You’ve made up your mind – you’re going to plan a trip to Scotland. You know where you want to go and what you want to so, but there is one question you have not found an answer to yet: what is the best time to travel to Scotland? This article goes into the nitty-gritty detail of seasons in Scotland, what the weather is like, why you might want to visit or not visit in a particular month. Spring, summer, autumn or winter – what really is the best time to visit Scotland?
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Before you can book your flights, accommodation and activities, you have to choose when to visit Scotland. From Spring to Winter – each season has its benefits and disadvantages, and which one is the right for you depends on a number of factors.
I do not want to spoonfeed you a “right” answer – although I am sharing my personal favourite months to travel Scotland below. I encourage you to read the entire article and make up your mind based on your own preferences and interests. Here are some important questions to ask yourself before you make this decision:
- What are your travel priorities? What are your bucket list locations and must-have experiences?
- How much distance do you want to cover? Are you a road tripper or are you happy with a smaller radius?
- What is your budget? Can you afford peak season prices?
- Do you want solitude or do you love immersing yourself in the crowds?
- Which activities do you want to try?
- Are there any events you’d like to attend?
Take some time to think about these questions and write down your answers. You might already see a trend emerging, making it easier to narrow down dates.
Scotland by Seasons
Now, I am going to give you an overview of the different seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter – and what to expect when you visit Scotland during each of them.
Spring: March to May
Spring is a lovely time of the year to visit Scotland for nature-lovers. As the snow thaws in the Highlands, the glens and woodlands of forests are springing to life. Flowers are blooming, lambs are born and more and more animals are slowly re-emerging after a long and cold winter. here are some more benefits of a Spring break in Scotland:
- March (before the daylight saving time change) is still dark enough to enjoy stargazing in Scotland’s Dark Sky Parks, such as the Isle of Coll, and potentially even spot the aurora.
- Early Spring is much more suitable for budget-conscious travellers as well as those who want to escape the crowds. Prices and tourist numbers are starting to rise in May (shoulders season).
- In early Spring you might even get away without pre-booking all your accommodation, although it is important to check what is open. You have to book ahead for trips in May.
- April and May are ideal for hiking and outdoor activities. There are no midges yet in the Highlands and it is starting to be warm enough for wild camping.
- Late spring is generally speaking the driest time in Scotland – although it can always rain for a few days even in May.
- Migratory wildlife, such as puffins and whales arrive at Scotland’s coasts from mid-April, making Spring a great time for wildlife watching.
- Spring is the perfect time to visit popular places such as the Isle of Skye or the North Coast 500.
But of course, Scotland in Spring also has downsides:
- It can still be fairly cold, especially in early Spring.
- Some attractions and tours might not run until mid-April (or Easter week, whatever comes earlier).
- Days are still fairly short in early Spring, although that changes rapidly after the daylight saving time change (late March).
- Easter holidays can be very busy.
- While flowers are starting to bloom in mid- to late Spring, the landscapes are not yet as lush green as you might have seen in pictures.
Summer: June to August
Summer is by far the most popular season to visit Scotland for a variety of reasons. Some people have no other choice since they are tied to school holidays, others are drawn to this season by the long days and supposedly better weather. Here are a few of the upsides of summer travel to Scotland:
- The days are super long. The longest day of the year is June 21 and around this time, the sun only sets for a few hours. This makes it easier to cover great distances on the road.
- All attractions and tours are open and operate on a maximum time schedule. There are more ferries, more tours and more activities to choose from.
- Summer can be great for outdoor activities – you can hike for longer, it is generally warmer and there are more options to choose from.
- There are tons of festivals happening during the summer – such as the Edinburgh Festivals in August – as well as Highland Games.
- Early summer (until late July) is a great time for wildlife watching.
- Summer is the best time to see Scottish gardens in full bloom.
These are the disadvantages of travelling to Scotland in summer:
- It is BUSY! Popular places like Skye, Loch Ness and Edinburgh are generally crowded. It can be difficult to enjoy the natural beauty while you are surrounded by tour buses.
- It is expensive. Summer is peak season and most prices for accommodation and activities rise significantly.
- August is particularly bad in Edinburgh – during the festivals, hotels are often fully booked and/or very expensive.
- You have to book everything in advance – accommodations, ferry tickets, activities etc.
