Updated on October 8, 2020 by Asher Fergusson
Scotland’s climate is significantly colder than that of many places, so packing can be surprisingly challenging. My top packing recommendations, listed below, should help. I’ve also included a detailed what to wear in Scotland section along with what NOT to bring and some FAQs.
Bring your warmest smile, a few pairs of nice wool socks, and a healthy dose of adventurous spirit, and you’ll fit right in!
What to Pack for Scotland – 17 Essentials
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13) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – A VPN has several very handy uses, but there are two main reasons I’ll never leave home without it. First, it acts as a security system for you by adding a layer of encryption between your data and any would-be hackers. This is crucial when you’re using unfamiliar WiFi networks – hackers like to lie in wait for unsuspecting, unsecured users to try to steal their personal or financial information. I speak from experience – this happened to me in Paris! If I’d had my VPN switched on I would have been safe.
The second is that it’s an inexpensive way to gain access to blocked internet sites and content in countries where censorship and internet monitoring are an issue.
Other Scotland packing list items not to forget
What to Wear in Scotland
Fashion doesn’t play a big role in what locals wear – dressing for the unpredictable weather definitely takes priority, especially outside of cities. Always dress in layers, and no matter what time of year you are visiting, be ready for rain by bringing an umbrella, a raincoat, moisture-wicking gear, and waterproof boots at the very least.
In cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, start with a pair of comfortable shoes for walking on cobblestone and hilly streets. Wear leggings or skinny jeans with solid-colored shirts or long sleeves and a knitted sweater on top. If you are primarily visiting cities, you can add some style with a trench coat or leather jacket and a satchel purse. A scarf always looks great and a hat and gloves can be useful in any season. For travel plans that go outside of the cities into the Highlands and the Outer Hebrides, it is vital to have a pair of waterproof hiking boots and socks. Pack thermal leggings and moisture-wicking athletic clothing like workout long sleeves or zip ups. For outside, you will want a waterproof jacket and pants. It’s also useful to have a warm hat, gloves, and a scarf as it can be very windy.
Men can go for a more stylish look if they plan on spending a lot of time in cities. Choose a pair of comfortable shoes for walking. Wear chino pants or fitted trousers with solid-colored shirts and knitted cardigans. If you are going to be exploring the Highlands and the Outer Hebrides you will need a pair of good, waterproof hiking boots. Keep your feet warm with waterproof socks and if it’s winter, thermal underwear is always a good idea. Opt for dry-fit clothing and underlayers whenever possible. It’s also useful to pack a pair of convertible waterproof pants which you can change into shorts if it gets too warm. Outside wear a warm waterproof jacket and bring a hat, gloves, and a scarf.
Seasons in Scotland are temperate, with a definite difference between Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Expect more of a chill than you may be used to – Scotland is very far north of the Equator, and can get quite cold during certain seasons.
WINTER – December, January, and February
These are the coldest months. Winter is the least pleasant season with short hours of daylight, lots of rain, and some snow. Make sure to pack warm layers including thermal underwear, wool socks, fleece-lined pants, sweaters, a warm winter jacket, a hat, a moisture-wicking scarf, and mittens. Outside will be quite wet so you should bring a pair of waterproof boots and an umbrella. Temperatures average from 32°F to 41°F (0°C to 5°C).
SPRING – March, April, and May
The spring has a milder breeze and is a great time to visit. Flowers like cherry blossoms and bluebells are blossoming and young wildlife (including baby animals!) can easily be spotted. The weather is unpredictable this time of year so wear lots of layers. Match fitted pants with t-shirts and cardigans that you can peel off if it gets too hot. You’ll also need a good windproof and rainproof jacket for outside and a pair of hiking boots if you plan on doing any exploring outside the cities. Temperatures average from 45°F to 55°F (7°C to 13°C).
SUMMER – June, July, and August
These are the warmest months in Scotland although, when compared with many other countries, the temperature doesn’t feel like summer. Summer in Scotland boasts extended hours of daylight where the sun won’t even start to set until around 10:00 PM in the Highlands but even later if you are visiting Orkney and Shetland. However, the midges (similar to mosquitoes) are notorious for being voracious this time of year, so you must wear mosquito repellent.
