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How to Plan a Vacation to Scotland

Scotland is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, and offers a whole lot of attractions for visitors to indulge in. This Buzzle write-up will help you plan your much-awaited vacation to the land of the Scots.
Tips to plan a vacation to Scotland
We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.
― Voltaire
A part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is one of the most picturesque countries in the world. Comprising over 790 odd islands, apart from the mainland, Scotland is bordered by England to the south and by the Atlantic Ocean on the remaining three sides. It is a small country―or so to say―however, it has countless things to offer to its visitors. In fact, the famous saying, "good things come in small packages", seems to hold true in case of Scotland. The country's compact territory seems to be filled with immense bounties―something or the other to suit everyone's preference and liking. Be it a history buff, a wildlife enthusiast, a foodie, a beach lover, or merely a sightseer, Scotland never seems to disappoint anybody.

Planning a Scottish Vacation

One can spend a fulfilling vacation in Scotland merely by exploring the country's timeless landscapes; however, there are plenty of other things worth doing once here. However, considering the fact that a vacation to Scotland can be expensive, it is vital you plan your visit thoroughly so that you can ensure a hassle-free holiday. Buzzle brings to you a few tips to plan your vacation to the land of whiskey and bagpipes.

Best Time to Visit

The peak tourist season in Scotland is between the months of June and August. In fact, August is the festive month in Scotland, owing to which, the tourist hubs of Edinburgh and Glasgow are impossibly crowded. Plus, the months of July and August comprise the British school holiday season, which means that during these two months, there is a huge influx of British tourists as well.

During the peak season, airfares and accommodation prices are at their premium. Moreover, most of the hotels are full and attractions flooded.

If you plan to during the peak season, make sure that you book well in advance before embarking on your journey.

Tip: Browse through some reputed travel websites, compare prices (airfares as well as accommodation rates), be assured about the facilities, look carefully for hidden costs, and only then crack a deal. If you are not sure enough, it is best to consult a reputed travel agent.

The months of April, May, September, and October form Scotland's shoulder season. Though the weather during this time is relatively favorable, it is not as good as in the peak season.

Relatively fewer tourists visit during this time, and services and hours of operation tend to become irregular. Owing to the decreased tourist influx in the shoulder season, it may be possible to secure some really good bargains on airfares and accommodations; however, it is advisable to double-check them before leaving home.

Tip: Watch out for last-minute deals if you are planning to visit in the shoulder season. You might indeed land up with some really good discounts and bargains.

For those planning to visit on a tight budget and those wanting to escape heavy crowds, the period between October and early April, that comprises the off-season in Scotland, is ideal.

There is no doubt that the Scottish weather is a little unfavorable during this time―it is wet outside, the days get shorter, it is also freezing cold―however, hotels and airlines slash their prices heavily. You could actually end up paying half (or even less) as compared to the peak season.

Moreover, off-season travelers also have an added incentive―the crowds are sparse and hence, you can enjoy most of the attractions for yourself, and at your own pace.

Tip: Some accommodation facilities, like B&Bs, completely shut down during the off-season (except during Christmas and New Year). So, while booking your lodgings in the off-season, check whether they will remain open, before making payments.

What are the Entry Requirements

Tourists from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa do not require to visa to travel to Scotland. However, they should have a passport, valid for a minimum of two months from the date of their journey.

Moreover, the citizens of the British Overseas Territories, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, and Liechtenstein also do not need a visa to enter Scotland (the passport norms are the same as mentioned above).

Note: Citizens of all the countries mentioned above can stay in Scotland (and the UK) without a visa for a maximum duration of six months.

If you are a citizen of the other countries of the UK―England, Northern Ireland, and Wales―you will not require even a passport to get into Scotland.

Nationals of most other countries, especially those outside Europe, require a valid visa, which can be obtained from their nearest British embassy.

Tip: Consult you nearest British embassy to inquire about the need for a visa, and the application procedure for the same. Make sure that you have your visa in hand before departing, failing which, you might not be allowed to enter the UK.

Money Matters

As mentioned before, Scotland is an expensive country, especially for those traveling from outside Europe. Everything from accommodation to food to transport is pricey.

While in Scotland, the lion's share of your overall budget will be spent on accommodation. Even if you are a backpacker, traveling on a meager budget and staying in a cheap hostel and cooking your own food, you will easily be shelling about £25 to £30 per day (USD 40-55) , apart from whatever you spend on transport.

On the rather affordable side are the family rooms, which most mid-range hotels, guest houses, and B&Bs offer. You get a double bed (or two singles) and an extra folding bed in your room, and opting for such a lodging may help you save some bucks.