- Summer is also the favourite season of the dreaded midges – tiny black flies that get through all gaps and leave itchy bites. It can be a nightmare to hike and camp during the summer.
- With so much daylight it is near impossible to stargaze – some even find it difficult to sleep without darkness!
Autumn: September to November
Autumn is a great time to visit Scotland without the crowds, although that is slowly starting to change. September to November offer a variety of different experiences – here are some things to expect:
- The heather that started to open in August is now in full bloom – watch the Highlands turn purple!
- Autumn is a great time to visit Scotland for changing colours and autumn foliage.
- This is the perfect season for photographers: extended golden hour AND late(-ish) sunrises!
- While early autumn can still be quite busy in popular places, crowds have disappeared by November and prices become more budget-friendly once again.
- Autumn is great for outdoor activities-too cold for midges, but not too cold for hiking, cycling & co.
- There are lots of festivals happening, particularly food-themed festivals and the famous Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry.
Among the downsides of travelling Scotland in autumn are:
- Some attractions and tours might close for the winter any time from mid-October.
- Temperatures can drop significantly – usually not before mid-October though.
- Shorter days in late autumn mean that you might have to shorten your daily distances on the road.
- Ferry time tables revert back to the winter schedule in October.
Winter: December to February
Many people shy away from visiting Scotland in winter – while in fact, this season has many advantages and specialities:
- It’s Christmas time! Christmas markets all over the country open from mid-November and there are many winter festivals, including Edinburgh’s Hogmanay!
- The chances of snow are high, especially after New Year’s Eve.
- Winter is the best season for stargazing and potential sightings of the northern lights.
- Now is the time to visit Scotland on a budget.
- Winter is a great time for activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, ice-climbing and winter mountaineering. There are many guided excursions in the Highlands you can join.
- If you’ve ever wanted to see real Scottish Vikings, visit the Shetland Islands in January for Up Helly Aa!
- If you get a crisp sunny day, you will see Scotland in a whole new light. It’s stunning!
But here is what keeps people from travelling to Scotland in winter. Would you agree?
- The days can be super short. The shortest day of the year is around 21 December and there are only a few hours of daylight.
- It can be COLD and/or wet! Scottish winters are generally speaking warmer than in continental Europe, but they can be wet – and there is nothing quite as uncomfortable as wet & cold weather.
- Many attractions, activities and some accommodations are now closed for the season.
Month by Month: Travel to Scotland
Now, that you’ve narrowed it down to a season, let’s talk about what to expect and some each month
January in Scotland
January can be dark and cold, but if you love stargazing and winter activities, it is an awesome month to visit Scotland. An absolute highlight is the Up Helly Aa festival in Shetland – a local celebration that marks the end of the darkest period of the year. Hundreds of locals dress up for a torchlight procession in Lerwick, some of them as Vikings, and burn a custom-built Viking ship at night. It is quite a spectacle. Read more about this festival & how to participate here.
Another highlight in the Scottish calendar is 25 January – Burns Night. Every year, Scots around the world gather to celebrate the songs and poems of Robert Burns, indulge in haggis and whisky, and honour everything that is Scottish. Visit to join a local Burns Night party!
February in Scotland
February is a short month with short days. The Fort William Mountain Festival is a great reason to visit, and so is the ongoing chance to participate in winter activities.
Days are getting longer and you might be able to get really good deals on tours and accommodations.
March in Scotland
Things are picking up in March – longer days, more open attractions and many outdoor activity providers are re-opening for the season. It can still be a bit too cold for camping, but a crisp Spring day in March makes for stunning sceneries and landscapes.
March (and April) are ideal to visit popular locations such as Skye, the North Coast 500 or Edinburgh.
April in Scotland
Spring travel is in full swing in April, especially around Easter (which of course, might already be in March some years). Attractions re-open, migratory wildlife arrives at the coasts and the sun provides lovely warmth for Spring hikes.
One of my favourite things about Scotland in April is the bluebell season – these lovely purple flowers bloom all over the country, but particularly in parks and woodlands near water.
May in Scotland
Even though May is officially shoulder season, I consider it peak season among international travellers who are not tied to school holidays. It is generally speaking the driest month and temperatures can be lovely and warm. Since International Whisky Day is in May, there are many whisky festivals around the country.
May is also a great month for hiking and camping, since the midges have not hatched yet, and even popular trails are not too busy yet.
