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When is the best time to visit Scotland?

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Planning a trip to Scotland and not sure what time to visit? Well, the good news is that the country has much to offer all year round. From rolling countryside and exotic-looking beaches to bustling cities with world-class cultural offerings, the country will have plenty to keep you occupied whenever you come. Of course, there are certain activities that are weather dependent, so it's a good idea to plan your visit around your intended itinerary.  

While the weather is especially hard to predict here, the country generally does see four distinct seasons, making it a little easier to plan ahead. Spring in Scotland tends to be the driest season, with around 13 days of rainfall and an average maximum temperature of 10°C in April. Summer sees long days and pleasant temperatures, with an average maximum of 17°C in July. In the Autumn, the changing leaves make for great photography backdrops, although it's a good idea to bring a raincoat - October sees around 18 days of rainfall. It is winter that tends to be the wettest time to visit Scotland, though, with around 19 days of rainfall in January. It can also get quite chilly, with an average maximum temperature of only 4°C.  

So, now we've covered the basics, let's take a deeper look at the best time to visit Scotland based on your interests and planned activities. If you'd like to know the best time to visit Scotland to avoid midges - or perhaps the crowds - read on... 

Outdoor activities

If you're planning to spend a lot of time outdoors on your trip to Scotland, summer is a great time to come. The weather is at its warmest, the days are long - especially in the Northern Isles - and tour and activity providers are all in full swing. You can enjoy walks in national parks such as the Cairngorms, fishing, cycling or boat rides on Loch Ness. Go kayaking or for a wild swim in Loch Lomond or (if it's warm enough!) head to one of the spectacular beaches in the Outer Hebrides - Luskentyre is a must. If you'd rather enjoy sports as a spectator, you can enjoy the Highland Games in July and August, when events are held across the country showcasing traditional sports such as the caber toss, the tug o' war and the hammer throw.  

Summer is the busiest time of the year, so you can expect prices to match. It's also a good idea to bring insect repellent for your outdoor adventures, as the period from June to September is usually when the midges are most prevalent. The worst time of day to be out is at dawn and dusk, as this is when they are most active. They aren't fond of a breeze, however, so if you're out on a blustery day you should be fine. 

Spring is another great time to visit. The weather is cooler, but you don't have to worry so much about those pesky midges and accommodation is cheaper. While winter isn't ideal for activities like hiking, it's the best time of year to catch a glimpse of the northern lights and to also enjoy the mountainous landscapes with a covering of snow. 

Recommended tour: Classic Scotland

Wildlife watching 

For nature lovers looking to catch a glimpse of Scotland's native wildlife, spring and summer is the best time of year to come. This is when animals return from sunnier pastures, and others emerge from their winter slumber. Coupled with plenty of daylight hours, it's the perfect time to practise your wildlife photography. If you've ever wanted to see wild puffins, head to St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides or Orkney in the northeast between late April and August, when these distinctive-looking birds return to nest in clifftop abodes. Red squirrels are also most active in spring, when they venture out to feast on newly sprouted vegetation. Don't worry if you miss them, though - they're also easy to spot in autumn, when it's time for them to gather food for the winter.  

Spring and summer is a great time to enjoy boat rides off Scotland's coast or in its lakes and rivers. A cruise on the Moray Firth will provide the opportunity to spot everything from seals and otters to porpoises to bottlenose dolphins. Basking sharks can be spotted in the Hebrides in the summer months, drawn back by the warmer weather in Scotland in July. Despite their large size (up to ten metres long), they're gentle giants and feed exclusively on plankton. Just be sure to plan your visit before they leave again in September. Minke whales also visit between May and September, particularly in the waters of Lewis and Harris off Scotland's west coast.  

Don't worry if you can't make it to Scotland in the spring or summer months - animals like seals, otters, deer, sea eagles and dolphins can be spotted throughout the year. There's also the chance to see the residents of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd Centre all year long.

