The Best Time to Visit Edinburgh – An Insider’s Guide

The Best Time to Visit Edinburgh – An Insider’s Guide

Edinburgh‘s northern location ensures that the Scottish capital is always at the mercy of the elements. Even in summer, you can be hit by thunderstorms and high winds, while in winter, the days are short, cold, and blustery.

But brave the weather, and you can hit a sweet spot in the off-season, beating the high summer prices and inevitable crowds. This is a city I’ve seen in the rain and sleet and in the summer sunshine (I was born in Scotland, even if I’ve spent most of my life south of the border in England), and as long as you’re prepared, you can have a fantastic time all year round. 

In winter, experience the festive cheer at the Christmas markets, before celebrating Hogmanay and Burns Night with the locals. In spring, hike to Arthur’s Seat, and in August, embrace the chaos of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, then keep reading as I break down the best time to go to Edinburgh.

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When is the best time to visit Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is one of the most popular destinations in the UK – and for good reason – but in my opinion, there’s no single “best time to visit Edinburgh,” as this largely depends on what you’re looking to experience in the city. 

For example, August is one of the busiest months of the year, and if you want to see the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, then you’re going to have to endure large crowds and high accommodation prices (but it’s worth it!). 

Equally, December and January have some of the worst weather of the year, but the city is awash with Christmas markets and festive cheer, which more than account for the dull skies and cold temperatures. 

For an excellent all-round experience, the shoulder seasons are the best times to visit Edinburgh. February and March are quiet compared to Christmas and Easter, while autumn offers a reprieve from the packed summer season. From festivities to hiking, here are my top picks on when to visit Edinburgh!


Festivities – December/January 

Best Time to Visit Edinburgh for Festivities: December, January

December and January are the best times of year to visit Edinburgh if you’re looking to embrace the city’s festive season. Sure, the weather is cold – with temperatures dropping as low as freezing in January – and the days are short, but with Christmas, Hogmanay, and Burns Night on the calendar, it’s a great time to be here. 

From late November onwards, Edinburgh’s Christmas markets fill the city with festive cheer. The Royal Mile is illuminated by light displays and framed by Christmas cheers, while East Princes Street Gardens and Grassmarket are both home to excellent markets. 

Hogmanay is the Scottish celebration marking the end of the old and the start of the New Year. Taking place on December 31, big parties and events spill over onto January 1 and, in some cases, January 2. Edinburgh holds an epic torch-lit parade, which culminates in the burning of a Viking longship that remembers the country’s Norse history.

At the end of the month, Burns Night brings a little cheer and poetry to Edinburgh, as Scotland’s most famous writer, Robert Burns, is celebrated with whisky-drinking abandon on January 25. 


The best time to avoid the crowds – February 

When to Visit the Edinburgh, the Best Time to Avoid the Crowds: February

If you’re looking to avoid the peak season crowds, then unfortunately, you’re going to have to brave Edinburgh’s infamously unpredictable weather. When the January festivities are over, the Scottish capital quietens down, and February is my top pick for the best time to visit Edinburgh for a crowd-beating trip. 

Temperatures still reach freezing in February, but towards the end of the month, things can pick up (ever so slightly!), and highs of 9°C (48°F) aren’t uncommon. It will rain, so be prepared with a rain jacket, warm clothes, and an umbrella.

February is the perfect time to visit Edinburgh’s indoor attractions, and on those rainy days, I recommend making a beeline for sights like the National Museum of Scotland, The Scotch Whisky Experience, and the Scottish National Gallery


Museum Lovers – March 

Best Time to Go to Edinburgh for Museum Lovers: March

March is one of the best times to visit Edinburgh for a shoulder season experience. You’ll miss the winter crowds, enjoy the first sunny days in spring (I hope!), and skip the Easter high season that’s soon to follow. 

The weather in March is also best described as unpredictable, so again, pack plenty of warm clothes and waterproofs. March is the perfect month for museum lovers though, and while the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle are sure to be windy, you can escape those rainy days by exploring the castle’s indoor sections, including the National War Museum.

