As someone who has lived in the Highlands for over 20 years any time of year is a great time to visit the Scottish Highlands as there is always something wonderful to see.
Here are some things to help you decide when it’s the best time for you to visit.
Here is what the weather in Inverness is doing now (bear in mind that the Inverness isn’t the Highlands, just a very little part of it)INVERNESS WEATHER
When to Visit the Scottish Highlands – Bear In Mind It’s Huge!
What is the Best Time of Year to Go to the Scottish Highlands?
In terms of weather the Scottish Highlands is spectacular in any season. In terms of visitors, the Highlands is busiest in June, July and August. April and October can be great months to visit in order for it to be a little quieter, with good weather and better value accommodation prices.
The Scottish Highlands is 1/3rd of all the land in Scotland, it’s 1/6th of the UK in fact. It’s the same geographical size as Belgium so it’s pretty big.
That means that the weather is different in different parts of the Highlands.
There are also hundreds of miles of coastline, differing winds and seas as well as hundreds of hills and mountains all of which can affect the weather.
As a general rule, the West Coast is wetter than the east coast. However, the gulf stream reaches part of the West Coast giving a warmer climate in places.
If you are travelling around the Highlands you are likely to experience different weather.
As the saying goes there is no thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing!
Any visit to the Scottish Highlands just needs a little bit of thought and preparation to help cope with whatever weather there is.
Visit the Scottish Highlands and Experience Four Seasons in One Day
Whatever the weather wherever you are in the Highlands it’s likely to change fairly soon. It really can be like having four seasons in one day.
The biggest problem is deciding what to wear!
Some people can be disappointed that it rained during their holiday. It’s probably best to plan to expect some rain when you visit the Scottish Highlands – that’s a little more realistic than hoping for none.
As long as you are prepared the weather shouldn’t be an issue. Below is a list of some things to consider about each of the four seasons, some pros and cons to help you decide when it’s the best time for you to visit.
Visit the Scottish Highlands in Winter for Snow and Sunshine
Winter in the Highlands can be pretty spectacular with frosty mornings, lots of sunshine and heavy snow. It turns the Highlands into a winter wonderland. Snow drips off huge fir trees and covers the mountains. It looks gorgeous.
There can often be bright dry days in the winter making it ideal for exploring. Winter time is great for enjoying cosy fires, winter walks and lovely hot chocolates.
It’s also a great time to get some stunning photographs as the light can often be really bright and clear.
It’s also the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights. This year I saw them with my naked eye – quite a sight to behold. It’s also a great time to see wonderful skies full of stars with the clear cold nights. It sometimes feels like the sky is falling in there are so many stars – just gorgeous.
Temperatures can be cold – minus 10 degrees is not uncommon in the Highlands during winter, with some areas being colder than that, especially if they are higher or more exposed.
Winters can also be challenging in terms of getting around. If you are comfortable driving in icy, snowy or wet conditions then it shouldn’t be a problem. Just ensure you are properly prepared. Allow extra time for travelling and be sensible when planning when and where to travel.
Given the size of the Highlands, the focus for the winter roads team is main roads first. If you are staying somewhere a little more remote you need to be aware that the roads may not be gritted for some time, or perhaps not at all.
Winter is when I visit the Scottish Highlands – or rather visit places I haven’t been before. It looks so completely different to other times of the year. It’s also great to experience the Highlands when they are quieter too.
Visit the Scottish Highlands in Spring for Lambs & Lighter Days
Spring is an amazing time in the Highlands. Lambs start bouncing around the fields. Plants and trees start to grow again and the weather starts to warm.
Springtime lands a little later here in the Highlands due to how far North we are. Our lambs can appear several weeks after lambing in the South of England. Bear in mind that Scotland has a population of 5 million people and 15 million sheep – that’s quite a lot of lambs to see.
The days are starting to be lighter and brighter, the birds are starting to build their nests – it’s just magical. The light in the Highlands is often very clear and bright and Spring is no exception.
There can sometimes be a very cold period in Spring, as well as some spells of snow. A period of rain or snow, when it melts, can mean that rivers and waterfalls look spectacular again.
Whilst the weather is warmer it might still be cool compared to what you are used to and of course, there is a huge amount of variety.
March and April can be a great time to get out exploring if you want to beat the crowds. The roads are quieter, there are fewer visitors and hotel prices can be better value too.
Bear in mind that some things don’t open until April so not everywhere will be open or available.
April is really when the tourism season kicks in. In 2023 the first cruise ship comes into the Highlands in Invergordon on the 1st of April.
Visit the Scottish Highlands in Summer for Longer Days
Summer temperatures in the Highlands are in the low to mid 20 degrees Celsius. Any hotter than that and everyone starts complaining!
Summer is a fantastic time to enjoy the Highlands. The days are long, with an extended twilight that means at the height of summer it barely gets dark. (This can be difficult if you are trying to sleep and your accommodation has very light curtains so I always recommend a sleep mask when travelling.)
Summer is when the most visitors come to the Highlands including many people driving the North Coast 500 route. The North Coast 500 can be quite congested actually!
Hotel prices can be at their highest in summer. There aren’t enough hotels for the demand in summer which can make prices very high at times.
If you are planning trips and activities they are likely to be quite busy – cruises on Loch Ness for example.
Some coaches don’t have air conditioning which can make travelling longer distances a bit uncomfortable if it is hot outside. If you get travel sick then it might be worth checking this.
There are some fantastic beaches to enjoy in the Highlands. However, if you are going in the water either in a loch, river or sea bear in mind that water temperatures can remain quite low here.
Visit the Scottish Highlands in Autumn for Amazing Colours
The colours in the Highlands as Autumn comes in are amazing. It really is stunning. Whichever part of the Highlands you are visiting you are going to have some wonderful scenery to enjoy in Autumn.
Late Autumn into early Winter can often bring more rain. These make the waterfalls and rivers into spectacular torrents. Waterfalls appear in places where there haven’t been any all summer. Rivers sound amazing and the power of the water is wonderful to see.
Autumn can also mean amazing rainbows in the Highlands. We often have to make emergency rainbow stops to take photographs during this period.
Autumn is a great time to see salmon jumping the waterfalls as they head up the rivers to breed.
Temperatures can be surprisingly warm with some lovely bright days too.
Autumn is when the tourism season starts to wind down. Lots of things close around October time so it’s best to check if you are planning lots of visits or activities during your trip.
So which season are you going to come and visit the Scottish Highlands – it’s quite a difficult choice!
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