Best Time To Visit Scotland

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Scotland is one of four constituent parts of the United Kingdom, the most northerly one with a land border with England. Otherwise, it finds itself surrounded by sea, the Atlantic, the Irish Sea and the North Sea. The coastline is extensive, almost 5,000 kilometres (3,125 miles) and there are several islands off both the west and north coasts.

It has a population of just 5.5 million, with Glasgow in the west having almost 30% of that and Edinburgh, the capital, a further 10%. The two cities share the same latitude and are just 80 kilometres (50 miles) apart. Plenty of flights arrive at Edinburgh and Glasgow’s two airports year around. Regional flights to Aberdeen and Inverness make flying to different parts of Scotland easy. You can enjoy the main cities and then head to the Highlands in a matter of days.

The best time to visit Scotland depends on your main interests. The two main cities have great shopping and some notable landmarks. The countryside is stunning, with hills, glens and lochs. Temperatures are rarely too high to make walking and hiking uncomfortable. Winters can be cold with long spells when snow lies on the ground. It hardly gets dark in June in the far north and the northern islands. There is even a golf competition at Thurso Golf Club where members start at midnight with four competitors on each of the tees. They finish around the same time and then sit down for breakfast.

Best Time To Visit Scotland

Scotland In Summer

best time to visit scotland 2017
Edinburgh panorama, including Holyrood Palace and Calton Hill taken from Arthur’s Seat. The best time to visit Scotland for the weather is in summer.

Few places are as beautiful as Scotland when the sun shines, but its northerly latitude means that good weather is not guaranteed. Its beauty makes it difficult to keep your eyes on the road when driving through the country.

A distinct advantage of its latitude is that daylight hours are long, so you can fit in plenty of activities between sunrise and sunset.

The two main cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, have plenty of attractions to offer in the months of summer. You will find crowds at the major attractions, and prices are at their height, especially during the school holidays.


Outside the cities, there are plenty of visitors touring the country. Many roads are single carriageways, so you will need to show patience as you travel around.

Here are some guideline stats but remember there are regional variations:

  • June (Sunrise 0440, Sunset 2200, Average Low Temperature 15C (62F), Average High Temperature Average High 18C (68F))
  • July (Sunrise 0510, Sunset 2200, Average Low Temperature 16C (64F), Average High Temperature 19C (70F)
  • August (Sunrise 0600, Sunset 2105, Average Low Temperature 16C (64F), Average High Temperature 19C (70F)

Five Things to Do in Scotland in Summer

when is the best time to visit scotland artistic vintage style processing.
Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct with the Jacobite steam train passing over it. The best time to visit Scotland for a train journey is in summer.
1- Have Fun At The Edinburgh Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe lasts almost a month, held annually in August. It is the biggest arts festival in the world.

You will need to plan well in advance because accommodation will be scarce in Scotland’s high season.

2- Go On A Road Trip

There are innumerable tours around Scotland, well-established routes with plenty of accommodation if you book in advance.

The West Coast is a contrast to the sandy shores on the east. The mainland and the many islands are well worth a visit as long as you are patient; you won’t be driving on quick motorways.

3- Discover East Coast Beaches
best time of year to visit scotland a sunny afternoon with a blue sky.
There are lots of lovely beaches such as Aberdeen Beach. The best time to visit Scotland for a beach vacation is definitely summer.

There are lovely sandy beaches all the way up Scotland’s East Coast. Just pick the area that interests you and you should find long stretches of pristine sand.

Hot weather is rare, warm more likely, although even that is not guaranteed.

Perhaps you should balance a beach holiday with another activity in case you hit poor weather?

4- Hunt for the Loch Ness Monster

Loch Ness is a place of legends. Debates still rage about the possibility of a monster in its depths.

Even though you are unlikely to solve the poser, the Loch is a great place for a summer holiday.

It lies southwest of Inverness and is 37 kilometres (23 miles) long.

