Tips to help you plan your future visit
With the current uncertainty and travel restrictions, I know you may not be expecting to travel to Edinburgh anytime soon. But don’t let that stop you from the pleasure of dreaming and planning your next trip for the future. There’s plenty of time to sit back and enjoy preparing your ideal holiday. With this spirit of optimism for better times ahead, here are a few tips to help you decide when to plan your visit to Edinburgh.
If you’re wondering – ‘When is the best time of year to visit Edinburgh?’ – well naturally the easy answer is ‘any time!’ Edinburgh is absolutely a year-round destination and there’s plenty to see and do here every month. Whether you want to come for a short break, stay longer, or combine a city stay with a tour of Scotland, Edinburgh is the ideal destination. So actually the best time to visit the city will totally depend on you. What are your own personal interests? What would you like to do when you get here?
Most visitors plan their trip for the peak summer months and school holidays. Depending on your interests, it’s well worth considering other times of the year too.
I’ve put 5 questions and answers to help you find the best time for you. In the future all of the popular seasonal events, mentioned below, may not be taking the same format as before. Nobody knows yet, but I’m sure we’ll all adapt and enjoy them in whatever new and creative way they take place.
1. Do you want to avoid the crowds?
If you want to avoid the main crowds, then traditionally the best time to visit the city for a quieter experience is during late Autumn (Fall), Winter and early Spring months, (but not during Easter).
I know the winter and early spring months also have days that are shorter too. The daylight hours are between 7 ½ hours from the end of November down to 7 hours in mid-December. However, after December the light during the day lengthens to 13 hours by the end of March. Shorter days have their advantages too – but more of that later.
Out of season travel might not have been top of your list.
It might not be top of your list, but it’s worth considering an off-peak trip. You can avoid the winter chill by exploring historic places throughout the city, along with enthralling museums and galleries. Edinburgh has some great ones to choose from and they’re open throughout the year. Even better, the queues for popular historic buildings are so much shorter too, leaving you with more time to explore their interesting interiors.
Wrap up warm and you can also enjoy lots of outdoor experiences. There’s nothing better than cold, sunny, crisp days to make you feel fresh and alive. Discover great wintry views and lots of fascinating gems about the city on a private walking tour with me! I’m happy to meet up and tour the city whatever the time of year. Each season has its own highlights. The quieter months mean you can discover the narrow closes and wynds of Old Town Edinburgh peacefully without the crowds. I’ll be following the latest socially distancing rules to keep us all safe. Being outside in your own small family group with a personal guide looks like the best way to safely uncover the secrets of Edinburgh. Have a look at my tours for ideas or contact me – I’m always happy to chat.
As I mentioned above – don’t think that shorter days can’t be fun too. The city hosts plenty of events that take advantage of the longer dark hours. Discover such delights as the incredible themed Chinese lanterns at Edinburgh Zoo or the pretty light show at the Royal Botanic Gardens. In the past there have been city trails to follow with historic buildings lit up with stories and poems. See Edinburgh in a different light – excuse the pun! It can be dramatic, atmospheric and magical.
Afterwards what could be better than to get back to the cosy indoors? Inside you can relax and enjoy a warming dram (a glass of whisky)…or two.. with perhaps a tutored whisky tasting. This is the kind of education everyone enjoys! Or if you prefer, you can indulge in the simple pleasures of a hot chocolate in front of an open fire. By the time you get to March the days are much longer. This means you can make the most of the lighter hours to explore further.
Watch out it can get busy at certain times in Winter
The only exception during winter to avoiding the crowds is around Christmas time, Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) and New Year. People from all over the world come to join in and enjoy the celebrations at Hogmanay. The city hosts 3 days of spectacular events to welcome the New Year with outdoor concerts, torch-lit procession, street party and impressive fireworks from Edinburgh Castle ramparts. Scots love a party and this is one of the biggest of them all. Of course the price for accommodation reflects this popularity and is more expensive.
