Your complete guide to bank holidays in Scotland
There’s surely nothing better in life than waking up in the morning, peeking your head out from under the duvet to look at your phone, and suddenly realising there’s no work today, not because it’s the weekend but because it’s a bank holiday. A bank holiday is a perfect opportunity to do something fun and exciting, but sadly too many people choose to waste it doing boring household chores that their other halves have been nagging them about weeks.
So what are you going to do with yourself on this bonus day off work? Cut the grass? Wash the car? No, of course you’re not! What you’re actually going to do is get up and head on out into Scotland to enjoy the amazing attractions and events that are staged over our bank holidays throughout the year, with thoughts of that wobbly shelf nothing but a distant memory.
If you’re not sure about where to go to make the most of your time off you can look deeper into this website to get a few pointers about the attractions and events you could visit, and I hope you’ll find something that takes your fancy out of all the categories you’ll find listed. If you’re not sure where to start head on over to the front page and have a look through the menu at the top where you’ll also find out about the current weather situation and a route finder to help you plan your journey.
I’m guessing you’ll also want to know the dates of Scotland’s future bank holidays and which events are being held on those days, which is why I’ve compiled all this information (and more) into this handy guide. There are a lot of Scottish attractions to choose from, and while I can’t guarantee you’ll have a dry bank holiday I can at least guarantee you’ll have more fun than spending yet another afternoon doing DIY.
Scotland’s bank holidays
The tables below list Scotland’s official bank holidays for 2019/20.
Note: If a bank holiday is on a weekend, a ‘substitute’ weekday becomes a bank holiday, normally the following Monday.
|1 January||Tuesday||New Year’s Day|
|2 January||Wednesday||2nd January|
|19 April||Friday||Good Friday|
|6 May||Monday||Early May bank holiday|
|27 May||Monday||Spring bank holiday|
|5 August||Monday||Summer bank holiday|
|2 December||Monday||St Andrew’s Day (substitute day)|
|25 December||Wednesday||Christmas Day|
|26 December||Thursday||Boxing Day|
|1 January||Wednesday||New Year’s Day|
|2 January||Thursday||2nd January|
|10 April||Friday||Good Friday|
|4 May||Monday||Early May bank holiday|
|25 May||Monday||Spring bank holiday|
|3 August||Monday||Summer bank holiday|
|30 November||Monday||St Andrew’s Day|
|25 December||Friday||Christmas Day|
|28 December||Monday||Boxing Day (substitute day)|
What will the weather be like on Scotland’s bank holidays?
It’s impossible to predict exactly what the weather will be like on any given day but you’ll get a good indication of the expected weather during Scotland’s seasons with the information I’ve provided below. If you want a more in-depth look at the current weather in the major tourist hot-spots take a look at my weather page which will tell you the current conditions throughout Scotland.
Spring – This is by far my favourite time of year and I love to see the countryside come back to life after a cold and miserable winter. You can expect average maximum temperatures to range from around 7°C to 13 °C during March, April and May, although this can vary significantly each year (just look at 2018’s ‘Beast from the East‘…).
Generally though, spring is a beautiful time to visit, with flowers bursting into bloom and wildlife beginning to get active again after a long slumber. The only downside is the frequent April showers that can put a bit of a dampener on things but at least there’s a great range of galleries, museums and other attractions to keep you entertained, regardless of the weather.
Summer – Summer’s in Scotland can be a bit hit or miss with lots of overcast days competing with beautifully clear skies, but even so, June, July and August are normally the warmest months, with average maximum temperatures ranging between 15°C to 17°C.
For me, the best thing about Scotland’s summers is that the days are so long thanks to our high latitude, and you’ll often find it’s still light at 10 pm even in southerly regions like the Borders. And if you head to the far north of the Shetlands you’ll discover that it doesn’t even get completely dark in summer, which means you’ve got more time to pack in extra activities. Midnight swim anyone?
Autumn – From September to November the nights begin to draw in and the temperatures drop, although you’ll usually experience between 8°C to 14°C thanks to our increasingly temperate climate. This is one of the best times of the year to get outdoors to explore Scotland’s vast wilderness areas, especially our woodland and forests which explode with vibrant colours as the trees change from green to fiery reds, oranges, and yellows. Be aware though, that you can expect a lot (a LOT) of grey, drizzly days, so pack to stay dry and take a waterproof jacket with you.
Winter – December, January and February are generally the coldest months in Scotland, with average maximum temperature hovering around 0°C to 5°C, and even colder in the mountain regions. Note that these temperatures don’t take wind chill into consideration so if you’re planning to go on an outdoor excursion make sure you pack plenty of extra thermal layers into your bag.
While the lowlands are generally snow-free for much of the winter months you can expect significant snowfall on the peaks and mountains of the Highlands, with around 100 days of falling snow throughout the season. If you’re coming to Scotland for skiing you’ll find the snow sports season lasts from November to April, but check the snow forecast before you head out.
Some did-you-knows? about bank holidays in Scotland
Christmas Day – By far the most popular day of celebration in the entire calendar, Christmas Day has become an event that lasts for the entire month of December in the UK, with shopping and preparations often beginning much earlier in November.
