Scotland packs spectacular landscapes, as well as rich history and tradition, into a small country. From the Lowlands to the Highlands, its lush woodlands, windswept moors, and deep lochs may take your breath away. Impressive castles, whisky distilleries, and golf courses entice, and cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow tweak tradition with cutting-edge festivals and vibrant cultural scenes. Scotland’s iconic products and customs—from tartans to bagpipes—may travel the globe, but there’s nothing like experiencing them firsthand.
Scotland’s main hubs are Glasgow, Prestwick (near Glasgow), Edinburgh, Inverness, and Aberdeen. Glasgow and Prestwick are the gateways to the west and southwest, Edinburgh the east and southeast, Aberdeen, and Inverness the north. All these cities have excellent bus and train transportation services and well-maintained roads that link them with each other and other cities within Scotland. Taxis are also an efficient and reliable option, but they are three to four times the cost of going by public transport.
Traveling by air is straightforward in Scotland. Security is heavy but efficient. You can often breeze through check-in lines by using your airline’s online check-in option or bag drop but confirm this ahead of time.
Flying time to Glasgow and Aberdeen is 6½ hours from New York, 7½ hours from Chicago, 9½ hours from Dallas, 10 hours from Los Angeles, and 21½ hours from Sydney. Flying time to Edinburgh is 7 hours from New York, 8 hours from Chicago, 10 hours from Dallas, 10½ hours from Los Angeles, and 22 hours from Sydney. Not all airlines offer direct flights to Scotland; many go via London. For those flights allow an extra four to five hours of travel (two to three for the layover in London plus an additional hour or two for the duration of the flight).
The major international gateways to Scotland are Glasgow Airport (GLA), about 7 miles outside Glasgow, and Edinburgh Airport (EDI), 7 miles from the city. Both offer connections for dozens of European cities and regular flights to London’s Gatwick (LGW) and Heathrow (LHR) airports. Aberdeen Airport (ABZ) has direct flights to most major European cities. Prestwick (PIK) has direct flights to most major British and European cities at discounted rates. Inverness (INV) offers direct flights in and around the United Kingdom.
Airport tax is included in the price of your ticket. Generally, the tax for economy tickets within the United Kingdom from European Union countries is £13. For all other flights it is £71. For first- and club-class flights from the United Kingdom and European Union the tax is £26; for all other destinations it’s £142.
All Scottish airports offer typical modern amenities: restaurants, cafés, shopping (from clothes to food to tourist trinkets), sandwich and salad bars, pubs, pharmacies, bookshops, and newsstands; some even have spas and hair salons. Glasgow is the largest, most interesting airport when it comes to a delayed flight. Good food and shopping options abound—try Discover Glasgow for Scottish-inspired goods—and if you’re in need of some tranquillity, head for the Relaxation Station for a clothed massage, no reservation necessary.
There are plenty of hotels near all airports, and all airports also have Internet access.
The best way to get to and from the airport based on speed and convenience is by taxi. All airport taxi stands are just outside the airport’s front doors and are well marked with clear signs. Most taxis have a set price when going to and from the airport to the city center but will turn on the meter at your request. Ask the driver to turn on the meter to confirm the flat-rate price.
If you’re traveling with a large party, you can request a people carrier to transport everyone, luggage included. Luggage is included in the taxi fare; you should not be charged extra for it.
If you’re traveling alone, a more economical transfer option is public transportation. Buses travel between city centers and Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness airports. Trams travel between Edinburgh Airport and the city center; trains go direct to Glasgow Prestwick Airport. All are fast, inexpensive, and reliable.
Transfers Between Airports
Scottish airports are relatively close to one another and all are connected by a series of buses and trains. Flights between airports add hours to your journey and are very expensive (between £200 and £400). The best way to travel from one airport to another is by bus, train, car, or taxi. Normally you must take a combination of bus and train, which is easy and—if you travel light—quite enjoyable.
From Edinburgh Airport you can take the Citylink Air (£11.40) bus direct to Glasgow Airport in 1 hour. For those wanting to see Edinburgh and have time on their hands, take a tram (£5) or bus (£4.50) to the city center and then a train to Glasgow city center (£13.50) and a shuttle bus to Glasgow Airport (£6.50). This journey should take you less than two hours. Taxis are fast but costly. The price of a taxi from Edinburgh Airport to Glasgow Airport is around £90, a good choice if you’re traveling with a few people. Renting a car would be a good choice if you want to get from Edinburgh to, say, Aberdeen Airport and you’re traveling with a few people. Otherwise, take a bus to the city center and then take a train.
Scotland has a significant air network for a small country. Contact British Airways or British Airways Express for details on flights from London’s Heathrow Airport or from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness to the farthest corners of the Scottish mainland and to the islands.
Among the low-cost carriers, Virgin has service from Heathrow; and easyJet flies from London Luton/Gatwick/Stansted to and between Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness, plus to and from Belfast. Flybe has services to Sumburgh (Shetland) and Kirkwall (Orkney) from Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, where you can continue on to Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Manchester, Newquay, and Southampton. Flybe also runs the Dundee-London Stansted route.
The least expensive airfares to Scotland are often priced for round-trip travel and must usually be purchased in advance. Airlines generally allow you to change your return date for a fee; most low-fare tickets, however, are nonrefundable.
If you intend to fly to Scotland from London, take advantage of the current fare wars on internal routes—notably among London’s four airports and between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Among the cheapest fares are those from easyJet, which offers bargain fares from London Luton/Gatwick/Stansted (all with good rail links from central London) to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness. However, British Airways now offers competitive fares on some flights.
Bicycling in Scotland is variable. The best months for cycling are May, June, and September when the roads are often quieter and the weather is usually better. Because Scotland’s main roads are continually being upgraded, bicyclists can easily reach the network of quieter rural roads in southern and much of eastern Scotland, especially Grampian. In a few areas of the Highlands, notably in northwestern Scotland, the rugged terrain and limited population have resulted in the lack of side roads, making it difficult—sometimes impossible—to plan a minor-road route in these areas.
