Last updated: 17 November 2020

On 10 June 2020, the Scottish Government announced a provisional date for the re-opening of the Scottish tourism sector. Businesses are encouraged to prepare to open their doors and welcome guests from 15 July 2020 (provisional date). So, it looks like Scotland is re-opening for tourism – but what does that mean in terms of actually visiting Scotland?


How to keep up to date

I update this post with every significant government announcement and am doing my best to keep all the information provided here up-to-date. See UPDATES below.

I focus on relevant information for people who travel within Scotland or visit from abroad. This is not a complete run-down of all guidelines and advice communicated by the Scottish and UK governments. 

The general guidelines apply to all businesses across the Scottish tourism sector. However, the reality is that many businesses will have their own route maps and plans in place that are tailored to their specific perspective. Some tourism businesses might not be able to re-open right away, others might have to amend their services in order to comply with social distancing regulations, and so on.

Here are some of the key organisations and networks to additionally check in with on a regular basis:

  • The Scottish Government, which has been extremely transparent throughout this process. They regularly publish updates in clear and easy-to-understand language. 
  • VisitScotland: The Scottish destination marketing office. They regularly post updates relevant to the tourism sector. 
  • Wild Scotland: A representative body for adventure and nature tourism operators in Scotland. They provide excellent guidelines for outdoor activities around the country.
  •  
  • National Trust for Scotland: An organisation that looks after numerous historic and natural sites around Scotland, such as Culloden, Craigievar Castle and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. They have published their plans for re-opening their properties here.
  • Historic Environment Scotland: A public body that manages and maintains historic sites all over Scotland such as Edinburgh Castle, Melrose Abbey and Calanais Standing Stones. They have published their plans for re-opening their sites here.
  • The Scottish Tourism Alliance: The representative body for the Scottish tourism industry. They engage with over 70% of tourism businesses in Scotland and post updates that are relevant to the entire sector.
  • The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers: An organisation that supports self-catering accommodation providers in Scotland. Good to check their updates if you are interested in renting self-catering accommodation for your trip. 
  • Calmac and Nothlink Ferries: The two major ferry operators in Scotland, which post essential updates about travelling to and from the islands.
  • Scotrail: The leading train operator in Scotland.
  • With regards to outdoor activities and access to mountain trails, I recommend checking updates from Mountaineering Scotland, Scottish Mountain Rescue and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. As well as individual activity providers you might want to book with.

Updates

UPDATE: 17 November 2020

The Scottish Government has updated Covid-19 protection levels across Scotland.

From 6 pm on Friday, 20 November 2020, 11 councils are moving to Level 4, which demands the strictest regulations. Some councils are also improving their situation and moving to level 2.

Level 4 councils from 20 November are:

  • East Ayrshire
  • East Dunbartonshire
  • East Renfrewshire
  • Glasgow
  • North Lanarkshire
  • Renfrewshire
  • South Ayrshire
  • South Lanarkshire
  • Stirling
  • West Dunbartonshire
  • West Lothian

All essential shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs, libraries, gyms and visitor attractions have to close. Restaurants are permitted to run takeaway and delivery services. Schools remain open. Public transport may only be used for essential purposes. Travel for leisure is not allowed.

From Friday, it will be illegal to travel outside local authorities on Level 3 and Level 4 (except for essential purposes) – so far, travel regulations were recommended guidelines, but they are now put into law to avoid rule bending.

For a brief summary of what you can and cannot do on each level, see the update from 23 October 2020 below. For more details, see here.

UPDATE: 1 November 2020

The Scottish Government has published a series of documents explaining the 5-level protection plan, including guidance for travel and transport which clarifies what amount of travel is OK. Here are some key points contained:

“International Travel

“Travellers arriving from certain countries overseas may be required, by law, to quarantine by self-isolation for 14 days after arrival. The list is reviewed frequently against the evidence available and it changes from time to time.

“If you travel back from a country, which requires quarantine, to another part of the UK, but your final destination is Scotland, you must follow the rules that are in place in Scotland. 

“Travel around Scotland

“If you live or work anywhere where there are protective measures in place – at whatever level – you should not travel to another area to avoid them.

