Best Time To Visit Scotland: When To Go + When To Avoid

Last Updated on April 10, 2024

Scotland is a stunning country brimming with historic cities, verdant green countryside, scenic islands, and barren mountains. When thinking about the best time to visit Scotland, there can be multiple answers due to the variety of activities and the differences in each season.

Knowing what you want to do and where you want to go is going to help you choose the best time to book your trip. While many people want to visit Scotland in the summer because of the weather, if you want to go to Christmas markets, summer is not the best time to go.

By reading this guide, you’ll feel more confident and comfortable with the time you decide to travel.

In this blog post, I break down the weather in Scotland by season and by month so you can get a good grasp of what to expect when planning a visit no matter the time of year. I cover everything so you can decide the best time to travel to Scotland based on your travel style and preferences.

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When is the best time to visit Scotland?

Generally speaking, the best time to visit Scotland is during spring (March-May) or fall (September and October). These months offer lots of daylight hours for exploring, fewer crowds, and cheaper prices.

This is more of a general answer, though, because the best time to visit Scotland will depend on what you’re going to see and do during your Scotland itinerary.

I made this guide so you can compare each season and decide what will best suit your trip, because if you want to visit Christmas markets, spring or fall would not be the best time to go.

Before we dive into this guide, here are some questions to keep in your back pocket as you read:

Do you mind crowds?

Will you spend all your time in cities or will you be in nature as well?

Are you traveling to Scotland on a budget?

Do you mind rain?


 

If you’re here for any niche questions, here are the answers to the most commonly asked for a Scotland trip.

Best Time to visit Scotland to avoid crowds

You can avoid crowds in Scotland by visiting from September to early May.

These three seasons are significantly lower in popularity than the summer months, so crowds are much thinner.

 

Best time to go to Scotland to avoid midges

Visiting from September to May is the best way to avoid midges in Scotland.

These small flies prefer warm and wet weather, so their ideal habitat is a Scottish summer. By visiting in the cooler months, most of them die off and they aren’t nearly as big of a nuisance.

 

Best time to visit the Scottish Highlands

The best time to go to the Scottish Highlands is from April to September when the weather is ideal and there are plenty of daylight hours.

If you can manage it, avoid the months of July and August since it can get crowded. If you can’t, there are plenty of places you can go to get some solitude.

 

Best time to go to Scotland’s Western Isles

April, May, June, and September are ideal months to visit the Western Isles, also known as the Outer Hebrides.

These months are nice and dry with plenty of daylight hours for exploring. Since accommodation and transport are limited in these areas, make sure to book everything in advance.

July and August can also be great times to go to this area, but it’s the busiest time of year with the most crowds.

 

Worst Time to Visit Scotland

The worst time to visit Scotland is August (unless you plan on celebrating the Edinburgh Fringe Festival).

Because of this month-long festival, the price of everything skyrockets, and crowds are at an all-time high. Nearly everything (tours, car rentals, etc.) is sold out and booked months in advance.

Also, not to mention, it’s the worst month for midges in the Scottish Highlands, so even if you plan on escaping the city, those little bugs will follow (and annoy you) everywhere.

Besides that, winter is probably another one of the worst times of year for going to Scotland. The weather is unpredictable after October, most nature activities are inaccessible, and there are limited daylight hours since the sun sets around 4 p.m..

 

Cheapest time of year to visit Scotland

The cheapest time of year to go to Scotland is between November and mid-March.

Since the winter weather isn’t ideal and it’s the official off-season, you can grab cheap flights and affordable accommodation. When searching, look outside of holidays like Christmas and New Year’s during these months because prices are inflated for them.

 

My Experience

I visited Scotland in mid-July.

I was in the United Kingdom for the British World Championships for taekwondo, so the timing of my Scotland trip depended on where the dates of the tournament fell. So unfortunately, I did turn up during one of the busiest months of the year.

Scotland was going through a heat wave at that time, so there was minimal rain, but that was considered very unusual. I was there for almost two weeks and it rained maybe two of the days.

There were crowds everywhere. Rental cars, accommodation, tours, and tickets were nearly all booked out in advance. Tourist sites like Edinburgh Castle had very long lines to get in, even at 9 a.m.

It was possible to avoid crowds by waking up pretty early.

The midges in the Isle of Skye were prominent at this time, although not as bad as the photos and videos I’ve seen. That could be because it was unusually dry during my trip, though.

Overall, unless you have to, I would avoid July. Next time I plan a visit, I’ll likely shoot for spring or fall.

