Scotland is a country to visit in all seasons. Choosing to explore in the quieter months has many advantages. Many of the best places in Scotland to visit in winter see their visitor numbers dip, giving you more space and time to explore. Accommodation prices can be more affordable too, giving the option to splurge on a luxury stay.
The big question is, of course, will the weather behave? Sure it can be unpredictable, so come prepared, and it shouldn't be a problem. As Billy Connolly once said, "there’s no such thing as bad weather - only the wrong clothes.”
Why not join us as we look at the many benefits of visiting Scotland in the winter months.
How cold is Scotland in Winter?
In Scotland, the winter months are defined as December, January and February, with the latter two being traditionally the coldest. Despite sharing the same latitude as parts of Alaska, Canada and Russia, our winter temperatures average a balmy 5 °C (41 °F) to 7 °C (45 °F).
There can be considerable variance when in the Scottish Highlands, however. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the United Kingdom was -27.2 °C (-16.96 °F) in Braemar (1982) and in Altnaharra (1995).
Snowfall in the cities is quite unusual but is far more common in mountainous areas. One of the advantages of touring Scotland at this time of year is the sight of the mountains peaks capped in snow reflected in the shimmering lochs below.
For more information on the weather in Scotland, click here.
Winter Festivals in Scotland
Three major festivals take place in the winter months - St Andrews Day, Hogmanay and Burns Night.
St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and on 30 November, we celebrate St Andrew’s Day by enjoying traditional food and drink. There are torchlight processions and ceilidh dances throughout the country, where you take the floor to exuberantly celebrate Scottish culture. It's all great fun!
One of Scotland’s most important festivals is Hogmanay, where we bid farewell to the year gone past and celebrate the New Year that is to come. There is a tradition of first-footing where we visit neighbours and friends after midnight, bringing some whisky to toast the new year.
An essential part of the Hogmanay celebrations is singing Auld Lang Syne, which loosely means “for the sake of old times”. You can discover the history and traditions of this popular song by reading our Auld Lang Syne, The New Years Anthem blog.
The last of our trio of celebrations takes place on 25 January each year, when Scots gather to celebrate our national poet, Robert Burns. Burns Suppers take place throughout his native Scotland as well as internationally.
At these lively gatherings, his memory is toasted with whisky and readings of his poems. A meal of traditional fayre is consumed, which includes a wee taste of haggis, presented in a lavish ceremony.
All over Scotland, local festivals take place throughout the winter months, including the famous Up Helly Aa fire festival in the Lerwick, Shetland. This historic event marks the end of Yuletide and culminates in a massive torchlight procession and the symbolic burning of a replica Viking Longship.
Top things to do in Edinburgh in Winter
The Scottish Capital turns into a winter wonderland from the end of November to the start of January. There are lots of family-friendly events taking place, including traditional pantomimes, after-dark light trails and the famous Christmas market, of course.
Edinburgh is famed for its Hogmanay celebrations which attract visitors and locals alike. The programme includes a torchlight procession and the iconic Party at the Balls, featuring Basement Jaxx and Scottish DJ Arielle Free.
The climax comes when the bells toll midnight and the New Year is welcomed by a spectacular firework display against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.
Outwith the festive period, there are lots to keep you occupied on a visit to Edinburgh. There are major attractions such as Edinburgh Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Royal Yacht Britannia.
A new addition to Edinburgh’s key attractions is Johnnie Walker Princes Street which offers a customised whisky experience through the flavours of Scotland.
Soak up culture and the arts with a visit to the Scottish National Gallery, where the collection includes masterpieces by Raphael, Titian and Monet. The National Museum of Scotland tells the story of Scotland, from dinosaurs to Dolly the sheep.
If you’re a music lover, the impressive Usher Hall is the venue for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s winter season, providing a varied programme of classical music. Fancy something showier? Head to The Playhouse to see hit musicals straight from the West End.
Connecting Edinburgh’s many attractions is the Edinburgh City Tour which operates daily throughout the year.
Best day trips from Edinburgh in Winter
Edinburgh makes the perfect base to see more of Scotland on a day trip. The shorter daylight hours means it’s best to plan your trip carefully to get the maximum benefit.
A popular bus tour from Edinburgh is the Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond and Trossachs itinerary which explores the natural beauty of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National park, known as “The Highlands in Miniature”.
Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, is a mere 50 minutes away by train. This friendly city is famed for its fantastic free museums and galleries, beautiful parks and stylish shopping options.
Highlands in the Winter
During the winter months, the scenic Scottish Highlands is transformed into a sporting wonderland. All sorts of outdoor pursuits take place, including skiing, snowboarding, curling and skating.
There are five ski resorts in Scotland at Cairngorm Mountain, Glencoe Mountain, Glen Shee, Nevis Range and The Lecht. Cross-country skiing is also available from the Nordic centre in Huntly.
If you fancy doing something entirely different, why not take a thrilling husky sledge ride? Aviemore is the location of the UK’s only working sled dog centre.
Also, in the Cairngorms National Park is a herd of free-roaming reindeer and the Highland Wildlife Park, which is home to polar bears, arctic foxes and leopards.
Enjoy your favourite malt
After a busy day of activities, what could be more relaxing than snuggling up in front of an open fire with your favourite whisky? If you are planning some sightseeing during your time in the highlands, it’s so easy to include a distillery visit to see how it’s lovingly created.
Discover the traditions of whisky production perfected over the centuries. Your expert guide will explain how whisky is made using three simple ingredients – water, barley and yeast plus time.
After the tour, enjoy a tutored tasting of a dram or two. At some distilleries, a tasty pairing with chocolate or cheese is offered as an option.
Skye in Winter
The magical Isle of Skye is famed for its natural beauty, historic castles and iconic landscapes. Discover stories of feuding clans, Jacobite battles and the tragic story of the Highland clearances. The island is most famously connected to the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his escape “over the sea to Skye”.
Visiting the Isle of Skye during the winter months is both convenient and affordable. The 3 day/2 night Isle of Skye and the Scottish Highlands Winter Tour departs weekly with prices as low as £215, including accommodation and breakfast.
Experience Winter Scotland with Scottish Tours
It’s easy to discover the beauty of Scotland during the quieter winter months with Scottish Tours.
We’re here to help you discover the place we call home and take you to the most iconic locations in the land. Our award-winning tours offer a full-immersive taste of Scottish life as you set sail on the trip of a lifetime.
Browse our Scotland Tours and book online today