“If you live in a Level 4 local authority area you should avoid any unnecessary travel out of the area.

“If you live in a Level 3 local authority area you should avoid any unnecessary travel out of the area.

“Travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK

“The current Scottish Government guidance, given the state of the epidemic across the UK is that people avoid any unnecessary travel between Scotland and England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.”

Exemptions

Exemptions include travel for work, education, essential shopping where online shopping or deliveries are not an option, providing care, legal obligations and a few others.

One exemption that has raised some question is for outdoor exercise. It has now been clarified that you may “travel locally (within around 5 miles of your local authority area) to reach a place to take exercise outdoors.” That means that you should not travel further than 5 miles to exercise outdoors, which includes hiking in the Scottish Highlands. 

You can find all the guidance clarifications here.

UPDATE: 29 October 2020

In line with the recent launch of a 5-level protection system, the Scottish Government has announced which levels are allocated to individual regions across Scotland.

As suggested earlier this week, the majority of areas are allocated level 2 or 3, which has varying implications for non-essential travel, food consumption and sale of alcohol, in-home socialising and sharing of self-catering accommodations.

No region has been allocated level 4, the strictest of all levels. Few areas with particularly low numbers, such as the Orkney Islands and Shetland, have been allocated level 1.

A document with full details can be downloaded here, see p. 5 for a quick overview of local levels.

UPDATE: 23 October 2020

Following a steady increase of Coronavirus cases in Scotland, the Scottish Government has revised its road map to re-opening and announced a new plan laying out 5 protection levels. that may apply to different parts of the country at different times. This new 5-level system applies from 2 November 2020 – find out more here

Here are some key aspects for each level with regards to hospitality and socialising:

  • Level 4
    • No non-essential travel in or out of level 4 areas. Exemptions include work, education, health, weddings, funerals etc.
    • Hospitality businesses must remain closed (restaurants & pubs).
    • Accommodation is only open to essential stays (work-related; no tourism stays).
    • No in-home socialising. Maximum 6 adults from 2 households may socialise outdoors and in public places.
    • No non-essential use of public transport.
    • Avoid car-sharing with other households.
    • Non-essential shops must be closed.
    • Visitor attractions must be closed.
  • Level 3
    • No non-essential travel in or out of level 3 areas. Exemptions apply.
    • Hospitality: Food consumption is permitted (time restrictions may apply), no alcohol may be served indoors or outdoors.
    • Accommodation is open to tourism, but non-essential travel is discouraged. 
    • No in-home socialising. Maximum 6 adults from 2 households may socialise outdoors and in public places.
    • Avoid non-essential use of public transport.
    • Avoid car-sharing with other households.
    • Indoor visitor attractions may be closed depending on circumstances.
  • Level 2
    • No non-essential travel in or out of level 3 areas. Exemptions apply. Unrestricted travel to Level 2-0 areas.
    • Hospitality: Food consumption and sale of alcohol are permitted (time restrictions may apply).
    • Accommodation is open to non-essential travel. Households may not share accommodation.
    • No in-home socialising. Maximum 6 adults from 2 households may socialise outdoors and in public places.
    • Avoid car-sharing with other households.
  • Level 1
    • No non-essential travel in or out of level 3 areas. Exemptions apply. Unrestricted travel to Level 2-0 areas.
    • Hospitality: Food consumption and sale of alcohol are permitted (time restrictions may apply).
    • Accommodation is open to non-essential travel. 2 households may share accommodation.
    • Indoor socialising is possible. The rule of maximum 6 adults from max. 2 households applies to indoors and outdoors socialising.
    • Avoid car-sharing with other households.
  • Level 0
    • No non-essential travel in or out of level 3 areas. Exemptions apply. Unrestricted travel to Level 2-0 areas.
    • Hospitality: Food consumption and sale of alcohol are permitted (time restrictions may apply).
    • Accommodation is open to non-essential travel. 3 households may share accommodation.
    • Socialising rules are eased: max 8 adults from max. 3 households may socialise indoors, max. 15 adults from max 5 households may socialise outdoors.
    • Avoid car-sharing with other households.

