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 INFORMATION STATION
Facts at a GlanceEnvironmentEconomic Profile
Facts for the TravelerMoney & CostsWhen to Go

Facts at a Glance
 Area: 78,772 sq km (30,414 sq mi)

Population: 5.1 million

Capital city: Edinburgh (pop 453,000)

People: Celts, Anglo-Saxons

Language: English, Gaelic

Religion: Presbyterian Church of Scotland, other Presbyterian churches, Anglicans, Catholics

Government: Parliamentary Democracy

Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II

Prime Minister: Tony Blair

First Minister: Jack McConnell


Environment
 

Scotland is about half the size of England, and roughly two-thirds of the country is mountain and moorland. Geographically, it can be divided into three areas: the Southern Uplands, the Central Lowlands, and the Northern Highlands and Islands. The Southern Uplands are the fertile plains and hills bordering England; the Central Lowlands run from Edinburgh to Glasgow and contain the industrial belt and most of the population, while the Highlands are mountain ranges of sandstone and granite, rising to their heights at Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. Of Scotland's 790 islands, 130 are inhabited. Island groups include the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Orkneys and the Shetlands.

Although much of the country was once covered by the Caledonian forest - a mix of Scots pine, oak, silver birch, willow, alder, rowan and heather - this mighty treescape is now reduced to a few pockets of indigenous vegetation. Almost three-quarters of the country is uncultivated bog, rock and heather, with almost 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) clothed in acidic peat. In the far north there are lichens and mosses found nowhere else in Britain. Although the thistle is commonly assicated with Scotland, the national flower is the Scottish bluebell. Scotland's first-ever national park, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, opened in 2002. There are also plans to create a second national park in the Cairngorms.

Red deer are found in large numbers. Wild boars, once nearly extinct, have been reintroduced, while the extremely rare wildcats and wild goats are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Foul-tempered highland cattle were bred to endure the cold climate, and sheep graze grasslands all over the country. Otters are rare, but introduced minks are spreading like wildfire. Scotland's famous game birds, the grouse, graze in large numbers on the country's heather, and millions of greylag geese winter on the stubble fields of the lowlands. Seals are frequently seen, and visitors come from all over for the famed Scottish salmon.

'Varied' describes Scotland's climate perfectly. There are wide variations in climate over small distances, and a sunny day will often as not be followed by a rainy one. Although the country nudges the Arctic Circle, the Gulf Stream winds keep the temperature mild (well, relatively mild). The Highlands, however, can have extreme weather at any time. The east coast tends to be cool and dry, with winter temperatures rarely dropping below freezing (but watch out for the bone-chilling winds off the North Sea). The west coast is milder and wetter, with average summer highs of 19°C (66°F). May and June are the driest months; July and August the warmest. In summer the sun barely sets in the north; in the winter it barely rises.




Economic Profile
 GDP: US$90 billion

GDP per head: US$18,000

Annual growth: 3%

Inflation: 3%

Major industries: Banking and finance, steel, transport equipment, oil and gas, whisky, tourism

Major trading partners: EU & USA

Member of EU: yes

Euro zone participant: no


Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: EU citizens may live and work free of any immigration controls. Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are generally allowed to stay six months without a visa.

Health risks: None

Time: GMT/UTC & BST (British Summer Time)

Electricity: 240V, 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric (except road distances in miles and beer, which is measured in pints)


Money & Costs
 Currency:Pound sterling (£)
Relative Costs:
Meals

  • Budget: US$5-15
  • Mid-range: US$15-30
  • Top-end: US$30+




  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$15-30
  • Mid-range: US$30-100
  • Top-end: US$100+
  • Scotland is expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as England. Backpacker accommodation is much more readily available, so you'll be able to keep sleeping costs down. Edinburgh is more expensive than the countryside, and prices rise steeply in the Highlands and on the islands. Even outside these areas you'll still need at least US$30 a day, and if you stay in B&Bs, eat one sit-down meal a day and don't stint on entry fees, you'll need around US$65 a day.

    The pound sterling is valid on both sides of the border, but Scottish banks also issue their own banknotes. These are generally accepted in England, but if problems do arise, most banks will exchange Scottish currency for pound sterling hassle-free. Travellers' cheques are widely accepted in banks and you might as well buy them in pounds sterling to avoid changing currencies twice. Cashpoints (ATMs) are very common in Britain: most are linked to major credit cards as well as the Cirrus, Maestro and Plus cash networks, but if a machine swallows your card it can be a nightmare. Most banks insist on chopping it in half and sending it back to your home branch - very helpful.

    If you eat in a Scottish restaurant you should leave a tip of at least 10% unless the service was unsatisfactory. Waiting staff are often paid derisory wages on the assumption that the money will be supplemented by tips. Some restaurants include a service charge on the bill, in which case a gratuity is unnecessary. Taxi drivers expect to be tipped about 10%.




    When to Go
     

    The best time to visit Scotland is between May and September. April and October are acceptable as far as weather goes, but a lot of places are closed in October. Aside from those interested in skiing or frostbite, the Highlands are pretty much off limits during winter, but Edinburgh and Glasgow are still worth visiting. Edinburgh becomes impossibly crowded during the festival in August, and you will have to book a very, very, very long time in advance.


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