While Scottish food features some flavorful dishes, eating out in a mid-range restaurant may cost you around £20 to £35 (USD 40-55) per day, which is again, expensive by non-European standards.

Tip: To obtain a good deal on lodging and food, opt to stay in a B&B. Most B&Bs offer fresh, homemade food (breakfast and meals) at pretty affordable prices, which are often included in your lodging rates.

Public transport in Scotland has good frequency and is well-connected. While it tends to be pricier, as compared to other European countries, buses seem to be cheapest way to get around. But, it should be noted that buses in Scotland are also very slow.

Trains are also a good way to commute around the country, but again, the ticket prices tend to tilt towards the expensive side. However, a number of discount passes are available, thus, making the overall train fares more competitive.

Those who wish to travel at their own pace can choose to hire private cars. Private car rentals are very expensive in Scotland, with local companies like Arnold Clark, starting at around £110 (USD 180) a week for a small car.

While Scottish roads are good to drive and less busy than those in England, it is more advisable to take a driver along, specially if you plan to venture off the beaten path. However, the price of a rented car with a driver will elevate even further.

Tip: If you want to rent a car in Scotland, it is a good idea to book one before arriving in the country. Advance bookings help save considerably on car rentals, and even on public transport, like buses.

Most attractions in Scotland charge an admission fee, which is often a big amount by non-European standards. However, it is important to mention that there many attractions (museums, cathedrals, etc.), which can also be visited for free.

Families, toddlers, students, and seniors are often offered good discounts at popular attractions (and also on public transport). Watch out for these, and see if you can avail any of them.

Tip: Major Scottish cities, such as Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow, are more expensive than other smaller places. If you are on a budget (or even otherwise), it is a good idea to stay on the outskirts of the main Scottish cities to save money. However, do not stay too far off, else you will end up spending more on transport.

If you like shopping, you may happily go for purchasing memorabilia and souvenirs from Scotland, but let us inform you that similar items may also be available outside the country, and at cheaper prices.

Scotland is famous for the 'Scotch whiskey'; however, it is more expensive in the country than the rest of the world.

Tip: You may shop in Scotland for minor items; however, do watch your wallet while doing so. Do not get carried away by excellent displays in the shops; they may completely destroy your budget.

Planning the Itinerary

Scotland
In the clockwise direction, starting from top―Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh; Edinburgh Castle; Ben Nevis Mountain; Loch Ness, Scottish Highlands; Glasgow City Chambers.

Though Scotland is a small country, it can be difficult to see all its attractions in a single visit; in fact, there might be numerous constraints in doing so. Scotland offers something or the other for every kind of visitor.

Your Scottish itinerary will largely depend on three important things viz., the duration of your stay, your overall budget, and your interest(s).

If you plan to travel independently, make sure research well about popular Scottish spots, and their distance from one another, before including them into your itinerary.

Tip: If you are not sure as to how to go about planning an itinerary, consult a tour operator. He/she will not only guide you in your endeavor, but will also help you plan a feasible and practical itinerary.

Other Important Tips

Before departure, make sure that you are aware of all the immunization shots required. For information on the vaccinations required before traveling to Scotland, visit CDC's official website. Carry a documented proof of all your vaccinations.

It is also vital to buy an appropriate travel insurance before going to Scotland. Apart from health-related contingencies, it should also cover situations such as loss of baggage, cancellation of journey, etc. Ensure that you carry the insurance papers with you; you may have to produce them in case of an emergency.

Carry enough warm clothes and rainy gear with you. All these things are very expensive in Scotland, and may really bust your budget.

Safety-wise, Scotland is one of the safest countries; however, violent crimes have been an issue in certain inner areas. It is worth mentioning that such instances do not involve tourists, yet, it is better to be careful and follow some general safety rules.

Petty crimes do happen in Scotland; however, to a much lesser extent than the rest of Europe. Do not stroll/drive alone at night, do not keep you belongings unattended, beware of pickpockets, and be vigilant, particularly in crowded areas.

If you are going to western Scotland, midges are a big problem, especially from May to September. Midges are small, mosquito-like insects that bite. It is advised to carry a strong insect repellent, in order to deter them.

Drinking tap water is safe in Scotland, and also free. Do not buy packaged water in the country; it is unnecessary and can be expensive.

So, get going to the land of the Scots, but remember to respect the local customs and etiquette. The Scots are very serious about their etiquette, and you might invite some real trouble by ignoring or disrespecting the same.
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Published: February 7, 2014
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