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First Trip To Scotland

Looking at my website and blog, you will agree that I am not a professional blogger with years of blog writing experience and advanced writing skills.

Nope, I am just a highlander who wants to pass on some good info for those who are excited to visit Scotland.

Old Style Typewriter
Old School

Like most people learning the ropes, I looked at what other people have written on their travel blogs.

Oh for sure, there is plenty of fancy words, descriptions and everyone has “Must-Sees and Must-Dos” with a handy affiliate link for you to book.

Some are little more than an opportunity to take lots of selfies with a view in the background.

And you know what? I enjoyed reading them all. I think it’s great there are as many styles as there are people, and each blog gives insight into Scotland.

However, there seems to be something missing from most of them, and I have to admit, many are there to steer you towards that magic link.

Nothing wrong with that.

Everyone has to earn their daily bread. Still, it just seems to make the article a little too focused on commission based recommendations, and appears to be missing out on the practicalities of travelling to Scotland, so let’s see if I can balance things out for you a little.

Enough Intro – Onwards with

First Trip To Scotland

View Of Edinburgh City
Edinburgh City View

By my thinking, most first time visitors are coming to Scotland for a general visit, to check the place out and experience Scottish Culture.

Only on future visits are they looking for the specialist experience from the ideas gained from the first visit.

Best time to visit for the first-timers

The first week of April to the last week of October is the optimum time to visit Scotland when planning your first trip to Scotland.

A month on either side is doable. For a winter program, you’re looking at November to February.

Do more detailed research for winter. Many places especially in the North, Highlands and Islands are closed from late November to Easter the following year.

If your plans only include the major city sightseeing, everything will be open apart from the holidays between Christmas and Hogmanay.

Festivals and Highland Games

Highland Games Competitors In Kilts
The Big Lads At The Highland Games

The most touristy, and therefore more crowded, and more expensive months are July and August for the cities and major towns. The isle of Skye will be overrun with tourists and camper vans.

August is the month for the Fringe Festival and the Tattoo in Edinburgh, and unless you plan to attend, then the capital is perhaps best avoided from the last week of July to the first week of September. 

However, if your main focus of visiting Scotland is for the Fringe/Tattoo, then book your accommodation as far in advance as possible.

Once you have experienced the festivals and still have time, seriously consider moving out of Edinburgh. Or better still, book outside of Edinburgh and just take a train or bus into the City Centre each day.

There are Highland games from May to September, but the primary months for the games are July and August.

West Coast Scotland In The Warmer Months

Scotland Loch
West Scotland Loch

There is a reason that the West Coast is a lot less populated than the East, the dreaded Scottish Midge.

Fearsome wee besties in the early mornings and evenings when there is little or no wind. 

Should you plan to visit the West Coast from May to mid-September, arrange to be indoors when they are on the prowl.

Now is the time to put the sorting hat on

Sorting Hat
Sorting Hat

There is just no way that you can experience all of what Scotland has to offer in a single visit.  So at some point in your planning, you will need to be brutal and start taking things OFF your list.

For most first-time visitors to Scotland with a vacation time of 7 to 10 days, Edinburgh needs to be on your list, and you should allow a minimum of 3 to 4 days to explore. 

Four days will allow you to see the major sites without feeling rushed, but you can easily do more days to dig deeper into the city.

Splitting your Edinburgh to first and last is a good idea if you are flying in and out of Edinburgh.

You could do three days at the start and two days, in the end, catching those places on your outgoing list that you passed on your first time wandering around between locations or revisits that warrant more time. 

Spending time in Edinburgh at the start of your visit will allow you to get over any jet lag, and you will only be a short distance from your accommodation.

Scotland is a lot more than just Edinburgh, and many Scots feel that Edinburgh is little more than a Tourist destination with biscuit tin picture of Scotland, but time in Edinburgh on your first visit is pretty much essential for first-time visitors

Glasgow – Scotlands Largest City

Glasgow Concert Hall
Glasgow – a city full of arts and culture

Just 1 hour away from Edinburgh, the “diamond in the rough”, CIty of Glasgow, still has difficulties shaking off a reputation of being dangerous and neglected.

I have no idea why some people want to keep this idea going

That was Glasgow decades ago, and it is now a safe and very vibrant city just without the Bagpipe Buskers on every corner competing for your attention and coins.

Some beggars are indeed on the streets, but they are not walking Zombies. They just sit in a doorway, and even a one-legged blind man can easily skirt them.

If you want to see and experience an actual working Scottish City with some of the friendliest people in the country, then Glasgow needs to be on the top of any list.

Most of the famous Scottish Humour and legendary banter come from this part of Scotland, and I encourage you to go and visit.

If you are unsure, just take a train or bus from Edinburgh for 1 hour and experience a day tour.  

If you see hoards of kilted Scotsman waving Claymores and Dirks in the air and charging towards you chanting, “kill the tourist’ get back on the train, let me know, and I will refund your fair

Back to the planning board

So now you have sorted out and made your list of

  1.   Have to see
  2.   Would like to see

And you have picked out the time of year you would like to travel,  the next big step is to book the flight.

Scotland Notes is not a website/ blog that will teach your granny how to suck eggs. You know your budget and how you like to travel, and the options available to you.

I would say this. Most of my readers are taking a long-haul flight to get to Scotland.

