Winter In Scotland 25 Amazing Things To Do

Scotland is a country that continues to draw me back and despite its near continual rain, we’ve spent a lot of time up there. It might be colder in winter than summer but Scotland still has a huge amount to offer those brave enough to visit. If you’re considering a winter break in Scotland, here are 20 Amazing Things To Do In Winter In Scotland.

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Scotland IN Winter
Eilan Donan Caslte in Winter

When Is Scottish Winter?

Scottish winter is from December to March. This coincides with colder temperatures and changeable weather, smaller crowds and shorter daylight hours. It also encompasses some of the big national events such as Hogmanay, St Andrew’s Day and Burns Night.

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Scotland Winter Mountains
Scotland Winter Mountains

How Cold Is Winter In Scotland?

The average winter temperatures in Scotland are somewhere between -5  and 10 degrees C.  Expect cool, crisp weather with rain, snowfall or ice. What makes the winters in Scotland feel colder however is the windchill factor. The different regions in the Scottish Highlands and Islands are influenced by micro-climates, which means it could be snowing in one place and 20 miles down the road it’s beautiful sunshine.

The chances of snow are high although it will most likely be higher up in the peaks of the Highlands.  The roads are usually snow-free and are gritted to avoid road closures that being said they can be icy and you should drive appropriately.

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Isle of Skye. Winter in Scotland
Isle of Skye. Winter in Scotland

20 Amazing Things To Do In Scotland In Winter

1. Take a road trip

Despite the cold and the fewer hours of daylight, taking a road trip in winter can be very rewarding as there are hardly any other travellers. You’ll need to plan the road trip well and make sure attractions, hotels and restaurants are actually open for visitors. You might want to consider taking snow chains and having comprehensive breakdown if you’re taking your own vehicle. If you’re renting a vehicle double check breakdown is included in the rental.

The NC500, the Cairngorms in winter, the Isle of Skye and the NE250 are all driveable in winter although you should aim to have a more flexible schedule to allow for any weather changes that may occur.

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NC500 bridge, scotland in winter
NC500 bridge, Scotland in winter

2. Visit Glasgow

Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, is often overlooked for Edinburgh but there’s loads to do and much is free.

Free things to do in Glasgow:

  • The Gallery of Modern Art
  • Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
  • The Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel
  • The Glenlee Tall Ship
  • Botanic Gardens and Kibble Palace Greenhouse
  • Pollok Country Park
  • Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis
  • The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens
  • Hunterian Museum
  • The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture
  • Kelvingrove Park and the riverside trails
  • Super Bario arcade bar (some of the arcade machines are free to play)
  • The City Centre Mural Trail
  • Ashton Lane, a picturesque cobbled street adorned with fairy lights and nice restaurants
  • Forth and Clyde Canal. You can follow the canal’s basin all the way to Maryhill Locks
  • The Fairfield Heritage Centre.
  • Scotland Street School Museum
  • Glasgow Gurdwara. If you would like to learn more about the Sikh faith, you can join a free guided tour
  • The Barras Market. Open every Saturday
  • The Hidden Lane, Finnieston. Observe artists creating in their studios, showrooms, workshops and boutique shops. Most are open during Hidden Lane Saturdays.

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Glasgow
Glasgow

3. Build Your Own Ice Hotel

If you fancy getting physical and actually building your own ice house, you can book an overnight expedition and build and stay in your own snow hole.

Both Scot Mountain Holidays and Mountain and Sea Guides offer the opportunity to explore the Cairngorm mountain region, build your own ice hotel and stay in it.

4. Take In A Christmas Market

Here’s a range of Christmas markets that take place around Scotland. The dates may vary so always check the websites.

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Edinburgh xmas market
Edinburgh xmas market

5. Have A Go At Curling

Curling is a Scottish created sport.  There are indoor curling clubs across the country, however, occasionally when a cold spell hits winter in Scotland, the lochs and ponds freeze over and curling is played outdoors. Find a taster session and have a go.

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Curling, Scotland in winter
Curling, Scotland in winter

6. Go To The Irn-Bru Carnival

Scotland is famous for a fair few things but none more so than Irn Bru. A sticky, sweet, fluorescent orange drink that is rumoured to be made from girders!

