Scotland makes a great place to travel for jaw-dropping scenery, interesting history and a lively, welcoming culture. We put together this overview to help you determine the best time to visit Scotland and what you can expect during each season.
Best known for its stunning natural beauty and rich history, Scotland is a world-renowned travel destination, and yet still somehow a bit mysterious. An ideal destination for nature lovers, history buffs, fans of amazing architecture, whiskey enthusiasts and foodies alike, there are many, many reasons to visit Scotland.
While it often gets overshadowed by neighboring countries from a tourism standpoint, Scotland is one place you should have on your bucket list! Plan your trip around touring medieval castles, explore the famous Scottish Highlands, or stick to the cities and sample the local whiskey culture.
Still, there are certain times of year you’ll want to plan your trip around (and some you’ll want to avoid!) in order to have the best experience. Let’s get right into it and break down the best time to visit Scotland and what you can expect during your trip.
When is the best time to visit Scotland?
The best time to visit Scotland overall is during the spring and fall, just outside of peak tourism season (summer) and when the weather is most pleasant.
Both summer and winter have plenty to offer as well. So the best time to visit for you largely depends on what you want to see and do.
Answer these questions to get started:
- Will you be visiting the Highlands or spending all your time in the city?
- Are you easily bothered by crowds?
- Do you mind a little rain?
- Do you prefer to spend your time outdoors in nature or exploring a new city?
- What is your budget for visiting Scotland?
Thinking about your answers to these questions is going to help you start to determine when to visit Scotland.
- Scotland geography overview
- Weather in Scotland
- Summer in Scotland
- Fall in Scotland
- Winter in Scotland
- Spring in Scotland
Overall BEST time to visit Scotland
Want a quick recommendation? Jump down to see our personal advice for the best time to visit Scotland. Plus, we’ll share what times of year we’d avoid visiting!
Psst! If you have time to discover more of the country, don’t miss these epic places to visit in Scotland.
Scotland geography overview
Scotland may be fairly small, but there’s no shortage of geographical diversity. The country spans across the northern one-third of Great Britain and includes nearly 800 islands, only 130 of which are inhabited!
Scotland can be divided into three distinct regions: the northern Highlands, the southern Uplands, and the central Lowlands.
The Highlands in the north are made up of rugged yet still lush mountainous topography that form some of the most picturesque landscapes in the world. This vast area, including the islands off the northern coast, encompasses about half of Scotland’s total land mass.
Sapphire blue lochs (lakes) and narrow inlets dot the landscape, adding stunning character to the rugged peaks, glacier-carved valleys, and tiny islands. The Scottish Highlands are truly wild; it’s one of the least densely populated areas in all of Europe!
The central Lowlands are home to both fertile farmland and almost all of Scotland’s larger cities. In fact, nearly 90% of the country’s population resides in the Lowlands. Both the capital city of Edinburgh and the largest city, Glasgow, are located here, along with several others.
The rugged southern Uplands form Scotland’s 110-mile-long border with England. This area is primarily rural and agricultural, defined by picture-perfect gently rolling green hills.
Weather in Scotland
Scotland gets a bit of a bad rap when it comes to weather. While it does rain often (there’s a reason it’s so green!), the overall weather just might surprise you.
The weather in Scotland never really hits the extremes you’ll find in many other destinations (particularly in Europe). While you very well may experience all four seasons in the span of just a few hours (packing layers is key!), the heat is mild and the cold is usually bearable. Even in the height of summer, it rarely exceeds 80°F (27°C) in most Scotland cities.
Summer and winter in Scotland bring the most rainfall, while the spring and fall are surprisingly the driest seasons.
Something unique to consider when you’re deciding on the best time to visit Scotland is daylight hours. Due to Scotland’s far northern latitude, summer days have up to 18 hours of daylight, but in the winter, that number drops to just seven or eight.