Several agencies now promote routes for recreational cyclists. These routes are signposted, and agencies have produced maps or leaflets showing where they run. Perhaps best known is the Glasgow–Loch Lomond–Killin Cycleway. VisitScotland has advice on a site dedicated to cycling.
The Cyclists’ Touring Club publishes a members’ magazine, route maps, and guides. Sustrans is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing environmentally friendly routes for cyclists. Active Scotland, part of the national tourism agency, has a great list of bike routes ranked by area and difficulty.
Although some rural bus services will transport cycles if space is available, don’t count on getting your bike on a bus. Check well in advance with the appropriate bus company.
You can take bicycles on car and passenger ferries in Scotland, and it’s usually not necessary to book in advance. Arrive early so that your bike can be loaded through the car entrance.
ScotRail strongly advises that you make a train reservation for you and your bike at least one month in advance. On several trains reservations are compulsory.
Because Scotland has so many islands, plus the great Firth of Clyde waterway, ferry services are of paramount importance. Most ferries transport vehicles as well as foot passengers, although a few smaller ones are for passengers only.
It’s a good idea to make a reservation ahead of time, although reservations are not absolutely necessary. Most travelers show up on the day of departure and buy their tickets from the stations at the ports. Keep in mind that these are working ferries, not tourist boats. Although journeys are scenic, most people use these ferries as their daily means of public transportation to and from their hometowns.
The main operator is Caledonian MacBrayne, known generally as CalMac. Services extend from the Firth of Clyde in the south, where there’s an extensive network, right up to the northwest of Scotland and all the Hebrides. CalMac sells an 8-day or 15-day Island Rover runabout ticket, which is ideal for touring holidays in the islands, as well as an island-hopping plan called Island Hopscotch. Fares can range from £4 to £6 for a short trip to almost £50 for a longer trip with several legs.
The Dunoon–Gourock route on the Clyde is served by Western Ferries (for cars) and Argyll Ferries (for passengers and cycles only).
Northlink Ferries operates a car ferry for Orkney between Scrabster, near Thurso, and Stromness, on the main island of Orkney; and between Aberdeen and Kirkwall, which is also on the mainland of Orkney. Northlink also runs an efficient ferry to Lerwick, Shetland, and Kirkwall, Orkney. The journey to Lerwick is overnight, but comfortable cabins are available. These ferries can be busy in summer, so book well in advance.
Traveler’s checks (in pounds), cash, and major credit cards are accepted for payment.
Long-distance buses usually provide the cheapest way to travel between England and Scotland; fares may be as little as a third of the rail fares for comparable trips and are cheaper if you buy in advance. However, the trip is not as comfortable as by train (no dining cart, smaller bathrooms, less spacious seats), and travel takes longer. Glasgow to London by nonstop bus takes 8 hours, 45 minutes; by train it takes about 5 hours, 30 minutes. Scotland’s bus (short-haul) and coach (long-distance) network is extensive. Bus service is comprehensive in cities, less so in country districts. Express service links main cities and towns, connecting, for example, Glasgow and Edinburgh to Inverness, Aberdeen, Perth, Skye, Ayr, Dumfries, and Carlisle; or Inverness with Aberdeen, Wick, Thurso, and Fort William. Express service is very fast, and fares are reasonable. Scottish Citylink, National Express, and Megabus are among the main operators; there are about 20 in all. The Royal Mail Post Bus provides a valuable service–-generally twice-daily–-in the Highlands, Argyll, and Bute and the Western Isles. All buses are nonsmoking.
The London terminal is Victoria Coach Station for National Express and Megabus, which now offers a Gold service: a sleeper coach with seats that fold down into beds.
Discounts and Deals
On Scottish Citylink, the Explorer Passes offer complete freedom of travel on all services throughout Scotland. Three permutations give 3 days of travel out of a 5-day period, 5 days of travel out of 10, and 8 days of travel out of 16. They’re available from Scottish Citylink offices, and cost £41, £62, and £93 respectively.
National Express offers discounted seats on buses from London to more than 50 cities in the United Kingdom, including Glasgow and Aberdeen. Tickets range from £12 to £50, but only when purchased online. Megabus (order tickets online), a discount service, has similarly competitive prices between major cities throughout Scotland, including Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Inverness, and Perth.
Travelers ages 16 to 26 are eligible for 33.33% reductions with the Young Persons Coachcard (£10).
Fares and Schedules
Contact Traveline Scotland for information on all public transportation and timetables.
For town, suburban, or short-distance journeys, you buy your ticket on the bus, from a pay box, or from the driver. You need exact change. For longer journeys—for example, Glasgow–Inverness—it’s usual (and a good idea; busy routes and times can book up) to reserve a seat online.
Credit cards are accepted at most bus stations.
If you plan to stick mostly to the cities, you will not need a car. All cities in Scotland are either so compact that most attractions are within easy walking distance of each other (Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Inverness, and Stirling) or are accessible by an excellent local public transport system (Glasgow). And there is often good train or bus service from major cities to nearby day-trip destinations. Bus tours are a good option for day trips.
Once you leave Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the other major cities, a car will make journeys faster and much more enjoyable than trying to work out public-transportation connections to the farther-flung reaches of Scotland (though it is possible, if time-consuming, to see much of the country by public transportation). A car allows you to set your own pace and visit off-the-beaten-path towns and sights most easily.
In Scotland your own driver’s license is acceptable. International driving permits (IDPs) are available from the American Automobile Association and, in the United Kingdom, from the Automobile Association and Royal Automobile Club. These international permits, valid only in conjunction with your regular driver’s license, are universally recognized; having one may save you a problem with local authorities.
Expect to pay a lot more for gasoline, about £5.50 a gallon (from £1.13 to £1.20 a liter) for unleaded. It’s about 10p a liter higher in remote rural locations, even in the oil-producing region around Shetland. The British imperial gallon is about 20% more in volume than the U.S. gallon—approximately 4.5 liters. Pumps dispense in liters, not gallons. Most gas stations are self-service and stock unleaded, superunleaded, and LRP (replacing four-star) plus diesel; all accept major credit cards.
