Scotland is a country that enchants visitors with its rugged landscapes and timeless beauty. Whether you’re drawn to the vibrant colours of autumn foliage, the lively atmosphere of summer festivals, or the cosy warmth of Scotland’s winter celebrations, we’ll help you plan your trip and figure out the best time to visit Scotland for you.
Want the quick answer to the question: What is the Best Time to Visit Scotland? We’d suggest May, June or September for good weather and the likelihood of beating the crowds and the midges. Or, December if you want a chance to see the Northern Lights, visit a Christmas market or two and experience Hogmanay!
Family holidays in Scotland are best taken in the summer. Read The Ultimate Road Trip In Scotland With Kids for our August road trip itinerary.
Understanding Scotland’s Diverse Climate
From the brisk winds that sweep across the coastline to the mist that shrouds ancient castles perched on rolling hills, to bright, crisp sunny days, Scotland’s weather is a character in itself.
The coastal areas of Scotland experience slightly milder temperatures due to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean, while the inland regions often have more significant temperature variations.
The western parts of Scotland are affected by the moist Atlantic air and a higher chance of rainfall, especially in the winter months, which makes the landscapes here extra green!
The Highlands, and their mountain peaks, can display dramatic shifts in weather, from sudden downpours to clear skies within a matter of minutes.
Scotland’s climate is as diverse as its terrain. It’s got a bad reputation, perhaps, but don’t let that stop you from visiting this amazing country!
Spring in Scotland (March – May)
As Spring in Scotland arrives, you can expect a gradual shift from the chill of winter to milder temperatures, and you’ll start to witness the country’s natural beauty.
In Scotland in March, temperatures can range from around 5 to 10 degrees Celsius (41 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit) and gradually increase as spring progresses. Daytime temperatures in Scotland in May typically hover between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius (50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit).
Spring in Scotland is characterised by a mix of sunny days and occasional rainfall. You might still encounter chilly days, especially in March, but the increasing daylight hours make it a good time to visit Scotland if you’re interested in outdoor activities. Showers are common in Scotland in April, so it’s advisable to pack layers and waterproof clothing.
Flowers are starting to bloom during Spring in Scotland, and trees are starting to regrow their leaves. The landscapes, including popular spots like the Scottish Highlands, offer breathtaking views as the green starts returning to the hills.
Hiking trails are now more accessible as any snow has melted, and wildlife becomes more active. You’re likely to see wild rabbits, lambs and, if you take a boat trip, whales and dolphins too.
There are generally fewer tourists compared to the peak summer months, offering a quieter experience at popular tourist spots. And this is the best time to visit Scotland to avoid midges.
Scotland in Summer (June – August)
In Scotland, summer tends to span from June to August. The Scottish landscapes are truly stunning over the summer months and this is definitely the best time to visit the Scottish islands such as the Isle of Skye.
Daytime temperatures in Scotland during summer typically range from around 15 to 25 degrees Celsius (59 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit).
The weather in Scotland in Summer can get warm – usually during July and August, but it can still be unpredictable with showers, breezes and chillier days. During our visit in August, we experienced some lovely sunny weather, but also some windy, rainy days (particularly on the Isle of Skye).
One of the most notable features of Scotland in summer is the long daylight hours, especially in the northern parts of the country. In June, you can experience up to 18 hours of daylight, providing loads of time for exploration and outdoor activities.
Summer is the high tourist season, and it’s an excellent time for various outdoor activities. From hiking and cycling to golfing and water sports, Scotland offers a lot in terms of things to do.
Scotland in August brings with it festivals and events, such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival. Obviously because this is high tourist season, many places in Scotland get very busy in July and August – particularly in the Scottish Highlands, Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye. Book accommodation well ahead of time if you’re in Scotland in August or July. We also found we needed to book ahead for restaurants on the Isle of Skye.
Be aware that Summer in Scotland is midge season. Read more on this below.
Scotland in the Fall/ Autumn (September – November)
Autumn in Scotland spans from September to November. This is the time to visit if you want to experience Scotland’s transformation from green landscapes to a rich tapestry of colours. The weather in Scotland in October becomes more crisp and you’ll want to start layering up for your outdoor adventures.