 


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Scotland Geography Overview

Scotland makes up the upper third of the Isle of Great Britain, which lies off the Northwest coast of mainland Europe.

It’s a small country, but it’s geographically diverse, made up of glacier-carved valleys, fertile plains, lowland areas, historic cities, and nearly 800 islands (only 130 of which are inhabited).

Three main areas make up Scotland’s core geology: the Southern Uplands, Central Lowlands, and the Northern Highlands.

The most prominent of the three areas is the Northern Highlands, which make up a little over half of Scotland’s entire landmass, including the islands off the coast. It has some of the most famous natural landscapes made of mountainous topography, rolling hills, glittering lochs, and rugged terrain.

The Central Lowlands are mainly fertile farmland and most of Scotland’s larger cities like Glasgow, and the capital, Edinburgh. Over 90% of the Scottish population lives in this area.

Below that is the Southern Uplands, which forms the border with England. It’s mainly rural and agricultural, and dominated by rolling verdant hills.

Weather in Scotland

Scotland experiences four seasons, despite how far north the country is (as far north as Anchorage, Alaska, and St. Petersburg, Russia). Its climate is best described as oceanic, which means it is very cool, damp, rainy, and windy most of the year.

The weather here often gets a bad rep because you can experience all four seasons in a day, but as long as you pack proper layers, even a bit of rain can’t foil your plans.

Because of its latitude and location flanking two seas, the temperature only fluctuates about 20 degrees between the dead of winter (low 40 F (4 C)) and the peak of summer (mid 60 F (15 C)). An 80 F (27 C) day in Scotland is an anomaly, even in the middle of summer. Overall, the weather in Scotland is mild compared to the rest of Europe.

Scotland also experiences extreme variations in daylight hours, getting as little as seven hours in the winter and eighteen during the summer months. That’s something unique you should consider when you plan your trip.

Quick look at Scotland Weather + Seasons

Busiest months in Scotland: July and August

Least crowded months in Scotland: November and December

Hottest months in Scotland: July and August

Coldest months in Scotland: January and February

Warmest months in Scotland: Mid-June to mid-September

Driest months in Scotland: April, May

 


A paved road weaves through a moody, verdant landscape with hills.

 

Summer in Scotland

June – August

Summer is one of the best times to visit Scotland for most travelers because the long daylight hours, warm weather, and outdoor activities are peak this time of year. The summer weather typically lands in Scotland by late May and starts to fade within the first few weeks of September.

While summer has some of the best weather, it can still be temperamental. The odds of clear and sunny skies are just as likely as ones that boast high wind and spontaneous downpours.

The extensive daylight hours make exploring the Scottish Highlands and the Outer Hebrides ideal during this time because you have 14+ hours to work with. While summer is dry in most places, it’s wet in Scotland.

Scotland in June

Average temp: 65 F / 18 C

Average rainfall: 2.6 inches

Daylight hours: 18 hours

Once June hits Scotland, it’s time to witness the bustling cities, wildlife, and true vibrancy of the country. Tourism begins to pick up this month, but it’s still quiet compared to the masses that arrive in Scotland come July and August.

The summer solstice falls in June, giving you up to 18 hours of daylight to play with. The weather is comfortable and mild. You may experience a bout of wind and rain, but it’s nothing a few clothing essentials can’t prepare you for.

June is the calm before the storm for the summer season, so it’s an ideal time to visit. Many attractions in the Highlands and islands are accessible, so you can grab a rental car or campervan and hit the road for some sightseeing, hiking, and camping.

 

Scotland in July

Average temp: 68 F / 20 C

Average rainfall: 2.9 inches

Daylight hours: 17 hours

July is the height of summer and peak season for tourism in Scotland.

Expect crowds and significantly higher prices for rental cars, tours, and accommodations this month. Tickets for events and attractions will be booked out far in advance so it’s not a good time for a last-minute trip.

Scotland’s weather is the warmest this month and offers some of the longest daylight hours of the year, so it’s ideal for exploring the Isle of Skye, Outer Hebrides, and Highlands. However, summers in Scotland can be temperamental with spontaneous downpours and high winds.

Outdoor lovers will rejoice this month because it’s prime for hiking, camping, and backpacking. You do need to be prepared to deal with midges, though, as they’re the worst this month.

 

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Scotland in August

Average temp: 57 F / 19 C

Average rainfall: 3.6 inches

Daylight hours: 15 hours

Scotland experiences peak tourism in August, largely due to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest art festival in the world, that takes place the entire month of August.