Important: Note that different parts of the country may be on different levels depending on local Coronavirus case numbers. That means that if you plan a trip (i.e. a cabin getaway), you must check which level your local area is on AND also the area you are planning to visit.

 

UPDATE: 7 October 2020

On Wednesday, 7 October 2020, the Scottish Government announced new restrictions to help reduce the spread of Coronavirus. The new rules are particularly affecting hospitality businesses and travel on public transport. There are two sets of rules, one applying nationwide, the other in the central belt area where numbers are higher. The full announcement can be viewed here, but here are some of the key points important for anyone who considers traveling around Scotland right now: 

Nationwide rules (excludes central belt areas):

  • All hospitality premises (food and drink) may only open indoors between 6 am and 6 pm, with no sales of alcohol.
  • Hospitality premises may open outdoors until 10 pm, with sales of alcohol.
  • Takeaways including from pubs and restaurants can continue
  • Evening meals may be served in accommodation for residents only but no alcohol can be served.

Central belt areas (i.e. Ayrshire & Arran; Forth Valley; Greater Glasgow & Clyde; Lanarkshire; Lothian):

  • All licensed premises will be required to close, with the exception of takeaway services and cafes.
  • Cafés will be able to open between 6 am and 6 pm, with no sales of alcohol.
  • Evening meals may be served in accommodation for residents only but no alcohol can be served.
  • Public transport use should be minimised as much as possible, such as for education and work, where it cannot be done from home

Current meeting rules (maximum of six people from two households) continue to apply.

UPDATE: 24 September 2020

The Scottish Government has clarified that the new restrictions about indoor gatherings also applies to self-catering accommodation. Multiple households are not allowed to share self-catering accommodation including cottages, caravans or flats. More info here.

UPDATE: 22 September 2020

New measures to curb the infection rate

The Scottish Government announced two new measures to drive down the spread of Coronavirus:

  1. People may not visit other households (from 23 September). This applies to indoor visits in your home or other people’s homes. Members of your extended household are excluded from this rule (household bubbles).
    In outdoor spaces the existing rules continue to apply: max. 6 people from 2 households can meet, excluding children under 12.
  2. Pubs and restaurants must close at 10 pm (from 25 September).

It has also been stated explicitly that one should only car share with members of their own or extended household.

Find out more about this most recent update here.

UPDATE: 11 September 2020

Re-introduced restrictions for gatherings

The Scottish Government announced a step back towards stricter rules around how many people/households can meet indoors and outdoors.

From Monday, 14 September, official government guidelines restrict indoor and outdoor gatherings to max. 6 people from max. 2 households. Children under 12 will not be counted. The restriction also applies to hospitality, i.e. no more than 2 households can meet for dinner at a restaurant. Exemptions include gyms, childcare and organised sports, education, places of worship and some large households, funerals, weddings and civil partnerships ceremonies. Find more information here.

New quarantine measures for travellers

Travellers entering Scotland from Hungary and La Réunion will have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. (from 12 September)

Sweden has been removed from the exemption list, thus travellers do not have to quarantine if arriving to Scotland from Sweden. (from 12 September)

Find the updated quarantine exemption list here.

Protect Scotland app

The Scottish Government has launched a contact tracing app called Protect Scotland. The app uses Bluetooth technology to anonymously alert users if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and advises them to self-isolate. Individuals’ privacy is protected by the use of Bluetooth. The app does not store details and only uses encrypted, anonymised codes. More info here; find the app here.

UPDATE: 5 September 2020

The Scottish Government has re-introduced restrictions in Glasgow, East Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire. From 1 September, people in these areas should not meet with other households indoors. More details are available here.

Several countries have been removed from the quarantine exemption list. If you travel to Scotland from the following countries, you will have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival:

  • Portugal (from 5 Sept)
  • French Polynesia (from 5 Sept)
  • Greece (from 3 Sept)
  • Czech Republic (from 29 August)
  • Jamaica (from 29 August)
  • Austria (from 22 August)
  • Croatia (from 22 August)
  • Switzerland (from 22 August)
  • Trinidad and Tobago (from 22 August)
  • France (from 15 August)
  • The Netherlands (from 15 August)
  • Aruba (from 15 August)
  • Turks and Caicos (from 15 August)
  • Malta (from 15 August)
  • Monaco (from 15 August)
  • Belgium (from 8 August)
  • Andorra (from 8 August)
  • The Bahamas (from 8 August)
  • Luxembourg (from 31 August)
  • Spain (from 26 July)

The temporary restrictions in Aberdeen City have been lifted since 23 August. Find out more here.

