The scenery alone is spellbinding. You can hike hills and mountains or stare at the sea. Somehow cloudy, rainy days make the country more beauutiful anyplace you go. This is a country that will allow you to spend days and weeks mesmerized by its beauty. And if that doesn’t help you discover yourself, then the whisky and the Highland Cows definitely will!
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Where I’ve Been
Currency = Euro.
The wonderful scenes of Scotland…
Excellent. Get yourself up to the Highlands and spend weeks hiking and admiring the rolling hills and the lochs that go on forever. It’s lovely to be in a country where you can just walk outside to find nature, instead of having to go to a local park. The hiking is spectacular, and you really will need to sit down for some of the views. Maybe it’s the whisky, maybe it’s the sea air, maybe it’s the hills, but you’ll have some fascinating conversations with people you meet. There’s a lot of fun senses of humor and irony and accents that you sometimes cannot understand no matter how hard you try! (And it makes them laugh when you tell them what you think you heard them say.) Being out in wide open spaces that seem to roll out to heaven will deeply inspire your soul. And if that’s not enough, even if you aren’t particularly fond or not fond of cows, the Highland breed will capture your heart. And you can ponder how they see with the tuft of hair in front of their eyes!
Excellent. Scotland is very safe. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend late nights in pubs and clubs. Mostly because the people that get drunk get really drunk, and you simply don’t want to end up in a fight or anything else. Apart from that, traveling solo was easy, eating alone was never an issue. (I even got invited to dine with 3 gentlemen just for saying I admired their style drinking a bottle of wine at that time of the afternoon.) People were helpful and very nice and would talk your ear off with information if you let them. 🙂
Authentic. Scotland is as she is. Big cities, of course, are touristy, but there are so many places that offer you an escape from the crowds and even the possibility to be virtually alone. When you find the less touristy places you’ll be delighted. Isle of Skye was quite touristy, for example, but at the same time it was easy to find solace on a walk by the water, or a walk in the hills where I thought I was alone until a lone sheep would appear and look at me as if I were the interesting thing to see for the day. Tourist sites are what they are, so if you want a real authentic / find yourself experience the best places to go are more in the middle of nowhere, hours away from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Anything goes. If you can handle driving on the left side of the road, you might want to rent a car. I found the best modes of transportation were the train to go long distances, and local buses to go from one town to a neighboring town. Scotrail is easy to use, except once in a while when it tells you that you can’t pick up your ticket at the train station nearest to you. For popular routes, it’s a good idea to book a seat well in advance. I took a 5-hour ride from Edinburgh up north and it was standing room only for those that missed out on the reservations. Other rides I was told Scotrail doesn’t have reservations! There’s an app for Scotrail that’s pretty handy. For city buses I often used Stagecoach, which also has an app and often times, especially in Kingussie and the Islands, I bought a day ticket so I could hop on and off buses and even use them as my method of seeing a place if time were short.
Be a little creative. I was in Scotland during peak tourist season and booking last minute, not always so easy, and, at times, places I wanted to visit were just so expensive I couldn’t go. Instead, I used the Scotrail website to see what cities were closest to the one I wanted to visit, and then checked acommodation in those towns. That saved me tons of money! Food is pretty hearty so you can probably be ok with just one course instead of two, if you’re used to eating a lot. Fish-n-chips will always be one of your least expensive options, and when they are good, they are great! Taking buses is a lot cheaper than taxis which you should avoid if you’re trying to stick to a budget. You can drink the tap water, so no need for bottled water.
Flirt. Scotland isn’t a place where you can bargain, so chatting up the barman or waiter, on occasion, will get you a free drink. However, surprisingly if you do get a glass of anything, they measure everything to the exact line, as required by law. No point being a regular if you were hoping for that extra great pour.
Great. I don’t think I encountered even one dirty, smelly toilet my entire time in Scotland. Bathrooms are mostly tidy, plenty of toilet paper, soap and a dryer for your hands.
Insects, Rodents and Reptiles
Minimum. The only animals I saw were the ones I wanted – cows and horses and sheep. There were no mosquitos to speak of.
Passport, Visa and Entry/Exit Rules
Straightforward. It’s always a good idea to check the US government website (or your country’s local government if not the US) for in-depth information as well as the embassy website of each country. You don’t need a visa to enter the UK, but you can’t stay longer than 90 days within a 180 day period. That means if you wanted to explore Europe for a while, make a list of Schengen and non-Schengen countries. You can stay 90 days within 180 in Schengen countries and then another 90 within 180 in a non-Schengen country. Scotland/United Kingdom is not a Schengen country.
Health, Water, etc.
Excellent. You can drink the tap water safely, food is safe, and you don’t need any major vaccinations. But only you know your whisky limit, so drink responsibly!
Four Seasons. Scotland has typical four seasons every year. However they may vary from what you’re used to. In summer, for exaple, if you go hiking in the Cairngorms on a rainy/misty day, weather can be in the 50s/60s Fahrenheit. In fact even during the day in summer, weather can be fairly cool. Winter temperatures drop to the 30s.
Essentials to Pack
Even summer is not too hot so make sure you remember some long-sleeved shirts and a sweater and a rain jacket. I had to buy a wool hat while there because it got so cold further north in the mountains.
How to Make Friends
It was very easy to talk to people in some cafes and pubs. The hotel lobby/dining area was another great resource for meeting people. Hotel staff are also very friendly and can probably direct you to good places to meet other people.
What to Do and See
The Highlands are not to be missed. If you can get up close to a Highland Cow it’s a lovely experience. You’ll have to try at least one whisky distillery! And if you’re not a whisky fan, you may still love the whisky cream liqueur. I highly recommend getting out to some of the isles and staying on them if you can find a place. Take some of the ferries, and eat amazing seafood. In fact, Scottish salmon is the best I’ve ever tasted.
Where to Stay
Here are a few of the places I liked:
First, a great resource for finding hotels, especially on the isles, is Visit Scotland. They have tons of accommodations listed and, lesson learned, even if a place seems completely sold out, call some of them because someone is likely to find you a room somewhere. Did you also know that in Scotland you can camp ANYwhere? Literally any patch of land you see you can camp there. Another one, especially if you plan to see the Isles is Road to the Isles.
The Albion Hotel – located in Glasgow, the staff could not possibly be more helpful or friendly. The rooms are small, but safe, quiet and a lovely area that’s outside the center of the city and easily accessible by subway.
Pitlochry Backpackers – Great find! They had a nice single room and though the windows faced the street, it was relatively quiet. The staff were nice and if you eat any meals in the dining room you’re guaranteed to meet interesting people from around the world. Just 3 blocks walk to/from the rail station.
The Sonnhalde – in Kingussie. One of the best places I stayed! Cheaper to book direct than through an app. LOVELY owners, though they may be retiring soon. They cook an incredible breakfast every morning, the rooms are just LOVELY I don’t know what else to say, loved them. Great lounge room to enjoy a cup of tea with a view.
Askival – in Mallaig. A lovely Bed and breakfast. Further out from the center, but easy to walk to in about 10 minutes. Lovely owners, and a great breakfast!
The Townhouse Aberfeldy – one of the best places I stayed! When my brother came for a visit we enjoyed the hotel, dining there, and exploring the areas nearby.