Recommended tour: Hebridean Island Adventure

Train tours 

It's no secret that Scotland is home to some of the most spectacular railway journeys in Europe. What better way to see the country's world-famous natural scenery than by setting off on an adventure aboard a historical train? Whether you opt for a trip through the Highlands or a luxurious journey on the Royal Scotsman, you're in for a treat. While these railway journeys are wonderful at any time of the year, there are a few considerations you may like to keep in mind when planning your trip.  

Summer is the busiest time of the year, so popular lines such as the West Highland Line, which runs from Glasgow to Fort William, can be crowded and carriages can also get a bit hot in the warm weather. There are benefits to travelling by train in the summer, though - the long, relatively dry days are great for sightseeing, and there are generally more services available.  

Winter can be a great time to travel by train in Scotland; there's the chance to see snow in locations like the Cairngorms, and, outside of the festive period, most lines will have fewer passengers. However, the short days can mean less opportunity to enjoy the scenery, schedules are reduced (for example, the Strathspey Steam Railway Line has limited journeys from November to April), and snow and storms can mean delays and cancellations. So, when is the best time to visit Scotland for a train trip? All things considered, the shoulder seasons of spring and early autumn (before the stormy weather sets in) offer the best conditions for a rail adventure. 

Recommended tour: Scottish Highland Railways

Culture 

For fans of culture and the arts, August is usually hailed as the best month to visit Scotland. For a start, there's the famous Edinburgh Fringe - the world's largest performing arts festival. Every August since 1947, acts from across the country (and some from further afield) descend on the capital for three weeks of theatre, stand-up comedy, circus performances and live music. With three million tourists visiting the city for the festival, accommodation should be booked well in advance. One thing you won't need to worry about is insect repellent, being far away from the Highland midge that is most active in the summer in the country's north and west. Also in August is the Edinburgh Tattoo, a large-scale, colourful showcase of military pageantry, music and dance that takes place at Edinburgh Castle.  

For a cultural experience on a smaller scale, head to Glasgow in March for the city's International Comedy Festival, when venues across the city host shows and performances to tickle your funny bone. If comedy isn't your thing, maybe Whisky Month in Scotland can tempt you? With events and tastings throughout the country every May, it's the perfect time to perfect your palate and enjoy a tipple or two.  

Of course, there is no shortage of year-round attractions in Scotland, particularly if you're planning to visit Edinburgh or Glasgow, where there are cultural activities aplenty. So, even if it's raining cats and dogs outside, you can still keep cosy inside St Giles Cathedral and the National Museum, or perhaps head further afield to the royal family's Balmoral Castle or Brodie Castle in the Highlands - and the ticket queues will be much shorter to boot. 

 Recommended tour: The Edinburgh Tattoo

Shopping 

You'll find ample opportunity to 'shop ‘til you drop' in Scotland - particularly if you are visiting cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh. From homemade crafts to designer clothing, there's something for everyone in the country's shops, boutiques and markets. Of course, shops are open year-round, so you can get your fix whatever time of the year you visit, but if you're looking for a particularly special shopping experience, winter offers something a bit magical. In fact, the festive period is often hailed as the best time to visit Edinburgh, and there is plenty on offer for those with a particular penchant for browsing the shops.  

Sure, the weather in July is better and the days are longer, but the twinkling lights,  and merry atmosphere certainly do a good job of making up for it. You'll find late night shopping events in the cities and traditional Christmas markets - perfect for picking up gifts for loved ones - as well as festive-themed shops like the Nutcracker Christmas Shop and Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe. If you're looking to take home a bottle or two of the national drink, winter can be a good time to visit Scotland's distilleries, with fewer crowds to compete with. 

Recommended tour: Edinburgh Christmas Markets

 

 

We hope this guide has been useful in helping you plan your trip to Scotland, whether you are looking to explore the capital or traverse the Highlands. While the country's weather is certainly unpredictable, its four distinct seasons make planning an itinerary a simpler task. One thing is for sure - whether you're revelling in the midge-free winter in Edinburgh or enjoying the summer weather by the locks, Scotland has unforgettable experiences to offer at every time of the year. 

Ready to book your Scotland wish-list adventure? Take a look at our guided Scotland tours.



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