Autumn temperatures in Scotland vary, with daytime temperatures ranging from approximately 8 to 15 degrees Celsius (46 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit). Nights can be cooler, especially as the season progresses. Weather in Scotland in November becomes a lot chillier. Rainfall is more frequent, but often less intense than summer downpours.
One of the highlights of Scotland in the fall is the stunning display of autumn foliage. The landscapes transform into a stunning display of reds, oranges, and yellows, particularly in areas such as the Scottish Highlands.
Scotland in the fall is an excellent time for scenic drives, hikes, and walks as you enjoy the vibrant colours of the changing leaves. It’s also the season for spotting red deer.
The number of tourists tends to decrease compared to the peak summer months, so it tends to be less crowded at some of the popular tourist spots and you’ll find it easier to book accommodation at short notice too.
As the days become shorter, autumn in Scotland brings with it a cosy atmosphere. It’s a time to enjoy hot drinks by the fire after a long afternoon walk.
Scotland in Winter (December – February)
Scotland in winter consists of colder temperatures, shorter days, and the potential for snowfall in certain parts of the country. Scotland can be quite magical in winter – particularly around Christmas time and New Year.
Bear in mind it gets dark at 4pm in Scotland in winter, so your opportunities for outdoor activities will be more limited.
Daytime temperatures in winter in Scotland typically range from around 2 to 7 degrees Celsius (36 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit), but it’s not uncommon for temperatures to drop below freezing, especially during the night.
Weather in Scotland in December onwards include cold days and the possibility of rain, sleet and snow. Coastal areas tend to experience milder temperatures, while the Highlands and inland regions may receive blankets of snow, creating pretty Christmas-card scenes.
Some areas of Scotland in winter can experience significant snowfall – particularly those at a higher elevation. There’s opportunities for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding in areas like the Cairngorms and the Nevis Range during winter.
The shorter days also bring opportunities to see the Northern lights in Scotland’s most northerly areas. Read more about this amazing experience below.
Aside from winter sports, Scotland in winter provides a chance to enjoy cosy traditional pubs and traditional winter celebrations such as Hogmanay on New Years Eve and Burns night in January.
Scotland is an exciting place to be during the festive season. Cities like Edinburgh host fantastic Christmas markets and visiting one is one of the best things to do in Scotland in December.
Navigating the Midge Season Scotland
It’s important to be aware of the issue of midges during the summer months, especially in certain areas.
Understanding Midges in Scotland Season
Midges are small, flying insects commonly found in Scotland during the warmer months. There’s no doubt that they’re annoying and something you should be prepared for if you visit Scotland in the summer.
Midges are often difficult to see individually due to their tiny size – but it’s best to just assume that they are there – particularly if you happen to be in the areas where they thrive. These include damp environments, such as lakes, rivers and marshes. They are prevalent in areas with standing water, which serves as breeding grounds for their larvae.
Midges are particularly common in the Scottish Highlands, the West Coast and the Scottish islands.
Female midges are known to feed on blood, while males primarily feed on nectar. Their bites show up as small red spots or blotches and can be quite itchy and uncomfortable. The Highland Midge, prevalent in the Scottish Highlands, is notorious for its biting behaviour.
Another one of the annoying habits midges have is their tendency to form large swarms, particularly during specific times of the year. Not fun if you end up near one!
Tips to Avoid Midges
To protect against midge bites, it’s a good idea to use an insect repellent, wear long sleeves and trousers, and potentially choose outdoor activities and locations that minimise exposure to these tiny, flying insects.
Some people are more susceptible to midge bites than others. My daughter was bitten quite badly – but she did spend a lot of time outside playing in the garden while we were in the Scottish Highlands.
My top recommendation to avoid midge bites is Avon So Soft. It’s one of the best repellents for midges.
Of course, if you want to avoid midge season in Scotland, then it’s best not to go to Scotland in the summer months!
