The best time to visit Scotland

Spring and autumn are glorious in Scotland. The scenery is at its most colourful and there are fewer crowds, so you can enjoy it all the more.
The best time to visit Scotland is during the summer, between May and September. The weather is milder and sunnier, making it ideal for walking in the Highlands, cycling or small ship cruising off the west coast. Scotland’s wildlife, including whales and dolphins around the Hebrides, is also very active in the summer months. Spring and autumn shouldn’t be discounted, however, with gorgeous colours in the vegetation and fewer crowds in popular places such as the Cairngorms. Midges are also less of an issue in the shoulder season. Winter too has its charms, with the prospect of hiking across pristine snowy landscapes.

When is the worst time for midges in Scotland?

The worst months for midges in Scotland are between May and October. But they’re really only a problem at dusk and around the water’s edge. Savvy boat captains on small ship cruises will keep you moving at this time of day. We recommend trying eco-friendly midge repellents such as lemon eucalyptus oil or peppermint oil, both of which you’ll find in health food shops. Some of our travellers have also recommended Avon Skin So Soft moisturiser as an effective alternative.

A month by month guide on when to go to Scotland

January in Scotland

    Snowy weather, huddle up for coorie Winter walking and wildlife Burns Night
January in Scotland is quiet and cold – perfect for cosying up by the fire with a glass of whiskey. Coorie is the Scottish equivalent of Denmark’s hygge and translates as ‘snuggle’ or ‘nestle’. Many parts of the Highlands and mountainous areas are blanketed in thick snow, for winter hikes led by expert local guides and wildlife watching, with red deer particularly visible against the snow. Burns Night on 25 January celebrates Robert Burns, the national bard, with readings of his poetry accompanied by haggis and whisky. Keep your eyes open when leaving pubs in the far north for the Northern Lights.

February in Scotland

    Wildlife watching against the snow Snowdrop Festival Winter walking in the Cairngorms
The rugby Six Nations Championship gets underway in February, Scotland being cheered on in pubs and homes across the nation. But you can also partake in sports yourself whether it’s cross country skiing, snowshoeing or learning how to dig a snow hole in the Cairngorms. Wrapped up warm in southern Scotland, wildlife aficionados can see migratory ducks, geese and swans sheltering from Greenland’s harsher winter. Scotland in February also sees the lovely Snowdrop Festival taking place. One of the best places to see them in bloom is at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden.

March in Scotland

    Often dry and sunny Six Nations in full swing Hebrides ferry schedules reopen
March in Scotland sees the snow beginning to melt away at lower altitudes. This month generally sees ferry timetables around the Hebrides and Orkney returning to normality as well. The Six Nations rugby championship is underway, with pubs packed when Scotland are playing. Weather-wise, it can be surprisingly dry and sunny. It’s a good time to visit Glasgow, which is in festival mode in March, celebrating everything from film to comedy and country music.

April in Scotland

    Early bird cruising in the Hebrides Spring rail tours Beltane Fire Festival
Intrepid hikers and cyclists risking the weather will delight at the number of lambs jumping around the fields in April. Meanwhile, the winter sport season draws to a close, with ski areas closing. April in Scotland is the start of the small ship cruising season, but it’s also a good time to see the Highlands by rail; the spring foliage through the windows is glorious. Gaelic arts and rituals are honoured at the Beltane Fire Festival, which celebrates the fertility of the land.

April is great for a Scotland railway holiday

May in Scotland

    Small ship cruising Whisky tastings Highland Games begin
May in Scotland is Whisky Month. As the Scots celebrate the ‘water of life’, you will find many distilleries offering special tasting sessions. May is also the month when small ship cruising around the islands off the west coast in search of marine wildlife begins in earnest – and when midges become a bit of a hassle, especially close to water at dusk. And if you’ve ever wanted to see a caber being tossed by a chap in a kilt, now’s your chance, with Highland Games taking place from May to September.

May is great for a wildlife holiday on Mull

June in Scotland

    Dolphins off the west coast and islands Ideal walking and cycling weather Lovely time for travelling by rail
June can be the best time of year to visit Scotland for outdoors-lovers. Hikers and cyclists are flocking to Highland trails and there are crowds in Edinburgh, but it’s not quite peak season yet. The Scottish weather is generally warm and clement (though we recommend packing for all seasons because it’s so changeable). June in Scotland is one of the best months for wildlife watching too, especially for dolphins which can be seen both from land and cruises.
The autumn weather is mixed, but you get the heather from late August, and the trees begin to turn in September. Then later in autumn when the leaves fall, the views are much more open.
– Robert Kidd, director of our partner McKinlay Kidd

July in Scotland

    Orcas and seals Head to quieter Outer Hebrides islands Deer stalking season
Deer stalking season (hunting on foot) is from 1 July to 20 October, with a hind season until 15 February – meaning large swathes of the countryside are unsuitable for walkers. Heading for the Scottish Hills is invaluable for keeping you up to date on which estates to avoid and when. July in Scotland means the Inner Hebrides are getting busy, but you can still find peace and quiet with more far-flung cruises to the Outer Hebrides. Orcas (killer whales) are sometimes seen in Shetland’s waters in July, while common seals give birth to pups around this time of year.

July is great for cruising the Outer Hebrides

August in Scotland

    Edinburgh festivals Peak wildlife watching season Great weather for island hopping
The legendary Edinburgh International and Fringe festivals take over the Scottish capital in August, as well as the Royal Military Tattoo. For a more chilled out Edinburgh, go later in the year. August in Scotland, out in the countryside, the wildlife is at its most active, with hides and specialist guides helping you track deer, red squirrels, pine martens and eagles. Offshore, meanwhile, small ship cruises deliver magnificent rewards when it comes to sightings of dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds.

