Scotland Travel Guide
Things to Do and See
SCOTLAND: The Land of the Gaels
The name of Scotland comes from the Latin name for the Gaels – a linguistic group, native to Scotland and other areas of the United Kingdom (UK). Alba, the Scot name for Scotland, comes from the Celtic name, Albion.
The Gaelic language, the country’s stunning terrain, and its 1,200 medieval historic homes and castles all draw travelers to Scotland. In addition, the country’s Scottish clans, tartan designs, Scotch whiskey, and world-recognized golf courses give travelers yet another reason to escape to the Land of the Gaels.
The country plays host to 587 golf courses and is home to approximately 130 whiskey distilleries. Scotland also evokes a sense of magic with its folklore – stories, passed down through time, that tell of mystical creatures, including beasts and serpents.
When you choose to travel in Scotland, you will not be taking a holiday just to pass the time. Scotland provides plenty of entertainment, whether you wish to visit a castle, improve your golf swing, learn more about the country’s history or language, or enjoy a lively evening in one of the country’s pubs.
Located 75 minutes from London and 110 minutes from Paris, Scotland comprises 800 islands besides the main island in the UK. Situated in mid-west Europe, the country occupies the northern third of Great Britain and shares a border with England to the south. From its wild coastlines to its rolling green valleys and towering mountains, Scotland’s terrain is part of its overall appeal.
While you can be assured that the mainland features a jam-packed list of attractions and activities, its 800 small isles, north of the county, provide great getaways too. The Shetland Isles and Orkney Isles possess a magical mix of Celtic, Norse, and Scottish culture and history.
To the west of the mainland, archipelagos, such as the Outer Hebrides, offer a chance to enjoy the sun and surf in the summer while the Inner Hebrides feature scenic excursions, such as the Isle of Skye. It does not matter what area you visit. Scotland always sits close to a body of water.
For example, the North Sea in the East separates Scotland from the rest of Europe while the Atlantic Ocean in the north and west serves as a divider between Scotland and Iceland, the U.S., and Canada. The Irish Sea, to the Southwest, separates the country from Northern Ireland.
Each region of Scotland has a distinctive character and charm. Therefore, regardless of where your travel, Scotland is full of fun experiences, historic discoveries, and surprises.
Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire
Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire represent one of Scotland’s most vibrant regions. The city of Aberdeen features pristine beaches, crumbling fortresses and landmarks, and cultural attractions that define the area’s maritime heritage. The bustling city of Aberdeen, located in the center of the region, is widely recognized as the Oil Capital of Europe. The city’s history as an oil and gas producer have given it widespread acclaim in the business community.
The Argyle and the Isles
Another Scottish destination, the Argyll and the Isles, displays rich coastal seascapes and Highland scenery. Located on Scotland’s west coast, the region charms visitors with its quaint seaside villages and towns, mouth-watering seafood, and rugged terrains.
The area is also is well-known for its world-renowned whiskey distilleries. Explore the drama that gives Skye its awesome beauty or take a ferry to the seaside town of Oban. You might also visit Helensburg, known for its architecture and history. The empty beaches and rolling hillsides of Argyll and The Isles offer nature scenes and discoveries for anyone who likes
Dumfries and Galloway
From babbling brooks to its dense woodlands, Dumfries and Galloway offers the ideal backdrop for adventurers. The area’s stunning scenery has inspired writers, artists, and poets for hundreds of years. Visitors to the region can learn more about the area’s history by traveling to Scotland’s National Book Town of Wigtown, or exploring the Artists’ Town, Kirkcudbright. You can also spot the region’s unique wildlife while exploring the valleys and trails of Galloway Forest Parl, a famous Scottish nature reserve in the region.
Dundee and Angus
You can unveil some of Scotland’s most precious nature scenes in the region of Dundee and Angus. The area provides travelers with pristine shores, world-class golfing, ancient woodlands, and long stretches of rugged hills. The fourth largest city in Scotland, Dundee guards the banks of the River Tay. Further up the coast, in Arbroath, locals serve Arbroath Smokies, a specialty in Angus.
Made from haddock, a mild saltwater fish from the North Atlantic, Arbroath Smokies need no further cooking and can be eaten after hot-smoking. By comparison kippers, another Scottish dish and a tradition of Scottish cuisine, are cold-smoked herring that must be cooked before being eaten. Both kippers and “smokies” are eaten for breakfast, or may be added to soups or chowders. Foodies eat the “smokies” cold, in a pate, or savor them grilled or poached. “Smokies” may also be added to omelets or pastas.
For history buffs, you can escape back in time to Arbroath Abbey. The Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320 at the Scottish historical site. Therefore, the landmark is well-recognized in this region of Scotland.
Edinburgh and the Lothians
Edinburgh and the Lothians serve as the home of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. Wherever your turn in this part of Scotland, you will be greeted by adventure. The area features UNESCO World Heritage sites, upscale shopping, and award-winning dining.
Memorable landscapes, charming towns, and the unforgettable peaks of the Pentland Hills, within the surrounding Lothians, makes this region the ideal place to explore. The Lothians refers, collectively, to 3 lowland counties, situated in the central belt of Scotland.
Other Notable Regions
Other Scottish regions of note include Glasgow; the Kingdom of Fife; the Highlands (which is the home of breathtaking landscapes and Highland Clans); Loch Lomond, the Trossachs, Stirling, and the Forth Valley (known as the Gateway to the Highlands); the Shetland Islands (which lie about 100 miles off the northeast coast of Scotland); Perthshire; and the Scottish Borders.
Each part of Scotland offers visitors something unique – something that makes this UK country as magical and inviting as it is exciting and memorable.
