Chances are that the name Scotland evokes certain images in your mind: kilts, tartan, bagpipers, sheep and rain. Dig deeper, though, and you will find a complex nation with a rich, fascinating heritage and (when the sun shines) some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.
Scotland occupies one third of the island of Great Britain and is part of the United Kingdom, sharing its southern border (and a volatile relationship) with England. Scotland covers a little over 30,000 square miles, and has a 2300-mile-long coastline and more than 790 islands.
The Scots are rightly proud of their country’s colourful history and make great effort to preserve its ancient castles and archaeological sites. It is certainly not stuck in history, however: Glasgow has some of the world’s best nightclubs; Edinburgh hosts the world’s largest arts festival; and Scottish music, literature, film and architecture often makes an impact at the international level.
The rugged landscape of the Highland region, with its misty glens (valleys) sparkling lochs (lakes) and mountains, offers opportunities for hillwalking, mountain biking and just getting away from it all. You can experience Gaelic culture on the Western Isles, and the strong Norse heritage of the islands of Orkney and Shetland.
While Glasgow doesn’t boast the fairytale-like beauty of Edinburgh, it still has a certain rugged charm. The city has some of the best museums in the United Kingdom, including the vast Kelvingrove Museum, which is free to visit. One of Glasgow’s most famous sons is the architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh and you can see the best of his work on a tour of Glasgow School of Art, one of the UK’s most prestigious art schools.
With a large student population, Glasgow is also a great nightlife destination. The Arches always makes DJ Mag’s list of the world’s top clubs; the Nice n’ Sleazy bar on Sauchiehall Street hosts live music and club nights, and the intimate King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut is famously the place where Oasis were discovered.
Getting to and from Scotland
Passports and visas are not required to enter Scotland from England. Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have fairly large airports, which serve most major destinations throughout Europe as well as a few places in the United States and Canada. The best fares within Europe are often with Easyjet, BMI, and Ryanair.
Trains leave London’s King’s Cross Station for Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen at least once an hour. There is also a nightly sleeper train service, the Caledonian, which departs from London’s Euston station in the evening and arrives in Scotland in the early morning.
You can visit Scotland via long-distance bus services from almost anywhere in Europe, though you will usually have to make a transfer in London. There are eight buses a day from London to Edinburgh, including two overnight services. The bus trip takes around nine hours.
There used to be ferry services between Scotland and Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Isles, but these services have been cut back over the past couple of years. Currently you can travel to Scotland by sea from Holland, Belgium and Northern Ireland.
Scotland travel resources
Check out our UK transport podcast or browse the articles below.
This page by Karen Dion.