Scotland Travel Tips
Scotland is a complicated little place. Legendary for all sorts of reasons, we have plenty to offer any visitor but no shortage of potential traps for the unsuspecting newcomer. Covering the basics of what any visitor needs to know here are my Scotland travel tips to make sure you come out alive. And smiling preferably, you’re on holiday after all.
What to eat in Scotland?
Nothing like crushing a stereotype but we don’t all eat haggis every day, more’s the pity. You will be able to find it fairly easily and it can come in basic ‘Roll n Haggis’ form or can be glammed up Michelin Star style into a rare and delicate feast. Black pudding is much the same and is a regular on Scottish breakfast menus – seek out the stuff from Stornoway if you can.
Scotland has some of the finest fish and seafood you’ll find anywhere in the world and it’s worth paying extra for the likes of the Three Chimneys on Skye, Café Fish on Mull or Crabshakk in Glasgow to name but three who really know what they are doing. That being said, if you can find a good quality fish supper with a cup of tea (for some reason the only time tea is acceptable with your dinner) you’ll be well chuffed with yourself. We also excel in game, beef and lamb. To leave without trying an authentic curry experience, such as at my beloved Mother India, would also be a real shame.
Scotland doesn’t really understand vegetables. Sad but true. Boiled to death or deep fried seems to be the way to go so if you’re a big veggie my advice is to seek out the better restaurants or go for self-catering options.
What Should You Drink in Scotland?
Whisky and Irn Bru if you want to really embrace the local beverage culture. Whisky is a hugely complex state of affairs but usually you’ll want to get your taste buds around a fine single malt (neat or with a little water). Choosing your brand and region is a matter for personal preference but Islay and Speyside varieties are forever loved or loathed and that is a good place to start while trying to establish what kind of whisky buff you are imminently about to become. Some of the most common whiskies that you’ll find in almost any good bar include Glenfiddich, Highland Park, Glenmorangie and Talisker. As far as I’m aware there’s no such thing as a bad whisky, just variations of divine. So get experimenting!
Irn Bru is that radioactive orange stuff that we’re fairly sure must be almost poisonous in large quantities. Sometimes though, nothing else will do. It’s as ubiquitous as Coca Cola over here and you shouldn’t depart without giving it a go.
A word about gin. Undergoing a popularity surge at the moment, Scotland punches above its weight in this department. We do that quite a lot with booze actually. Look out for the new Isle of Harris Gin, The Botanist, Shetland Reel and, of course, Hendricks. Ah Hendricks, you little devil. Hendricks is a long-term favourite of mine – throw a bit of cucumber in there on a sunny day and be glad you’re alive.
As far as pints go, Tennents is forever plentiful on draughts around the country but look out for the likes of Innes & Gunn and anything from Glasgow’s West Brewery. I’m also spending altogether far too much time at Brewdog these days, achieving very little but enjoying it very much. Punk IPA is the staple from this company founded in Fraserburgh and it’s always a winner.
When is the best time to travel to Scotland?
General rule is that Scotland is at its best in spring/early summer and late summer/autumn. So May and September have traditionally been the wise choices and are my Scotland travel tips for seeing Scotland at its best. There’s increasingly a case for expanding that to April and October as the world’s weather systems have gone berserk in recent years. The autumnal colours of the Highland landscapes are, for me, even better than the luscious greens of the summer. In addition to better weather, you will avoid most of the crowds in spring and autumn and have much better options when it comes to accommodation. Try finding somewhere to stay on Skye or Orkney in July and August and you’ll see what I mean!
What’s the best way to travel within Scotland?
Getting around the Central Belt and the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Perth etc. can be done easily on public transport and there are plentiful bus and train options for travellers. In fact it is probably considerably easier to take this approach than use a car for these parts.
The Highlands and Islands and Southern Scotland are easier with a car, no question. Although things are always improving (such as through the new Borders Railway route) there is definitely much greater flexibility having your own wheels. Roads in the north are often single track but for the most part are in decent condition. Take note: Just because Google Maps says it’s a 60mph road and will take 40 minutes, does not necessarily mean anything of the sort up north. Accidents, wandering or even kamikaze cattle, hairy bends, tractors et al can slow you down significantly.
The Highlands and Islands are also supremely popular with cyclists and long-distance walkers and campers. Hard to argue with that.
How much is a trip to Scotland and how to save money?
Scotland’s certainly not a cheap place. B&B prices can generally come in around the £70 a night mark for a room and restaurant bills can cause the odd double take. For accommodation, budget friendly options include the Scottish Youth Hostel Association and their abundance of hostels dotted all over the country. I work with them periodically so full disclaimer here but the standard has never disappointed me and their locations and level of service tend to be wonderful. Self-catering is also generally an option with them, which can save big money on food. Alcohol is heavily taxed so is more expensive than most countries, with wine in restaurants enjoying a huge mark-up.
Car hire is not prohibitively expensive, although fuel is pricier than many visitors will be used to. Public transport can be exorbitant if travelling at peak times so avoid rush hour and buy return tickets and save yourself a small fortune on trains.
How to prepare for the Scottish weather
Four seasons in one hour and all of that. Yes, Scotland is a bit of a weather nightmare and you just never know what you’re going to get. Periods of consistently settled weather are almost unheard of and rain is never far away, so always anticipate it. Scotland travel tips for the weather? Dress in layers, have waterproofs ready, expect to be cold at least periodically and check with the MET Office for (usually) reliable forecasts. As you can see from the less-than-happy Ben Lomond hiker below, even the most glorious of Munros isn’t the best of times when the heavens open. Having said that, here’s various options for great hikes in Scotland…rain or no.
Of course, every now and then, we are struck dumb by a burst of sunny weather. The country glows, the lochs and mountains look superb and the locals take to the streets proclaiming “Tapps Aff!!” like some sort of hysterical war-cry. Not quite the rallying call that Robert the Bruce and William Wallace had in mind back in the day, but we’ve got to move with the times and it’s the little things like 20 degree weather that gives us joy these days.
Photographers, including myself as a Scotland travel blogger, will always grumble about the grey skies and lack of radiant light to help capture that perfect spot. Much of this is always going to be outwith our control but Scotland excels at black and white photography for a reason, hint hint. There are plenty of excellent local Scottish photography providers that can help visitors get the best from their camera.
Extra Scotland travel tips
Midges. Microscopic menaces with vampire tendencies, these wee buggers can ruin your trip if you’re not careful. Prevalent in the north west in particular they irritate, frustrate, madden and depress in equal measure if you’re victim to a bad batch. Don’t be a hero – buy repellent and some sort of net if camping – and live to tell the tale.
Connectivity. The Highlands and Islands do not benefit from reliable and fast internet and phone signals, which is exactly what many visitors want. For those that do like to stay connected, stock up in the built up areas where possible and seek out accommodation with wifi, again where possible.
What have I missed? Do you have any more Scotland travel tips for visitors? If looking for some more inspiration check out my Scotland photo blog – my latest visual journey of Scotland’s best bits!