The Irn-Bru Carnival on the 12th January is Europe’s largest indoor funfair with a range of thrill and family rides suitable for everyone. The highest ride is 40m tall but don’t worry, Irn-Bru consumption is not required.

All rides cost 1 voucher  and you’re given 10 vouchers with every ticket. Additional vouchers cost £1.50 each or £5 for 6. Some rides have height restrictions, see the height chart for more details. 

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Irn bru festival, winter in Scotland
Irn bru festival, winter in Scotland

7. Visit The Reindeer Centre

Head to the Cairngorms National Park and visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. In winter you also have the option of meeting Santa. The centre is home to around 150 free-range reindeer.

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Reindeer Centre Cairngorns
Reindeer Centre Cairngorns

8. Go Ski-ing Or Learn How To Snow Board

There are six outdoor Scottish ski resorts open between December and April. You’ll find outdoor centres at Glencoe, Glenshee, the Nevis Range, The Lecht & Cairngorm and indoor centres in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fort William.

Before you book your skiing holiday in Scotland, check the Snow Forecast website beforehand.

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Skiing in Scotland
Skiing in Scotland

9. Celebrate Hogmanay

Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve as the English call it, has origins back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Vikings and it’s a wild affair in Scotland.

Most large hotels and towns will have their own events so if you find a nice hotel you can ask if they run their own festivities.

Some events are:

  • The Torchlight Procession (30 December) in Edinburgh features 17,000 flaming torches walking from Edinburgh Castle to the foot of the Royal Mile.
  • Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party on New Year’s Eve, features live music, outdoor bars and fireworks at midnight.
  • The Loony Dock (Jan 1st). Start with the Dockers Parade through the High Street before entering the freezing waters in the River Forth at South Queensferry.  Don’t forget your fancy dress.
  • The Edinburgh Hogmanay Snow Ball is a traditional ceilidh (pronounced cay-ley) held in magnificent ballrooms.
  • The Hogmanay Hoolie is held at Edinburgh’s iconic Ghillie Dhu, famous for its spectacular location in a converted church with high vaulted arch ceilings and candlelit chandeliers.
  • The biggest, family-friendly, free concert in Inverness, Scotland is the Red Hot Highland Fling.
  • Stonehaven Fireballs in Aberdeenshire where you can hear a pipe band before fireballs are lit and fire swingers perform.
  • In Aberdeen, over 14’s can dance into the new year at the Beach Ballroom ceilidh
  • Book a ticket to Hogmanay Live! in Aberdeen with a show at the Tivoli Theatre.
  • Dundee’s street party is an over 18 event which hosts 1000+ clubbers over 2 floors and 5 bars.
  • The Biggar Bonfire starts at 9:30pm on New Year’s Eve and burns an enormous pile of wood in the town centre.
  • The residents of Burghead in Moray don’t celebrate their New Year on 31 December but on the 11th January instead. They parade a wooden barrel filled with wooden staves through the town before setting it alight.
  • The Comrie Flambeaux features 10-foot high lit torches, parading around the village accompanied by a pipe band and Scottish music before the torches are thrown into the River Earn.

Book a hotel for Hogmanay

  • Head to Creiff in Perthshire for 3 nights of accommodation, all meals, free daily entertainment program for kids and a lively Hogmanay party at the Creiff Hydro Hotel. 
  • Stay at the beautiful Peebles Hydro Hotel on the outskirts of Edinburgh and get 3 nights accommodation, all your meals, a Gala NYE dinner and access to the pool and gym.
  • Dufftown in Speyside is known as the ‘malt whisky capital of the world’. Hogmanay Ceilidh at the Commercial Hotel leads onto the town’s square where drams of whisky and pieces of shortbread are shared out to see in the bells, courtesy of the local Glenfiddich distillery and Walkers biscuit factory. Late morning of New Years Day the Boys Walk is led by the Pipe Band as they march around the town.