I love the long days in May, but popular locations such as Skye and Edinburgh are starting to feel crowded. I prefer going off the beaten track from now on.
June in Scotland
With summer in full swing, June is a great month to visit Scotland – but I prefer to explore hidden gems to escape the crowds.
Midge season is starting, so I prefer to hike and camp in areas that are not too badly affected. A great month for Munro bagging and coastal walks, where usually wind keeps the beasties away.
The longest day of the year is in June, so it’s the perfect month for anyone who wants to cover a lot of distance in a short amount of time.
July in Scotland
July is the official beginning of peak season and with UK schools closing for the summer, crowds are growing and prices are soaring. However, temperatures are also nicer and the weather generally favourable for hiking and outdoor activities.
August in Scotland
August is like no other month in Scotland. Edinburgh is bursting at its seams due to the Edinburgh Festivals and the popular locations in the Highlands get even busier – if that’s even possible. However, with schools back in mid-August, there is hope for quiet escapes to off the beaten track places, such as the south of Scotland.
August can either be the best time to visit Edinburgh, or the worst – depending on how you feel about crowds. If you just want a relaxed city trip with sightseeing, avoid it as it is really only fun if you visit for the festivals and enjoy the masses.
September in Scotland
September is the new black – an increasingly popular month to travel Scotland and thus still busy in popular places. The weather can be perfect and it’s a great time for outdoor activities.
While Edinburgh calms down, many festivals happen in other places, such as Aberdeenshire and the Inner Hebrides, so there is always something going on. One of my favourites is the North East Open Studios festival in Aberdeenshire!
October in Scotland
With October, Scotland is witnessing the arrival of off season – and autumn colours. Seasons are changing, and so are the woodlands of central Scotland. Now is the time to hit the hiking trails in Perthshire and marvel at the shades of yellow, red and orange on display.
November in Scotland
Days are getting shorter and crisper, prices are dropping and everything is slowing down for the coming winter. November is a quiet time in Scotland but can be exceptional for outdoor activities and photography if you are lucky with the weather.
Scotland’s official national day is also in November – St Andrew’s Day on the 30th – and cities around the country organise special events and festivals to celebrate it.
December in Scotland
Things are getting busy again in December, as the Christmas markets open and cities are gearing up for their Hogmanay celebrations – especially Edinburgh. Days are short, but the darkness is brightened up by the sparkling Christmas lights.
Many hotels will now offer heavily discounted rates for mid-week or weekend getaways, often including meals at a great price.
My Favourite Time to Visit Scotland
Every season and every month has something different to offer. There is no right or wrong answer to the question about the best time to go to Scotland, but of course, I have favourite travel times.
OK, drumroll please – my favourite time to visit Scotland is…
Late spring, early summer and autumn. It’s too hard to choose just one!
I’m an outdoorsy person but don’t do many winter activities that require snow. I stick to hiking and outdoor activities from March to November. That said midges love me, so I prefer travelling when they are not around – i.e. Spring and Autumn.
I often get asked when you should come to Scotland and while there is no one-size-fits-all answer, the most common bucket list items and wish list experiences are best done during Spring, early summer or autumn too. These include visiting the Isle of Skye, spending time in nature without the crowds, attending Scottish festivals and seeing puffins and/or whales.
If you can avoid summer, I recommend booking a trip in off or shoulder season to avoid the crowds and have a more relaxed experience in Scotland.
If you can’t avoid travel in summer, try to relax your itinerary, choose off the beaten track locations and expect to work with a higher budget.
Remember this About Choosing a Time to Travel to Scotland
The weather in Scotland is always unpredictable. You could always experience all four seasons in a single day – year-round. Just because you visit during the summer does not mean that you will necessarily have more sunshine. It can rain anytime.
Always pack layers. It is generally warmer from May to September, but you should always be prepared to add a layer to your outfit. People are often disheartened when they see pictures of summer trips to Scotland and people are wearing hats or jackets – but unfortunately, that can be the reality. That said, I have also experienced shorts + t-shirt days in the Highlands. You never know! Check out my Scotland packing list which also has tips for seasonal packing!
If you can’t settle on a month, let your budget choose. Checking prices might make the decision easier!
By now you should be able to choose the best time to go to Scotland for you – and with that, you are one step closer to planning your trip to Scotland!
Find out what the next step is here.
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.