When is the best time to visit Scotland?
This question gets asked in my Scotland Travel Tips Facebook group all the time, and so, I thought I would write a thorough guide about the best time to visit Scotland.
First, I want to reassure you- no matter when you visit, you will have an amazing time in Scotland! There are pros and cons to visiting for each season, but hopefully, once you’ve finished reading this guide, you will know what’s the best time to visit Scotland for you.
I’m breaking down the highlights of visiting each month, the pros and cons, and I’ve also included an average temperature guide. Make sure you read the entire guide, as sometimes I have discussed June under May, January under December etc.
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When is the best time to visit Scotland?
Average temperature in Scotland
- Winter – December, January, February: -5°C (23°F) to 11 °C (51.8°F)
- Spring – March, April, May: 7°C (45°F) to 13 °C (55°F)
- Summer – June, July, August: 15°C (59°F) to 25°C (77°F)
- Autumn/Fall – September, October, November: 8°C (46°F) to 14°C (57°F)
What is the rainiest month in Scotland?
The rainiest months in Scotland are October, November, December and January. The driest month in Scotland is April, followed by May and then June. Use this as a loose guide, because the weather in Scotland is changeable and you can get rain any time of year! The goal is the wear layers, and always have a rain jacket handy. You can check the weather forecast on MetCast. When in Scotland, I usually check the forecast each day and dress accordingly.
Visiting Scotland Month-by-Month
I’ll be honest- January is COLD. In fact, it’s the coldest month of the year! However, January does have some pretty fun festivities. If you arrive at the beginning of January you’ll catch the tail end of the Hogmanay festivities, and the Christmas markets (which usually run until around the 5th of the month).
Tourism is fairly quiet after the 5th of January, and with the lack of sunlight hours (expect the sun to rise at around 8.30am and to set at around 4pm) there is nothing Scots love more than to coorie in at a pub- so expect to mingle with more locals at this time of year. Remember to warm your insides with a wee dram of whisky or two!
Snow usually arrives in January too, so just keep in mind how this could affect your travels (if you want to drive through the Highlands, you need to be confident driving when it’s snowing). If you’re a skier or snowboarder, then great! Glencoe, Glenshee, and Cairngorm Mountain are popular ski hills in Scotland.
Later in the month, on January 25, Scotland celebrates Burns Night– the birthday of Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns.
SCOTLAND TRAVEL TIP
Many attractions (including castles and palaces) in Scotland close down for the wintertime from mid-October to April 1. Make sure you check the opening dates for the attractions you want to visit if you are visiting Scotland during winter. Historic Scotland and the National Trust For Scotland are two of the main organisations that look after Scotland’s ancient attractions and are a good place to find opening information for the vast amount of attractions. Popular attractions, such as Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle stay open over the winter months.
Pros: Christmas Markets. Good for skiing and snowboarding. Not many tourists. Burns Night.
Cons: It’s the coldest month of the year. Lack of daylight hours. Many attractions are closed. One of the rainiest months.
February and March
February is similar to January weather-wise, although the nights do start to get a bit lighter. There aren’t many tourists around, and it’s another good month for snow. There aren’t many festivities in February, aside from Valentines Day.
March is slightly warmer, and the daylight hours are slightly longer too. Snowfall still occurs in March, and many attractions are still closed. Activities I recommend during these months include visiting museums, skiing or snowboarding at ski fields in the highlands, and staying warm inside the pub and sampling Scottish whisky.
Pros: There aren’t many tourists around.
Cons: It’s cold. Lack of daylight hours. Many attractions are closed.
April marks the beginning of spring and it is one of my favourite times to visit Scotland- the weather is warmer, spring flowers are starting to bloom and tourist numbers are still low. Many of Scotland’s attractions, such as castles and palaces, open back up at the start of April.
The balance between daylight and nighttime hours is much better come April. The weather can still be changeable and you can still expect snow in April.
One of the highlights of visiting Edinburgh in April is seeing the cherry blossom trees begin to bloom!
This is also a good time to drive the North Coast 500 as the roads are quieter. This is when I did it, and we were blessed with lovely weather!
At the end of April, the Beltane Fire Festival is celebrated at the top of Calton Hill. It’s an ancient Celtic tradition celebrating and welcoming summer; it’s fun to watch the sun go down and step back in time as people dressed in costume and painted from head to toe bring the ancient ceremony to life!
Pros: It’s warm enough to go outside! Spring flowers in bloom. Cherry blossons. Less tourists. Attractions open up for the year. The least rainiest month in Scotland.
Cons: Scotland has very changeable weather and we can sometimes get snow or 25°C (77°F) days in spring! Expect a mixture of warm and cool days.
My favourite month for travelling Scotland is May! The weather is a bit warmer than it is in April, and there are more daylight hours. Nature is also in full bloom, and you can enjoy it with fewer tourists around before the busy summer months.
May is a good month for hiking with warm temperatures and less rain. It’s also a great month for bird watchers; comical looking puffins will begin to build their nests in the cliffs around the coast and many of Scotland’s islands.
Highland Games also start for the season!
Pros: Weather is nice. Fewer tourists around. Good amount of daylight hours. Great for wildlife and bird watching. Highland Games begin for the year. Typically low rainfall.
