The pound sterling, also known as British pound or simply the pound, is the main currency of Scotland. The pound is made up of 100 pence, in a similar way to dollars and cents. Most major credit cards are accepted throughout Scotland, however, it is recommended to have some cash on hand, especially when visiting smaller regional towns.
English is the official language of Scotland, however there are linguistic differences and unique phrases to Scotland. There are many regional accents, some of which are easy for North Americans to understand, while others can be somewhat challenging, at least at first.
Best Time To Go
The best time to travel to Scotland is generally between April and late September, depending on what you’re looking to see. The spring is a slightly dryer time of year and boasts some wonderful countryside gardens, however the summer is packed with activities and festivals. Autumn is wonderful for seeing the fall colours in the Highlands, though it tends to be the wettest time of year. For those looking to explore the roads less traveled, a visit in the winter months is often accompanied by utter solitude
Scotland has a cool and generally rainy oceanic climate, so the spring and summer bring the most sunshine and milder temperatures. In spring, between March and May, average temperatures range between 7 to 13C / 45 to 55F and bring out plenty of beautiful flowers. The warmest summer months are June, July and August with average highs around 16C / 61F. The far north of Scotlad gets about four extra hours of daylight than England during summer due to its location. In the fall months of September and October, it can be rainier but the fall colours really shine.
The ideal traveler to Scotland is someone seeking beautiful natural scenery and historic sites galore. The country’s main cities have modern areas and amenities, but those looking for more of a rustic or countryside atmosphere with a mixture of luxury and old-world charm will find plenty to love in Scotland. Hikers, photographers, nature and mythology enthusiasts will have lots to see and do. Oh, and for connoisseurs of Scotch, well, there is no other place.
Getting There From North America
The biggest airport in Scotland is Edinburgh International Airport, serving over 12 million travellers in a typical year. It’s followed by Glasgow Airport and Aberdeen Airport. Inverness is the air gateway to the Highlands, the Isle of Skye and the other Hebrides islands.
Recommended flight route from the United States
To get to Edinburgh from the United States, major airports like New York JFK, Philadelphia and Chicago offer direct flights seasonally. Atlanta, Chicago, Boston and Washington offer many options connecting through Dublin or New York.
Recommended flight route from Canada
Edinburgh is a great destination from major Canadian airports like Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. Flights offering excellent value for money operate with connections in London, Dublin, or Frankfurt.
Essential Sights of Scotland
Scotland’s capital city since the 15th century, Edinburgh is full of modern amenities, historical sites and hotels and local Scottish character. If a visitor only has a short time to spend in Scotland, Edinburgh is an ideal place to stay - not only to explore the city but as a hub to see other iconic Scottish areas by day tour. From the impressive Gothic and Georgian architecture of Royal Mile, to the charming and lively pubs of Old Town, to the sophisticated nightclubs and bars of George Street, there are days worth of sightseeing to be done in Edinburgh.
The Highlands of Scotland are a rugged, richly green landscape filled with lochs (lakes), jagged hills, and a magnitude of clan history that stretches from Loch Lomond National Park in the south to Orkney Islands in the north. The Great Glen is a glacial valley, filled with deep lakes and scenic trails that are popular for walking. The low-lying green vegetation of Glencoe parts for eye-catching peaks, which rise as far as the eye can see. Scotland’s highest mountain, called Ben Nevis awaits in the Highlands.
Considered to be the capital of the highlands, Inverness has a long and rich history that spans thousands of years. Inverness Castle stands at the center of this historical city, perched on Castle Hill overlooking the River Ness and the bridge that spans it, which were instrumental in setting up this town as a strategic port iThere are so many beautiful landscapes across Scotland that it can be difficult to pick where to begin and what to see on a walking or hiking adventure. The two Scottish national parks were made in the Middle Ages. A bit outside of town, you can see the sad sight of Culloden Battlefield, the site of a bloody battle between the Jacobites and British government forces. Here you can see ‘tombstones,’ stone monuments of the approximately 1,500 clansmen who fought and died on the battlefield.
Most people know Loch Ness for its namesake monster, and a boat ride on the loch is sure to awaken a sense of mystery even in the deepest of skeptics. Beyond the allure of mythical creatures, Loch Ness is one of the largest and deepest freshwater lakes in the Great Glen Valley. At Drumnadrochit, guests can check out the visitor’s centre to learn more about the loch and the surrounding area, as well as about the origins of the ‘Nessie’ legend. The ruins of Urquhart Castle sit on the west bank of the loch, and date back to the 14th century where it played an instrumental role in the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Other Highlights of Scotland Off the Beaten Path
Scottish National Parks
Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park boasts seven beautiful waterfalls and feature four scenic route lookouts to guide beginners to the best viewpoints. Meanwhile Cairngorms National Park, further to the north, is over twice the size and is full of traditional park features like incredible hiking trails to spot wildlife and to see the stunning natural landscapes, but also has some unique features like a sled dog centre and permanent bridge bungee jumping location.
Isle of Skye
The largest of the Inner Hebrides group of islands, the Isle of Skye dazzles visitors with its unique craggy Cuillin Mountains, rugged coastlines, Scottish clan history and ruins. Colourful seaside towns like Portree and stunning clear mountain lakes like the Fairy Pools make this a wonderland for photographers, artists and hikers. Night photography is wonderful here as the clean air and lack of light pollution allow the stars to show clearly. On the way to or from the Isle of Skye, connected to mainland Scotland by bridge, visit Eileen Donan Castle, arguably the most picturesque castle in the country.
