When and How to Visit Scotland

Moody, atmospheric mountain landscape of the lush, green Three Sisters of Glencoe during a summer sunset or sunrise in the Scottish Highlands, Scotland.

Two questions I get a lot are “when should I visit Scotland?”, and “how do I get around to the different parts of Scotland?” 

The short answers are “anytime” and “any way you want”, but that probably doesn’t help you much. So, in this post, I will outline the advantages and disadvantages of the different seasons and modes of travel for Scotland.

There is one general comment about Scotland that applies to all seasons and all types of travel and that concerns the general climate in Scotland. Scotland is at about the same latitude as the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. So, in general, temperatures are going to be cooler than what you will find in the US lower 48. But, given the fact that 3 of the 4 sides of Scotland are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, it tends to be more temperate. So, in the winter, the temperatures will get cold enough to snow, but they don’t get to the extremes that you would see in Alaska or Northern Canada. And, it does rain in Scotland – often. It is best to dress in layers year-round and bring along rain gear. When you travel to Scotland, remember the saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather in Scotland, just inappropriate clothing.”

When to Visit Scotland - a Review of the Different Seasons

Scotland in Summer

Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle

The Summer months are definitely the most popular time to visit Scotland, and for good reason. The days are long, and the weather is fantastic. High temps rarely break 80 degrees. In fact, they will often be in the 60’s. The air in August in Scotland reminds you of a spring day or crisp fall day here in the US.

If you are interested in whale watching in the Scottish Islands, this is also the time to go. And, the Puffins will be plentiful in the northern islands. 

But keep two things in mind about the Summer. First, the crowds are larger. The population of Edinburgh will double in August, because of the festivals and Military Tattoo. And tour, accommodations, and car rental prices will reflect that. Second, July is the time of the midges in the Highlands. These are tiny little biting insects, sort of like “no-see-ums” in the US. Just be sure to have some bug repellant.

Scotland in Autumn

The Highlands in Autumn
The Highlands in Autumn

Traveling to Scotland in the Autumn is a real treat. Just like fall foliage in the States, the colors in Autumn really come alive here. And temperatures will generally stay in the range of 50 – 60 degrees.

In this time of year, you are more likely to see migratory birds, and this is mating season for the legendary Red Deer of the Highlands. 

Crowds will definitely be lighter than the summmer, and you should see lower prices for accommodations, tours and car rentals.

Scotland in Winter

Edinburgh in Winter
Edinburgh in Winter

As you can see from the picture here, it does snow in Scotland, but generally not as much as we see in the northern United States. Generally, temperatures in Scotland in winter will stay above the freezing mark. Snowfall is sporadic along the coastal areas, but there are ski resorts in Scotland. The days will definitely be shorter, but you may be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights in the northern islands.

This will be the quietest time to visit Scotland, especially from the perspective of tourism. But, there are Christmas Markets to visit, and if you are lucky enough to be in Scotland on New Year’s Eve, you will get to enjoy the Hogmanay celebrations and fireworks. And, in the wintertime, with the shorter days, the Pubs will be busier, so, this could be a good time to meet more people and enjoy a little whisky at the same time.

Scotland in Springtime

Off the northern coast of Scotland is the Bow Fiddle rock formation
Off the northern coast of Scotland is the Bow Fiddle rock formation

From April to June, Scotland will be in full bloom. Temperatures will be in the 50’s and the days will be getting longer. Crowds will still be smaller, and prices will be lower than the summer season. Migratory birds will be back on the move. Wildlife will be more active at this time, so this would be a great time to visit Cairngorms Park and the Highlands. 

How to Visit Scotland

First, just some general comments about traveling and Scotland, and my general comments about different modes of travel. 

One thing I always try to detemine when talking with my clients about travel, is what I call “Do you want to see a little of a lot, or a lot of a little?” What I am getting at is do you want to get a general overview of the places you visit, or do you want to spend the time to really get to know a certain area. That question is relevant to a trip to Scotland. Scotland is just big enough that, if you want to see all parts of Scotland it is generally necessary to move to at least 2 or 3 different places on your trip. You will not be able to take a day trip from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye, or to the Shetland Islands. On the other hand, You can base in either Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverness and have a lot of places to explore in those general vicinities. 

Escorted Tours

There are a lot of excellent escorted tours that you can take to see Scotland. Many of these will also combine a trip to Scotland with Ireland and England. Trafalgar, Globus, Tauck, CIE Tours, Collette and Insight Vacations all offer excellent options to visit Scotland. In 2022, we took an Insight Vacations tour that visited both Ireland and Scotland. 

The benefits of these tours are that they have a lot of options for time, locations visited and price. And, you don’t have to worry about trying to navigate while driving in an unfamiliar location on the left side of the road.

Ocean Cruises

Like guided tours, there are numerous options for ocean cruises. These will often be a part of cruise out of England that is going on to Scandinavia or Iceland. If you take one of these cruises in the winter, you will have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights as well. 

The major drawback is that you will not have the time to get into the interior of the country,  but you will be able to visit the islands, Edinburgh, and some of the coastal areas of Scotland.

Self-Drive/Private Guide/On Your Own

These are without a doubt the most flexible and controllable way to see Scotland. You pick the itinerary. You determine how long you will be in Scotland and how long in each location. Your budget is fully controlled by you. There are ways to visit the country without a car (I have done it), but getting to some of the more remote areas are difficult without one.

Even with this mode of travel, though, I strongly recommend that we work out your itinerary in advance, and we book all accommodations and activities before you go. Scotland is a popular location to visit, and there are a lot of small towns scattered across the country. I have known people to just “wing it”, where they are calling hotels in the next town as they are driving through the country, but I don’t recommend it. In the summer months, they may already be booked up, and in the winter months, they may shut down. The same is true of many tourist attractions.

The bottom line is that there really isn’t a bad time to visit Scotland, and there isn’t just one way to see it. It just depends on what you want to do. 

To further explore options for travel to Scotland, just schedule a time for us to talk about your plans, using the “Schedule a Call” Button here. 



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