A trip to Scotland is for many a dream. People spend months dreaming of places they want to visit. There are a few things to be aware of when travelling around our beautiful country, they can either be a frustration or part of our quirkiness.
Many of our cities and towns will have a good range of available facilities, off the beaten path places will feel like you have traveled back in time. As an avid traveler and follower of social media, I see the same questions pop up. So, if you are thinking about visiting the northeast of Scotland (and you should, it is beautiful) here are some tips for you. Most will apply to all of Scotland so keep reading!
Tip 1: Currency and Cash
The currency in Scotland is Great British Pound (GBP). In Scotland we have our own versions of the banknotes. Our paper money is no longer paper based, the UK changed to a plastic polymer a few years ago. Often when purchasing GBP currency, you will be given the English notes, that is not a problem. We accept those too.
It is common for people to use debit or credit cards to pay for items. This includes taxis, public transport, shops, restaurants, and visitor attractions. Occasionally there are smaller venues and attractions that are cash only, and sometimes card only. It is wise to have a small amount of cash but do not bring a lot. It is easier to get more from banks or ATMs, than to have too much and go home with UK notes.
Cash comes in handy if you want to leave a tip. Tipping in the UK is never a requirement but is always gratefully accepted. Around 10-15% is appropriate but give what you feel is right.
Tip 2: Shopping
Whether stopping in a grocery store to grab some snacks or looking for gifts to bring back, shopping is likely to be part of your trip. A practical tip is buying a reusable bag early in your visit. It could be a supermarket ‘bags for life,’ a handy fabric fold-up bag or a sturdy canvas number. In a move to reduce the number of plastic bags in use, many venues no longer offer free bags if they have any at all. Having one handy will save a lot of trouble, they also make a great lightweight gift to bring back.
It is popular in larger shops to have self-service check outs. Most are easy to use and are quicker. It can be daunting but there are often staff nearby to help you. Self-service can help with the language barrier, to see things written down, sometimes checkout staff can be difficult to understand. We have so many wonderful accents! On the flip side, speaking with locals is part of the visitor experience and it is nice to have a short chat with someone.
Tip 3: Opening times for shops, restaurants, and attractions
Stores open later and close earlier than you may be used to. Normal store opening times are from 08:30 to 17:30. Grocery stores will open for longer hours. Cafés and restaurants vary too. Going out for breakfast is not common and so if you are planning an early departure, think ahead. I know some of our guests have been caught out by this before.
Meals are consumed earlier than on the Continent or Americas. Lunch is between 12:00 and 14:00 and dinner from 18:00 until 20:00. Some venues will stop serving lunch after 14:00 and will not serve dinner after 21:00. This all depends on where you find yourself in Scotland, larger towns and cities will have more options and longer opening times. Happily, tea and cake are good almost any time of day!
When planning your itinerary make note of the opening times of the places you want to visit. It is usual for opening hours to be between 10:00 – 17:00 with the last entry at 16:00 for example. Add to your schedule extra time for travelling between places. I find using google maps to plan the route helpful and I always add an extra 10 minutes. It does not take much to throw off your schedule.
Tip 4: Clothing & Kit
Yep, in Scotland it really can be four seasons in one day, at any time of year. Always plan and check the weather, be smart about packing for the trip. The key word is layers! Light layers that can be added to or removed. Critical pieces to always have with you include; comfortable shoes, waterproof or water-resistant outer clothing, and a backpack.
Shoes are an important choice, lots of roads have cobbles and uneven pavements making them difficult to walk on. You are going to be walking a lot so make sure you look after yourself by wearing comfortable and supportive footwear. There are few flat areas in Scotland so be prepared for stairs, hills, and slopes everywhere.
Windy conditions are prominent so do not bother with umbrellas. A jacket or poncho with a hood is your best option. We all want to bring things on the day, some snacks & bottled water, sunscreen, and midge spray. The best way to carry a load is with a backpack. The weight is evenly balanced, and you still have hands free for taking those Instagram worthy photos. Compact is best.
Last piece of advice
As final suggestions never leave home without bringing; your patience, a smile and be prepared to take the day as it comes. You are here to experience the journey not just the destination.