When it comes to choosing the best time to plan a vacation in the Scottish Highlands, there really isn’t just one answer for everyone. There are so many wonderful things to see and do in the Highlands, and each season offers something unique. While many people visit Scotland for hiking and outdoor pursuits, some may be here to experience the country’s world-class gastronomy. Others may want to spend their time hitting the whiskey trail, and others to soak up the magical atmosphere at Christmas or to go on a good old Scottish pub crawl.
If you ask us, there isn’t a bad time to be here. On our beautiful 60,000-acre Corrour Estate, there’s plenty to keep you busy no matter the weather. And there are lots of things to do in the nearby area by Fort William or further afield. The best time to visit the Scottish Highlands depends on a lot of different factors. Here’s our guide to help you plan your trip.
The Climate in Scotland
Scotland’s climate is generally cool and wet, with no extreme variations throughout the year. Influenced by the North Atlantic Drift, a warm sea current from the Caribbean, Scotland’s coastline manages to stay ice-free in winter. But due to the low pressure systems from the Atlantic Ocean and the hilly landscape, Scotland is generally cloudier than England. There are also no exceptional weather events such as tornadoes, droughts or widespread floods. However, the weather here is known to be very unpredictable.
There are four distinct seasons in Scotland, but temperatures be changeable from day to day. There’s a very common saying here that goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” It’s possible to experience four seasons in one day at times, and the weather can change dramatically from one location to another.
This is also the case with the mountains, where in springtime it will start to warm on the ground but mountain tops are still covered in snow. For anyone traveling here to take on one of the great peaks (such as Ben Nevis), packing for all seasons will be essential. By the time you approach the summit, you could be feeling the chill, even if it’s scorching hot at the bottom.
Rainfall tends to vary across the country, but the western Highlands is one of the wettest areas in Europe, with an annual rainfall up to 4,577 mm (180.2 in). Eastern Scotland has less than 870 mm (34.3 in) each year, and this area includes the city of Inverness, the Highlands capital. So the amount of rain very much depends on where you are traveling too. Nonetheless, waterproofs and an umbrella is recommended from summer to winter.
SPRING: March – May
Spring is one of the best times to visit Scotland, particularly if you want to witness the country in bloom. This is when the hills and forests exhibit their lushest greens, and when gardens and parks are thriving with new flowers and shrubbery. This is also an ideal time for all outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, fishing, golfing, sea-kayaking or canoeing on the lochs. By late March, temperatures will start to warm but the summer crowds are nowhere to be seen.
If you don’t want to visit the Highlands during the peak tourist period, the shoulder season is best. By planning a pre-summer vacation, you can avoid the influx of families with children, and take in the glorious views in peace and quiet. While in some popular areas such as Fort William or Inverness, it can be busy all year round, finding accommodation or booking tours is always much easier in the spring.
Temperatures are cool at this time of year. Expect highs of 8°C and lows of 3°C in March, highs of 11°C and lows of 5°C in April, and highs of 14°C and lows of 7°C in May. If you want the best weather, arrive late in the season as temperatures start to increase. April and May tend to be quite dry too, but spring showers may be unavoidable. If you’re heading out, be sure to bring an umbrella with you.
Where to Go:
With these months being much quieter than the summer, this is the perfect time to head to some of the Highlands’ most famous towns and cities. Inverness, the Highlands capital, has plenty of attractions for all ages. From museums and galleries to shopping and nightlife, you’ll find something to suit everyone.
Another great area to check out is Fort William and the surrounding region. Known to many as the ‘Gateway to the Highlands’, and a popular base for those wishing to take on Ben Nevis, there’s always something going on here. Our luxury lodge accommodation is less than an hour away by car.
Things to Do:
There’s no better time to explore the great outdoors! The weather is ideal for stepping out, but not too hot for taking on a long-distance challenge. In Fort William and Lochaber, there are endless trails to discover. But if you want conquer the country’s tallest peak, Ben Nevis is a must. The average time to complete Ben Nevis is 7-9 hours, with the climb to the top taking around 4 hours. For something less taxing but just as invigorating, we can arrange guided mountain walks around or near our 60,000-acre estate.
SUMMER: June – August
The summer months are glorious in Scotland. Although the country rarely experiences extremes in temperature, there have been summers here that have been very hot. With clear skies and sunny weather, the views will be spectacular. And with more daylight hours and often extended twilight, there’s plenty of time for vacationers to explore. The months of July and August are the busiest in Scotland, and it can be hard to find accommodation. This is why we always recommend booking in advance, especially if you are planning a vacation in the summer.
Towns and villages fill up with families as the school term ends and people break up for the summer holiday. This is also a popular time with hikers, so popular trails can get quite crowded.
