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Ice Availability in Scotland and England

I am so sorry to bring this topic up again. I know it has been hashed and rehashed. I am very familiar with the limitations of ice availability in Europe. But an ice-dependent friend is going to join me for the Scotland-York-London part of my 2019 trip, and I want to provide accurate information about what she will encounter.

As far as I can tell, twice a day (around breakfast time and around lunchtime) it is her invariable practice to get a large cup of ice and pour in a bottle of Diet Coke (preferably already cold, I think). This is not a problem when traveling in the US because essentially all hotels/motels/fast-food outlets have limitless ice. I imagine she settles for a fountain drink, rather than bottled, if she has to when away from home/hotel.

I know there will not be ice machines in our budget lodgings. Do fast-food restaurants in Scotland and England sometimes/always have ice dispensers so my friend can buy a cup of ice or, in a pinch, get a large soda in a cup full of ice?

If this is going to prove impossible, I want to warn her.

Thank you.

Posted by
5817 posts

If you buy a coke in Macdonald's, Burger King etc it will come in a cup with Ice. You have to ask if you don't want ice. She will struggle to find self service ice dispensers in restaurants. I have seen them in Pizza Hut where they serve "unlimited" drinks, but that are rare.
She should also be aware that the size of drinks in take away restaurants is no where near as large as in the US.

Posted by
5019 posts

Honestly, I don't think that one can rely on always finding a lot of ice readily available as a traveler in Europe. You might get lucky in a Micky D or Burger King here or there, but I think you could just as easily spend your whole day searching in vain with little to show for it.

If (and only if) you'll have a car, you could buy a cheap styro ice chest and buy a bag of ice every day at a grocery store - that would probably work in most places.

"Ice-dependent" is a new one on me - and I like lots of ice! Unless this is for an actual medical need - ie keeping medicines chilled - I think it might be better to call this a "habit" than a real need. No further soap-boxing, but it sounds like this might just boil down to priorities: you want to see Scotland, or is getting a 24 ounce cup filled with ice (for your Diet coke) more important?

Good luck!

Posted by
16763 posts

We will not have a car.

So it looks as if I can tell her she may sometimes be able to get an icy drink--though not an especially large one--from a fast-food restaurant (if there's one nearby), but there will be times when probably the best she will be able to do is buy a cold soda a supermarket.

I'm sure she will cope, but my philosophy is that if there's likely to be a problem, it's much better to know about it ahead of time.

Thank you both for the information. I don't think I've ever been inside a fast-food restaurant in Europe. I'm trying to remember whether I've ever seen an ice dispenser in the breakfast room of a hotel. I sometimes encounter a water or juice dispenser.

Posted by
11153 posts

"I'm trying to remember whether I've ever seen an ice dispenser in the breakfast room of a hotel."

I certainly haven't - even in the US, because icy drinks aren't a standard breakfast item. Of course, I often have Diet Coke for breakfast, but I can have it any temperature, so I don't have the stress your friend will.

I wonder if she can get a cup of ice at Starbucks, since they serve iced coffee? I also wonder if the other coffee chains (Cafe Nero, Costa, etc) would have ice, for the same reason. If so, that would give her more options beyond McDonalds and Burger King.

As someone who is soda-dependent but not ice-dependent (I actually have European tastes when it comes to ice), I do understand the problem!

Posted by
16763 posts

Thanks, Harold. A coffee place never occurred to me. I'm a water person.

If I had known I was going to have a traveling companion next year, I'd have kept my eyes open this year, but this all came up after I had returned from this year's trip.

Posted by
5817 posts

We do have ice in the UK! I don't think I have ever bought a coke in a restaurant that didn't come with ice. We just don't serve it in the vast quantities you see in the US.
Self service Ice dispensers are really rare in the UK, simply because we don't have the slightly wierd obsession with freezing the taste out of everything! :-) I have certainly never seen ice available at breakfast.
You will definitely get ice in your drinks in fast food places.
Similarly coffee places like Starbucks, Costa, Cafe Nero do serve iced drinks but they aren't huge.

If your friend is the kind of person that likes to carry her drink around with her she should probably also be made aware that many sights, shops etc do not allow you to bring drinks in with you.

