Basic things you need to know before visiting Edinburgh for the first time

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To enter the United Kingdom, you will have to pass through border control, monitored by the British authorities. This applies for all nationalities, since even though the UK is still in the EU, it never has been part of the Schengen Area that covers much of mainland Europe. Border control is simple though, and you will just need a passport or photo ID to enter.

You don’t need to carry your ID with you all the time once inside the UK (actually, unlike most other countries, the UK doesn’t have a national ID card), so it’s generally advised to keep it in a safe place, such as a hotel safe, to avoid losing it, and you could bring a photocopy of it as well.

Additionally however, even though the legal drinking age is 18 for the whole of the UK, be aware that Scotland operates a ‘Challenge 25’ policy for purchasing alcohol and tobacco. So this means, if the person selling you the product thinks that you look under 25, they will ask you for proof of your age, to make sure you are over 18. And believe us, they observe this law strictly! So if you are thinking of getting any of these substances, make sure you leave your accommodation with your passport, ID, or driving licence in your pocket.

Language

Scotland has three official languages: English, Scots, and Gaelic.

Everyone speaks English though, so communication shouldn’t be a problem if you are able to speak this language. Most locals speak with a Scottish accent though, and often mix Scots words with English ones, which can be a little difficult to understand in some cases. Here, things are not small but “wee”, and often a yes is not a “yes”, but an “aye”!

Currency

The only official currency of the UK is Pound Sterling, with the symbol £ and the abbreviation GBP (Great British Pounds).

One pound is divided into 100 pence. The coins used are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 pence, and 1 and 2 pounds (the same as for the Euro). Notes are 5, 10, 20, and 50 pounds.

Prior to 1971, the pound was divided into shillings and old pennies, but these are no longer in use. In the last two years, new plastic £5 and £10 notes went into circulation (£20 notes will follow in 2020), as well as a new £1 coin. The old paper notes and £1 coins are no longer in circulation and won’t be accepted in shops, but you might be able to exchange them for new ones in some banks.

Scottish banknotes

While the Bank of England produces most of the currency for the UK, some Scottish banks also print their own banknotes. These are Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Clydesdale Bank, and these notes all have different designs to the English ones. So don’t worry if after  while here you find that you’ve got four different £5 notes in your wallet… all of them still work just the same!  

Since they are still Pound Sterling, they are legal tender throughout the UK. Sometimes they may be refused outside of Scotland, where they are less commonly used, simply because staff members in some places might not have seen them before. It can also be harder to exchange these for other currencies in banks outside of the UK, so it’s best to use them up or change them for English pounds or another currency, if you need it, before you depart.

Some Northern Irish banks print their own banknotes too, which are also legal throughout the UK, but these are less commonly seen in Scotland.

Card payments

It is usually possible to pay by most major debit or credit card in the majority of locations throughout Edinburgh, and Scotland. However, some smaller businesses or market stalls may not – therefore we recommend you to carry some cash with you. You may also have to pay additional transaction or exchange fees from your card provider, as well as accept whatever exchange rate your bank has for the transaction between different currencies (e.g. you are paying with euros, but the business is charging in pounds). However, these fees are not usually very high.

Cash payments

Edinburgh has many ATMs throughout the city, so it’s easy to withdraw cash. Each one is owned by a particular company, which will have its own transaction and exchange fees, but these will be displayed to you before you complete the withdrawal – so you will always be able to cancel the transaction if you think it’s too high! You can also exchange money at currency exchange bureaus and banks around the city.

Weather

Scotland’s weather is very changeable, so whatever the forecast tells you in advance, that may not be true on the actual day! A common saying in Scotland is that you will ‘experience four seasons in a day’, as it changes so quickly, so even if you see sunshine when you wake up, it could start raining after a while… and then the sun might come out again!

Edinburgh typically has a milder climate than other regions of Scotland, due to its low altitude and being close to the sea.

The average winter temperatures for Edinburgh are around 1-7°C. And while summer is better than this, don´t think that you’re going to overheat!  The temperature can range, on average, from 9-19°C at this time of the year. You should also be aware that the strong winds coming from the nearby North Sea year round can make it feel much colder than it actually is. Over winter, the wind chill can make it drop to -10 or -15 °C!

As for the rain, contrary to popular belief, Edinburgh is not actually a very rainy city – though it does rain a lot more in other parts of Scotland. It is possible for rain to fall on over 124 days out of the year in Edinburgh, but normally these are only short, light showers. Extended periods of heavy rain are less common, and the total annual precipitation is around 700mm. This is well distributed throughout the whole year, but you’ll find that it’s usually rainier over summer and autumn. Snow is possible in winter, but is not common in Edinburgh, due to the city’s proximity to the sea.

Hours of daylight

Edinburgh sits so far north in latitude, that its hours of daylight vary dramatically throughout the year.

In summer, the nights are very short, and on the solstice (21st June), sunrise is around 4.30am, and sunset at 10pm. But of course, there are two sides to every story, and in winter – especially around 21st December – the days can be just 7 hours long, with sunrise at 8.40am and sunset at 3.40pm. The good news is that Edinburgh is also super beautiful at night – and the perfect time to join a Free Ghost Tour!

Bank Holidays

Some bank holidays in Scotland are different to the rest of the UK. Most are fixed dates, which will be taken on the following Monday if they land on a Sunday, while others vary from year to year. Many businesses though, such as shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions, will still choose to remain open on bank holidays, so don’t panic, you will still be find things to do on any day of the year!

1st January – New Year’s Day

2nd January – New Year bank holiday (Scotland only)

Good Friday – Late March/early April

First Monday in May – May Day

Last Monday in May – Spring holiday

First Monday in August (Scotland only)

30th November – St Andrew’s Day (Scotland only)

25th December – Christmas Day

26th December – Boxing Day

Weights and measures

In 1824, the UK officially adopted the imperial unit system, to standardise measurements, which was also used across the British Empire during the 19th century. But over time, the other countries in the Empire started switching to the metric system, which was more predominant across the rest of the  world. The UK did become aware of this eventually, and has been gradually adopting the metric system since the mid-19th century. Its entry into the European Economic Community, in 1973, furthered the process.

Despite this, the imperial system is still often used today, and both systems co-exist in British daily life. For example, you will see no trace of kilometres on the roads here – the distances on the signs are given in miles!

Length

1 inch = 2.54cm

1 foot = 30.4cm

1 yard = 0.91m

1 mile = 1.61km

Volume

1 liquid ounce = 28.4ml

1 pint = 568ml

1 gallon = 4.5L

Weight

1 ounce = 28.35g

1 pound = 453.6g

1 stone = 6.35kg

1 ton = 1016.047kg

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