Scotland’s Annual Festivals and Events
Scotland has a variety of festivals and events that celebrate its history, traditions and culture. Here are some of Scotland’s most famous festivals and events throughout the year:
Edinburgh Hogmanay (31st December – 1st January):
One of the world’s most famous New Year celebrations, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is one big (street) party with music, fireworks, and the iconic Torchlight Procession,
Burns Night (25th January):
Celebrated on the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns, Burns Night includes a traditional meal of Haggis, neeps and tatties and Cranachan, poetry readings, and performances to honour one of Scotland’s most famous figures.
Up Helly Aa (Last Tuesday in January – Lerwick, Shetland):
A unique fire festival held in Lerwick, Shetland, Up Helly Aa celebrates Shetland’s Viking heritage with a torchlight procession, the burning of a galley ship, and lots of partying. There’s a junior version of Up Helly Aa for kids, which takes place on the same day.
Glasgow Film Festival (February/March):
Glasgow Film Festival presents a diverse range of films, from independent productions to international blockbusters. It started in 2005 and is now one of the top three film festivals in the UK. Glasgow Film Festival also prides itself as being “one of the friendliest film festivals on the planet”.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August):
The largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe brings together thousands of performers in various venues across the city. It’s been going since 1947 when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited to the Edinburgh International Festival (see below).
Edinburgh Fringe lasts three weeks and covers a wide range of performing arts, including theatre, comedy, dance, music, children’s shows and more.
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (August):
Held at Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is definitely something to see if you’re in Edinburgh in August. It’s a spectacular event with military bands and precision drill teams.
Edinburgh International Festival (August):
Also founded in 1947 and held at the same time as the Fringe, the Edinburgh International Festival features some big names and productions in the world of music, opera, theatre, and dance.
St. Andrew’s Day (30th November):
Scotland’s national day is celebrated with traditional music, dance, and food. Many places offer free entry to historical sites and museums on St. Andrew’s Day.
TIP: Because there’s so much going on in Scotland’s capital in August, it is super crowded. If you’re definitely not a fan of crowds, August might be the worst time to visit Edinburgh for you.
Best Things To Do in Scotland in the Winter or Autumn
- See the Northern Lights: Winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights in Scotland, especially in the northern regions and islands. Head to locations like Shetland, Orkney, or the Scottish Highlands for a chance to see this spectacular natural display.
- Visit Edinburgh’s Christmas Markets: Edinburgh comes alive with festive cheer during the Christmas season. Explore the Christmas markets, take a spin on the outdoor ice rink, and get into the Christmas mood with all of the festive lights.
- Go Skiing or Snowboarding: Scotland has several ski resorts, including Glencoe, Cairngorm Mountain, and Nevis Range.
- Experience Hogmanay: If you’re in Edinburgh for New Year’s Eve, make sure you experience this massive one-of-a-kind street party.
- Experience Winter Wildlife: Visit the Cairngorms National Park to spot reindeer, explore the Scottish Seabird Centre to see seabird colonies, or go on a winter wildlife tour to catch a glimpse of red deer.
- Enjoy a Winter Walk: Wrap up warm and explore Scotland’s stunning landscapes on a winter walk. Many trails offer breathtaking views of snow-covered mountains and frosty glens.
- Warm Up in a Cosy Pub: Embrace the cosy atmosphere of a traditional Scottish pub. Try Scottish dishes like haggis, neeps, and tatties – the perfect comfort food in cold weather. Whiskey optional.
- Go on a Scenic Winter Drive: Take in the winter scenery. The North Coast 500 route offers stunning coastal views, while the Cairngorms provide a winter wonderland.
Best Things To Do in Scotland in the Summer or Spring
- Explore the capital city: Visit Edinburgh, and explore its historic sites, including the Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Don’t miss the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, which takes place in August.
- Hike in the Highlands: Enjoy the stunning landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. Hike iconic trails such as the West Highland Way, Ben Nevis, or explore the Cairngorms National Park.
- Experience the Isle of Skye: Visit the Isle of Skye for its dramatic landscapes, including the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, and the Fairy Pools.
