Here you have it, part 2 of our tips on the best time to visit Scotland!
Of course, if you missed part 1 of our blog, you will also have missed our statement that every time of year is the best time to visit Scotland. Obviously. (Well you did ask…)
Find out a little more about the (many) pros and (small handful of) cons of travelling in Scotland in Summer and Autumn – or Fall – in The best time to visit Scotland? Part 1: Summer & Autumn (Fall).
In this blog we are going to move on to our other two favourite seasons of the year: Winter and Spring.
Because Spring is in the air! The tiny buds on the trees have turned to glorious cherry blossom, bright yellow daffodils are everywhere, and the red squirrels have gone into crazy mode searching for all of the nuts they hid in the garden a few months ago.
(On which note, has anyone ever noticed how forgetful / geographically challenged squirrels are? Just a minor observation after 4 weeks in isolation watching my furry friends dart around the lawn…).
The question: “What is the best time to visit Scotland?” is one that has been doing the rounds for decades… centuries, even. But right now the question has come into stark focus for more pressing reasons. No one likes their travel plans to be disrupted at the best of times, but when a global virus outbreak forces you to rethink that trip that you’ve ploughed heart and soul into, not to mention hard-earned pennies, it is a tough one to take.
But this is where we can help!
Whilst this blog focuses on the much overlooked winter travel opportunities, as well as our beloved springtime, remember that you can always refer back to our first blog on why summer or autumn (fall) might also be the best time to visit Scotland for you.
Whether you are one of the many people rescheduling an existing trip, or if you are using this lock-down time to rethink your post-Corona ultimate travel bucket list, read on!
[mid-November, December, January, February, mid-March]
“Winter in Scotland? The best time to visit? Really?” I know what you’re thinking. Cold and wet. It’s a stereotype, not always deserved. But then no one really comes to Scotland for the weather, even in the height of summer. Well, not unless they’re from somewhere oppressively hot and want a break!
So why not give winter a thought?
Of course it is often viewed as the time of year when nature rests and we should follow suit. This is certainly true to an extent. Many of the traditional visitor attractions have closed, and even some hotels and distilleries take advantage of low visitor numbers to shut down operations and have at least one “sleeping” month.
However, if you’re a fan of slow travel, hidden gems, exploring off the beaten-track… Perhaps this is actually the best time to visit Scotland!
Winter – yes?
- It goes without saying, Scotland is beautiful at all times of the year. Scotland’s weather is also known to be changeable at all times of the year! But did you know that we get some of our most settled weather in winter? Ridges of high pressure can sit across the country for days on end, bringing stunning frosty mornings, blue skies, cold, clear, crisp days.
- Temperature inversions over rivers and fields produce low, hazy dreamlike mists, whilst the winter sun is low in the sky meaning that its rays pick out features of the landscape and play shadows across the mountains and glens that you would be hard-pressed to see at any other time of year. Winter photography is a box of delights!
- Because we are so far north (in line with Alaska!), daylight hours are limited – from around 9am to 3pm at the darkest time of the year (mid-December through mid-January). Don’t let this stop you though. Long mornings and late lunches were designed to get out and about to explore – leave the “indoors” attractions (distilleries, castles) for mid-late afternoon. Then embrace the early evenings with delicious food, fun company, cosy fires – and that book that you’ve always wanted to read.
- It might traditionally be seen as a time of rest, but for wildlife enthusiasts, we don’t have many truly hibernating creatures in Scotland. Yes, many birds do migrate to warmer climes, but we also attract flocks of geese from even further north (to whom our winter climate is a bit of a summer-holiday) and I have witnessed squirrels scooting about at all times of the year. This is also the best time to spot deer as they come down to lower ground to find shelter.
- You don’t even have to visit Lapland to meet reindeer! Finding them in the summer months can involve a long day hiking across the mountains, but in the winter the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd can be visited as much as twice a day – you might even get the chance to feed them!
- As for winter festivals, come and join in! Christmas markets aren’t confined to Germany – people from all over the world come to enjoy the mulled wine, street food, presents galore and even fairground rides of Edinburgh’s Christmas Market, right in the shadow of our famous Castle. Many towns and villages across Scotland join in with local craft fairs in the run up to Christmas, and carol concerts and Christmas services abound.
- Then there are the music and storytelling festivals, ceilidhs, Burn’s Night celebrations, and Scotland’s famous Hogmanay on 31 December. Edinburgh has become synonymous with the Hogmanay street party and fireworks, but Hogmanay is New Year’s Eve wherever you are in Scotland – whether in a town that celebrates with an enormous “Strip the Willow” [Scottish ceilidh dance] in the main square, or a village pub celebrating with local musicians, you will be expected to join in.
- Then blow the cobwebs away with some history and culture. Many of the major sites are open, including castles such as Edinburgh and Stirling and distilleries. Dalwhinnie Distillery is one of the highest in Scotland and specifically works with the cooler climate to produce its refined spirit. With special winter offers and pairings of whisky with exquisite truffles from our very own award winning Highland Chocolatier, you can’t go wrong.
- Also don’t forget that Scotland is an ancient land and, relatively speaking, only a handful of sites have fixed opening hours. Hire your very own private guide who will bring our history to life and take you to explore even more historical gems around the country where tickets aren’t required.
