Tucked away in the north of the UK, Scotland is home to nearly 800 islands, lies Scotland with a diverse range of natural landscapes. It may not be the most popular tourist destination, but it certainly makes an impact in the hearts of its visitors.
But Scotland can be quite strange if you’re visiting it for the first time. The different culture, traffic rules and accents can be difficult to navigate. Luckily for you, we’ve got some tips and tricks to make things a lot easier.
1. The Best Times to Visit Scotland
Scotland is no doubt a beautiful place to visit the whole year round. But if you want the best weather, July to September are the months to visit.
You’ll get the perfect warmth of the summer months while enjoying the scenic views. Not to mention, the days are longer too so you’ll be able to squeeze in more activities.
However, this is also the peak tourist season for Scotland. So, if you’re not into crowds, perhaps this time isn’t the best for you.
The prices of everything from hotels to transport will be higher than usual. If you want to avoid all of these hassles, it’s wiser to opt for the tourist off-season.
Sacrifice the Good Weather for Better Prices
The low season runs from late November to April when the temperatures are much cooler. Tourists don’t usually visit during this time so it won’t be as crowded, and you’ll save a lot more money on accommodation and other costs.
But this also means you may have to deal with bad weather like rain, storms and snow. So, if you plan on visiting during this season, make sure to pack accordingly.
2. Try to Pick Up the Vocabulary
The Scottish are known around the world for their accent, which can be quite difficult for other people to understand. So before you head out to the land of the Lochness Monster, familiarize yourself with the Scottish accent.
Start off by watching a few Scottish TV shows and movies. You could even listen to interviews of Scottish celebrities like Amy Macdonald. Take this opportunity to learn something new about the country and its culture.
Note important Scottish vocabulary so that you can use it for the basics. Some people also speak Gaelic there, which is an even older language. But don’t worry, important signs and posts are always set in English as well for everyone’s convenience.
3. Carry Cash With You
When it comes to currency, like the rest of the UK, Scotland uses Pound Sterling. However, it does have its own special banknotes, with varying designs. Unlike the UK, several banks are issuers of these notes.
As with most big cities and towns, cards are accepted. But it’s definitely safer to have cash with you, especially if you’re staying on an island. While there may be ATM machines inside post offices and local shops, they’re not always open 24/7.
4. There Will Be a Lot of Bugs
Scotland is a beautiful and peaceful country. But the one thing that bothers almost every tourist is the ridiculous amount of insects, called “midges“.
The first thing you’ll notice in the countryside are the hundreds of insects flying in swarms that are always aiming for your nose, eyes and mouth. Actually, scratch that – they’ll find any exposed skin!
These bug bites aren’t life-threatening, but they certainly are annoying. So, it’s best to cover up and carry a lot of insect repellent.
5. Transport in Scotland
Once you’re at Edinburgh Airport, you’ll have to figure out a mode of transport. If you’re staying in Central and Eastern Scotland, you’ll find a lot of public transport as well as taxis. These are usually cheap, fast and the most efficient way to travel across large distances.
In fact, you might just want to get a ScotRail Travel Pass, depending on your itinerary. This would give you access to most trains, buses and ferries, and it will last for a few days.
In the rural areas, however, renting a car is your best option. You could also just sign up for an organized tour program.
It’s important to remember that petrol prices in Scotland, especially in the rural areas, is quite high. So, if you’re renting a car and driving it, keep track of the last major town you cross. Filling up beforehand will save you a great deal of money.
Be Wary of the Road Rules
If you’re driving around Scotland, you might be in for a few surprises. So, make sure you research the road rules before you start driving.
First of all, Scottish cars have their steering wheels on the right-hand-side, but drive on the left-hand-side of the road. Now, this can take some time to get used to, so practice in a safe place first.
There’s going to be a lot of roundabouts that actually work as a substitute for traffic lights and stop signs. They prevent traffic from backing up.
It’s also important to note that some roads, especially on the North Coast 500, are narrow and single-tracked. What this means is that only one vehicle will fit on these roads. There are, however, passing points which come up after every 400 meters to clear the traffic.
6. More Tips on Navigation
Now that you know all the basics, here are a few extra tips that will help you navigate your way around better.
Scotland is a huge country, and Wi-Fi isn’t always available, especially in rural areas. So, if you want internet access, you should buy a local sim with at least 12 GB of data.
Always write down the street address you want to reach and keep it with you. This way even if you’re pronouncing it wrong, locals will be able to help you out.
Call 999 for any emergencies. It will connect you with the Police, Fire and Rescue departments as well as the Ambulance and Coastguard.
You can find medication in pharmacies, which serve as drug stores in Scotland. These are easily identified by the symbol of a white cross on a green background.
Everyone should visit Scotland at least once in their lifetime. The mesmerizing natural scenery, beautiful ancient castles, bustling pubs, and the unique yet delicious local food will make you fall in love with this underrated tourist destination.
Just make sure you do your research before setting out and use common sense like you would in any other country. Hopefully, these tips will give you an idea of what to look out for and you’ll soon be ready for the adventure that awaits!