I love a good packing list, so when this reader question about what to pack for a trip to Scotland flooded in last week, I was ALL IN:
“Hi Amber. First of all: thank you so much for your blog. Living where I am, I’m not always able of taking your practical advices, but there’s always some fascinating reading for me here. I mean: go, Amber! Next, considering dressing for the weather: may I ask your advice on a packing list? My friend and I are planning a trip to Edinburgh this May, and we are completely lost about what to pack. Outwear? Some cardigans? Plain tees or camisoles? Or is it totally unpredictable? We’re going to be there near 15th May, and I can say absolutely nothing about the weather. By the way: we are from different regions of Russia, both of us (two women). You know, this vast and mainly rather cold place. This January we were in London, and we were freezing. Just looking at these local girls in their ballet flats and tiny skirts made me — in my wool coat and boots — tremble. So we are not as cold-proof, as it may seem, not really.”
Now, as I said, I got this question last week – so, the end of April, then – and after I’d read it, I glanced out of the window next to me… and it was snowing. As in, ACTUALLY snowing: not that half-hearted might-just-be-hail you sometimes get for a few seconds towards the end of the winter: we’re talking big, fluffy flakes of snow, which continued to fall on and off for the rest of the morning. By afternoon, the snow had gone, but I assumed it would still be cold outside, so, I wrapped up accordingly, in coat and boots, opened the door… and it was sunny. And also pretty warm, really: I was absolutely sweltering in my winter coat, and had had to turn the air-con on in the car – go figure!
In other words: yes, it’s totally unpredictable.
It might snow. But it also might be warm. Both of these things might happen in the same day: maybe even multiple times in the same day. Scottish people are fond of saying that if you don’t like the weather here, just wait fifteen minutes and it’ll probably change, and while that’s not always the case (there are plenty of times when it just rains until we all stop saying the ’15 minutes’ things, and move on to making jokes about building Arks instead…), it often is: especially during spring, which is particularly unpredictable.
Er, this probably isn’t what you wanted to hear, was it? Sorry about that. When it comes to packing for Scotland in the spring, though, there’s really only one way to approach it:
No, wait: LAYERS, is what I mean to say. BRING LAYERS. And I don’t just mean, “bring them in your suitcase”: I mean, “bring them every time you leave your hotel”, because the weather you start the day with is not always going to be the weather you continue it with. With that said, there are a few things you generally count on when it comes to Scotland in springtime. Namely…
What to pack : Scotland in Spring
It’s normally cold
Even in summer, the weather doesn’t often get much above 20C, which is about 70F. If it does, that’s considered a “heatwave”, and it’ll be the first thing on the national news: I’m honestly not joking. (This is why I’m always amazed when my fellow Scottish bloggers start going on about how they can’t wait for the “cool, crisp weather” of autumn: it’s pretty much ALWAYS cool and crisp here, trust me.)
In terms of Edinburgh specifically, although it’s in the central belt, which is generally warmer than the highlands, say, something a lot of visitors forget is that Edinburgh is on the coast, and it’s also built on a series of dormant volcanoes: this makes it windy, and the wind chill makes it feel colder than it actually is. Fun! So definitely pack some warm outerwear, and maybe a couple of sweaters or long-sleeved t-shirts to go under it!
But it might not be
Having said all of that, you can’t really depend on the cold either. In fact, I suspect that packing nothing but winter gear would probably be a good way to guarantee what passes for a heatwave, so please do that, seriously: we could really be doing with some sunshine around about now. These photos, for instance, were taken one March, when we got a week of gloriously warm weather, and the ones in this post were taken one April, when the same thing happened. If you’d visited on either of those weeks, you’d have needed sunscreen and shorts: this April, meanwhile, it snowed. May is generally a little bit warmer than April is, but… I wouldn’t want to put any bets on it, let’s put it that way. That said, you might want to try to make sure that coat or jacket you packed is reasonably lightweight, so you can fold it up and put it in your bag if the weather decides to be kind to you!
Oh, and bring some sunglasses: even if it’s cold, it can still be sunny!
It rains a lot. A LOT.
Regardless of the time of year, it’s a good idea to expect rain if you’re coming to Scotland: at least that way if you DON’T get it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised! Yulia asked specifically about Edinburgh: the Wellington boots in my packing list are probably over-kill if you’re going to be staying in the city itself, but if you’re planning to venture into the surrounding countryside, they might come in handy: there are tons of great coastal and country walks around Edinburgh, for instance – the scenery is beautiful, but the ground can get pretty muddy!
I’ve already said that Edinburgh is a hilly city, but it’s also worth bearing in mind that many of its streets are cobbled, too, so it’s not a friend to stilettos. I say this having spent my entire university career running around the city in the highest heels I can find, obviously, and I lived to tell the tale (OK, I did fall down a flight of stairs once, and landed flat on my face, but I suspect that had more to do with The Drink, as we affectionately call it, than The Shoes…), but generally speaking, if you’re going to be doing a lot of sightseeing, you’ll probably want to stick to flats, or whatever style of shoe you find most comfortable.
It’s not very dressy.
Much to my personal disappointment, Edinburgh – and Scotland in general – is a pretty casual kind of place. Sure, you’ll find places where people will dress a little smarter, but for the most part, people wear jeans, trainers, and other fairly casual clothes, so you don’t really have to worry about “dressing up” unless you really want to. With that said…
Don’t try to copy the locals when it comes to dressing for the weather
Much like the girls Yulia saw in London, Scottish people are notorious for not dressing for the weather, and the second the sun comes out, you’ll see people waking around in shorts and t-shirts, regardless of what the actual temperature is. At the other end of the scale, you’ll also see people in coats and boots on days that even I would consider warm: and I say that as someone who’s almost always freezing, even when other people are complaining about the heat. The moral of the story: don’t look out of the hotel window, think, “Oh, everyone’s in shorts: it must be warm outside,” because trust me: it probably won’t be. (But it maybe WILL be! Or not! Honestly, I’m SO glad it’s not me having to pack for Edinburgh in the springtime, because where would you even start? How would I cope without taking ALL THE THINGS?)
The sample packing list above is supposed to be a general guide, rather than specific suggestions: obviously what you ACTUALLY pack will depend on your personal style, and what you’re going to be doing, when you’re here, but these are the kind of things I’d pack if I was visiting Edinburgh in May. You have no idea how much I want to buy that trench coat now, seriously…