Posted by
16763 posts

Thanks, Emma. We can't carry food and drinks into most institutions or retail establishments here, either. That won't be an issue.

I suspect the main challenge will be corralling an early-morning soda (sort of like the people who really need their morning coffee or tea), given that we typically won't have ice, a cold-soda machine, or a refrigerator immediately available to us. When looking for hotels, I've never paid any attention to the proximity of supermarkets or fast-food outlets, but maybe I need to do so for this trip.

Posted by
5817 posts

If you are staying in towns you will never be more than 5 min from a coffee shop. Costa, in particular, seem to be taking over the country.
If the hotels you are planning to stay in are large enough to have bars you could also try asking if they will give you some ice. Worst they can say is no.
Cold bottles of coke are also available from every corner shop.

To be honest there isn't much else you can do. She likes ice, she won't collapse if she doesn't get it. If she is keen to travel she should be aware that things are different in other countries. Many British people struggle with the inability of the rest of the world to make a decent cup of tea but we survive!:-)

Nando’s and Five Guys are two fast food chains that sell “bottomless” sodas and have ice machines. Obviously the bottomless aspect is only relevant if you’re eating in, but worth mentioning.

Starbucks has ice machines behind the counter and would probably offer a cup of ice if you buy a soda there. And I bet they’d fill it to the brim with ice if you ask them nicely.

Even the US-style hotel chains like Holiday Inn are extremely unlikely to have ice machines but I’m sure if there happens to be a bar at the hotel they should be able to provide some.

Posted by
16763 posts

We're budget travelers, so we are pretty unlikely to encounter a bar in one of our hotels, but you never know where you'll end up until you make the reservation.

Nando's and Five Guys--that's helpful info, beause I've seen those around, especially Nando's. Interestingly, the original Five Guys was established just a few blocks from my friend's former home in Virgina. It was quite a shock to see Five Guys in England, though I knew it had been franchised in the US.

It sounds as if our best option is to watch for fast-food places. I'll make a note of the ones reported to offer free refills.

Posted by
11153 posts

Shake Shack is another US chain that is now in the UK (at least in London) that offers free refills. However, the soda machine is behind the counter, so if your friend wants a lot of ice, he/she will have to make sure they have their drink filled and refilled that way.

Posted by
23396 posts

A lot of Subways have self-serve drinks, often with a computerised dispenser where you can choose your poison by touching a screen and have either an integrated ice dispenser or one nearby. Tiny ice chunks and a little slow, but if your friend must find ice all she has to do is buy a drink.

Posted by
23396 posts

I hope that she won't mind that the Diet Coke may be different to what she is used to. Many places have changed to Zero or Sugar Free Coke, too.

Posted by
4468 posts

Also if ordering the bottomless drinks in the likes of Nandos, make a point of saying it is for DIET drinks only, otherwise it will be liable for the sugar tax.

Posted by
16763 posts

Wow; I didn't know about a sugar tax. I know you can't be sure of finding any specific variety of Coke at a restaurant. At least it's widely available in some form in the UK. Many places in Czechia are heavily Pepsified. And yes, there is difference.

Self-serve at Subway bounces it to the top of my list.

Thanks again to everyone; I'm very pleased to have this much information to share.

Posted by
5397 posts

Acraven, you are a VERY kind and thoughtful traveling friend! I hope your friend knows how much trouble you're going to for her with your pre-trip research.

Posted by
16763 posts

I figured the ice situation was easier for me to address since I spend so much time on this forum, and she really had no reason to think it would be a challenge.

I'm going to put her to work looking at online menus once we have hotels nailed down. Our tastes differ a lot (at least we both like seafood), but I'm sure she'll be able to find enough suitable restaurants to cover the times we're on the same eating schedule. We will make it work. I've looked at the cost of peak-season lodging in Edinburgh and of air conditioned rooms in London, and I am glad to have someone to split the cost of rooms with me!

Posted by
2430 posts

Ice is something we seldom think about in Scotland unless it is on the ground and personally I never put any in drinks.There has only been one hotel I was in in Europe that had an ice machine and that was the Hotel Pav in Prague.
When are you intending to travel,Edinburgh in August is crazy busy and crazy expensive due to the International Festival and Fringe that is on at that time so avoid then and you might get better deals.

