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Travel Wardrobe: What to pack for Scotland in Spring

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:

Yulia asked:

“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.

What to pack: Scotland in Springtime

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:

Bring everything

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 for Edinburgh in the Spring: a small capsule wardrobe for travel

What to pack : Scotland in Spring

coat; jeans; umbrella; flats; sunglasses; boots; t-shirt; Bretonskirt; cardigan; camisolebag; scarf; welliessweater; jacket

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!


It’s hilly. 

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?)

packing for a 10-day springtime city break, with limited wardrobe options

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…

Oh, and most importantly: have fun! 

Related: Capsule Wardrobes and Style Essentials | Maternity Essentials

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  • The Other Emma
    May 4, 2016

    And always remember that if the hills don’t kill you then thinking you’ll be able for the steps near the Royal Mile after walking up and down the hills all day probably will finish you off………………………………

    • Yulia
      May 4, 2016

      Oh, encouraging! Seriously: thank you for your advice, we’ll try to keep it in mind.

  • Myra
    May 4, 2016

    Good advice, hope you enjoy your trip Yulia

    • Yulia
      May 4, 2016

      Thank you some much, we’re sure we will.

      • Yulia
        May 4, 2016

        And sorry, my phone autocorrects me: so much, I mean, obviously.

        • Amanda
          April 28, 2019

          I’m sure you have been asked this multiple times – so feel free to copy and paste from another response – but I would LOVE to know where you got all these clothing pieces! This is a GORGEOUS collection of clothes!! Thank you!

          • Amber
            April 28, 2019

            Everything is linked underneath the image, but as the post is a few years old now, I wouldn’t expect much of it to still be available, I’m afraid 🙁

  • CiCi Marie
    May 4, 2016

    I think a lot of this advice can some up people in the UK generally – but especially that no one dresses for the weather so don’t copy the locals! Right now, I’m looking out my window and seeing people in t-shirts just because the sun’s out and people, it’s not THAT warm! Where are your jackets?!

    • Yulia
      May 4, 2016

      I admire people in the UK, truly. Never seen anything like this before. Silk shirts, fishnet tights, summer shorts with bare legs. It was January, guys! Not to mention that jogging folks: I think, they are just made of steel. It is really impressive.

  • Grasshopper
    May 4, 2016

    Great post, Amber! The Q&A feature is a great idea and I love your suggestions for a trip to Edinburgh. Also, I am in love with your outfit! Can I ask about your mint pants? I’m trying to find a style/brand similar in length and skinniness (is that a word?) since I also can’t stand the feel of skin-tight pants unless I’m wearing knee-high boots over them.

    • Amber
      May 4, 2016

      They were from H&M, but I bought them a few years ago, unfortunately!

  • Sharon
    May 4, 2016

    I live in Edinburgh and agree with everything in this post. Sunday was a glorious day, 10 mins later it was giant hailstones, another 10 mins and it was sunny again. I would say bring a hat that won’t blow off, a cosy pull-down one is best. If it’s raining it will usually be windy and your umbrella will blow inside but your hat will keep you dry. Also, if it’s not raining it will still be windy 🙂 Enjoy your trip.

    • Yulia
      May 4, 2016

      Thank you, it’s very helpful.

  • Yulia
    May 4, 2016

    Oh, thank you, Amber! I’m quite flattered, you’ve bothered to write such a big great post. Honestly, we did expect some answers like these, so I think, considering our luggage restrictions, wich are pretty harsh, we’ll just try to do our best. Right now, for the start, we’re giggling nervously, but your help is very valuable for us: now we have some clue. And we’re strongly intended to have fun, whatever.
    Also thanks to anyone, who cares to give some advice in the comments: lovely!

  • Lily
    May 4, 2016

    Strap tops! They’re light weight, fit under everything and add an extra layer of warmth if it’s colder than you expected.

    God, I wish we had actual seasons in this bloody country.

  • Porcelina
    May 5, 2016

    I could just swap the word ‘Scotland’ for ‘Wales’ in this post! But it’s sound, sound advice, especially the take-all-the-layers in your day bag. Like the lovely Spring morning a few weeks ago when I wore a short-sleeve dress and cropped cardi with nude tights and some pumps. It was WARM, it was fabulously sunny. We drove an hour away and were plunged into freezing fog. The temperature plummeted 12 degrees (I was eyeing my car temperature guage). I hadn’t packed everything. No scarf. No extra cardi. Silly me!! But I do also admire the hardness of Brits in flip flops when it’s cold and raining. Hard, Celtic genes at work there possibly. Super advice anyway xx

  • Judi
    May 5, 2016

    Ooooh that trench coat!!! (Is that the phone? It will be my bank manager again – “just because Amber showed you another lovely item of clothing doesn’t ,mean you have to buy it”!)

  • Theresa
    May 9, 2016

    I laughed at the “wait 15 minutes” saying. We also say that in Kentucky, USA. While it is usually hot in the summer, and inexplicably humid, and usually cold in the winter, you just never know. This December we hosted a Christmas party with our windows open, and at the beginning of April last year we got 17 inches of snow.

  • Genevieve
    March 19, 2017

    I’m coming to Scotland in May too, so this article was really helpful. Thanks!

  • Heather
    January 29, 2018

    I’m coming in May to run the marathon, so not only do I get to figure out all the variations of what to wear to sight see, I also get to pack all the variations of running gear! I sure hope British Airways is forgiving on the luggage! lol

  • Susan
    April 14, 2018

    Will be in Sterling Scotland in early May and will day hop around. I have a tall pair of rubber rain boots that I want to bring. Will they be ok or should I buy a pair of short rain boots? Plan on bringing jeans, leggings and black slacks along with sweaters, a fleece jacket and fleece vest to wear under water repellent long jacket 3/4 length sleeve cotton shirts and a turtleneck for sure. Is a turtleneck silly to bring? Will a scarf be better? Sorry for so many questions just want to be prepared. Many thanks!

    • Amber
      April 14, 2018

      I’ve personally never worn a turtleneck, fleece or any kind of rain boots in May, but I guess it depends on what you’re planning to do: Stirling (I’m assuming that’s where you’re referring to?) is a city, but it sounds like you’re packing more for the countryside/outdoor activities etc?