As the days get shorter and the nights extend, Scotland becomes a winter wonderland and a feast for the senses with celebrations, light shows and magic.
Scotland transforms in the winter months and a winter walk is the perfect way to make the most of the short, crisp days, watching as landscapes sparkle in the ethereal light and distant hills are capped with snow.
There’s nothing better than wrapping up warm and getting outside, especially knowing that the reward for a day well spent embracing the elements is warming up by the fire with a hot chocolate, or a wee dram, as part of a winter break in Scotland.
If this sounds like the perfect match, then Scotland is the place to be as winter begins to call. So, coorie in and find out where the magic is happening this winter!
There ain’t no party like a Scotland party
Winter is not a time for hibernation, it’s a moment for celebration! Kicking off the festivities is St Andrew’s Day on 30th November. Celebrating Scotland’s patron saint is a great reason to put on a playlist of top Scottish tunes, get some haggis on the go and be inspired for future travels to Scotland. For those in Scotland on this day, this year, Blazin’ Fiddles will be setting toes tapping at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh and Mharsanta in Glasgow will be hosting an evening of traditional Scottish food and drink.
Looking ahead to all that awaits in the New Year, Scotland’s cities hold festivals and events throughout December, culminating in Hogmanay. At times like this, it seems as though the whole country is celebrating together with whisky, fireworks and ceilidh dancing. This year, Edinburgh’s four-day Hogmanay celebrations will kick off with the return of the Torchlight Procession which will blaze a trail through the capital’s Old Town for the first time since 2019.
Beyond the cities, the party atmosphere spreads far and wide. Those venturing to Aberdeenshire can discover one of the oldest New Year celebrations in the world… The Stonehaven Fireballs.
It doesn’t all end there; the festive spirit continues throughout the season with the Up Helly Aa Fire Festivals across Shetland (Jan-Mar), and on Burns Night, visitors can enjoy birthday celebrations for Robert Burns including the Big Burns Supper in Dumfries. Also in January, Celtic Connections, the city’s annual folk, roots and world music festival, comes to Glasgow – Scotland’s UNESCO City of Music.
The winter nights come to life across Scotland thanks to a variety of light trails and installations; the dark skies become dazzling spectacles transforming some of the country’s most beloved attractions in unexpected ways.
Castle of Light: Magic and Mystery, Edinburgh Castle
Returning to transform the city’s skyline for a fourth fantastic year, Castle of Light promises to bring even more unmissable moments to Edinburgh Castle as the iconic landmark is illuminated with extraordinary light and sound displays. An enchanting experience for all ages, guests can uncover the secrets of Scotland’s past in the unique after-dark walking trail as a tapestry of all-new storytelling projections dance across the castle walls telling tales of magic, mystery and spectacular sorcery. See the website for full details.
Monteviot Winter Light Trail, Jedburgh
Monteviot House and Gardens, near Jedburgh, will host its inaugural winter light trail, Monteviot Lights, from 30th November until 10th December. The trail will shine a light on the beauty of the Scottish Borders as visitors embark on a captivating outdoor illuminated journey in Monteviot House’s spectacular gardens. See the website for full details.
Brodie Illuminated, Brodie Castle, Forres
In November, visitors will be transported to a magical evening wonderland at Brodie Castle in Forres. The whole family can join in for an after-dark wander through the Brodie Estate, following lit-up pathways in the gardens and along the magnificent West Avenue. It’s a chance to see the gardens in a whole new light! See Eventbrite for full details.
More enchanting shows that you shouldn’t miss: 7 Enchanting Sound & Light Shows in Scotland Not to Miss | VisitScotland
Scotland in Winter: Essentials
It wouldn’t be the festive season without a few seasonal essentials. Think meeting Santa, Christmas Markets and seeing a reindeer or two!
The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd
Roaming freely since 1952, The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer with daily hill trips to see the reindeer up close.
Glasgow’s Christmas Festivities
George Square will see the city’s festivities throughout December, as well as the “Christmas Lights Switch On” in late November. St Enoch Square will be hosting The Christmas Fair where little ones can enjoy rides including The Blizzard and Santa’s runaway train. George Square will also be taking part in all the festive fun with its own Christmas Fair which will feature various attractions including an ice rink.
In winter, drop by one of Scotland’s eight cities for festive shopping
If you’re looking for unique gifts, consider buying artisanal items from Perth, the UK’s first City of Craft. You can also find a tartan gift celebrating V&A Dundee’s landmark exhibition Tartan, which is on display until January 2024.
On the other hand, if you’re interested in history, visit Dunfermline, Scotland’s former capital, or explore the Victorian shopping mall in Stirling, where you can find a variety of independent retailers. Whether you’re in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness or Aberdeen, there are plenty of local businesses and well-known brands to choose from, so you can easily find the perfect gift from Scotland.
