10 Things Americans Need To Know Before Visiting Scotland

Edinburgh Castle Saltire Flag Edinburgh Activities

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Planning a trip to Scotland and wondering where to start? With so much to see and do, there are many things to know before visiting Scotland that will make your trip here so much richer.

Traveling to Scotland is on many people’s bucket lists and once you step foot into this bonnie country that has inspired songs, films, and poems it is so easy to see why.

If you’re looking for tips for traveling to Scotland for the first time or you just need to brush up on some best practices before you arrive, we’ve got you covered.

While traveling in Scotland, you will quickly learn that it is a friendly nation and the locals are always happy to hear from a visitor how much you love their great country.

Before you hop on a plane, read more to learn about how to make the most of your time in Scotland as a tourist; we’ve got all tips for traveling in Scotland that you’ll need.

Join my Scotland Facebook group to ask questions about your trip to Scotland; it’s free!

St Giles Cathedral at Royal Mile Edinburgh Activities

Note: Hey! I’m Nicole, your friendly US ex-pat who lives in Edinburgh. I created this guide because this is the stuff I wished I’d known before visiting Scotland for the first time.

If you are from the US and have visited or live in Scotland and would like to contribute advice that helped you out, please leave a comment at the bottom of the guide. We love to hear it and help others out!

You may also find our free week in Scotland itinerary useful.

Ivy Heart in Old Town Royal Mile-47

Important Things to Know Before Visiting Scotland

1. You’ll Love the Scottish Accent and Dialects

Scotland has its own language called Gaelic, however, only 1.1% of the population speak it.

For the remaining folk in Scotland, the official language is English, but with a Scottish accent which is wildly different from anything you will have heard down south in England, in Ireland or Wales.

Words said with a Scottish accent can be easily deciphered by common sense and context clues, but sometimes between the unfamiliar phrase and a particularly strong accent, you might feel as if you’ve had one too many pints!

Cold Town House Beer Rooftop Bar Food Grassmarket Edinburgh

The country also has a variety of different dialects, visiting Edinburgh will sound very different to spending time in Glasgow!

In Fife, some locals will speak about a man called Ken when they are really asking if y’know and in the North East, you might be asked if you are fit like/you OK?

The further north you go, the stronger the accent gets.

Experiencing all of these different accents is often a Scotland trip highlight.

There are some amazing Scottish TV shows and films to watch before your trip to tune your ear to the sweet sound of a Scottish dialect, like Still Game, Trainspotting, Disney’s Brave, and Sunshine on Leith. 

For more shows to watch check out this guide on movies filmed in Edinburgh.

Ross Fountain People Princes Street Castle Edinburgh

If you don’t have time to brush up on your accent, taking a walking tour with a local guide will give you a crash course to the city and the local dialect.

While we don’t recommend walking up to a Scottish person and saying, “Och aye the noo,” there are some keywords and phrases that you can learn that could really help; while we can’t possibly list them all, here’s a few that you’ll hear pretty often around Edinburgh (which is pronounced “Ed-in-bruh,” the “g” is silent!)

Helpful Scots Words to Know

  •  “Dinnae” – Don’t; “Dinnae dae that” 
  •  “Cannae” – Can’t; “I cannae find the pub”
  •  “Nae bother” – No Problem; “Aye, nae bother pal.”
  •  “Wee” – Small; “Just a wee bit more of that gin, please.”
  •  “Dae” – Do; “Dae me a wee favor, mate.”
  •  “Daft” – Silly; “Och no, dinnae be daft.”
  •  “Numpty” – Stupid; “What an absolute numpty.”
  •  “Minging” – Disgusting; “Oh, that is pure minging.”
  •  “Chum” – Join; “Will you chum me to the shops?”
  •  “Alright” – Used as a Greeting; “Alright there, pal?”

If you want to do a deeper dive into some of the best Scottish words and phrases, check out this post.

A piper playing on the Royal Mile

2. You Might Get Lost in Translation so Learn the Lingo

Even if you absorb a Scots dictionary, there still might be a few things that could leave you beetroot or with a beamer (that means red in the face)!

When a Scottish person hears a foreign accent, they know that you’ll probably struggle to understand them a bit, and they’ll often try to accommodate, but some helpful tips could help you get a leg up.

It’s an almost endless list, but these are some words that you’ll probably come across on your travels that might leave you feeling a wee bit foolish if used incorrectly, so better brush up!