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Hogmanay Edinburgh
Hogmanay Edinburgh

10. Cruise on Loch Ness

Take a year-round cruise on Loch Ness.  Loch Ness cruises in winter offer six different tours departing from both Dochgarroch Lock and the Clansman Hotel with seven daily sailings.

11. Look Up Into The Dark Skies For Scotland In Winter

  • Visit the Isle of Coll and attend the stargazing event, Coll & The Cosmos.  No previous experience of astronomy is needed for this weekend learning about the skies.
  • The UK’s first dark sky park, Galloway Forest Park, in Dumfries & Galloway, covers 777 km2 of stunning landscapes and is the largest park in the UK. It has some of the darkest skies in all of Europe and is an amazing place to stargaze and see the Milky Way.
  • The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is a publically accessible observatory and planetarium located on the northern edge of the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park. The dark sky park was the first in the United Kingdom and Europe.
  • Visit the new observation tower in the Flow Country at Forsinard. In winter, at night, the tower is also used as a dark sky site, to view the stars and spectacular northern lights.

12. Will You See The Northern Lights?

If conditions are favourable, you might catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.  The Aurora is caused by electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with natural gases like oxygen and nitrogen.

It’s practically impossible to see the Northern Lights in a city though some locations where you might see the northern lights include the Isle of Coll, Cairngorm National Park, Angus and Aberdeenshire.

Check out the official International Dark-Sky Association website for the best time to visit. 

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Northern Lights Scotland
Northern Lights Scotland

13. Try Land Yachting In Fife

Do you fancy a high-speed race along the East Coast sands? Land yachting uses a small boat on wheels to give you a high adrenaline thrill whilst staying mostly dry.

Open all year round, Blown Away Experiences in St Andrews, Fife gives you a lengthy beach to practice your land yachting skills.

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Land Yachting
Land Yachting

14. Learn About Robert Burns And Celebrate Burns Night

Burns night, which is held on 25th January, is a celebration of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert or Rabbie Burns. It’s a nationwide celebration of his birthday and most festivities include a sit-down meal with poetry readings, haggis and Scottish dancing.

There are a lot of celebrations but a few include:

  • Stay at the exclusive Prestonfield House and celebrate Burns Night in aid of Prostate Scotland. Tickets £60.
  • The Dumfries Big Burns Supper is one of the largest festivals in Scotland celebrating all things Robert Burns, as well as Scottish culture and heritage over 10 days.
  • Burns on the Beach is free celebration taking place on Ayr Beach that includes a light show, illuminated poetry path, a bonfire and music.
  • A formal, black tie, supper (tickets £100) HIT Burns Supper includes a cocktail reception, meal with wine, live entertainment and charity auction.
  • The Burns Centre Annual Celebration formal Burns Supper from the longest operated Burns Club established in 1826. Tickets £31.
  • The Burns House Museum & Library with a free, family-friendly afternoon of art workshops, walking tours, storytelling, and performances.
  • Burns Gala Day is another free family-friendly celebration taking place in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.
  • Burnsfest! is a free family festival featuring Live Music, A-Coo-Stick Tipi, The Mercat, Jook Aboot Ceilidh Tent, Burns Howf with a Soul DJ, The Haverin’ Hoolie, The Chillootery, Scran Street, Some Comedy Yeah, The Poe-Tree, Bairns Bunnet, Haggis Hunt, Burns Fair, Archery, Crazy Golf and more!
  • The Burns Supper in Burns Cottage . This £250pp formal Burns Supper located in Burns’s cottage sells out far in advance.
  • Enjoy light and sound attractions at Watchful Burns on Ayr Beach. Another free event.
  • Big Burns Brunch provides a traditional Sunday morning brunch at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum accompanied by live music. £9.95 tickets
  • Tam’s Tech Workshop explores the work of Robert Burns through digital media in a free event.
  • Burns & Rugby Event  Watch rugby and then eat food at the Ayr Rugby Football Club. Ticket only.
  • Robert Burns Nighat the Ghillie Dhu, Edinburgh. Ticketed event.
  • Burns and Beyond, Edinburgh
  • Royal Yacht Britannia Burns Supper, Edinburgh. Tickets are priced at £215 per person
  •  Nae Ordinary Burns Supper Tickets £95 per person for a 3-course dinner and dancing. 
  • Dine at the 17th Century Burns Supper at Glamis Castle. A traditional 3 course Burns Supper. Ticketed event.

