Best time of year to visit Scotland: a season by season guide

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If a visit to Scotland is part of your travel plans soon you’re possibly wondering about when to go.

I don’t think there’s an absolute best time of year to visit Scotland in a general sense. Each season has its benefits and what you’re looking for in a trip will dictate the best time to go.

Scotland in different seasons

City vacation or outdoors activities?

Scotland is a wonderful place to go for so many attractions but the first thing you need to consider when planning what season to visit in is what kind of trip you might be wanting to take?

Are you looking to enjoy a city break and check out all that Edinburgh or Glasgow have to offer? You can really go all year round if this is the case but the summer months will be busier.

Or are you wanting to hike along walking trails, explore the islands and get off the beaten path a bit? Winter allows some walking still with plenty of trails but you’ll not be able to hike up hills as easily unless you have experience and good equipment.

Weather in Scotland

Before taking a look at the best time of year to visit Scotland, it’s worth chatting a bit about the weather. Scotland does have a little bit of a reputation!

While the summer period does give a greater chance of good weather, and by that I mean dry, sunny days, you can get bad weather, storms and rain all year round. There’s really no getting away from that!

Storms can and do happen throughout the year but are more frequent in the winter months and late fall/early spring. If storms are predicted to be particularly bad then weather and news channels will inform you as to the areas affected. If you’re visiting islands be aware as ferries can be cancelled at the last minute.

Sometimes the weather can change from one side of the country to the other so if you’re in the East and the weather is predicted to be rainy all day, check the weather apps and see if it’s the same everywhere else. The west might have better luck! Scotland isn’t really that big that you can’t get from one side to the other easily if you have a car.

Sunny days do come and when they do they are glorious so it’s always wise to make the most of them when they happen, even if that means changing your plans for the day! Head to the coast, lochs or in the hills and you’ll not regret it!

Glencoe in Winter
Glencoe in winter

Winter in Scotland

Pros

  • Much quieter and less tourists around
  • You’re more able to see Scotland as a local would
  • Celebrations such as Bonfire Night, Christmas, Hogmanay and Burns Night give excuses for a good night in a local pub!
  • You might even catch the Northern Lights!

Cons

  • Short days.
  • more likely to have storms
  • tourist attractions may not be open, especially outside cities

The weather in Scotland at wintertime can vary from just cold and damp to full blown snow. On higher ground you’re more likely to get snow and icy conditions. You might visit at wintertime and just experience grey weather as we have a number of times.

Be careful of road conditions in wet or cold weather. The main roads will be gritted with salt but of course they can still be treacherous.

The short daylight hours can be a bit of an issue so it’s good to not plan too much in your days. It gets dark as early as 4pm in the winter so you’ll find that most places close early.

Since exploring is out in the evenings you can take advantage of cosy evenings in local pubs – they’ll also be glad of the custom in the slow season!

Winter is a great season to visit the cities of Scotland, especially Edinburgh which suffers from an explosion of tourists in the summer months. You’ll find a greater selection of accommodation that will be slightly cheaper than the summer too.

You can read more tips about visiting Winter in Scotland here

Hills in Scotland in Spring

Spring in Scotland

Pros

  • Attractions begin to open towards middle of the season
  • Flowers out in bloom can be stunning
  • Early spring is before midges come out
  • Days lengthen

Cons

  • Easter and public holidays mean that it can get busy with families
  • weather can still be unpredictable and cold at times
  • Late spring brings midges

Spring in Scotland can be a lovely time to visit. You have that promise of longer days and better weather and if you’re lucky it will happen!

It’s a great time to go walking on trails, exploring castles and abbeys and getting out and about. If you enjoy stately homes and their gardens this is a wonderful time to explore there too as the flowers bloom.

Cities continue to be a great place to visit in the Spring. Be aware of the public holidays that might make places busy. They change yearly but be aware that Mothers Day is in March (can make restaurants very busy!), Easter brings a couple of weeks break for UK schools and May has some bank holidays and school breaks too.

Beach in summer in Scotland
Stunning Scottish Beaches in summer!

Summer in Scotland

Pros

  • Long days – summer solstice is June 21st and is the longest day
  • Best chance of good weather
  • Highland Games & events take place all over the country

Cons

  • Midges are out in full force along the west coast and in the Highlands
  • It’s the busiest time of year which can make accommodation expensive and hard to find
  • You may need to book ahead if you need ferries or want to visit anywhere specific

Summer is high season in Scotland and with that comes crowds, higher prices and queues. But, it also comes with long days, a promise of good weather and some amazing festivals to enjoy too.

When the weather is good in Scotland you’re in for a real treat so be ready to take advantage of it if you can. It can get hot even in the highlands and we’ve been known to go for a dip in the loch before! The beaches are a real treat too with gorgeous white sands lapped by turquoise water – I can’t promise that the sea will be warm though, it won’t be!

You have a lot of festivals to look forward to in the summer months from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Military Tattoo to Highland Games throughout the country.

Walking and hill climbing is a popular activity in the summer months and you’ll be spoilt for choice no matter where you base yourself in the country.

Wildlife comes out in force in the summer too with dolphins being at their most active around the coast.

Unfortunately one part of the wildlife that’s not so welcome is the Scottish or Highland midge. These are particularly annoying biting flies that love to hang around coastal areas, woodlands and lochs. You’ll find them a problem in the highlands and across the west coast of Scotland. The east coast doesn’t suffer as much and neither do cities.

Eilean Donan in Autumn
Eilean Donan castle in Autumn

Autumn/Fall in Scotland

Pros

  • Spectacular colours around the country as leaves change
  • As schools head back it’s a quiet time to visit
  • Early autumn can still see some really warm weather

Cons

  • Storms start to get more frequent, especially later in the season
  • Seasonal attractions start to shut down and ferry schedules change

Autumn is another favourite time of mine to visit Scotland. When the UK schools are all headed back to work at the beginning of September (Scottish schools go back earlier than English and Welsh schools but they all should be back by then) the place breathes a little sigh of relief.

Accommodation gets a little cheaper and easier to find and the cities, while still busy, don’t feel quite so crammed full.

Lots of attractions will be open in autumn but as you head on through the season that changes with lots closing by the end of October for the year.

If you head into the highlands or some islands where deer roam (like the Isle of Rum) Autumn is the rutting season and you can hear the haunting noise of the males as they set themselves up to be the strongest of their group.

The scenery in Scotland in autumn is wonderful with so many forests and hills that change to a beautiful orange and rust colour.

You might also be interested in the salmon migration as well if you visit at this time. In Autumn the salmon can be seen migrating back to their birthplace to spawn and you can see them leaping up riversides.

Book your Scotland Vacation:

Check flights: Skyscanner
Book Car Rental: DiscoverCars
Book hotels: Booking.com
Book Vacation Rentals: VRBO.com

And don’t forget to pick up a guide book!

Photo of author

Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for 10 of those. She loves to explore the UK and Europe and has a particular penchant for historical sites.

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