Scotland Tourist Information and Tips
As in the rest of the United Kingdom, Scottish currency is the Pound Sterling (?). Scotland's three national clearing banks continue to issue their own sterling banknotes (including ?1 notes, not produced south of the border). These are The Bank of Scotland, The Royal Bank of Scotland and The Clydesdale Bank. These notes are very common in Scotland, but are sometimes (wrongly) not accepted in shops in England (English banks, however, will exchange them for Bank of England notes). ATMs operated by Scottish banks will usually dispense the Scottish notes, but bank tellers will cash travelers cheques into Bank of England notes on request. Scottish banknotes may be difficult to exchange outside the UK, where foreign banks are generally unfamiliar with the notes. If in doubt, exchange your Scottish notes for Bank of England notes before you leave the country.
A guaranteed way of getting Bank of England notes is simply to make a withdrawal from an ATM run by an English bank (e.g. NatWest, Barclays or HSBC)--although they tend to be found only in major cities.
As Bank of England notes are more commonly forged than their (lower-circulation) Scottish equivalents, smaller shops are sometimes wary of larger-denomination Bank of England banknotes, particularly when the note is in an uncirculated condition (as is common with sterling notes sold abroad).
Euros are accepted at a small number of High Street stores and tourist shops, but this should not be relied upon so change your money into sterling.
Scotland is relatively expensive when compared to some other European countries. As a basic rule, the further north you venture, the more expensive it likely gets, mostly because of the difficulty and expense of supply.
The classic tourist souvenir is a kilt and everything else involving the tartan. Note that a real kilt costs about ?300-?400 and is made of heavy wool (so it will not reveal what you are wearing underneath even in strong winds), but most souvenir stores offer only unauthentic thin ones. If you really want a genuine kilt or full traditional outfit (kilt, sporran, jacket, shirt, and shoes) the best place to look is a clothing hire shop. These specialise in hiring suits and kilts for weddings and often sell stock at reduced prices. The traditional highland kilt is a section of cloth about 6 feet wide and 14 feet long. This is wrapped about the body then then brought up over the shoulder and pinned in place, a little like a toga. The modern short kilt was introduced during the industrial revolution to give more freedom of movement.
Whisky is also a common buy. There are huge differences in price and taste.
Cost of living
Most visitors are disappointed by the high cost of living in Scotland. Although prices in Scotland are not as bad as in the south of England, compared to the USA or most other parts of Europe basic living expenses are still high. Most goods have an additional 17.5% Value Added Tax (VAT) applied although this is always included in the marked price for general consumer purchases. Petrol (gasoline) has a massive 70% excise tax and 17.5% VAT on top of that. Costs are highest in Edinburgh and in very remote places such as Stornoway - petrol prices often hit ?1.50 per litre in some areas.
While Scotland has suffered from the stereotype for dreary food, things have changed now with numerous quality Indian, French, Italian and Modern Scottish options on offer. In fact, in parts of the country such as Edinburgh, it has become quite difficult to get a really bad meal.
- 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 youre 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.
- 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 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 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 "neeps and tatties").
- Porridge is an oat meal the Scottish eat at breakfast, usually with salt as topping, although it is not the everyday breakfast anymore.
- The square sausage another common breakfast favourite -- it is a flavoured 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 really are good - slightly spiced and not greasy. Try one from a branch of the ubiquitous Greggs bakery shops.
- 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.
Scotland (especially the highlands) is famous for the hundreds of brands of Scotch whisky it produces. 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.
Bars are the places you meet people and where you have a good time. More than in other countries, bars are very lively and it is easy to get to know people when you're travelling alone. The Scottish are very welcoming, so it's not unusual that they will buy you a beer even though you just met them.
The legal drinking age is 18 years old, and many pubs and clubs will ask for ID of anyone who looks younger than mid-twenties, penalties for those caught buying 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 - 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 - a highly 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!). Supposedly it is made from Iron Girders (!) (To provide a balanced view however, it should also be noted that Coca Cola will clean coins as well.)
- 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" will immediately identify you as a foreigner!
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, like the one on Loch Lomond and the Carbisdale Castle Hostel. The SYHA traditionally involved guests performing chores and a ban on alcohol. The new breed of independent hostels have eschewed these concepts, causing the SYHA to loosen up its attitudes too.
Camping is another inexpensive way of touring Scotland, though the unpredictable weather makes it less appealing than in some other countries. In remote areas camp sites can be a significant distance apart so buy an up to date guide and plan your route. Booking is not usually necessary except in peak season. Generally, the rule is the more remote the camp site, the better the scenery and the lower the cost. Some camp sites may provide only basic amenities. Camping rough is possible in remote areas, but observe local signs, and never camp next to a stream that could rapidly become swollen by overnight rain. Midges (tiny biting insects) can be a particular nuisance during August and September: the insects are harmless but incredibly irritating.
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. The Scottish Guest House and Bed & Breakfast Association (GHABBA) have a range of Bed and Breakfasts and Guest Houses across Scotland.
In the bigger cities you can learn highland dancing. 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 like and needs daily practice!
If you are interested in learning more about Scotland you can visit www.scotland.org .
The regulations governing who can work in Scotland is the same as for the rest of the UK.
A general shortage of skilled labour in the health sector means the British health service actively recruits abroad, making it easier for those with specialist health care skills to work in the UK. The Scottish Government is also keen to attract immigrants to Scotland to plug a perceived declining population.
Visitors to Scotland are unlikely to experience any crime. Petty crimes such as thefts and pickpocketing are lower than in many other European countries. Violent crime can be a problem in isolated areas and housing estates within major towns and cities (Edinburgh is no exception, contrary to popular belief!) however in general such ‘problem areas' are well away from the town centres and should not pose a problem. However most violent crime occurs amongst gangs, thus violent crime against tourists is rare in Scotland.
Today Glasgow's former reputation as a violent city is unfair. It is near impossible to accidentally wander into one of the "less desirable" parts of town.
However it is wise to avoid the subway in Glasgow on any football match day, as the confined spaces and heated tensions can lead to violence, if it is an 'Old Firm' match day - AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS , also if you get travel sick easily, as many football fans like to partake in an activity known as "The Bouncy Bouncy" where up to 100 football fans bounce up and down at the same time, causing the tiny carriages to rock and rise to the peak of their suspension.
English visitors will find a warm welcome despite traditional rivalries, thus proving the myth that it's not safe to have an English accent in Scotland is indeed just that. They should of course expect a bit of - generally good-natured - teasing whenever either Scotland or England are playing football.
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, but networks like T-Mobile and Orange don't cover the Highlands very well - however, ANY phone is capable of making a 999 or 112 call if there is a signal available on any network, so an Orange phone with no Orange signal is most definitely better than no phone. The weather on the hills can change suddenly, with visibility falling to just a few metres. 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.
Beware of midges! These small biting insects are prevalent in damp areas, particularly Western Scotland, from around May to September. The bites can be itchy 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.
Tap water in Scotland is safe to drink everywhere.