Below you’ll find a break down of the average temps and rainfall in Scotland by month:
- Avg. Daily Temp: 44°F / 7°C
- Typical Rainfall: 5.8 inches
- Daylight: 8 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 45°F / 7°C
- Typical Rainfall: 4.1 inches
- Daylight: 10 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 49°F / 9°C
- Typical Rainfall: 4.4 inches
- Daylight: 12 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 55°F / 13°C
- Typical Rainfall: 2.5 inches
- Daylight: 14 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 61°F / 16°C
- Typical Rainfall: 2.7 inches
- Daylight: 16 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 65°F / 18°C
- Typical Rainfall: 2.6 inches
- Daylight: 18 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 68°F / 20°C
- Typical Rainfall: 2.9 inches
- Daylight: 17 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 67°F / 19°C
- Typical Rainfall: 3.6 inches
- Daylight: 15 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 62°F / 17°C
- Typical Rainfall: 4.4 inches
- Daylight: 13 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 65°F / 18°C
- Typical Rainfall: 5.6 inches
- Daylight: 10 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 49°F / 9°C
- Typical Rainfall: 5.0 inches
- Daylight: 8 hours
- Avg. Daily Temp: 44°F / 7°C
- Typical Rainfall: 5.3 inches
- Daylight: 7 hours
Psst! Plan your trip with our round up of all the best things to do in Edinburgh, including the quintessential activities and some off the beaten path experiences you won’t want to miss!
Summer in Scotland
Summer is definitely the high season in Scotland. Warmer temperatures bring lots of people out, both visitors and locals alike, hoping to take advantage of the warmer weather, longer days, and many fun things to do.
Temperatures average in the upper 60s and low 70s (19-23°C) during the summer months throughout most of the country, with the exception of the Highlands and other high-elevation areas.
The sun also rises as early as 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. (remember, Scotland is waaaaay up there!) in the summer and often doesn’t set until 11:00 p.m. Keep in mind these long, warmer days also coincide with one of the country’s wettest seasons — it may be warm and sunny, but also pouring rain!
In addition to warm weather, many consider summer the best time to visit Scotland because of all the festivals and events. In August, Edinburgh plays host to the Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world!
Best places to visit during summer in Scotland
- Edinburgh for festivals, buzzy nightlife, and tons of Medieval history
- Glasgow makes a great summertime basecamp for experiencing a little of everything Scotland has to offer, with a location close to both the coast and the Highlands
- Head to Outer Hebrides for the beaches
- Chase epic outdoor adventures in Isle of Skye and the Highlands
- St. Andrews to play a round of golf at one of the most iconic courses in the world
- Stirling offers a great mix of the Lowlands and Highlands culture
Best things to do during summer in Scotland
- Check out The Fringe Festival, held over multiple weeks in August
- Get a unique perspective of Scotland’s rugged coast with a guided sea kayaking tour (fun fact: Scotland is home to 10% of Europe’s entire coastline!)
- Scotland is the birthplace of golf, so experience the sport in its true element by playing a round of golf at one of the country’s 550+ courses!
- Explore the many stunning lochs. Who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to spot the real-life Nessie!
- Catch some very traditional (and very unique!) sports at the famous Highland Games. Events are held throughout the country from May through August.
What to pack for summer in Scotland
- Plenty of layers!
- Packable rain jacket
- Sleep mask for the late-setting sun
- Bug repellant
- Sturdy, preferably waterproof hiking shoes or boots
- A packable down jacket for chilly nights
Fall in Scotland
Fall in Scotland brings a drop in both temperatures and the number of tourists. There are still plenty of activities to do and places to explore before the last of the warm weather says goodbye for winter, so fall is one of the best times to visit Scotland.
You’ll see temperatures around the low 60s (16-18°C) throughout most of fall, so it’s a perfect time to get outside and enjoy this country’s spectacular nature.
In late October, the days start to become noticeably shorter, with 10-13 hours of daily sunlight. While those are still nice long days, it gets a little easier to keep a normal sleep schedule without losing out on any exploration time.
As the temperatures drop, the fall foliage begins to put on an impressive show, creating a photographers’ paradise — especially in the Highlands. The grass on the Moors gradually begins to fade to red and the trees come alive with shades of yellow, red, and orange.
Scotland sees quite a bit of rain (and wind!) during the fall, particularly in October and November, but that also means the many amazing waterfalls are at their peak flow. And cooler temperatures also mercifully drive away the infamous midges and other biting insects that tend to swarm during the warmer months.