Throughout the festive period there’s the ever-popular Christmas Market at East Princes Street Gardens. The tantalizing smells coming from its many food and hot drink stalls are hard to resist. If you’re looking for a gift then there’s a varied array of arts and crafts here too. Part of the market has rides and attractions, including a maze for children.
2. Want to see any Edinburgh Festivals?
Edinburgh is the world’s leading festival city and so you’re spoilt for choice throughout the year.
If you want to experience the biggest and most extraordinary of them then the time to visit is in August. This is when several festivals take place within the city. The most famous is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the International Festival of performing arts. The Edinburgh Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival. It’s also the second biggest event in the world after the Olympics. This gives you some idea of its scale and just why it takes over the entire city. Taking place at the same time is the wonderful Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square. Not just for adults but for all the family. Children have their own book tent, workshops and talks too. It attracts renowned authors from all over the world as well as top class local Scottish writers too.
During August the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo also takes place on the Esplanade with Edinburgh Castle as its spectacular backdrop. This has nothing to do with skin tattoos at all. Rather it’s the performance of a host of British and international military bands and displays from the British Armed Forces. There are massed pipes and drums with traditional dancers from Scotland and abroad. At the end of the show a lone piper plays from the castle ramparts and there’s a fireworks display. It’s an amazing event and if you wish to see it, make sure to book well in advance. Again – it may take a different format in future, so check their website for new details.
August is undoubtedly the busiest time to visit Edinburgh. However, the upbeat party mood is incredible and infectious, giving the city a real buzz. Concert venues and theatres are usually always packed. That’s true of every other style of venue in the city hosting a play, a show or event too. There are street performers of every type and description and musicians entertaining crowds of pedestrians, adding to the atmosphere. Because of the popularity of these festivals, the price for accommodation is higher and availability more limited. To get the best deals it’s definitely better to book well ahead if you can.
Edinburgh festivals don’t only take place in August.
If you want to experience a festival in Edinburgh that’s a little quieter than those in August then a fun alternative is to visit at the end of April. This is when you can enjoy the exuberant Beltane Fire Festival. This year they had a virtual festival. Fingers crossed for next year when we’ll hopefully be able to experience the real thing again. In my May blog I talk about the traditions and folklore surrounding this ancient Celtic festival. In Edinburgh the reinvented celebrations take place on Calton Hill in the city on 30th April.
Other festivals include the Edinburgh International Science Festival. This was the first public science festival in the world and is still one of Europe’s largest. It takes place at Easter with lots of fun for all the family. With children as its focus there’s the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival in May. This is a festival of performing arts for children and young people. For film buffs there is the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June. It’s a longstanding city festival which has been taking place since 1947. For foodies there are two food festivals from July and August, the Blues and Jazz Festival takes place from mid-July and the engrossing Scottish International Storytelling Festival is in October. Then at the end of the year there’s Hogmanay as mentioned above.
3. Do you plan to combine a trip to the city with a tour of Scotland?
Edinburgh is a great launch pad for exploring the rest of Scotland. You can do this at any time of year, but the months with more daylight hours and warmer weather (well…at least not snow or ice if possible) means it’s much easier for taking a self-drive tour. With more daylight hours you can literally see much more each day and enjoy the views on scenic routes. The best time will be between May and end of September. From May onwards all of the Scottish historic sites and castles are usually open for business. Likewise open are hotels and B&B accommodation throughout Scotland.
April after the Easter holidays is also a good time to visit. Occasionally there may still be one or two privately owned attractions around Scotland that are not open, but most are.
May, June and later in September are particularly good times to visit and tour. It’s a quieter time than peak season and the weather is usually pleasant. Although when it comes to our wonderful Scottish weather, always be ready for 4 seasons in one day! No matter what the season, the weather is very variable! Local schools are still in term time during these months, so Scots are not holidaying themselves. School holidays in Scotland start at the beginning of July and usually end around the middle of August.
Scotland is not a particularly big country and there are certain places and areas that are popular on visitors ‘must see’ lists. This is worth taking into consideration when travelling at peak summer season in July and August. If you travel a little earlier or later in the year it should make it easier to get accommodation in more remote and scenic areas of the Highlands. It’ll also be easier to get accommodation in Edinburgh too. If you prefer to visit during July and August, just try to book early and have all your arrangements sorted.