Highland Cow Art West End in Edinburgh

Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

  • Pants = Underwear; “I need to do some laundry and wash my pants.”
  • Trousers = Pants; “It’s a wee bit chilly; I think I’ll wear trousers.”
  • Juice/Fizzy Juice = Soda; “Can I get a can of fizzy juice? Do you have Pepsi?”
  • Lift = Elevator; “It’s on the third floor; you can take the lift.”
  • Chips = French Fries; “Let’s get chips; I’m starving.”
  • Crisps = Potato Chips; “I forgot to pack crisps with my lunch today.”
  • Biscuit = Cookie; “I think I’ll have a biscuit with my cuppa.”
  • Chemist = Pharmacy/Drugstore; “I’ve got a headache, is there a chemist nearby?”
  • Pavement = Sidewalk; “Watch out for cars, stay on the pavement.”
  • Hundreds & Thousands = Sprinkles; “I’ll get hundreds & thousands on my ice cream.”
  • Fit = Very Good Looking; “Oh wow, she is fit!”
  • Patch = To Ignore; “It was so rude; he just patched my calls.”
  • Rubber = Eraser; “Can I borrow your rubber? I need to erase this.”
  • Pudding = All Desserts; “I can’t decide if I have room for pudding after that dinner.”
  • Vest = Tank Top; “Wow, what a sunny day; I might get to wear my new vest.”

Don’t worry if you get a wee bit mixed up, the locals are used to these frequent misunderstandings with visitors.

William Wallace Art West End in Edinburgh

3. What to Wear in Scotland

No, you do not need to bring a kilt. 

People dress in Scotland similarly to what you probably wear daily; however you might see some of the locals with bare legs and arms when you’re all bundled up; that’s just the strong Scottish blood. 

So don’t worry so much about what people wear in Scotland; worry more about making sure you are warm and comfortable for your travels. 

The most important thing you can bring is layers; Scotland is well known for experiencing all four seasons in one day; generally speaking, the warmest temperatures you’ll experience are 77F

I usually describe the weather as perpetually springtime, usually a bit wet and chilly but sometimes unexpectedly warm or miserably cold. 

The first time I visited was in August, and I had to buy extra socks (because mine were all wet), a scarf, an umbrella, and warmer pajamas to sleep in, so you really need to be prepared for anything. 

Mrs Baird B&B Jamie Outlander Falkland Scotland_

Some Year-Round Necessary Items

  • Waterproofs — Something like a light jacket and a travel-size umbrella at least; rain can strike at any moment, and you’ll be grateful. 
  • Jeans/ Long Trousers — Even in the summer, the mornings and evenings will be cool, and often the afternoons will too. 
  • Practical Shoes — Scotland has a lot of cobblestones; walking over them in shoes without a grip or a skinny heel won’t do you any favors. 
  • Extra Socks — Learn from my mistakes; there’s nothing worse than walking in soggy socks. 
  • Easily Layering Options — A sundress is perfect when it is warm, add a pair of tights, some boots & a cardigan to take the outfit easily into the night. 
  • One or Two Nice Outfits – Scotland is known for having some amazing nightlife so you’ll want to check that out.
  • A Winter Coat – If you visit outside of May-September, you’d rather be slightly warmer than way too cold.

 For more in-depth packing info, read this post. 

Woman in winter clothing at Circus Lane Stockbridge

What About Tartan?

While we love tartan at Everything Edinburgh, it is unlikely you will see lots of Scots wearing tartan.

During winter, some locals wear plaid skirts with tights or a warm tartan coat but this is not a given.

If you want to wear tartan while still fitting in, go for a nice tartan scarf which will keep you warm and look less tacky than a See You Jimmy hat…

It is likely you will see a man in a kilt on the Royal Mile playing his pipes, spinning you around the Ghillie Dhu ceilidh or showing you Scottish attractions on a Rabbies tour.

Scottish couple at ceilidh men in kilts

4. Getting Around Edinburgh, the Toon

As an American, you can live in the UK and drive on your American driver’s license for one year before you have to get a UK one. 

But it isn’t as simple as just having to drive on the other side of the car and the other side of the road (although that is quite a doozy in itself). 

There are many rules of the road that you may not be used to so it would be a good idea to look over the UK’s Government’s website, where you can learn everything you need to know.