Having been on many long-haul flights in my lifetime, I take the most direct flight with the least amount of changes whenever I can afford it.

I try to book with only one airline that will be in charge the entire flight, even if they are using partner airlines.

Not much choice of missing connection or lost luggage if you keep it down to one airline, and easier to deal with if you do have a problem

Doing it this way will minimise the potential for problems and maximise your comfort according to your budget. Plus, your sanity will thank you.

Best time of the day to arrive

The optimum time for you to arrive at Edinburgh Airport would be around noon.  

Most hotels and guest houses will not allow checking in before 2 pm, and if you arrive early in the morning, you can have a long wait before checking in.

Arriving around noon means by the time you have dealt with the entry requirements and found your chosen transport, you will arrive at your accommodation when it is ready for you.

Best transport from the Airport

Edinburgh Tram
Edinburgh Tram

If you have easy to carry bags and have worked out using Google maps or checking with your accommodation for which stop to look for, then the Tram is a convenient and fun way to get where you want to go.

However, if you have difficult luggage and prefer a door to door service, a taxi is the way to go. Plenty to be found at the Airport, and you will even get a free Scottish accent lesson on the way into the city.  

A small tip of about 10%, or round up the fare, would be customary for a journey of that length in a taxi. Maybe a little more if the driver helps with the bags and gives good banter on the way.

Allow 30 to 40 minutes of travel depending on traffic

Staying Urban

All Scottish Cities (7) are very walkable, and the public transport links between them are plentiful, easy to use and affordable.

In case you do not know, the population of the cities of Scotland are:-

  • Aberdeen 200,680
  • Dundee 148,280
  • Edinburgh 488,050
  • Glasgow 612,040
  • Inverness 47,290
  • Perth 47,430
  • Stirling 37,610

So you can see that the cities are not huge and all are pretty compact and easily navigated. 

As a first time visitor that is wishing to stay urban, the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling are the big 3 with regard to things to do for visitors that are overflowing with history, culture, art and festivals

Inverness is known as the gateway to the Highlands, and we will cover this later.

Ready for a budget and logistical

Best tip?

Almost at the perfect intersection of 3 of the best cities to visit is the town of Falkirk.

Falkirk Town Centre
Falkirk Town Centre

Falkirk has many of its own world-famous visitor attractions, and from Falkirk, you can be in the centre of Edinburgh, Glasgow or Stirling in 30 minutes by train.

As it is not on the main tourist route, the prices are non-tourist, and the people are the real deal just getting on with their life and always happy to help a visitor.

You could do a lot worse than setting your base camp here and just travel to where you want to go. It really is easy. 

As Falkirk has the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel and other places, you can either stay local or be in one of the major cities in no time.

Thank me later  🙂

Highlands

Highland Loch
Scottish Highlands

If you want to see the Highlands, and who wouldn’t?  Then it would be best if you base yourself at Inverness.

Inverness is also a walkable small city, very picturesque, and you will find dozens of options to take day trips into the Hills and Glens for a reasonable price with local tour companies.

Inverness is straightforward to get to by all forms of transport, including flights, trains, and large comfortable Coaches, and you will see some fantastic scenery on your journey of a few hours.

However, if you are independently minded, the best way to see the highlands is by car.

However, driving out of one of the cities to Inverness might be a daunting experience if it’s the first time you have driven on Scottish roads and the left-hand side.

So

Take public transport to Inverness, and hire a car there. There is considerably less traffic in the highlands, and the pace is a lot slower. 

You will be surprised at how easy it is – either follow the car in front, and if there is no car in front, then there is no problem. Just stick to the left and have your passenger give you a reminder when needed.

Isle of Skye

Isle Of Sky Headland
A Headland on the Isle of Sky

Should you want to visit the Isle of Skye, the hire car option from Inverness should be considered.

It is a better option than driving from Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Ensure the Inverness car hire firm booking is given priority, especially if you want to hire an automatic transmission and book a satnav. Hire vehicles are booked up fast

Recap

  1. Book the most direct flight to Edinburgh, arriving midday
  2. Make your list of what you want to see and do
  3. Book accommodation and any Car Hire
  4. Get Packing

In Conclusion

Allow time. The problem for first visitors (and frequent returners) is, that as you move around the cities or countryside, you keep finding both more and more things of interest to see and do.

Inevitably you will be sidetracked. If you try to stick to a rigid schedule that is crammed, you will be both disappointed and frustrated.

Choose two major must-see attractions in a city in one day, and that will be enough. You will end up doing so much more each day as you move around.

In the highlands, one major attraction should be your goal. Or even better, none at all. Just leave your accommodation, and within 20 minutes you will have found a whole day’s worth of activities.

Stop and take a breather during your time in Scotland for at least half a day, if not more. 

Scotland is a malt whisky to be sipped at leisure to get the whole experience, not a beer to be gulped after a marathon.

Don’t be frightened to ask for help and advice. Everyone has an off day, but most folk in Scotland will do their friendly best to assist you.

Don’t worry that you do not understand more than 50% of what is said.  Either ask your informant to speak more slowly or just say thank you, and ask the next person instead.

A personal favour

Try and buy from local independent businesses, Scotland can be a tough place to make a living, and both of you will appreciate your purchases a lot more.

Would you please send your comments on your trip to me? Good or bad criticism of what you experienced. Appreciated.

What would have been helpful for you to know before your journey?.  Let me know, please.


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