While the modern origins of Christmas are religious – it’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus after all – it was introduced into the modern calendar to coincide with pre-Christian celebrations of the winter solstice. Foremost among these ancient rites was Yule, the pagan winter festival that was originally observed by the Germanic people, with the date being dictated by the lunar cycle (normally between late December and early January).
The date of December 25th was at one time a popular Roman holiday dedicated to the god Saturnalia, the god of agriculture, but over time it became mixed in with the celebrations of several sun gods into one large annual festival.
It wasn’t until 350 AD that Pope Julius I officially named December 25th as the day to mark the birth of Jesus, a date which was likely chosen to replace the pre-existing pagan festivals.
Boxing Day – As a child I was always led to believe that the name for Boxing Day stems from people ditching all the old cardboard boxes from their Christmas Day presents, but in actual fact it was observed at least as far back as the middle ages, a time when giving gift-wrapped presents wasn’t even a custom.
While the exact origins of this tradition are unknown there are a couple of theories that are widely believed to be the most likely explanations for the term ‘Boxing Day’.
Firstly, we know that while wealthy families gave presents to each other on the 25th, their servants had to wait until the 26th, at which time they would be given gifts presented in a box as a way of saying thank you for their loyal service, hence the phrase ‘Boxing Day’.
The second theory stems from the custom of priests opening up their charity boxes which had been filled over Christmas so they could hand out money to the poor, a tradition which continues to this day in many churches in Scotland.
But wherever the meaning of Boxing Day comes from, today we tend to use it as an extra day to recover from the excesses of Christmas, at least until the celebrations begin again on Hogmanay.
New Years Day – In the old Roman calendar, New Years Day was actually observed on the 15th March, and it wasn’t until 153 BCE that the Romans changed the start of the year to the 1st January. Before then both January and February were actually at the end of the calendar year.
The name for the first month of the year comes from the name given to the Roman god of doors and gates, Janus, who had two heads – one looking forward and one looking backwards, which I guess makes sense for a month that’s saying goodbye to one year and hello to the next.
After the Romans departed from Britain there were a number of different dates that were used to mark the start of the new year, but in 1582 the Roman Catholic church officially adopted January 1st as the official date in the Gregorian calendar, and it’s remained that way ever since
Good Friday – This is another bank holiday that stems from an event in Christianity, this time the death and resurrection of Jesus. While Good Friday was originally seen as a day of mourning it’s lost a lot of its significance in modern British culture, although there’s still a large percentage of the population that regards it as a religious time.
The name Good Friday is believed to have come from several possible origins throughout history, but the most common theories are:
- ‘Good’ Friday derives from ‘Holy’ Friday, back when good meant holy in old English.
- Good Friday is a corruption of the phrase ‘God’s Friday’.
- Good Friday stems from Jesus’s resurrection, which was a ‘good’ day.
Whatever the original meaning, unless you’re particularly religious the day is generally blended into a long weekend, with Good Friday at the start and Easter Sunday/Monday at the end, and while the religious principles behind it are waning in popular culture it’s still celebrated to a certain degree as part of the Easter event.
Is it true the UK doesn’t have many bank holidays compared to the rest of the world?
During the course of my research for this article I found out a few unpleasant truths about the amount of holidays we get in the UK compared to other countries, and to be honest it’s not pleasant reading.
The fact of the matter is the UK has one of the lowest numbers of public and banks holidays of all the countries in the world, which is a bit unfair when you consider we also work some of the longest hours in Europe. While workers in countries like India and Colombia are taking a heavenly 18 public holidays each year, here in the UK we have to deal with a measly 8, a rather pathetic figure that’s only beaten by Mexico which officially has the lowest number of bank holidays in the world at only 7.
So that’s pretty depressing for us Brits, especially when you consider that we work such long days and most of our European neighbours get more time off. Only Holland sits neck and neck with our 8 annual bank holidays, with France easily beating us at 11 days and Spain way ahead with 14. It’s enough to give you a case of serious work/life balance envy.
But fear not, because while we work long days without many breaks we have at least got a good quality of life compared to some of those other countries (according to socialprogress.org), especially in Scotland which is above England, Wales and Ireland in the Social Progress Index.
As far as work hours go we do quite well compared to other countries globally but we’re way ahead of our European neighbours. According to a study by The Daily Telegraph, at an annual average of 1676 hours worked each year we’re putting in more office time than Belgium (1551 hours), France (1472 hours), Holland (1430 hours) and Germany (1363 hours). The good news is this figure is slowly but surely falling, with our current 1676 hours worked dropping from 1700 just 18 years ago.
So it’s not all bad news, is it? Yes we work hard in the UK, and yes our days off are few and far between, but at least we’ve got this amazing country to enjoy which has some of the best attractions on the planet. So let’s make the most of our bank holidays and enjoy the many events that are held throughout Scotland – a few of which I’ve listed below. Enjoy!
Where are the best public and bank holiday events in Scotland?
