The Best Time to Visit Scotland
Let’s imagine for a minute that we’re in normal times, and not in the midst of any worldwide pandemics. You’re making your plans for that long-awaited trip, you’ve bought the raincoats and the midge repellent and suddenly it crosses your mind that the big question of when is the best time to visit Scotland has gone as yet unanswered. It’s the one I get asked more than any other, presumably because it’s a contentious one. Allow me to break it down.
The Short Answer
May, June, September and October. These months give you long days, almost all the tourism businesses are open, the crowds of July and August are avoided, midges are not at their most prolific and even the weather is pretty decent.
The Long Answer
The thing you didn’t want to hear – there is no absolutely ideal time to visit Scotland and there’s always going to be an element of risk and trade-off involved. Scots love, I mean absolutely love, the guarantees that come with summer holidays to Southern Europe. Two weeks of wall-to-wall sunshine is remarkable to us and by ruling out the weather variable, plans are much easier to form. Those guarantees are simply not on the cards in Scotland though and you’ll always have to hope that luck is on your side.
November to March is probably, for most, the worst time of year to come to see us. The clocks trim already painfully short days and daylight hours are extremely restrictive. It’s dark by 4pm.
The upside is of course that you’ll have even the most popular hotspots of the Highlands and Islands to yourself. Photographers love the winterscapes, the softness of the light. Hikers yearn for the added challenge and vibrant landscapes of snow-topped peaks. But most will be frustrated by the dramatic fall in accommodation options, travel restrictions and high likelihood of some shockingly bad weather spells. Proper, snowy winters are also increasingly limited in occurrence so expect grey skies, bitter winds and regular deluges. Most Scots are on their knees praying for spring by the time March comes around.
May is my favourite month to visit the Scottish Islands in particular, when lambing season is well underway and sunny days are a reasonable likelihood. Our beaches look resplendent. You’ll not encounter the overtourism issues that have been well publicised. Even the cantankerous locals perk up a bit. April often has a magnificent spell of weather too, but May usually remains a better bet.
Not all businesses will have opened yet, but most have started the season with renewed enthusiasm and big smiles. It’s an increasingly popular time for retired people and those with no school commitments to visit – and these tend to be quite particular and opportunistic travellers in their behaviour – so still book well in advance for the best accommodation.
The Scottish schools have generally gone on their summer breaks in June, before those in England, meaning a big increase in visitor numbers from the locals. But June remains maybe the best time to visit Scotland (especially the first half) as most families will be travelling later. You’ll get some good weather days (almost certainly) and there’s a nice energy in the air. Midges will be making a more noticeable appearance though, and will have to be prepared for in our rural areas. Note that they are particularly vicious in the north and west of the country.
July and August are peak season, and this is unfortunate. While mild, the weather is not normally dry for any length of time and much of the magic of the Highlands and Islands tends to be lost in the din of coach tours. Although the landscapes are vibrantly green, August is almost always disappointing on the weather front, and Edinburgh is a riot when Festival season drives locals mad and extortion is ubiquitous. I rarely stray far from my Glasgow base around this time.
Autumn (Fall) Months
Almost immediately upon the completion of August, the furious pace subsides considerably. September can be a little hit or miss weather wise (I’d lean towards the second half of the month), but it’s almost always a sharp improvement on grey August. Schools go back UK-wide yet most of the industry remains open for business.
By October, the glorious autumnal colours are out in force and tree-rich regions like Perthshire become especially popular. The second half of the month is particularly colourful. There’s a freshness in the air, and photographers love it. Hiking is still very much on the cards and the savvy traveller is making the most of the last of the long days.
For more support in dealing with the typical questions that come my way, join us on YouTube for a Q&A…..