Cons: Weather can be changeable- expect mild days and cool days.
Scotland starts to get busy with tourists from June. The weather is continuing to get warmer, and summer activities are starting.
This is also the best month to see puffins and their chicks! In the second half of June, the chicks should start hatching. Keep an eye out for puffins carrying a mouthful of fish back to their nests.
Pros: Weather is warm. Long daylight hours. Highland Games. Best month to see puffins.
Cons: Starting to get busy with tourists.
Tourist season well and truly kicks off in July. Summer is at its peak, and the weather is at its warmest! There’s a lot going on in July; pubs and beer gardens are teeming with activity, and Highland Games are happening all over the country.
A tip if you’re visiting in July or August- many popular locations in Scotland including Edinburgh, the Isle of Skye and locations along the North Coast 500 suffer from overtourism, so my advice is to try and go off the beaten path in Scotland as often as possible.
If you enjoy hiking or the outdoors, be aware that July and August are the worst months for midges, when the weather is at its warmest in Scotland. Midges appear in the morning and evening but will disappear during the day when it’s hot. You may see them during the middle of the day if the temperature is cooler, and you are more likely to encounter them around bodies of water, such as streams, rivers canals and lochs. I recommend buying some Smidge bug repellent when you’re in Scotland if you visit during July and August.
Pros: Warm weather. Highland Games.
Cons: More expensive. Busy with tourists. Midges.
Edinburgh is really fun during August because of the Edinburgh festivals. There are five festivals during the month of August, they are: Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe (known as the ‘Fringe Festival’), Edinburgh International Book Festival and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
The streets are swamped with people attending the festivities, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Bear in mind this may not be the best time for you to visit if you hate crowds, and accommodation prices also triple during August making Edinburgh an expensive option!
August is also one of the warmest months of the year, and there are many Highland Games on.
Pros: Edinburgh festivals. Warm weather. Highland Games.
Cons: Incredibly busy, especially in Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye. Midges can be bad. Expensive.
September is a month that has grown in popularity in recent years; originally it was a quiet month for tourism, with July and August being the busy tourist months, but then everyone had the same idea and tried to avoid the busy period by visiting Scotland in September!
The weather is wonderful in September; you catch the tail-end of summer and it’s fairly dry and warm with balanced daylight hours (although it is starting to get darker at night).
Once the Edinburgh festivals are over, many people have the same idea and head for the Scottish Highlands afterwards, so it can be quite busy there. Tourism begins to slow down in the second half of September, and this period is slightly cheaper too.
Towards the end of the month, the annual Wigtown Book Festival brings over 100 events for book lovers to Dumfries and Galloway.
Overall, September is a great month to visit Scotland- I would place this month behind April and May as the second-best time to visit Scotland.
Pros: Lovely weather, more balanced daylight/nighttime hours. One of the least rainy months. Wigtown Book Festival.
Cons: It’s still busy with tourists.
The best time to see autumn foliage in Scotland is during the first two weeks of October. Perthshire is the place to go to see the best of the autumn foliage in Scotland. You can also see the red ivy-covered walls at The House of the Binns in West Lothian and Culloden House in Inverness.
From mid-October, tourist numbers begin to drop, but this is also when many attractions start to close down for the winter. Ensure you double-check opening and closing dates for the attractions you want to visit if you plan on visiting Scotland in October.
The weather is cooler, and October is known as being one of the rainiest months in Scotland.
Pros: Pretty autumn foliage. Less tourists.
Cons: Attractions begin to close. Can be chilly. Daylight hours are getting shorter. One of the most rainiest months.
Autumn at The House of the Binns
By November, tourist numbers have dropped off and Scotland goes quiet. For the most part, November is a cold month, but you do still have the odd warm day or period. For example, I visited the Isle of Skye for the first time in November, and I was blessed with wonderful sunny weather the entire weekend! It’s a mixed bag when it comes to weather, however, so you need to pack for both warm days and winter days.
You can still get outside for some hiking, but it tends to be too cool for camping and you will need to pack warm, specialist clothing with you if you intend to spend some time in the great outdoors. Many attractions are closed by this point too.
November is a mixed bag for travel, but if you’re travelling on a budget it may be a good option for you as it tends to be a quiet month for tourism.
Pros: Very quiet for tourists. You can have some unexpectedly warm and sunny days. Cheaper.
Cons: Many attractions are closed. Cold.
It’s officially winter in Scotland in December and there is very little daylight. The sun will usually rise at around 8.30 am and it will be pitch black by 3-4 pm. Bear this in mind when planning your trip to Scotland- you will need to squeeze in a lot in with short daylight hours.
Despite the cold weather, there is still a lot going on in Scotland in December! Christmas Markets operate all across Scotland, and the Hogmanay celebrations see folk take to the streets for Edinburgh’s annual Hogmanay street party and Ceilidh Under the Castle.
December and January are also the best months to see starling murmurations.
Pros: Out of the winter months this is the best month to visit. Christmas markets. Hogmanay festivities. Shopping sales.
Cons: The weather is cold. Many castles and palaces and other Scotland attractions are closed. It can be busy (especially malls and shops!), Accommodation is expensive around the Hogmanay period.