The summer months of June, July and August are regarded as high season, and can be the best time to visit, although local school holidays also make July and early August the busiest period. While the locals celebrate a single day of bright sunshine as “glorious”, the weather at this time is, at best, unpredictable; however, days are generally mild or warm and, most importantly, long, with daylight lingering until 9pm or later. August in Edinburgh is Festival time, which dominates everything in the city and means accommodation is hard to come by. Elsewhere, events such as Highland Games, folk festivals or sporting events – most of which take place in the summer months – can tie up accommodation, though normally only in a fairly concentrated local area. If you’re out and about in the countryside throughout the summer, you won’t be able to avoid the clouds of small biting insects called midges, which can be a real annoyance on still days, particularly around dusk.
Commonly, May and September throw up weather every bit as good as, if not better than, the months of high summer, so this is generally regarded as the best time to visit. You’re less likely to encounter crowds or struggle to find somewhere to stay, and the mild temperatures combined with the changing colours of nature mean both are great for outdoor activities, particularly hiking. Note, however, that September is prime stalking season for deer, which can disrupt access over parts of the Highlands if you’re hiking, fishing or riding a mountain bike.
The spring and autumn months of April and October bracket the season for many parts of rural Scotland. A large number of attractions, tourist offices and guesthouses often open for business on Easter weekend and shut up shop after the school half-term in mid-October. If places do stay open through the winter it’s normally with reduced opening hours; this is the best time to pick up special offers at hotels and guesthouses. Note too that in more remote spots public transport will often operate on a reduced winter timetable.
Winter days, from November through to March, occasionally crisp and bright, are more often cold, gloomy and all too brief, although Hogmanay and New Year has traditionally been a time to visit Scotland for partying and warm hospitality – something which improves as the weather worsens. While even tourist hotspots such as Edinburgh are notably quieter during winter, a fall of snow in the Highlands will prompt plenty of activity around the ski resorts.
A former Rough Guides Managing Editor, Keith Drew has written or updated over a dozen Rough Guides, including Costa Rica, Japan and Morocco. As well as writing for The Telegraph, The Guardian and BRITAIN Magazine, among others, he also runs family-travel website