14 things you should know before you go to Scotland
Scotland is an amazing country to visit, with lots to explore, experience and learn. Here are at least 14 things you should know before you go to Scotland (and I wish I knew them all before visiting Scotland)!
Consider the local option
There are many things to do in Scotland, including many ‘touristy’ things. And that might add up in a while. I found that lots of activities in Scotland have a tourist and a local, and much cheaper, version. For example the ‘Harry Potter train’ crossing the famous viaduct ‘from the movies’. It needs to be booked at least a week and a half in advance, costs 39GBP for an adult, only runs twice a day, you have to be there half an hour in advance and more hassle. If you care about the views the most, you could take the same journey with a regular local train, costing you 1/3 or 1/4 of the steam train variant. With no need for booking, runs multiple times a day… Or another example; a boat tour to go dolphin spotting and visit an island can be booked as a tourist. I took a local ferry running every hour for just 5GBP return, spotted dolphins, visited an island and went back all on my own time. In short, consider other options 🙂
Take a hike (into nature)
A short walk into nature is usually enough to show you why so many people love Scotland, outstanding nature. If you want to know which walks are the good ones, visit a local tourist info (purple i signs) and pick up a free map with local signposted hikes. The map shows you where the walks are, some views, and most importantly, how long the hike will take and it’s difficulty. Want to be more adventurous? The beautiful Bothy Bible shows you ‘bothies’ you can use as shelter and overnight stay to do multi day hiking! Mind you, most lack water, electricity and toilets… And if you want something in between totally guided walks and bothy hiking, the tourist info has more challenging hikes or you can pick up the Wild Scotland book. This book is gorgeous and so good in showing unique, wonderful hard to discover places in Scotland, even locals use the book!
Get your own transportation
Having your own transportation in Scotland really makes getting into the outdoors a lot easier. Get a bicycle, rent a motorcycle or car, get yourself some wheels and go explore!
Renting a car? Look across the border
Supply and demand make Scotland an expensive place to rent a car, most of the time. I went in high season and found rental cars in Newcastle, England to be 50-75% cheaper than in Scotland.. Might be worth the extra driving, be careful that your car rental business of choice allows you to take your car to Scotland from England without slapping on another big fee.
Driving takes much longer than you expect
When you look at the map or look at distances between locations in Scotland you might think ‘mwah I can do that’. Be careful though, winding and twisting roads, slow tourists, one track roads and sheep all slow you down. But most of all I found that it takes getting used to driving in these conditions, and they are very tiring in the beginning. Really, really be careful and take plenty of breaks and calculate plentiful rest time when driving in Scotland@
Fill up on petrol/gas when you can
Certain parts of Scotland, most notably the North-West, central mid and South-West have very little cellphone coverage and very few petrol/gas stations. A quarter tank left is really pushing your luck, and in some areas it’s really fill up when you can. I had a wee bit of panic when I finally finally found a gas station, only to have it say on a sign ‘NO petrol until Wednesday’…
Remote really is remote
Some places in Scotland are really remote, but some might not look like it. I stayed in Tarbert for a couple of days, which looked a little remote, but not really. When you calculate the extra driving time required though.. it really felt remote after a couple of days.
Book accommodation well in advance
I heard it before, still kinda ignored it. Wish I hadn’t though… Thanks to tv series and movies Scotland is getting more and more touristy all the time and there are not that many hotels. Prices go steeply up and options go steeply down in high season, be aware.
Depends. Right now, with the current exchange between pound and euro/dollar, Scotland is about as expensive as Western Europe. Hotels a bit dearer, food a bit cheaper. But check on the current exchange rates of course.
This is confusing, but Scots print their own Scottish pounds, but it is otherwise equal to the British Pound. So you can use British and or Scottish pounds, mix and match. Most places accept Euro debit cards too by the way.
Prices include tax, exclude tips
Scots do tip, so so should you I guess?
When hiking gear up and prevent midges
Even short hikes often require decent footwear. And during a one hour hike you might encounter three seasons, rain, sunshine, wind and more rain. So wear layers of clothing, preferably quick drying. And put bug repellant on because of the midges (eviler versions of mosquitos, smaller,
silent, in groups and still bite, nasty).
Visit a castle before or after closing
Castles are great! If you see a sign ‘castle’ in Scotland you might find an actual castle, a ruin or a stack of stones though. It’ll be a beautiful stack of stones, with a great story and history behind it, but still a stack of stones. I always thought a loch was a lake, but apparently it can mean a fjord as well, fresh or salt water. The little differences!
Anyway, some castles can be visited outside of opening hours if you’re not interested in the interior, but do want the perfect sunset less touristy picture. I walked around a couple of castles this way, and only went into the one I really wanted to explore, saving quite a lot of entrance and parking fees.
Download maps before you go (limited connectivity)
Like you might have read, there are plenty of locations in Scotland that don’t have cellphone coverage or very limited (I’ve seen my iPhone display ‘gprs’ for the first time in years). So download your navigation maps, digital vouchers and entertainment before you go visit Scotland.
Hope you learned something you didn’t know! If you have corrections, an addendum, a better tip, let me know in the comments!