UPDATE: 5 August 2020

It has been announced that a local lockdown is being imposed on Aberdeen City after a renewed Coronavirus outbreak. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind: 

  • 5-mile travel restriction is back in place, so don’t leave the city unless you travel for work or education.
  • No indoor gatherings among households.
  • Hospitality venues (restaurants, cafes, pubs) are ordered to close.
  • Don’t travel to Aberdeen city from outside.

For more updates, see here.

UPDATE: 13 July 2020

Historic Environment Scotland has published its route map to re-opening historical sites across the country, including Edinburgh Castle and more.

  • From 15 July: Doune Castle, Caerlaverock Castle and Dundonald Castle -> unstaffed, free access to sites.
  • From 1 August: Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle -> external spaces re-opening + internal spaces where distancing can be maintained.
  • From late August: 23 further sites will be re-opened on a rolling basis, incl. Blackness Castle, St Andrews Cathedral and Linlithgow Palace.

A full list with preliminary dates is available here.

UPDATE: 9 July 2020

The latest review by the Scottish Government from 9 July 2020 is confirming further dates for Phase 3. We are expecting the next review to happen on Thursday, 30 July 2020.

Additionally, the government has lifted quarantine requirements from travellers from lower-risk countries.

From Friday, 10 July 2020 (Phase 3):

  • Those arriving in Scotland from lower-risk countries are no longer required to self-isolate or quarantine. The previous requirement of a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Scotland has been lifted. The countries include Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Australia, New Zealand and more – full list available here. Passengers arriving from these countries will still be required to complete the online passenger locator form and supply contact details, travel details and the address of the final destination where they will be staying.
  • Mandatory face coverings in shops & other retail spaces.
  • People can meet outdoors in extended groups (with continued physical distancing measures) – up to 5 households and max. 15 people.
  • People can meet indoors in small groups (with continued physical distancing measures) – up to 3 households and max. 8 people. Includes overnight stays.
  • Children aged 11 or under are no longer required to physically distance.
  • Non-cohabitating partners can form extended households without distancing.

From Monday, 13 July 2020 (Phase 3): 

  • Non-essential shops inside shopping centres and malls can re-open.

From Wednesday, 15 July 2020 (Phase 3):

  • All holiday accommodation can re-open.
  • Indoor hospitality can re-open (with continued physical distancing measures).
  • Museums, galleries, cinemas, libraries and monuments can reopen (with continued physical distancing measures).
  • Places of worship can re-open for congregational services (with continued physical distancing measures).
  • Hairdressers and barbers can reopen.

From Wednesday, 22 July 2020 (Phase 3):

  • Other beauticians can reopen.
  • Phased return to university and college campuses.
Image source: Scottish Government route map update, 9 July 2020, see p. 5 for this overview.

UPDATE: 25 June 2020

VisitScotland, in partnership with Tourism Northern Ireland, VisitEngland and VisitWales, has launched the ‘We’re Good To Go’ industry standard and supporting mark. It signals that a tourism or hospitality business is following government and industry guidelines regarding COVID-19. Businesses have to apply and go through a specifically designed risk assessment process before they can use the mark on their website and social media.

Look for the ‘We’re Good To Go’ mark when booking any upcoming trips to Scotland.

Businesses can apply for the mark for free and go through the self-assessment on goodtogoscotland.com.

Many organisations such as Wild Scotland, ASVA, Sail Scotland and ASSC have contributed input to this new initiative and I expect many businesses to go through the process.

UPDATE: 24 June 2020

A new update has been made by the Scottish Government today (24 June 2020, see here)! In addition to non-essential shops with street access re-opening on 29 June, there are new dates for relaxation of rules within Phase 2, and also more provisional dates for a staged launch of Phase 3. 

