If you want to get a sense of contemporary Scottish culture, and indulge in some of its pleasures, start by familiarizing yourself with the rituals of daily life. These are a few highlights—things you can take part in with relative ease.
The Kettle's On
Scots are always eager to stop for a cup of tea and catch up with the local gossip. Tea is still the most popular refreshment, but the spread of café culture has introduced a new generation of coffeehouses—and not just in the cities but in the countryside. The Willow Tearooms in Glasgow and the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh are perhaps the most gentrified places to enjoy an afternoon pot of tea, tiny sandwiches with the crusts removed, and a slice of cake; they are well worth the stop. City coffeehouses are becomingly increasingly popular; they offer a different but equally worthwhile atmosphere. But if you're looking to taste a little of what life has to offer in smaller towns and villages, there is always some local haven that can offer you tea and delicious scones, probably with homemade jam.
It's Your Round
Going to the pub is a pastime enjoyed by men and women of all ages and backgrounds; you can find out why when you explore a few. The no-smoking laws mean that the pub environment is fresher now. In the cities you can take your pick of every kind of bar; traditional favorites are now joined by Australian, Cuban, and even wacky theme bars. In more rural areas, options may be fewer, but the quality of the experience, which may include pub quizzes or local folk bands, may be better. There isn't a pub in Scotland that doesn't sell whisky, but if you seek to sample a wee dram of the more obscure malts, ask someone to point you in the right direction. Fans of whisky will want to go beyond the pubs and head for a distillery or two for a tour and a tasting—on or off the Malt Whisky Trail.
It's Only a Game
Listening to Scots talk about football—please don't call it soccer—gives a fine insight into the national temperament. "Win, lose, or draw, you go home to your bed just the same," sang Scottish singer Michael Marra, and the Scots will try to make you believe it's only a game. But go to a match or be in a pub when a game is on the TV, and you can see plenty of grown men (and women) having a vigorous emotional workout. The main league, the Scottish Premiership, is dominated by the Rangers and Celtic; the battle for the title is usually between them. However, other teams, such as Aberdeen, delight in slaying, or at least tripping up, these giants. The state of the national team is debated everywhere, but although Scotland loses out in collecting trophies, the Tartan Army is consistently applauded as the most agreeable and entertaining traveling fans.
Who Ate All the Pies?
Although the treats may not perhaps be as elegant as those produced in an Italian panificio or a French patisserie, Scots love their bakeries. Go beyond shortbread and oatcakes and sample local favorites during your travels. From the Aberdeen buttery (a melting, salty bap, or soft morning roll) to the Selkirk bannock (a sweet, raisin-strewn scone, perfect when buttered and served with tea) to Forfar bridies (an Angus specialty, similar to a meat pasty), regional specialties are abundant. Most areas have their own interpretations of the popular Scotch pie (with beef mince, mutton, bean, and macaroni among the varieties available). There's even a Scotch Pie Championship each year. The rise of large supermarkets is putting many establishments out of business, but it's worth seeking out an independent bakery and trying the delicacies.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Fodor's 100 Hotel Awards: Check out the winners of 2013
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe