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|Introduction to Scotland
Honed by long competition with its English neighbours, buoyant Scotland has survived encroachment, brass-monkey weather and invasion by stand-up comedians. Its people are feisty, opinionated and fiercely loyal. The countryside is a wild, beautiful tumble of raw mountain peaks and deep glassy lakes.
There's a plethora of tartan 'n' bagpipe beaten tracks across this land, but even in well-thumbed tourist hubs like Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Isle of Skye it's easy to veer off into one-of-a-kind adventures, usually involving extroverted locals. The brutal climate adds an edge to the whole experience.
Scotland is a place where you can watch golden eagles soar over the rocky peaks of the Cuillin and play golf on some of the world's most hallowed courses. The landscape heaves a heavy sigh of the past: a moor that was once a battlefield, a beach where Vikings hauled their boats ashore, a cave where Bonnie Prince Charlie once sheltered. Like a fine single malt, Scotland is a connoisseur's delight - it reveals its true depth and complex flavours only to those who savour it slowly.
Full country name: Scotland
Area: 78,772 sq km
Population: 4.99 million
Capital City: Edinburgh
People: Celts, Anglo-Saxons
Language: Gaelic, English
Religion: The two largest religious denominations are the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (47%) and the Roman Catholic Church (16%), with 28% claiming no religious affiliation at all. Non-Christian religions account for only 2% of the population, mostly small communities of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews.
Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II
Head of Government: Prime Minister Tony Blair
GDP: US$99.15 billion
GDP per capita: US$18,000
Annual Growth: 3%
Major Industries: Banking and finance, steel, transport equipment, oil and gas, whisky, tourism
Major Trading Partners: EU & USA
Member of EU: Yes
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Visas: Citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA may stay in Britain for up to six months without a visa; however, working is prohibited. EU citizens don't need a visa and can live and work freely.
Time Zone: GMT/UTC 0 (Greenwich Mean Time (British Summer Time during daylight savings))
Dialling Code: 44
Electricity: 240V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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The highlight of Scotland's calendar is the Edinburgh Festival, held every August. This is one of the world's most important arts festivals, and its Fringe claims to be the largest in the world, with over 500 performers pushing the boundaries every year. The city's Military Tattoo is held in the same month, as is the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Edinburgh Book Festival and Glasgow's World Pipe Band Championships. September's Braemar Gathering is attended by the queen in Braemar, with other games held all over the country. All Scotland hits the streets for Hogmanay, the Scottish celebration of New Year, a riotous party indeeed. For some truly unruly rugby, try the Ba' in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, which has been held on Christmas Day and New Year's Day for centuries. It consists of two teams and some 400 alcohol-fuelled players, who turn the entire town into a giant rugby pitch for the day. The game starts at the cathedral and the harbour is one of the goals. Puritans should steer well clear.
25 Dec - Christmas Day
1 & 2 Jan - New Year's Day
Mar/Apr - Good Friday
Mar/Apr - Easter Monday
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|Best time to Visit
The main tourist period is April to September, and the height of the season is during the school holidays in July and August when accommodation, be it campsites, B&Bs or luxury hotels, is at a premium. Edinburgh in particular becomes impossibly crowded during the festival period in August, so book well ahead.
Statistically, your best chances of fine weather are in May, June and September; July and August are usually warm, but may be wet too. In summer, daylight hours are long; the midsummer sun sets around 11pm in the Shetland Islands and even Edinburgh evenings seem to last forever in June and July. Conversely, in December the sun doesn't show its face for very long at all.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: Pound Sterling
Scotland is expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as England. Backpacker accommodation is much more readily available, so you'll be able to keep sleeping costs down. Edinburgh is more expensive than the countryside, and prices rise steeply in the Highlands and on the islands. Even outside these areas you'll still need at least GBP20.00 a day, and if you stay in B&Bs, eat one sit-down meal a day and don't stint on entry fees, you'll need around GBP40.00 a day.
The pound sterling is valid on both sides of the border, but Scottish banks also issue their own banknotes. These are generally accepted in England, but if problems do arise, most banks will exchange Scottish currency for pound sterling without a hassle.
Cashpoints (ATMs) are very common in Britain: most are linked to major credit cards as well as the Cirrus, Maestro and Plus cash networks, but if a machine swallows your card it can be a nightmare. Most banks insist on chopping it in half and sending it back to your home branch - very helpful.
If you eat in a Scottish restaurant you should leave a tip of at least 10% unless the service was unsatisfactory. Waiting staff are often paid derisory wages on the assumption that the money will be supplemented by tips. Some restaurants include a service charge on the bill, in which case a gratuity is unnecessary. Taxi drivers expect to be tipped about 10%.
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An extraordinary symphony in grey, almost everything in Aberdeen is built of granite - even the roads. When drenched with sun and rain, the silvery stone has a fairy-tale shine; when under a cloud and wrapped in a chill wind it can be a wee bit depressing.
Brimming with civic pride, Aberdeen services one of the world's largest offshore oilfields. Its already large population is mixed with multinational oil workers and a vital student population - a heady mix! An evocative fish market and important maritime museum cluster around the busy harbour.
The Highland resort town of Aviemore is the stepping-off point for the hiking and skiing paradise of the Cairngorm Mountains. Lying on the only arctic plateau in Britain, the area attracts rare animals such as pine marten, wildcat, red squirrel, osprey (particularly around the Boat of Garten) and deer. Fishing for salmon is popular in the pure mountain water of the River Spey and surrounding lochs, while the Rothiemurchus Estate and Glenmore Forest Park preserve acres of pine and spruce, with guided walks and trails and a range of water sports.
Edinburgh is unique among Scotland's cities. Tourism, its proximity to England, and its multicultural population set it apart. There's up-to-the-nanosecond dance clubs in 15th-century buildings and firebreathers outside Georgian mansions: this is a place that knows how to blend ancient and modern.
As dark, dramatic and incorrigibly romantic as a Pre-Raphaelite landscape, Edinburgh castle lords it over the city, letting loose a daily blast of cannon to remind you who's boss. Wind your way along the Royal Mile, losing yourself amongst a riddle of closes, vaults, tunnels and old-town tenements.
Glasgow is the most Scottish of cities, with a unique blend of friendliness, urban chaos, black humour and energy. It boasts excellent art galleries and museums, as well as numerous good-value restaurants, countless pubs and bars and a rollicking arts scene.
Just as Gaudí's creative visions dominate Barcelona, so does the elegance of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Art Nouveau aesthetic pervade Glasgow. But the gracious east is only one side of the city; don't forget to take a stroll through the more rambunctious west end.
The Inner Hebrides, off the western coast of Scotland, are the country's most bewitching islands; they have tourist-baiting tartanish names like 'Mull' and 'Skye'. And lots of smoky, single-malt whisky. And Celtic crosses. And places called 'Finlaggan' and 'Laphroaig'. Och! Tae me hame, Hamish.
Jura lies near the coast of Strathclyde, yet it is magnificently wild and lonely, with desolate walks and heaving mountains. Islay is the most southerly of the Inner Hebridean islands, and is best known for its single-malt whisky. Castle ruins and over 250 species of birds add to its attractions.
This beautiful and unusual town, with its medieval bent and its 'once-was-the-ecclesiastical-centre-of-Scotland' pride, has nailed its tourist flag to the dubious appeal of wearing plaid trousers and playing a game called 'golf'. We doubt it it will ever take off...
A ruined castle sits above the bay, around the ruins of what was once the country's largest cathedral: it was pillaged during the Reformation. In the town centre, medieval closes lead off the cobbled streets, with the city gate, chapels, a medieval cross and museums within easy walking distance.
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