A bit of mild haggling is acceptable at flea markets and antique shops, but everywhere else you're expected to pay the advertised price.
Dangers & Annoyances
If you've never been to the Scottish Highlands and islands before, be prepared for an encounter with the dreaded midge. These tiny, 2mm-long blood-sucking flies appear in huge swarms in summer, and can completely ruin a holiday if you're not prepared to deal with them.
They proliferate from late May to mid-September, but especially mid-June to mid-August – which unfortunately coincides with the main tourist season – and are most common in the western and northern Highlands. Midges are at their worst during the twilight hours, and on still, overcast days – strong winds and bright sunshine tend to discourage them.
The only way to combat them is to cover up, particularly in the evening. Wear long-sleeved, light-coloured clothing (midges are attracted to dark colours) and, most importantly, use a reliable insect repellent.
Ticks are tiny invertebrates (barely 1mm or 2mm across) that feed on the blood of sheep, deer and, occasionally, humans. They lurk amid vegetation and clamber on as you brush past; then they find a spot of bare flesh and tuck in. Their bites are painless and, for the most part, harmless (they will drop off once full). But a small percentage of ticks are known to transmit Lyme disease, a potentially serious infection.
Ticks occur all over Scotland in woodlands, moorlands and long grass, but mainly in the wetter areas of the western Highlands. They are active mainly between March and October. Tips for avoiding ticks include sticking to paths, wearing long trousers tucked into socks, and using insect repellent. Check yourself (and your children and pets) for ticks after hiking, especially around the hairline, in the navel, groin and armpits, and between the toes, behind the ears and behind the knees. Outdoor shops sell plastic tick-removal tools.
More information: https://www.mountaineering.scot/safety-and-skills/health-and-hygiene/ticks.
Membership of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and/or the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) is worth considering, especially if you're going to be in Scotland for a while. Both are organisations dedicated to the preservation of the environment, and both care for hundreds of spectacular sites. You can join at any of their properties.
Historic Environment Scotland This organisation cares for hundreds of sites of historical importance. An annual membership costs £55/101 per adult/family, and gives free entry to HES sites (half-price entry to sites in England and Wales). Also offers a short-term Explorer Pass – three days out of five for £31, or seven days out of 14 for £42. It can be great value, particularly if you visit both Edinburgh and Stirling Castles.
National Trust for Scotland NTS looks after hundreds of sites of historical, architectural or environmental importance. An annual membership, costing £57/102 per adult/family, offers free access to all NTS and National Trust properties (in the rest of the UK). If you're 25 or under, it's a great deal at only £26.
If travelling on a budget, membership of the Scottish Youth Hostels Association is a must.
Discount cards for those over 60 years are available for train travel.
Student & Youth Cards
The most useful card is the International Student Identity Card (www.isic.org), which displays your photo. It gives you discounted entry to many attractions and on many forms of transport.
230V, 50Hz; UK-type plug with three flat pins.
Embassies & Consulates
While some countries have full consular services available in Scotland, other nationalities, including Australians, will have to contact the London embassy/high commission.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|International access code||00|
|Emergencies||112 or 999|
Entry & Exit Formalities
The UK's withdrawal from the EU on 29 March 2019 means that information in this section is liable to change; it's important to check the current regulations before travel.
Travellers arriving in the UK from EU countries don't have to pay tax or duty on goods for personal use, and can bring in as much EU duty-paid alcohol and tobacco as they like. However, if you bring in more than the following, you'll probably be asked some questions:
- 800 cigarettes
- 1kg of tobacco
- 10L of spirits
- 90L of wine
- 110L of beer
Travellers from outside the EU can bring in, duty free:
- 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco
- 16L of beer
- 4L of non-sparkling wine
- 1L of spirits or 2L of fortified wine or sparkling wine
- £390 worth of all other goods, including perfume, gifts and souvenirs
Anything over this limit must be declared to customs officers on arrival. Check www.gov.uk/duty-free-goods for further details, and for information on reclaiming VAT on items purchased in the UK by non-EU residents.
