Good advice for a successful holiday in Scotland

I have just been on my first trip to Scotland (October 2019) with my boyfriend. We first visited Edinburgh for four days, then rented a car and drove up the Scottish Highlands and on to the Isle of Skye, in the north west of Scotland.

A good surprise

Before leaving, I was somewhat unsure of what to expect. It had been a busy period at work and I had not had much time to prepare. Usually I am otherwise the type who loves to prepare for my travels. For me, the joy of anticipation is almost as important as the journey itself. But this time it was different. We had only booked the first night in Edinburgh and rented a car from home. The rest we would find out along the way.

And it ended up being a great trip to Scotland. The country now ranks very high on my list of my best travel experiences. The countryside in Scotland is some of the most beautiful I have seen. And combined with the Scottish hospitality, good pubs and a low language barrier (English with a Scottish accent can be hard to understand though), this is the place I will definitely visit again.

Since you are reading this blog post, you are probably also considering a trip to Scotland. To make your trip a little better, I have gathered here 12 things that are useful to know before you travel to Scotland.

1. Scotland is not England

Flag of Scotland

In Denmark, we often mistakenly refer to the whole of Great Britain as England. But Britain consists of four united countries England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Scotland has its own history, culture, flag and government with extensive autonomy. So avoid calling the Scots English – it will just offend them. The last few years of Brexit have actually widened the gap between England and Scotland. A majority of Scots voted ‘remain’ and they are very unhappy about having to leave the EU.

Scotland became part of Britain in 1707. Before that, there was no such thing as Britain.

Experience both the towns and the Scottish Highlands

Glennfinnan Viaduct, Scotland
Glenfinnan Viaduct from 1901. Also known from the Harry Potter movies.

We started our journey with four days in the Scottish capital Edinburgh. It is a stunningly beautiful city that is definitely worth a visit. But if you want to experience the beautiful nature, then you must get out of the city and head up into the highlands. You don’t have to be far outside of Edinburgh or Glasgow before you stand in the wild. I would think a few days in Edinburgh is enough. If you have several days, rent a car, hop on the train or go on a guided bus tour.

Rent a car and go on a road trip in Scotland

Isle of Skye, Skotland
Scotland is perfect for road trips. But it can take time to get around on the narrow roads.

I will at any time choose to rent a car – rather than a guided tour. It gives a much greater freedom to stop where you want and get a little away from the other tourists.

Many will probably be apprehensive about renting a car and having to drive on the opposite side of the road. But after a few hours on the road, you have got used to it.

However, I would encourage you to get well into the car when you pick it up at the rental company and head out onto the Scottish roads. Make sure the rear and side mirrors are set correctly. Find out where the turn signal is located so you do not confuse it with the wiper.

It is stressful the first few hours to drive in the ‘wrong side’ of the road. So it is also good to have an experienced motorist on the seat next to you who can help you keep an eye on the traffic. Luckily, the Scots drive really nicely and are good at showing consideration.

4. Remember the hiking boots and go out and hike

12 things you need to know before visiting Scotland.  Remember the hiking boots.

Scotland is the perfect country to go hiking in. And here are routes for everyone. You can take several days out in the highlands with a tent on your back. Or you can do as we do and go on day trips. There are routes from 20 minutes to several hours. Some routes are almost completely flat, while others provide good with sweat on the forehead with lots of climbs.

Grab a good guidebook before you leave. We brought guide books from Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, both of which have suggestions for tours. And then we got good advice from the owners of the bed & breakfasts that we stayed at.

We considered leaving our hiking boots at home, because they just take up an insane amount of space in a suitcase. But it was good that we took them with us. Many trails are very bumpy and rocky, so it is good to have the support from the boot. And then there can be a lot of mud and a lot of puddles that need to be passed, where the waterproof boots do great good.

5. Be prepared for unstable weather in Scotland

And now that I mention puddles and mud, you also need to be prepared for a somewhat changeable weather. As in Denmark, the weather in Scotland can be quite unstable. In a very short time it can go from high sun to torrential rain. So remember to bring clothes for all kinds of weather. The three-layer principle is really good to follow when you are out hiking in changeable weather. 