Locals swear by Avon’s “Skin So Soft” as the best protector against the midges and other bugs. Definitely dress in layers! Scotland is very breezy in the summer so you will want a windproof jacket, and it should be able to stand up to rain as well. Pants, long sleeves, and sweaters are still necessary this time of year. Temperatures average from 59°F to a 63°F (15°C to 17°C).
FALL – September, October, and November
City Exploring – Edinburgh and Glasgow are the two largest cities in Scotland, and are where most travelers arrive to start their trip. Beware that in these cities there are many cobbled streets, and Edinburgh is very hilly so any shoes with much of a heel will be impractical. Instead, you will want to choose a pair of comfortable shoes. If you plan on hiking Artur’s Seat for panorama views of Edinburgh (which we strongly recommend) you should wear a pair of hiking boots. Men can wear chino pants with a fitted t-shirt and cardigan and women can choose between leggings or jeans with a t-shirt or dress and a long sweater. Make sure to bring a windproof jacket during any season and pair with a scarf to keep warm.
Hiking – There are so many great places to hike in Scotland for all skill levels. Bag a Munro (a list of Scottish Mountains reaching 3000+ feet), take in the beauty of the Quirang on Skye, or check out Scotland’s most popular long distance walk the West Highland Way. No matter what type of hike you are looking to go on you will need the basics, which include hiking shoes, waterproof socks, waterproof pants, and long-sleeved quick-dry shirts. It can get quite windy on hikes so leave the umbrella and opt for a waterproof jacket with a hood.
Highland Games – From May to September, Scotland holds over 80 Highland games across the country in towns, villages, cities, and even castles. The games date back to the 11th century and include activities like hammer throwing, bagpipes, drumming, highland dancing, and clans battling it out in competitions. While all competitors are required to wear a kilt when they compete, as a visitor you are free to wear what you like! Skinny jeans are a popular choice, along with solid color tees. Make sure to wear some sunscreen, put on a hat, and protect your eyes with some shades. Lastly, bring a jacket and an umbrella in case it rains.
Golf – Scotland is known as the country that gave rise to the sport of golf – the first recorded game dates back to the 15th century! Scotland has over 550 golf courses to play, including tournament courses like the Royal Troon, the Old Course at St. Andrews, and Castle Stuart. If you are looking to include golf in your holiday it’s important to dress in layers and to be prepared for rain with a waterproof jacket and pants. Also, bring a hat to protect yourself from the sun. For clothes, wear a buttoned shirt with a collar (like a button-down or a polo) and fitted trousers or shorts that go down to the knee. If you want to add some extra style, choose a pair of patterned trousers. For cold weather, also include a sweater on top with the collar tucked in.
What NOT to Take to Scotland
2) Valuables – Anything that you can’t afford to lose and don’t desperately need to bring with you should be left behind. This applies to everything from expensive electronics to items with sentimental value. These things can and do get lost or stolen with amazing frequency. Because, let’s be honest, no one really wants to steal your old, unwashed clothes.
4) Beach Wear – Unless polar plunging is your thing or you’re making a trip in the middle of the summer, you’re probably not going to need beach wear. It’s true that Scotland has some gorgeous shorelines, but you still might not want to venture in the water, which can be pretty cold at the best of times. So just plan on rolling up your jeans and taking your shoes off if you’re feeling adventuresome.
While there are some nice beaches in Scotland, the water is still quite cold even in summer so you really don’t need to bring a bathing suit unless you want a very cold dip. Avoid wearing a kilt unless you are attending a wedding or Scottish social events. Otherwise, you will really stand out as a tourist. There are many cobbled streets in the cities so leave your heels at home! Also, knee-high rain boots are unnecessary and rarely worn so instead opt for a good pair of waterproof hiking boots.
FAQs about Traveling in Scotland
1) What’s a good basic daily budget for Scotland?
Price of Travel recommends $75 as a basic daily rate for Edinburgh. I found that to be fairly accurate, even if some of the paid attractions like Edinburgh Castle are pretty hard on the wallet. Stick to the free museums or the lower-priced attractions and you should be fine. Costs outside the main city do tend to be slightly cheaper as well. However, if you’re taking one of the prepackaged tours of the country, you will need to budget $300 to $500 for that as well. Just be sure to read the fine print so that you know what’s included and what additional things you will have to pay for on your own.
2) When is the best time to go?
