Go to Zanzig.com Homepage
 You are here: Home > Travel Photos > Scotland > Tips for your trip

Scotland Main Page
Accommodation

 
See the addresses of the B&Bs we used on one printer-friendly page

Bed & Breakfast
This is by far the most popular method of accommodation in Scotland. Even in the big cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, you will find several Bed & Breakfasts (or short, B&Bs) that will be happy to provide shelter for the night. Of course, you will find hotels here and there as well, but these are more expensive while offering just about the same quality level as B&Bs.

B&Bs are run usually by private persons that may or may not live in the same house. Typically they offer a few rooms to beef up their owners income along their day-job. Our experience is that these B&Bs are the best. You will get a warm, friendly welcome in a relaxed, non-professional way. But there are also B&Bs that appear to be hotels, i.e. they are their owners only source of income. These houses often carry the term "Guesthouse" in their name, indicating a bigger size and a rather business-like approach.

The houses typically put out signs indicating the availability of rooms, and usually they are quite reliable. However, we had also two or three situations where the sign clearly said "vacancies", but when asked, the owner said: "Ah no, I just forgot to change the sign. We are fully booked." Argh!

Vacancies No Vacancies
left: Typical B&B sign indicating available rooms (this house is listed with VisitScotland)
right: Typical B&B sign indicating trouble looking for accommodation this night

The one major decision that you have to take before traveling to Scotland is: Do you want to book all (or some) of the houses in advance from home? Or do you want to make that decision during your stay in Scotland? There is a clear trade-off between security ("I know where to stay") and flexibility ("I want to be flexible while I am in Sotland"). This makes a fundamental difference for your trip planning, because you will eventually be unable to change travel plans (e.g. the route or the time spent on one place) when your accommodation is pre-booked from home. This may be an exceptionally bad experience when the weather turns out to be not as good as expected! With pre-arranged accommodation you simply can't drive to the other coast (which is just a few hours away)! On the other hand, with your accommodation booked in advance you can totally focus on your trip and do not need to spend valuable time looking for a place to stay - which can also be a quite nasty experience! We still recommend the independent approach because of the additional freedom it provides, but if you want to plan ahead, please feel free to use our address list to arrange your accommodation.

Whatever approach you will take, please be sure to get as much FREE information as possible from your local Scottish Tourist Board (STB) in advance! The STB, by the way, works under the label of "VisitScotland", so don't be surprised to find a lot of references to VisitScotland everywhere. In our case, for example, they sent an information package that covered all of Scotland, including seven route suggestions catering certain themes (like, "romantic Scotland" or "traditional Scotland"). These suggestions were good, but you have to always keep in mind, that the STB's job is to get tourists into all the regions of Scotland, not just the most attractive ones. So, we recommend to take these route suggestions into consideration but rely on other sources as well. Anyway, the package we received from the STB was more like an appetizer than tough information, e.g. a 52-page accommodation brochure mentioning just a tiny fraction of what's really available! Just so you get an idea, they list just 13 (thirteen!) B&Bs for Southern Scotland. That's hardly a base for any serious trip planning.

So, after our arrival in Newcastle, on our way to Gretna, we stumbled into an English Tourist Information Center (TIC) that happily sold us the offical "VisitScotland Where to Stay Guide 2005" for £ 6.99. But this book -despite being published by VisitScotland- turned out to be not helpful at all. Yes, it lists 95 B&Bs for Southern Scotland, but we realized that this is still just a fraction of what's available on the market! The majority of houses listed by us are not listed in the book. So we recommend to not spend your money on this guidebook.

We finally found out that the so-called Area Tourist Boards offer the most complete accommodation guides for their area for free. Any TIC should at least be able to provide you with these guides, and often they hand out the guides for the neighboring areas as well. Each guide looks different and has its own structure (which is not so smart, because readers have to "get used" to each and every guidebook), but still they are what you need! The only thing we did not understand is - why haven't we received these guides from the beginning? The answer, we think, is that the Area Tourist Boards are fighting for their independency, while the National Tourist Board takes a more general marketing approach. Apparently, these guys care too much about themselves, instead of thinking about us - the visitors.


left: The official 2005 accommodation brochure we received by mail from visitscotland.com - not good enough!
right: Official 2005 B&B guide book by visitscotland.com, purchased for £ 6.99 - not worth the money!


above: Selected free offical accommodation brochures from the Area Tourist Boards - excellent!

