When is the best time of year to visit Scotland?

Written by Chris Thornton | 6th of December 2023
When is the best time of year to visit Scotland?

Mid-spring is the best time to visit Scotland - late March to May.

Many people believe that the best time to visit Scotland is in the summer when the days are the longest, and the weather is warmest. However, there are several reasons why this may not be the case. In this article, we'll explore some of the pros and cons of visiting Scotland at different times of the year so you can make an informed decision about when to plan your trip.

Visiting Scotland in the spring

Springtime is a great choice; the weather is milder, the days are longer, and the flowers are in bloom. However, Scotland also has an annoying biting insect called a "midge". In early spring, you can avoid these as they aren't quite in season yet.

The downside of visiting Scotland in the spring is that it can be pretty rainy and still a little cold. That said, there is often a lovely spell of weather from mid-May that can often be just as warm as the summer months.

Scotland weather.  Daffodils at Lossiemouth. Scotland Spring.
Daffodils on the overlook at Lossiemouth. Photo by Alan Butterfield.

Visiting Scotland in the summer

Visiting Scotland in the summer means you'll enjoy longer days, as the country is fairly far north. This extra daylight can be used to explore all that Scotland has to offer, from its stunning castles and countryside to its vibrant cities. In June, Sunrise can be as early as 5 am and doesn't set until 10 pm, nearly 17 hours of daylight!

Additionally, average temperatures in summer range from around 15-20 degrees Celsius (60-68 degrees Fahrenheit), so you won't have to worry about packing too many heavy clothes. Summer is normally warm and sunny and generally has the best weather, but it can rain in Scotland in any season!

Fort William and Aviemore are fantastic places for outdoor activities such as hiking, hill walking, quad biking or watersports. The walk to Steall Falls near Fort William is breathtaking.

Edinburgh is host to the Edinburgh festival fringe in August, the largest art festival in the world. The city is alive with street performers and theatres packed with events. Another must-see event is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, held at Edinburgh Castle, which showcases pipers and military parades from all around the world.

However, there are also a few drawbacks to consider. First of all, accommodation prices tend to be higher in summer due to increased demand, and tourism is much busier in the high season. Scottish schools also shut down for the summer holidays for as long as 6 to 7 weeks from the end of June until mid-August.

Secondly, Scottish midges (tiny biting insects) are most active from May to September (particularly in the Scottish Highlands), so you may want to pack some insect repellent if you're planning a trip during this time period! Please see my midge survival guide here.

Embo Beach in summer. Peak tourism season. Long daylight hours.
Scotland has many beautiful beaches to visit in summer. Embo Beach.

Highland Games

Summertime in Scotland is also the best time of year to visit one of the many Highland games around Scotland. These events are an excellent opportunity to take in Scottish culture by trying local foods and witnessing feats of strength like the caber toss and hammer throw. Highland dancing competitions are also common.

Scotland's highland games. Summer festivals.
Highland Games are brilliant events for tourists.

Visiting Scotland in the autumn

Autumn is underrated in Scotland; we can have some truly beautiful weather. There's nothing quite like a crisp cool autumn morning walking through deciduous forests, especially if you are a photographer; there are some incredible photo opportunities. Autumn is also much quieter than summer.

The only downside is that some attractions may be closed or running at reduced hours.

Cairnfield Burn in Autumn. Fewer crowds.
A stream near where I live during Autumn.

Visiting Scotland in the winter

While winter might not be the most popular time to visit Scotland, there are still a few reasons why it can be a great time to travel. For one thing, prices for accommodation and flights are usually much lower than in summer.

Furthermore, many of Scotland's top attractions are less crowded during winter months, so you can enjoy them at your own pace.

Christmas and other winter festivals are really quite magical in Scotland.

Scotland also has a popular snowsports industry, with ski resorts available at Cairngorm, Glencoe, Glenshee, The Lecht and the Nevis Range. Popular Scottish winter sports include:

  • Skiing and snowboarding

  • Cross-country skiing

  • Curling

  • Ice skating

  • Sled dogs

Cairngorm Ski Centre, Aviemore.
Cairngorm Ski Centre near Aviemore.

Scotland is also a fantastic place to view the Northern lights/ Aurora Borealis, particularly in the north of Scotland. I have personally seen it many times from the Moray Coast and Lossiemouth. Scotland is also home to some of the finest dark sky locations in Europe, perfect for stargazing.

