Money & costs
The strength of the pound sterling makes Scotland an expensive destination for non-Europeans. Food, accommodation and transport are all fairly pricey, and more so in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen than in the rest of the country; the only real bargains are the many excellent museums and galleries that you can visit for free.
A realistic daily budget for two people sharing a double room, staying in B&Bs and guesthouses and eating in midrange restaurants is around £40 to £50 per person per day. Backpackers using hostels and cooking their own meals can get by on £25 to £30 a day, not including transport.
If you’re travelling in your own car you’ll probably average a further £12 to £20 per day on petrol and parking; car rental will add a minimum of £23 a day.
If you’re travelling as a family, be aware that many hotels and guesthouses have family rooms, usually with a double bed and one or two singles, plus a folding bed, which can save a fair bit of money. Most tourist attractions with admission fees also offer discounted family tickets – a major saving at places such as Edinburgh Castle, which charges £11 for one adult.
Students, young people (under 26) and seniors (over 60) can get discounts on transport, and admission fees.
The price of food and fuel rises quite steeply in remote parts of the Highlands and islands where delivery costs are higher. Petrol can cost 10% to 15% more in the Outer Hebrides than in the Central Lowlands.
Surprisingly, Scotland is one of the most expensive places to buy Scotch whisky. If your travels will be taking you to mainland Europe, you’ll find you can buy whisky there for about 60% of the price charged in Scottish shops.
The British currency is the pound sterling (£), with 100 pence (p) to a pound. ‘Quid’ is the slang term for pound.
Several Scottish banks issue their own banknotes. You shouldn’t have trouble changing them in shops etc immediately south of the Scotland–England border, but elsewhere it may be difficult. All UK banks will accept them, but foreign banks will not.
Euros are accepted in Scotland only at some major tourist attractions and a few upmarket hotels – it’s always better to have sterling cash.
Automatic teller machines (ATMs – called cashpoints in Scotland) are widespread and you’ll usually find at least one in small towns and villages. You can use Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Cirrus, Plus and Maestro to withdraw cash from ATMs belonging to most banks and building societies in Scotland.
Cash withdrawals from some ATMs may be subject to a small charge (about £1.50), but most are free.
Nothing beats cash for convenience – or risk. It’s still a good idea, though, to travel with some local currency in cash, if only to tide you over until you get to an exchange facility. There’s no problem if you arrive at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Glasgow Prestwick or Aberdeen airports; all have good-value exchange counters open for incoming flights.
Visa, MasterCard, Amex and Diners Club cards are widely recognised, although some places will charge for accepting them (generally for small transactions). Charge cards such as Amex and Diners Club may not be accepted in smaller establishments. Credit and credit/debit cards like Visa and MasterCard are more widely accepted. Combine plastic and travellers cheques so you have something to fall back on if an ATM swallows your card or the local banks don’t accept it.
Money sent by telegraphic transfer (usually at a cost of about £15) should reach you within a week; by mail, allow at least two weeks. When it arrives, it’ll most likely be converted into local currency. You can also transfer money by either Moneygram or Thomas Cook. US travellers can also use Western Union (0800 833833; www.westernunion.com).
Be careful using bureaus de change; they may offer good exchange rates but frequently levy outrageous commissions and fees. The bureaus de change at international airports are exceptions to the rule. They charge less than most high-street banks, and cash sterling travellers cheques for free.
US dollars are probably the best currency to carry (especially if you intend further travel outside Europe), although the euro is an attractive alternative.
Amex or Thomas Cook cheques are widely accepted and have efficient replacement policies. Bring pounds sterling to avoid changing currencies twice. In Scotland, travellers cheques are usually only accepted by banks.
Take most cheques in large denominations, say £100; commission is usually charged per cheque.