Scotland in Winter: How cold does it get in Scotland?

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Scotland is one of my favorite countries on the planet.

Most people think you can’t visit Scotland in winter—but those people are wrong. Scotland in winter can be brilliant, but you just have to take precautions, do some planning, and know what you can and can’t do.

So to help you prepare, I’ve put together this article.

In it, I’ve answered some of the most common winter-related Scottish travel questions. Read on for lots of practical help, you lucky boys and girls!

how cold does it get in Scotland

How Cold Does It Get in Scotland?

That completely depends upon where you go. But here’s some good news: it probably won’t be as cold as you think.

Broadly speaking, Scottish winters aren’t as cold as lots of other European winters (though some areas can admittedly be really cold during particularly frosty winters).

In winter months, in some of the most commonly-visited places, Scottish temperatures drop to an average of around:

  • Glasgow: 3.8°C / 38.8°F
  • Edinburgh: 4°C / 39.2°F
  • Inverness: 4°C / 39.2°F
  • Fort William: 1.5°C / 34.7°F
  • Portree: 4.8°C / 40.7°F

Broadly speaking, the lows and highs don’t deviate much from the above, so you can usually expect those types of temperatures. That said, during particularly cold years, temperatures can sometimes be freakishly different, but that usually only affects hilly, mountainous regions.

Scotland’s coldest destination is (often!) Braemar, in Cairngorms National Park, which is known for freezing temperatures and chilly winters. During the middle of winter, temperatures here drop to around 1.5°C / 34.7°F, but it’s sometimes way colder. The UK’s lowest-ever temperature was recorded at Braemar, sitting at −27.2 °C (−17.0 °F).

So if you want to avoid the coldest parts of Scotland in winter, avoid the most mountainous areas.

No matter where you are in Scotland, the temperatures usually feel lower than they really are. That’s because the nation is wet, windy and humid.

When is Winter in Scotland?

Winter in Scotland runs from December until February. Fall ends in the middle of December, while spring begins in the middle of March.

That said, the periods leading up to winter, and following winter, can be (and feel!) almost as cold.

What is the Coldest Month in Scotland?

Scotland’s coldest month is usually January.

In Edinburgh, average January temperatures are around 4°C / 39.2°F. Edinburgh January highs typically sit at 7°C / 45°F, with lows around 1°C / 34°F.

The other coldest-month contenders are December and February. Temperatures in those months are usually very slightly higher than January. February is usually the warmest winter month, with Edinburgh averages sitting at around 4.5°C / 40.1°F.

Again, the more north you go and the more mountainous it gets, the colder it’ll be. So these temperatures are a good estimate, but you definitely shouldn’t expect to find them everywhere.

Does Scotland Get a Lot of Snow?

Edinburgh covered in snow
Edinburgh covered in snow

No, not really. There’s a relatively good chance of snow in Scotland, but it’s nowhere near as snowy as some other European nations.

On average, Scotland gets snow around 15-20 days a year.

But how much snow you’ll see (if any!) depends on where you go, and how lucky you are. If you go to southern Scotland, you’ll probably not see any snow. But the more north and west you go, the snowier it can get.

Broadly speaking, Scotland’s most mountainous regions are the nation’s snowiest regions. For the entirety of winter, lots of Scotland’s highest peaks are usually covered in snow. So places in and around Ben Nevis, the Cairngorms and Caithness often have lots of snow-capped peaks.

If you want to get good snowy photographs, head to the hilliest regions (pro-tip: the low winter light in Scotland is brilliant for grabbing good snaps).

How Easy is It to Get Around Scotland in Winter?

That depends on where you go.

When snowfall is heavy, for example, the nation’s highest roads are sometimes massively difficult to negotiate—or literally inaccessible. The most famous lofty roads are known as ‘the snow roads’ (I promise I haven’t made that up).

The snow roads are home to one of the best road trips in Scotland. On this brilliant trip, you drive 90 miles (145km) from Blairgowrie to Grantown-on-Spey, crossing the highest public road in Britain, through the eastern section of the Cairngorms. But you shouldn’t tackle this trip if there’s lots of snow on the ground.

If it’s been snowing heavily, it’s best to avoid the highest roads in Scotland (whatever part of the nation they’re in). Unless you have a good car built for the snow, you’ll probably get stuck. Plan your routes carefully, take your time, and be cautious—you don’t want to spend half of your vacation stuck in a car.

If you’re relying on public transport, you probably won’t have to change your plans. In some countries, public transport is more limited in colder months, but that’s not the case in Scotland—so any public transport journey you can take, you can take it year-round. If the weather is really disruptive, some public transport might be canceled, but that’s the case no matter where you go in the world.

All of that said, it’s worth remembering that public transport in some of Scotland’s more remote areas is very sporadic (or often nonexistent).

For getting around Scotland in the winter, I recommend hitchhiking. That way, you can get around quickly and easily without having to worry about navigating, planning, hiring a car, or driving on the difficult roads. Let the experienced locals do it instead, while you make some friends in the passenger seat.

Is Scotland Cold in Summer?

Good question. It can be—so the rumors you’ve heard are definitely true.

