True, most colloquial Scottish terms for the climate refer to fickle—and mostly "dreich" (dreary)—weather, despite which the sun shines more than you may imagine: Palm trees even grow on the west coast, sustained by warm Gulf Stream waters and air. Scotland frequently defies its stereotypes and can be sublime in any season, each uniquely showcasing the country's rugged beauty. So don't let the Scots' talk about the weather put you off.

Seasonal Planning for Scotland Travel

Edinburgh shares the same latitude as Southeast Alaska. No surprise then that Scotland's climate is generally cool and wet. Yet it's much milder than might be expected from its latitude, thanks to the North Atlantic Drift—an extension of the warm Gulf Stream from the Gulf of Mexico—which sweeps up Scotland's west coast.

The prevailing winds, laden with moisture from the Atlantic, are also from the southwest. Hence, the mountainous west gets considerably more rain than the east coast (and on 250 days of rain per year compared to 150 days for the east), with showers peaking in winter. Inverness gets only about 25 inches (63.5 cm) of rain a year, compared to 142 inches (361 cm) for Ben Nevis. The east coast is sunnier year-round, especially in summer. However, those are the months when a cold sea fog called haar can come in off the North Sea, ruining what would be a perfect day on the golf course.

Scotland, being mountainous, is generally cloudy, cold, and snowy. Coastal temperatures show slight variation among the different regions at any time of year, but elevation makes a huge difference. In winter, the Highlands get a significant amount of snow above 1,500 feet (457 m), with snow falling an average of about 100 days a year. The mountainous terrain, dissected with deep vales, creates significant microclimates. Hence, you can often drive for 30 minutes to discover that the conditions are entirely different. And the day-to-day weather can also vary enormously and unpredictably, changing hour by hour.

Scotland's high latitude means winter days are very short and summer days very long. Long, sunny summer days are perfect for a beach holiday or bagging Munros (hiking mountains taller than 3,000 feet). Plus, summer has the bulk of Scotland's many festivals. Autumn is a blaze of color as the heather and leaves turn red, orange, and yellow. And in winter, snow adds to the festive spirit of Christmas and Hogmanay and offers a chance for winter sports. Regardless of the time of year, always pack an umbrella and raingear, and remember the Scottish saying: "The weather forecast will be the sky in front o' ya!"

Seasons Pros Cons Best for Where to Visit
Spring (Mar-May) Profusion of flowers in April and May, the driest months of the year; low season, with fewer visitors to museums and popular tourist sites; lower prices March can be cold and snowy; Highlands still snowbound; late May can be busy with tour groups Castles, stately homes, and gardens; birdwatching, as osprey and puffins return Pitlochry for the May music festival
Summer (Jun-Aug) Mild to warm; very long days; excellent wildlife viewing; Highland Games Peak travel season; beaches and main tourist sites can be crowded; prices are at their highest Beaches, hiking upland areas; active outdoor adventures; heather and thistle bloom Hebridean Islands for spotting Minke whales and Basking sharks; Shetlands, Orkney, and the Faroe Islands; Edinburgh for its many festivals and the Military Tattoo
Fall (Sep-Nov) Mild weather in September; spectacular autumnal colors in October and November; deer rutting season October and November are typically cold and rainy Exploring cities and museums, birdwatching Perth for the National Mod of Gaelic culture
Winter (Dec-Feb) Relatively few tourists and lower prices; uncrowded museums and popular tourist sites;  Northern Lights in northern Scotland; skiing and winter sports Cold, windy, rainy, and snowy; very short days Aviemore for skiing, viewing the Northern Lights  Edinburgh and Glasgow for Hogmanay

Spring in Scotland (March to May)

Puffins return to Scotland in spring

Spring is an excellent time to visit Scotland as the snow melts, the foliage comes back to life, and birds such as osprey, corncrakes, and puffins return from warmer winter climates. And the seals are active, fattening up after pupping in autumn and winter. Plus, you'll be visiting before the tourist season begins at the end of May; you'll beat the crowds and can enjoy lower off-season prices. 