On-street parking is a bit of a lottery in Scotland. Depending on the location and time of day, the streets can be packed or empty of cars. In the cities you must pay for your on-street parking by getting a sticker from a parking machine; these machines are clearly marked with a large P. Make sure you have the exact change; the cost is around £3 for two hours, but can vary considerably from central to suburban zones, especially in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Put the parking sticker on the inside of your windshield. Parking lots are scattered throughout urban areas and tend to be more or less the same price as on-street parking.
The local penalty for illegally parked cars is generally £60 (£30 if paid within 14 days).
A good network of superhighways, known as motorways, and divided highways, known as dual carriageways, extends throughout Britain. In remote areas of Scotland where the motorway hasn’t penetrated, travel is noticeably slower. Motorways shown with the prefix M are mainly two or three lanes in each direction, without any right-hand turns. These are the roads to use to cover long distances, though inevitably you’ll see less of the countryside. Service areas are at most about an hour apart.
Dual carriageways, usually shown on a map as a thick red line (often with a black line in the center) and the prefix “a” followed by a number perhaps with a bracketed “t” (for example, “a304[t]”), are similar to motorways, except that right turns are sometimes permitted, and you’ll find both traffic lights and traffic circles along the way. The vast network of other main roads, which typical maps show as either single red A roads, or narrower brown B roads, also numbered, are for the most part the old roads originally intended for horses and carriages. Travel along these roads is slower than on motorways, and passing is more difficult. On the other hand, you’ll see much more of Scotland. The A9, Perth to Inverness, is a particularly dangerous road with the worst road accident record in Scotland because of the stopping and starting on the dual carriageway.
Minor roads (shown as yellow or white on most maps, unlettered and unnumbered) are the ancient lanes and byways of Britain, roads that are not only living history but a superb way of discovering hidden parts of Scotland. You have to drive slowly and carefully. On single-track (one-lane) roads, found in the north and west of Scotland, there’s no room for two vehicles to pass, and you must use a passing place if you meet an oncoming car or tractor, or if a car behind wishes to overtake you. Never hold up traffic on single-track roads.
To get help if your car breaks down, contact the 24-hour rescue numbers of either the Automobile Association or the Royal Automobile Club. If you’re a member of the AAA (American Automobile Association) or another association, check your membership details before you travel; reciprocal agreements may give you free roadside aid.
Rules of the Road
The most noticeable difference for most visitors is that when in Britain, you drive on the left and steer the car on the right. Give yourself time to adjust to driving on the left—especially if you pick up your car at the airport. One of the most complicated questions facing visitors to Britain is that of speed limits. In urban areas, it’s generally 30 mph, but it’s 40 mph on some main roads, as indicated by circular red-rimmed signs. In rural areas, the official limit is 60 mph on ordinary roads and 70 mph on divided highways and motorways. Traffic police can be hard on speeders, especially in urban areas. Driving while using a cell phone is illegal, and the use of seat belts is mandatory for passengers in front and back seats. Service stations and newsstands sell copies of the Highway Code (£2.50), which lists driving rules and has pictures of signs. It’s also available online at www.direct.gov.uk.
Drunk-driving laws are strictly enforced and penalties are heavy. Be aware that the legal alcohol limit is lower than in the rest of the United Kingdom: just 50 mg in every 100 ml of blood. That equates to just under a pint of beer or glass of wine for an average male, and half a pint or a small glass of wine for a woman. To be safe, avoid any alcohol if you’re driving.
You can rent any type of car you desire; however, in Scotland cars tend to be on the smaller side. Many roads are narrow, and a smaller car saves money on gas. Common models are the Renault Clio, Ford Focus, and Vauxhall Corsa. Four-wheel-drive vehicles aren’t a necessity. Most cars are manual, not automatic, and come with air-conditioning, although you rarely need it in Scotland. If you want an automatic, reserve ahead.
When you’re returning the car, allow an extra hour to drop it off and sort out any paperwork. If you’re traveling to more than one country, make sure your rental contract permits you to take the car across borders and that your insurance policy covers you in every country you visit.
Rates in Glasgow begin at £25 a day and £130 a week for an economy car with a manual transmission and unlimited mileage. This does not include tax on car rentals, which is 20%. The busiest months are June through August, when rates may go up 30%. During this time, book at least two to four weeks in advance. Online booking is fine.
Companies frequently restrict rentals to people over age 23 and under age 75. If you are over 70, some companies require you to have your own insurance. If you are under 25, a surcharge of £23 per day plus V.A.T. will apply.
Child car seats usually cost about £10–£25 extra; you must ask for a car seat when you book, at least 48 hours in advance. The same is true for GPS. Adding one extra driver is usually included in the original rental price.
Many of the crossings from North America to Europe are repositioning sailings for ships that cruise the Caribbean in winter and European waters in summer. Sometimes rates are reduced, and fly-cruise packages are usually available. To get the best deal on a cruise, consult a cruise-only travel agency.
The National Trust for Scotland runs a Cultural Cruising program with natural history, literary, and culinary themes. The destinations change each year but may include the west coast or Northern Isles. Hebridean Island Cruises offers 4- to 10-night luxury cruises aboard the MV Hebridean Princess around the Scottish islands, including all the Western Isles. Majestic Line runs small-group cruises on converted wooden fishing boats around Argyll and the Hebrides.
In Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the larger cities, black hackney taxis—similar to those in London—with their “taxi” sign illuminated can be hailed on the street, or booked by phone (expect to pay an extra 80p charge for this service in Edinburgh). If you call a private-hire taxi from the phone book, expect a regular-looking car to pick you up. The only distinctions are that they have a taxi license and a meter stuck on the dashboard, along with an ID card for the driver. Private-hire taxis are cheaper than black hackney taxis and will pick you up only from a specific location, not off the street.
Scottish taxis are reliable, safe, and metered. In Edinburgh, meters begin at £2.10 weekdays and increase in 25p intervals. Beyond the larger cities, most communities of any size have a taxi service; your hotel will be able to supply telephone numbers.
