Best Time to Visit Scotland
When is the best time to visit Scotland? Here’s what to enjoy at any season (though we drop a hint that June would be especially good!) Inspiring pictures of Scotland throughout the year will reassure you that Scotland is an all-season, all-weather destination. Probably.
You want to know when is the best time to book a trip to Scotland? When I wrote copy for tourism clients, it was usual to say that Scotland is a year-round destination and any time was fine.
This is, of course, baloney.
Basically, between October and, say, March, you are going to take a chance with the weather.
Mind you, this chance could come off. You might have cool, clear autumn nights. Wonderful fall colours and sunsets.
Equally, you could have crisp calm winter days, when the high tops are white and it’s all like a picture postcard.
But just remember in the depth of winter it’s going to get dark around 4pm and it'll have you seeking another Scottish cliche - the crackling log fire and the dram of whisky at your elbow. (Hey, cliches can be attractive though.)
Scotland for unpredictable weather
It should also be said that Scotland never seems to get the same weather at the same time the next year! June 2018 was lovely; June 2019 a bit of a wash-out mostly, all because of a ‘blocking low’. That’s why the weather is a very common conversation topic here.
So, here’s the reality: unless you are going to spend your time in the cities, say, Edinburgh or Glasgow, doing cultural or shopping stuff, then an off-peak low-season trip to Scotland is a bit of a gamble.
But – and at risk of being repetitive – it’s not a ridiculous gamble. The odds are, actually, pretty reasonable.
For instance, I remember one fine winter day spending a few hours in North Berwick, a little coastal resort in East Lothian. Spot of shopping, bite of lunch, brisk saunter on a sandy beach.
All of this in December. And we had a lovely day. But it was dark by, say, shortly after 4pm.
North Berwick in December
See what I mean? Early December – shops along the bustling High Street were looking busy, everyone in cafes and restaurants. And the shoreline is windy but certainly walkable if you’re well wrapped up.
Hey, what’s not to like about this December day in Scotland? That’s just a reminder that when picking the best time to visit Scotland there are no hard-and-fast rules. There are just opinions.
Perthshire in deep frost, December again
Winter can vary from the mild and wet to the deep crisp cold more associated with Continental Europe…
December (again) on the Knock Hill, Crieff. Note to self, must get this frosty pic printed up as a Xmas card.
Oh, wait a minute, I never send Xmas cards. Never mind. And anyway, this particular winter was way back in 2007.
Besides, in the middle of Perthshire, away from the gentle influence of the sea, this Highland edge town does experience more snow than, say, our seaside towns.
Let’s move on to that uncertain transition into spring.
Cold winds off the Perthshire Hills.
Is it still winter then?
Still frosty in the shade and a snell blast (a cold wind) off the mountains above the village of Killin in Perthshire.
It’s January and the days are still short. (Mind you, it looks much the same in March hereabouts.)
Still, you could always nip over to, say, Perth for the afternoon…gallery, museum, shopping…you know the kind of thing.
Springtime (?) in the north
Unless you are Scottish, in which case Lindisfarne - pictured here - is in the south. (It certainly is to me. It isn't even in Scotland, either.)
Well, it’s March now. No apologies for this picture just because it’s Lindisfarne, which is in England. But Lindisfarne and Berwick-upon-Tweed should be part of your Scottish experience anyway . (They are, after all, on the way if you come from ‘down south’.)
Don’t be fooled by the sun though. It was so cold and windy when I got this picture that I just took my gloves off for a moment to press the shutter. Freezing.
And...wait a second...that's my wife wearing two anoraks (at least) plus gloves, balaclava or hood and altogether looking like a Polar explorer.
To be honest, I cant wait for it to warm up. Will it ever…? Let’s skip forward to later in the spring.
It’s May in the West Highlands
Has it finally warmed up then?
No, It's not very warm - or at least it wasn't on the day that West Highland picture was taken - but it's certainly greener.
Spring doesn't really get going until May.
This month and also June can deliver some really good days in Scotland.
The Outer Hebrides in early June
This was another great day way out west, with the sun chasing in and out of fluffy clouds – so you just had to wait a minute to get the island of Harris beaches to light up for the pictures. (You can see more of them on that link.)
But late in the evening there was a transient rainbow. I don't think it actually rained though – so in a way the picture is misleading.
And the late late sunset was glorious. The Outer Hebrides face the Atlantic and, because of the prevailing south-westerlies, often get Scotland’s weather first – straight off the ocean.
Yes – I think June is the very best time to visit Scotland.
Long daylight hours mean you can pack in all kinds of outdoorsy things.
Except...wait...Edinburgh (and other east coast places) experienced the wettest June ever back in 2017. You see why it's so hard to make recommendations about the best time to visit?
OK...here's a gallery and a summary for the whole year - though there is lots more information further down this page too...Enjoy!
