We’re often asked, here at WOW Scotland, when the best time to visit the Scottish Highlands is. There is no easy answer, as each time of year has its own unique characteristics which make it special, but we’ve put together some information below that should help you determine the best time for you to visit!
A lot is said about the Scottish weather although in general it really isn’t that bad. Average maximum daytime temperatures in July and August in Inverness are 19 c/ 66 F and on the west coast you looking at 16 c or 60 F although (very) occasionally the mercury hits 26 c /78 F or hotter. The weather is typically best between May and September although, no matter what time of the year you visit, it can be very changeable.
Scotland is well known for its rain and its an important part of our country’s beauty as we have countless waterfalls, lochs and luscious green grass. April and May tend to be the driest months, although don’t be surprised if you get a heavy ‘Spring shower’ during your trip. There are also bigger differences between the West and the East Coasts. For example, in Inverness we get on average about 40 mm of rain in April (about 1.6 inches), but the figure for Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis is almost double this.
From October onwards the weather can be pretty unpredictable. There can be snow in the hills from end of October although this can often be interspersed with periods of milder weather. In the middle of winter in Inverness the temperature often hovers around 0 c/32 F in the evening, although it can occasionally get much colder. Snowfall at sea-level is not a rare occurrence although it typically melts quickly and the local authorities make a good job of clearing the main roads.
You’ll get some good data on weather averages on the Met Office’s website.
As we are so far north there is a large variation between daylight hours in summer and winter. In mid-summer the sun is the sky for around 18 hours and in mid-winter this drops to 6 hours 30 minutes. This means that in the summer you have as much time as you want as there is light in the sky until around midnight! Conversely, in the winter there is much less time for seeing the great outdoors so it is worth checking in advance how much daylight you can expect at the time of year you are visiting. Of course, for the avid photographer you can be blown away in the winter months and it means you don’t have to stay up late or get up at the crack of dawn to get wonderful shots. Check TimeandDate.com for details of sunrise and sunset times.
Number of visitors
One of the most important factors that influence me when people ask when is the best time to visit is to look at visitor numbers. July and August are our busiest months and, during this time, it can be difficult to find accommodation, unless you book in advance. In May, June and September it is still reasonably busy although it is typically easier to find accommodation. Outside of these months there are far fewer visitors – so much so that when I visited Orkney in February a couple of years ago a gallery owner informed me that I was the first tourist of the year to visit her shop!
Coming outside of the peak months really does have its advantages if you want to avoid the masses. Saying that, as there are far fewer visitors out of season, many privately owned visitor attractions, such as Cawdor Castle, close between October and Easter. If you are coming here to visit your favourite whisky distillery be sure to check in advance as typically they only open on weekdays out of season, and many shut their doors altogether. Outside of the bigger towns you may also find it difficult to find places to eat, with restaurants in some rural locations closing for winter.
It’s typically pretty easy to get to the Highlands by public transport, with good rail and air links from the rest of the the UK, and generally the transport we have is reliable and operates throughout the year. However, if you are thinking of visiting the islands then winter storms can severely affect ferry journeys and occasionally snow can block roads in the Highlands too . Consequently, if you are planning to get around using public transport then avoiding the depths of winter is advisable.
Driving is typically easy enough although in wintry weather just stick to the main roads or delay your journey until it is safe to do so. In the height of summer it can be pretty busy on all our roads and you may be lucky to average more than 40 mph so coming in the shoulder months can make a difference if you are looking to cover a lot of distance.
If you are looking for a guided tour there are plenty of options year round. During the peak months it can be difficult to get a private guided tour, especially at the last minute, although there are a plethora of options for scheduled tours of the Highlands leaving from Edinburgh and of course we offer a number of excellent day tours from Inverness!
- Most people visit the Scottish Highlands between May and September which is when we have the best weather and also the most daylight.
- Avoiding the peak months of July and August is a wise move if you can manage it, although given the nature of the Highlands there is plenty of wide open spaces for everyone to enjoy.
- Out of season be sure to do your research and make sure that the attractions you’d like to visit are open and that your planned itinerary is realistic given the amount of daylight and the likely weather .
- Last but not least remember that whatever time of year you visit the Highlands you’ll be in for a treat and as long as you pack appropriate clothing you’ll find out that you’ll enjoy Scotland, whatever the weather
We hope that you have a fantastic time travelling in the Highlands of Scotland – should you wish to go on a guided tour be sure to check out our latest offerings on our website.