Train service within Scotland is generally run by ScotRail, one of the most efficient of Britain’s service providers. Trains are modern, clean, and comfortable. Long-distance services carry buffet and refreshment cars. Scotland’s rail network extends all the way to Thurso and Wick, the most northerly stations in the British Isles. Lowland services, most of which originate in Glasgow or Edinburgh, are generally fast and reliable. A shuttle makes the 50-minute trip between Glasgow and Edinburgh every 15 minutes. It’s a scenic trip with plenty of rolling fields, livestock, and traditional houses along the way. Rail service throughout the country, especially the Highlands, is limited on Sunday.
Most trains have first-class and standard-class coaches. First-class coaches are always less crowded; they have wider seats and are often cleaner and newer than standard-class cars, and they’re a lot more expensive. However, on weekends you can often upgrade from standard to first-class for a fee (often £10 to £20)—ask when you book.
Fares and Schedules
The best way to find out which train to take, which station to catch it at, and what times trains travel to your destination is to call National Rail Enquiries. It’s a helpful, comprehensive service that covers all Britain’s rail lines. National Rail will help you choose the best train to take, and then connects you with the ticket office for that train company so that you can buy tickets. You can also check schedules and purchase tickets on its website.
Train fares vary according to class of ticket purchased, time (off-peak travel will be much cheaper), and distance traveled. Before you buy your ticket, stop at the Information Office/Travel Centre and request the lowest fare to your destination and information about any special offers. There’s sometimes little difference between the cost of a one-way and round-trip ticket, and returns are valid for one month. So if you’re planning on departing from and returning to the same destination, buy a round-trip fare upon your departure, rather than purchasing two separate one-way tickets.
It’s often much cheaper to buy a ticket in advance than on the day of your trip (except for commuter services); the closer to the date of travel, the more expensive the ticket will be. Try to purchase tickets at least eight weeks in advance during peak-season summer travel to save money and reserve good seats. You must stick to the train you have booked (penalties can be the full price), and you need to keep the seat reservation ticket, which is part of the valid ticket.
Check train websites, especially ScotRail, for deals. You can also check the Trainline, which sells discounted advance-purchase tickets from all train companies to all destinations in Britain.
All major credit cards are accepted for train fares paid in person, online, and by phone.
Reserving your ticket in advance is always recommended.
Tickets and rail passes do not guarantee seats on the trains. For that, you need a seat reservation (essential for peak travel trains to and from Edinburgh during the summer festivals), which, if made at the time of ticket purchase is usually included in the ticket price, or, if booked separately, must be paid for at a cost of £1 per train on your itinerary. You also need a reservation for the overnight sleeper trains.
Rail passes may save you money, especially if you’re going to log a lot of miles. If you plan to travel by train in Scotland, consider purchasing a BritRail Pass, which also allows travel in England and Wales. All BritRail passes must be purchased in your home country; they’re sold by travel agents as well as ACP, The Trainline, or Rail Europe. Rail passes do not guarantee seats on the trains, so be sure to reserve ahead. Remember that Eurail Passes aren’t honored in Great Britain.
The cost of an unlimited BritRail adult pass for 4 days is $214/$323 (standard/first class); for 8 days, $384/$572; for 15 days, $572/$845; for 22 days, $715/$1,074; and for a month, $845/$1,271. The Youth Pass, for ages 16 to 25, costs $221/$325 for 4 days; $308/$458 for 8 days; $458/$676 for 15 days; $572/$859 for 22 days; and $676/$1,017 for one month. The Senior Pass, for those over 60, costs $265/$341 for 4 days; $384/$486 for 8 days; $572/$718 for 15 days; $715/$913 for 22 days; and $845/$1,081 for one month. The Scottish Freedom Pass allows transportation on all Caledonian MacBrayne and Strathclyde ferries in addition to major bus links and the Glasgow underground. You can travel any 4 days in an 8-day period for $229 or any 8 days in a 15-day period for $308.
There are two main rail routes to Scotland from the south of England. The first, the west-coast mainline, runs from London Euston to Glasgow Central; it takes 5½ hours to make the 400-mile trip to central Scotland, and service is frequent and reliable. Useful for daytime travel to the Scottish Highlands is the direct train to Stirling and Aviemore, terminating at Inverness. For a restful route to the Scottish Highlands, take the overnight sleeper service, with sleeping carriages. It runs from London Euston, departing in late evening, to Perth, Stirling, Aviemore, and Inverness, where it arrives the following morning. The new Caledonian Sleeper operator as of 2015, Serco Abellio, has introduced some marginal improvements to the long-established service, although new trains, carriages, and berths are not due until 2018.
The east-coast mainline from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh provides the quickest trip to the Scottish capital. Between 8 am and 6 pm there are 16 trains to Edinburgh, 3 of them through to Aberdeen. Limited-stop expresses like the Flying Scotsman make the 393-mile London–to–Edinburgh journey in around four hours. Connecting services to most parts of Scotland—particularly the Western Highlands—are often better from Edinburgh than from Glasgow.
Trains from elsewhere in England are good: regular service connects Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Bristol with Glasgow and Edinburgh. From Harwich (the port of call for ships from Holland, Germany, and Denmark), you can travel to Glasgow via Manchester. But it’s faster to change at Peterborough for the east-coast mainline to Edinburgh.
Although many routes in Scotland run through extremely attractive countryside, several stand out: from Glasgow to Oban via Loch Lomond; to Fort William and Mallaig via Rannoch (ferry connection to Skye); from Edinburgh to Inverness via the Forth Bridge and Perth; from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and to Wick; and from Inverness to Aberdeen.
A private train, the Royal Scotsman, does all-inclusive scenic tours, with banquets en route. This is a luxury experience: you choose itineraries from two nights (£2,420) to seven nights (£9,200) per person.
Caledonian Sleeper. To travel London-Edinburgh in a Standard Sleeper Seat starts at £50; for comfort consider a Sleeper Berth in a shared cabin, starting at £75. For the cheapest tickets book 12 weeks in advance of travel. 0330/060–0500; 141/ 555–0888; www.sleeper.scot.
The Royal Scotsman. 0845/077–2222; 800/524–2420; www.royalscotsman.com.
