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Scotland in a Nutshell: Do you know its History, Culture and more?

Everything about Scotland

Are you thinking about where to go for your next vacation and Scotland is on your wish list? Do you already have your plane tickets booked? Or are you one of the fellas who just love to educate themselves more? No matter what your answer is, this article is just the thing you need to get to know this wonderful country better

My Scotland Ratings  

Weather 3/10Infrastructure 10/10
Services 10/10People 10/10
Price level 1/10Food 7/10
Nature 10/10Hotels 3/10
Hikes 15/10Cities 9/10
Overall 10/10

And now it’s time for my ultimate review of Scotland!

Overall, I was impressed by basically everything I’ve seen there. Speaking about nature in particular, but also cities. As I’ve said probably a hundred times already, it is simply breathtaking. 10/10! 

Also, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice and kind people were to us. The level of hospitality they showed us was truly incredible. 10/10 again. 

The infrastructure of the country is on a high level, so we were able to travel by car a lot. That made our vacation even more pleasant and it allowed us to do so many day trips from Edinburgh for example. More about driving in Scotland here. So no surprise, 10/10 for me. 

Speaking of food and restaurants, this evaluation is going to be a smidge worse than the others. The restaurants were nice, just make sure you make reservations, especially on the Isle of Skye and in the Highlands. But still 10/10.

Seafood shackle in Northern Highlands, Scotland 
The wonderful Seafood Shack in the Northern Highlands

But be ready to dig deep into your pockets. Scotland is probably the most expensive place I’ve ever been! 1/10!!! 

And for food in Scotland it is 7/10. It was tasty and I tried so many new and different things. But I can’t imagine eating this for a longer period of time. It is too meaty and fat for me. 

To sum it up, Scotland is now one of my favorite places on Earth and I will definitely visit it again! 

Further reading: 
Scotland Fun Facts 
10-Day Scotland Itinerary 
7-Day Scottish Highlands Road Trip Itinerary 
Best Things to Do in Edinburgh 

Scotland’s politics and government 

The national flag of Scotland 
The national flag of Scotland

Scotland is a nation within United Kingdom and is represented in two parliaments, Parliament of United Kingdom and Scottish Parliament. It is a democratic country governed under constitutional monarchy. Therefore, the head of Scotland is the British monarch, currently King Charles III. 

The biggest executional power is held by the First Minister, the head of government. Currently, Nicola Sturgeon, the head of the Scottish National Party, is leading the government. She is the first woman leading both the party and the government.  

The capital city is Edinburgh and it is as lovely as it gets! There are so many things to do and see that I recommend staying there for more days. The hotel we stayed in when we visited the city was Leonardo Edinburgh City and I would stay there again. I don’t think there’s anything comparable in Edinburgh as far as bang for your buck.

Leonardo Edinburg City Hotel 

Scotland’s languages

Scotland has 3 official languages. English, Scots and Scottish Gaelic. Most people speak English and more than a half of the population stated they have no skills in Scots. Gaelic sounds cool but only 1% of Scottish people actually speaks it! I got to learn some myself, so now I know the most important phrase of all—Slainte! (pronounced “slan-juh” and doesn’t mean anything less than “Cheers!”)

Scotland’s history 

Stairwell and photo op at Wallace Monument in Scotland 
Me going up the stairs and me having the time of my life, both at the Wallace Monument

Scottish history is amazing, full of great wars and even greater characters. We could talk about it for hours (I would love to do so), but I will try to be brief about it. 

The written history of Scotland begins with the arrival of Romans with Julius Ceasar in the first century AD. They tried to establish their rule, built famous structures such as Hadrian’s Wall which is there till today. However, even the wall did not defend the Romans from Picts and they eventually withdrew entirely from Britain. 

Around the 8th century the Vikings sailed across the ocean to today’s Scotland and began to settle there in the west. Meanwhile, in the east the Kingdom of Alba was ruled by Picts that later merged with Scots (who came from Ireland, duh) and formed a single Christian kingdom. Never heard much about this era? But you definitely know one of its kings, Macbeth, right?  