Below are some of the key changes outlined in the update (with a focus on travel activities). They include great news for local leisure activities, accommodation providers, hospitality businesses (restaurants and pubs) and more. This means, that local and domestic tourism can prepare to re-open as planned, however, these relaxations do not currently have an impact on international tourism.

From Friday, 3 July 2020 (Phase 2):

  • Travel distance restrictions will be relaxed (goodbye, 5-mile rule!) – presumably still advised sticking to local regions.
  • Self-catering accommodations can reopen and can welcome guests again.

From Monday, 6 July 2020 (Phase 2)

  • Outdoor hospitality can reopen (with continued physical distancing measures) – hello, beer gardens!

From Friday, 10 July 2020 (Phase 3):

  • People can meet outdoors in extended groups (with continued physical distancing measures).
  • Up to 3 households can meet indoors (with continued physical distancing measures).

From Monday, 13 July 2020 (Phase 3): 

  • Non-essential shops inside shopping centres and malls can re-open.

From Wednesday, 15 July 2020 (Phase 3):

  • All holiday accommodation can re-open.
  • Indoor hospitality can re-open (with continued physical distancing measures).
  • Museums, galleries, cinemas, libraries and monuments can reopen (with continued physical distancing measures).

Continued Phase 3 relaxations will be reviewed on Thursday, 9 July 2020 and are unlikely to come into place before Thursday, 23 July 2020. This review will include guidance regarding indoor and outdoor live events, indoor entertainment venues and other areas (mostly relevant for locals, not visitors).

Keep in mind, that just because accommodation providers, attractions and hospitality businesses may re-open along the guidelines outlined above, some might not re-open immediately for a variety of reasons. Make sure you check in with the places you’d like to visit and respect their timelines.

Image source: Scottish Government route map update, 24 June 2020, see p. 3 for this overview.

UPDATE: 18 June 2020

Today (18 June 2020), the Scottish Government announced further relaxation of the lockdown restrictions (see here). However, Scotland is not yet proceeding to Phase 2, like many of us had expected (or hoped) after last week’s announcement. Instead, Scotland is entering a Phase 1.5 where some restrictions are lifted, while others remain in place until further scientific evidence is gained. As such, Phase 2 will be introduced in stages.

Below are some of the key changes that apply in this initial stage of Phase 2. There are no immediate implications for local, domestic or international tourism. 

From Friday, 19 June 2020 you can:

  • Meet with up to 2 households outside, maintain social distancing, max. 8 people
  • Use another households toilet indoors if you meet them outside.

Continue to stay local – don’t travel further than 5 miles for leisure. You may, however, travel further to visit close family.

Pubs and restaurants will not be able to open their beer gardens until further notice.

From Monday, 22 June 2020:

  • Face coverings are mandatory on public transport.

From Monday, 29 June 2020: 

  • Non-essential shops with street-access can re-open. Shops in shopping centres and malls that can only be entered through the shared indoor area remain closed.
  • Outdoor markets can re-open.
  • Zoos and garden attractions can open for local access only (broadly within 5 miles).

Scottish Government - staged introduction of Phase 2, Update from 18 June 2020

Image source: Scottish Government route map update, 18 June 2020, see p. 5 for this overview.


Post from 11 June 2020

After 10 weeks of lockdown, Scotland took its first steps towards re-opening its economy on 29 May 2020. After publishing a transparent route map “through and out of the crisis”, the country entered Phase 1 of its phased approach to re-opening and started to lift certain restrictions with regards to super-local travel, use of public outdoor spaces and meetings between different households. 

The government will re-evaluate the situation every three weeks and decide whether the country can move on to the next phase.

Phase 2 will see further lifts with regards to how many people can meet to socialise and where (indoor/outdoor), what amount of driving and use of public transport is considered reasonable, which shops, restaurants and pubs can re-open and more.

But for the tourism sector, it only really gets interesting with Phase 3. When people can drive beyond their local area for leisure, public transport will be operating on full capacity, pubs and restaurants can open their indoor spaces, restrictions for accommodation providers will be relaxed and tourist attractions may re-open. 

The full route map with details what is allowed in which phase can be found here.

 

The beginning of Phase 3

The initial publication of the route map did not state a specific timeline for the phased approach. On 10 June 2020, the Scottish Government announced a provisional date for the beginning of Phase 3: 15 July 2020. 