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Bagpiper in Scotland. Winter in Scotland
Bagpiper in Scotland. Winter in Scotland

15. Attend A Scottish Festival

There are still plenty of festivals to attend in winter in Scotland and many revolve around food and drink!

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Gin Festival Scotland
Gin Festival Scotland

16. Hire Your Own Romantic ‘Winter in Scotland’ Hot Tub

Is there anything more romantic than a rural lodge or remote cabin with an outdoor, wood-fired hot tub?

Surrounded by Scotland’s wintry landscapes, and hopefully, some wildlife too, spending a few nights in a beautiful cabin and a bubbling, hot tub accompanied by a hot toddy and maybe some snow to top it off.

17. Visit Whisky Distilleries And Drink Whisky

What better way to keep warm in winter in Scotland, than drinking whisky by a roaring fire and with over 120 active distilleries spread across Scotland there’s bound to be one you love.

Some of these distilleries were opened in the 1700s and remain in production today. Whisky productions are split into five regions; Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside. There are distilleries that remain open throughout the winter months for you to take tours of and discover the processes of making Scotland’s national drink.

Some of these include:

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Whisky tours Scotland in Winter
Whisky tours Scotland in Winter

18. Go Ice Climbing At The Ice Factor, Glencoe

You can book loads of outdoor classes during winter in Scotland but if that’s a bit too much you can always head to the indoor Ice Factor centre in Glencoe and learn the basics of ice crampons in a taster session of an hour.

The Ice Factor Centre has the tallest indoor ice wall in the world at 12m/40 ft. Book a taster session and see how high you can climb.

19. Go Scottish Island Hopping

Scotland has over 900 offshore islands, most of which are found in four geographical areas: Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides which are sub-divided into the Inner and Outer Hebrides. At the time of the last census in 2001, there were 95 inhabited Scottish islands with a total population of 99,660. Ten years earlier, there were more than 100,000 people living on islands. Despite this overall decrease in island population, the number of inhabited islands has risen over the last decade – there were only 87 recorded as having permanent populations in the 1991 census.

The islands with the oldest populations are Lismore (45% of Lismore residents are aged over 60) and Cumbrae (over 40% are aged over 60).  Fair Isle and Vatersay have the highest percentages of younger islanders. On Vatersay, 32% of the population is under the age of 16 and on Fair Isle the figure is almost 29%.

  • Islay is world-famous for winter-migrating birds and fine peaty whiskies. The isle of Islay is home to EIGHT working distilleries.
  • Visit the Isle of Mull, see the brightly coloured houses, Duart Castle and spot sea eagles.
  • The Isle of Gigha is a small island off the west coast of Kintyre and has a population of about 160 people. The community-owned island’s holiday cottages are open all year.
  • Walk amongst the mysterious standing stones at Calanais on the Isle of Lewis.
  • The Isle of Harris has one of the best beaches in the UK, Luskentyre.
  • The Isle of St Kilda is abandoned and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Head to Orkney to witness thousands of seabirds shelter in the cliffsides.
  • Visit the Jarlshof Prehistoric & Norse Settlement on Shetland, Scotland’s northernmost island. Also see the birds at Hermaness National Nature Reserve, the Aurora Borealis and the famous Up Helly Aa fire celebrations in January.
  • The 4.3 mile long Isle of Canna is the westernmost in the Inner Hebrides. It is linked to the neighbouring island of Sanday by a road and sandbanks at low tide.  Canna is a bird sanctuary and supports over 20,000 breeding seabirds. It has a rich archaeological landscape from prehistoric fortifications to early 19th-century abandoned settlements.

20. Wander Around Edinburgh’s Underground Vaults

The Edinburgh Vaults or South Bridge Vaults are a series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge in Edinburgh.

There are around 120 rooms (vaults) beneath the city, originally built in the 1700s for workshops and storage space. These rooms range from 2-40 metres squared and became dwell spots for the poor, homeless and many a ghost story.

