Things to know before you visit Scotland

30th May 2021

Travelling around Scotland is an incredibly fun and easy vacation. We are very hospitable and we love visitors. Any excuse to show off our beautiful country! However, it is always good to get some insider knowledge before you go. So, I have complied a list of hints and tips to make sure your holiday in Scotland runs as smoothly as possible.

Getting your VISA

For visiting Scotland you may need a UK Visa which will also cover you for Northern Ireland, England and Wales. Touring Scotland and Ireland in the same trip is a popular vacation but do remember that the Republic of Ireland is a different country from Northern Ireland, so you would need a separate Visa for that part of Ireland. A standard UK Visa costs £95: https://www.gov.uk/standard-visitor-visa

Not everyone visiting Scotland for a vacation needs a Visa. At the time of writing, EU countries, Commonwealth countries, the US and Canada are all exempt from a tourism VISA if the trip is less than 6 months long. To make absolutely sure what applies to you check it out at: https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa

Feel free to wear a kilt… but we will know you’re a tourist!

We Scots are very proud of our traditional dress. Our kilt is a symbol of years of clan history, family ties and a strong, Celtic mentality. However, that doesn’t mean we wear them all the time. In fact, we only wear them at special occasions such as weddings, Burn’s Suppers and Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve). Sports fans can also be seen wearing their kilts, particularly if they are going abroad to watch the Scottish team play rugby. 

You won’t find us wandering through the hills of Glencoe or visiting the Fairy Pools in Skye in our tartan attire. Travellers are of course more than welcome to wear a kilt whenever they like, but if you wear it at a popular tourist spots you will stand out.

Man in kilt Scotland
Man in Kilt - Sharon Ang

We really do get 4 seasons in one day

From hailstones to sunshine, back to cold and rain, all within a few hours. And that is just in the summer! You need to pack for all weathers and ideally bring lots of layers on day trips so you can pop you rain jacket on when the rain starts and enjoy the sunshine in your t-shirt an hour later.

Be careful not to mix up the Scots and English! 

It is alright to call us British (mostly) and if you refer to us as Irish we will probably laugh… but Scottish people do not appreciate being referred to as English. There is still lingering historic tensions and strong support for independence but… even Scots who do want to remain part of the UK prefer not to be called English. Best to stick to calling us Scottish to avoid giving offence. Our Canadian guests will definitely sympathise!

Things to know before visitng Scotland

Stick to the left

We drive, cycle and usually walk on the left. This is most important to remember when you are driving, but also very important when you are crossing the road. Be extra vigilant, and keep a watchful eye on children you are with. It is easy to look the wrong way out of habit.

Scottish Dialects

Ye ken like? Keep the heid!

What do these phrases mean? Are they speaking English?? Yes we are (for the most part). Like in many countries, different parts of Scotland say words in different ways and sometimes replace English words with different words all together. Accents and dialects can change quite significantly between North and South and East and West. Many international visitors are used to hearing English accents on television and in films so may find us Scots harder to understand than the English. 

loch shieldaig, Vacation Scotland

We are a friendly bunch though, so if you need someone to slow down or explain what they mean just ask - we won’t be offended. But be aware that some Scots take a pride in being incomprehensible to folks from across the water! They may even amp up their accents for dramatic effect in the presence of tourists. Much of our current dialects are derived from Old Scots - a version of English that even modern-day Scots find difficult to translate. See Robert Burns for some great poetic examples.

There are other languages spoken in Scotland. In the highlands and islands many people speak Gaelic and around Aberdeen you may find some speaking Doric. Don’t worry however, there is no need to learn any phrases before you visit Scotland, we can all speak the Queen’s English (even if we pretend we can’t!)

Ask for help

Lost, confused, desperate to find the nearest restroom? Just ask. (Although rest room is not a phrase in common use here - we say toilet). We are a seriously friendly nation and happy to chat away to strangers. Just don’t expect a quick answer, you may get a tale or two, particularly if you speak to someone from our older generations. You will get more than you bargained for… a recommendation for the best local restaurant or a lesser known ‘must see’ beauty spot. We are a proud nation, particularly around how beautiful our country is. So if you tell a local you are loving your tour of Scotland, they’ll be pleased to help you with whatever you need to know.

Please remember that while the centres of Scotland’s cities are relatively safe especially during the day they are no different from cities across the world and you do need to exercise some caution.

Cost of food and drink

Food and drink within Scotland is fairly reasonable although prices are higher in Edinburgh. If you visit Edinburgh in August during the Fringe Festival, many places change their menu and put their prices up so do take this into account.

Outside of Edinburgh you can expect to get a good quality main meal at dinner time for around £10, less at lunchtime. A pint of beer is usually just under £5 and a large glass of house wine is usually a little over £5. 

We tip 10% for food ordered through table service. You could go a little higher if the service is excellent. If you are buying drinks without food, some people tip, some don’t, so it is up to you.

Tour of Scotland, Highlands and Islands

Stand at the bar to order drinks

Now this piece of advice is rapidly changing at the moment with the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditionally in Scotland you would always have to stand at the bar and queue when ordering drinks. Generally the rule was that if you were ordering food you could expect table service for your drinks too, but the rest of the time you go to the bar. However, with many bars now implementing social distancing and restricting movement within their venue, you may find that everywhere you go will be full table service. In some cases you will be asked to order at your table and collect from the bar when your drinks are ready. If you are unsure just ask a member of staff as you arrive, they will be happy to explain the process.

This is something I got very used to and I remember bartenders abroad giving me funny looks when I tried to queue at their bars. However, I much prefer table service; who wants to stand around and jostle for the attention of a busy bartender? Once COVID-19 restrictions ease we may go back to the way it was before, but I am hoping we don’t!

Souvenirs - look out for the real deal

In tourist hotspots such as Edinburgh and Skye you will see many tartan-clad shopfronts displaying kilts, cashmere scarves and other “Scottish” souvenirs You will probably hear them before you see them as they have a habit of blaring out loud bagpipe music. Check labels (especially on clothing) to see if an item is authentic or imported. Traditional kilts are made to measure in specialist shops. They can be expensive so shop around. Keep an eye out for more subtle, traditional looking shops where you will be more likely to find local produce and handmade crafts. You could also ask the shop attendant who made the item, if they say ‘me’ you know you are on to a winner! 

Specialists whisky shops will often allow you to taste whisky before you buy it, but be warned, whisky is strong! Another great place to find decent Scottish souvenirs is in the shops within the museums and castles you visit on your tour.

Whisky Tour, Scottish Vacation

We hope this has been helpful guide ahead of your visit to Scotland.

Scotland misses you, we miss you. We can’t wait to welcome you back.

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