Can I visit Scotland? A guide to lockdown travel rules north of the border

Emma Beaumont
Scotland - getty

Lockdown measures have eased in some parts of Britain, but the four nations have set out different rules and timelines for relaxing restrictions. Since May 13 in England, day trips to outdoor open spaces have been allowed, with no limits put on the distance people can travel, so long as they use a private vehicle. In contrast, Scotland has maintained strict rules with people only allowed to leave their houses for essential reasons. 

This certainly means that day trips from England remain off the table this bank holiday weekend and May half term. Last week, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was unequivocal in her stance, stating: "If you are in Scotland, then the law in Scotland applies". In case there was any doubt, she stressed “it is not OK to drive into Scotland to beauty spots to visit places and for leisure".

When lockdown restrictions ease in Scotland, can I visit? 

Restrictions in Scotland will begin to ease on May 28, raising hopes that day trips across the border may soon be possible. At first glance, the new guidelines in Scotland look fairly similar to England’s, and in some ways go further. Nicola Sturgeon said: "You will be able to sit or sunbathe in parks and open areas, and you will be able to meet people from one other household, though initially in small numbers, while you are outside”. Currently, in England, you are only permitted to meet one other person outside your household. 

However, the Scottish Government has put much more emphasis on staying local, dampening hopes of long days out. The initial stage of the four-phase approach states that travel should be restricted to short distances for outdoor leisure and exercise and within the local community where possible. A five-mile rule has been set out, though Sturgeon suggested that it “isn't going to be a strict limit, but is intended to give you a guide because what we don't want in this phase is for people to congregate at tourist hotspots”.

Still, unless you are part of a border community, the message to those in England is stay away. In fact, day-trippers are likely to have to wait until Phase Three when the virus is ‘suppressed’ and contact tracing is in place, before being welcomed back to Scotland.

Edinburgh - getty

Planning a day trip in England? Here are the rules for half-term and bank holiday travel

When restrictions eventually lift, what can I do on a day trip in Scotland?

As day-trippers in England have found out, even with the softened measures, days out are not necessarily straightforward, with many car parks, public loos and, of course, pubs, cafes and restaurants out of action.

In contrast to England, where the National Trust has now opened a majority of countryside car parks, VisitScotland have suggested that “no facilities will be open at this stage in line with the Scottish Government guidelines”. However, this is likely to change as restrictions ease further.

During the initial stage of relaxing measures, outdoor activities such as golf, hiking, canoeing, outdoor swimming, and fishing are allowed, though they are only intended for people in the local area. Non-essential indoor shops, pubs and restaurants are to remain closed for at least three weeks, with no date yet set for their reopening.

Highlands - getty

• Lesser-known English beauty spots to discover this weekend

When can I stay overnight in Scotland?

The Scottish Government has not offered specific details on when hotels might reopen, but it will likely be a while yet. Unlike England, where a tentative date of July 4 has been put forward for hospitality businesses beginning to open, many in Scotland expect the entire summer season to be cancelled. 

Last week, Riddell Graham, director of VisitScotland, rejected the idea that visitors could travel to Scotland this summer. However, he is “hopeful” that there will be a partial re-opening some time this year. 

What is a good alternative to Scotland for a day trip?

While the bracing Highlands air may be out of reach for some time to come, Telegraph Travel has highlighted a number of lesser-known beauty spots and quiet coastal areas in England that would be a good bet for a day-trip this half term.

It is worth noting that the picture across England looks very different, with some hotspots urging visitors to stay away, such as Whitby and Brighton, while some, such as Dartmoor and the Cotswolds are more open to daytrippers.