Victoria Street Cars Edinburgh

Important Driving Tips to Know

  • Scotland has a very strict drink-drive limit; although you can technically have minimal amounts of alcohol in your system, most Scots view it as effectively a zero-tolerance limit; your best bet is to abstain entirely. 
  • Most American drivers are accustomed to a four or five-point stop sign or red light to control traffic flow; here, you’re more likely to find a roundabout to do the same thing. 
  • Scotland is known for being particularly bad with roadworks, especially in city areas, often creating traffic jams — and beware of potholes — many streets are rife with them. 
  • If you’re driving in the countryside, there’s a whole other slew of things to consider; many country roads are narrow, one-way roads with designated passing spots for you to pull over if another car is coming your way.
  • Country roads are also rarely lit with streetlights and can get very dark; coupled with the frequency of sheep, cows, and other wildlife on the roads means that you have to be highly aware of your surroundings. 

If driving sounds like too much hassle, Scotland has an amazing train system and network of buses; in fact, many people choose to never learn how to drive because it is so easy to get around without a car. 

You can also easily take a cab here by using the Uber or Gett app, booking a black cab service in advance by phone, or flagging one down on a busy, main road. 

If this all sounds like too much hassle, you can also use a hop on hop off bus, like this one.

A Lothian Bus driving in front of the Scott Monument

5. Scottish Food You Must Try

Just like anywhere else in the world, Scotland has their own foods; the Italians have pasta, the French have cheese, and the Scots have… haggis.

So much of Scottish culture revolves around pub life, you’ll most likely find that you’ll spend a good amount of time at the pub too!

Haggis Bon Bons Prestonfield House Food

A pub is often a more casual establishment serving mostly beers and wines and hearty locally favorite foods; these are often the “watering holes” of small towns; a bar on the other hand will have a variety of beer, wine, and spirit options and might only serve snack foods.

At any food/drink establishment, tipping is not required but always appreciated in any service setting; there isn’t a specific required amount, but 10% is generally an acceptable amount.

Le Monde Bar Espresso Martini Edinburgh

Scottish Foods You Have to Try

  • Scotch Egg – a boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried.
  • Scotch Pie – a savory pie filled with meat (usually beef).
  • Bridie – a pastry filled with pieces of beef and onion.
  • Scottish Breakfast – Fried eggs, baked beans, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, toast, sausage, black pudding, haggis, bacon, and a tattle scone.
  • Black Pudding – A sausage made from pork or beef blood and suet and oats.
  • Tattie Scone – Made from mashed potato and flour and fried in oil.
  • Haggis – A savory dish made from the organs of a sheep and minced with onion, suet, spices, and stock.
  • Tablet – Made with condensed milk, butter, and sugar, this is a grittier and more brittle version of fudge.
  • Cranachan – A dessert made from oats, cream, whisky, and raspberries.
  • Cullen Skink – A thick, creamy soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes, milk, and onions.
  • Neeps & Tatties – Scots for “Turnips and Potatoes,” mashed turnips and potatoes, usually served with haggis.
  • Stovies – A stewed dish of potato, meat, and onions.
  • Irn Bru – One of Scotland’s most beloved beverages; it is a carbonated, orange-colored soft drink.

A food tour is a smart way to see the best in the area, like this Aberdeen one.

Haggis Neeps & Tatties with Whisky at Edinburgh Castle

6. Restaurants in Scotland Etiquette

Some restaurants in Edinburgh don’t stay open all day, taking a break between lunch and dinner so consider this when planning meals.

Breakfast tends to be served around 07:30-10:30, brunch from 11am and lunch from 12pm with cafes closing by 3pm.

Lunch is sometimes called dinner by locals depending on where you are in Scotland!

Afternoon tea can be booked at hotels or restaurants usually from 1pm until 4pm. Find out more here.

This is where you are served trays of sandwiches, scones and cakes and drink hot tea.

By the way, when Scots ask if you want a tea, they mean a hot tea, not a cold jug of sweet tea.

Cold tea isn’t really that common.

Prestonfield House Rhubarb Restuarant Afternoon Tea Lunch

Dinner, or tea as it is referred to in some places, is served from 5pm with most people eating around 7pm.

Food truck food is increasing in popularity in Scotland’s cities and can be found at pop up events such as summer festivals in Edinburgh or all year round at locations such as Platform in Glasgow.

There are take out places that serve fish and chips, kebabs and pizzas in most towns and cities.

In Edinburgh, they tend to shut before the clubs whereas in Glasgow you can always get chips and cheese after going to the dancing.

Edinburgh Surgeons Museum

7. Everything Edinburgh

While the entire country is amazing, we can’t help but be slightly partial to Edinburgh, if you couldn’t tell. 

