Last Updated on 29 July 2022
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What do I need to know before going to Scotland?
So you’re off to Scotland? Congratulations! I’m excited for you, because you will find some of the prettiest places there. I’ve been visiting year-in-year-out since well before I could walk and talk. It has been a firm family favourite holiday destination for yonks, and the mountains, lochs, waterfalls and towns hold many precious memories for me. After so many trips, the Scottish Highlands has come to feel a bit like my second home, and I want to share with you some of the 11 must-know Scotland travel tips I have come to learn over the years.
1. Avoid midge season
One of the top Scotland travel tips I can tell you which will save you a whole lot of irritation is to avoid visiting Scotland during the midge season (especially the Highlands). The renowned Highland midge frequent Scotland in the summer months and can be a real pesk, especially in mountainous and boggy areas, and near lochs and rivers. If you visit Scotland during this time, you risk forfeiting the enjoyment of your trip – you could need extra measures like face nets just to be able to walk around with some kind of protection (seriously), because citronella candles and mosquito spray might not be enough to deter. It makes me itchy just thinking about it…
2. Single track roads are plentiful
You might be surprised to know that even some A roads in Scotland will be single track (for my non-UK audience, A roads are major roads), although there will be plenty of passing points. Verges either side of single track roads can often be quite soft so try and stay on the tarmac to avoid getting stuck in a ditch. And if you aren’t competent to drive on narrower roads, then perhaps plan your route a little more carefully because failing to keep up with the flow of traffic might cause a bit of frustration amongst locals (or at least practice some driving etiquette and pull over to let them pass you if you are going to drive at a reduced speed).
3. Scotland is more than Loch Ness
Loch Ness might be the first thing that comes to mind for many when the Scottish Highlands are mentioned, but one of the best tips for visiting Scotland is to go beyond this. Yes, Loch Ness and all the hype that goes with it is worth experiencing, but there are some other truly beautiful lochs in Scotland that in my humble opinion, are even prettier than Nessie’s home. Towns like Fort Augustus which sits on the shores of Loch Ness are usually overwhelmed with tour buses during peak season, and although still lovely, there is so much more to Scotland so I would urge you to travel deeper.
4. Spring and Autumn are beautiful seasons to visit Scotland
We have already learned that one of the best Scotland travel tips is to avoid midge season, but if you are left wondering when to visit Scotland, then Spring and Autumn (or Fall, for my stateside audience) are great options. During these seasons, the Highlands are bursting with beautifully vibrant colours and the weather tends to be settled too (although in Scotland there is always the chance of rainy days). Still a crispness fills the air but during the late Spring and early Autumn you should be blessed with some sunshine and warmer days.
5. Some campsites close off peak
In my opinion, Scotland is best explored by motorhome and this is fast-becoming an extremely popular way to see the Highlands. One of the things to know before visiting Scotland if you are planning a campervan tour is that some campsites tend to close off peak. So one of the best tips for a Scotland road trip is to plan alternative off-site overnight stops if you are visiting out of season – you can use a website like Search for Sites to do this, which is great for sourcing both off and on site parking.
Tip: There will be parking areas which stipulate that there should be no overnight parking, and out of courtesy I would suggest that you respect these and find an alternative location.
6. Wear appropriate clothing and pack waterproof gear
One of the practical Scotland travel tips is to ensure you wear the appropriate clothing and pack waterproof gear. The weather in Scotland can change very quickly and sometimes you might experience all four seasons in just one day! Some of the most crucial items on your packing list for Scotland are wellington or walking boots, a waterproof coat and trousers, umbrella, suncream and if you’re visiting in the winter, some thermal gear. Some of the mountain and waterfall walks in the Highlands can be steep and slippery so always wear supportive footwear with a good grip (no heels – you might think this is obvious but I have witnessed it!).
7. Scotland has different bank notes
You might be surprised to know that Scotland has different looking banknotes to England and Wales. Scottish banknotes are still Pound Sterling and although you can use them in England and Wales, this does not mean to say they will be accepted by the vendor. Some shops, restaurants or wherever you are trying to spend any leftover Scottish dosh in England and Wales might be reluctant to accept it, so it may be better to ensure that Scottish banknotes are spent in Scotland.
8. Be cautious of walking near the base of trees in the forest (one of the Scotland travel tips you won’t have heard of)
In hindsight, what I am about to tell you is a somewhat hysterical story and one of my finest travel mishaps EVER, but at the time it was horrendous and has left me somewhat traumatised. When I visited the Cairngorms National Park one year, I went for a walk with my pooch (who is a rather large breed of dog) through the forest. He decided to roll on the floor next to the base of a tree, which upset a swarm of angry wasps who proceeded to sting both of us numerous times. I suspect the screams could be heard for miles. So, perhaps one of my most bizarre Scotland travel tips is to avoid walking around the base of trees for this very reason.
9. Take a tick puller with you (especially if you have dogs)
Speaking of dogs, if you have one and they accompany you on your trip to Scotland, I would suggest you pack a tick puller. Ticks are spider-like blood sucking creatures, and quite frankly, the thought of them gives me the heeby-jeebies. They can spread nasties like Lyme Disease and are quite common in the Highlands. They tend to live on animals like sheep and deer, inhabit moorland and woodland areas, and will not hesitate to latch on to your four legged friend if they can. I have also experienced tick bites whilst in Scotland, and a tick puller has been invaluable to remove them easily and in one piece (note: I’m no medical professional or vet, but leaving the head in can cause issues).
10. Petrol stations can be few and far between
This is one of the Scotland tourist tips which is more for the Scottish Highlands… if you are out and about on the open road meandering through the mountains, make sure you have enough fuel and an idea of where the petrol stations are. They can be quite sporadic in the Highlands, so my advice would be to top up before you’re miles deep into your drive. Garages in towns and cities are usually going to be cheaper than the independent ones you might stumble across in a mountain village. Fail to prepare and prepare to fail, as they say.
11. The NC500 isn’t the only road trip in Scotland
In recent years, the NC500 has become the ultimate Scottish bucket list experience and the country has become known all over the world for this road trip route. I was road trippin’ around Scotland way before the marketing for the NC500 route came about, and let me tell you there are some fantastic places to see which you’ll miss if you follow the hype. Don’t get me wrong, this route 66 of Scotland will afford you breathtaking scenery and beautiful experiences, but one of the top travel tips for Scotland is to consider those other places too (otherwise they might feel neglected!). If you need some inspiration, this 7 day motorhome itinerary for Scotland combines a snippet of the NC500 and so much more.
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