This list could take up an entire article on its own so I’ve limited it to just a few of my favourites, but if you’d like to discover more Scottish events check out my Scottish Events page which lists all the events I’ve personally visited, and my Events Listings page which is a continually updated list of everything that’s happening throughout Scotland.
Edinburgh’s Christmas – 25th December (Christmas Day)
Edinburgh’s Christmas has grown from a small collection of German market stalls in Princes Street into one of the country’s biggest festivals, where Christmas is celebrated with a dizzying array of fun-filled activities and shows for family members of all ages.
There’s certainly no shortage of things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas time and the city’s annual winter-wonderland spectacular firmly cements Edinburgh into one of the top destinations in Europe to visit from November to January, and that’s before you’ve explored all the other famous attractions in the city.
The Edinburgh’s Christmas event is located across several areas of the city centre so visitors can explore some of the best parts of Edinburgh during their visit, although to be honest even a full weekend isn’t going to be enough time to fit it all in.
The main area is in Princes Street Gardens where you’ll find the majority of the market stalls and fun rides, while another location is a short walk away at St. Andrew Square where you’ll find more food stalls and rides, and in recent years the event organisers have included several Christmas-themed attractions in nearby George Street too.
Hogmanay – 31st December (New Years Day)
No other country in the world puts in as much passion as Scotland does when it comes to celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of the next, and you only have to look at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations to see the monumental efforts the Scots put into celebrating this annual event.
Each year around 75,000 people attend the concert in Princes Street Gardens while another 100,000 watch the fireworks over Edinburgh castle, in a celebration that’s often described as the biggest street party in the world.
The scale of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is enormous and maybe a little overwhelming if you’re a new visitor to the city, but you’re guaranteed a warm and friendly welcome and you’ll find you’ve suddenly got more new friends than you know what to do with as you dance the night away. Highlights include live music, DJs, outside bars, and the world’s biggest rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Great fun!
Atholl Gathering and Highland Games – 28th – 29th May (Spring bank holiday)
The Atholl Gathering takes place on the bank holiday at the end of May with a spectacle that treats visitors to two days of military parades and Highland games. Held at Blair Castle near the town of Blair Atholl, the event is one of the highlights of the Highland calendar and is well worth attending if you want to experience the traditions that this part of Scotland has become famous for.
The parades begin with an inspection of Europe’s last remaining private army, the Atholl Highlanders, who are accompanied by the sights and sounds of their own pipe and drum band in a memorable event that showcases the best of Scotland’s rich cultural heritage.
The second day of the gathering involves contestants battling it out to win traditional contests like tossing the caber and throwing the hammer, which trace their roots back hundreds of years to Highland warriors practising their battle techniques. There are also Highland dancing competitions, piping competitions and tug of war competitions, so if you want to see Scotland’s best local athletes in action the Atholl games are definitely worth seeing.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival – 5th August (Summer bank holiday)
Edinburgh is home to the world’s biggest annual multi-arts event which has been running consecutively since its inception in 1947. Originally created as an alternative to the already-popular Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe has grown in strength each year to the point where the annual figures can only be described as astounding.
Over 25 days there are an average of more than 50,000 performances of nearly 2500 different shows, held in 300 different venues which are frequented by nearly half a million visitors, and an incredible 2.8 million tickets are purchased (as of 2018) with ticket sales totalling over £4 million.
This festival runs for most of August so you should be able to see it on the summer bank holiday, but if not you’ll have plenty of time to visit the event during the rest of the month. The Fringe draws artists from all over the world and many big-name comedians started their careers there, but you’ll also find loads of street performers and amateur acts at venues located throughout the city. It’s one the biggest highlights of the year in Scotland and I can’t even begin to recommend it highly enough. Just do yourself a favour and go.
The Saltire Festival – 30th November (St. Andrews Day)
The Saltire festival runs during the last week of November throughout Scotland in a series of events that celebrate Scotland and Scottish culture. You’ll find a variety of hosts providing the very best of Scottish music, food and entertainment across the country, although one of the best occasions is held in East Lothian which is the birthplace of the Saltire – Scotland’s national flag.
You’ll be treated to traditional massed pipe and drum bands along with dancing, comedy, special horse racing events and charity runs, and at many events you’ll be able to sample some of Scotland’s best home produce in a gastronomic adventure that includes single-malt whisky and traditional food like haggis and bridies (which are a bit like a Cornish pasty). The Saltire Festival is great family fun and is a fantastic way to experience Scottish culture away from the usual tourist marketing hype.
Well, I hope this article has not only helped you understand a little bit more about Scotland’s bank holidays but has also given you an incentive to forget the usual boring activities like tidying the garden and go on a Scottish adventure instead. There’s so much to see and do in Scotland that it would be a real shame if you waste your precious bank holidays by staying at home, especially when you’ve been working so hard for the rest of the year.
You’ll find lots of sightseeing tips and advice throughout the website so please take a look around, and if you’d like to offer any suggestions of your own you can message me on my contact page or leave a comment in each article’s comment box.
Thanks for reading, and happy travels 🙂
Craig Smith is your guide to the best attractions in Scotland. He loves exploring the Scottish wilds and is happiest when he’s knee-deep in a muddy bog in the middle of nowhere.