At the end of 13th century after the death of Alexandr III and his heiress 13 claims to the throne were made. Edward I King of England intervened and made John de Baliol the king. He meant to make John his puppet, but he made an alliance with France instead. That led to his imprisonment and Edward I made himself the king of Scotland. 

The Scots didn’t want to be under the English rule, so they rose under the leadership of William Wallace. He defeated English army several times but in 1305 was Wallace captured and executed. His story is basically immortal thanks to the movie I can binge watch anytime, Braveheart

But don’t be fooled, this didn’t break the spirit of the Scots! They found their new ruler and hero, Robert the Bruce, who led the nation to independence, which England finally recognized by a treaty in 1328.

Statue of Robert the Bruce in Bannockburn, Scotland 
Statue of Robert the Bruce in Bannockburn, close to my favorite Stirling Castle

In the 16th century the Reformation came to Scotland thanks to the follower of John Calvin, John Knox. During that time Queen Mary was at rule. Her father James V died young and when she inherited the throne, she was still a baby! Mary was raised and educated in France where she married her first husband.  

After his death Mary returned to Scotland and her rule was successful at first but as a Catholic, she had her struggles with newly established Protestant faith. But she hadn’t problems with marring multiple men over the course of time! Those religious beliefs, huh. Mary fled to England where she was imprisoned and then executed. 

James I, the son of Queen Mary, inherited not only Scottish throne but also the English one! Therefore, these two nations were ruled by one man. This act is now known as the Union of the Crowns

Even closer brought Scotland to England an act almost a century later, The Act of Union in 1707 created one united parliament of United Kingdom of Great Britain. Not every Scot was satisfied with this union and it led to series of rebellions which were all suppressed by English forces. 

During the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century Scotland flourished. Huge cities were built, big factories with heavy industry were booming. Scotland was the center of coal and steel industry. However, the living standards and situation of the people were very poor till the establishing of trade unions. 

After the first world war got Scottish economy into a slump and the industrial power stayed in the past. Unemployment was high till the beginning of World War II, which brought an economic boost thanks to the demand for battleship construction and aircrafts.  

In post-war times, the Scottish people demanded greater independence from England many times. After few pursuits of establishing their own Scottish parliament, it finally worked out and it is in place since 1999.  

Fifteen years later in 2014 the first referendum of independence was held with close results of 55% against. But after Brexit people call for another referendum that could maybe swing the results the other way.

Scotland’s geography 

Map showing the capital city of Scotland 
Scotland is located in the north of the United Kingdom

Tip: Scotland isn’t huge, but due to its geography and many single-lane roads, especially in the north, expect a lot of slow driving. If you look at my 10-day Scotland itinerary, you’ll notice that it’s a road trip, changing bases every couple of days. That way, you minimize daily driving times and get to experience the whole country! 

Scotland occupies one third of the island of Great Britain and without borders with its only neighbor England is surrounded by water all around. The coastline is incredible 9910 km (6160 miles) long! 

The land of Scotland is 77,900 km2 (30,090 square miles) but that does not tell you much, I know. Well, it is comparable to another European country, the Czech Republic, or if we take a look across the big pond to the USA, its size is closest to South Carolina’s. 

Most of the mountains in Great Britain are in Scotland so if you are into mountain hiking with breathtaking views, Scottish Highlands might be just the right fit for you. Maybe you will even fall for Munro bagging! Never heard of it? Never mind its goal is pretty clear. Reach as many peaks over 3000 feet) as you can, easy right? So how many will you climb?

A tourist hiking at Stac Pollaidh
Stac Pollaidh hike in Norhtern Highlands

If you continue south from the northern Highlands, the rest of the land is mainly flat and mild. 

We can’t forget to mention famous lochs, there are more than 31k (!!!) of them. Crazy right? You probably won’t be able to visit them all but you should see at least a few of them. What about Loch Ness? Maybe you will be lucky enough to spot Nessie there! More details on visiting Loch Ness and discussing Nessie sightings in my article about Glencoe.  