It depends on what you’re planning to do, of course. The summer months are the warmest, driest portion of the year. This makes them a great time for outdoor pursuits like hiking and wildlife watching. However, you may have to fight the crowds at some of the more popular attractions and the more popular hostels may end up being sold out. The spring is a good compromise when it comes to avoiding the worst of the crowds and the worst of the weather, but it can still be rainy and cold at times. When I went in late May, there was still snow on some of the mountains.
3) Is it difficult to get around using public transportation in Scotland?
Getting around in Edinburgh was easy enough. However, the bus routes in the more sparsely-populated areas are said to be a bit tricky to navigate and getting some places does require numerous connections. Travelers may, therefore, want to rent a car or go places outside the cities with a tour group, particularly if they’re short on time.
4) What are some good day-trips from Edinburgh?
Roslyn Chapel is amazing. It’s well worth the £9 ($12 USD) admission price to see all the intricate carvings that are inside the building. The chapel is well-signposted and fairly easy to find from the bus stop. The guides there give informative talks about the chapel’s history every few hours and point out some of the more interesting carvings, so definitely stick around for that. The only downside is that you can’t take pictures inside. Yes, they will catch you at it and ask you to stop.
The Edinburgh Botanic Garden is another interesting spot just outside of the city limits. It’s also easy to get to using the public bus system. The grounds are free to wander around in, but there’s a small surcharge for entering the greenhouses. On the plus side, you can take as many pictures there as you want without anyone stopping you.
If you’re an early riser or the gardens have switched to summer hours, you can visit both places in one day to take advantage of the flat daily rate for the Edinburgh city buses. I did this myself, but I didn’t get to spend much time in the gardens because I got up late and the summer hours hadn’t started yet.
5) Is Scotland safe for solo travelers?
Yes! It’s very safe. The Scots are also a friendly bunch. Although some people reportedly have trouble understanding them at times, I didn’t. Basic precautions are always recommended: no extra cash, no excessive valuables, try to fit in when possible.
6) Is Scotland safe for women traveling alone?
Yes, it is. Scotland is known to be hospitable and friendly as a whole, though a lot of activities are more fun with travel buddies. Women should avoid walking alone at night, of course, but that’s a rule everywhere. It’s also best to plan your day ahead of time when possible so that you can move around with confidence.
7) Do you recommend any guided tours?
If you’re short on time and don’t want the hassle of constantly navigating bus schedules, the McBackpacker and Haggis Adventure Tours both get good reviews. They do very reasonably priced tours that take in a lot of the popular sights and will drop you back off in Edinburgh. I went with the former since they charge the same rate for everyone. They also had last-minute discounts available that made it an even more affordable experience. I had a great time! However, the McBackpacker’s Tour is definitely focused on budget activities and my group was mostly comprised of college kids. A lot of hiking involved, so plan accordingly. There’s one lengthy mountain climb included in the activities on Skye. But if you’re not feeling up to it, you can walk back down the hill and wait in the parking lot. The bus also plays loud Scottish music, which is fun, but it gets stuck in your head after a while and it might not appeal to everyone. The main difference between the tours seems to be that Haggis Adventures gives their participants the option of riding on the Jacobite Steam Train and boating on the Loch Ness…for an extra surcharge.
8) What’s the weather like in Scotland?
Scotland’s average temperatures don’t generally go much below freezing in the winter, but they also don’t get much above 60 ºF in the summer. Naturally, the farther north one goes, the colder the average temperature is going to be during any given month. As this article has already mentioned, the county tends to be rainy and windy at times, so you’ll want to prepare for both possibilities.
9) Where can I get a thicker sweater?
A second-hand or consignment store is normally your best bet when it comes to finding vacation wear that you may never need again. However, the UK doesn’t have anything like Goodwill where one stop will provide you with reasonably priced clothes in just about every size imaginable. Their second-hand shops tend to be spread out and have a limited selection. To get good deals, you really have to hunt for them. A much easier solution is to go to Primark, which sells cheap clothes that will probably last for the duration of your trip and make great souvenirs once you get back home.
10) Can I see the Northern Lights in Scotland?
Yes, sometimes they can be seen as far south as Edinburgh! However, you’ve got a much better chance of seeing them if you head for the northern portions of the country during the fall and winter months.
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