All newer laptops operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts and so require only an adapter. Never plug your computer into any socket without first asking about surge protection: although Scotland is computer-friendly, few hotels and B&Bs outside the major cities have built-in current stabilizers. It’s worthwhile to purchase a surge protector in the United Kingdom that plugs into the socket.
All hotels and many B&Bs have facilities for computer users, such as dedicated computer rooms and wired or wireless connections for Internet access. Most cafés offer free Wi-Fi access.
The good news is that you can now make a direct-dial telephone call from virtually any point on Earth. The bad news? You can’t always do so cheaply. Calling from a hotel is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones.
When you’re calling anywhere in Great Britain from the United States, the country code is 44. When dialing a Scottish or British number from abroad, drop the initial 0 from the local area code. For instance, if you’re calling Edinburgh Castle from New York City, dial 011 (the international code), 44 (the Great Britain country code), 131 (the Edinburgh city code without the initial 0), and then 225–9846 (the number proper).
Calling Within Scotland
There are three types of public payphones: those that accept only coins, those that accept only phone cards, and those that take British Telecom (BT) phone cards and credit cards. For coin-only phones, insert coins before dialing (minimum charge is 60p). Sometimes phones have a “press on answer” (POA) button, which you press when the caller answers.
Calls from residential phones are charged according to the time of day: evenings, nighttime, and weekend rates are cheaper. Daytime rates—weekdays 7 am–7 pm—are 4p per minute for a local call and 8p for a national call. A minimum fee of 60p (including a 40p connection charge) applies to calls from BT public payphones, which will purchase two 10p units of time. Thereafter call time is purchased in 10p units. This excludes calls to free phone services. A daytime call to the United States will cost 24p a minute on a regular phone (evenings 7 pm–7 am, and weekends are a few pence cheaper), and £2 a minute on a payphone.
To call a number with the same area code as the number from which you are dialing, omit the area-code digits when you dial. For long-distance calls within Britain, dial the area code (which usually begins with 01), followed by the telephone number. In provincial areas, the dialing codes for nearby towns are often posted in phone booths.
To call the operator, dial 100; directory inquiries (information), 118–500; international directory inquiries, 118–505.
In Scotland cell phone numbers, the 0800 toll-free code, and local-rate 0345 numbers do not have a 1 after the initial 0, nor do many premium-rate numbers, for example 0891, and special-rate numbers, for example 08705.
Numbers that start with 0800, 0808, or national information numbers that start with 0345 and 0845 are free when called from a U.K. BT landline: other telephone line providers like Virgin charge other rates, and they cost anywhere from 15p to £1 a minute when called from a cellular phone. Additionally, 0870 numbers are not toll-free numbers; in fact, numbers beginning with 0871 or the 0900 prefix are premium-rate numbers, and it costs extra to call them. The amount varies and is usually relatively small when dialed from within the country but can be excessive when dialed from outside the United Kingdom. Many businesses, especially those offering low-cost services (such as Ryanair or Megabus) communicate with customers via their websites. If they do have a customer services phone number, it’s costly to use it. There are some handy cellphone Android/iPhone Apps (including weq4u.co.uk) that help you save money on premium rate number calls.
Calling Outside Scotland
The country code for the United States is 1.
To make international calls from Scotland, dial 00 for international access, then the country code, area code, and number. For the international operator, credit card, or collect calls, dial 155.
You can purchase BT (British Telecom) phone cards for use on public phones from shops, post offices, and newsstands. They’re ideal for longer calls and come in values of £10 and £20. An indicator panel on the phone shows the number of units you’ve used; at the end of your call the card is returned. Where credit cards are taken, slide the card through, as indicated. Beware of buying cards that require you to dial a free phone number; some of these are not legitimate. It’s better to get a BT card.
If you have a multiband phone (some countries use different frequencies than what’s used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, Cingular, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees can be steep, however: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. And overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).
If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You’ll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates.
Cell phones are getting less and less expensive to purchase. Rather than renting one, it may be cheaper to buy one to use while you’re abroad. Rates run from as low as £20 a month for unlimited calls with a pay-as-you-go card.
You’re always allowed to bring goods of a certain value back home without having to pay any duty or import tax. But there’s a limit on the amount of tobacco and liquor you can bring back duty-free, and some countries have separate limits for perfumes; for exact figures, check with your customs department. The values of so-called duty-free goods are included in these amounts. When you shop abroad, save all your receipts, as customs inspectors may ask to see them as well as the items you purchased. If the total value of your goods is more than the duty-free limit, you’ll have to pay a tax (most often a flat percentage) on the value of everything beyond that limit.
Check ahead with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if you want to bring a pet into Scotland.
Today the traditional Scottish restaurant offers more than fish-and-chips, fried sausage, and black pudding. Instead, you’ll find the freshest of scallops, organic salmon, wild duck, and Aberdeen Angus beef, as well as locally grown vegetables and fruits. There’s also a wide array of international restaurants: Chinese, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, and Mexican (to name but a few) can be truly exceptional.
Places like Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen have sophisticated restaurants at various price levels; of these, the more notable tend to open only in the evening. But fabulous restaurants are popping up in the smaller villages as well. Dining in Scotland can be an experience for all the senses. These meals are rarely cheap, so don’t forget your credit card.
Note that most pubs do not have table service, so go to the bar and order your meal. You’re not expected to tip the bartender, but you are expected to tip restaurant waitstaff by leaving 10% to 15% of the tab on the table.
There are a couple of vegetarian options on every menu, and most restaurants, particularly pubs that serve food, welcome families with young children. Smoking is banned from pubs, clubs, and restaurants throughout Britain.
The restaurants we review in this book are the cream of the crop in each price category. Properties are assigned price categories based on dinner prices. Prices in the reviews are the average cost of the main course at dinner or if dinner is not served, at lunch.
Discounts and Deals
Many city restaurants have good pretheater meals from 5 to 7 pm. Lunch deals can also save you money; some main courses can be nearly half the price of dinner entrées. All supermarkets sell a large variety of high-quality sandwiches, wraps, and salads at reasonable prices. If the weather’s dry, opt for a midday picnic.