- You may have noticed that us Scots like to get out and about too. If you are into your hiking, biking or even paddling, wrap up warm and enjoy the wonderful tranquility and beauty of Scotland’s wild and wonderful outdoors. To really discover the wilderness, you could even try ski touring!
- Or if you prefer indoor activities, perhaps you’d prefer a private cooking class in the remote hillside home of one of our top chefs, with your wooden spoon in one hand and a warming dram of local Speyside malt whisky in the other…
- Finally, once it’s time to go to bed, enjoy top class accommodation that is vastly discounted from the peaks of the summer months. What’s not to love?
Winter – no?
Yes, winter is “off-peak” tourism season, but this is largely fuelled by economics and tradition.
- A lot of providers do take a break at this time of year, so sometimes it can be hard to find accommodation and attractions that are open.
- This is why we are here though – we know the ins and outs, we know what is open and what’s not – and what could be opened especially for you. Imagine that – your own private tour! And don’t forget that many historic sites are free to visit, year round – you just need to know where to find them.
- We also can’t get away from the weather. Whilst we do get those wonderful cold, crisp days, we also get our fair share of dreich, damp, cold, windy days. Come prepared and you will be fine – but pack warm clothes and waterproofs. It’s all about the layers.
- Similarly the weather sometimes throws travel plans into a bit of a jumble – whether too much wind or too much snow – or both. Winter storms and ferry timetables don’t make the best bedfellows, so sadly we might recommend leaving our magical western isles for another day.
- Snow, however, we can deal with. We are experienced in winter driving conditions, and adept at altering routes and itineraries so that you can still tick off all the boxes and have the best possible experience of Scotland.
Of course, this is one of the main reasons we exist – to know the country inside out, and to plan and adapt the plans accordingly. Our driver-guide will be with you all the way to take the stress out of it all – and to deal with anything the weather throws at you!
Don’t forget – this might also include suggesting extra fun activities and experiences whether the weather is worse or even better than planned!
And beside which, sometimes our winter days can feel positively spring-like.
Which leads us on to why you might like to visit us…
[mid-March, April, May]
As I write, it is 8pm and it is still light outside. This is notable because a couple of weekends ago we followed the rather quaint tradition of springing (get it) our clocks forward one hour. The rituals around this event are many and varied. From winding up sleeping grandfather clocks to unearthing the dusty oven manual for that final pesky timer it takes 4 days to change.
There are campaigns afoot (there have been for years) to do away with the twice yearly transition between Greenwich Mean Time and British Summer Time. But we rather like the changing of the clocks – the longer evenings give us a special kind of energy.
We are raring to go!
Which is why you should come and visit! And here are a few other reasons too…
Spring – yes?
- The days feel longer – though you can still justifiably cosy up around a glowing log fire at night.
- Trees and flowers are all springing back to life – cherry blossom, fresh green leaves, vibrant yellows of daffodils and coconut scented gorse across the hillsides.
- And yet there’s still snow on the hills, to top off the perfect Scottish landscape photograph.
- Lambs can be seen bouncing around all over the countryside – and if you haven’t seen a Highland Cow calf yet, you certainly need to put that onto your bucket list.
- It’s the asparagus season! Ever tried local asparagus from the county of Angus? No? Well put that on your bucket list too. Ideally lathered in good Scottish butter.
- Many visitor attractions open their doors again at the beginning of April. Some even have special opening weekends or spring festivals with events and discounted entry.
- With a few notable exceptions (Easter, and public holiday weekends in May), accommodation is at the lower end of the price range. Take advantage!
- May is getting warmer, usually (spot the hidden disclaimer) with less rain – though don’t dismiss April because of its showers – Easter 2019 was one of the hottest on record!
- There still aren’t too many other visitors out and about (though watch out for the end of May when schools take a mid-term break) so enjoy your favourite sites to yourself.
- And no pesky midgies [tiny biting, swarming insects – harmless but exceedingly irritating!] Though please don’t blame us if they make an early appearance in May and you have to invent a whole new war dance to fend them off.
Spring – no?
There are bound to be a few minuses, although as always we like to find the positives in them all.
- The temperatures are still on the cooler side, especially until mid-April, and snow has been known to fall in the heights of the Highlands until mid-May. This week we have experienced a few sub-zero nights, so the woolly jumpers [sweaters] are still coming in handy. Just remember your warm clothes – as well as your sun glasses!
- If you are keen to visit specific tourist attractions outside of the main towns and cities especially in March, check that they are open. They may still be operating on their winter timetable (see above), although the main attractions, such as Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Culloden Battlefield, are open year-round.
- Besides which, this is an excellent time to go exploring to find the hidden gems! And if you arrange your tour through a unique operator like Infinite Scotland, you never know what doors can be opened for you and you alone.
The best time to visit Scotland? Year-round!
We started the past two blogs with the question: “when would be the best time to visit Scotland?“
The alternative question we are often asked is “when is your favourite time of year in Scotland?”
But you see, that doesn’t help much either. We live here, so we go through good days and bad, whatever the season. And guess what? We always look back on the year through rose-tinted spectacles, regardless.
Our usual phrase is “WE LOVE [insert season], it’s our favourite time of year!”
For any season.
Remember that squirrel amnesia we talked about?
Is there such a thing as seasonal amnesia too…?
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!