The price of everything skyrockets this month and everything will be booked up very far in advance because of the festival. That said, this is a good time of year to plan a trip to the highlands or North Coast 500 road trip, to escape the insane crowds in the city.

August weather is still temperamental, but you can expect sun and mild cloud coverage. In the past few years, Scotland has experienced a heat wave so this month has been hotter than the average.

This is a good month to get outside into nature activities like hiking, backpacking, water sports, golfing, and swimming.

Things to do during summer in Scotland

Edinburgh Film Festival (June)

Edinburgh Fringe Festival (August)

Go hiking in the Scottish Highlands

Tee up on the golf courses in St. Andrews

Watch the Highland Games

 


Fall foliage surrounds the Harry Potter Train in the Scottish Highlands, one of the best times to visit Scotland.

 

Fall in Scotland

September and October

Autumn in Scotland offers cozy weather, beautiful fall foliage, and delicious food.

These two months are considered the shoulder season in Scotland, so you can expect the summer crowds to have thinned out and some pricing to be cheaper this time of year.

The beginning of the season will start with ample daylight hours, but begin to dwindle as the country moves into winter. If you want to plan your trip around fall foliage, shoot for October since that’s when Scotland finally begins to shed its vibrant green.

Scotland in September

Average temp: 62 F / 17 C

Average rainfall: 4.4 inches

Daylight hours: 13 hours

September is hands down one of the best times to visit Scotland.

This month brims with celebrations and a bunch of different activities as the season transitions into fall. At the beginning of the month, you can still expect the feeling of summer and the countryside to still be green. No matter where you go, the streets, cities, and countryside are all STUNNING this time of year.

The summer crowds do taper off this month, but that doesn’t mean you should expect crowd-free attractions and last-minute planning. September is still pretty popular for travelers, it’s just not as bad as the summer crowds.

The largest gathering for the Highland Games, the Braemar, takes place in September and features athletic events, piping, and dance competitions. It’s held in a different, stunning location each year near Pitlochry, and worth going to feel the spirit of Scotland come alive.

 

Scotland in October

Average temp: 65 F / 18 C

Average rainfall: 5.6 inches

Daylight hours: 1o hours

October in Scotland is finally the middle of autumn and all around the country, all the green begins to fade into golden foliage. The whole country will be drenched in gold, orange, and red hues by the beginning of November.

Despite the weather cooling slightly and summer finally fading, October is cozy and ideal for exploring cities or squeezing in trips to the Highlands. Crowds this month will have thinned even further and prices will go down as winter approaches.

While rain is still possible, autumn in Scotland is surprisingly dry.

There’s something about the fog and chilly vibe of autumn that fits perfectly into the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh. This is the perfect time to take full advantage of ghost tours, cemetery wanderings for Tom Riddle, and joining the locals at the Edinburgh Coffee Festival to warm up. Many people also enjoy celebrating Halloween in Scotland.

Things to do during fall in Scotland

Explore Harry Potter filming locations around Edinburgh

Join a Scottish whisky tasting

Grub on traditional Scottish comfort food in Glasgow

Visit the Isle of Skye

Go to the Outer Hebrides during oyster season

Kayak on Loch Lomond

 


A colorful street lined with shops curves below historic cobblestone buildings in Edinburgh, Scotland.

 

Winter in Scotland

November – February

Compared to the rest of the year in Scotland, winter is quite cold. Warm clothes, extra layers, and thick boots will be essential during this season to keep warm. This season receives the most amount of rainfall in Scotland.

The peak time to visit in the winter is typically early December and late February, which are ideal for minimal snowfall and more pleasant weather conditions. Over the season, expect a mixture of clear, blue-skied days and others that bring wind, rain, and snow.

Scotland in November

Average temp: 49 F / 9 C

Average rainfall: 5.0 inches

Daylight hours: 8 hours

After Halloween, it’s officially winter and the start of the holiday season in Scotland.

November is one of the cheapest times of year to visit Scotland. Halfway through the month, the Christmas decorations go up around Edinburgh and Glasgow, so if you’re looking for an early holiday getaway, plan your visit around that time.

November is part of the shoulder season, so rainfall increases this month, and the late fall crowds have thinned out a bit more since it’s before the Christmas travelers arrive in December. Daylight hours are reduced this time of year, so you may need to plan around that.

The first half of the month tends to run a bit warmer, so you could potentially catch some late autumn leaves at the beginning of November. The latter half of the month brings the cold front and snow is likely, especially in the north and east. Regardless, be prepared and packed to tackle some wind and rain if you’re visiting Scotland in November.

