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Scotland

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Travel Guide Europe United Kingdom Scotland

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Introduction

Sunset over the city of Edinburgh

Sunset over the city of Edinburgh

© All Rights Reserved malasue

Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland (Gaelic: Alba) is one of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom (the other three are England, Wales and Northern Ireland). The official language of Scotland is English, although Gaelic and the Scots dialect are also spoken. Scotland's history is as rich and colourful as its people. But Scotland is especially famous for its amazing landscapes of the Highlands and Islands in the central and western parts. Combine this with some spectactular castles, and it's not difficult to see why this part of the UK is one of the more appealing areas.

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Brief History

Repeated glaciations, which covered the entire land-mass of modern Scotland, destroyed any traces of human habitation that may have existed before the Mesolithic period. It is believed that the first post-glacial groups of hunter-gatherers arrived in Scotland around 12,800 years ago, as the ice sheet retreated after the last glaciation. Groups of settlers began building the first known permanent houses on Scottish soil around 9,500 years ago, and the first villages around 6,000 years ago. The well-preserved village of Skara Brae on the mainland of Orkney dates from this period. The written protohistory of Scotland began with the arrival of the Roman Empire in southern and central Great Britain. The Romans occupied what is now England and Wales, administering it as a province called Britannia. Roman invasions and occupations of southern Scotland were a series of brief interludes. The Romans erected Hadrian's Wall to control tribes on both sides of the wall.

The Scottish Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution made Scotland into an intellectual, commercial and industrial powerhouse. Almost 700,000 Scots served in World War I, mostly on the Western Front, with at least 74,000 losing their lives. In addition to this, between 1830 and 1930, 2 million Scots emigrated to seek better lives elsewhere. After World War II, Scotland experienced an industrial decline which was particularly severe. Only in recent decades has the country enjoyed something of a cultural and economic renaissance. Economic factors which have contributed to this recovery include a resurgent financial services industry, electronics manufacturing (see Silicon Glen), and the North Sea oil and gas industry.

Following a referendum on devolution proposals in 1997, the Scotland Act 1998 was passed by the United Kingdom Parliament to establish a devolved Scottish Parliament.

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Geography

Loch Leven

Loch Leven

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

Scotland occupies a total land area of 78,772 km². The mainland has 9,911 kilometres of coastline. Scotland's geography is varied, ranging from barren highlands to rural lowlands and uninhabited islands. It occupies the top third of the island of Great Britain and includes over 790 islands and archipelagoes. Scotland's only land border is with England, and runs for 96 kilometres (60 mi) between the basin of the River Tweed on the east coast and the Solway Firth in the west. The Atlantic Ocean borders the west coast and the North Sea is to the east.
Ireland lies 30 kilometres off the southwest coast, separated by the North Channel. 300 kilometres across the North Sea lies Norway and 270 kilometres to the north are the Faroe Islands. Rising to 1,344 metres above sea level, Scotland's highest point is the summit of Ben Nevis, in Lochaber, while Scotland's longest river, the River Tay, flows for a distance of 190 kilometres.

The territorial extent of Scotland is generally that established by the 1237 Treaty of York between Scotland and the Kingdom of England and the 1266 Treaty of Perth between Scotland and Norway. Important exceptions include the Isle of Man, which having been lost to England in the 14th century is now a crown dependency outside of the United Kingdom; the island groups Orkney and Shetland, which were acquired from Norway in 1472; and Berwick-upon-Tweed, lost to England in 1482.

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Regions

Old Broch

Old Broch

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

The mainland regions given below do not correspond to Local Government boundaries.

  • Borders - The eastern two-thirds of the districts north of the border with England, fought over for hundreds of years. The beautiful rolling hills and fields are dotted with pretty towns, ruined abbeys and battlefields.
  • South West - Home of national poet Robert Burns and the Solway Coast ("Scotland's Riviera"), as well as the beautiful isle of Arran.
  • Central Belt - Scotland's most urbanised region around and between the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Most of the population of Scotland lives here.
  • Highlands - Scotland's spectacular, mountainous north-west, encompassing the Great Glen and Loch Ness and at the furthest tip of Britain, John o'Groats. You can also visit the growing city of Inverness.
  • North East - Centred on the cities of Aberdeen and the slightly smaller Dundee, this beautiful region stretches from the Grampian mountains at the heart of Scotland to the dramatic east coast. It's a region of scenic agricultural land, quaint fishing ports, rugged mountains and hills, and dramatic castles. It's also the centre of two important Scottish industries, North Sea oil and whisky.

Islands

There are also over 790 Scottish Islands.

