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first time in Scotland

My husband and I are planning our first trip to Scotland some time in 2016. I have two questions that I hope to get help with. First, what is a good time of year to go? I'm trying to work out the best combination of the least amount of rain and the warmest temperatures. Second, we are thinking of four nights each in three places, Edinburgh, Glasgow and maybe Inverness. We would like to take trains between places and not rent a car, and I had thought of flying into Edinburgh and out of Glasgow, with somewhere in the Highlands in between, but am not sure if Inverness is the best choice. We like towns better than country scenery. Any suggestions on both the time of year and the itinerary would be helpful. Thanks very much.
Rina

Posted by
1188 posts

We went to Scotland in September and the weather was pretty good with heather on hills. October is a little too late as a lot of the historic sites start closing

scotlandThe last time we went in April and there was light rain and even some snow in the higher elevations. May might be better. I avoided Summer because we wanted to avoid Tourist season...but if you want to go to the Festivals that is when they are...make early reservations. Airfares are usually higher then. The airport you choose can depend on what international flights land where. Edinburgh and Glasgow are not that far apart no car needed with public transportation available. Inverness would be more enjoyable if you did have your own car. You can take tours out of both cities depending on your interests.

Posted by
3418 posts

We loved Scotland in July. Temps were good, not too hot and rain was not a big issue. We loved Inverness. It makes a great base for day trips. Aviemore is also a good base. It is more a village, than a town though. It is in the Cairngorm mountains- right at the foot of Mt. Cairngorm. We stayed at the Cairngorm hotel- right across the street from the train station. It looks like a miniature castle outside and a Scottish hunting lodge inside. In Inverness, we stayed at the Royal Highlander. It is attached to the rail station and is beautiful- they used the lobby staircase as a model for the original Titanic ship.

Trains are easy between the stops you are interested in. We used them (and the occasional local bus) all the time- we never drove in the UK (more than 40 trips, by the way). Personally, I'd give Edinburgh 2 days, then head to Aviemore (easy train ride of about an hour) for 2 to4 days (lots of my favorite distilleries are easy to visit from Aviemore by train or bus), then to Inverness (about 45 min. by train) for 4 + days (lots of wonderful day trips- ask if interested), then on to Glasgow (another short train ride) for 2 days.

But that's just my personal preferences.

Feel free to let us know more about your interests, and we'll all share what we can.

Posted by
5654 posts

Country guidebooks in including the Rick Steve's books and Lonely Planet books have historical climate and weather data. We like May for UK walking holidays because May tends to be the driest month for the west coast. The Edinburgh monthly rain distribution is more uniform. And the latter summer months are warmer than May (which is not desirable for trekkers). Check the weather/climate charts and decide for yourself. Note that daylight hours shorten after summer solstice.

Now that said, the usual for Scottish weather is change and there in no truly dry month. Over a week's stay getting wet at least one day is the norm. And if you are a town person, wet weather will only be a minor inconvenience as you dart from place to place. Different story if you are crossing a Scottish moor in an afternoon thunderstorm.

Posted by
1291 posts

Weather wise the driest and warmest months are the same, the summer months. July has an average of around 20 degrees Celcius in Glasgow. If you come in June and July there are also the endless days where sunrise is very early, sunset late and in places it doesn't get really dark.

Posted by
81 posts

I'd normally recommend more time in the Highlands, but if you're more into towns/cities then it's probably better to spend time in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

I wouldn't personally spend more than 2 days maximum in Inverness, it's nice enough but it's not that big and there isn't necessarily that much to see in the town itself. If you really want to go there then I'd spend a bit of time stopping off somewhere like Aviemore or Pitlochry on the way up. I'd also maybe consider the W Highlands instead, i.e. the scenic W Highland rail line from Glasgow to Ft William/Mallaig or a train/bus to somewhere like Oban for a couple of days where you could take a ferry to the likes of Mull.

Other nice towns include the likes of Stirling (daytrip by train from Edinburgh or Glasgow) and St Andrews, which offers a lot more than just golf - this can be done as a day trip from Edinburgh or it might be nice to overnight here.

