Scotland comprises the northern third of the island of Great Britain. Its mainland consists of four geographical regions, from south to north: the Southern Uplands, Central Lowlands, Grampian Mountains and Northwest Highlands. The nation includes more than 790 islands, including the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands. Its only land border is with England and runs 96 miles long. Scotland boasts more than 1,700 miles of well-managed walking trails along its substantial coasts and inland to its mountains–the tallest of which, Ben Nevis, stands at 4,409 feet.
Scotland has limited self-government. Its head of state is the monarch of the United Kingdom. Scotland’s capital is Edinburgh, where the monarchy keeps a residence at Holyrood Palace.
Life in Scotland
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Saturday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Most department stores and supermarkets are open from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday.
Banks are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday (with some branches open on Saturday mornings).
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:30 to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants and pubs, lunch is served from noon to 2:00 p.m. and dinner is usually served from 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. (but verify locally). Afternoon tea is usually taken around 4:00 p.m.
Tipping: If service is not included at a restaurant or pub (check your bill), it is customary to leave 10 to 20 percent of the total. Taxi drivers receive 10 to 15 percent of the fare. For luggage assistance, a small tip is appropriate, at your discretion.
Scottish public holidays: Scottish public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. Visit the Scottish tourism board’s website for details.
Edinburgh’s International Festivals
Cultural activity in Edinburgh reaches its peak during the month of August. All art forms are presented during the prestigious Edinburgh International Festival. In 2015, this festival will occur from August 7-31. Please visit the following website for information: eif.co.uk. There is also the annual Military Tattoo—an event rich in tradition and pageantry. Information on the Tattoo can be found at edintattoo.co.uk. The official dates of the Tattoo in 2015 are August 7-29. Due to the popularity of the festivals, it is recommended that you make travel arrangements, including hotel reservations, as far in advance as possible.
A list of festivals and an event finder by region is available.
In addition to a wide range of international cuisine, menus in Scotland often feature its fresh fish and other seafood. From local bakeries, you can enjoy a delicious range of oatcakes and scones. Scotland’s cheeses, notably Islay and Orkney, are becoming increasingly well known. Traditional Scottish dishes include haggis (a type of lamb sausage), Scotch broth (a vegetable soup), salted or smoked haddock, trout, salmon, or game, and porridge oats. Scotland is also famous for its excellent Aberdeen Angus beef, succulent lamb, and fresh fruit-and-custard-type desserts, such as cream crowdie and clootie dumplings.
Scotland’s geographic location—on the edge of the European continent and surrounded on three sides by the sea—results in weather that is quite varied. In summer, the prevailing westerly and northwesterly winds have a cooling effect. Although the British Isles are known for rainy weather, most of the rain falls between October and January, with the driest weather from April to August. The pleasant summer days are long, with daylight on sunny days lasting until 10 p.m.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least three months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days. For more information, see travel.state.gov.
The United Kingdom uses the pound (GBP). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 GBP. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
Many businesses in Europe will no longer accept credit cards without PIN numbers (chip and pin cards). Contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when travelling, and to inform them of your travel destination and dates so they do not freeze your accounts when they see charges appear from a foreign country.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s), some U.S. dollars to exchange, and some euros in small denominations.
No immunizations are required to enter Scotland. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Electricity: Alternating current of 230V and 50Hz is used in Scotland. Plugs have three flat blades arranged in a triangular formation. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Scotland’s country code is “+44.” Cell phone coverage throughout Scotland is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
Scotland is in the Greenwich Mean Time Zone, Eastern Standard Time plus five hours.For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
The majority of international flights arrive at Edinburgh and Glasgow airports. Information on these airports and domestic flights is also available at visitscotland.com under “Travel.”
International Airports in Scotland
- Aberdeen Airport
- Edinburgh Airport
- Glasgow International Airport
- Glasgow Prestwick Airport
- Inverness Airport
ScotRail: Scotland’s national train company is scotrail.co.uk. You may book your train travel directly with them. Or, if you plan to travel for longer periods, consider Rail Europe, a U.S.-based company that provides schedules, reservations, and ticketing for all European train networks. Their multi-day, -week or -month passes in one country or combinations of countries may be a more economical and convenient choice. For more information, go to raileurope.com or call 800.622.8600.
Other local transportation
In addition to rail and airlines, Scotland also has an extensive bus or coach network that, for some towns and cities, may be more convenient and affordable than the train, see the Scottish Citylink website at citylink.co.uk.
Most major car rentals agencies are available at airports and train stations. If you rent a car in Scotland, remember to drive on the left side of the road and to pass on the outside right lane—also important to keep in mind when crossing busy city streets! Here are the official rules of the road for all of Great Britain.
Taxis are available at all major airports, train stations, and in smaller towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). For more information go to visitscotland.com, and then to the “Travel” tab.