 

Scotland in December

Average temp: 44 F / 7 C

Average rainfall: 5.3 inches

Daylight hours: 7 hours

December is one of the wettest and coldest months of the year in Scotland, but this month has many reasons to beckon a visit.

Holiday decorations are in full swing this month, Christmas markets are brimming, and the anticipation of the New Year is around the corner. Edinburgh is a fantastic city to be in for Christmas or New Year’s despite it being so cold. As long as you pack plenty of layers and a good rain jacket, you’ll have an enjoyable trip.

The Scottish know two things very well: how to throw a party and how to welcome you to that party. Hospitable locals and a celebratory time of year are a match made in heaven. One thing is for sure, you won’t be bored.

The highlands and islands are typically inaccessible this time of year, so this month is not recommended if you want to explore the outdoors (unless you have proper experience and gear). December is for gluttony and shopping, the two great things about the holiday season.

 

The top of Calton Hill overlooking Edinburgh in the wintertime, one of the best times to visit Scotland.

Scotland in January

Average temp: 44 F / 7 C

Average rainfall: 5.8 inches

Daylight hours: 8 hours

January is the coldest month of the year in Scotland, but because winters are mild, you won’t need to worry about below-freezing temperatures. Snow is possible, but that will only add to the city’s beauty.

Most travelers visit Scotland in January to celebrate the New Year, known here as Hogmanay. It’s a good month to celebrate with locals, snuggle up in cozy coffee shops, and explore cities like Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow.

As for outdoor activities, it’s ideal if you want to hit the slopes in the Cairngorms. Otherwise, it’s best to plan your trip for the spring if you want to go hiking or camping in the Scottish Highlands or Western Isles. January can be very wet and cold and without the right gear, getting outdoors will be miserable.

January is in the low season, so expect fewer crowds, cheaper prices, and a lot of flexibility with planning.

 

Scotland in February

Average temp: 45 F / 7 C

Average rainfall: 4.1 inches

Daylight hours: 10 hours

When February hits Scotland, the weather begins warming up, but not by much compared to January.

Because this month is cold and wet, there are no large celebrations, and limited daylight hours, this month isn’t a popular time to go to Scotland. It can be good if you’re on a budget or exclusively exploring cities. The streets will be much quieter and crowds will be thin.

If you can push your trip to March, that’s what I would recommend since the weather begins to dry out and outdoor experiences are more accessible.

Things to do during winter in Scotland

Up Helly Aa (last Tuesday in January)

Hogmanay (December)

Explore Christmas Markets in Edinburgh and Glasgow

Go skiing at Cairngorms National Park

Celebrate St. Andrews Day (Nov. 30th)

Stay up to try and spot the Northern Lights


 

Spring in Scotland

March – May

Spring officially begins in Scotland on March 1st and wraps up at the end of May.

These three months offer sunshine, blooming flowers, wildlife spotting, and a lack of crowds. The feeling of spring normally arrives around the second week of March and by the second week of May, the temperatures nearly feel like summer. While spring is famous for being wet in other countries, it’s one of Scotland’s driest seasons.

While typically warm and drier, the weather can still be interchangeable throughout the day, so you still want to prepare for rain. Although rare, Scotland has seen snow storms sneak in so that may be worth preparing for as well.

Favorable weather. Fewer crowds. Cheaper accommodation. All the ingredients that make spring one of the best times to visit Scotland.

During April and May, many whisky festivals celebrate the national drink of Scotland. It’s huge here. So much so that they dedicate the entire month of May to it for National Whisky Month.

Scotland in March

Average temp: 49 F / 9 C

Average rainfall: 4.4 inches

Daylight hours: 12 hours

During March, Scotland transitions out of the cold winter into the warmth of spring. The frost slowly melts and small signs of spring arrive by the end of the month.

This month is pretty quiet for travelers, so as long as you come prepared for the weather, you can enjoy Scotland’s natural beauty at cheaper rates, and without the crowds and midges.

Everywhere, the early mornings and evenings will be much colder than the daytime temperature so bring layers. The Scottish Highlands typically stay cold until April or May, with many mountain peaks still blanketed in snow. So if you’re looking to hike, consider pushing your trip back to those two months.

 

Scotland in April

Average temp: 55 F / 13 C

Average rainfall: 3.5 inches

Daylight hours: 14 hours

April brings the rich green tones that Scotland is so famous for and some of the driest weather of the whole year.

