It’s that age old question: “but when would be the best time, I mean, really the best time to visit Scotland?”
Unsurprisingly it is a question that is being asked hundreds (maybe even thousands…) of times a day right now.
With so many travel plans put on hold due to Covid-19, and with so many people re-thinking their trips to Scotland – “will the travel ban be lifted by August?” – “what is it like travelling during the Fall?” – “is there anything still open in winter?” – “should I just postpone until next year?” – we thought it might be helpful to put together a few seasonal travel tips.
We understand that times are uncertain and, frankly, a little tough at the moment.
So with that in mind, we thought we might bring a little hope back to proceedings and explain, to those who are thinking of rescheduling, why every season is the best time to visit Scotland!
Psst! If you are using this time of lock-downs to start planning your ultimate bucket-list, then this might just help you out too.
Of course there is a disclaimer to this message. As we are all discovering, no-one really has a fail-safe crystal ball (more’s the pity!), and certainly no-one that I’ve ever met has much control over wider environmental influences. But we’re not talking about global pandemics – this time we’re talking about the weather! (We’re Scottish, it’s in our DNA).
Yes, it is changeable. If we say it will be warm in summer, bring your winter woollies. If we say the hills will be covered in snow during the winter, expect a heatwave. (Of sorts. Floridians may disagree.)
The best advice we can give? Regardless of when you travel, be prepared for every possible season in one day! Layers and waterproofs – you’ve got it.
Now obviously if we’re going to run through all four seasons this is going to take some time.
With that in mind, let’s split this into two parts.
Part 1: Summer and Fall (or Autumn, if you’re like us…!) – keep reading!
Part 2: Winter and Spring – to follow!
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As we are currently being asked lots of questions about travelling in August through November, we thought it would be best to group the seasons like this. It doesn’t make us love the other seasons any less though – particularly as Spring has just arrived! More on that later though.
First, let us begin with…
[June, July, August, mid-September]
Summertime and the livin’ is easy……
Happy days are here again! That’s right, summer is when our families get the longest breaks from school/college/university. It is when we expect the most pleasant weather. It is when that zingy holiday feeling abounds.
So what about visiting Scotland?
Summer – yes?
- The land is green, there is life everywhere, villages and gardens are full of colour as locals take pride in showing off their homes.
- The hills are purple with their vast blankets of heather, and the rowan trees are laden with red berries. Note the dates though: end-August through September – so many guests have been disappointed not to see any heather in bloom or rowans in fruit when they’ve visited earlier in the summer – they simply aren’t ready yet, sorry!
- The sky is blue….. Well, some of the time! We live in a maritime climate – meaning that we are island nation subject to the whims of the sea air that surrounds us. The reality is that it often feels as if we get just as many rainy days in the summer as in the winter. But don’t let that put you off! It is warmer (most of the time) than the rest of the year. You may not feel like wearing shorts and T-shirt, but don’t be surprised if you see Scots cracking open their summer wardrobe.
- To add to the colour, country roads are dotted with local stalls selling the most sumptuous soft fruits – Scotland is famous for its raspberries and strawberries at this time of year.
- Visitor attractions and accommodations are all open, and all ready to welcome you!
- Special events abound – check visitor attraction websites and local “what’s on” guides to take full advantage – or ask us to take you to the most special events!
- And the Highland Games season runs (broadly speaking) from June through until mid-September – try to find the smaller, more local gatherings to get a real flavour of this annual tradition. You may even get to join in some of the competitions!
- If playing in the outdoors is your thing, join us in a hike, or with a bike, or some wildlife watching from your kayak, bobbing around the stunning inlets of the Scottish coastline. Who knows, the sea might even be warm enough for a quick dip…
- The days are long too, meaning even more time to get out and about! In the far north it barely gets dark at night. Perfect for a post-dinner game of golf or walk along the beach.
- Then if you’re into your arts and culture, you cannot leave the country without throwing yourself into the Edinburgh Festival season, running throughout the entire month of August. It has to be seen, heard and experienced to be believed. Engage all senses…
[Edinburgh Festival footnote: due to current events, it has been announced that the Edinburgh Festivals have been cancelled in 2020. This includes the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Edinburgh International Festival, the infamous and enormous Fringe Festival, the Book Festival and the Film Festival.
We expect them to be back, bigger than ever, in 2021. A great opportunity to think about them now and add them into your itinerary when we still have plenty of time to book!]
Summer – no?
- There’s no getting away from it, as with many countries in the world, the summer months are the busiest. Luckily you will only have to queue (line up) for a small handful of the most popular attractions in the main tourist destinations. However, you may still find yourself surrounded by many other visitors, from all around the world. And that Instagram photo you had been dreaming of? It may be impossible to take it without multiple unwitting photo-bombers.
- Of course some areas of Scotland and visitor attractions are more crowded than others. Sometimes this is for good reason – they are awesome! But it is still 100% possible to get off the beaten track and find your very own Scotland, away from any other visitors. Just ask people like us to help you find the hidden gems. That’s what we’re here for!
