Edinburgh’s atmospheric natural sites and its residents’ distinctly Scottish determination for withstanding terrible weather make it a great year-round destination: Sure, it might be literally freezing, but doesn’t Arthur’s Seat look majestic covered in ice? For the less hardy amongst us, however, summer is the ideal time for visiting Scotland’s capital: not only does it get hotter (please note: we never said hot), but the city’s infamous festival season is in full force.
Here’s when to visit Edinburgh.
Shoulder Season: September to October, April to May
Best for hikes and classic tourist attractions
Edinburgh’s two shoulder seasons fall between its hectic summer and dreary winter. Both are perfect for laidback sightseeing. The city’s many green spaces look stunning, from the cherry blossom-lined paths of The Meadows to the crisp autumnal foliage of Royal Botanic Garden. The big tourist draws, such as the Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, are also much quieter.
High Season: June to August
Best for festival vibes and discovering
Festival season is when Edinburgh comes into its own. From the world’s biggest performing arts festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to more contained programs at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Edinburgh Jazz Festival, summer is the best time to visit if you're looking for entertainment.
Accommodation costs can be extortionate though – mattresses on floors for £1000 a month are not unheard of – so book early. Very little that can compare to the buzz of the streets in summer: street performers on every pavement, theatre and gigs take place in all the city’s nooks and crannies, and arts venues bustle with street food and excited ticket holders.
Low Season: November to March
Best for festive shenanigans and indoor arts
It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s raining: You’d be forgiven for thinking that winter makes Edinburgh go into hibernation until the spring. But while there are more welcoming times of year to visit, there’s a sort of wintery charm to be found in the windblown streets.
Christmas markets abound, from the impersonal and enormous to the artsy and curated, while Edinburgh’s Hogmanay (New Year) celebrations are world-renowned. There are innumerable galleries – from the cavernous Scottish National Gallery and National Museum of Scotland to the grassroots Embassy and Arusha galleries – to while away frosty afternoons.
For superlative Scottish vibes, stick around the city for Burns Night (25 January), the annual celebration of Scotland’s national poet. For an authentic experience, head to a local pub for haggis and a dram of whiskey.
Key events: Loony Dook, Manipulate Festival, Burns Night
The weather is still dreary but around February is when the light starts to turn: days get perceptively longer and wandering around the city gets a whole lot nicer. There are plenty of indoor activities to piece together: head to the Cowgate for live music or the Scottish National Galleries for the latest exhibitions.
Key events: Edinburgh International Improv Festival
Spring arrives and with it floods of daffodils over The Meadows. Take advantage of the turning weather to head outside of the city: The Pentland Hills are a short bus ride away and afford gorgeous hikes, while the coastal trail that starts in Portobello is perfect for a sunny late-March day, with highs of 60°F (15°C) in a good year.
Key events: Wee Dub Festival, Edinburgh Science Festival, RSA New Contemporaries
April is when the gorse bushes erupt with bright yellow flowers all over Arthur’s Seat. There’s no better time to scale the hill, or better yet, opt for a gentle walk around its base and take in the colors.
Key events: Edinburgh TradFest, Terminal V, IberoDocs
Edinburgh often has one week of very warm weather early on in spring, with possible highs of 77°F (25°C). Fit in with the locals by grabbing a disposable barbecue and sitting beneath the cherry blossoms in The Meadows.
Key events: Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, Edinburgh Marathon, Beltane Fire Festival,
The city starts gearing up for its summer season: Pub gardens open and the first festivals peek their heads up. Hit up one of the many city center sites before the crowds set in or, better yet, head to Jupiter Artland in the suburbs: A hidden gem of a sculpture garden only open in the summer season.
Key events: Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Meadows Festival, Pride Edinburgh
Tourism stages a temporary, not-so-hostile takeover of the city. Lean into the madness and head up to the castle with the crowds, or opt for a more local experience of summer with a wander around the galleries and a picnic in Leith Links.
Key events: Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh Food Festival
This is what the city has been gearing up towards all year: The August festivals are in town. Catch free comedy (of variable quality) at one of the many free Fringe venues, see some of the biggest names in literature at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, or opt for something smaller and quirkier at Jupiter Rising, the micro festiva put on by the contemporary sculpture park, Jupiter Artland.
Key events: Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Jupiter Rising, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Fringe of Colour, Edinburgh Summer Sessions, Edinburgh Military Tattoo
And…breathe. After the August madness, a calm descends over the city. Take advantage of the mild ~60°F (16°C) temperatures and wander around the Old Town without the crowds. If you’re not exhausted of festivals, don’t miss smaller gems such as Take One Action Film Festival.
Key events: Take One Action Film Festival, Hidden Door, Art Walk Porty, Edinburgh Doors Open Days
One of the most underrated months to visit, October offers quintessential Edinburgh vibes: the air is crisp and the students have returned, which means a plethora of live music and nightlife on the Cowgate.
Key events: Africa in Motion, Scotland Loves Anime, Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival, Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Push the Boat Out Festival
The clocks have just changed and the days are dark, but Bonfire Night lights up the autumnal sky with fireworks. Smaller galleries open new exhibitions as the festival rush dies down.
Key events: St Andrews Day, Bonfire Night, French Film Festival UK
December is Edinburgh’s most crowded month after August as the city becomes a hub for Christmas shopping. The main Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens is quaint in a traditional sort of way, although it has become increasingly commercialised in recent years. For something more authentic, head to one of the smaller fairs in Summerhall or Edinburgh Printmakers.
Key Events: Hogmanay, Edinburgh’s Christmas, Christmas at the Botanics
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