Expect average highs of 16°C and lows of 10°C in June, and average highs of 17°C and lows of 12°C in July and August. However, it’s important to remember that Scottish weather has a tendency of being predictable, and highs of over 20°C are common in some parts. Record highs of 33°C were recorded in 2018 so some days you may find it to be very hot so some days you may find it to be very hot.
Rain showers can still happen in the summer too, with early summer having quite a lot of rainfall, particularly in the western Highlands. So make sure you pack clothing for all weather possibilities – for hikers, lightweight packable waterproof jackets are essential.
Where to Go:
There are so many places you go during the summer, but we especially love being by the water in the summer. Loch Lomond and Loch Ness are perhaps the most famous destinations, where a range of water sports can be enjoyed. Other lochs that you won’t want to miss are Loch Awe, Loch Earn, Loch Rusky, Loch Maree, Loch Arkaig and Loch an Eilein. You should also take the ferry trip from Mallaig to Isle of Skye which runs frequently in the summer.
Things to Do:
We can arrange a number of fun activities in the summer, including things like archery, abseiling or Segway adventures. This is also the best time of year to walk around the quaint little Highland villages or to visit the beautiful castles. And of course, summer is a favorite season for hikers. Some hiking highlights include Glen Nevis which is accessible from Fort William and is one of the prettiest glens during clear skies, The Steall Falls and the gloriously green surrounding countryside, as well as parts of the West Highland Way which can be treacherous in winter.
FALL: September – November
Fall or autumn is one of the finest times to experience the beauty of the Scottish Highlands, with golden hues decorating its parks and forests yet summer crowds dispersing. If you’re planning on going hiking you won’t have to deal with crowded trails, and finding accommodation or booking a table for dinner at a sought-after restaurant is much easier.
The shoulder season is wonderful for travel, and vacations around this time are highly recommended if you love peace and quiet. While autumn foliage strips away the green, wildlife is still very much thriving at this time of year, making the months of September, October and November ideal for walks.
Early September can still be quite warm, but as we approach the end of the month you can expect temperatures to drop. Average highs are around 14°C in September with lows of 10°C. In October, average highs are 12°C and lows are 7°C, while November can be chilly with highs of 8°C and lows of 4°C. The later you travel, the colder it will get. So be sure to pack plenty of warm clothing and don’t forget your hat, scarf and gloves for outdoor pursuits.
Where to Go:
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs is one of the dreamiest regions to explore when the leaves start to fall. This vast nature reserve offers some of the most stunning autumnal views. Corrour Lodge is located less than 3 hours from Loch Lomond and takes you down the famous A82 Glencoe Pass.
Things to Do:
If you need somewhere to warm up when it’s cold and wet outside, you’ll find many pubs in our Highlands towns. Seasonal food is outstanding at this time of year, so whether you’re dining at a local pub or enjoying a taster menu at a Michelin star establishment, you’ll be sure to eat well. You can also explore many parts of the Scottish Highlands by train, with the famous Sleeper Train setting off from London and stopping off at a number of destinations such as Fort William, Inverness and further afield.
WINTER: December – February
Although, summer is the most popular season for a Scottish vacation, we implore you not to discount the Highlands in wintertime. Chilly it may be, but this is when our wonderful country is at its most atmospheric. Towns and cities really come to life at this time of year, particularly for those looking to get festive and celebrate with a glass of whisky. From lochs covered in layers of fog and atmospheric photo opportunities to magical winter walks and amazing seasonal dishes to get your taste buds on, winter is fantastic in its own right.
The winter months can be cold, but Scotland’s climate doesn’t experience anything too extreme. Expect average highs of 7°C and comfortable lows of 3°C in December, highs of 6°C and lows of 2°C in January, and highs of 7°C and lows of 3°C again in February. While it can reach freezing or below, wrapping up warm and packing ample layers should be enough for a decent hike.
Where to Go:
Inverness has one of the best Christmas Markets in Scotland, so if you’re here for some festive mulled wine and shopping make your way to the Highland capital. Our closest major town, Fort William, also completely transforms in December, with a dazzling lit-up High Street and a lively Christmas switch-on event taking place each year. Also not to be missed is the town of Oban, home to some of the finest seafood in the country and the annual Oban Winter Festival.
Things to Do:
Winter is one of the best times of year to go whisky tasting. Many distilleries open year-round and there are many whisky bars and pubs where you can warm up after a long walk. Some of the best distilleries you can pop into include Pulteney Distillery, Royal Lochnagar Distillery, Tomatin Distillery, Torabhaig Distillery and Fettercairn Distillery.
Contact our team to enquire about our luxury lodge accommodation on Corrour Estate. The beautiful Corrour House has been described as “contemporary castle”, with enough room to fit your family or group.