The main groups are:

  • Orkney Islands - A group of islands immediately to the north of Scotland. The largest of the Orkney islands is known as the "Mainland" and islanders are called Orcadians. Inhabited for over 8000 years, they are the site of some of the best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe, with UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
  • Shetland Islands - A group of islands north of the Orkney Islands, the furthest inhabited parts of the United Kingdom. Like the Orkney Islands, they have been fought over by Scotland and Scandinavia and both aspects of their heritage are important today.
  • Hebrides - The many islands off the north-west Scottish coast, divided into the groups of the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides. Well-known islands such as Skye, Mull, Islay, and Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides and Lewis, North Uist, South Uist and Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides are just some of the spectacular isles here. They share a language (Scots Gaelic) and much of their culture with the Highlands.
  • Southern Islands - Arran, Bute and Cumbrae.

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Cities

Edinburgh

Royal Mile

Royal Mile

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

Edinburgh is the Scottish capital and is the country's most popular attraction. Its Old Town and New Town have both been named as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Glasgow

Glasgow is Scotland's largest city. Admire the architecture, enjoy some bar hopping and engage with the friendly locals that make Glasgow such a welcoming place.

Other Cities

  • 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 harbour 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.
  • Dumfries
  • Fort William
  • 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.
  • Perth - an ancient royal burgh (i.e. a status of autonomous town/city granted by royal charter). It is the county seat of Perthshire. 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 centre of the court of Scottish kings and queens, its city status was restored by the Queen in 2012.
  • Stirling - a royal fortress city dominated by the historic and dramatic castle, it was said that whoever controlled the castle, controlled Scotland (and many have tried!). Today, it also has a vibrant modern outlook.
  • Ullapool

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Sights and Activities

Ben Nevis

Near summit of Ben Nevis

Near summit of Ben Nevis

© All Rights Reserved cstevenson

Ben Nevis, or more commonly called "the Ben," is the highest mountain in the United Kingdom and is located in the Grampian Mountains in the Lochaber area of Scotland. This 1,344 metres (4,409 feet) mountain attracts over 100,000 ascents a year, with most using a nice modern walk up trail. Many mountaineers try to climb the more difficult 700 m cliff on the north face of the mountain. During the winter time Ben Nevis offers great ice climbing opportunities.

Skara Brae

Skara Brae is a large stone built neolithic village, located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of mainland Orkney. The town is made up of ten houses that were occupied roughly from 3100 to 2500 BC. Skara Brae's claim to fame is that it is Western Europe's most complete neolithic village and it is so intact that it gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney
in December of 1999. The site was not fully excavated until 1930 and people visiting it today can spot stone furniture and little homes.

Iona Abbey

Iona Abbey is the oldest and one of the most important religious sites in Scotland. It is considered the starting point for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland. Located on the Isle of Iona, just off the Isle of Mull, on the west coast of Scotland, Iona Abbey was founded in 563. It slowly grew over the years and even survived a viking massacre in 806, during which all the residents were killed. After the Protestant Reformation in Scotland the abbey was abandoned, but in the 19th century it was made part of the Church of Scotland and was restored. Any visit to Iona Abbey should be followed by a stroll in the graveyard to see the graves of kings from Norway, Scotland, Ireland and France.

Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle, located in the city of Inverness, sits on a cliff overlooking the River Ness. The red sandstone structure evident today was built in 1836 by architect William Burn. It is built on the site of an 11th century defensive structure. Today, it houses Inverness Sheriff Court. There has been a castle at this site for many centuries.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness is Scotland's second largest loch (lake), just behind Loch Lomond, but due to its extreme depth of 230 metres, it is the largest by volume. It is a deep, freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands extending for approximately 37 kilometres southwest of Inverness. Loch Ness is most famous thanks to its elusive inhabitant "Nessie", a.k.a. the Loch Ness Monster. See if you can spot the monster, or just enjoy the loch for its natural beauty. On the northside of the lake you will find the ruins of Urquhart Castle, which used to be one of the biggest in Scotland.

Castle Tioram

Castle Tioram

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

Other Sights and Activities

  • City Chambers viewed from George Square in Glasgow is worth a photo or two.
  • Scottish Highlands - Go hiking in some of the most pristine wilderness in all of the United Kingdom.
  • Bagpipes - Hear traditional Scottish music with a good old fashion bagpipe concert.
  • Shopping - Buy a kilt to enjoy traditional Scottish dress.
  • Sterling Castle - A nice daytrip from either Glasgow or Edinburgh is Sterling and it's beautiful castle
  • Isle of Skye - For many the Isle of Skye is Scotlands most beautiful island.
  • Loch Lomond - Escape from Glasgow to the largest lake of Scotland.
  • The Cairngorms - Home to ospreys and golden eagles, the Cairngorms is Britain's arctic zone and one of the wildest parts of the Highlands.