Generally not needed for stays of up to six months. The UK is not a member of the Schengen Area.
- If you're a citizen of the EEA (European Economic Area) nations or Switzerland, you don't need a visa to enter or work in Britain – you can enter using your national identity card.
- Visa regulations are always subject to change, which is especially likely after Britain's exit from the EU on 29 March 2019, so it's essential to check before leaving home.
- Currently, if you're a citizen of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, the US and several other countries, you can stay for up to six months (no visa required) but are not allowed to work.
- Nationals of many countries, including South Africa, will need to obtain a visa: for more info, see www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration.
- The Youth Mobility Scheme, for Australian, Canadian, Japanese, Hong Kong, Monégasque, New Zealand, South Korean and Taiwanese citizens aged 18 to 31, allows working visits of up to two years but must be applied for in advance.
- Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born parent may be eligible for a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode, which entitles them to live and work in the UK.
- Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born grandparent could qualify for a UK Ancestry Employment Certificate, allowing them to work full time for up to five years in the UK.
- British immigration authorities have always been tough; dress neatly and carry proof that you have sufficient funds with which to support yourself. A credit card and/or an onward ticket will help.
Although largely informal in their everyday dealings, the Scots do observe some rules of etiquette.
- Greetings Shake hands with men, women and children when meeting for the first time and when saying goodbye. Scots expect a firm handshake with eye contact.
- Conversation Generally friendly but often reserved, the Scots avoid conversations that might embarrass.
- Language The Scots speak English with an accent that varies in strength – in places such as Glasgow and Aberdeen it can often be indecipherable. Oddly, native Gaelic speakers often have the most easily understood accent when speaking English.
- Table service In general, cafes have table service, but pubs do not. In some pubs, you should order food at the bar (after noting your table number); others will have food waiters to take your order.
- Buying your round at the pub Like the English, Welsh and Irish, Scots generally take it in turns to buy a round of drinks for the whole group, and everyone is expected to take part. The next round should always be bought before the previous round is finished. In pubs, you are expected to pay for drinks when you order them.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Although most Scots are tolerant of homosexuality, couples overtly displaying affection away from acknowledged 'gay' venues or districts may encounter disapproval.
Edinburgh and Glasgow have small but flourishing gay scenes. The website and monthly magazine Scotsgay (www.facebook.com/ScotsGayMag) keeps folk informed about LGBTIQ-scene issues.
Insurance covers you not only for medical expenses, theft or loss but also for cancellation of, or delays in, any of your travel arrangements.
Lots of bank accounts give their holders automatic travel insurance – check if this is the case for you.
Always read the small print carefully. Some policies specifically exclude 'dangerous activities', such as scuba diving, motorcycling, skiing, mountaineering and even trekking.
There's a variety of policies, and your travel agent can give recommendations. Make sure the policy includes healthcare and medication in the countries you may visit on your way to/from Scotland.
You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than forcing you to pay on the spot and claim the money back later. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation. Some policies ask you to call back (reverse charges) to a centre in your home country, where an immediate assessment of your problem will be made.
Not all policies cover ambulances, helicopter rescue or emergency flights home. Most policies exclude cover for pre-existing illnesses.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- If you're travelling with a laptop or smartphone, you'll find a wide range of places offering a wi-fi connection. These range from cafes to B&Bs and public spaces. Nearly all accommodation offers it.
- Wi-fi is often free, but some places (typically, upmarket hotels and SYHA hostels) charge.
- There are good deals on pay-as-you-go mobile data from mobile-network providers.
- If you don't have a laptop or smartphone, the best places to check email and surf the internet are public libraries – nearly all of them have at least a couple of computer terminals, and they are free to use, though there's often a time limit.
- Internet cafes also still exist in the cities and larger towns and are generally good value, charging approximately £2 to £3 per hour.
- The 1707 Act of Union preserved the Scottish legal system as separate from the law in England and Wales.