Head to a magical winter wonderland at Dundee’s WinterFest @ Slessor Gardens. Have fun at the vintage funfair, enjoy views over the city’s skyline on the Big Wheel and finish off with the Bavarian bar for some festive drinks or opt to dawn some ice skates and make the most of the open-air WinterFest ice rink.
Braemar’s Festival de Noël
This festival features family events, 40 market stalls, a Christmas concert and workshops. The Deeside village will be transformed into a winter wonderland with a Santa train, horse and carriage rides, wreath making and a host of workshops, including photography and chocolate and beer tasting with local producers. Sunday is market day, with over 40 food, drink and craft stalls spread over three venues — with free carriage rides to take shoppers from A to B as they are serenaded by carol singers, pipers piping and a brass band. Festival de Noel will take place from Friday 8th – Sunday 10th December 2023. Find full details on their website.
Scotland in winter: get cosy and coorie in!
Ross Bay Retreats, Dumfries & Galloway
Situated in the UNESCO Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, these coastal cottages offer stunning sea views. The lively fishing port Kirkcudbright, also known as ‘The Artists’ Town’, is just fifteen minutes away. Upon arrival, guests will be greeted with a homemade welcome cake.
The cottages overlook Ross Bay and are located on a working farm. There, guests can roam freely and even meet some of the animals. There are also acres of forest and coastline to explore. In addition, the cottages are pet-friendly, and four-legged friends are welcome to join in on the fun. They even receive their welcome pack! For full details, you can visit their website.
Loch Katrine Eco Lodges, Stirling
Escape to one of Loch Katrine’s 10 eco-lodges overlooking breathtaking Loch Katrine and Ben Venue in The Trossachs. Their eco-camp is located just seven miles away from Callander and five miles from Aberfoyle. As a result, it is an ideal base for a peaceful retreat while still being within a short drive to bustling tourist hotspots.
Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of this exceptional place, part of one of Britain’s largest National Nature Reserves. Take a leisurely walk or cycle around the area and explore the serene surroundings. You can also embark on a sail onto Loch Katrine and enjoy the festive celebrations on board. Join us for Santa sailings in December on Lady of the Lake or in the Steamship Café.
Alternatively, you can opt for a New Year sail on the restored Steamship Sir Walter Scott. This sail offers an hour-long journey with a traditional Scottish band playing on board, a New Year welcome drink and shortbread. For more information on their short break packages combined with themed cruises, visit their website.
Highland Coast Hotels, North Coast 500
Highland Coast Hotels brings together a collection of unique hotels on the North Coast 500. This winter, guests can embark on an adventure like no other. The East Meets West itinerary package allows you to explore three stunning coasts in one.
It’s the perfect way to be immersed in the local culture and explore hidden gems. But also you can tuck into seasonal produce at different properties along the route with a luxury winter lunch picnic. Find the full details on their website.
Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder
Experience Scotland’s stunning beauty this Christmas by visiting Gleneagles, also known as Scotland’s own Glorious Playground. The hotel boasts decorations that capture the wintry scenery of the surrounding Perthshire countryside, transforming it into a magical wonderland. Gleneagles offers a range of family-friendly activities. From brisk trail walks and outdoor adventures during the day, to cozy log fires and decadent dining in the evenings. With something for everyone, you can find the full details on their website. S
Glenapp Castle, Ayrshire
On the other hand, Glenapp Castle, set on the stunning Ayrshire coast, is the perfect retreat to enjoy long scenic walks on a crisp winter day. Whether that be throughout the estate or along the stunning Ayrshire Coastal Path. Choose to unwind with a relaxing in-suite massage, or warm up at the private members coastal spa nearby.
If you are looking for an active holiday, Glenapp offers a unique activity program. Specifically, it offers over 70 different activities and experiences, both on and off-site. You can enjoy activities like axe-throwing, archery, hiking, mountain biking, and cookery lessons.
After a day of exploring the area, you can indulge in a wonderful dining experience with a three-course gourmet dinner. The award-winning, three AA rosette dining room serves mouth-watering canapes and handmade petit fours. You can find full details on their website.
Virgin Hotels Edinburgh
Guests can also celebrate A New Year Full of Cheer at Virgin Hotels Edinburgh, in the city’s Old Town. Packages include two nights accommodation, a New Year’s Eve celebration in the iconic Greyfriars Hall including dinner, a piper, ceilidh and a live band followed by New Year’s Day Brunch on Eve. Find the full details on their website.
Ness Walk, Inverness
Ness Walk will be home to decadent celebrations this winter with a curated collection of Inverness festive hotel offers. New for 2023, guests can indulge in the Yuletide Experience on select Fridays and Saturdays throughout December. It is a luxury experience that offers a blend of warm tradition and contemporary fine dining. Find the full details on their website.