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Weather

The weather of Scotland is temperate and oceanic although it can change greatly during anytime of the year. The country is warmed by the Gulf Stream flowing up the Atlantic and giving the area milder winters and cooler summers when compared to areas with similar latitudes such as Moscow. Scotland tends to be warmer in the east and cooler in the west. Rainfall varies across the country; for example the lowlands receive less than 800 mm of rain a year while the highlands have about 3,000 mm. The highlands tend to have much more snow in the winter than the lowlands.

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Getting There

By Plane

The main airports in Scotland are:

Airlines flying into Scotland are mainly from regional destinations. There are also seasonal flights from North America. Major airlines include British Airways, easyJet, First Choice Airways, Flybe, Flyglobespan, MyTravel Airways, Ryanair, Thompsonfly, Thomas Cook Airlines.

By Train

By Car

There is an excellent system of motorways connecting England to Scotland directly, and rental cars can easily be taken from one country to the other. Of course there are no border crossings, just have your driver's licence and insurance in order.

By Bus

Megabus offers connections between the major Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and English destinations like Manchester and Liverpool. Eurolines and East Coast have connections as well, mainly to England and sometimes Wales.

By Boat

From Northern Ireland

From Belgium

  • Superfast Ferries has overnight ferry service 3 times a week from Rosyth (Scotland) to Zeebrugge (arrive 11:30am next day).

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Getting Around

Plan A Journey offers information about transport in Scotland and some other parts of the UK.

By Plane

Logan Air operates on behalf of British Airways and FlyBe and mainly flies from Glasgow, and sometimes Aberdeen, to destinations in the north of Scotland. These include Barra, Benbecula, Kirkwall (Orkney Islands), Sumburgh (Shetland Islands), Stornoway and Tiree.

By Train

First Scot Rail operates the rail lines in Scotland. Main routes include Glasgow to Edinburg and Aberdeen. There are also beautiful routes crossing the Scottish Highlands, such as Perth - Inverness, Inverness - Kyle of Lochalsh and Glasgow - Fort William - Mallaig. On the latter route, the Fort William to Mallaig part of the journey goes by special transport on the Jacobite Steam Train.

By Car

Scotland is a great place to travel around by road, and most roads are paved and in excellent condition. The main motorways within Scotland are:

Traffic Scotland provides real-time and future traffic information, live-eye views and journey time for Scotland.

Although travelling around the southern part of Scotland is fairly easy, once you get further north or into the interior highlands, be aware that roads are often narrow and winding and can get slippery after rain. Drive carefully and on the left side of the road. International and local car rental firms have offices at international airports and in most of the bigger cities. A national driving licence or for some countries an international permit will do. The main companies include Hertz, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Thrifty and Enterprise.

By Bus

Citylink is the main operator between Glasgow and Edinburgh, with several departures every hour, taking just over an hour, but costing less than the trains.

Megabus serves Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Inverness, among several other smaller places.

By Boat

Caledonian MacBrayne is one of the largest ferry operators in Scotland with services on the west coast and Clyde estuary. They serve many of the islands, including the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides.

Northlink Ferries operates boats between the Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. Ferries leave from Aberdeen for Lerwick, or from Scrabster to Stromness.

Summer only John o'Groats Ferry offers bus-ferry-bus service in one from Inverness to Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands. Tickets (one way/return £30/42, five hours) include bus travel from Inverness to John o’Groats, passenger ferry to Burwick, and another bus from Burwick to Kirkwall. There’s one bus daily in May and two daily from June to early September.

Pentland Ferries offers ferries to the Orkneys from Gills Bay, about 5 kilometres west of John o’Groats, heading to St Margaret’s Hope in Orkney about 3 or 4 times daily depending on the season.

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Red Tape

For visa-related information, refer to the United Kingdom article.

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Money

See also: Money Matters
Further information: United Kingdom

Being part of the United Kingdom, Scotland uses the same pound sterling as its currency with the international currency code GBP (Great Britain Pound). The currency sign for pound is £ (the symbol is derived from the letter L).

The Bank of England (BoE), the central bank of the UK, issues pound sterling banknotes and coins for the whole of the United Kingdom. At the same time, three private banks in Scotland (Bank of Scotland, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank) also issue sterling banknotes of their own designs. These banknotes have the same value as the ones issued by BoE and are usually found only in Scotland. The notes can also be used outside Scotland within the UK although some merchants may be reluctant to accept them. Outside the UK, usually only BoE-issued sterling banknotes are recognised as the country's legal tender.