The Kelpies and Glasgow Area
Glasgow is only about one hour from Edinburgh by train or car, however many of the best sights to see in the area are most easily accessible by day tour from Edinburgh. The Kelpies Monument is of two gigantic 30 meter (almost 100 feet) tall sculptures made of steel, depicting horse-like Scottish water sprites known as kelpies that inhabit pools and lochs of the country. Stirling Castle, less than an hour from Glasgow, looms like a villain’s castle from a children’s book over the town of Stirling on an outcropping of rock known as Castle Hill. It is one of the most important Scottish castles and ties together the Highlands and Lowlands regions of the country.
Top Activities and Experiences in Scotland
Ride the Hogwarts Express
The Jacobite Train is a shiny steam locomotive that is the real-world version of the Hogwarts Express from the famous Harry Potter movie series, with a jet-black engine pulling recognizable dark red cars. The train journey takes guests from Fort William in the central Highlands to the town of Mallaig on the coast, and operates the round trip route twice per day. The train passes over one of the most well-known sites in Scotland: the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This 21-arch viaduct is famous for the scene where Harry and Ron try to catch up with the Hogwarts Express in their flying car. The real-world spot provides wonderful views of the surrounding area.
Scotland is well-known for some of the world’s best single-malt whisky. There is no destination better for experiencing the finesse and expertise involved in creating delectable whisky and scotch. Remember, by definition, scotch can only come from Scotland! There are over 120 whisky distilleries in the country, spread across 5 regions, often in remote locations due to a desire to avoid tax collectors in the 18th century. The clean, fresh water used for malting and frequent rainfall means that Scottish whisky is complex and intriguing. Whisky lovers will want to have as many drams while visiting as possible, and take as much as they can home.
Golf at St. Andrews
Anyone with even a passing interest in golf will know that St. Andrews, Scotland is the birthplace of golf and an iconic destination for golfers. The game has had a long and storied history, being banned at one point in Scotland’s history and only allowing male players at another. The Old Course at St. Andrews is the oldest golf course in the world, first played in the early 15th century and still open to the public today. The British Open is often played on courses in St. Andrews and surrounding areas, under the watchful ruins of St Andrews Castle on the eastern coast.
Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Every August, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo brings together three British military bands and thousands of performers on the grounds of Edinburgh Castle. This musical and colourful display shows off Scottish and British cultural icons like Highland and Northern Irish dance, grand-scale bagpipe and band performance, and the symmetry of military formations. A prestigious and haunting Lone Piper stands upon the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle and performs a flawless bagpipe solo at one point in the evening, and various packages are available to visitors wishing to experience the Tattoo.
Harry Potter’s Scotland
Scotland is where JK Rowling lived and worked while creating the book series, so it’s no surprise that beyond the famous train, there are ties here to the books and movies. In Edinburgh, you’ll find the Elephant Cafe in Edinburgh, where JK Rowling wrote a good portion of the books, the Dog House pub which serves butterbeer, and walking down Victoria Street and Grassmarket street may feel a lot like walking in a real-world version of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Alnwick Castle in northern England is easily accessible to Edinburgh and is where they filmed most of the outdoor Hogwarts scenes, such as flying lessons with Madame Hooch.
Essential Scottish Foods to Try
Scotland is known for the mysterious dish called haggis, which is a testament to the Scottish people’s hardy resourcefulness and not letting anything go to waste. Sheep’s liver, heart and lungs are finely chopped, mixed with a combination of herbs and spices and oatmeal, and then encased in sheep’s intestines before being baked or boiled. Often haggis is served alongside ‘neeps and tatties’, a dish of chunky boiled and roasted turnips or rutabaga (neeps) and potatoes (tatties).
Traditional Scottish shortbread biscuits (cookies to North Americans) are made of three simple ingredients: butter, flour and sugar, creating a substance that melts in your mouth when prepared properly. At one time a luxury for royals like Mary Queen of Scots, it typically comes in three shapes: triangular ‘petticoat tails’, round biscuits or rectangular ‘fingers’. In centuries past and often to this day, shortbread is a New Years tradition and is offered to the first people to enter your home in the new year (“first footers”) as a sign of good fortune for the year to come.
A common component of a typical Scottish breakfast, square sausage (or Lorne sausage) is made from ground meat and spices packed into a square shape before cooking in a hot pan. It is an uncased sausage which makes it unique, and is typically served on its own or in a breakfast sandwich (convenient due to its shape) and enjoyed alongside toast, baked beans, eggs and black pudding.
Most Popular Itineraries for Scotland
For an immersive, time-sensitive stay in Scotland, the Edinburgh Signature is an excellent choice. If you wish to spend a bit of time outside the capital, consider the tailor-made Edinburgh and the Countryside which includes an overnight stay in Inverness. If your goal is to truly explore the Highlands, the Isle of Skye and the West Highlands program is the perfect introduction to Scotland’s far north.
Tips for Sustainable Travel
Public transportation in Edinburgh and Glasgow offers a convenient and eco-friendly way to get around both large cities. The Scottish Tourism board is committed to reducing overcrowding in popular tourism sites as there are so many iconic and off-the-beaten-path things to see and do in Scotland. Businesses are also encouraged to achieve Green Tourism Certification by reducing waste, maintaining biodiversity, and involvement in the local community. As with any destination, leave Scotland as beautiful as you found it by reducing the use of single-use plastics where possible and leaving only footprints behind.
Where to Go Next
Once you’ve discovered Edinburgh, the Highlands and other areas of Scotland, the next logical step is to visit other areas of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. England is just a short jaunt south of Edinburgh via a beautiful train journey, and much royal history is shared between the two countries. A quick flight will take you to Belfast, Northern Ireland or to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.
4 Aug 2020, 7:08 p.m.