Once you get the hang of Edinburgh’s pronunciation (remember the silent “g”!), everything else seems easy in comparison. 

Edinburgh is a safe city; like anywhere in the world, there are nicer and rougher parts of town, but it is a great place for families, couples, or even solo travellers to visit. 

Edinburgh is a beautiful and interesting city where you can enjoy the outdoors, the nightlife, or even make the most of a rainy day with indoor activities.

However, a key way to get the most out of your Edinburgh city break is knowing how to get around!

Getting Around Edinburgh

Edinburgh travel is pretty simple; between walking, cabs, the tram and a bus stop there’s always an easy option to get where you need to be.

  • Edinburgh Trams – While a very divided subject amongst locals, the tram is especially great for getting to and from the airport; it’s got plenty of designated space for your luggage and will take you directly there. 
  • Currently it goes from the airport to the city centre but extend to Newhaven by 2023, encompassing majority of the city from east to west. Don’t forget to purchase your ticket before boarding the tram or risk the £10 ticket fine for each member of your party. 
  • Lothian Buses – The most popular method of travel amongst locals; the network will take you all over the city and even into the surrounding areas, here are the current prices.
  • If you’re out sightseeing for the day, a DAYticket allows you to get on and off as many times as you need, however, bus routes finish for the day between 11:00 pm and midnight, and only certain buses do night routes, so if you’re enjoying a night on the town, a taxi might be the best way to get home. 
  • If you have a longer stay, you can get a Ridacard for one week or four weeks, which allows for unlimited travel with discounted rates for students and children on Lothian Buses, Edinburgh Trams, NightBus, Lothian Country, and East Coast Buses.
  • It can be difficult to navigate the bus system when you first arrive; a great resource is the Lothian Bus Tracker to tell you when a certain bus will arrive at a specific bus stop. 

And don’t be afraid to walk! Edinburgh is full of tiny little secret spots, eclectic street art, and history bursting out of every corner, the most you walk the more you’ll see.

Are you flying into Edinburgh? Here are the best ways to get into the city from the airport.

8. Currency, Time & Other Useful Things

Take a trip abroad requires so much planning, sometimes the smallest details are the ones that slip through the cracks the most.

If someone tells you that your luggage is 3 kilo too heavy or that you owe them a few quid, you’ll probably stare at them with a blank face, but as always, we’ve got you covered!


  • British Money is called Pound Stirling but commonly referred to as pounds with a £ symbol.
  • Paper money is called a “note” and comes in £5, £10, £20, and £50 denominations, although £50 notes are rarely used. 
  • Coins come in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, and £2 denominations and instead of “cents” they’re called “pence”. 
  • You’ll often hear people say that something costs a “quid,” “fiver,” or a “tenner,” which is slang for £1, £5, or £10.
  • Coins will be needed for on-street parking if you can’t download the app in cities, parking in rural areas, public restrooms, some (very few) restaurants, and some rural stores and cafes.

Measurements, Temperatures, Dates & more

  • Measurements – a mix of Metric and Imperial System; this means locals measure in centimeters and inches, milliliters. This confuses locals as much as visitors according to this poll.
  • Weight is mostly calculated by Stone/Kilogram; 1st = 14lbs, and 1kg = 2.2lbs but you might order food like butcher’s meat in pounds.
  • Temperatures are in Celsius here so if you are looking at the weather on the hotel TV consider this! The conversion method is to take the °F temperature and subtract 32, multiply this number by 5 and divide by 9 to obtain your answer in °C; however, you can just save yourself the trouble and use your weather app.
  • Time is written in the 12-hour clock and 24-hour clock.
  • Scots will say 2pm, quarter past 2 or 2:15, half past 2 or 2:30 and 2:45 or quater to 3.
  • Daylight Saving Time moves the time forward and back twice a year.
  • Dates are written as Day/Month/Year, not Month/Day/Year, so 4/9/21 is September 4th, not April 9th.

Most of these things won’t affect your trip massively, but it could come in handy to know so you don’t miss a flight or a train and know how warm or cold it is outside.

Here’s our detailed guide to how much things cost in Edinburgh. Very useful.

Tolbooth Clock in Edinburgh, Scotland

9. Domestic Life Differences

You might find that your hotel/B&B/AirBnb looks different than what you’re used to seeing back home, especially if you’re staying in an older building.