- Police have the power to detain, for up to 24 hours, anyone suspected of having committed an offence punishable by imprisonment (including drug offences).
- If you need legal assistance, contact the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
- Possession of cannabis is illegal, with a spoken warning for first offenders with small amounts. Fines and prison sentences apply for repeat offences and larger quantities. Possession of harder drugs is much more serious. Police have the right to search anyone they suspect of possessing drugs.
If you're going to do some hill walking, you'll require maps with far greater detail than the free maps supplied by tourist offices. The Ordnance Survey (OS) caters to walkers, with a wide variety of maps at 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 scales. Alternatively, look out for the excellent walkers maps published by Harvey; they're at scales of 1:40,000 and 1:25,000.
- Radio Find out what's hitting the headlines on BBC Radio Scotland (www.bbc.co.uk/radioscotland) by listening to Good Morning Scotland from 6am to 9am weekdays.
- Newspapers Leaf through Edinburgh's Scotsman (www.scotsman.com) or Glasgow's Herald (www.heraldscotland.com), or the independence-supporting National (www.thenational.scot). Have a giggle at rival tabloids the Daily Record and the Scottish Sun, or try the old-fashioned Sunday Post for a nostalgia trip.
- TV Watch BBC1 Scotland, BBC2 Scotland and ITV stations STV or Border. Channels Four and Five are UK-wide channels with unchanged content for Scotland. BBC Alba is a widely available digital channel broadcasting in Scottish Gaelic.
ATMs widely available; credit cards widely accepted, though not in all restaurants or B&Bs.
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, but most are free. If you're not from the UK, your home bank will likely charge you for withdrawing money overseas; it pays to be aware of how much, as it may be much better to withdraw larger amounts less often.
If there's no ATM, it's often possible to get 'cash back' at a hotel or shop in remote areas – ie make a payment by debit card and get some cash back (the cash amount is added to the transaction).
Credit and debit cards can be used almost everywhere except for some B&Bs that only accept cash. Make sure bars or restaurants will accept cards before you order, as some don’t. The most popular cards are Visa and MasterCard; American Express is only accepted by the major chains, and virtually no one will accept Diners or JCB. Chip-and-PIN is the norm for card transactions; only a few places will accept a signature. Contactless card payments (up to £30) are increasingly accepted.
- The British currency is the pound sterling (£), with 100 pence (p) to a pound. 'Quid' is the slang term for pound.
- Three Scottish banks issue their own banknotes, meaning there's quite a variety of different notes in circulation. They are legal currency in England, too, but you'll sometimes run into problems changing them. They are also harder to exchange once you get outside the UK.
- Euros are accepted in Scotland only at some major tourist attractions and a few upmarket hotels – it's always better to use sterling.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Be careful using bureaux de change; they may offer good exchange rates but frequently levy outrageous commissions and fees. The best-value places to change money in the UK tend to be travel agents. A handy tool for finding the best rates is the website http://travelmoney.moneysavingexpert.com/buy-back.
You'll normally find better rates in London than in Scotland, so do your changing there if you're visiting that city first.
Banks, post offices and some of the larger hotels will change cash and travellers cheques.
- Hotels One pound per bag is standard; gratuities for cleaning staff are completely at your discretion.
- Pubs Not expected unless table service is provided, then £1 for a round of drinks.
- Restaurants For decent service 10%; up to 15% at more expensive places. Check to see if service has been added to the bill already (most likely for large groups).
- Taxis Fares are generally rounded up to the nearest pound.
Hours may vary throughout the year; in rural areas many places have shorter hours from around October to April. In the Highlands and islands Sunday opening is restricted.
Banks 9.30am–4pm Monday to Friday, some to 1pm Saturday.
Post offices 9am–6pm Monday to Friday, to 12.30pm Saturday.
Nightclubs 9pm–1am Thursday to Saturday.
Pubs 11am–11pm Monday to Thursday, to 1am Friday and Saturday, 12.30pm–11pm Sunday; lunch noon–2.30pm, dinner 6pm–9pm daily.