For your convenience, here is a list of links for you - of the official Tourist Board and their area branches. We recommend to visit each website, look for the contact button, and inquire with each of them asking politely for their free accommodation guide to be sent by mail...

The official Scottish Tourist Board

The Area Tourist Boards

Independent organizations offering accommodation guides

Restaurants

There are zillions of restaurants in Scoland - our list can act merely as an indicator for you. It can't be complete. In rural areas it is a good idea to have at least something to eat in your car. Sometimes you will have a hard time finding a suitable (i.e. affordable, nice looking, promising) restaurant. Or it gets late, and you don't want to drive again to the restaurant. Thus, be prepared for such situations. :-)

The food is in general quite tasty. You will have the best experience with sea food and so-called Bar Meals that are served in pubs. You will also want to consider the restaurants of hotels for your dinner. This is usually a bit less casual than in the pub, and the quality is more or less the same, but these restaurants adds to your choices.

One word about beers - you should be aware of the difference between a Half Pint (aka Ladies Pint) and a Pint. Petra demonstrates the difference here:

Half Pint Pint
left: Half Pint, aka Ladies' Pint
right: Pint

Getting To Scotland

There are many ways to get to Scotland. When using the ferry from Europe, you usually arrive in Newcastle-upon-Tyne which is fine, because it's just about a short drive (60 to 90 minutes) away from Edinburgh.

When flying into Scotland, you basically have three airports to choose from: Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We found out that there are no direct flights from Munich to Edinburgh or Glasgow, so we decided to try Newcastle. We were very surprised that we saved 50%+ of the flight costs this way! Newcastle is not your typical international airport - they have a lot of low-cost carriers, and this saves money big time. We also liked the fact that this was a direct flight (not a connecting flight via Frankfurt, London, or Amsterdam). The airport is small, and you will find the rental cars easily if you want to start off directly from the airport. So, if you are planning to fly into Scotland, we recommend to have a look at flights to Newcastle, too. It might be worth it!

Getting Around in Scotland

Rental Car

We cannot comment on anything other than rental cars, because we did not use other means of transportation during our stay in Scotland (except in Edinburgh where you should definitely use the public transport to get around).

We hired our car from Hertz directly at Newcastle Airport. While picking up the car was relatively easy (they just did not know how to enter my old German drivers licence into their system), but the overall experience with Hertz was not too good, for three reasons:

  1. They did not tell us that there is NO petrol station anywhere close to the airport, and they did not tell us where we could find one when returning the car (which is a problem we would never have thought of before). It turned out to be a real nightmare. Newcastle is a small airport, apparently without an easy-to-find petrol station.
  2. The opening time said "0700-2230 every day", but when we wanted to return the car on Sunday morning at 7, their booth was as empty as the booths of the other rental car companies. So we dropped the key into their keybox on the counter.
  3. While they happily charged my credit card, they never bothered to send a final invoice by mail. This is something that I expect. Avis, for example, always does this.
The car itself was okay, but we will return to Avis next time. They never gave us reason to complain (and we used them for our trips to Canada, U.S.A., and South Africa). Maybe they are sometimes a bit more expensive (that was the reason why we choose Hertz for this trip), but I like to be treated as valuable customer.

Hertz Rental Car Scotland
above: Our Hertz rental car, a Ford Focus 1.6 LX - a good car, that has room for just one large suitcase and a soft travel bag.

Maps

The maps supplied by VisitScotland.com can hardly be used for navigating a car through Scotland. It's okay for planning purposes, but for real use on real roads they are basically useless. We recommend to go for the "Michelin 501" map. The best feature of this map is their green marking for scenic routes. While not always correct (after all, it's subjective), it still is a very good indicator for roads with beautiful sights. Also, most of their viewpoints are worth a stop though we feel they could have mentioned more. Finally, their guide to the quality of the streets is also very good, especially when it comes to the Scottish single-lane roads (which take considerably more time than normal roads). So, one quick look into the map gives you valuable information for planning the next leg of the trip. Unmissable!

Michelin 501
above: Michelin Map # 501 (Scotland)

Attractions

There is so much to see in Scotland that it would be useless to list everything here. Any good travel guide (you'll need that anyway) will be better than what we could tell you. But we would point out some useful tips that might help you making your decision on what to see. Just one word about...

Castle Ruins

Well, Scotland is the country of the castles, and many of them are open to the public. Unfortunately, most of these castles charge a gefty entrance fee plus a fee for the car park. This can easily set you back £ 12 or more. You can save money by visiting castle ruins that are "off the beaten tracks". These often are free of charge and in a similar condition as the rest. Watch out for hints in your tour guide, and ask at Tourist Information Centers specifically for historic sites that are free of charge. You will be surprised how much money you can save!