Based on these dates, the Scottish Tourism secretary Fergus Ewing has published a statement addressing what this means for the tourism sector:

Businesses should start to prepare for a provisional return to trading – with appropriate safety guidelines – on 15 July 2020.

This date cannot be definitive and is conditional on public health advice and progression to Phase 3 of the route map.

Businesses must now use this time to satisfy the necessary regulations and adapt to the new way of living.

Read more here.

 

It is important to emphasise that this date is not carved in stone, but is a provisional date that may change if public health concerns change.

However, it is a good sign and a relief for many in the tourism sector, as well as those who planned to visit Scotland this summer. Tourism businesses are told to prepare for re-opening on 15 July 2020 and take the necessary steps to do so safely. This includes accommodation providers, tourist attractions, tour operators and activity providers. 

Of course, all these businesses have to adhere to public health advice, particularly with regards to making social distancing possible and increased hygiene guidelines. This means that some businesses might not be able to re-open in the same capacity as before, but at least it begins the process.

 

Travelling to the UK from abroad

Another thing that is important to keep in mind is that the UK currently requires every resident and visitor travelling to the UK (i.e. crossing the UK border) to self-isolate for 14 days. Refusing to do so, will incur significant fees.

That means that even though travel restrictions within Scotland will be relaxed in Phase 3, this for now only affects those who are already in the UK.

It will take more time to re-open the tourism sector for non-residents and international visitors.

You can find more details about entering the UK here and additional guidelines specific for Scotland here.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Awesome Scottish Tourism Businesses that sell vouchers

 

Your Scotland travel plans from Phase 3

So, what does all this mean for your future travel plans to visit Scotland?

Once Phase 3 begins – provisionally from 15 July 2020…

If you are a resident and you are currently in Scotland, you should be able to:

  • leave your local area for leisure (by car or public transport),
  • stay in accommodation,
  • eat out at restaurants,
  • visit attractions and sites
  • and book activities.

You might be interested in some of my resources regarding day trips in Scotland (lots of ideas all over the country), romantic getaways or other fun trip ideas.

In terms of destinations, you might want to consider places to visit on the mainland as islands might have reservations towards opening up too soon.

 

If you live elsewhere in the UK and would like to travel to Scotland, you…

I’m honestly not quite sure.

I will investigate and update clear information/guidelines for visitors from England, Wales and Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

 

If you live outside the UK and want to visit Scotland, you may do so, as long as you adhere to the rules around entering the UK.

This includes providing an address and contact information (to facilitate contact tracing) and self-isolating in the UK for 14 days.

However, I appreciate that this is not a feasible option for most international visitors. Especially if you consider that you might have to self-isolate again in your home country upon returning from the UK. Who has this many vacation days?

 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: How to plan an epic staycation in Scotland

 

I hope you find this post useful. If you have any further questions, drop them in the comments below, so that everyone can benefit from the responses.

Let’s all hope that Phase 3 can begin on 15 July 2020 according to plan, and the tourism sector will be able to regain momentum as quickly as possible.

Thanks for reading!

9 thoughts on “Scotland is re-opening for tourism – But what does that mean for you?

  1. Denise Ames says:

    We are due to drive to Scotland July 27th. We live in London and driving around to stay in different places. So far the hotels are still welcoming us so fingers crossed we still can . Thanks for the updates

    • Kathi says:

      Fingers crossed that everything goes to plan and you can come up for your well-deserved trip! If anything changes, I’ll let everyone know!

  2. Catherine Carter says:

    Thanks for letting us know about Scotland potentially opening up for tourism in the not so distant future. I’m a little confused as to what it means for people from England as in some parts of the article it reads as if we would be able to travel and then other parts it reads as if we won’t be able to travel. Could you please clarify? Thank-you!

    • Kathi says:

      Thanks for your question! The way I read it, it should be fine to travel from England to Scotland in Phase 3 – however I haven’t been able to find explicit information about that yet. I will update the post when I find out more!

  3. PJ Leary says:

    Well organized with access to sites that will keep us properly informed on the information leisure travelers need.
    Wonderful resource! Thank you.!

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