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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.
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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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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The mainland regions given below do not correspond to Local Government boundaries.
There are also over 790 Scottish Islands.
The main groups are:
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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.
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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 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 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.
St Kilda, one of the Outer Hebrides, is the most isolated part of the United Kingdom, now having no permanent population. It had a population until 1930. Until the 20th century life was very hard but the population was able to sustain itself at a near subsistence level. Then it became dependent on tourism and imports. During the First World War supplies were maintained by the Royal Navy and when this stopped the feeling of isolation was heightened. After some major epidemics they applied to be repatriated to the mainland. The island now belongs to the National Trust for Scotland and is a major wildlife reserve. It can be reached by helicopter from Benbecula in 20 minutes or by boat from Harris in a few hours - a difficult crossing over the open Atlantic.
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 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.
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The Edinburgh Fringe takes place in August every year, and is the largest arts festival in the world. There are a number of varied performances from classic works, alternative arts and more mainstream fare. The festival takes place in a number of venues (over 250 in 2006) throughout Edinburgh, including a number of street performers on the "Royal Mile" in Edinburgh's old town.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From Northern Ireland
Plan A Journey offers information about transport in Scotland and some other parts of the UK.
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.
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.
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, Sixt, Budget, Europcar, Thrifty and Enterprise.
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.
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.
For visa-related information, refer to the United Kingdom article.
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.
The official language of Scotland is English, although Gaelic and the Scots dialect are also spoken.
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.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Scotland.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ask IainT a question about Scotland
I've lived in Scotland most of my 64 years, and know most parts quite well. I'm still exploring the islands on the west coast - so many!
Ask mikeyBoab a question about Scotland
If anyone needs help regards travelling around Glasgow or West Central Scotland, give me a shout. I also know all about travelling from Glasgow to the rest of the UK and Europe. Hope I can help.
Ask FiveSenses a question about Scotland
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 afortunado a question about Scotland
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.
Ask walkitwils a question about Scotland
Lived here for 25 years and youth hostelled this great country. Have also travelled elsewhere in the world so have that experience to.
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