The Highlands & Islands in detail



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

The Highlands and islands of Scotland is one of the lowest-crime regions in the whole of Europe. The main nuisances are to be found in the natural world – biting insects such as midges, and bad weather.


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 bloodsucking 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 on vegetation and clamber on as you brush past, find a spot on 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, navel, groin, armpits, between toes, behind the ears and knees. Outdoor shops sell plastic tick-removal tools.

For more information see

Emergency & Important Numbers

Country code44
International access code00
Ambulance112 or 999
Fire112 or 999
Police112 or 999

Entry & Exit Formalities

Entry to the UK is generally straightforward. However, the UK's withdrawal from the EU on 29 March 2019 means that information on entry and exit requirements is liable to change; it's important to check the current regulations before travel.

Customs Regulations

The UK's withdrawal from the EU on 29 March 2019 renders information in this section 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 the following, 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 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. Not a member of the Schengen Zone.

Further Information

The UK's withdrawal from the EU on 29 March 2019 means it's important to check current visa regulations before travel as they're liable to change.


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.
  • Table service In general, cafes have table service but pubs don't. 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're expected to pay for drinks when you order them.

Gay & Lesbian Travellers

Although many Scots are fairly tolerant of homosexuality, overt displays of affection aren’t wise if conducted away from acknowledged ‘gay’ venues or districts – hostility may be encountered.

Edinburgh and Glasgow have small but flourishing gay scenes. The website and the monthly magazine Scotsgay ( keep gays, lesbians and bisexuals informed about local scenes.

Internet Access

  • If you're travelling with a laptop, you'll find a wide range of places offering a wi-fi connection. These range from cafes to B&Bs and public spaces.
  • Wi-fi is often free, but some places (typically, upmarket hotels) charge.
  • There are increasingly good deals on pay-as-you-go mobile internet 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 which have at least a couple of computer terminals, and they are free to use, though there's often a time limit.
  • Internet cafes also exist in the cities and larger towns and are generally good value, charging approximately £2 to £3 per hour.
  • Many of the larger tourist offices across the country also have internet access.


If you're about to tackle Munros, you'll require maps with far greater detail than the 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 Harveys; they're at scales of 1:40,000 and 1:25,000.


  • Newspapers The Aberdeen-based daily newspaper Press & Journal covers the Highlands and islands, as does the weekly Oban Times. The Daily Record is a popular tabloid, while the Sunday Post offers up rose-tinted nostalgia.
  • Radio BBC Radio Scotland (AM 810kHz, FM 92.4-94.7MHz) provides a Scottish point of view.
  • TV Watch BBC1 Scotland, BBC2 Scotland and STV for Scottish-specific programming. BBC Alba provides Gaelic-language TV.


ATMs widely available. Credit cards widely accepted.

Exchange Rates


For current exchange rates, see


  • Hotels One pound per bag is standard; gratuity for cleaning staff is completely at your discretion.
  • Pubs Not expected unless table service is provided, then £1 for a round of drinks.
  • Restaurants For decent service 10%, and 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 Generally rounded up to the nearest pound.

Opening Hours

Opening hours may vary throughout the year, especially in rural areas where many places have shorter hours, or close completely, from October or November to March or April.

Banks 9.30am–4pm or 5pm Monday to Friday; some open 9.30am–1pm Saturday

Pubs & Bars 11am–11pm Monday to Thursday, 11am–1am Friday and Saturday, 12.30–11pm Sunday

Shops 9am–5.30pm (or 6pm in larger towns) Monday to Saturday, and often 11am–5pm Sunday

Restaurants Lunch: noon–2.30pm; dinner 6–9pm or 10pm


The UK Post Office ( 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 (normally next-day delivery) and slightly more expensive.

Public Holidays

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 & 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 with a roof that's at least half enclosed, which means pubs, bus shelters, restaurants and hotels (basically, anywhere you might want to).


The famous red telephone boxes are a dying breed now, surviving mainly in conservation areas. You’ll mainly see two types of phone booths in Scotland: one takes coins (and doesn’t give change), while the other uses pre-paid phonecards and credit cards. Some phones accept both coins and cards. Payphone cards are widely available.

The cheapest way of calling internationally is to buy a discount phonecard; you’ll see these in newsagents, along with tables of countries and the number of minutes you’ll get for your money.

Mobile Phones

Uses the GSM 900/1800 network. Local SIM cards can be used in European and Australian phones. Patchy coverage in remote areas.

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-charge (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.


UTC/GMT plus one hour during summer daylight saving time; UTC/GMT the rest of the year.


Public toilets are increasingly uncommon, but you'll still find them in larger towns. They are usually free, but there are some private toilets that charge a small fee.

Tourist Information

The Scottish Tourist Board, known as VisitScotland, deals with enquiries made by post, email and telephone. You can request, online and by phone, for regional brochures to be posted to you, or download them from the website.

Most larger towns have tourist offices ('information centres') that open 9am or 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and on 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 [insert name of town]

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.

The National Trust for Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland organise family-friendly activities at their properties throughout the summer.

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.

See also Lonely Planet's Travel with Children.


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 available.

Breastfeeding in public is accepted and is actively encouraged by government campaigns.

The larger car-hire companies can provide safety seats for children, but they're worth booking well ahead.

Travellers with Disabilities

Travellers with disabilities will find Scotland a strange mix of accessibility and inaccessibility. 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 requirements 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.

VisitScotland produces the guide Accessible Scotland for wheelchair-bound travellers; its website ( details accessible accommodation and many tourist offices have leaflets with accessibility details for their area.

Many regions have organisations that hire wheelchairs; contact the local tourist office for details. Many nature trails have been adapted for wheelchair use.

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from

Tourism for All Publishes regional information guides for travellers with disabilities and can offer general advice.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures Use 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.

Women Travellers

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.