On the downside, however, average temperatures drop to around 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), so you'll need to pack plenty of warm clothing. Check out my guide: Is Scotland cold?

What's more, daylight hours are shorter in winter (as little as 6 hours!), so you'll have less time for sightseeing. Winter in Scotland can be very magical, though; there's something about the low winter sun streaming through snow-capped trees in the Glenmore Forest that is quite spectacular.

Loch Garten completely frozen in winter, Scotland.
Loch Garten, frozen over in the Scottish winter.

Popular winter events in Scotland

Winter is actually one of the busiest times in the Scottish social calendar; with many events and festivals, the colder weather does not stop anyone here!

St Andrew's day is held on the 30th of November and celebrates Scotland's patron saint - St Andrew, with feasting and traditional music. St Andrews cross appears on the flag of Scotland.

Chrismas in Scotland is lovely; Edinburgh, in particular, has beautiful Christmas markets, fairground rides, and outdoor icerinks, sometimes spanning the length of whole streets!

Princes Street Gardens Christmas festivities.
Christmas markets on Princes Street Gardens.

Hogmanay is the biggest event in the Scottish calendar, taking in the new year on December 31st; you won't find a bigger party anywhere else in the world.

Burns Night is a popular event held on the 25th of January in celebration of Scotland's national poet Robert Burns. Here you can sample one of Scotland's famous dishes - haggis neeps and tatties, and listen to poetry readings and Burns's work put to traditional music. Burns Night is a must if visiting in late January.

What is the cheapest time of year to visit Scotland?

Winter is by far the cheapest time to go; you will find flights and accommodation to be significantly less expensive. This low season lasts from about November to mid-March, and it's well worth checking for special deals.

FAQs on the best time to visit Scotland

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the best times to visit Scotland throughout the year.

What is the rainy season in Scotland?

It can rain any time of the year in Scotland, but the west coast is more prone to downpours than the east coast. Spring will have a little more rain than summer, but September is historically the wettest month in Scotland.

What is the warmest month to visit Scotland?

June and July are the warmest months to visit Scotland.

What is the best time to go to Scotland to avoid midges?

Early Spring or Autumn / Winter is the best time to visit to avoid midges. I have more information in my dedicated guide available here.

What is the best time of year to drive the North Coast 500 (NC500)?

The NC500 is one of Scotland's most popular road trips, taking in 500 miles of coastal roads in the far north of Scotland. April, May and September would be the best time to undertake this epic trip.

Daylight hours will be longer for more sightseeing, the roads won't be blocked with snow, and tourist numbers should be fewer outside of the high season. The NC500 has been a victim of its fantastic promotional campaign, and travelling it in the height of summer may detract from your experience due to the sheer number of people on the road.

Dunrobin Castle on the NC500.
Dunrobin Castle is a must-stop on the NC500.

When is the best time to go island hopping?

Scotland is home to more than 800 small islands and archipelagos on its north and west coasts... the most famous being Orkney, Shetland and Skye. Many other islands are worthy of a visit, such as Arran, Mull and Lewis & Harris.

April to October should be the chosen months to have a higher chance of acceptable weather for ferry trips; a two-and-a-half-hour trip in rough seas from Ullapool to Stornoway would not be pleasant.

Fancy a change in lifestyle? Why not move to a Scottish island?

Isle of Iona.
The beautiful waters at the Isle of Iona.

Key takeaways

  • Late spring is a popular choice due to fair weather and lack of midges.

  • Daylight hours are much longer in summer (17 hours) and very short in winter (6 hours).

  • Summer is the peak season for tourists.

  • Be sure to attend the Highland games if visiting Scotland in the summer months.

  • Autumn is a lovely time to visit if you don't mind cooler days, and it is out of the tourist season.

  • Winter is much less busy and has fantastic snow sports options.

  • It's possible to see the Aurora Borealis from north Scotland in winter.

Conclusion - the best time of year to visit Scotland

As you can see, there are pros and cons to visiting Scotland at any time of year. But, ultimately, the best time for you to visit will depend on your budget and what type of weather you prefer - each season is unique in Scotland and offers something special.

If you don't mind braving cold temperatures and want to save money on accommodation and flights, winter might be the best time to visit.

However, summer might be a better option if you'd prefer warmer weather and longer days for exploring.

Spring is my season of choice for weather, daylight hours, midges and factoring in a quieter time for Scottish tourism, but no matter when you decide to go, Scotland is fantastic at all times of the year.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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