Movies to watch before visiting Scotland

Local Hero
(1983)
Mac MacIntyre, a tough purchasing manager for Texas oil company KNOX, is sent to Scotland to acquire the complete village of Furness to build an oil harbour. At first MacIntyre is not too impressed by the calm life in the North of Scotland, but his attitude changes quickly as he discovers the georgeous nature and the friendly people step by step. A quiet, bitter-sweet comedy exploring the Scottish lifestyle. Furness by the way can be found between Inverness and Aberdeen - it's called Pennan.

Highlander
(1986)
In 1536 Connor Macleod survives a fatal stab wound on the battlefield and is banned from his village, as this can only be the work of the Devil. Five years later, he learns that he is basically immortal and starts to fight his way through life. Centuries later, in 1985, the few immortals who have survived the battles gather to fight until just one remains, and that winner will receive the power to rule the Earth. Many scenes have been filmed on location in the highlands, and while the subject is quite dark, you still get a good impression of historic Scotland.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
(1975)
Okay, this is a very British comedy, telling the story of King Arthur and his knights. If you don't like other movies of Monty Python or their TV series, you probably won't like this movie either. But it may serve as good preparation for your trip, because it has been almost entirely filmed on location in Scotland, for example at Castle Stalker. Hilarious!

Rob Roy
(1995)
In the 17th century, Rob Roy battles evil landowners in the georgeous landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. An riveting adventure of courage, love and uncompromising honor, formed after a (supposedly) real story. Around Perth you will find many references to this Scottish Robin Hood, and many scenes have been filmed on location in Scotland. Breathtaking!

If you are looking for more information about films made in Scotland, please feel free to visit www.scotlandthemovie.com
A very informative site about movie locations in Scotland. Webmaster Doug Hill is a friendly guy, answering even boring questions, like "what about the 3rd wedding in Four Weddings and a Funeral?" - Well, here is Doug's answer: "Wedding number 3 (Chapel of Glenthrist Castle, Perthshire) was filmed at Albury Park, Surrey, Southeast of Guilford. The castle interior was Rotherfield Park, East Tinstead, Hampshire, on the A32 south of Alton. So the Scottish wedding scenes were not Scottish at all but English - the scenes were filmed in England, not in Scotland!" - Great, Doug, keep up the good work!

Useful Links
 
undiscoveredscotland.co.uk
An excellent source for anything related to Scotland. If you don't find it on visitscotland.com, make sure to visit this site. Chances are high that you will find it here.

robertburns.org
Everything you ever wanted to know about Robert Burns - and probably a bit more. Home to "The Burns Encyclopedia" - the complete text of the definitive Robert Burns reference volume.

lochlomondseaplanes.com
See Scotland like you've never seen it before - from a seaplane. We did similar scenic flights in Canada and San Francisco, and we know it's a fantastic experience! The site features a nice photo gallery, too.

theseafoodtrail.com
A group of 11 restaurants dedicated to one thing - excellent sea food.

kintyre.org
Official tourist information site for the Kintyre peninsula, home to the "Kintyre Trail".

holyrude.org
The Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling. Includes information on weddings held at the church.

scotlandonline.com
Portal for everything Scottish, with good listings of restaurants and accommodation.

gretnaweddings.co.uk
Weddings in Gretna Greene, packages starting £ 245 (as of September 2005).

elginscotland.org
Official website of Elgin. Downloadable PDFs: Town Trail and Visitor Guide. Good photo gallery.

calums-sealtrips.com
Boat trips to seal colonies from Plockton, with a unique guarantee: No seals, no fares.

skye-lighthouse.com
Neist Point Lighthouse B&B on the Isle of Skye. A unique experience for sure.

thevisualrecord.com
Homepage of Shawna Leigh Scherbarth, 31, from San Francisco. Excellent photography and narrative.

catrionafraser.com
Award winning Black and White Infrared photographs of Scotland, by Catriona Trafford Fraser.

delargy.com
Homepage of Frank Delargy, an avid travel photographer with a huge Scotland archive.

viamichelin.com
Free registration gets you maps, recommended accommodation and restaurants. Very annoying full-screen adverts, though.


Scotland Main Page
Copyright © 1982-2010 by Mark Zanzig | Blog | Site Map | Licence Photos | Disclaimer | Advertise | About Us