Scotland local time
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On a volcanic crag at the top of the Royal Mile, 12th-century Edinburgh Castle dominates the whole city. It is one of the UK’s most distinctive sites, and one of the first things you see as you enter Edinburgh by rail from the south. The castle’s courtyard is also the site of the world-famous Edinburgh Tattoo each year.
Among the highlights of a visit are St Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest part of the castle) and the palace, once a royal residence, and today a museum containing the Honours – the Scottish equivalent of the crown jewels. The Honours were recently joined by the return of the block of sandstone known as the Stone of Destiny (or Stone of Scone) upon which Scotland’s kings through history were crowned. Edward I stole the stone 700 years ago to quell the “turbulent Scots” and installed it at Westminster. Some legends say that the monks of Scone tricked the king and substituted a plain piece of local sandstone for the true stone, which is now lost.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Queen’s official Scottish home has been a royal residence for more than 700 years.
Highlights of a tour include the State Apartments, the Great Gallery and the Historical Apartments, chiefly of note for their connections with Mary, Queen of Scots. In the palace grounds are the ruins of 12th-century Holyrood Abbey. In summer, the very pleasant gardens are also open to the public. It’s advisable to check that the palace is open before visiting as it closes for special events several times a year.
This ancient university town – the university was founded in 1417 – is also home to a castle, a ruined cathedral that was once the largest in Scotland, and a host of medieval buildings.
But St Andrew’s is best known for golf. The Old Course is famous as the world headquarters of the game, where all the rules are written. The presence of the university gives the town a lively, cosmopolitan edge, evidenced by the many bars and some fine restaurants.
Inverness and Loch Ness
Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, is the largest town near Loch Ness, home to the famous mythological monster. One of Britain’s millennium cities and is a surprisingly pleasant place with smart stone buildings and a friendly ambiance.
Whether “Nessie” exists or not, in the locale you are sure to experience the Highlands’s other wildlife – astonishing in its variety and including red deer, golden eagles, seals and dolphins.
The Loch itself is broodingly magnificent and the walking in the area opens up marvelous vistas over the Great Glen – the massive valley that bisects Scotland from East to West.
Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and is now recovering from decades of industrial decline. Today it’s one of Europe’s foremost cities with a host of cultural and historical attractions as well as great shops.
Having been a European city of culture and architecture it’s now Britain’s third most popular city destination for tourists – behind arch-rival Edinburgh and London.
Among the attractions on offer is the outstanding Burrell Art Collection. The architectural masterpiece that houses the collection comprises galleries focusing on Ancient Civilizations and Oriental Art, as well as a medieval and Post-medieval European Art Collection. The latter includes priceless glass, silverware, textiles and sculptures as well as paintings by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet and some superb watercolors of Glasgow by local man Joseph Crawhall.
The Scottish Highlands
For landscape lovers, there are few places on earth to match the raw, majestic beauty of the Highlands, a vast, wild expanse of craggy peaks, glistening lochs, mighty castles, moody moorlands and fast-flowing streams.
There are endless opportunities for sightseeing, hiking and countless other outdoor pursuits – such as skiing in winter, golf, fishing, climbing and horseback riding.
Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak, soars majestically above the town of Fort William. Well-prepared walkers can take the path from Achintee Farm, south of the town, to the summit. On a clear day, you are rewarded with spectacular, far-reaching views over the surrounding Highland peaks.
The Royal Mile
Straddling the volcanic ridge that runs from Edinburgh Castle, at the top, to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, at the foot, is the cobblestone Royal Mile. It is actually made up of four separate streets that seamlessly run into each other – Castle Hill, the Lawnmarket, High Street and the Canongate, but few people differentiate between them nowadays.
Walking the full length of the Mile is an essential Edinburgh experience. It is one of Europe’s most fascinating thoroughfares, lined with shops, pubs, restaurants and many historical buildings including Edinburgh’s High Kirk and political buildings. Fanning off the Royal Mile are dozens of narrow lanes that lead to small courts and steps down to the Cowgate and the Grassmarket.
Scotland Travel Information and Tips
There are a few simple rules for traveling to Scotland which will depend on where you are visiting from. Information is available on regulations concerning the length of your stay, how much money you can bring and what products you can take in and out of the country.
- Visitors to Scotland and the UK must hold a valid passport before starting their journey and children may require their own passports.
- All visitors who wish to enter the UK must meet the requirements of the UK immigration regulations.
- EU citizens can stay in Scotland for as long as required
- Visitors from other European countries, outwith the EU, can stay for up to three months.