6. Mitter is Scotland’s biggest nuisance

Midges, which is the English name for mitter, can be a huge nuisance in the summer in Scotland. Mites are very small mosquitoes that are gray and therefore they can be very difficult to see. But you are in no doubt when you are attacked. They emerge at dusk in large numbers, where the female mites are on the hunt for blood for their eggs. All skin that is exposed will be affected. Especially the skin around the hairline and on hands and arms.

7. Travel outside the high season

Remember the hiking boots.  12 things you need to know before visiting Scotland.

There are many advantages to traveling outside the high season, which roughly follows the schools’ summer holidays in Denmark.

First of all, you probably do not have to come into close contact with the approaching, blood-sucking mites. But you also get rid of large hordes of other tourists. When we visited Scotland in October, there were relatively few tourists. We could easily book accommodation from one day to the next. We took a ferry to the Isle of Skye without booking in advance. Something that is not possible in high season. And then of course it’s cheaper too. Several of the places where we stayed, we got up to 20% on our overnight stay. So if you have the opportunity, travel outside of the school summer holidays. If you can only travel during the school summer holidays, book as much of your transport and accommodation from home.

From the end of March to May you can experience the beautiful spring in the highlands. And from October to mid-November you will experience the beautiful autumn, where the fall of the trees gives some absolutely fantastic colors in the landscape.

8. Stay at Bed & Breakfast in Scotland

Everywhere in Scotland you will find private homes that run Bed & Breakfast (B&B). Even the smallest spot has at least one B&B.

It is a completely unique experience to stay at a B&B. It’s a bit like coming home to mom and dad. It is a very personal experience where you live under the same roof as the hosts. Often B & B’s are of a very high standard with cozy rooms. 

The highlight is the breakfast, where there is often plenty of food. There can be a buffet, and then it is possible to order eggs, bacon, haggis and much more. And then it’s a great place to meet other travelers and get tips on things to experience in the area.

Our first stay at a B&B was on the island of Skye, where we had an unforgettable stay with the hosts Simone and Jonathan. Their house is beautifully situated in the most amazing landscape. The rooms are large and luxurious and they did everything to make us feel comfortable. It almost felt like we had made some new friends in Scotland.

Isle of Skye, Skotland
Hosts Simone and Jonathan, owners of Carter’s Rest on Isle Skye.

9. Isle of Skye – Scotland’s most beautiful island

Isle of Skye, Skotland

The highlight of the trip for us was the three days visiting the Isle of Skye. It is the largest island in the Hebrides archipelago, located off the west coast of Scotland. Here we experienced an incredibly beautiful and dramatic nature. It is one of the most visited places in Scotland – with good reason.

Highlights of the island include the Old Man of Storr rock formation, The Fairy Pools and the Quiraing mountain range.

It is an island that is definitely easiest to visit by car. From Edinburgh it takes approx. 4½ hours without stopping. However, I would recommend a minimum of one night along the way. A good offer is in the beautiful area of ​​Glencoe.

On the Isle of Skye you drive around on small narrow roads with the wildest views. But keep an eye out for the many sheep that most often also like to use the roads.

Poor mobile coverage in the highlands. Be prepared

In Denmark, we are well expected with good mobile coverage almost everywhere in the country. This is not the case in Scotland at all. Here you will quickly hit areas with no mobile coverage. In return, you will see some classic red British telephone boxes that stand in the most desolate places. I think they are still feature in the areas where mobile coverage is absent.

12 things you need to know before visiting Scotland.  Poor mobile coverage.

Without coverage, I quickly discovered how addicted I have become to my phone. I use Google Maps a lot when I travel. Of course to find your way but Google Maps is also really good for finding accommodations, restaurants and checking opening hours for sights and shops.

11. Tips in Scotland

Scottish banknotes

The Scots have roughly the same ratio to gratuity as us in Denmark. With good service at a restaurant, it is normal to give 10%. Bars and pubs do not tip.

12. Remember converter connectors

Last but not least, remember a converter plug for the large British sockets. In addition to a converter plug, I always bring an extension cord with a socket. Then both camera, mobile phone and computer can be charged at once.