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Language

The official language of Scotland is English, although Gaelic and the Scots dialect are also spoken.

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Eat

  • Cullen skink - A hearty and delicious fish soup made from smoked haddock, potatoes, cream, and shellfish.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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 branch of the ubiquitous Greggs bakery shops. The ubiquitous Scotch Egg is another perennial dodgy favourite, 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.

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Sleep

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.

Scotland has plenty of Hostels, both the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) and a large and developing network of Independent Hostels. Some of the buildings are very impressive.

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Drink

  • 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. 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. Cream Soda, Red Kola and Sugarelly (liquorice water) is similarly consumed. edit
  • 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" or putting anything other than water in malt whisky will immediately identify you as a foreigner!

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Scotland.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

In case of emergency, dial 999 or 112 for Police, Ambulance, Fire Brigade and Coast Guard. It's free of charge.

Although tourist areas are generally safe, travellers should still practise some common sense safety precautions just as they do anywhere in the world.

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.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafés can be found in many cities and towns. All UK public libraries provide access, often branded as "People's Network", usually at no or little charge, though there is usually a time limit. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access, including wifi, but most times at a cost. Using the internet on your personal phone can become expensive very quickly, with carriers charging 100's of times the local rate for data. To avoid these expensive roaming charges, you can hunt for wifi at a local cafe or hotel, or rent a mobile hotspot via several providers including DATAPiXY, and XCOM Global.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to the United Kingdom is: 44. To make an international call from the United Kingdom, the code is: 00

In case of emergency, call 999 or 112 from any phone. Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you for your location, and the service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard or mountain rescue). You can call this number from any mobile telephone as well, even if you do not have roaming.

Although the number is declining, you can still find payphones in many public areas, especially stations, airports etc. You can usually pay with cash and sometimes by creditcard or, for international calls, special phonecards are still available.

Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2. 3G data services are available, usually priced per megabyte and coverage is usually very good in the UK, however it may lack in rural areas. Roaming on your personal phone plan can be expensive. To manage costs, consider purchasing a local UK SIM card for your phone. Several companies offer local SIM cards including Telestial, and CellularAbroad.

Post

The Royal Mail provides postal services in the United Kingdom. The Royal Mail's store fronts are called Post Office and offer services ranging from sending letters and packages to foreign currency exchange. Use the branch locator to find the nearest Post Office branch. There will be at least one post office in any town/city and there are quite often post offices in larger villages. It's common for a post office to be incorporated into a grocery store, where there will be a small counter located at the back of the store for dealing with post related matters. All post offices are marked with signs that say 'post office' in red lettering. Post boxes can be found at any post office and standalone large red post boxes on the streets or red boxes in the sides of public buildings.
For sending packages overseas, it might be a good idea to check prices and services with international companies like TNT, UPS or DHL.

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References

  1. 1 Mid-2010 estimate. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved on 2011–08–01.

Quick Facts

Scotland flag

Map of Scotland

[edit]

Local name
Alba (Gaelic)
Capital
Edinburgh
Government
Parliamentary Democracy - part of the United Kingdom
Nationality
Scottish
Population
5 222 000 [1]
Languages
English, Gaelic
Religions
Christianity (Protestant, Catholic)
Currency
Pound Sterling (GBP) £
Calling Code
+44
Time Zone
GMT (UTC)
Daylight Saving Time
BST (UTC+1)

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Scotland Travel Helpers

  • FiveSenses

    I live here in Scotland and have run hotels, hostels, tour companies and I now teach ancient crafts in Orkney - so lots of experience of tourism in Scotland.

    I also am a qualified mountain leader and have worked in montain rescue - I can help you plan walks, camps, access and equipment.

    I am best at finding cheap but good places to stay and helping people get off the beaten path, to discover the real Scotland, behind the tourist image.

    Ask FiveSenses a question about Scotland
  • afortunado

    I live in the Borders region of Scotland in Galashiels. I travel every day to Edinburgh to my work. If anyone needs information on a forthcoming trip to Scotland and needs advice then feel free to get in touch.
    Gordon

    Ask afortunado a question about Scotland
  • walkitwils

    Lived here for 25 years and youth hostelled this great country. Have also travelled elsewhere in the world so have that experience to.

    Ask walkitwils a question about Scotland
  • gsd

    I have lived in scotland all of my life and i would be glad to help

    Ask gsd a question about Scotland
  • davidx

    I have spent appreciable time in the highlands and I have family in the Borders Region.
    I am happy to try to advise on either.

    Ask davidx a question about Scotland

Accommodation in Scotland

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