Posted by
16763 posts

Thanks for the warning, Unclegus. I know about the Edinburgh festivals in August and also the Scottish Open, which is being held not all that far east of the city and has practices beginning July 11. I think I'm seeing some hotel-rate impact from the golf tournament. I'm still looking at where we might like to go, not yet how the pieces might fit together and the timing other than the Edinburgh situation.

I arrive in Scotland by plane from Paris on Saturday, July 6 (Schengen Day 88). Friend arrives in Scotland by train from London on Friday, July 12. We tentatively plan to depart Scotland around August 1 to spend a little time in York/Yorkshire; this date is a bit flexible, but we definitely want to be in London by August 7.

I've read through all the Scottish threads from January 2015 through March 2018 and hope to finish the more recent ones today. My take-away is that peak-season room demand exceeds supply in Edinburgh and all the rural scenic areas accessible by public transportation, so I need to nail things down and book as soon as I can. I know this cannot be my typical wing-it trip.

It sounds as if the lodging situation in Glasgow is generally OK, but everywhere else we might want to go will be a challenge, especially without a car. We both have impaired vision and will not risk trying to drive in Scotland. I expect we will need to take at least one multi-day tour to get to scenic spots that would be a struggle via public transportation.

If you know of other challenging times where we may face significant difficulties finding affordable rooms (we are not poor but like to spend our money on things other than hotel rooms), I'd love to know about them. Otherwise, my plan is to rough out an itinerary over the next week or so and post it for comments from you and other knowledgeable folks. This is my first trip to such an intensely rural destination; it's a shame we can't rent a car. I'm a bit freaked about needing to book all the lodgings this far out.

Posted by
8293 posts

My husband and I once stayed in rooms at Strathclyde University, right in the centre of Glasgow. Very plain but very affordable. Might be just thee ticket for you and your friend.

Posted by
16763 posts

Thanks, Norma. Noted. I've stayed at student housing in other parts of the UK. Works well as long as you don't feel you must have air conditioning (which is seldom available). Scotland should be safe.

Posted by
2430 posts

https://www.davidurquhart.com/coach-holidays/
have you thought about using a tour company for some of your time .This company is well established and the main clientel tend to be those of a slightly older age .My late mother and her sister went on many a trip with them, they do tours within Scotland and also lots of day trips from various points in Scotland

Posted by
1239 posts

If your accomodation has a freezer a couple of ice cube trays from a pound store might be a solution.

Posted by
16763 posts

Thanks, Unclegus and MC. I've added David Urquhart to my list of tour companies to check out. I think we'll want something (or multiple somethings) that are rather targeted, such as 3 days to Skye, 3/5 days to Orkney, etc. We'll definitely want the tour to depart from somewhere in Scotland. I haven't examined the coach-tour offerings yet, just noted names of the companies mentioned positively on this forum.

We will be thrilled if we ever have a room with a mini-fridge. A little freezer section with an ice-cube tray would be a bonus.

Posted by
115 posts

Not much help in the ice dept, but I carry a large insulated bag as my carry on for flights with my purse and computer inside. Once we're on the ground, it's great for keeping food and drinks cool and holding ice overnight. Trader Joe's and Costco carry the larger ones, and they do fit under the seat as long as they're not over-stuffed.

Posted by
16763 posts

Thanks, Terri. I've used such a bag for domestic travel, but I think the bulk might be too much on a long overseas trip (6 weeks for my friend; much longer for me). However, it's a good thought and I will certainly mention it to her. Perhaps she could pick up something cheap that could be a throwaway if she needs space in her suitcase on the way home for things she has purchased.

Posted by
2933 posts

Reading the OP , I find myself overtaken by both a certain sense of amusement as well as one of impending doom . I am sorry to be the curmudgeon here , or the grinch , as the case may be . That you want to be prepared to have a full grasp of the European ice issue to share with your proposed travel companion , is probably unlikely to satisfy her ice habit during a protracted trip . The result may be a very difficult time for you both , and potentially , a fractured relationship in the end . In the USA , where ice flows like water , there would be no issue , but even though you could make your best effort to supply it , day to day logistics would likely make it reasonably impossible .

Posted by
2933 posts

To be fair , I am an ice addict ( returning home in three weeks from Europe ) , and my daughter is , as always , well aware to have mass quantities available upon our return .