If you can get an open jaw ticket into one airport and out the other for a good price then go for it - however the two cities are pretty close and easy to travel between, so it's reasonably easy and cheap to travel from one to the other to catch a flight as long as you're not flying early in the morning. As a result it's may not worth paying a big premium for an open jaw. Depending where you're located, your choice may be influenced by which has direct flights to where, or just by the cheapest/quickest routings.

As mentioned, May/June is a good time to go, passable weather but the touristy places like Edinburgh are not so crowded. Eafly September is not too bad either, although English schools may still be on holiday so some places may still be quite busy.

Posted by
453 posts

we did Edinburgh, Ft. William, Isle of Skye 2014 from October 12 thru October 23rd. The weather was good, sometimes we needed a jacket, most often we did not, it rained a few days but never set in for the whole day, you expect rain in the highlands so we had rain gear and were prepared. We found everything open that we wanted to see, sites, museums, etc, all the B&B's and restaurants we hoped for were open and running, most were not at all crowded. I prefer the fall when the crowds are low. I cant imagine the countryside being more beautiful than it ws in October but people seem to think other months are better for scenery. We did hiking in the highlands, and walking tours of Edinburgh and October ws great.

Posted by
552 posts

I spent three weeks in Scotland in September a few years ago, and I did get rained on more than once, but only one real downpour. The weather was cool, but not cold. I flew into Edinburgh via Amsterdam (avoid Heathrow if you can), and spent six days seeing the town and doing some guided day trips, one to Hadrian's Wall, and one to the big highland games that take place up in Balmoral the first weekend in Sept. From Edinburgh, though, I rented a car and drove to St. Andrews then headed north making some stops along the way. I only spent one night in Inverness as the town itself doesn't have any big must see sights. The Culloden battle field and visitor center is about a ten or 15 minute drive outside of town, but I'm not sure if there is a bus that will get you there. Since I had the car I'm not sure what day trips are available out of Inverness, but I'm sure there will be something. Otherwise there would be no reason to spend much time in Inverness. I then drove to Skye, and made my way down to Oban from there. Oban would be a good spot to spend a couple of nights to get out to the Isle of Mull. I ended in Glasgow where I turned in the car (and flew out of here via Amsterdam again) and spent four days seeing the town and doing a day trip up to Stirling/Loch Lomond. So, it's easy to find guided day trips out of Edinburgh and Glasgow, but outside of these two places you may find it difficult to see what you want to see, particularly in the highlands. It's why I ended up renting the car for ten days. I was going to do what you are thinking of doing and just take the train everywhere, but it wasn't going to work up north. The train/bus schedules just aren't frequent enough. You will find that driving on the left is quite easy after spending the first day reminding yourself to stay to the left, and I found I didn't encounter any big traffic problems anywhere. With the car you can stay in more affordable B&Bs that tend to be outside of town or away from the train stn. Give it some thought. Look at the Secret Scotland web site, also, some great advice there.

Posted by
5561 posts

I've traveled to Scotland in July, August, and September and I have relatives that have traveled there in May and June. We experienced rain in all of those months. Look at the averages. The lowest number of rainy days are April and May, and July and August have more. But look also at temperature and amount of rain. To be honest, I really think it's the luck of the draw. You may have gorgeous sunny weather in July and cold and wet in May. I've had a really cold day in Inverness in July, and I've also gotten a Scottish sun burn in the same month.

Unless you are really, really fond of cities, I think that your trip is waited too heavily for Glasgow and Edinburgh. But before I advise, I'd like to know what you like about towns vs the countryside. Also, why have you decided on Scotland? A lot of Scotland is about the beautiful scenery, but there is also the music, the history, the whisky, and yes, even the food. :) If you like to visit cities for culture, then you really should consider a full on visit to Edinburgh during the Festival. There is an amazing amount to see and do when the Festival is on. It's really multiple festivals.

I do recommend Inverness. But I recommend it as a base for other travel as well as a place to visit in and of itself. For example, you can take a train ride to Kyle of Lochalsh and see some of the beautiful countryside. You can also take day tours to a wide variety of sights that are within a shorter distance of Inverness, than if you did the tour from Edinburgh. The city itself has good restaurants and music. It is the capital of the highlands in many ways.

