Is Scotland safe? A guide to visiting Scotland safely.

Written by Chris Thornton | 8th of August 2023
Is Scotland safe?

Scotland is a very safe country with some of the lowest violent crime rates in the world.

Every year, millions of people visit Scotland from all over the world. And for good reason - Scotland is an amazing country with a rich history, beautiful scenery, and friendly people. But is Scotland safe? That's a common question for tourists, and it's a perfectly understandable concern - you want to ensure that you and your family are safe when you travel.

So, is Scotland a safe country to visit? The answer is yes; here are a few reasons why.

Crime rates in Scotland are low

In general, crime rates in Scotland are low. According to the latest figures from the Scottish government, violent crimes were only 4% of all recorded crimes in Scotland in 2020-2021 and only 1% for homicides. The percentage of violence has also decreased year after year since the 1990s.

That's significantly lower than the rest of the UK, which had an 8% violent crime rate on all recorded crimes during the same time period. Of course, no place is completely free of crime, but you're very unlikely to encounter any serious problems while you're visiting Scotland.

The overall crime level has decreased by 45% since 2008, and 78% of adults polled felt safe walking alone after dark. Petty crimes, too, are much lower than in Europe.

Low levels of gun crime

Scotland also has very low levels of gun crime.

Homicide by shooting is very rare in Scotland; in 2020-2021, there were only three recorded instances, but before then, there were only a few cases recorded since 2011.

In 1996 there was a mass shooting in Scotland, now called the Dunblane massacre. Sixteen children and one teacher died at Dunblane Primary School near Stirling, one of the most horrific events in modern Scottish history.

The Dunblane massacre led to much debate on gun control and ultimately to handguns being completely banned via two new Firearms Acts in 1997. Although handguns are illegal in most of the United Kingdom, they are still legal in Northern Ireland.

Since handguns are highly illegal in Scotland now, gun crime is significantly lower, and it's doubtful that you, as a tourist, will be affected by gun-related crimes on your visit.

A high police presence

Another factor that contributes to Scotland's safety is the high police presence. There were 17,259 Scottish police officers in October 2020, which is higher than the average for England and Wales. It's also higher than other countries with populations of around 5 million, such as Norway and Denmark.

This high police-to-population ratio helps to deter crime and keep people safe. A public poll in 2019 found that more than half of those surveyed believed that the Scottish Police force was doing an excellent or good job.

Hivis police vehicle patrolling a city.
HiVis police vehicle in a Scottish city.

A strong justice system

Scotland has had its unique legal system (separate from the rest of the United Kingdom's) for hundreds of years. Scottish people have a strong sense of justice and what is right and wrong.

There's plenty of security at airports and other tourist attractions.

Whenever there's a large influx of tourists into any country, there's always a heightened level of security. The same is true in Scotland, where security measures exist at all major airports and tourist attractions. Glasgow International Airport is the busiest airport in Scotland and has excellent security. You can rest assured that you and your family will be safe while visiting Scotland.

Scots are some of the friendliest people in the world

If you've ever been to Scotland, you know that Scots are some of the friendliest people in the world. They're always happy to help tourists visiting for the first time, and they love showing off their country's natural beauty. You'll never find yourself feeling unwelcome in Scotland.

I visited Edinburgh in 2006 to see Radiohead play at Meadowbank Stadium (a fantastic concert!), and it was amazing how kind and helpful the people of Edinburgh were. When we were trying to find the stadium and then on the way back to our accommodation at night, people would approach us and give us directions without asking. One guy even offered us a "wee dram" in his flat after he gave us directions.

There are no natural disasters in Scotland

Another reason why Scotland is a safe country to visit is that there are no natural disasters. No volcanoes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or tsunamis - in fact, the only natural hazard you might encounter while you're in Scotland is the occasional bout of bad weather!

Be prepared for the occasional downpour in summer, cold weather in winter, and sometimes some strong winds; you'll have a great time exploring our beautiful country.

Please read my guide to the best time to visit Scotland.

Scotland is in a safe location in the world

Geographically, Scotland is in a safe place, too - part of an island in northwest Europe. We have no unstable countries as neighbours and no warzones within 2000 miles of our border.