Important Note: One thing to be aware of when visiting Scotland in the fall is that many popular tourist attractions shut down for the winter season in early November.
Best places to visit during fall in Scotland
- The Highlands for unforgettable leaf-peeping in the most dramatic setting
- Edinburgh’s many museums and historical sites have notably fewer crowds in the fall
- Eat your way through Glasgow, one of the best cities for traditional Scottish comfort meals
- Glencoe National Nature Reserve shows off some of the most stunning Scottish nature
- Explore Aberdeenshire for the countless castles and history sans crowds
Best things to do during fall in Scotland
- Check out one of several literary festivals that take place around the country. One of the biggest, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, takes place in October, but there are many other niche festivals as well.
- Hike to some waterfalls and enjoy the fall foliage. Some of the best and most accessible include Black Linn Falls, Falls of Foyers near famous Loch Ness, and Loup of Fintry.
- Try out kitesurfing on the east coast
- Explore Scotland’s more than 1,500 castles
- Create your own Harry Potter-themed adventure, exploring several of the locations that inspired the books and movies.
What to pack for fall in Scotland
- Rain gear to keep you dry
- Waterproof boots for hiking
- A warmer jacket
- Warm winter hat, gloves and a scarf
- One summery outfit for surprise warm days, especially in September
- A quality camera to capture the fall foliage
Winter in Scotland
Winter in Scotland is the low season for tourism, but don’t let that dissuade you from visiting. If anything, it could be a reason to visit. You’ll find less-crowded attractions, cheaper accommodations, unique winter wonderland experiences, and surprisingly mild weather.
Temperatures are definitely a little colder, but not unbearable by any means—usually between 35-45ºF (1-7ºC) in the cities and lower elevation areas. Scotland does experience a rainy winter, but again, the temperatures are mild enough that it’s manageable. It’s not freezing rain like you’re probably imagining (usually, anyway!).
Daylight hours are short in Scotland during winter, with just 7-8 hours of daily sunlight. While this can make it feel like you’re racing against time to cram everything in, the shorter days offer more time to enjoy the night sky, plus potentially even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Unique winter experiences make it one of the best times to visit Scotland for those who enjoy getting off the beaten path. There are opportunities for skiing and snowboarding, the traditional holiday markets are not to be missed, and in our opinion, winter is the best, liveliest time to explore Scotland’s cities.
Best places to visit during winter in Scotland
- Edinburgh, for winter festivals and many (free!) museums
- Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, for family-friendly attractions, the impressive botanical garden, and the country’s best shopping
- Cairngorms National Park, home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in Scotland
- Road-trip to Highland Perthshire (one of the most underrated areas of Scotland!) for postcard-worthy scenery, several easy hikes, and charming Victorian towns
- Galloway Forest Park for top-notch stargazing and hopefully, the Northern Lights!
Best things to do during winter in Scotland
- Experience the magic of traditional European Christmas markets and winter festivals. Glasgow and Edinburgh both host amazing ones, and Edinburgh’s is one of the largest in the UK!
- Celebrate St. Andrews Day with the locals. This annual holiday honors the Patron Saint of Scotland with mega celebrations of all things Scottish.
- Brave the cold late at night to stargaze and try to spot the Northern Lights when the sky is clear.
- Keep yourself warm by sampling some of the finest Scotch (Scottish whiskey) at a distillery
- Hit the slopes at Cairngorm National Park for some skiing or snowboarding
- Make a stop to visit and interact with the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, a free-roaming herd of about 150 animals
- When you need rainy-day activities, enjoy the museums (many of which are totally free!) in the major cities without any crowds
What to pack for winter in Scotland
- High-quality windproof/waterproof jacket
- Layers, particularly wool base layers, to help regulate your temperature
- Warm, waterproof boots (the taller the better!) that will keep your feet warm in the snow
- Heavy-duty cold-weather gear for cold fronts, such as a coat, wool socks, scarf, beanie, and winter gloves
- Packable emergency thermal blankets, just in case you run into inclement weather and get stuck somewhere while you’re out and about
Spring in Scotland
Spring is somewhat similar to fall in terms of weather and crowds, making it what some consider the best time to visit Scotland. As winter fades and the warmer weather of spring emerges, the snow begins to melt, animals poke their heads out, and the countryside greens up and comes alive again.