There are a lot of quirks and nuances that make a Scottish home/hotel a little more memorable, they might seem a bit strange at first, but that just makes your experience all the more authentic.

Balmoral Hotel Suite Window
  • If you visit in the summer, be aware that there is almost no A/C in the UK; if you’re staying in a large-scale hotel, you might get lucky, but generally speaking they don’t use it, making a 70F degree day feel twice as hot when you’re inside. A travel sized fan will definitely come in handy if you’re heat sensitive.
  • During those summer months, you’ll want to crack a window to get a cool breeze flowing, but you won’t find any screens on them so be prepared to have some lovely bug friends blow in with the wind. 
  • There are no plugs in the bathrooms because the voltage is higher here, which would give a higher risk of an electrical shock should your appliance come into contact with water. See our packing guide for more info.
  • Washing your hands can be a bit of an adventure, most sinks have separate hot and cold taps, it is a learned skill to be able to find a nice warm temperature balance between the two.
  • If you’re renting an Airbnb or a cottage, you might find that every room has a door to it; this might seem superfluous but is useful in the winter to contain the heat to whatever room you’re in.
  • Dishes are washed in a basin in the sink; the basin is placed into the sink and filled with hot soapy water and then dumped out when the water is too dirty and refilled again to continue washing.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Edinburgh, here are some great budget options.

Waldorf Hotel Caledonian West End Edinburgh hotel Scotland

10. So you want to move to Scotland?

If visiting isn’t enough for you and you want to call Scotland home, there are a few things to know before moving to Scotland. 

Unfortunately, loving Scotland isn’t enough to get you a visa — and yes, you need a visa to move to Scotland. 

If you only want to vacation in Edinburgh/Scotland, you can do so without obtaining a visa; however, you can only stay for six months and cannot work in any capacity for a UK company or even as a self-employed person during that time. 

If you wish to move here, you have to qualify for a specific type of visa first; the most common are a student visa, a spousal visa, a work visa, or an ancestry visa.

  • A student visa is pretty self-explanatory; it requires you to maintain your status as a student for the time you are here, meaning if you drop out or graduate, this could affect your visa status. 
  • A spousal visa isn’t automatically granted when you marry a British citizen, rather being married to a British citizen allows you to have the eligibility to apply for a visa. 
  • A work visa requires you to have a job in the UK that is willing to sponsor you; however, that job also must be on the shortage occupation list.
  • An ancestry visa is only applicable if at least one grandparent was born in the UK.

These visas are costly (especially the Spousal Visa), require a lot of paperwork, and have to be re-submitted every few years; but if you’ve found a way to qualify you will be living out the dream of many.

You may also like our top tips for moving to Scotland.

Edinburgh Airport Sign

Final Thoughts

 If you’ve ever wondered if Scotland is a good place to visit, this proves that the answer is a resounding “yes!” to that question.  

 A visit to Scotland will provide you with epic road trips, quirky and fun city breaks, escapes to the remote countryside, all within a few hours of each other. 

We hope this guide has given you some useful travel tips for Scotland, be sure to tell us in the comments.

Things to know before visiting Scotland

Any questions or comments?
Let us know below.

Essential Edinburgh Information 

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4 thoughts on “10 Things Americans Need To Know Before Visiting Scotland

  1. Shannon says:

    I have deep Scottish roots and my ancestors are very important to me. Do you see many people come from the states with Jacobite/Royal ancestors searching for family history? I don’t want to look like a fool for bringing up my lineage.

    • Everything Edinburgh says:

      Hi Shannon, it is pretty common for North Americans to do historical tours and to discuss their heritage during the tours.

  2. Laura L says:

    Sorry, I didn’t catch a post date but I’ve been in the past two years and barely used cash. I was mostly in the tourist areas, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Aviemore, but even on the Isle of Skye I think they had electronic payment options. I have a good card with no foreign transaction fees so I used my phone almost everywhere. A few cash machines have withdrawal fees but if you research you can usually avoid those as well. It’s nice to have a bit of cash just in case but I don’t recall anywhere I absolutely needed it. Buses have electronic payment options too. I paid for train tickets in app usually. Just FYI for those going.

    • Everything Edinburgh says:

      Hi Laura, I’ve re-worded this sentence so that it goes into more detail. Isle of Skye is definitely the most popular island to visit, and very equipped for tourists. Be sure to have some cash on you when exploring others, I highly recommend Arran, Mull, Iona, Staffa, and Lewis & Harris! Many thanks, Gemma

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