Meals and Mealtimes
To start the day with a full stomach, try a traditional Scottish breakfast of bacon and eggs served with sausage, fried mushrooms, and tomatoes, and usually fried bread or potato scones. Most places also serve kippers (smoked herring). All this is in addition to juice, porridge, cereal, toast, and other bread products.
“All-day” meal places are becoming prevalent. Lunch is usually served 12:30 to 2:30. A few places serve high tea—masses of cakes, bread and butter, and jam—around 2:30 to 4:30. Dinner is fairly early, around 5 to 8.
Familiar fast-food chains are often more expensive than home-cooked meals in local establishments, where large servings of British comfort food—fish-and-chips, stuffed baked potatoes, and sandwiches—are served. In upscale restaurants cutting costs can be as simple as requesting tap water; “water” means a bottle of mineral water that could cost up to £5.
Credit cards are widely accepted at most types of restaurants. Some restaurants exclude service charges from the printed menu (which the law obliges them to display outside), then add 10% to 15% to the check, or else stamp “service not included” along the bottom, in which case you should add the 10% to 15% yourself. Just don’t pay twice for service—unscrupulous restaurateurs add a service charge but leave the total on the credit-card slip blank.
A common misconception among visitors to Scotland is that pubs are cozy bars. But they are also gathering places, conversation zones, even restaurants. Pubs are, generally speaking, where people go to have a drink, meet their friends, and catch up on one another’s lives. Traditionally, pub hours are open until midnight, with last orders called about 20 minutes before closing time. In the bigger cities pubs can stay open until 1 am or later.
Some pubs are child-friendly, but others have restricted hours for children. If a pub serves food, it will generally allow children in during the day. Some are stricter than others, though, and will not admit anyone younger than 18. If in doubt, ask the bartender. Family-friendly pubs tend to be packed with kids, parents, and all of their accouterments.
Reservations and Dress
It’s a good idea to make a reservation if you can. We mention them specifically only when reservations are essential (there’s no other way you’ll ever get a table) or when they are not accepted. For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often 30 days), and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy. We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
Online reservation services make it easy to book a table before you even leave home. Open Table has listings in many Scottish cities.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
Bars and pubs typically sell two kinds of beer: lager is light in color, very carbonated, and served cold, while ale is dark, less fizzy, and served just below room temperature. You may also come across a pub serving “real ales,” which are hand-drawn, very flavorful beers from smaller breweries. These traditionally produced real ales have a fervent following; check out the Campaign for Real Ale’s website, www.camra.org.uk.
You can order Scotland’s most famous beverage—whisky (most definitely spelled without an e)—at any local pub. All pubs serve single-malt and blended whiskies. It’s also possible to tour numerous distilleries, where you can sample a dram and purchase a bottle for the trip home. Most distilleries are concentrated in Speyside and Islay, but there are notable ones on Orkney and Skye.
The legal drinking age in Scotland is 18.
Ecotourism is an emerging trend in the United Kingdom. The Shetland Environmental Agency Ltd. runs the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS), a program that evaluates sites and lodgings in England, Scotland, and Wales and gives them a gold, silver, or bronze rating according to their sustainability. You can find a list of green hotels, B&Bs, apartments, and other properties on the GTBS website. Also check out the VisitBritain and VisitScotland websites, which have information and tips about green travel in Britain.
The electrical current in Scotland, as in the rest of Great Britain, is 220–240 volts (in line with the rest of Europe), 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets take three-pin plugs, and shaver sockets take two round, oversize prongs.
Consider making a small investment in a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit. Most laptops and mobile-phone chargers are dual voltage (i.e., they operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts), so require only an adapter. These days the same is true of small appliances such as hair dryers. Don’t use 110-volt outlets marked “for shavers only” for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.
If you need to report an emergency, dial 999 for police, fire, or ambulance. Be prepared to give the telephone number you’re calling from. You can get 24-hour medical treatment at British hospitals, but as in U.S. hospitals, you should expect to wait for treatment. Treatment from the National Health Service is free to British citizens; as a foreigner, you will be billed after the fact for your care. (Prices are nowhere near what they are in the United States.)
Ambulance, fire, police. 999.
Specific Issues in Scotland
If you take prescription drugs, keep a supply in your carry-on luggage and make a list of all your prescriptions to keep on file at home while you are abroad. You will not be able to renew a U.S. prescription at a pharmacy in Britain. Prescriptions are accepted only if issued by a U.K.-registered physician.
If you’re traveling in the Highlands and islands in summer, pack some midge repellent and antihistamine cream to reduce swelling: the Highland midge is a force to be reckoned with.
Over-the-counter medications in Scotland are similar to those in the United States, with a few significant differences. Medications are sold in boxes rather than bottles and are sold in very small amounts—usually no more than 12 pills per package. There are also fewer brands than you’re likely to be used to—you can, for example, find aspirin, but usually only one kind in a store. You can buy generic ibuprofen or a popular European brand of ibuprofen, Nurofen, which is sold everywhere. Tylenol is not sold in the United Kingdom, but its main ingredient, acetaminophen, is—although, confusingly, it’s called paracetamol.
Drugstores are generally called pharmacies but sometimes referred to as chemists. The biggest drugstore chain in the country is Boots, which has outlets in all but the smallest towns. If you’re in a rural area, look for shops marked with a sign of a green cross.
Supermarkets and newsagents all usually have a small supply of cold and headache medicines, often behind the cash register. As in the United States, large supermarkets will have a bigger supply.
Medical Insurance and Assistance
Consider buying trip insurance with medical-only coverage. Neither Medicare nor some private insurers cover medical expenses anywhere outside of the United States. Medical-only policies typically reimburse you for medical care (excluding that related to preexisting conditions) and hospitalization abroad and provide for evacuation. You still have to pay the bills and await reimbursement from the insurer, though.
Another option is to sign up with a medical-evacuation assistance company. Membership in one of these companies gets you doctor referrals, emergency evacuation or repatriation, 24-hour hotlines for medical consultation, and other assistance. International SOS Assistance Emergency and AirMed International provide evacuation services and medical referrals. MedjetAssist offers medical evacuation.