Although spring is officially March 1 through May 31, Scots don't consider it spring until the first crocuses appear, typically by mid-March, as temperatures rise and the days lengthen. Statistically, these months are the driest and sunniest everywhere, although March is generally still cool, wet, and wintry, and many tourist venues are still closed. April and May are the driest months nationwide and a great time to see the Scottish bluebells, daffodils, and bright yellow gorse in bloom. Weatherwise, May is the perfect month, with the landscape now lush, the days noticeably longer and warmer, and the clouds of midges (gnats) of the summer months are still absent.

The national daily temperature high rises to an average of 53°F (12°C) in April and 58°F (14°C) in May, and the daily lows average 39°F (4°C) in April and 43.5°F (6.4°C) in May. Rainfall averages 1.5 inches (4 cm) in April and 2 inches (5 cm) in May, while each month sees an extra two hours of daylight.

Events in spring 

Fort William Mountain Festival, Braemar. Snow-based activities, skills training, and music and ceilidh dancing in early March.

Glasgow International Comedy Festival, Glasgow. Featuring top comedians in March.

Bunkered Live Golf Show, Glasgow. Golfing expo in March includes lessons from professional golfers.

Edinburgh International Harp Festival, Edinburgh. Concerts and workshops in April.

March Into Pitlochry Music Festival, Pitlochry. Eclectic contemporary music concerts over two days in mid-May.

The Fife Show, Cupar. Traditional agricultural fair in mid-May. 

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Scotland in March
Scotland in April
Scotland in May

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Summer in Scotland (June to August)

Summer is ideal for hiking the Old Man of Storr

Summer officially lasts from June 1 to August 31, but Scots consider their summer begins in mid-May and ends in mid-September. Although these months are slightly wetter than spring, they're the warmest of the year and enjoy the longest days (in June, the Shetland Islands have four hours more daylight than London, and there's no complete darkness). Nature lovers get some extra treats: Minke whales and basking sharks return to the coastal waters of northwest Scotland; ospreys return from their winter habitats in Africa, and July and August are the peak of the heather and thistle bloom.

However, these months are just as unpredictable as any other month. Long stretches of cloudless blue skies are rare. More typical is warm, sunny weather lasting two or three days, followed by a few days of milder and wetter weather. It's wise to pack your shorts and T-shirts, but you'll still need to bring warmer clothing and waterproof footwear if the weather changes. 

Summer's mild temperatures and long days are perfect for hiking, biking, golfing, and other outdoor activities. There are also many festivals and events, including Highland Games. But schools are out throughout Britain and Europe, and families are traveling en masse. Hence, these are the busiest and priciest months, with mid-June to the end of August being peak season.

Temperatures range from an average daily low of 48°F (9°C) in June to 52°F (11°C) in July and August, and an average daily high of 66°F (19°C) in July and August. The west and far north are a few degrees cooler. These are some of the rainiest months of the year in Glasgow and Edinburgh, yet among the driest months in the western Highlands and Hebridean Islands.

Events in summer 

British Pipe Band Championships, Paisley. In late May, home-grown performers pit their pipes against the world's best pipe bands.

Orkney Folk Festival, Orkney. Four days of fiddlers and folk music at the end of May.

Hebridean Celtic Festival, Isle of Lewis. A celebration of Celtic music, dance, and culture in mid-July.

Inverness Highland Games, Inverness. Scotland's biggest inter-clan gathering with traditional music, dance, and heavyweight sports such as tossing the caber in mid-July.

Speyfest, Fochabers (Moray). Celebration of traditional and contemporary Celtic music culture in July.

Foodies Festival, Edinburgh & Glasgow. Taste the best of Scottish fare in August.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh. This month-long spectacle in August features military bands, Highland dancers, fireworks, and much more in Scotland's biggest event.

Edinburgh International & Fringe FestivalsEdinburgh. Taking place the whole of August, the Fringe Festival is billed as the world's biggest celebration of the arts, spanning the spectrum.