Learn about Scottish history – from the prehistoric era to the present – at the National Museum of Scotland, or delve into the lives of the royal family at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Then there’s the Scottish Parliament, St. Giles’ Cathedral, and the Museum of Edinburgh. And if it’s still raining, why not pop into one of Edinburgh’s historic pubs – my favorite is The World’s End – for a pint of ale and a spot of haggis and neeps? 


Hiking – May

Best Time to Visit Edinburgh for Hiking: May

Edinburgh might not be the first destination that comes to mind when you think of hiking in Scotland. After all, the country is home to endless lochs and highland peaks like Ben Nevis, but what I love most about the city is how connected it is to nature. 

Take a walk along the Golden Mile and you’ll soon find yourself in Holyrood Park. This large outdoor area is right on the edge of the city, and in the middle, Arthur’s Seat offers an exceptional panorama of Edinburgh. This ancient volcanic plug is an easy day hike from the city, and in my opinion, the perfect time to visit is May.

This is when Scotland’s short summer is getting into full swing, but it’s still not peak season. Temperatures can hit highs of 15°C (59°F) – which is scorching hot for Scotland – while rainy days are few and far between. 

Arthur’s Seat isn’t the only hike in Edinburgh either. You can also tackle the excellent walk to Calton Hill while the coastline around Leith on the Firth of Forth is exceptionally beautiful. 


Edinburgh Fringe Festival – August

When to Visit Edinburgh for Edinburgh Fringe Festival: August

August is arguably the best time to go to Edinburgh. It’s also the busiest month of the year, but it’s well worth braving the crowds when the Fringe Festival is in town.

The world’s largest performing arts festival consumes Edinburgh for the entire month of August, as thousands of performers, musicians, comedians, artists, and actors descend on the city to showcase their talents to the world. The scale of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has to be seen to be believed, and every venue, arts center, pub, and bar in the city has a constant stream of events. 

The Edinburgh Fringe is famed for its up-and-coming acts, and many of the UK’s best comedians have made their names here – often giving free shows in pubs across the city. There are ticketed events too, including big-name acts, while the city has a festival-like atmosphere all through August.

Accommodation prices are sky-high during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so book well in advance for the best deals. 


Distilleries – All Year Round!

Best Time to Go to Edinburgh for Distilleries: All Year Round

You can’t visit Edinburgh without enjoying a wee dram of whiskey, and for those of us who enjoy the finer things in life, you’ll be happy to hear the distilleries are open all year round. In fact, a whiskey tasting or distillery tour is an activity I’d recommend in any season, regardless of whether the sun is shining or the rain is pouring. 

In the Old Town, The Scotch Whisky Experience is a classic (if touristy) place to learn about centuries of distilling history. You’ll learn about the processes behind whiskey production, see one of the world’s largest whiskey collections (home to 3,384 bottles), and then enjoy a tasting in the Amber Restaurant & Whisky Bar.

Get off the beaten track a little and you can visit the Port of Leith Distillery or the Holyrood Distillery.


The worst times to visit Edinburgh

So what are the best times to avoid visiting Edinburgh? Here’s my quick take on the worst times of the year to be in the Scottish capital:

July

Worst Time to Visit Edinburgh: July

July is often cited as one of the best times to visit Edinburgh, but I’d disagree. While the weather is often at its best – with temperatures reaching highs of 29°C (68°F) and lots of sunny days – it’s also the start of the summer peak season. 

You’ll be jostling with crowds, especially when the British school holidays officially begin halfway through the month, and you’ll be paying high prices for flights and accommodation before the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has even begun. 

November 

Worst Time to Visit Edinburgh: November

One of my least favorite times of the year to visit Edinburgh is November. It’s cold, dark, inevitably rainy, and you’ve got none of the Christmas cheer that awaits you in December. 

Admittedly, though, this is the low season, and if you don’t mind braving the bad weather, you can score some great deals, especially on accommodation. My advice, though, is to wait until the Christmas markets open at the end of the month!

There you have it! The best time to visit Edinburgh? When will you be planning a trip to the Scottish capital?


Author

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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