Right-oh, just before we look at the delights of the second-half of the year, here is a summary of each month and what you could expect.
Good for: Hogmanay, Burns Suppers, distillery visits, city-breaks. View the Turner paintings at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. Days are short. Weather unreliable. Snow possible - but not every year on low ground.
Suitable for: incurable optimists. Hope for a ridge of high pressure, weather wise. City-breaks, museum-visiting, farmers markets, etc., skiing season probably started.
Good for: run-of-the-mill optimists. Days noticeably longer now though but that wind still cuts through you. It may still snow. It isn’t really spring but some signs appear in parks and gardens. More to see and do - some more castles and museums open again (depending when Easter falls).
Good for: TS Eliot fans. (This is too obscure - ed.) Real possibility of a warm day. Could plan walks, outdoor things...but aren’t the leaves slow to unfurl? Not quite properly greened up. Events and festivals are starting now.
Good for: casting clouts. And then putting them back on. Could go either way - heatwave not unheard of; ditto hail showers. Itinerary plan with confidence though. Everything is open. Long daylight hours.
Good for: everything, except skiing. Even longer daylight hours. Plan big trips to islands, mountains: in short, have adventures. Or, at least, read a book outdoors at 11pm. Not too many midges yet. Birds sing, machair flowers nod, mountain snow line retreats or vanishes. Maximum picturesque-ness.
Good for: planning to avoid the really popular destinations. The carparks are full. But there are still really quiet beaches, country walks etc if you know where to go. Outdoor events galore: Highland Games and much more. It could be sunny.
Good for: the general madness of the Edinburgh Festival (if crowds and spectacle is your thing). Popular destinations (eg Skye) still bursting at the seams. It could still be sunny. Midge season well under way.
Good for: being surprised at how popular destinations are still busy. And being surprised at how good the weather can still be. Yes, really. Places slightly less busy as school holidays over.
Good for: gamblers - because it might still be fine for touring. Days are shortening. Light is golden. Trees are colouring up. Listen! Stags are roaring in the Highlands. Turn up the heating. Buy a cashmere scarf. Days noticeably shorter.
Suitable for: city breaks - but head out on short day trips if the weather forecast sounds suitable. Enjoy a distillery tour and a dram. Winter widlife spectacle includes masses of grey geese - Loch of Strathbeg, Montrose Basin, Loch Leven etc. Otherwise, can be dreich.
Good for: as November, only more Xmassy but even darker. Christmas markets and fairs galore. (Or you could be here on the 31st - Hogmanay is still quite a big deal.)
On with the second half of the year featuring...
The Isle of Skye in August
Oh, well, sometimes it isn’t quite perfect even in high summer. This is the island of Skye early one August. It had rained all morning. It didn’t look too promising in early afternoon either.
Then it turned bright, sunny and windy. That’s another characteristic of Scottish weather. It changes quickly.
Wish I had had a hot dinner for every time I have read that old cliche about having ‘four seasons in one day’ - but cliche or not, there’s a grain of truth in it.
The page called is Skye worth visiting is, uhmm, worth visiting and has more bonnie photos taken on the same day as the one above, except after the sun came out!
(OK, I admit, using a pic of Skye in August is verging on the irresponsible, given that that is when it's at its busiest. Mea culpa.)
Skipping on to autumn, take a look at the Glenfinnan page. All photos on that page were taken during a glorious week in early October...
The Trossachs in November
So, that’s about as much as you may need to know about the best time to visit Scotland. June is my favourite month - though 2017 was a wash-out in the east, at least. (2018 was, by contrast, a whole lot better. 2019 was so-so.)
But I’ve seen sunshine and stillness at, say, the autumn solstice (21 September), while the Trossachs in November picture above is a reminder that you can never, ever be sure from year to year. Just be flexible in your plans when you get here.
No matter where you go, there are wet-weather options, indoor attractions and it really is true about fast-changing light and cloud shapes.
If the sun is lighting up the head of the glen - then get out of the car and take that picture. The light will be different in a few minutes.
Finally, remember the geographers call the climate of Scotland ‘cool temperate maritime’ (or at least they did when I was at school). I think they meant that you really never can tell...
Will it rain in Scotland when you're here?
Autumn in Scotland can be nice. Sometimes.
Weather in Scotland
Weather in Scotland is varied yet usually not extreme. Pack flexibly and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. When the sun shines, it's glorious. The ever changing light, the rain that clears unexpectedly and the sheer variety of it all is an essential Scottish experience!
Scotland in autumn
Scotland in autumn is a great time to visit. But when will the colours be at their peak? It can be good well into November but varies a little from year to year, depending on frost and windspeeds. Here are some tips on the parts of Scotland that put on a good show of autumn tints.
April in Scotland
April in Scotland can have very varied weather. ‘April is the cruellest month’ - the poet says - but early spring here can also be superb and it’s worth taking the chance. Hail or heatwave, there’s plenty to see.