The Cowal Highland Gathering, Dunoon. Traditional dancing, piping, and heaving events in late August.

Largs Viking Festival, Largs. Celebration of Viking heritage at the end of August and into early September.

The Braemar Gathering, Braemar. Scotland's preeminent Highland Games at the start of September.

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Scotland in June
Scotland in July
Scotland in August

Fall in Scotland (September to November)

Scotland is ablaze with color in autumn

Autumn is a preferred time to visit. It's less busy than the summer months, prices fall, and you can enjoy tourist hot spots to yourself as the season progresses. You also get to enjoy the most spectacular colors. In early September, the heather is still blooming purple before turning fiery red, as trees also turn from green to yellow, orange, and scarlet in October. However, the days are shortening rapidly, the temperature is falling steadily, and most of Scotland experiences some of its heaviest rains in October. By November, the long dark nights are good for seeing the Northern Lights in Scotland's far north.

This is also the best time of year to view wildlife, with some big spectacles taking place. It's red deer rutting season when stags battle each other to establish their harems. Rivers are full of leaping salmon. And gray seals are giving birth along the shores, particularly on the west coast.

As a national average, temperatures fall from a daily average high of 61°F (16°C) and average low of 48°F (9°C) in September to 48°F (9°C) and 38°F (3°C), respectively, in November. Average daylight hours fall from 12 in September to only 8 in November.

Events in fall 

Wigtown Book Town Festival, Wigtown. Hosts Scotland's top writers in late September.

Callander Jazz & Blues Festival, Callander. Three days of live jazz and blues from late September to early October.

The Royal National Mod, Perth. Scotland's premier celebration of Gaelic language and culture in mid-October.

Paisley Halloween Festival, Paisley. Spectacular displays and carnival-style parade in late October.

Stirling Whisky Festival, Stirling. Samplings of Scotland's tastiest drams on the last weekend of October.

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Scotland in September
Scotland in October
Scotland in November

Winter in Scotland (December to February)

Winter at Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, is as beautiful at any time of year

These are the coldest months of the year. Nonetheless, the weather is generally fairly mild and, although highly changeable, is rarely extreme. If you visit for a week or two, you'll likely experience everything from clear blue skies, gray cloudy days, rain, and possibly ice and snow. Scotland averages 38 days of snowfall, but far more in the mountainous northern Highlands, which (unlike the lowlands) remain snow-covered for most of the winter. Scotland's five ski centers are popular, while everywhere else receives the fewest visitors of the year. Prices tumble, but many hotels and tourist sites are closed for the off-season.

Winter days are now the shortest: In late December, the sun doesn't rise in Inverness until 8:30 am and sets by 3:30 pm. The sun remains low in the sky, providing dramatic colors for photography. You might even see the elusive Northern Lights in the far north if you're lucky. Days lengthen as winter progresses, with February seeing 10 hours of daylight—three more than December.

For Scotland as a whole, temperatures range from an average daily low of around 34°F (1°C) and an average daily high of around 44°F (7°C) throughout these months. However, due to the warming influence of the North Atlantic Drift, the Outer Hebrides are on average 3°F (1.7°C) warmer than Edinburgh, as the eastern lowlands get a preponderance of cold, dry easterly winds in these months. December, January, and February are the three rainiest months in the western Highlands.

Events in winter 

Oban Winter Festival, Oban. Ten days of markets, bagpipes, and ceilidh dancing in late November.

Glasgow Christmas Markets, Glasgow. Visit December for a perfect opportunity to fill someone's stocking with Scottish artisan products.

Edinburgh's Hogmanay, Edinburgh. Three days of New Year festivities from December 29 to January 1.

Burns Night, nationwide. Celebrations of national poet Robert Burns on January 25.

Celtic Connections, Glasgow. An 18-day celebration of Celtic culture running from late January to early February.

February Fest, Glencoe. A month of good cheer, beer, and more in February.

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Scotland in December
Scotland in January
Scotland in February