Dangerous animals in Scotland

There are not many dangerous animals in Scotland that can harm you - no wolvesbears or poisonous spiders. The adder is Scotland's only venomous snake, but they are scarce and will avoid humans. Farm animals such as cows and highland cows can cause injury to humans, and deer running onto the road can be dangerous while driving.

Scotland does have a tiny biting insect named a "midge", most prevalent in the summer months, but they are more annoying than dangerous. Please see my midge survival guide here.

A highland cow contrasted by the Scottish winter.
Highland cow in winter.

Safety advice for Glasgow and Edinburgh

Glasgow and Edinburgh are the largest cities in Scotland and have the highest crime rates in the country but are also ranked as some of the safest cities in the world. Here are a few useful tips while visiting Scotland's major cities.

  • Don't tour the city with large amounts of cash; make use of your hotel room safe if available.

  • If you have to travel with large amounts of cash, split it between your party to minimise losses.

  • Be aware of pickpockets with distraction tactics.

  • Leave your passport in your hotel safe; if you think you may need it, take a photocopy instead.

  • Stick to the main tourist areas or busy public areas/city centre.

Is Glasgow Hope Street safe? Glasgow Union Street.

Where are the hotspots for pickpockets in Glasgow and Edinburgh?

Glasgow and Edinburgh, the largest cities, are where you are most likely to encounter pickpockets.

In Glasgow:

  • Buchanan Street

  • Barras Weekend Market

In Edinburgh:

  • The Royal Mile

  • Edinburgh Old Town

  • Edinburgh Castle

  • Edinburgh Zoo

  • The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

  • Princes Street Gardens

  • St Giles' Cathedral

  • Edinburgh Festival Fringe / Edinburgh International Events

Edinburgh Castle high above Princes Street Gardens.
Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens.

Common travel scams in Scotland

Distraction scams are the most common; someone will ask you a question while an accomplice will rifle through your bag or attempt to steal something. Be aware of who else is around you if someone speaks to you.

Ticket touts - at large events, it can be common for people to sell tickets outside. Sometimes the tickets can be legitimate but resold for a considerable profit, and other times they can sell completely fake tickets. Only buy event or attraction entry tickets from a reputable place.

Can you take my picture? - This is a scam where someone will ask you to take a picture of them and hand you their camera. They will drop the camera and blame you, asking to be compensated with money. Play this one by ear, as you can get genuine people asking for help with a photo; either politely decline all requests or use your judgement on whether it is a scam.

Bird poop scam - the scammer will plop a dollop of white "bird poop-like" gloop on you, then make a fuss over you while trying to help you get cleaned up. An accomplice will then take advantage of the situation.

Despite all these warnings of scams, robberies and pickpockets, I have never encountered anything like this anywhere in Scotland. If something sounds too good to be true, it often is; it could be a scam or at least have a hidden cost or sting in the tail.

Drinking culture in Scotland

It's no secret the Scots like to drink, and as a result, there can be some drunk and disorderly behaviour on Scotland's streets, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights at closing time.

Bars and nightclubs have different closing times; between 1 am and 3 am is common. Avoid closing time in town centres if you do not like drunk and disorderly behavior. Scotland's alcohol consumption rate is among the world's highest, with Scottish people drinking 40% more than Americans.

If you like a drink yourself, be aware of having your drink spiked. Never leave your drink unattended and then drink it. Sadly the use of date rape drugs is not uncommon. Many women in busy bars will buy a drink in a bottle and use their thumb to seal the top of it as a precaution.

One great plus point is a complete ban on smoking in enclosed areas. No longer do you have to walk through a cloud and breathe in toxic smoke when you go out for a drink.

Is it safe to drive in Scotland?

Driving in Scotland is very safe; we have a well-maintained network of roads and stringent laws to travel on them. Renting a car is a fantastic way to see the country. The primary thing to remember is to DRIVE ON THE LEFT. I have personally had experiences with tourists driving on the wrong side of the road; it is incredibly dangerous!

The main things you may not expect at home while driving in Scotland are wild animals potentially being on the road (cows, sheep, deer) and single-track roads where you have to pull into passing places to let oncoming traffic pass.

Please read my guide to driving in Scotland for more information.

A95 near Ballindalloch distillery from the air.
The A95 in south Moray, a lovely section of road.

Is public transport safe in Scotland?