5- Take Part In The Glorious 12th
best time to visit scotland to avoid crowds
Loch an Eilein at Cairngorms National Park.

The “Glorious 12th” is the opening of the red grouse shooting season, the 12th being August in the height of summer.

Many estates depend entirely upon shooting for their survival, and the season continues well beyond summer.

Estates effectively “farm” grouse to ensure large numbers, with the nesting season finished before August.

A day shooting is not cheap, and you will need to book well in advance.

The Borders and the Cairngorms are the locations to check if you are interested.

Top tips:

  • If you intend to walk in Scotland’s lovely countryside, take insect spray because it is prone to black flies in the summer.
  • Scotland has a notoriously unpredictable climate, so prepare for all four seasons in a single day with rain always possible.
  • Book well in advance if your plans include visiting the most popular parts of the country because crowds are likely, especially during a spell of good weather.

Scotland In Autumn

what is the best time to visit scotland rocks jutting out at dawn
Famous exposed rocks Old Man of Storr. Autumn is one of the best times to visit the Scottish Highlands.

Family holidays finish when the schools return, and as a consequence, the character of tourism changes. In early autumn, days are still long but come November, there is only around eight hours of daylight.

It is a great time to play golf, and the east coast is especially rich in alternatives from the border with England up to Inverness and beyond.
Whether in the Borders or up the West Coast, there are plenty of walking and hiking opportunities.

Likewise, the Highlands even has mountains to attract climbers. Hikers and climbers face many challenges in the Scottish Highlands, where the weather should never be too hot for exercise. Ben Nevis near Fort William at 4,400 feet (1340 metres) is the highest mountain in the United Kingdom.

Here are some guideline stats but remember there are regional variations:

  • September (Sunrise 0705, Sunset 1940, Average Low Temperature 12C (56F), Average High Temperature Average High 16C (62F))
  • October (Sunrise 0740, Sunset 1815, Average Low Temperature 9C (48F), Average High-Temperature 14C (60F)
  • November (Sunrise 0800, Sunset 1620, Average Low Temperature 7C (45F), Average High Temperature 11C (55F)

Five Things to do in Scotland in Autumn

scotland weather best time to visit herd of Highland cattle grazing on green grass with orange leaves on the trees
Autumn is the best time to visit Scotland for a splash of colour.
1- Swing A Club In The Birthplace Of Golf
what's the best time of year to visit scotland
A beautiful sandy beach in St Andrews, Scotland

Scotland is the birthplace of golf and its links courses are the most famous in the world.

Links courses are sandy based, so they do not get waterlogged during wet weather.

Scotland has plenty of rain, but its coastal courses remain in prime condition all year around.

Even in late autumn, it is worth a trip to the East Coast to play its wonderful courses, including Open Championship courses such as Muirfield, St. Andrews and Carnoustie.

It isn’t easy to get a tee time at the first two, but Carnoustie is usually readily available.

2- Enjoy Autumn Colours
what's the best time to visit scotland
Fall in Queen Elizabeth Forest in the Trossachs National Park, near Aberfoyle in the Scottish Highlands.

The autumn colours make a trip through the country from the lowland areas to the Cairngorms (the Highlands) a great experience.

Snow should not arrive until well into November and the roads are reasonably clear after the end of the family holiday peak.

3- Drive Or Cycle The North Coast 500
best time to visit edinburgh scotland
The best time to visit Scotland for rugged scenery is Autumn. Here’s the Northwest Highlands.

The North Coast 500 is a recent introduction, a 500-mile coastal route ending at Inverness Castle.

Summer crowds have diminished, so the roads are less busy. You can drive it or cycle it, staying in cosy bed and breakfasts along the way.

You should still book in advance, so you know you have somewhere to stay each night.

4- Explore Glasgow

Glasgow is a European City of Culture, and its best to visit its landmarks after the high season crowds reduce.

Its museums are free, and shops are ready to welcome visitors.

At competitive autumn rates, quality restaurants and hotels will ensure a pleasant stay, whether for a weekend or longer.