Pitlochry is another town to consider. It has the Festival Theatre, a distillery, and the Explorers Garden. Check to see if there is something playing when you are visiting to determine if it makes sense. I went there to attend an Aly Bain concert. You can also do day trips from there to Blair Castle by train.

Pam

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you, everyone. All of that was very helpful. Maybe May would be the best month, in between the lowest rainfall and warmest temperatures, and not too many tourists. And I think Inverness is a good choice for the Highlands because there seem to be several good options for day trips one can do in that area. We can fly into Edinburgh and out of Glasgow (or the other way around) because we'll pay for the flights with frequent-flier miles. We like cities because my husband is a history professor who specializes in pre-modern cities and we just like walking around in old cities. We don't drink whiskey but we do want to hear traditional folk music and I want to see the Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings and exhibits in Glasgow. So I think I'm all set with time of year and towns to stay in. Now I'm going to take my time looking for B&B's and hotels and planning and anticipating! Thanks again.
Rina

Posted by
5561 posts

Hi Rina,

Normally, I'm a huge fan of open jaw, but if there is a big difference in price between open jaw or just picking either Edinburgh or Glasgow to fly in and out of, you should consider not doing the open jaw flight. If you fly into Edinburgh, then I would start my trip in Glasgow. It's probably less than an hour's drive and there is public transit as well. I've generally flown into Glasgow. I've arrived early morning, caught a bus to Glasgow city centre and the train station. Taken the train to Edinburgh, and been checked into my hotel, and sitting in New Town having lunch at noon!

Then you end your trip in the city that you flew into. Glasgow and Edinburgh are so close together and well connected by train service that this it easy to do this. And, by the time you're coming the tunnel work that is disrupting things should be done, right MC????

Pam

Posted by
1291 posts

The tunnel work should well and truely be over by then...

To add to Pam's comment about the airport, the distance wise between the two mean that Edinburgh is more convenient for some people on the eastern edges of the Glasgow area.

Posted by
81 posts

I don't really see any issue with doing an open jaw if it's not costing a lot extra and is coming from frequent flier miles - it saves hassle, particularly if visiting both cities anyway. They are close together, but if you're going to Glasgow it's still easier to land there than have to grab a bus/train from Edinburgh, or vice versa.

You don't mention where your'e located, but the factor that may affect the above is if you can fly non-stop from your location to one city and not the other. Mind you, if you're using FF miles then I guess you'll maybe be focussed on one airline/alliance rather than a specific or non-stop routing.

Posted by
6 posts

I think that we have enough frequent flier miles that there will be no cost to fly into one city and out of the other. Our miles are with United Airlines and we live in Austin, Texas so we will have to fly to wherever United flies from on the East Coast (most likely Newark) and go on from there. United has nonstop flights to both Glasgow and Edinburgh from Newark (I just checked) so we'll decide which to fly in to and out of based on the flight times and connections to the Austin flight.

Posted by
552 posts

What might determine where you fly into and out of is the type of restrictions your frequent flyer plan has. I was more than frustrated by mine when trying to book flights for my trip to Italy later this year. I was trying to fly into Venice, and out of Rome, but was coming up with no results. Turns out my air miles program doesn't allow that type of open jaw trip, they require you to fly out of the same airport you fly into. All that backtracking made no sense, and neither did their explanation, and I told them so, and then cashed in my air miles points on a new camera and arranged the flights on my own.

Posted by
6 posts

United Airlines is not pleasant in many ways but their frequent flyer plan seems okay. In April we flew to Istanbul for several days, then to Barcelona for a week, then back to the US, all with frequent flyer miles with no problems. So I expect it will be okay for us to fly into Glasgow and out of Edinburgh with no extra charge. We'll see. I'm going to check into it in the next few days.

Posted by
39 posts

You probably know that the Glasgow School of Art, CRMcK's masterpiece suffered a devastating fire about 16 months ago. Good exhibits at the Hunterian Museum, Univ of Glasgow.