Generally, the best time to visit the Highlands is from spring to autumn (May to September) when the weather is warmer and drier. However, it ultimately depends on what you want to do. Do you want to go hiking? Or perhaps you like the sound of cosying up in the pub around a roaring fire.
Being so far up in the northern hemisphere, the weather in the Highlands is unpredictable. In fact, Scottish actor, Billy Connolly once said, “There are two seasons in Scotland: June and winter”. This means you’ll need layers and a waterproof jacket no matter what time of year you visit.
Best for: smaller crowds, World Whiskey Month (May), wildflowers and wildlife
Spring weather is unpredictable and temperatures can still be on the chilly side. It usually warms up in April and nature starts bouncing back to life. Daffodils add a splash of yellow to the fields and gorgeous lambs and calves can be seen running around as they become acquainted with their legs.
A perk of visiting in spring is that you’ll beat the summer crowds and hotels won’t be as packed. A notable day for whisky lovers is World Whisky Day on Saturday 20th May – although in Scotland it's often extended into World Whisky Month, so expect a range of Scotch-themed events around the country.
Best for: sunny weather, longer days, Highland Games
Summer is the best time to visit for good weather (but remember, this is Scotland, so there's no guarantee!). Daytime temperatures are pleasant and it doesn’t get dark until about 10 pm (around the June solstice), which is great for hiking and exploring Scotland's great outdoors. The mornings and evenings can be a little fresh, so layer up if you’re heading out early.
Summer is the peak tourist season in Scotland, especially at popular destinations like the Isle of Skye, so booking accommodation ahead is advised. You also need to be prepared for pesky midges – they are notoriously irritating and their bites make your skin itchy, so don't forget insect repellent.
Best for: Autumn foliage, spotting wildlife, fewer tourists
Autumn in the Highlands is a sight to behold with splendid seasonal foliage, especially around the lochs (lakes). September can be hit and miss with the weather – it could be an extended summer or the chilly winter air could arrive early. You'll need an umbrella though, as autumn is one of the wettest seasons. Another thing to note is that some tourist offices and hotels close in October for the low season.
Best for: skiing, thin crowds, Hogmanay
Winter is the wettest, dampest time of year. But hey, it’s all about perspective. Just because it’s cold and dark outside, it doesn’t mean you can’t have an amazing adventure! The first snowfall is usually in November, and the snow-speckled mountains and forests turn the Highlands into a winter wonderland. It's a great time to go skiing or snowboarding in Cairngorms National Park. Or, simply use the cold weather as an excuse to enjoy Scotland's great pub culture.
If you’re in Scotland during the festive period, you’re in for a treat. The Scots really know how to throw a New Year's Eve Party, aka, ‘Hogmanay’. Some attractions and hotels close in the winter so always plan ahead.
Our Scottish Highlands tours