Posted by: StonehengeNews | February 25, 2012

Visit Scotland. Backpacker Advice and Budget Adventure Tours

*    Scotland

  • Intro: Scotland’s a country with a reputation of punching above its weight. Full of friendly folk and superb countryside / scenery. Public transport is generally good, allowing you to get to almost any area using train, bus, plane (hardly required for internal transport) and post bus in remote areas (where you share a lift with the postal delivery). There has been a recent revival in the traditional patriotic nature of the Scots with the introduction of a Scottish Parliament with devolved powers.
  • Highlights: Fast train connections between Edinburgh and Glasgow, a mere 35 miles away, make it essential to visit both as they are both very different cities. Edinburgh’s is more like a large town than a capital city and generally considered to be the most cosmopolitan city. Its annual festival month of August plays host to several arts festivals with shows starting every couple of minutes in venues ranging from public toilets to the back of cars to large theatres, culminating in a fantastic fireworks display over the castle.

    Glasgow on the west coast is more of a sprawling industrial city with a very distinct character, yet a very fashionable city, and provides easy access to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland providing some of Europe’s last remaining true wildernesses. Despite often experiencing four weather seasons in a day, Scotland has a great love of the outdoors and almost everything is possible from mountaineering to mountain biking to Caribbean style white sandy beaches to clay pigeon shooting.

As in Ireland, the tradition of a booze loving nation is apparent by their liberal drinking laws compared to some other parts of the UK. The country has the rolling hills of the central lowlands and Borders to rugged mountainous terrain further north.

  • ScotlandLowlights: Don’t expect everyone to be walking around in kilts, eating deep fried Mars bars, shooting drugs as in the film ‘Trainspotting’, or bouncing around the streets after being intoxicated by Whisky. Ginger hair and bushy beards are not as common as you are led to believe!
  • Visa strategy: Despite what some Scots will tell you, Scotland is part of the UK and does not require separate visas for entry. The only placed you can get a Scottish passport is the souvenir shop. Being part of the EU, visa requirements will be similar to other EU countries. Check with your local embassy.
  • Typical tourist trail: Typical tourist trails will involve a visit to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Skye and Mull with the more adventurous heading to Aberdeen and outlying islands known as the Outer Hebrides, or further up the west coast. A brief introduction to each area is providing by joining the minibus tours such as the Haggis toursMackBackpackers, or Rabbies trail burners. These provide hop on, hop off itineraries = CLICK HERE TO BOOK
Those who make the effort to get off the beaten trail will be rewarded with remote stunning scenery that resembles Mediterranean beaches and sea and you’ll have it to yourself. Islands and parts of the west coast are almost like visiting a different country to the central lowlands that contain the bulk of the population. If you don’t have a lot of time you could do worse than visit the Isle of Arran – “Scotland in Miniature”. A 7am train from Glasgow can get you on the island via ferry by 9am, and on the mountains by 9.30am. As the home of golf, Scotland has over 500 courses in a nation of around 5 million people – you could always splash out and treat yourself to some rounds

! Please note that some Scottish people resent being called British, and don’t generalise and call them English!

  • Dangers: No real dangers to speak of. Although petty crime will happen, there is not generally the same risks as in some other western countries.
  • Hot/cold, wet and dry: Four seasons in a day. Generally cold and wetter in the winter months, but not as cold as other countries lying this far north. Summer can vary from beautiful hot days to snow on the mountain tops. Sometimes all this happens in a day. Be prepared for damp weather any time of year, particularly if you venture more into the hills or the west coast. The Scottish Midge can become very prevalent in the countryside in the summer, and some people say 100% DEET won’t even repel them. Don’t be put off adventuring but buy a midge net if camping on a non windy day in summer. Avon “Skin so Soft” comes as an unusual recommendation to ward them off from the outdoor community!
  • Costs: Arriving from other countries, some may find Scotland expensive, but it is on a par with other western countries. Hostels and campsite cost around US$15-US$30 a night and hotels can cost anything from US$45 to hundreds of dollars a night.

All travel is on relatively modern transport. The rail network is notorious for making it difficult to purchase tickets well in advance. Competition has driven down the prices of intercity bus services to the point where you can travel between Edinburgh and Glasgow or Perth for as little as US$1.50. If using Megabus or CityLink it can be far cheaper to buy online if you can print your own ticket.

  • Money: Banks and ATMs are everywhere unless you venture to very remote parts of the Highlands and Islands.
  • What to take: There’s no special recommendations except a midge net and cream if camping in the summer months. A lightweight waterproof jacket or umbrella always comes in handy!
  • What to buy: This is the land of Whisky and golf. Unfortunately due to UK taxes, Whisky they are probably cheaper to buy in your home country! Pick up some tacky tartan souvenirs from the souvenir shops, or your very own mini bagpipes.
  • BookGuide book: The best guidebook and if you can pick it up there or on the way. You can and hopefully will click through links to buy or view books. There are hundreds more guidebooks and walking books on Scotland. Here are a few recommended ones. Please note the below links are for Amazon in the UK, to view Canadian version click here, for USA version here.

» Scotland The Best – Not your standard guide, this book gathers together what is best about Scotland. If on a budget and public transport you may want to compliment it with a Rough Guide or Lonely Planet.

The best bit is its not “Scotland the Most Expensive”, its not “Scotland the Twee-est”, its exactly what it says on the cover.

» Rough Guide To Scotland – Where this guide is especially useful is in its travel and accommodation listings for the highlands and islands–areas geographically not far from Glasgow and Edinburgh yet in holiday terms a world apart.