The highlands and lowlands have fully emerged from winter hibernation this month and come alive with new life. If you want to avoid crowds and rainy weather, this is the best month to visit Scotland.

Daylight hours this month are surprisingly long for spring, which makes getting out for a walk or hike in nature seamless without the worry of night. Sunny days and balmy days stretch out over the entire month, so as you can likely guess by now, pack layers.

This month is the perfect time to visit Trossachs National Park, Cairngorm National Park, Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, and virtually any natural area. Newborn birds and hatchlings are popular on the east and west coasts so keep an eye out for those if you’re wandering those areas.

 

Scotland in May

Average temp: 61 F / 16 C

Average rainfall: 2.7 inches

Daylight hours: 16 hours

After April, May is considered the next driest month in Scotland. By the end of the month, it feels like summer with the increase in crowds, daytime temperatures, and number of daylight hours.

If you plan your trip at the beginning of the month, you’ll still be able to catch some deals if you’re looking to travel on a budget.

May boasts up to 17 hours of daylight by the end of the month, so use those extra golden rays to explore the Isle of Skye, Isle of Arran, Outer Hebrides, North Coast 500, Shetland, the Highlands, and other rugged spots in Scotland before the crowds, and midges, arrive in June.

Things to do during spring in Scotland

Venture to any of Scotland’s historic castles and ruins

Visit the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Roadtrip the countryside for spring blooms

Explore the north coast Scottish Isles

Go island hopping

Take a hike in Cairngorms National Park

Drive the North Coast 500

 


Two men stand outside of a blue restaurant in Portree, Scotland

 

Best Time To Visit Scotland (in my opinion)

To me, the best time to visit Scotland is spring and fall, but there are a handful of exceptions to this.

The benefit of going in spring or fall is the mild weather, moderate temperatures, cheaper prices, and fewer crowds. Scotland doesn’t experience extremely hot or cold weather, so the majority of the things to see and do are accessible year-round and not exclusive to these two seasons. However, planning your trip within those seasons will offer a much more enjoyable experience.

Summer, as expected, is the most popular time to go to Scotland. It boasts the warmest months of the year and everything is accessible. However, prices often skyrocket because of the season’s popularity and the many festivals going on, like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. Midges in the highlands can make hiking this season particularly miserable.

If you’re not planning on attending the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I would avoid going to Scotland in August at all costs. Nearly everything is booked out far in advance, prices are inflated, and the crowds are at an all-time high.

Although a lot of people write off winter, the famous European Christmas markets, powdery slopes, and the chances of spotting the northern lights compel many to visit Scotland during this season. Plus, Edinburgh comes to life in the winter for Christmas and New Year’s (it’s one of the best cities to celebrate winter holidays!).

 

What To Pack For Visiting Scotland

Any new destination can be stressful when thinking about what you need to pack. This is why I wrote a full and detailed Scotland packing list you can refer to for your trip.

It covers all the seasons, as well as everything from clothing essentials to small niche items so you’ll arrive in Scotland with everything you’ll need to beat the bouts of weather.

 


 

If you have any other questions about visiting Scotland, please reach out! Otherwise, browse my other Scotland guides to help you plan your trip:

Best Things To Do in Edinburgh (coming soon)

Edinburgh Itinerary

Best Coffee Shops in Edinburgh

Best Hostels in Edinburgh

Scotland Road Trip Itinerary

Scotland Packing List

Essential Scotland Travel Tips

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Do you want the most bang for your buck on your trip to Scotland? Do you want moody weather? Sunny weather? Spooky weather? Winter weather? Any weather? In this month-to-month weather breakdown, it covers the best month to travel to Scotland no matter your weather choice as well as when to go to avoid midges, visit the highlands, and more! #visitscotland #scotland

Do you want the most bang for your buck on your trip to Scotland? Do you want moody weather? Sunny weather? Spooky weather? Winter weather? Any weather? In this month-to-month weather breakdown, it covers the best month to travel to Scotland no matter your weather choice as well as when to go to avoid midges, visit the highlands, and more! #visitscotland #scotland

Do you want the most bang for your buck on your trip to Scotland? Do you want moody weather? Sunny weather? Spooky weather? Winter weather? Any weather? In this month-to-month weather breakdown, it covers the best month to travel to Scotland no matter your weather choice as well as when to go to avoid midges, visit the highlands, and more! #visitscotland #scotlandtraveltips

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  • I’m a teacher so I have specific breaks that I have to travel during. If choosing between April and summer (only a week in April, late June-end of August), when would be the best time to visit the islands (Isle of Skye, Hebrides, etc.)?