What surprises newcomers in Scotland is that springtime offers some of the sunniest, most enjoyable months of the year. May stands out from its neighbors as it's a bit milder than April, and it largely avoids the summer arrival of midges (similar to gnats). So, if you enjoy cheerful spring foliage and upwards of 17 hours of daylight per day, then this is a great time to visit.
Slight variations and micro-climates exist depending on where you travel. The west coast has influences from the Gulf Stream and westerly winds that carry temperate air—and moisture—from the North Atlantic, while eastern Scotland tends to be drier. Temperatures remain consistent at sea level but are cooler in higher elevations. For instance, Edinburgh typically reaches daily highs of 57°F (14°C) and lows of 43°F (6°C), while Ben Nevis, the UK's highest peak at 4,413 feet (1,345 m), will only see highs in the 41°F (5°C) range, and lows near freezing at 32°F (0°C).
The Scottish climate is famously fickle. You should come prepared for a mix of sunshine, clouds, and precipitation in spring; pack smart layers, a waterproof jacket, and quality walking or hiking shoes that can handle varied terrain and weather.
Crowds & Costs
May falls in step with Scotland's spring shoulder season making it an excellent time to beat the crowds and snag off-season deals before summer. Not only will you have more elbow room at top sights in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but you'll find relatively peaceful roads for stopping to take photographs, uncrowded beaches and hiking trails, and more opportunities for outdoor seating on a clear, sunny day.
Book early and consider traveling mid-week instead of the weekend to get the best rates. Another great aspect of traveling this month is avoiding Easter and spring-break visitors. Kids are back in school, so savvy adult travelers are a common sight this month. Just keep in mind that the Scots have a public (bank) holiday at the beginning of the month, so there will be more locals on the road during this extended weekend.
Where to Go
With its distinct geography and many choices for island hopping, Scotland can be an intimidating destination in figuring out where to go. It largely depends on how much time you have. Most travelers arrive in one of two cities: Glasgow, the biggest city in the country, and Edinburgh, the charming, hilly capital. If you have your heart set on seeing the sights at both (free museums and flowering parks), don't worry—you can easily pair them together since they are located less than an hour apart by train and just over an hour by car.
With just a long weekend in Scotland, you can base yourself in one of the cities. From here, you can take a day trip or two since many highlights can be accessed in a few hours by car, including famous castles, university towns, and fishing villages in the Fife peninsula (just north of Edinburgh). For a taste of the Highlands, you could drive to Cairngorms National Park and have lunch overlooking Loch Ness. Or head west and hike in either Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park or the stunning Glencoe Valley.
More time is preferable so that you take your time to make several stops and enjoy the surroundings. Springtime is a beautiful season to spend a week or more venturing along the west coast with some island hopping. Oban acts as a gateway to the Hebridean Islands with boat trips to several islands, including Kerrera, Lismore, and Mull. Meanwhile, the town of Kennacraig offers ferry service to the Isle of Islay with nine working whisky distilleries for peaty single malts. While on the ferry, keep an eye out for seals, sea eagles, and possibly even dolphins.
Further north is the Isle of Skye, with plenty of natural wonders and outdoor opportunities and a picturesque harbor town of Portree. If you have all the time in the world, consider a journey along the 512-mile (824-km) scenic route called the North Coast 500, passing by white-sand beaches and fishing villages.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
What to Do
Able travelers can easily incorporate a daily hike or walk into the itinerary. Casual trails and coastal walks are ubiquitous around Scotland (even in Edinburgh!), while serious hikers can consider a longer route, like the Wild Highland Way between Lairig Mor and Fort William. You can also ascend Ben Nevis with a private guide to get views of the surrounding Highlands and crystal clear lochs. In fact, the area around Fort William is known as the adventure capital of the UK. It offers access to several hiking trails and diverse climbing opportunities from mountain crags to rocky sea cliffs.
Springtime also allows for biking trails, boat tours, and river fishing. Sea kayaking is a popular activity, and some opportunities put you up close to seals and other marine life. History buffs can take castle tours and learn about epic battlefields, or visit free museums in Edinburgh and Glasgow. You can also sit back and enjoy the Highland scenery from the historic Jacobite Express Steam Train.
Foodies can follow one of several official trail maps around the country that allow you to sample the best Scottish culinary treasures, including seafood, cheese, and chocolate. As for sampling Scotland's national drink, there are over 100 whisky distilleries that offer tours and tastings, many of which are centered in the northeast Speyside region. Don't miss special events on World Whisky Day on the third Saturday of May.
Events in May
Early May, nationwide. The first Monday of May is a public holiday in the United Kingdom. While it is called May Day in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, Scotland typically refers to it as the Early May Bank Holiday. Expect closures and an influx of local travelers during the long weekend.
World Whisky Day, nationwide. On the third Saturday of every May, Scots celebrate their national drink. Look for events around the country.
Ballater Royal Deeside Walking Festival, Ballater. All ages are welcome to enjoy the natural beauty of the Cairngorms around Ballater with a series of guided walks.
Edinburgh International Children's Festival, Edinburgh. Typically held at the end of May, this annual festival celebrates children's dance and theatre with a range of Scottish and international performances.
Ullapool Book Festival, Ullapool. Literary lovers who happen to be near this town in the Scottish Highlands can attend a three-day literary festival featuring workshops, readings, and talks.
Glasgow Contemporary Art Fair, Glasgow. This annual art fair takes place at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and has grown to become one of the most prestigious contemporary art fairs in the United Kingdom.
Traveling to Scotland in May? Check out these great itineraries
Scenic Scotland: Edinburgh, Highlands & Islands - 10 Days. This self-drive itinerary combines stunning scenery with memorable culinary excursions. Starting in Edinburgh, you'll visit local markets and artisan shops on a foodie's walking tour, then head to the Highlands in Inverness and the islands of Skye and Islay, where you'll savor local seafood and sample smoky single malts.
Luxury Scottish Highlands: Aviemore, Inverness & Oban - 7 Days. With a private driver at your disposal, you will explore the Highlands, from the breathtaking scenery of Cairngorms National Park and historic Inverness to the west coast fishing village of Oban.