Overall, Scotland is a very safe country to travel in, but be a cautious traveler and keep your cash, passport, credit cards, and tickets close to you or in a hotel safe. Don’t agree to carry anything for strangers. It’s a good idea to distribute your cash, credit cards, IDs, and other valuables between a deep front pocket, an inside jacket or vest pocket, and a hidden money pouch. Don’t reach for the money pouch once you’re in public. Use common sense as your guide.
Banks are open weekdays 9 to 5. Some banks have extended hours on Thursday evening, and a few are open on Saturday morning. The major airports operate 24-hour banking services all week.
Service stations are at regular intervals on motorways and are usually open 24 hours a day, though stations elsewhere are open 7 am to 9 pm; in rural areas many close at 6 pm and on Sunday.
Pharmacies are usually open Monday through Saturday from 9 to 5 or 5:30. At other times, most larger communities will have a supermarket with extended hours that has a pharmacy on the premises, or a rotation system for pharmacists on call (check any pharmacy window for the number to call). In rural areas doctors often dispense medicines themselves. In an emergency the police should be able to locate a pharmacist.
Most museums in cities and larger towns are open daily, although some may be closed on Sunday and Monday. In smaller villages museums are often open when there are visitors around—even late on summer evenings—but closed in poor weather, when visitors are unlikely; there’s often a contact phone number on the door.
Usual business hours are Monday through Saturday 9 to 5 or 5:30. In small villages many shops close for lunch. Department stores in large cities and many supermarkets even in smaller towns stay open for late-night shopping (usually until 7:30 or 8) one or more days a week. Apart from some newsstands and small food stores, many shops close Sunday except in larger towns and cities, where main shopping malls remain open. Big supermarkets like Asda and Tesco are open around the clock.
The following days are public holidays in Scotland; note that the dates for England and Wales are slightly different. Ne’er Day and a day to recover (January 1–2), Good Friday, May Day (first Monday in May), Spring Bank Holiday (last Monday in May), Summer Bank Holiday (first Monday in August), and Christmas (December 25–26).
Newspapers and Magazines
Scotland’s major newspapers include the Scotsman—a conservative sheet that also styles itself as the journal of record—and the left-leaning Glasgow-based Herald, along with the tabloid Daily Record. A new daily, The National, was set up post-independence referendum to explore the nationalist agenda. The Sunday Post, conservative in bent, is the country’s leading Sunday paper; Scotland on Sunday competes directly with London’s Sunday Times for clout north of the border; and the Sunday Herald, an offshoot of the Herald, is another major title. Scottish newsstands also feature editions of the leading London newspapers, such as the Times, Telegraph, Independent, and Guardian. Scotland also has many regional publications; the List, a twice-monthly magazine with listings, covers the Glasgow and Edinburgh scenes.
For magazines, the selection is smaller and its purview is less sophisticated. The Scots Magazine, the oldest magazine in the world still published, yet revamped in recent years, covers many aspects of Scottish life, from history and culture to outdoor pursuits, its people, food, and drink. Scottish Homes and Interiors is devoted to home design and style, and the Scottish Field covers matters dealing with the countryside. For more regional coverage check out the glossy Scottish Life.
Radio and Television
The Scotland offshoot of the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC Scotland, is based in Glasgow and has a wide variety of Scotland-based TV programming. BBC Scotland usually feeds its programs into the various BBC channels, including BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, and BBC4. An excellent Gaelic-language channel called BBC Alba has subtitles in English. ITV is used by independent channels, with STV providing the Scottish content. Originating in England, Channel 4 is a mixture of mainstream and off-the-wall programming, whereas Channel 5 has more sports and films. Satellite TV has brought dozens more channels to Britain.
Radio has seen a similar explosion for every taste, from 24-hour classics on Classic FM (100–102 MHz) to rock (Richard Branson’s Virgin at 105.8 MHz). BBC Radio Scotland is a leading radio station, tops for local news, and useful as it provides Scottish (rather than English) weather information. Originating from England—and therefore not always received in regions throughout Scotland—the BBC channels include Radio 1 (FM 97.6) for the young; Radio 2 (FM 88) for middle-of-the-roadsters; Radio 3 (FM 90.2) for classics, jazz, and arts; Radio 4 (FM 92.4) for news, current affairs, drama, and documentaries; and 5 Live (MW 693 kHz) for sports and news coverage. Digital radio channels include BBC Radio 6 Music for alternative music and BBC Radio 4 Extra for more comedy, drama, and factual.
The BBC website is perhaps one of the most comprehensive public service broadcasting websites in the world. You can watch BBC programs online using BBC iplayer, and listen to radio programs for up to a week after broadcast by using its Listen Again facility.
Prices can seem high in Scotland largely because of the exchange rate, though this has improved because of the economic downturn. However, travelers do get some breaks: national museums are free, and staying in a B&B or renting a city apartment brings down lodging costs.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you’re planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don’t wait until the last minute.
ATMs and Banks
ATMs are available throughout Scotland at banks and numerous other locations such as railway stations, gas stations, and department stores. Three banks with many branches are Lloyds, Halifax, and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you’ll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
PINs with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.
Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere and for everything (except for bus and taxi fares), as are debit cards. Most cards issued in Europe are now chip-and-PIN credit cards that store user information on a computer chip embedded in the card. In the United States, all credit cards were required to switch to “chip-and-signature” cards in 2015. While European cardholders are expected to know and use their PIN number for all transactions rather than signing a charge slip, U.S. chip-and-signature cards usually still require users to sign the charge slip. (Very few U.S. issuers offer a PIN along with their cards, except for cash withdrawals at an ATM, though this is expected to change in the future.) The good news: unlike the old magnetic-strip cards that gave American travelers in Europe trouble at times, the new chip-and-signature cards are accepted at many more locations, including in many cases at machines that sell train tickets, machines that process automated motorway tolls at unmanned booths, and automated gas stations—even without a signature or PIN. The bad news: not all European locations will accept the chip-and-signature cards, and you won’t know until you try, so it’s a good idea to carry enough cash to cover small purchases.