The weather changes rapidly over the course of spring in Scotland. In March, temperatures generally hover in the 40s and low 50s (4-15ºC), but by May, upper 70s (23+ºC) aren’t uncommon!
Although rare, surprise spring snow storms do sneak in occasionally, so pack and dress accordingly, prepared for a bit of fresh powder. Interestingly, and unlike many other destinations, spring is one of Scotland’s driest seasons.
The warmer temperatures and smaller crowds make spring a great time to explore while also saving on accommodations. Many seasonal businesses that close for winter reopen in late March or early April, which coincides perfectly with the days starting to get longer.
Spring is also fantastic for road-tripping through Scotland. Don’t miss the iconic North Coast 500, a 516-mile drive that takes you through stunning landscapes and charming, quaint European villages. Everywhere you go, the hillsides will likely be blanketed in colorful daffodils and cherry blossoms!
April and May also bring several whiskey festivals to regions across the country. In fact, May is National Whisky Month in Scotland (whisky is a BIG deal here — Scots refer to it as the “water of life”).
Kind of like “when in Rome…” When in Scotland, drink as the Scots do!
Best places to visit during spring in Scotland
- The city of Inverness, where the North Coast 500 begins
- Enjoy some unreal wildlife in the Shetland Isles
- Glasgow and Edinburgh have notably smaller crowds than during the peak months
- Experience the wonder of the cherry blossom bloom in Edinburgh
- The north coast Scottish isles, where you can experience dolphin- and whale-watching
Best things to do during spring in Scotland
- Catch the cherry blossom bloom in Edinburgh and wildflower season across the entire country by simply walking around or driving without a destination!
- Explore the country’s many castles and ruins
- Visit the botanical gardens in either Glasgow or Edinburgh to experience the gorgeous spring bloom
- Try out (or watch!) kitesurfing on the eastern coast
- Take a hike! Summit Ben Nevis in the Highlands, the highest mountain in all of the UK, or explore some shorter waterfall trails.
- Go island-hopping near Skye, the Outer Hebrides, or Shetland
What to pack for spring in Scotland
- Rain gear to keep you dry (although spring is the driest month here, the weather is also in a transition period with ever-changing conditions!)
- Layers to stay comfortable in temperatures between 40-60ºF (4-15ºC)
- Waterproof shoes or boots to protect your feet from melting snow
- Trekking poles to help with stability and traction on muddy hiking trails
- A sleep mask for longer daylight hours
Best time to visit Scotland in our opinion…
In our opinion, the best time to visit Scotland is during the spring or fall, with a few exceptions.
Spring and fall, Scotland’s “shoulder seasons,” both have moderate temperatures and fewer crowds. Accommodations are slightly cheaper compared to summer and the swarms of midges are much less prevalent.
In terms of weather, Scotland never gets either super hot or super cold (with the exception of the Highlands, of course), so most activities are available year-round. Spring and fall offer the opportunity for a more affordable trip with fewer crowds, but with access to many of the same experiences.
Summer may be the best time to visit Scotland if you’re after the warmest months or want to experience one of the many outdoor festivals like The Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. However, we’d avoid visiting Scotland during the month of August if you are not planning to attend the Fringe Festival as accommodation will be booked well in advance and prices sky-rocket!
Lastly, there are plenty of compelling reasons to visit Scotland in the winter. Clear skies provide jaw-droppingly beautiful views of the night sky and perhaps even a glimpse of the Northern Lights, and there’s truly nothing like European Christmas markets!
Overall, we recommend visiting in May or September for your trip to Scotland, so you’ll have the best chance for warmer, drier weather and fewer crowds. But keep in mind that there is truly plenty to enjoy year-round in this stunning, welcoming country.
Are you planning a trip to Scotland?
We have lots of resources on travel in Scotland and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Scotland Travel Homepage for everything you need to know, or read some of our favorite articles below.
- Best Places to Visit in Scotland
- Best Campervan Hire in Scotland
- Insanely Fun Things to Do in Edinburgh
- Scotland Camping: Essential Tips + Best Campsites
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Have you ever been to Scotland before? During what season did you visit and what was your experience like? Comment below and let us know!