Shops 9am–5.30pm Monday to Saturday, often 11am–5pm Sunday.
Restaurants Lunch noon–2.30pm, dinner 6pm–9pm.
The UK Post Office (www.postoffice.co.uk) is a reliable service with a network of dedicated mail centres as well as shops with post-office facilities. Mail sent within the UK can go either 1st or 2nd class. First-class mail is faster (there's normally next-day delivery) and slightly more expensive.
Although bank holidays are general public holidays in the rest of the UK, in Scotland they only apply to banks and some other commercial offices.
Scottish towns normally have four days of public holiday, which they allocate themselves; dates vary from year to year and from town to town. Most places celebrate St Andrew's Day (30 November) as a public holiday.
General public holidays:
New Year 1 and 2 January
Good Friday March or April
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
- Smoking In Scotland you can't smoke in any public place that has a roof and is at least half enclosed. That means pubs, bus shelters, restaurants and hotels – basically, anywhere you might want to.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT) is a sales tax that is charged on most purchases at 20%. It's always included in quoted prices. Non-EU residents can reclaim the VAT for certain purchased goods; see www.gov.uk/duty-free-goods for details.
You'll mainly see two types of phone booth in Scotland: one takes money (and doesn't give change), while the other uses prepaid phonecards and credit cards. Some phones accept both coins and cards. Payphone cards are widely available.
The cheapest way of calling internationally is via the internet, or by buying a discount-call card; you'll see these in newsagents, along with tables of countries and the number of minutes you'll get for your money.
The UK uses the GSM 900/1800 network. Local SIM cards can be used in unlocked phones.
The UK uses the GSM 900/1800 network, which covers the rest of Europe, Australia and New Zealand but isn't compatible with the North American GSM 1900 network. Most modern mobiles can function on both networks, but check before you leave home just in case.
Roaming charges within the EU have been eliminated (though charges may reappear when the UK leaves the EU in 2019). Other international roaming charges can be prohibitively high, and you'll probably find it cheaper to get a UK number. This is easily done by buying a SIM card (around £1) and sticking it into your phone. Your phone may be locked to your home network, however, so you'll have to either get it unlocked or buy a cheap phone to use.
Operators offer a variety of packages that include UK calls, messages and data; a month's worth will typically cost around £20.
Though things are improving, coverage in Highland and island areas can be sketchy; don't rely on mobile data.
Pay-as-you-go phones can be recharged online or by buying vouchers from shops.
Phone Codes & Useful Numbers
- Dialling the UK Dial your country's international access code, then 44 (the UK country code), then the area code (dropping the first 0) followed by the telephone number.
- Dialling out of the UK The international access code is 00; dial this, then add the code of the country you wish to dial.
- Making a reverse-charges (collect) international call Dial 155 for the operator. It's an expensive option, but not for the caller.
- Area codes in Scotland Begin with 01; eg Edinburgh 0131, Wick 01955.
- Directory assistance There are several numbers; 118500 is one.
- Mobile phones Codes usually begin with 07.
- Free calls Numbers starting with 0800 are free; calls to 0845 numbers are charged at local rates.
Scotland is on UTC/GMT +1 hour during summer daylight-saving time (late March to late October) and UTC/GMT +0 the rest of the year.
Time Difference Between Scotland & Major Cities
|Paris, Berlin, Rome||1hr ahead of Scotland|
|New York||5hr behind|
|Sydney||9hr ahead Apr-Sep, 10hr Oct, 11hr Nov-Mar|
|Los Angeles||8hr behind|
|Mumbai||5½hr ahead, 4½hr Mar-Oct|
|Tokyo||9hr ahead, 8hr Mar-Oct|
- Public toilets increasingly uncommon but still found in larger cities.
- Usually free, but some public-private toilets charge a small fee.
The Scottish Tourist Board is known as VisitScotland. You can request regional brochures to be posted out to you, or download them from the website.