21. Stay In A Glamping Pod or Yurt

Just because it’s winter in Scotland doesn’t mean these beautiful glamping pods and yurts close. Bunker down and admire the remote scenery of these glamping pods and yurts.

22. Find Dunbar’s Bridge To Nowhere

Visit Belhaven Bay beach in Dunbar at mid/high tide and it will seem as though there is a little bridge sitting in the middle of the water which leads to absolutely nowhere.

The little bridge is actually made for crossing Beil Water to get to the beach and the bridge can be seen and used at low tide. This East coast beach is one of the sunniest areas in Scotland and this floating bridge point is a lesser-known spot for sunset photographers.

At high tide, the water threatens to swallow the bridge, making it look as though it’s stranded in the middle of a sea. The sight of the lonely bridge surrounded by swirling waters that reflect the colours of the sky makes for a very unique photograph.

Thanks to https://unusualplaces.org for this photo

23. Go For A Walk On The Beach

Scotland has some of the nicest beaches in the UK with Caribbean style white sand, sweeping coves and turquoise waters. This doesn’t change in Scotland in winter and those same beaches are still as appealing, so long as you wrap up warm. 

  • West Sands Beach in St Andrews extends for almost 2 miles of uninterrupted, flat pale-yellow sand lined with dunes and the golf course. 
  • Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Harris is just as magnificent when you’re wrapped up warm with your wellies as it is in summer when it looks like a tropical paradise. Whatever the season, the seas here are so clear and turquoise, you’ll want to jump right in for a paddle.
  • Check out these 3 beaches that we love on the Isle of Skye
  • Given it’s such a dreach city, Aberdeen Beach is long and sandy and a huge surprise. It also has an art-deco esplanade and is one of the best places in Scotland to see bottlenose dolphins in the summer.
  • The north coast of Scotland is home to some of Scotland’s most dramatic coastlines. Balnakeil Beach on the North Coast 500 driving route appears to have an endless expanse of sand. The beach is also home to the remains of Balnakeil Church, built in 1614.
  • Islay Island’s Machir Bay is a mile-long fine, sand beach.
  • The west-facing beach of Fidden Bay on the Isle of Mull is a good place to watch the sunset or spot seals basking on the pink granite outcrops.
  • Vatersay Bay, Isle of Barra is another hidden gem of Scotland and boasts a series of unspoilt beaches surrounded by undulating dunes and rich machair grasses.

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Harris
Isle of Harris

24. Winter Birdwatching

Birds that over-winter in Scotland include oystercatchers, mute swans, redshank, eider ducks, shelducks and wigeon.  You can watch them puddling in the mud and sand or diving to look for food at wildlife reserves, lochs and beaches all around the country. Geese, birds of prey including sea eagles

  • Visit Loch Leven Nature Reserve, Explore Aviemore a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) site. Loch Leven is a wonderful place to birdwatch. The Reserve has wooded walks with blinds behind bird feeders, where you spot tits, robins, red squirrels, and various other wildlife in hiding. The marsh boardwalk (£5 for adults, £1 for children) offers great views of waterfowl and birds of prey.
  • Sea bird Centre Berwick 
  • Great places to see geese in eastern Scotland include the Montrose Basin in Angus and the Loch of Strathbeg in Aberdeenshire. Further west, they can be found on the Solway Firth at Mersehead Nature Reserve and at Loch Gruinart on Islay.
  • The North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory on Orkney.
  • On the Isle of Mull, you can see the white-tailed sea-eagle along with specialised mountain birds, such as the ptarmigan.
  • Visit the new observation tower in the Flow Country at Forsinard, where you can see bog and moorland species.

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Sea Eagle
Sea Eagle

25. See Scotlands Astonishing Castles

It is estimated that there are approximately 3,000 castles in Scotland – nearly one for every 100 square miles. It’s difficult to narrow down any favourites but here’s some we think are pretty, unusual, unique or historically significant.

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Isle of Coll, Winter in Scotland
Isle of Coll, Winter in Scotland

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