- The knock-on effect of Scotland becoming so popular, with some areas more affected than others, is that accommodation not only has to be booked months, sometimes years, in advance during the summer months. It is also priced at a premium. Sometimes that premium feels awfully hefty for what you get.
- And yes, we have midgies [those tiny, harmless yet irritating, swarming biting insects]. Bring your insect repellent, particularly if you are heading for the Highlands. They’re most active in the mornings, evenings and after the rain – the good news is that they can’t fly very fast so you can usually out-walk them! The bad news is that you may just be walking into another swarm…
We do recognise that summer is an amazing time to travel, and we have personally spent many happy summer’s days enjoying deserted white sandy beaches, fun family festivals and scrambles over both mountains and ancient monuments throughout the summer months.
It is also important to point out that Scotland’s version of “busy” may be a million miles away from your version of “busy” (passing 20 people on a hike, for example, or having to wait 30 minutes for a table at a local café…).
So please have a chat with us about your options to make your summer trip to Scotland as special as you’d dreamt!
On the other hand, if it is an option, why not consider visiting outside the main peak season….
Like, for example, AUTUMN!
[Mid-September, October, mid-November]
First thing’s first. Yes, we call it Autumn, not Fall. But don’t worry, we are bilingual (!) and have frequently been known to slip into our alternative North American vernacular where required.
Whatever you call it though, it really is one of the most spectacular times of year to visit Scotland.
Autumn – yes?
- We need to talk about colour. All of those photos you have ever seen of New England in the Fall? We’ve got it all here too. All of those reds, russets, browns, golden flickering Aspens, multi-hued Sycamores, Birches, Oaks, lime-green Larches.
- The gentle autumn evening light seems to hang around all day, photography is inspired, hiking is peaceful, a scattering of snow on the tops of the hills adds to the sense that you really are in the most magical place in the world.
- And yet it is still warm enough to explore without your winter wardrobe.
- Just in case you’re worried that you won’t get to visit that castle or distillery of your dreams, the majority of visitor attractions are open until at least the end of October – it’s just that they’re an awful lot quieter!
- Talking of which, so are artists, musicians, crafts people (not as busy, that is) – so there will be greater opportunities to experience the “real” Scotland, meeting locals, maybe even going home with a unique treasure as a souvenir.
- Accommodation providers often discount their prices from around mid to end-September – time to take advantage, and enjoy more time for chatting with your host over breakfast too.
- As for Scotland’s magnificent natural larder, this is when it really comes into its own. It is harvest time, and with that come vegetables bursting with flavour, foraging opportunities, blackberries, wild mushrooms, and even game. If you ever wanted to hunt grouse or deer, now is the time.
- Did we mention the midgies? From around early October onwards (once the first frosts come), they have disappeared too! No need to pack the insect repellent or camomile lotion.
Autumn – no? Or maybe yes…?
- OK I admit it. Here we struggle. I genuinely have to clasp at straws to find reasons that you wouldn’t want to visit Scotland in the Autumn.
- Granted, the early spring and later summer flowers are over – but then you have an abundance of colours on the trees instead.
- And yes, the nights are drawing in (the clocks also “hop back” an hour at the end of October – don’t forget if you’ve got a flight to catch!) but then we’re into the time of delicious warming casseroles and roaring log fires.
- If attending a traditional Highland Games has always been on the bucket list, you won’t find many (or even any) in Autumn – but instead why not go along to a local ceilidh for some traditional music and dancing. Then join in!
- Autumn festivals abound, embracing the darker nights and cosy indoors – try Pitlochry’s Enchanted Forest or Orkney’s Storytelling Festival for starters. And then there are the old traditions such as Samhuinn (the opposite of May’s Beltane) – Edinburgh has recently revived this ancient festival, with torchlit processions and pagan Gods on the streets. More locally you will find bonfire nights and turnip carving competitions – not pumpkins, they’re not quite so native to Scotland – and you will be made to feel most welcome.
Of course, with the clocks leaping back to “daylight saving time” and the darker nights drawing in, we are inevitably drawn into the world of winter…
But we have left you plenty to mull over already, before we start talking of mulled wine too.
The best time to visit Scotland?
We know that many of you are re-thinking your travel plans for this year and next, and it is difficult to make decisions when you may not have visited us before, and when you are faced with such uncertainty.
This is the reason we exist though. We know that everyone is different, everyone likes to plan in different ways and at different times, and everyone has different preferences when they travel.
The best time to visit Scotland might even be different for every family member!
Let us help you navigate these tricky questions and decisions. We will do this with sensitivity and flexibility, particularly under the current uncertain travel climate.
Just remember that, whatever the time of year, us Scots will be here to welcome you with open arms!
To plan your trip to Scotland in any season, get in touch! Even if you are planning for this summer, we can discuss postponement options in case current travel restrictions remain in place. Scotland will welcome you whatever time of year you come to visit!
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