Posted by
16763 posts

Thanks, Steven, I do appreciate your concern, but I think this will be OK. Forewarned is forearmed. For me, at least, it's the unpleasant surprises that are likeliest to be disturbing. The total absence of caffeine might cause physical issues, of course, but I figure cold sodas can be the back-up plan.

Posted by
3925 posts

I suggest that your friend submerges herself completely into the customs of Scotland, particularly Glasgow, and foregos her daily Diet Coke for a bottle of Buckfast every morning (from what I've seen it doesn't require ice or it might be that it's not much of a consideration for its regular drinkers).

Posted by
16763 posts

That sounds gross! There's also the orange stuff with the strange name (Irn-Bru?) that I think is unique to Scotland. I have enough trouble with the orange-colored liquid masquerading as orange juice in some hotel breakfast rooms. At least it isn't (falsely) labeled as juice, it just looks as if that's what it might be--but it often isn't.

Posted by
3203 posts

Irn-Bru (I suspect it's implying Iron Brew, a macho warrior beverage if ever there was one) has a kind-of bubblegum flavor, but it's the perfect thing for washing down an excellent pork sandwich from one of the two locations of Oink! in Edinburgh.

For what it's worth, returning from Ireland (both the Republic and the U.K. Northern Ireland), they tended to bring a glass of ice for cider. Some of the ciders that were described appear to be like fruit-flavored pop, but a proper, already chilled Bulmer's or Stonewell certainly doesn't need watering down with ice. Glasses of water, though, generally had a few ice cubes in them. Ireland's not Scotland or England, but ice was surprisingly available.

Posted by
23396 posts

Irn-Bru is easily available (new recipe) south of the border. It is in all the supermarkets and pound shops and even at Iceland around where I live in the Midlands.

I prefered the old recipe though...

Posted by
2933 posts

All this talk about soft drinks , leads me to mention that , in Europe , the term " diet coke " is , more often , known as " coke zero " or " coke light " , tastes about the same .

Posted by
5817 posts

I remember the advert “ Iron Brew. It’s made in Scotland, from girders” all said in an almost unintelligible Scottish accent. I believe they had to change the name because it doesn’t contain any Iron, so it was seen as false advertising!

We have both Coke Zero and Diet Coke in the U.K.
Apparently Coke Zero is marketed at men who are too “macho” to be seen drinking a diet drink. I think it tastes slightly sweeter than the Diet version.

I did always wonder what the difference was between Coke and Pepsi and read that Coke has a slight vanilla flavour whilst a Pepsi is more citrus.

Posted by
5817 posts

I had completely forgotten that ad! Brilliant.
Love how my predictive text really didn’t like Irn Bru.

Great adverts, it tastes awful though. For quality British “pop” you want Vimto!

Posted by
4468 posts

Coke Zero Sugar (as it now is officially called) is supposed to taste as close as possible to Coke and is now presented very much as 'Coke without sugar', using the red colour fairly predominantly reducing the dominance of black etc.

Diet Coke by contrast tastes differently, more citreous and tart.

I can remember the original 'TAB' when Coke was so afraid of the affect on its original drink by a no sugar version that it wouldn't even dare use Coke as part of its name.

Irn-Bru does contain a trace of iron, but isn't brewed.

Posted by
2933 posts

And on the occasions that I drink any of them ( a substitute for the real thing , to avoid consuming large amounts of sugar ) they all taste pretty much like a fire of burning leaves . I also remember TAB , from my youth , that tasted more like freshly laid asphalt .

Posted by
16763 posts

For me, the difference between Coke and Pepsi is that Pepsi is noticeably sweeter.

I've only rarely attempted to drink a diet soda. Didn't like any of them. Or Pepsi. Or the various colas with extra flavors, like cherry.

Posted by
2933 posts

Ah , acraven , A real " Cherry Coke " - real coca cola with maraschino cherry syrup , was a thing of beauty when I was eight years old . I would never attempt this at 72 , only the memory remains .

Posted by
2933 posts

MC , terrific - a tour of some the great Scottish destinations in a minute , but why no whisky ?

Posted by
23396 posts

MC- Glasgow plus one

He nicked my Irn-Bru!