- Visitors from the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, can stay for up to six months, providing they have a return ticket and funds to cover the trip.
- Visitors from any other country in the world will require a visa.
Application forms and information on how to apply for a visa, as well as guidance for visitors coming to the UK, is available on the UK Border Agency website.
Customs and duty free
Before you travel to Scotland, it’s a good idea to make sure you are aware of the rules and restrictions on what you can bring into the country, and if tax applies.
Rules vary depending on where you travel from – information is available for traveling within the European Union and from outside the European Union, and there is a list of banned and restricted goods.
Bringing currency into the UK
If you are traveling to Scotland and the UK from within the EU you may bring as much money as you like, in any form. If you are entering from outside of the EU, you have to declare any amount over 10,000 euros to the customs officers.
Travelers’ cheques can be changed at banks and bureaux de change, and there is usually no charge for cashing sterling travelers’ cheques.
The Scottish Government provides detailed information on healthcare for overseas visitors in PDF, audio and large-print formats.
No vaccinations are required for entry to the UK.
European Union citizens are entitled to free medical treatment at National Health Service (NHS) hospitals, which can be made quicker and easier on production of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC card). The card is not, however a replacement for insurance.
Australia, New Zealand and several non-EU European countries have reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the UK.
Citizens of other countries will be charged for most medical services with some exclusions including emergency treatment.
You should obtain travel insurance with medical cover before your trip. Doctors’ surgeries are usually open during the working day from 9am to 5pm, and some have late surgeries in the evening. Outside of surgery hours, you can visit the nearest hospital which has an accident and emergency or minor injury department for complaints that require immediate attention.
Pharmacists can dispense only a limited range of drugs without a doctor’s prescription. Most are open standard shop hours, though in large towns some may close as late as 10pm. Local newspapers often carry lists of late-opening pharmacies, or you can call the NHS inform Helpline on 0800 22 44 88.
In emergencies, phone for an ambulance by calling 999.
What medicine can I bring into the UK?
If you bring in medicines for yourself, you do not need to declare your medicines to UK Customs.
However, in case there is an issue in the UK or abroad, it is a good idea to have a letter from your doctor confirming your need for the medication. Always carry medicines in a correctly labelled container as issued by the pharmacist. There may be restrictions on the amount of drugs that you can bring into the country, before you travel, seek advice about the requirements from HM Customs and Exercise.
Visitors from countries outwith the European Union should get travel insurance with medical cover before the trip. Some all-risks home insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes include cover when abroad. Students may find that their student health coverage extends during their vacations and for one term beyond the date of last enrollment. If you need to make an insurance claim, you should keep all your receipts for medicines and medical treatment, and in the event you have anything stolen, you must obtain an official statement from the police.
Driving around Scotland is a great way to see more of the country during your trip, and allows you flexibility to come and go as you wish. Before you head out exploring Scotland by car, there are a few rules and regulations you should be aware of – with information on driving licenses, insurance and speed limits.
Visitors coming to Scotland from European Union (EU) countries with a valid license can drive in Scotland. Visitors from countries outside of the EU can also drive in Scotland and throughout the UK for up to 12 months – provided their license is still valid in the country in which it was issued.
If you’re bringing your own car into the UK, you should also carry your vehicle registration or ownership document at all times. You must also be adequately insured, so make sure to check your existing policy.
If you are planning to drive your car in the UK for more than six months during a 12 month period, there are also rules about number plates containing symbols which are not used in the UK. Ensure that you bring all relevant documentation with you to Scotland and are aware of the rules surrounding importing and exporting a vehicle, both temporarily or long-term.
All drivers using roads in Scotland and the UK must have at least third-party insurance cover.
Vehicles brought to Scotland from the EU can be used on public roads without the need to register or pay duties in the host country. These provisions limit car use to no more than 6 months during a 12 month period and the vehicle must comply with the registration and licensing requirements of the country you are visiting from.
As a driver entering Scotland from a non EU member state, (apart from vehicles from Andorra, Croatia, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), you must be able to produce evidence of having the necessary insurance cover, eg a Green Card.
Find out more information about motor insurance for visiting vehicles in the UK.
Driving on the left
In Scotland and throughout the UK, driving is always on the left-hand side of the road.
Speed limits are often signposted on main routes by a circular sign with a red border and a number. If the route isn’t signposted, the national speed limits apply. Maximum speed limits on UK roads are:
1. Motorways: 70mph (112kph) for cars, coaches and minibuses 60mph (96kph) for cars towing caravans or trailers and lorries.