The nature of this country is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. And to be honest, if you want to plan some romantic time with your other half, it is just perfect. Check out my list of the most romantic places in Scotland.

Scotland’s demographics 

Scotland’s demography – redhead girl
Scotland is the land of redheads

The population of Scotland is almost 5,5 million. Not much for its size, right?  

The average population density of 67.2/km2 (174/square miles) doesn’t give you the full picture—the least populated areas in the Scottish Highlands have a density of just 9 people per km2! Edinburgh, on the other hand, has about 1800 people per km2.   

Compare that to Iceland at 3 people per km2 or even Norway at 15 people per km2. On the other side of the spectrum is Belgium with 380 people per km2 and the Netherlands with a whopping 500 humans per km2

The biggest and most populated city is Glasgow with more than 10% of the whole population living there.  

Scotland is not a diverse country per say. More than 80% of people are Scottish nationality and not even 4% of different than white ethnicity fellas live there. 

But one specific group of people has a larger presence than nowhere else in the world. Redheads!  On a worldwide scale, 2% of people have red hair. In Scotland, the number is somewhere between 6–13%. One in 8 people have red hair, and at least another 2 of those 8 carry the red hair gene.   

Scotland is therefore the redhead capital of the world, with the largest density of redheads in Edinburgh.   

Interestingly, the reason for this is that redheads have an incredible superpower—they produce vitamin D more efficiently than any other hair color. In a country with little sunlight and many cloudy and rainy days, being able to make your vitamin D better and faster gives you the evolutionary edge. Those with vitamin D deficiency died, those with red hair survived and multiplied. Pretty cool, right?

Scotland’s economy 

Economy of Scotland

As part of United Kingdom is Scotland a member of many economic organizations and funds such as G7, G20 and WTO or UN.  

Historically, its economy has been well developed since the Industrial Revolution with a focus on heavy industry. After the world wars industry was limited and in decline for a while. In the 70s the economy started to bloom again thanks to oil extraction from the North Sea and industries associated with it. Nowadays it is one of the strongest economies in the world.  

Services are the main part of the GDP thanks to tourism that’s an important part of the economy. The fishing industry is also a strong resource, how could it not be, look at the length of the coastline! 

Scotland’s economy is closely tied to the rest of United Kingdom, 60% of export stays within the UK. If we were to name the exported goods we can’t forget about whisky and textiles.

Scotland’s weather 

The weather in Scotland 
Luck favors the prepared!

You’ve probably heard plenty of jokes about Scottish summer or weather in general. But how is it for real? 

Well, it is quite moderate. Scotland has neither extreme summers nor winters. An interesting fact about the weather is that it varies from one region to another. You drive for not even an hour and you basically enter a different season. 

In general, the weather can be very unpredictable. Although no matter the season, it rains! No wonder it is one of the rainiest places in Europe. But you know what Scottish say, ‘today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky.’ 

And there is still one question to answer: when should you visit Scotland? I would recommend late spring or early fall months. Not only because of the weather, but also because not many tourists are there during this time. And the prices are also more friendly then. 

Tip: If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, check out my 10-day Scotland Road Trip Itinerary. It’s very detailed, all you need is to book your flight and off you go! 

But the weather is not all bad. Thanks to the rain and clean air I was able to sleep like a baby! Maybe it was also the hotels, but what is more relaxing than falling asleep to the sound of rain drumming on the roof? The night we spent in Aultguish Inn near Ullapool was one to remember. Just the clean air, the sound of the rain…omg I would sleep there every day! 

The best places to stay in Ullapool, Aultguish Inn and Harbour House
We stayed in the Aultguish Inn near Ullapool and though it wasn’t fancy, it was nice and clean and I’d never slept better in my life!

Scotland’s religion 

More than half of the population professes Christianity. The Church of Scotland was created during the times of Reformation and is currently the national church with approximately 30% of believers. The second place takes Roman Catholic Church. 