September in Scotland

    Mild weather, ideal for walking Last chance for dolphin watching Highland Games finish with Braemar Gathering
Despite this traditionally being the wettest month of the year, September in Scotland can be a fantastic time for walking, as even the most popular trails are far less busy, while the weather is still warm and there is a great deal of wildlife about. It’s the end of peak season, which means dolphins are waving goodbye (not literally) for the winter and the Braemar Gathering, one of the last and most popular Highland Games events, takes place.

September is great for a self drive holiday in Orkney

October in Scotland

    Autumnal colours Great food and drink End of small ship cruising season
Foodies love October in Scotland. Seafood is superb, from lobster and langoustines to monkfish and mussels. And the game is on, with wild duck, grouse and pheasant very much ‘flight to fork’. If you want to travel to the Scottish islands between October and March, check the ferry timetables as a lot of them slow down to a stop during months out of the main tourist season. Walkers risking the changeable weather will nevertheless relish the glorious golds, reds and yellows in the foliage.

November in Scotland

    Early snows in mountains and Highlands St. Andrew’s Day Many tourism businesses shut
Scottish tourism is seasonal in many places, with some hotels and restaurants, and some popular visitor attractions, closing for the winter, usually around late October or November to Easter. This mostly affects the islands, however, and during November in Scotland most of the mainland, including the Cairngorms National Park, remains open for business. Scots celebrate their patron saint, Saint Andrew, on 30 November – another excuse to raise a few drams of whisky.

December in Scotland

    Winter activity season starts Christmas markets Hogmanay
Hogmanay – or New Year – is a countrywide festival with community ceilidhs, music and whisky flowing throughout the night on 31 December, with a truly Scottish Auld Lang Syne to see you into January. Ski lifts start up (dependent on snowfall) from December in Scotland, but we’d recommend more eco-friendly winter activities such as hiking or cross country skiing. Scotland’s Christmas markets are delightful – an opportunity to find handmade arts and crafts like handmade knits or tartan scarves for stocking fillers.

Edinburgh & Lowlands Weather Chart

RAIN (mm)
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Scotland or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best times to visit Scotland for festivals & events

Burns Night (25 January)

Robert – or Rabbie – Burns was an 18th-century Romantic poet who is considered Scotland’s national bard. Burns Night is 25 January, during which readings of works such as To a Mouse, A Red, Red Rose and – his most famous poem – Auld Lang Syne are performed, accompanied by whisky and haggis.

Highland Games (May to September)

Taking place across Scotland all summer long from May to September, the Highland Games celebrate athletic prowess through competitions in tossing the caber, tug of war and throwing the hammer. It’s not all muscle power, though – there are displays of dancing and bagpiping too.

Orkney Folk Festival (late May)

This four-day folk festival carefully balances its roster of artists to ensure local talent gets just as much attention as visiting singers and musicians. Held in Stromness, there are 30-odd ticketed events, but many more free concerts held in pubs where you’ll find a welcoming atmosphere.

Hebridean Celtic Festival (mid-July)

Taking place in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in mid-July, this award-winning multi-day festival celebrates the Gaelic language and culture. Artists performing traditional music will often put on a show at in-demand late-night ceilidhs too.

Edinburgh Festival & Fringe (August)

The Fringe Festival takes over Edinburgh in August. And when we say takes over, it is a struggle to find reasonably priced accommodation that isn’t sold out months beforehand. But for culture vultures – and especially aficionados of stand-up comedy – the Fringe is unmissable.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (August)

The Fringe isn’t the only Edinburgh festival in August. Military tattoos (music and dance performances by the British armed forces) take place throughout the month, accompanied by huge parades and spectacular firework displays along the esplanade to Edinburgh Castle.

Hogmanay (31 December)

Hogmanay, or New Year, is a countrywide festival. Edinburgh hogs the limelight with its popular events, but if you head out into the small towns, such as the hill towns in the Cairngorms, you can join community ceilidhs (dances) with traditional music, mulled wine and firework displays.

Our travellers also ask…

When is peak season in Scotland?

The summer months – June, July and August – are peak season in Scotland, when you can expect big crowds in Edinburgh, busy hiking trails and lots of cruise ships, large and small, around the Hebridean islands. While summer is the best time to visit Scotland, we recommend coming outside peak season if you can. The late spring and early autumn months of May and September are less busy and you’ll help spread tourism income for Scottish communities throughout the year.

When is the best weather in Scotland?

Every season has its charms in Scotland, but for sun and warmth, May to September is the best time to travel. Come between December and February for gorgeous wintery landscapes, spring (April-May) for bluebell woods, and autumn (September) for purple heather on the hills.

When is the rainiest month in Scotland?

October tends to be the rainiest month in Scotland, followed by January. The Highlands and Islands typically see a great deal more rain than Edinburgh and the Lowlands. We would always recommend packing for four seasons in a day when in Scotland, as even in late October it's far from unknown to have a few days of gorgeous sunshine.

When is the best time to visit Scotland for wildlife

The best time to visit Scotland for wildlife is the summer months between May and September. These are the months when marine life such as whales, dolphins and seals off the coast and around the Hebrides is at its most active. And summer is also a hive of activity on the mainland, especially in the Highlands where expert wildlife guides can lead you between hides in search of everything from pine martens to red squirrel and golden eagles.
Read our guide to Scotland wildlife for more
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Krisjanis Mezulis] [Intro: Jack Skinner] [Robert Kidd quote: © Sam Knight] [Edinburgh Festival & Fringe (August): Ian Robertson]