4. If you do want to visit Edinburgh and then tour Scotland – what do you want to see and do?
Here are some activities, events and interests around Scotland that might help you decide when you’d like to visit.
- Highland Games – The majority of traditional Highland games take place between June and September. The Braemar Gathering which members of the Royal Family traditionally attend, is on the first Saturday in September. Some games are held as early as May.
- Bird Watching – If you’re interested in wild birds, then Ospreys are on their nests from April. Chicks hatch in May and Ospreys stay in Scotland until July/August. From April to July wild Puffins nest on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth, leaving in August. There is a large colony of these sweet, comical birds and you can see them up close on the island with boat trips going from Anstruther in Fife. There are many other seabirds to be seen and a large colony of grey seals too. This is an easy day trip from Edinburgh.
- Flowers –Wild Scottish heather blooms on the mountain hills in August and sometimes into early September – depending on the weather conditions.
Wild Gorse (also called whin) is a fantastic yellow bush which lights up the hills, roadsides and hedges from April to May. Its close cousin yellow broom blooms at the same time and a little afterwards, even into June. In Edinburgh you’ll see beautiful cherry blossom in the city parks towards the end of April and into early May.
If you’d like to visit gardens on your tour then May is a lovely flowering time with late spring flowers. There are also plenty of beautiful flowers during the summer months throughout Scotland. The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is a lovely place to explore.
- Castles – The majority of historic castles are open all year through, apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year usually. Some privately owned castles in Scotland don’t open until after Easter, or from May onwards. They may also close earlier at the beginning of October.
- Distilleries – If you’re a whisky lover you may want to visit a distillery…or two…to see how Scotland’s national drink is made. The majority of distilleries are open nearly all year. However most have what’s called a ‘silent season’ which is the time that they stop whisky production and carry out essential maintenance. Often this can be during July or August, but each distillery decides individually when and for how long. If there is a particular distillery that you really want to see, then check first if it’s in full production when you plan to visit. Don’t miss out on the full impact of the whisky aromas, the heat and following the live process on a guided tour during production.
If you’d like to go to a whisky festival there are plenty throughout Scotland. The Islay Festival in May is very popular and combines music with malt. You’ll need to plan ahead as the island accommodation books up quickly. The Strathspey Whisky Festival from end of April until beginning of May is also popular. Alternatively simply stay in Edinburgh during a weekend in October this year to enjoy Edinburgh’s Whisky Stramash. Although originally scheduled to have been 23 & 24 May, because of Covid-19, it has been postponed to October.
5. Short city break or longer stay?
Edinburgh is the perfect city for either a short break or longer stay. There is so much to keep you entertained and interested during either a short or longer break. Usually weekdays are a little quieter than weekends. If you are planning a short break, perhaps think about staying through the week.
Take your trip at a slower pace and use the city as a hub.
Slow travel is what’s being talked about now. Over the last few months we’ve all started taking life at an easier pace. Why not do this with your trip to Edinburgh and give yourself time to relax, enjoy and explore. You can use the city as a hub during a longer stay and take day trips to explore more of Scotland.
Edinburgh is an ideal location, as there are so many places to see within easy driving distance of the city. You can visit St Andrews, the quaint fishing villages of Fife, the Isle of May, as I mentioned earlier to see the puffins, Stirling and its magnificent historic castle, the scenic Trossachs and Loch Lomond National Park, Perthshire castles and countryside, as well as the historic Borders region south of the Edinburgh. Many of the locations used in filming the TV series of Outlander are also close to Edinburgh’s doorstep. Often these are historic attractions in their own right and definitely worth visiting.
However long you decide to stay in Edinburgh and whatever time you decide to visit, I know you’ll have a great time. Of course I’m biased as I love my home town, but I’m pretty sure you’ll fall in love with it too. If you want to find out more or have a query about coming to Edinburgh, just contact me and I’ll be happy to help.