Connect with us


The Best Times to Visit Scotland for Good Weather, Fewer Crowds, and Lower Prices



Scotland may be a small country — about the size of South Carolina — but it offers an impressive variety of destinations and landscapes. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Ben Nevis, Glen Coe, and the Isle of Skye are all must-sees for anyone who wants to experience the magic of Scotland. To get the most out of your trip, you’ll want to make sure you visit at the most opportune time.

Scotland’s seasons fall into three main categories:

  • High Season: June to August
  • Shoulder Seasons: April to May and September to October
  • Low Season: November to March

Each of the Scottish seasons offers advantages and disadvantages, so deciding when to visit will depend on your priorities. Whether you’re hoping for pleasant weather, fewer crowds, or more affordable prices, here are the best times to travel to Scotland.

Ellen Lindner/Travel+Leisure

Most Popular Time to Visit Scotland

A majority of travelers make their way to Scotland in the warmer months. Tourist season in Edinburgh ramps up in June and peaks in August, with several major festivals — including the Edinburgh Art Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe — happening throughout the month. The capital’s summer temperatures rarely surpass 70 degrees, so traversing the hilly city is usually pleasant.

Visitors also descend on Scotland from late May to September to experience the Highland Games, a Scottish tradition dating back hundreds of years. Towns around the country host their own versions of the Games, usually in the form of a one-day event featuring traditional Scottish sports (like tug-of-war and the hammer throw), as well as food, music, and dancing. The Braemar Gathering, held in September, is one of the best-known events, with the British royal family making an appearance in the small town every year.

Outside of the summer months, the winter holiday season is one of the most popular times to visit Scotland. Celebrations of New Year’s Eve — called Hogmanay by the Scots — are particularly raucous. In Edinburgh, Hogmanay festivities draw more than 70,000 visitors every year.

Michela Sieman/Travel + Leisure

Best Times to Visit Scotland for Smaller Crowds

If you want to avoid the crowds on your Scottish vacation, consider traveling in the fall, winter, or spring. Most schools in the U.K. — much like in the U.S. — go on summer break in the months of July and August. By planning your trip outside of that period, you’ll miss the throngs of local and foreign tourists whose travels are tied to their children’s school schedules.

The Isle of Skye, with its rapidly increasing tourism profile, is a spot travelers would be especially smart to avoid in the busy summer months. Visiting in the off-season means lots more room to roam among the island’s 600+ square miles. There are other advantages too, from increased odds of spotting a puffin (they’re most common on Skye in early spring) to the views of stunning snow-capped mountains in the winter.

Best Times to Visit Scotland for Good Weather

Scotland — like the entire United Kingdom — isn’t particularly known for its weather. More often than not, it’s drizzly and a little dreary. When the weather shows off, though, there’s nothing more remarkable than a sunrise peeping over a Scottish glen or the sun setting behind Edinburgh Castle.

To experience Scotland’s best weather, you’ll need to plan your trip at the right time — and have a bit of luck on your side. Temperatures are highest in the summer, but weather can be fair in the springtime, too. According to the Scottish tourism bureau, the period from March to May is the country’s driest, and its temperatures rarely dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit — though they don’t often climb above 55 degrees, either. Temperatures are similar in the fall, a season that’s also known for stunning foliage. Scotland rarely sees extreme winter weather (particularly in southern cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow), but starting in November, you’ll want to shift your schedule to account for shorter days — the winter sun can set as early as 4 p.m.

George Clerk/Getty Images

Best Times to Visit Scotland for Lower Prices

As temperatures drop, so does the number of tourists in Scotland — and, accordingly, the prices. If you want to save money, book your trip in the low season, from November to March. While some more fragile historical sites may close during this time due to weather concerns, there are plenty of other things to do, including skiing in the Cairngorms, curling up by a fireplace in a cozy boutique hotel (like The Fife Arms in Braemar), or exploring the Christmas markets in Edinburgh.

One exception to this rule, though, is the period directly surrounding the winter holidays. Since Christmas and New Year’s are popular travel times in Scotland, deal-seeking visitors may want to avoid scheduling a trip during the final weeks of December or the first week of January.

Best Time to Explore the Highlands

To have the most sunlight and best weather, many people head to the Scottish Highlands in the summer, between May and September. Starting in October, the weather can be unpredictable — freezing temperatures, gale-force winds, and snowfall are all possible. That said, the snow-capped mountains are a sight to behold, so if you plan a Highlands road trip in the winter, pack a warm winter coat and make sure your rental car is properly equipped to handle any icy conditions.

Richard Johnson/Getty Images

Best Time to Visit to Avoid Midges

From May until September, travelers have a high chance of running into midges, especially in the Highlands. These flying, biting insects prefer wet, humid, and cloudy conditions and come out in full force in July and August. To avoid the midges, book your trip to Scotland between late September and early May.

Worst Times to Visit Scotland

The worst times to visit Scotland will depend, of course, on each traveler’s preference. If your top priorities are avoiding big crowds and pesky midges, July and August are months you should miss. (The high prices that accompany this busy season can be another dissuading factor.) August is especially busy in Edinburgh, when a host of culture fests descend upon the capital, bringing millions of art lovers along with them. This is great for those who want to partake in the superb cultural offerings, but not so great if you want a quiet sightseeing trip.

If your main goal is optimal weather, meanwhile, the winter months should be avoided. With its dreary skies, short days, and chilly temperatures, the winter is best suited for visitors in search of cozy indoor pursuits, not (relative) sun and warmth.

To avoid extremes in both climate and crowd size, travelers should consider visiting in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.

Continue Reading