Scottish summers aren’t particularly warm. In summer, average Scottish temperatures in some of the country’s most commonly-visited places sit at around:

  • Glasgow: 14.2°C / 57.5°F
  • Edinburgh: 14.2°C / 57.5°F
  • Inverness: 14.2°C / 57.5°F
  • Fort William: 12.7°C / 54.9°F
  • Portree: 13.2°C / 55.7°F

July is usually the warmest month in Scotland. Average Edinburgh temperatures in July, for example, are typically around 14.2°C / 57.5°F. In July, Edinburgh highs are around 17.2°C / 63°F, while lows are around 11.1°C / 51.9°F

But, again, because Scotland is a rainy, windy and humid place, the temperatures usually feel lower than they are. So no matter what time of year you visit, pack a raincoat and warm clothes, cos you’ll probably need them.

Is Scotland One of the Coldest Countries in the World?

No, it really isn’t. Scotland has a reputation for being colder than it actually is, mainly because (as we’ve just mentioned) it doesn’t get particularly warm summers. And because it’s often rainy and windy.

Yeah, the highs aren’t high, and all temperatures feel lower than they are, but the world definitely has colder countries than Scotland.

So just pack sensibly, and you’ll be alright.

Is Scotland Worth Visiting in Winter?

Creating memories in the Scottish highlands during the winter
Creating memories in the Scottish highlands during the winter

Yes, 100%. It’s better in the warmer months (spring and fall are best), but visiting Scotland in winter is better than never visiting at all.

If you can only visit Scotland in winter, you should absolutely visit Scotland in winter.

But be prepared: some attractions, accommodations and eateries close in the colder months, especially in the more remote parts of the nation. On some of the islands, for example, a huge part of the economy relies upon tourism. And when the busy months end, the tourist-heavy eateries and attractions close, because they’ve got no-one to give them money.

So before you set off, if there are any particular places you want to visit (or eat at!), make sure you do your research.

Read also: Best Places to Visit in Scotland in WinterBest Things to do in Scotland in Winter

On the plus side, Scotland has way fewer tourists in winter—so if you’re the type of person who likes peace, quiet and fewer crowds, you’ll love Scottish winters.

Places like Skye, the cities, and the North Coast 500 are much more peaceful and serene in winter, and you don’t have to share the stuff you’re visiting with eight million tour groups.

Is Scotland More Expensive in Winter?

No, Scotland is actually cheaper in the winter.

In winter, you can get great deals on accommodations, because they lower their prices to lure the tourists. Winter months aren’t a popular time to visit, so you can grab some good deals. Sometimes, you can even negotiate lower prices than the ones you see advertised.

Also, as we’ve covered, you’ll probably spend less time visiting attractions in winter, because some of them are closed. So if you spend less time in attractions, and more time exploring the outdoors, you’ll also save more money.

Read also: Scottish Currency: A Beginners Guide

What Can I Do and Visit in Scotland in Winter?

If you’re visiting Scotland in winter, there are loads of great things to do.

As we’ve covered, most of the stuff you can do in summer, you can also do in winter.

But if you’re looking for winter-specific activities and events in Scotland, you have loads of options:

  • Skiing in brilliant resorts, from around December to March (but sometimes a little later)
  • Christmas and Hogmanay (that’s New Year’s!) events. Hogmanay in particular is ridiculously fun
  • Fantastic Christmas markets in cities, towns and villages
  • Rabbie Burns Night, a traditional January celebration of Scotland’s most famous poet
  • Visit the northern lights, in the northern parts of the nation.

For much more information on all of the above and loads more, check out our article on the best things to do in Scotland during winter.

Pro Tips for Visiting Scotland in Winter

  • Let’s kick this list off with some good news: in winter, you don’t need to worry about midges, as they only breed in and around summer. So throw off that headnet, sling your repellent in the trash, and frolic without fear.
  • If you’re visiting Scotland in winter, you should plan a longer vacation. Daylight hours are pretty short, so it’s hard to squeeze lots of action and adventure into your day. During some winter months, you only get around 5 or 6 hours of daylight per day.
  • This might be pretty obvious, but take some good warm clothes. And pack more than you think you need. I recommend a hat, gloves, thermal layers, a good fleece, and as many waterproof things as you have.
  • … and that includes some good waterproof shoes!
  • I love hiking in Scotland during any time of year. And hiking in Scotland can be brilliant even in winter. Plan carefully, and don’t go to places where you’ll be unable to see or navigate, and you’ll still be able to enjoy loads of brilliant hikes.
  • Prepare for changeable weather, and don’t be surprised if the weather doesn’t do what the forecast said it was going to do. If you’re lucky, it might even be better than you think. Probably not though.
  • If you’re going to drive in the more remote parts of Scotland, don’t do it in the dark. Some of the roads are really narrow and windy, and they’re hard enough to negotiate during daylight, especially if you’re not familiar with them.

Final Words and Further Reading

Hopefully that’s covered all the questions you had about visiting Scotland in winter. Thanks for reading!

If you want to know anything else about Scotland, check out our guides such as the best coastal walks in Scotland, things you shouldn’t do in Scotland, and things you shouldn’t say to Scott.

And we also have plenty more. Whatever you want to know about Scotland, we’ve covered it!

Paul McDougal

Paul McDougal

Paul is a handsome and hilarious travel writer and travel journalist from the UK. He’s hiked, hitchhiked and laughed his way through more than fifty countries, and he’s always looking for a new place to call home. Originally from Newcastle, he’s lived all over the UK, spent more than three years in Asia, and most recently lived in Vietnam. Here’s his website.