. kebab meat, fried chicken, pakora, chips, etc. thrown together in a flat pizza box. Sometimes it will include a salad, you know, to make it healthy. It’s unknown whether anyone has ever purchased a munchy box while sober.
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 and vegan restaurants.
Scotland (especially the highlands) is famous for the hundreds of brands of Scotch whisky it produces (note the lack of an ‘e’). 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. 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” or putting anything other than water in malt whisky will immediately identify you as a foreigner!
Pubs are the places you meet people and where you have a good time. More than in other countries, pubs are very lively and it is easy to get to know people when you’re traveling alone. The Scottish are very welcoming, so it’s not unusual that they will buy you a beer even though you just met them.
Legal Drinking Age in Scotland
The legal drinking age is 18 years old, and many pubs and clubs will ask for an ID of anyone who looks younger than 25, penalties for those caught buying a 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, especially the ales, is measured in pints. One pint equals just over half-liter (568ml). Scottish micro-breweries are doing quite well.
Irn Bru, also known as Our other national drink (after whisky), is a very 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, but then so can Coca-Cola). It’s so popular, it even outsells Coca-Cola, which no other native soft drink can claim. Supposedly it is made from Iron Girders.
Scotland’s weather is highly changeable but rarely extreme. In the mountainous regions of the north and west of the country, the weather can change swiftly and frequently even in Summer. What started as a bright morning can end as a very wet, very windy and very cold afternoon. Packing extra warm and rainproof clothing is advisable, whatever the time of year.
Like the rest of the UK, cars drive on the left. In urban areas, many intersections are controlled by roundabouts as opposed to traffic lights. In rural areas roads can be narrow, very twisty and road markings are rare. Some single track roads have “Passing Places” which allow vehicles to pass each other. Passing places are generally marked with a diamond-shaped white sign with the words “passing place” on it.
Signs remind drivers of vehicles to pull over into a passing place (or opposite it, if it is on the opposite side of the road) to let approaching vehicles pass, and most drivers oblige.
Use your common sense on these roads and it is a courtesy to politely acknowledge the other driver if they have stopped or pulled over to let you pass. Also, use Passing Places to allow following vehicles to overtake – locals who are familiar with these roads greatly appreciate this.
Crime and safety
In an emergency call 999 or 112 (from a land-line if you can) and ask for Ambulance, Fire, Police or Coast Guard when connected.
Scotland is generally a very safe country to visit. Like England and Wales, violent crime is a problem in some inner city areas, however, much of it occurs amongst hooligan-type, normally unarmed gangs, thus violent crime against tourists is rare.
Petty crimes such as thefts and pickpocketing are lower than many other European countries, but vigilance at all times is required, especially in crowded areas. Crime rates vary greatly from urban to rural areas. You should approach clubs and bars at night with caution, especially around closing time when drink fueled violence occurs, the best thing to do is use common sense and avoid any fighting. The same advice extends to using public transport – especially buses – after dark.
After around 9pm it is unlikely to see Conductors or Ticket Examiners (they are two separate things, although share near-identical public-facing roles) going about trains which are travelling to or from Edinburgh or Glasgow (for example – Ayr to Glasgow, Glasgow to Edinburgh or Kirkcaldy to Edinburgh) – if they cannot be found in the passenger areas of the train, they are likely to be found at the very rear of the train in the rear Driving cab.
If you feel insecure, or have a problem on the train – sit close to the back of the train or knock on the door, if you have a problem. Some trains, however, are operated entirely by the Driver. While the majority of these trains have Ticket Examiners, they can and do run without them.
Again, late at night, they are more likely to be found in their “safe area” in the rear cab of the train. A simple knock should gain their attention if there is a problem. If there is no staff onboard and you are unhappy, try to sit where most passengers are. The British Transport Police’s number is 0800 40 50 40, in an emergency call 999. If there is an incident which requires urgent attention operate the emergency alarm – this WILL stop the train – so it is usually best to operate the alarm at a station stop if your safety is not threatened by the movement of the train.
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.
Remember ANY phone is capable of making a 999 or 112 call if there is a signal available on any network, so a phone with no signal is most definitely better than no phone.
The weather on the hills can change suddenly, with visibility falling to just a few meters. 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 The Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) provides detailed weather forecasts for the mountain areas.
Beware of Midges
These small biting flying insects (similar in looks to small swarming mosquitoes) are prevalent in damp areas, particularly Western Scotland, from around May to September. The bites can itch 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 and near still water or damp areas. Males are often bitten more than females. It is advisable to take some strong insect repellent spray or if outdoors for a while, consider a face net.
Tap water in Scotland is safe to drink, if sometimes heavily chlorinated. In some remote or Northern areas, it is best to let the tap run for a few seconds before using the water as it may have a slight brown tint. This is due to traces of soil or peat in the supply and nothing dangerous. Generally the further North you go in Scotland the better the water will taste!
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