Most larger towns have tourist offices ('information centres') that open from 9am or 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and at weekends in summer. In small places, particularly in the Highlands, tourist offices only open from Easter to September.
If you want to email a tourist office, it's [inserttownname]@visitscotland.com.
Travel with Children
Scotland offers a range of child-friendly accommodation and activities suitable for families.
It's worth asking in tourist offices for local family-focused publications. The List magazine (available at newsagents and bookshops) has a section on children's activities and events in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Children are generally well received around Scotland, and every area has some child-friendly attractions and B&Bs. Even dryish local museums usually make an effort with an activity sheet or child-focused information panels.
A lot of pubs are family-friendly and some have great beer gardens where kids can run around and exhaust themselves while you have a quiet pint. However, be aware that many Scottish pubs, even those that serve bar meals, are forbidden by law to admit children under 14. In family-friendly pubs (ie those in possession of a Children's Certificate), accompanied under-14s are admitted between 11am and 8pm. There's no clear indication on which is which: just ask the bartender.
Children under a certain age can often stay free with their parents in hotels, but be prepared for hotels and B&Bs (normally upmarket ones) that won't accept children; call ahead to get the low-down. More hotels and guesthouses these days provide child-friendly facilities, including cots. Many restaurants (especially the larger ones) have highchairs and decent children's menus.
Breastfeeding in public is accepted and breastfeeding is actively encouraged by government campaigns.
The larger car-hire companies can provide safety seats for children, but they're worth booking well ahead.
See also Lonely Planet's Travel with Children.
Travellers with Disabilities
Travellers with disabilities will find a strange mix of accessibility and inaccessibility in Scotland. Most new buildings are accessible to wheelchair users, so modern hotels and tourist attractions are fine. However, most B&Bs and guesthouses are in hard-to-adapt older buildings, which means that travellers with mobility problems may pay more for accommodation. Things are constantly improving, though.
It's a similar story with public transport. Newer buses have steps that lower for easier access, as do trains, but it's wise to check before setting out. Tourist attractions usually reserve parking spaces near the entrance for drivers with disabilities.
Many places such as ticket offices and banks are fitted with hearing loops to assist the hearing-impaired; look for a posted symbol of a large ear.
An increasing number of tourist attractions have audioguides. Some have Braille guides or scented gardens for the visually impaired.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
VisitScotland (www.visitscotland.com/accommodation) Details accessible accommodation; many tourist offices have leaflets with accessibility details for their area. Also produces the guide Accessible Scotland for travellers using wheelchairs. Many regions have organisations that hire out wheelchairs; contact the local tourist office for details. Many nature trails have been adapted for wheelchair use.
Disability Rights UK This is an umbrella organisation for voluntary groups for people with disabilities. Many wheelchair-accessible toilets can be opened only with a special Royal Association of Disability & Rehabilitation (Radar) key, which can be obtained via the website or from tourist offices for £5.40.
Disabled Persons Railcard (www.disabledpersons-railcard.co.uk) Discounted train travel. Costs £20.
Tourism for All Publishes regional information guides for travellers with disabilities and can offer general advice.
Various organisations offer volunteering opportunities in Scotland, with conservation, organic-farming and animal-welfare projects to the fore.
Weights & Measures
- Weights and Measures Scotland uses the metric system for weights and measures, with the exception of road distances (in miles) and beer (in pints). The pint is 568mL, more than the US version.
Solo women travellers are likely to feel safe in Scotland.
The contraceptive pill is available only on prescription; however, the 'morning-after' pill (effective against conception for up to 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse) is available over the counter at chemists.
Whatever your skills, it’s worth registering with a number of temporary employment agencies; there are plenty in the cities.
Low-paid seasonal work is available in the tourist industry, usually in restaurants and pubs.
At the time of research, EU citizens didn’t need a work permit, but this may change as a result of Britain's planned exit from the EU on 29 March 2019.
The Youth Mobility scheme allows working visits for some foreign nationals.