5- Celebrate St Andrew’s Day

St. Andrew’s Day on 30 November is an official holiday in parts of Scotland.

If you are in the Borders, Fife on the East Coast or Angus on the West, you may enjoy celebrations that include dancing, bagpipes, story-telling and typical Scottish dishes.

Top tips:

best time of the year to visit scotland sunset over the loch
The best time to visit Scotland’s lakes is at sunset when the reflection of the sky in the water is breathtaking. This is Loch Creran in Argyll and Bute in autumn.
  • Golfers need to book in advance to play the top golf courses.
  • Even though days may be sunny, daylight hours are shortening, so have at least a jumper or light jacket ready for late afternoon and a coat for later.
  • Scotland loves its sport, and you can find rugby union internationals in November in Edinburgh, but you will need to buy tickets well in advance.

Scotland In Winter

when is the best time of year to visit scotland two friends sitting on a bench on a frosty morning with dog
One of the best times to go to Scotland for amazing scenery is winter, so rug up and enjoy the bracing weather.

Cold weather and short daylight hours broadly describe winter in Scotland. However, the local population expects and prepares for that. Visitors should do likewise and then enjoy what the country has to offer. That includes the decorations and shopping pre-Christmas in its cities and then the holiday celebrations themselves.

Christmas is important, and New Year, Hogmanay, even more so. You will find accommodation fairly expensive and scarce so planning in advance is important.

January is often a quiet month, but in Scotland, it ends with a celebration of a famous Scottish poet, Rabbie Burns. Special dinners occur throughout the country, and plenty of Scotland’s main product, whisky, is consumed.

While mountaineering is not sensible, walking and hiking in wilderness areas within Scotland are refreshing, provided you are appropriately dressed for the challenge. It makes sense to follow established routes, of course.

There are opportunities to ski in the Highlands, opportunities that date back many decades. As ever, you should check snow conditions in advance.

Here are some guideline stats but remember there are regional variations:

  • December (Sunrise 0840, Sunset 1550, Average Low Temperature 4C (40F), Average High Temperature Average High 9C (48F))
  • January (Sunrise 0840, Sunset 1630, Average Low Temperature 4C (40F), Average High Temperature 10C (50F)
  • February (Sunrise 0750, Sunset 1730, Average Low Temperature 5C (42F), Average High Temperature 11C (52F)

Five Things to do in Scotland in Winter

scotland best time to visit with white tower of Lighthouse
Isle Ornsay in the Isle of Skye – the best time to visit Scotland for ethereal landscapes is in winter.
1- Celebrate Burns Night

Burns Night celebrates the life of the famous 18th Century Scottish poet Rabbie Burns.

Burns Night on 25 January, the date of his birth, involves just one single dish on the menu, tatties, neeps and haggis, washed down with Whisky.

2- Go Christmas Shopping

Edinburgh’s shops before Christmas and the January sales are an attraction.

During this time, many of the city’s most popular sites are open for visitors without any crowds, including Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh Castle.

3- Celebrate Hogmanay

Few countries celebrate New Year as well as the Scots and that is saying something.

Hogmanay is special, wherever you are in Scotland, with the celebrations seemingly neverending.

2 January is still a national holiday, demonstrating how the celebrations may have gone.

4- Explore Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park offers plenty for those wanting active outdoor activities beyond skiing.

Aviemore developed as a skiing resort, opening 60 years ago when charter flights into Europe and beyond were still in their infancy.

The Cairngorms Reindeer Herd is an incredible sight and has been since the mid-20th Century.

They are approachable if you park and go hiking in the hills, and you may even be able to feed deer from your hand.

5- See The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are not guaranteed, but if you want to take a risk, head to the Northern Isles, like Orkney or Shetland.

Be prepared for poor weather, but it’s warm inside, especially with a hearty meal, tot of Whisky and a roaring fire.