Generally, it is safe, but it all depends on who you share your coach with. It can be common for people to have been drinking on Friday and Saturday nights. Sometimes football matches might be on, and you will have to share with rowdy football fans.

Sometimes when I caught the train to or from Aberdeen on Friday nights, it could be a little uncomfortable with intoxicated passengers; there are no staff to be seen in the evenings either to keep people in line.

Can winter in Scotland be dangerous?

Generally, winters have been mild in Scotland for the last ten years. In coastal areas, it's actually quite rare to get snow, but further inland, it's much more common and can be dangerous depending on how much snowfall has occurred.

Some of the roads in higher altitudes in central Scotland can become impassible with heavy snow, for example, the A93 from Perth to Braemar. If there is heavy snow forecast, it is wise not to travel.

Winter road near Loch Morlich and Aviemore. Scotland's unpredictable weather.
A snow covered road, near Loch Morlich, Scottish Highlands in December 2021.

Travelling via Scotland's ferries

Scotland has over 800 islands on its north and west coasts, many accessible by ferry services, the most famous being the Isle of Skye. Ferries in Scotland once had a terrible reputation for being poorly maintained, but it's a different story today - the Scottish government has revamped the entire service.

It's essential to plan for taking a ferry trip; bad weather can cancel your trip entirely, potentially leaving you unable to access booked accommodation or activities. From October through to March, the service is more likely to be delayed or cancelled due to storms/high winds.

Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry to Mull.
The ferry to the Isle of Mull.

Isolated areas in Scotland

Scotland is different from many countries in that you have the "right to roam" in most areas due to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This makes much of Scotland's countryside accessible for walkers, but common sense should prevail, i.e. don't walk amongst farm animals or trudge through a farmer's crops! Cows are actually the biggest killer of humans in Scotland.

The land being open to walkers has made Scotland a very popular place for hill climbing or "Munroe bagging". While it's tempting to roam in Scotland's very wild places, keep in mind how isolated some places are. If you get into difficulty, it can take many hours to receive help or even to get the message out that help is needed.

Most Scottish people live in the central belt of Scotland, where the major cities are; the further north you get, the more sparsely populated it is. Once you are north of Inverness, the population level plummets even more; this is just something to keep in mind if you go off the beaten track while travelling the North Coast 500 (NC500); if you get into difficulty, it might take time to receive the help you need.

If travelling alone, it's a good idea to tell someone where you will be going, how long you will be, and when you're expected to return. If parking your car in a remote location, leave a note on the window of when you left.

Trossachs National Park vista.
The Trossachs National Park in west Scotland.

Climbing Scotland's mountainous regions

Mountain climbing is very popular in Scotland, with locals and tourists looking to scratch as many peaks off their Munroe list as possible. It's usually a bad idea to do any mountain climbing in winter; not only are you putting your own life and risk, but the lives of the mountain rescue teams too.

Many deaths on Scotland's hills and mountains are due to inexperienced climbers being caught out with freak weather - high winds and snow. It's crazy to see people attempting some of the highest peaks in the United Kingdom wearing a t-shirt and flip-flops!

What to pack for hill walking / hiking in Scotland

Here are some must-have items for attempting any of Scotland's mountainous areas.

  • Hat and gloves

  • Waterproof jacket and warm trousers

  • Fleece inner jacket

  • Sturdy walking boots

  • Boot gaiters

  • Flashlight

  • Map and compass protected with plastic (don't rely on your mobile phone).

  • Extra food

  • Mobile phone and charger.

  • Portable first aid kit and whistle

Arrochar Alps. Bring the usual outdoor safety precautions.
Scotland's wild areas are beautiful but potentially dangerous. Arrochar Alps.

Wild Swimming in Scotland

Wild swimming is common in Scotland, but tourists often underestimate how cold the water can be, even in the warmer months. There have been many deaths in the last few years, with 2021 being a particularly bad year, including six drowning deaths within 24 hours.

The water in Scotland's idyllic locations can look inviting in the summer months on scorching hot days. Cold water shock and hidden currents have been responsible for deaths. Even in the summer, the water can be as cold as 5 degrees Celsius.

Mark Williams of Police Scotland is quoted as saying:

The warm weather can make open water swimming and paddling very inviting but it is extremely dangerous, even for the most experienced swimmers or supervised children. The conditions can change very quickly and there are often hidden risks like deeper water and strong currents.