Visa and MasterCard are more widely accepted than American Express and Diners Club; it is a good idea to travel with a picture ID in case you’re asked for it.
Currency and Exchange
Britain’s currency is the pound sterling, which is divided into 100 pence (100p). Bills (called notes) are issued in the values of £50, £20, £10, and £5. Coins are issued in the values of £2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p, and 1p. Scottish coins are the same as English ones but have a thistle on them. Scottish notes have the same face values as English notes, and English notes are interchangeable with them in Scotland.
At this writing, the exchange rate was U.S. $1.55 to the pound.
Google does currency conversion. Just type in the amount you want to convert and an explanation of how you want it converted (e.g., “14 Swiss francs in dollars”). Oanda.com also allows you to print out a handy table with the current day’s conversion rates. XE.com is another good currency conversion website.
Travel light. Porters are more or less extinct these days (and very expensive where you can find them). Also, if you’re traveling around the country by car, train, or bus, large, heavy luggage is more of a burden than anything else. Save a little packing space for things you might buy while traveling.
In Scotland, casual clothes are the norm, and very few hotels or restaurants insist on jackets and ties for men in the evening. It is, however, handy to have something semi-dressy for going out to dinner or the theater. For summer, lightweight clothing is usually adequate, except in the evening, when you’ll need a jacket or sweater. A waterproof coat or parka and an umbrella are essential at any time of year. You can’t go wrong with comfortable walking shoes, especially when you’re climbing Edinburgh’s steep urban hills or visiting Glasgow’s massive museums. Drip-dry and wrinkle-resistant fabrics are a good bet because only the most prestigious hotels have speedy laundering or dry-cleaning service. Bring insect repellent if you plan to hike.
Some visitors to Scotland appear to think it necessary to adopt the Scottish dress. It’s not unless you’ve been invited to a wedding, and even then it’s optional. Scots themselves do not wear tartan ties or Balmoral “bunnets” (caps), and only an enthusiastic minority prefers the kilt for everyday wear.
U.S. citizens need only a valid passport to enter Great Britain for stays of up to six months. Travelers should be prepared to show sufficient funds to support and accommodate themselves while in Britain (credit cards will usually suffice for this) and to show a return or onward ticket. If you’re within six months of your passport’s expiration date, renew it before you leave—nearly extinct passports are not strictly banned, but they make immigration officials anxious and may cause you problems. Health certificates are not required for travel in Scotland.
If only one parent is traveling with a child under 17 and his or her last name differs from the child’s, then he or she will need a signed and notarized letter from the parent with the same last name as the child authorizing permission to travel. Airlines, ferries, and trains have different policies for children traveling alone, so if your child must travel alone, make sure to check with the carrier prior to purchasing your child’s ticket.
Most cities, towns, and villages have public restrooms, indicated by signposts to the “WC,” “toilets,” or “public conveniences.” They vary hugely in cleanliness. You’ll often have to pay a small amount (usually 30p) to enter; a request for payment usually indicates a high standard of cleanliness. Gas stations, called petrol stations, usually have restrooms (to which the above comments also apply). In towns and cities, department stores, hotels, restaurants, and pubs are usually your best bets for reasonable standards of hygiene.
Tartans, tweeds, and woolens may be a Scottish cliché, but nevertheless the selection and quality of these goods make them a must-have for many visitors, whether a made-to-measure traditional kilt outfit or a designer sweater from Skye. Particular bargains can be found in Scottish cashmere sweaters; look for Johnstons of Elgin. Glasgow is great for designer wear, although prices may seem high.
Food items are another popular purchase: whether shortbread, smoked salmon, boiled sweets, tablet (a type of hard fudge), marmalade and raspberry jams, Dundee cake, or black bun, it’s far too easy to eat your way around Scotland.
Unique jewelry is available all over Scotland, but especially in some of the remote regions where get-away-from-it-all craftspeople have set up shop amid the idyllic scenery.
Scottish antique pottery and table silver make unusual, if sometimes pricey, souvenirs: a Wemyss-ware pig for the mantelpiece, perhaps, or Edinburgh silver candelabra for the dining table. Antique pebble jewelry is a unique style of jewelry popular in Scotland; several specialized antique jewelry shops can be found in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Antique shops and one- or two-day antique fairs held in hotels abound all over Scotland. In general, goods are reasonably priced. Most dealers will drop the price a little if asked “What’s your best price?”
Discounted sightseeing passes are a great way to save money on visits to castles, gardens, and historic houses. Just check what the pass offers against your itinerary to be sure it’s worthwhile.
The Scottish Explorer Ticket, available from any staffed Historic Scotland (HS) property and from many tourist information centers, allows visits to HS properties for 3 days in a 5-day period (£30) or 7 days in a 14-day period (£40). The Discover Scotland pass is available for 3 days (£27), 7 days (£32), or 14 days (£37) and allows access to all National Trust for Scotland properties. It’s available to overseas visitors only and can be purchased online and by phone, or at properties and some of the main tourist information centers.
An airport departure tax of £73 (£13 for within U.K. and EU countries) per person is included in the price of your ticket.
The British sales tax, V.A.T. (Value-Added Tax), is 20%. It’s almost always included in quoted prices in shops, hotels, and restaurants. The most common exception is at high-end hotels, where prices often exclude V.A.T. Further details on how to get a V.A.T. refund and a list of stores offering tax-free shopping are available from VisitBritain.
When making a purchase, ask for a V.A.T.-refund form and find out whether the merchant gives refunds—not all stores do, nor are they required to. Have the form stamped by customs officials when you leave the country or, if you’re visiting several European Union countries when you leave the EU. After you’re through passport control, take the form to a refund-service counter for an on-the-spot refund or mail it to the address on the form after you arrive home.
Tipping is done in Scotland as in the United States, but at a lower level. Some restaurants include a service charge on the bill; if not, add about 10% to 15%. Taxi drivers, hairdressers, and barbers should also get 10% to 15%.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.