Top tips:

best time to visit scotland city skyline at dusk
There’s no best time to visit Edinburgh in Scotland as the city is charming to visit any season.
  • Pack plenty of warm clothing, even for daytime.
  • Look for discounts in all but the main holiday and shopping weeks
  • You can get a kilt made if you start talking to a kiltmaker before your visit. What you wear under it is up to you.

Scotland In Spring

best time to visit scotland weather
Rocks around a flowing stream in Scotland.

In many ways, spring is an awakening, which is certainly the case in Scotland because winters are rarely mild. Suddenly there is colour as the spring flowers come out, bluebells, crocuses, snowdrops, tulips and daffodils.

Visitor numbers remain small so getting around this sparsely-populated country is easy.

Temperatures rise slowly as spring proceeds, but it remains chilly, even cold, at night. However, as spring proceeds, the hours of daylight increase until May, and the sun does not set until well after 9 pm.

Scotland loves its sport, with soccer and rugby union reaching the culmination of their respective seasons. Murrayfield in Edinburgh hosts at least two internationals in spring.

Glasgow’s soccer giants, Celtic and Rangers, are usually vying for the Premiership title. You won’t get a ticket if they are playing each other but should be lucky for a game between either and other opposition.

Here are some guideline stats but remember there are regional variations:

  • March (Sunrise 0640, Sunset 1900, Average Low Temperature 7C (45F), Average High Temperature Average High 11C (54F))
  • April (Sunrise 0600, Sunset 2030, Average Low Temperature 9C (48F), Average High Temperature 15C (60F)
  • May (Sunrise 0515, Sunset 2130, Average Low Temperature 12C (56F), Average High Temperature 16C (62F)

Five Things to do in Scotland in Spring

what is the best time of year to visit scotland Rapids in small waterfall on stream and dry grass and heather bushes on banks.
Spring is another beautiful time to visit the Scottish Highlands.
1- See Ospreys In The Highlands

Loch Garten Osprey Centre in the Highlands is home to the rare osprey who nest there.

May is also mating season for the capercaillie and if you get up very early, you may catch sight of the activity of pairs breeding and nesting.

2- Hit The Castle Trail

Spring is a good time to check on the Castle Trail in Aberdeenshire.

There are 17 castles on the trail, including Craigivar, which inspired the Walt Disney design.

There are even some castles that are available to rent if there are sufficient numbers in your group.

3- Enjoy Art

In Dumfries and Galloway, in the southwest, there is an annual Spring Fling towards the end of May, showcasing local crafts and exhibits being shown in published venues, including the artists’ homes.

4- Enjoy Nature In Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond, north of Glasgow, is at its best in the spring when the bluebells come out.

This is also when hibernating mammals like squirrels and martens start to emerge from winter.

Migrating birds are returning to nest so the countryside is full of nice surprises and the chance of unique images.

5- Drink Whisky
best time to visit scotland highlands Bottle of whisky with backdrop of flag of Scotland
Looking for the best time to visit Scotland for a dram? We love warming up by the fire in winter.

Several distilleries in Scotland produce whisky, brands that are famous worldwide and many promote tours around the distillery, with tasting and the chance to buy.

Islay, one of the Western Isles, Glenlivet on Speyside, or Glenmorangie in Ross are options.

However, if you don’t want too much travel, Johnnie Walker offers a similar experience in Princes Street, Edinburgh.

Top tips:

  • Numbers are only just starting to rise but still book in advance yet look for discounts.
  • Scheduled flights and regional connections are available if you plan in advance.
  • Avoid the Easter holidays if you want to enjoy landmarks without queuing in crowds.

Are you itching to travel somewhere but can’t decide where or when to go? These posts might help:

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Stephen Smith
Steve Smith is a widely travelled writer who has lived on the South West Coast of Turkey since 2008. He hails from North East England where he lived most of his life but has been to every continent of the world, with a particular love for Southern Africa and its wildlife. Argentina, India and Vietnam as other favourite places that he enjoyed greatly while sport is also a passion, cricket and golf as a participant, rugby union and soccer as a spectator.