2. Dual carriageways: 70mph (112kph) for cars, 60mph (96kph) for cars towing caravans, trailers, buses, coaches, lorries and minibuses.
3. Built-up areas: 30mph (48kph). It is quite common around residential areas and particularly near schools, for a clearly signposted 20mph (32 kph) maximum speed limit.
4. Outside built-up areas: 60mph (96kph) for cars and 50mph (80kph) for buses, coaches, minibuses and cars towing caravans or trailers.
Please be aware that remote speed cameras are positioned on many roads.
In general, regular traffic congestion is only severe on the major access roads to and from cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow during morning and evening rush hours, from around 7.30 to 9.30am and 4.00 to 6.30pm), and on national holidays.
One of the pleasures about driving in Scotland is being able to enjoy the tranquility and scenery of quiet rural roads. In many Highland rural areas, roads are regularly single track with passing places, which work well with considerate drivers.
Find information on how to use a passing place on a single track road by reading point 155 of the UK Highway Code.
It is also common in remote areas to encounter grazing sheep and other wildlife on and by the side of the road. Using the National Tourist Routes is a great way to see Scotland’s countryside and visit great villages, towns and attractions on route to your destination.
There are currently no toll roads or bridges in Scotland.
Roundabouts are used throughout the country.
The rules for using roundabouts are to give way to all vehicles coming from your right and always turn left on entering the roundabout.
Bus lanes are used in some of Scotland’s cities, and in other locations. These lanes can only be used by buses and taxis during certain times of the day. To avoid fines, please check with the local council of the city you are visiting, or look out for road signs, for more information.
All petrol stations provide unleaded petrol and diesel. As well as LPG (or Autogas) you can find Bio-Diesel filling stations and Electric Vehicle Charging stations (or EVCs) on the LPG site.
Fuel is priced and sold by the liter. An increasing number of stations, particularly in urban areas, offer 24 hour access to fuel through automated pumps.
Distances between stations are greater and opening hours may be shorter at some rural areas so it is best to keep your car filled up if traveling in remote regions.
Seat belts and child restraints
It is compulsory for all drivers and passengers, regardless of where they are sitting, to wear seat belts.
All children under 12 who are under 135cm (4ft 5in) tall, must use a child seat appropriate for their weight (most children reach 135cm around the age of 9).
If hiring a car, child seats can be ordered when you make your booking.
Drinking and driving
Driving under the influence of alcohol is taken very seriously in Scotland and the UK and there can be heavy penalties for those found to be above the legal blood/alcohol limit. As of 5 December 2014, the legal limit has been lowered to 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood (from 80 mg of alcohol).
Using mobile (cell) phones while driving
It is illegal to use a hand-held phone, or similar device, when driving a vehicle in Scotland and the UK.
Drivers also risk prosecution for failing to have proper control if using a hands-free phone when driving.
The sales tax – or value added tax (VAT) – is currently applied at 20%* to most goods and services except food, books and children’s clothing.
There are a number of steps to take during and after your visit, in order to reclaim the sales tax. You can find information on how to reclaim sales tax by visiting the HM Revenue & Customs website.
Scotland’s currency is the Great British Pound (sterling), which is used throughout Britain.
It’s easy to obtain Great British pounds while in Scotland. You can change money in most Post Office branches. Often in Post Offices, you’ll get good exchange rates for foreign currency and currently there are no rates of commission.
You can also find bureau de change services located in some banks, airports, larger railway stations, travel agents and occasionally at hotels. Bureaux de change often charges a handling fee and commission.
In towns and cities, ATMS, or cash points, can usually be found in main shopping streets, close to train or bus stations and outside large supermarkets. Most banks will usually have an ATM machine outside of their branches.
The majority of cash points are free to use but some, often machines found in pubs or newsagents, may charge a small fee for withdrawals. If your debit or credit card provider operates out with the UK, there may also be charges for using cash machines to withdraw money.
The main Scottish banks include the Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank, with many other UK and international banks also based here.
All Scottish bank notes, though different from English notes, are normally accepted in the rest of Britain. Northern Irish bank notes are also accepted in Scotland.
Most large shops, stores, hotels and restaurants will accept the majority of credit and debit cards including MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners. However, you must remember your PIN number when using your credit card in Scotland and throughout the UK.
It is also advisable to carry some cash in case of difficulty as many smaller accommodation, pubs, tearooms and small shops may not accept any form of credit or debit card.