From the lochs to the glens, and from the Isle of Iona to the Shetland Isles, the authors suggest places to stay off the beaten tourist track. What the guide lacks in photographs it makes up for with its quirky contexts section containing fascinating information on Scotland’s history, architecture, music and literature.

[Book]» Munros SMC guide – This is a fully illustrated guidebook to the principle hillwalker.’ Routes on all the 3000 ft. mountains of Scotland.’ This book offers an inspiring description of some of the most striking mountains in the UK, useful to both experienced Hill Walkers and newcomers alike, after offering a brief introduction and history of the mountains the book gives a series of excellent one to two day walks, offering perhaps the best route for ascent in each case.

» Rough Guide to the Scottish Highlands and Islands – Third edition a complete handbook to this dramatic and varied region. There are lively accounts of every attraction, from castles, lochs and mountains, to deserted beaches and classic train journeys. For every town and village there are insightful reviews of places to stay, eat and drink that give a refreshingly candid opinion. Less used than the LP, find practical tips on the many outdoor activities available, from munro bagging to skiing and mountain biking.

» Lonely Planet Scotland – Last but not least is the best selling, popular guide with details of the historic and rugged Scottish Highlands and the hundreds of idyllic Shetland islands for anyone visiting the area. Also included here is a concise Gaelic language guide, plus details on golf, fishing, etc.

  • Accommodation: A wide variety of accommodation is available throughout the country varying from designer upmarket hotels to independent hostels. Generally accommodation is of a good standard although customer service isn’t quite the full-on “American” experience.

    Booklets covering accommodation in each area of the country are available from tourist offices although they only cover accommodation of members. Specialist booklets are also available from the tourist board. The best place to view and book hostels is through hostel world. Click here. Or try Hostel in Scotland as a good overview.

  • Communications: Internet cafes are plentiful in the main towns and cities. International phone calls, as always, can be expensive from a call box.
  • Tourist factor: Scotland gets reasonably busy in the main summer months with tourists, but nothing like some other western countries which is one of its joys. Edinburgh during the festival month of August is mayhem and you are advised to book accommodation months in advance, or be prepared to travel out of the city where you won’t experience the festivals to the full. The same advice applies to New Year in Scotland. It is very easy to get off the beaten track and have whole areas of countryside or pockets of cities and towns to yourself.

    I…just one small tip, best recommended not to turn up in Edinburgh on Six Nations rugby weekends as well (just like the Festival) with no hotel room booked – especially if there’s 35,000 Welsh or Irish fans in town! Finding a room can be a total nightmare!! For people to check when these weekends are, suggest they visit Scotland rugby’s website, where they’ll find the fixtures. (thanks Owen)

  • Getting around: Nothing is more than a few hours away on the typical tourist trail. Book bus tickets online to get cheap transport around the country, or join one of the minibus tours to meet up with other people.

    These tours do generally stop in the same spots so you’ll have to go it alone at some points if you really want to experience the remote Scotland but its easy to get away from the crowds. As a one off you could always take the Glasgow to Barra flight – around 20 mins, but it drops you on the island’s beach at low tide


  • People vibe: Generally Scottish people are renowned throughout the world as being friendly as shown by the national football (or soccer!) team’s following fan base The Tartan Army. The west coast are generally known as being a bit more friendly than the east, and in Edinburgh sometimes you’ll think its been invaded by the upper class English. You will experience a huge range of dialects and accents spoken throughout the country, to the point you may wonder whether they are speaking a different language. There’s a good social pub culture throughout the country and if you are in smaller west coast communities you could find yourself a lot more immersed in their traditions than in the big cities.
  • Media & entertainment: The List magazine is the main fortnightly entertainment magazine covering everything in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It seems like more and more free entertainment and gig guides are being supplied in cafes and pubs every month although they won’t have as wide and detailed a coverage as The List. A web search should find a selection of What’s On guides as well. Other areas will provide What’s On guides at tourist offices.

Foreign newspapers are available in some newsagents, and for Edinburgh that is McColls in the St James Centre, and the cigar shop on the Royal Mile.

  • Food: A wide variety of foods for all tastes and budgets are available. A sandwich will cost £2-4, main courses £6-15 on average. Look out for pre-theatre and Bring Your Own Booze restaurants to limit the cost.
  • Hassle and annoyance factor: Compared to other western regions there are not any significant dangers. The most chance you’ll have of getting hassled is in the early hours of the morning when the nightclubs kick out.
  • Drugs, cigarettes and alcohol: Cigarettes and alcohol are all over the place. There is a huge pub culture in Scotland with the pub being the common meeting place for friends whatever the night of the week, although the weekend and the run up to it are busiest in the towns.

Smoking is banned in pubs and other public areas. Equally and unfortunately some areas (Glasgow as an example) have banned drinking alcohol in public to cut down on nuisance.

Despite what some people may think, Cannabis is still illegal although due to a recent downgrading to a class ‘C’ drug you are unlikely to be arrested if found in possession with very small amounts although this is not a general rule. If you flout it in public you are still asking for trouble, although at large outdoor music festivals you’ll see it in abundance. Other drugs are likely to be available if you go looking although you’re asking for trouble if caught.
  • Rating:6.5/10

For sheer diversity considering the size and population, its a winner, although be prepared to go off the beaten track, and enjoy the outdoors, to experience the most of the country and its stunning character. Plus have the cash to do so.

Add Scotland Mini Guide© Darren Craig – subs ‘at’


The Backpacker Tour Company

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