Scotland is the second largest country in the United Kingdom and comprises about 33% of its total land area. It shares its southern border with England with the remainder of Scotland being surrounded by water including the North Sea, Irish Seas and the Atlantic Ocean. The country has 6170 (10,000km) miles of coastline. From north to south (vertical measurement), Scotland is about 280 miles in length and between 25 and 150 miles in width.
The country is comprised of 4 archipelagos (Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland, and Faroe Islands) and well as 796 islands with Lewis and Harris, Shetland, Orkney, and Skye the most populous of the ten largest islands. Many of hundreds of Scotland’s islands are either uninhabited or have a population of less than 200 residents with 125 islands inhabited.
The head of the Scottish Government is the First Minister and the country is represented in the United Kingdom and European Parliament and a member of the British-Irish Council. Scotland has limited self-government and is represented in the House of Lords by Scottish Members of Parliament. The country is divided into 32 limited, self-governing council areas (administrative subdivisions).
Below is our country profile containing facts and information to familiarize you with Scotland.
- Common English Country name: Scotland
- Official Name: Scotland
- Formation: Devolution (1998), Union with England (1707)
- Historical Nicknames: The Kingdom of Scotland, Scoti, Alba (the Scottish Gaelic name)
- Country Motto: “In My Defens God Me Defend” (“In my Defense God Me Defend”)
- Government: Devolved Parliamentary Legislature
- Capital: Edinburgh
- Largest City (Population): Glasgow
- Select Cities: Glasgow (largest), Aberdeen, Dundee, Paisley, East Kilbride
- Points of interest: Edinburgh, the Highlands, Glencoe, Shetland Islands, Isle of Sky
- Nationality: Scottish (preferable) or British
- Religion: Church of Scotland, Roman Catholic
- Population: 5,500,000 (2018)
- Life expectancy: 77 years for males and 81 years for females
- Primary ethnicity: White
- Languages: English. Scottish Gaelic and Scots are officially recognized as regional languages.
- National Anthem: Various national Anthems exist but “Flower of Scotland” is most common
- Area: 78,000 Km² (30,000 mi²)
- National Symbols: Thistle and its blue flag with Saltire (Saint Andrew’s Cross)
- Average temperature: 51°F (11 °C)
- Climate: Cool and Wet. July is the hottest month (11 °C), January is the coldest (4 °C)
- Highest elevation: Ben Nevis, elevation of 1,345 m (4,413 ft)
- Longest River: River Tay, length of 188 km (117 miles) long
- Deepest Lake (Loch): Loch Morar, depth of 309 metres (1,014 ft)
- Largest Lake: Loch Lomond (25 miles/40km in length)
- Location: United Kingdom, in Europe
- Calling code: +44 (same as England)
- Coordinates: GPS- 56° 29′ 26.416″ N 4° 12′ 9.525″ W (Center-point)
- Currency: Pound Sterling (GBP; £)
- Driving side: right
- Time zone: Greenwich Mean Time (UTC); Summer Day Light Savings Time (DST) is UTC + 1
- Internet TLD: .scot (which is commonly known as a Geo top-level domain); otherwise “.uk”
What currency is used in Scotland?
Scotland’s official currency is the Pound Sterling which is common represented by the symbols (GBP; £). If you are visiting Scotland from the United States, then type “USD to GBP” in your browser for the current exchange rate.
Where should I visit when in Scotland?
Scotland is known for its hundreds of iconic castles and is referred to as the “Home of Golf” with its world famous golf courses hosting the Ryder Cup, the British Open, and the PGA European Tour. While in Scotland consider visiting one of its National Parks or nature reserves or partake on a tour of the hundreds of historic churches and museums. For those interested in distillery tours be sure to explore the Scottish Whisky Trail.
When is the best time of year to travel to Scotland?
The temperature usually fluctuates between 3–7 °C (37–44 °F) and 15–17 °C (59–63 °F) but the weather can be very unpredictable. Many travel experts recommend planning your trip either in the springtime (between the months of March and May) or visiting Scotland in the autumn (September through mid-November). Summers are warm although rain showers are quite common but most notably in the North. Snow is common in the Highlands during the winter months. Be sure to bring the appropriate clothing and plan accordingly.
What are some of the “must see” destinations in Scotland?
Scotland has a diverse and fascinating attractions. From off the beaten path tours to exploring the countryside and cites you will find the Scottish countryside dotted with quaint towns, beautiful landscapes and historical treasures. In between its rugged coastline and snow-capped mountains, we recommend that you consider visiting Cairngorms National Part, the Isle of Sky, the and Trossachs National Park.
How expensive is Scotland?
Youth hostels and rooms are plentiful with season prices ranging between USD$20 and USD50 a night. Mid-range hotels in the larger cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow can cost upwards of USD225 to $450 a night. Be sure that your budget accounts for meals, ground transportation, entrance fees, and entertainment which can cost $100 a day per person. Transportation, day tours, and rental car costs will vary based on your travel itinerary.
Do I need a visa to visit Scotland?
Depending on your citizenship and country of origin, a visa and other travel documentation may be required to visit or study in Scotland. At present, no visa is currently required if you are British (or a part of the United Kingdom (UK) or if you are from within the EU. However, with the heightened possibility of the UK leaving the EU (Brexit) travelers from other countries should need to check with UK immigration.
Is Scotland a Country?
There is not a clear-cut answer. Scotland has a limited, self-government but is part of the United Kingdom which retains partial control over some of Scotland’s internal matters such as social security, defense, international relations and limited matters of taxation. The Scottish Government is headed by a First Minster who serves as the political leader of Scotland and is appointed by the Monarch. Scotland’s future status will be determined once the United Kingdom’s withdrawal (“Brexit”) from the European Union Brexit has been concluded.