- Attend Summer Festivals: Scotland hosts numerous summer festivals, such as the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
- Visit Loch Ness: Explore the famous Loch Ness. Take a boat cruise on the loch, visit Urquhart Castle, and keep an eye out for the legendary Loch Ness Monster.
- Enjoy Outdoor Activities: Take advantage of the long summer days for outdoor activities. Try mountain biking, kayaking, or rock climbing in scenic locations. Or take a ferry from Oban to one of the islands.
- Relax on the Beaches: Discover Scotland’s beautiful beaches, including those in the Outer Hebrides and the Moray Firth. Our favourite beach was on the Isle of Iona.
- Visit Castles and Historic Sites: Explore Scotland’s rich history by visiting castles like Eilean Donan, Stirling Castle, and Blair Castle.
- Hop on a Steam Train Journey: Ride the Jacobite Steam Train, often referred to as the Hogwarts Express, for a scenic journey through the West Highlands. Or get a great view of the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the train – all you need to know is in this post.
When and where can I see the Northern Lights in Scotland?
The best time to see the Northern Lights in Scotland is during the winter months when the nights are longer and darker. From September to March is generally considered prime aurora borealis season.
The best places in Scotland to see the Northern Lights are:
- Shetland Islands
- Orkney Islands
- Isle of Skye
- Caithness and Sutherland (northern-most parts of mainland Scotland)
Make sure you check the weather forecast. Ideally, you want clear skies (no cloud) to be able to see the Northern Lights. Plus, you want to be as far away from any light pollution as possible.
What Is Scotland Best Known For?
- Historic Castles: Scotland is home to numerous castles including Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, and Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness.
- Whisky: Scotland is known for its numerous whisky distilleries. Distillery tours and tastings are one of the most fun things to do in Scotland for couples.
- Bagpipes and Kilts: The sound of bagpipes is synonymous with Scotland, and kilts, the traditional Scottish attire, are recognised worldwide. Each clan has its own distinctive tartan!
- Loch Ness and the Loch Ness Monster: Loch Ness, a large freshwater loch, is famous for its mysterious creature, Nessie, also known as the Loch Ness Monster. The legend and folklore surrounding Nessie draw tourists to the area. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot him – but will you?
- Edinburgh Festival Fringe: The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world. There’s all sorts on offer here, and many big names start here. You’ll find some great kids shows if you’re on a family trip to Scotland.
- Robert Burns and Burns Night: Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, is celebrated annually on Burns Night (January 25th). Traditional celebrations include reciting Burns’ poetry and enjoying a Burns Supper.
- Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: Held at Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a world-famous event featuring military bands, and precision drill teams against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.
- Highland Games: The Highland Games are traditional Scottish events featuring athletic competitions, music and dancing. Events like caber tossing and tug-of-war are highlights.
Does it Snow in Scotland?
It does snow in Scotland, particularly during the winter months (December to February). The amount and frequency of snowfall in Scotland can vary depending on the region, altitude, and proximity to water.
The mountainous areas, especially the Scottish Highlands, are more likely to experience significant snowfall. (Ben Nevis and the Cairngorm Mountain are popular for winter sports).
Inland and northern areas of Scotland (including cities such as Inverness and Aberdeen) are more likely to experience snowfall than coastal and southern regions.
Coastal areas, especially in the west, tend to be milder due to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean. They might still see some snow, but it’s less likely due to the warmer temperatures.
Lowland areas, including cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, are less likely to experience heavy or prolonged snowfall. However, there might be occasional snowfall, particularly during colder spells.
In mountainous areas, snow can stick around for quite a while. Generally speaking, though, snow in Scotland is usually brief.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Scotland: The Verdict
The best or worst time to visit Scotland will depend on what activities you want to do and whether there’s specific things you’d like to see while you’re there.
If you’re on a family vacation to Scotland, the months of July and August might work best for you. There’s also loads going on in August in Edinburgh, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Military Tattoo.
If you want to see the northern lights, festive Christmas markets and experience Hogmanay, pick December.
However, if you’re flexible, the best time to visit Scotland is May, June or September – when the weather is likely to be mild, there are fewer crowds – and you’ll hopefully avoid those midges too!