Scotland has the highest accidental drowning rate in the United Kingdom, so be careful if you go swimming in Scotland any time of year.

The Green Loch, near Aviemore.
The Green Loch near Aviemore, beautiful, but cold!.

What is mobile phone reception like in Scotland?

Most populated areas have fantastic mobile phone reception with 4G speeds.

However, the more remote areas of Scotland can have little to no coverage, even for basic calls and text messages. Check this mobile coverage checker for the places you will be visiting.

If you rely on phone signals for health reasons, a satellite phone would be a good backup in rural areas.

Terrorism in Scotland

The UK has been the target of terrorism in the last 50 years, be it from the IRA (Irish Republican Army) or Islamic extremists, but Scotland has got off fairly lightly in comparison to England. Generally, Scotland is not targeted by terrorists but was the victim of an attack in 1988 when Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb over the town of Lockerbie.

Another failed terrorist attack occurred in 2007 at Glasgow Airport; the only death was one of the perpetrators.

The risk of a terrorist attack in Scotland is very low.

Is Scotland Safe FAQs

Here are a few frequently asked questions on safety in Scotland.

What should I do if I witness a crime in Scotland?

If you witness a crime or feel in danger, please call 999 for emergency services. The police, ambulance, fire brigade and coastguard can all be contacted on this number.

If you want to contact the police, but it isn't an emergency, you can call 101 instead.

Are Scottish castles safe?

It depends on the castle; some are fully maintained, while others are crumbling ruins. Tourist magnets like Edinburgh Castle and Urquhart Castle are safe to visit, but lesser-known castles in Scotland's wild areas are more dangerous, such as Boyne Castle in Aberdeenshire.

If you are worried about castle ruins, you can still view them from a distance and take in the beautiful scenery.

Boyne Castle near Portsoy.
Boyne Castle, a forgotten and dangerous castle ruin in northeast Scotland.

Should I get travel insurance for visiting Scotland?

Always get travel insurance for any country you visit, including Scotland. This will cover you for medical problems, theft, and loss of any important items.

Will I offend people if I can't understand the Scottish accent?

No - Our many different accents can be challenging to understand, and the accents in central Scotland are entirely different from north Scotland! No one will hold it against you if you have trouble understanding us.

Is hitchhiking safe in Scotland?

Hitchhiking isn't as common as it once was in Scotland. I haven't seen anyone "thumbing a lift" in many years. If you are planning on hitchhiking, I don't think Scotland would be a particularly bad place to do it, but you are always at the mercy of whoever picks you up. So I would say hitchhike at your own risk.

Be aware that many of Scotland's long and winding roads can have blind corners; walking along busy roads trying to flag down drivers can be very dangerous. Walking along motorways is also illegal.

Is it safe for a woman to travel alone in Scotland?

Yes, I would say it was safe for solo female travellers in Scotland. General precautions apply - for example, don't walk alone in bad areas of town late at night.

Is Scotland safe for LGBT+ travellers?

Yes, Scotland is a very open-minded country and a pioneer in many LGBT+ rights. You will get closed-minded people wherever you go, and Scotland will be no different, but I think there would be a lesser chance of any problems in Scotland.

Is tap water safe to drink in Scotland?

Yes, tap water is safe to drink. Please read my guide to Scotland's water.

Key takeaways

Here is a short list of why Scotland is a safe place:

  • Scotland is a safe, modern country and extremely safe.

  • The crime rate is very low.

  • The homicide rate is very low.

  • Police numbers are higher than average in the UK and compared to other countries with a similar population level.

  • Handguns are illegal in Scotland.

  • There are no natural disasters in Scotland, such as tornadoes or earthquakes.

  • There are no wild animals that will hurt you.

  • Call 999 for emergency services. Call 101 for non-emergencies.

Conclusion - Scotland is a very safe country

So there you have it - why Scotland is a perfectly safe destination for your next vacation.

Yes, like in any other country, there is always a risk of crime or accidents happening, but if you use common sense and take precautions as you would at home, you'll be just fine.

Living in Scotland, my personal experiences have been good; I've never been robbed or attacked on any of my travels around Scotland or in my home county of Moray.

So go ahead and start planning your trip - I guarantee you'll have a fantastic time!

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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