Autumn is a spectacular time to explore Scotland's cultural cities and rugged scenery. The weather is becoming crisp and cool, and you can say goodbye to the bothersome gnats, called midges, that disappear with the last hints of summer. In other words, this is the perfect time for romantic road trips—with lower rates for luxury resorts—while golfers, hikers, and wildlife-seekers have plenty of options.

Weather

Welcome to the Scottish autumn season, with crisp, cool weather and shortened daylight hours (especially by the end of the month after the clocks shift back one hour). This is also the time of year to experience peak fall foliage, but you should expect some moody cloud formations and rain. Western Scotland will likely see more moisture and wind, called westerlies, coming from the North Atlantic. At the same time, eastern Scotland boasts less precipitation, more sunshine, and occasional fog from the North Sea.

Temperatures are consistent throughout the country this month, with Edinburgh, Inverness, and Portree typically reaching daily highs of 55°F (13°C) and lows of 43°F (9°C). The UK's highest peak, Ben Nevis, located at 4,413 feet (1,345 m), sees average highs of 38°F (3°C) and lows of 30°F (-1°C). Given the cooling temperatures and unpredictable weather, you should come prepared with warm layers, a waterproof jacket, an umbrella, and sturdy walking or hiking shoes that keep your feet dry. 

Crowds & Costs

October is part of shoulder season, bridging the gap between high season and low season, and a great time to snag deals on flights, accommodations, car rentals, and activities like guided tours. With kids back in school, travelers tend to be mostly adults this time of year with a mix of solos, couples, and groups. Either way, there will be more space in the urban attractions, as well as picturesque lochs (lakes), islands, and hiking trails than in the previous summer months.

Keep in mind that some popular tourist sights, like castles, distilleries, and boat tours, may close for the season this time of year, so it's wise to check the hours of operation in advance.

Where to Go

With pretty fall foliage and fewer crowds, it's a perfect time of year to spend a few days in the largest city in the country, Glasgow, or the UNESCO-listed capital of Edinburgh—both with excellent museums, like the Writers' Museum dedicated to Scotland's literary figures, and charming, walkable neighborhoods. There are more than enough attractions to keep you busy for a few days, and it's easy to combine both cities since they are located less than an hour apart by train.

If you are taking a long weekend, you can base yourself in Edinburgh and add a day trip through the heart of the Highlands for a pleasant walk along Loch Ness, followed by lunch at Urquhart Castle, where you can keep an eye out for Nessie (from a safe distance). With more time, tack on a night or two in Inverness, Aviemore, or Braemar, and hit hiking trails in Cairngorms National Park, surrounded by some of the best wildlife diversity in the UK. This region is also laden with historic castles and whiskey distilleries.

Another alternative is to head to Scotland's west coast, which is pleasantly free of crowds this time of year. You can spend several days hiking in Glencoe Valley or base yourself in the charming town—and seafood capital—of Oban, with boat trips to the Hebridean isles of Mull, Iona, and Staffa. Further north is the dramatic Isle of Skye—the largest isle in the Inner Hebrides—and you can arrive by car, ferry, or sit back and enjoy the autumn colors from the Jacobite Express Steam Train.

For more remote environs, take a peaceful road trip through the North Coast 500, a 512-mile (824-km) route that explores Scotland's unspoiled, rugged northern coastline past hidden lochs and empty beaches, and the North West Highland Geopark. This protected natural reserve is considered one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe.

What to Do

It's easy to get a daily dose of exercise in the fresh autumn air with trails sprinkled around Scotland's hills, mountains, lochs, cities, and coastlines. There's the climb to the top of Holyrood Park to get to Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, hiking between coastal towns in Fife, or walking through Kelvingrove Park to get to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.

Serious hikers have several options, too. On the west side of Glasgow is Loch Lomond, which is part of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park with a five-hour hike on a marked path. You can also spend a few days hiking a portion of the 96-mile (155-km) West Highland Way, climbing the Devil's Staircase, the trail's highest point. For an even steeper ascent, hike to the top of Ben Nevis with a private guide, rewarding you with sweeping views, perhaps followed by a spa appointment to soothe tired muscles. 

History buffs can stay busy touring hundreds of famous monuments and ruins around the cities and countryside, including castles, monasteries, and ancient battlefields, like the National Wallace Monument, commemorating Sir William Wallace, the 13th-century Scottish hero featured in the film "Braveheart."

Golfing is a big activity in St Andrews, and there are many top-rated courses in the area since it is where the sport originated. Non-players can visit the oldest university in Scotland, followed by a long walk on a 2-mile (3-km) stretch of beach featured in the opening scenes of the film "Chariots of Fire."

If you're not sea kayaking and looking for marine life or biking around the islands, you can sample local cuisine on the west coast. Follow the official Seafood Trail that makes several stops at member restaurants, or create your own trail sampling oysters, crab, lobster, and Cullen skink (smoked haddock soup), along the way.

Scotland is also home to more than 100 whiskey distilleries—many that offer tours and tastings—as well as gin distilleries, craft breweries, chocolate makers, and cheesemongers. If you have a rainy day in Edinburgh, take a gourmet food tour guided by a local resident who will teach you about the history of Scottish cuisine with tastings of the savory pudding called haggis and the game bird called grouse.

October Events

Royal National Mòd, changing locations. Over 100 years old, this historic festival celebrates the Gaelic language and draws locals and travelers interested in learning more about Gaelic history, literature, music, and art.

Samhuinn Fire Festival, Edinburgh. This ticketed Halloween event takes place in Edinburgh's Calton Hill with plenty of entertainment in the form of vibrant costumes, drummers, fire dancers, and acrobatics.

Traveling to Scotland in October? Check out these great itineraries

Scottish Highlands Self-Drive Tour - 8 Days. This self-drive adventure starts in Edinburgh and then heads into the rugged highlands, where you'll explore ancient castles, visit important battle sites, sail Loch Ness, and ride the world's most scenic railway.

Luxury Scottish Highlands Tour - 7 Days. Sit back and enjoy breathtaking scenery as you travel from the wilds of Cairngorms National Park in the northeast to the fishing village of Oban in the west while staying in a succession of luxurious country house hotels. 

More Helpful Information

Scotland in September
Scotland in November
Best Time of Year to Visit Scotland
How Many Days to Spend in Scotland