Scotland Weather, climate and geography

Weather & climate

Best time to visit

Scotland is generally colder than the rest of the UK, especially in the more northerly regions. The west tends to be wetter and warmer than the cool, dry east. In upland areas, snow is common in winter, and fog and mist may occur at any time of year. The five Scottish ski areas are usually open from December/January to April, but as snow accumulations come and go with the varying temperatures, check ahead to make sure the lifts are running. If there’s been late-season snow, skiing sometimes continues into May.

Springtime sees the Highlands wake from their barren winter slumber, and come alive with wild flowers and fresh green shoots; August sees a striking landscape dripping in purple Scottish heather; autumn brings a rush of gold and crimson leaves.

The busiest tourist season is July and August, when schools are on holiday and when many summer festivals occur (including the Edinburgh Festival in August).

Required clothing

Similar to the rest of the UK, according to season. In autumn, winter and often well into spring you’ll need a warm jacket. Although temperatures rarely dip below freezing during the day in winter thanks to the warming Gulf Stream, overnight frost is common. (You should expect daytime freezing temperatures at altitude however.) Summer can see temperatures hit the mid-20s °C (mid-70s °F) on occasion, but this is the exception rather than the rule, so you’ll generally need at least a light sweater and probably a light jacket too.

The Scottish weather is unpredictable and changeable though, so you could easily find yourself needing an umbrella and warm coat one day and a T-shirt and sunhat the next. Wherever you’re travelling, you should definitely take a waterproof jacket (and trousers too if you’re hiking in the hills). You might be lucky and hit a heatwave, but chances are you’ll need warm clothing in the Highlands, even in summer.

Geography

Scotland consists of the southern Lowland area, a region of moorland and pastoral scenery (where most of the population is concentrated) and the northern Highlands, dominated by the Grampian Mountains and the Northwest Highlands. Ben Nevis, at 1,344m (4,409ft) is the highest peak in the British Isles. Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, lies in the southeast of the country on the Firth of Forth, while Glasgow, its largest metropolis, is situated on the River Clyde around 72km (45 miles) to the west. Dundee and Aberdeen are both located on the east coast. Scotland’s longest river is the Tay, which courses a route of 193km (120 miles) from the western Highlands through Perth and into the North Sea at the Firth of Tay, immediately south of Dundee.

Scotland’s coastline is exceptionally beautiful, particularly the west coast, which is indented with lochs. Off the west coast there are many islands, the largest of which are Skye and Lewis, the latter being part of the Outer Hebrides. The archipelagos of Orkney and Shetland lie to the northeast of the Scottish mainland; Orkney is directly across the Pentland Firth from John O'Groats, while Shetland lies 80km (50 miles) further northeast.

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