Almost 40% of people stated that they believe in no religion, but some studies say the number is even higher.

Scotland’s culture, art and famous people 

Arthur Conan Doyle - author of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes 
The author of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes—Arthur Conan Doyle—was a native of Scotland

The first thing that needs to be said is that Scots are very proud people. Proud of their nation, history and culture in general, probably due to their historical repressions from English. They are very keen about keeping traditions and cherishing the legacy. So, it is pretty normal to stumble upon some historical fair. 

Many festivals are being held in Scotland throughout the year that it is even nicknamed world’s festival capital! Maybe the fact that the largest art event on Earth is the Edinburgh Festival also helps a little. Well, dancing in crowds, singing your heart out at the concert is not exactly my type of thing. But if you are into that kind of fun, consider visiting some of the music festivals. 

Literal history is also super rich. What more, Edinburgh became the first city in the world to be named a UNESCO City of Literature—thanks to its incredible history of writing. It’s no surprise, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a.k.a Sherlock Holmes’ author was born in Scottish capital. But not only him made Scottish literature famous, we can’t forget about James Hogg or Walter Scott’s poems. 

Undeniable part of Scots’ lives is the football culture. When it’s a game day in Glasgow, the streets are flooded with green and fans are going crazy. But it’s not only about big cities with big clubs, but people love to go to see a good match and have a pint all around the country.

Scotland’s food and drinks 

Scottish traditional Whisky
In Scotland, it’s whisky, not whiskey

Everybody in Europe always says that the UK has the worst cuisine in Europe. I call bullshit.   

UK, and Scotland in particular, has some of the best restaurants in Europe and I’ve had some of the tastiest meals of my travels in the UK. Though the food does tend to be a lot of the same—all the fat and meat and chips. So what is on the menu other than fish and chips? 

The national dish of Scotland is haggis. Don’t know what that is? I don’t blame you, I didn’t either. It’s a sheep’s stomach filled with onions, liver, heart and lungs all mashed together with oatmeal and blood… Sounds gross right? 

The Americans among you are probably grossed out the most. They banned haggis in the whole US (because it contains sheep lungs). But to be honest I actually liked it! 

Ask any Scot what’s more important than any food in Scotland. The answer will always be the same. Whisky, mate! Not whiskEy, that’s Ireland. 

On our fabulous tour of Torabhaig Distillery on the Isle of Skye, we learned why whisky is such a premium drink, or that single malt is aged for 5–20 years in barrels and has a 40% (sometimes even 60%!) alcohol content.   

We went onto this tour not caring much for whisky, but learned we were just drinking the wrong kind! Plus the production is a fascinating process. So now we love whisky and think it is pertinent that you learn about “Scotch” so you can fall in love with it too. 

What other foods have I tried and are on my top list? Find out in my Scottish Food Guide!

Scotland’s symbols 

 A man in a traditional Scottish suit

I don’t think I exaggerate if I say that Scotland is a country full of symbols. There are so many iconic things that people associate only with it. 

What comes to your mind when I say Scotland? Is it a man in a kilt (not a skirt, obviously) playing his bagpipes? Or a pub full of dudes watching football (soccer for our fellow Americans) sipping Scotch or foamless beer? If it’s either of those or even both, you can’t be more right. 

And what’s more symbolic than national animal? In this case even more. The national animal of Scotland is nothing else than a unicorn. I mean in the land of fairies, it’s only fitting that the national animal is mystical.  Why unicorns? According to legend, they are fiercely loyal, independent and untamable—just like the Scottish.  

Another animal connected to Scotland is the Border Collie. This breed, aka the smartest dog in the world, is originally from Scotland and you can see that they are very proud of them. They are literally everywhere in Scotland. There are an estimated 50,000 Border Collies in Scotland.   

Why “border collie”? Collie is just a Scottish word that means sheepdog, and “border” simply because the dogs thrived in the border region between England and Scotland. I was expecting a more elaborate reason for the name, but nope.   

If you want to learn more trivia read my article full of fun facts about Scotland

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