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Winter in Scotland

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.

Bright lights

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 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 sounds 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 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 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 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.

Illuminator Night Trail Race Event, Aboyne

On Saturday 28th October, get comfortable shoes and head torches at the ready for an unforgettable trail running experience at Glen Tanar Estate located in the midst of Royal Deeside. With three route lengths (8km, 15km or 15 mile) to choose from and the option to walk or run, this unique experience will light up the surrounding forest and pathways and provide a stunning environment to marvel at whilst embracing those feel-good-factor endorphins. Participation also includes a well-earned hot drink and snack to refuel along the way.

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! Roaming freely since 1952, The Cairngorm Reindeer herd is Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer with daily hill trips to see the reindeers up close.

Glasgow’s Christmas festivities are not to be missed. 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.

Tis the season of giving! Drop by one of Scotland’s eight cities for a spot of festive shopping. Think artisanal gifts from Perth, the UK‘s first City of Craft. Pick up a tartan gift celebrating V&A Dundee’s landmark exhibition Tartan which runs to January 2024. Get historical in Dunfermline, Scotland’s former capital and go local in Stirling, exploring the Victorian shopping mall filled with independent retailers. Across Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen there’s a great mix of brands and local businesses to discover where shoppers can pick up the perfect gift of 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, featuring family events, 40 market stalls, 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.

Get cosy and coorie in!

Ross Bay Retreats, Dumfries & Galloway

Situated in the UNESCO Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere – a world class environment for people and nature and fifteen minutes away from the lively fishing port Kirkcudbright – ‘The Artists’ Town’, get set to be greeted with a homemade welcome cake upon arrival at one of these cosy coastal cottages overlooking Ross Bay. Featuring stunning scenery and sea views, guests can roam across the working farm (with the option to meet some of the animals) or opt to explore the acres of forest and coastline. Four legged friends are welcome, with pooches receiving a welcome pack of their very own.

Loch Katrine Eco Lodges, Stirling

Choose from 10 lochside lodges in one of the most beautiful parts of The Trossachs overlooking Loch Katrine and Ben Venue. Located seven miles from Callander and five miles from Aberfoyle, this eco camp is the perfect base to get away from it all but still be within a short drive to bustling tourist hubs. Walk, cycle and explore the beauty of this exceptional place, part of one of Britain’s largest National Nature Reserves. Set sail onto Loch Katrine and make the most of the festive celebrations on board including Santa sailings (over 11 days in December) on Lady of the Lake and in the Steamship Café, or opt for a New Year sail on 1st and 2nd January on the restored Steamship Sir Walter Scott (providing an hour long sail with a traditional Scottish band playing on board, a New Year welcome drink and shortbread).

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, exploring three stunning coasts thanks to the East Meets West itinerary package. It’s the perfect way to be immersed in the local culture, explore hidden gems and tuck into seasonal produce at different properties along the route with a luxury winter lunch picnic.

Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder

Scotland’s own Glorious Playground comes alive at Christmas, with decorations designed to evoke the wintry scenery of the surrounding Perthshire countryside. The hotel will be transformed into a magical wonderland and a whole range of family friendly activities. From brisk trail walks, and outdoor adventures by day, to roaring log fires and decadent dining by night, there is something for everyone at Gleneagles.

Glenapp Castle, Ayrshire

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. Those looking for something more active can choose from Glenapp’s unique Glenapp activity programme, which offers over 70 different amazing activities and experiences both on and off-site, including axe-throwing, archery, hiking, mountain biking, cookery lessons, and more. After a day of exploring, tuck into a wonderful dining experience with a three-course gourmet dinner, offering mouth-watering canapes and handmade petit fours at the award-winning, three AA rosette dining room.

Virgin Hotels Edinburgh

Guests can celebrate A New Year Full of Cheer at Virgin Hotels Edinburgh in the heart of 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 live band followed by New Year’s Day Brunch in Eve.

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 the Yuletide Experience on select Fridays and Saturdays throughout December, a luxury experience offering a blend of warm tradition and contemporary fine dining.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. A lot people start to get very depressed once temperatures drop and the days get shorter. This is a nice optimistic post reminding us that there’s still plenty to look forward to as winter approaches. There’s so much going on that it’s worth heading to Scotland for all the action.

  2. You are so right when you say that there ain’t no party like a Scottish party.

    It’s about this time of year that a lot of us start trying to find some Scottish ancestors in our heritage to boost our partying genes.

  3. On my travels across the world I’ve come across many a landscape that looks better in winter than summer and I think that’s very true of Scotland. It’s one of my favourite winter destinations.

  4. Shhhhhhh! Don’t let everyone in on the secret. Scotland in Winter is magical. For years we’ve headed to Scotland after Christmas.

  5. The great thing about Scotland for a winter trip is that it feels very different to home and that you are really getting away from it all.

    We usually drive as we don’t want to battle with busy airports and delayed flights etc etc.

  6. Scotland’s had a really tough time and some battering from Storm Babet. Over the centuries the Scots have shown themselves to be a very resilient people and I’ve no doubt that they’ll bounce back though some communities will have a huge amount of clearing up to do. It would be great if the tourist trade could help them with a lot of people heading north to give them a bumper winter season.

  7. Over the last few years I’ve done some of these lights trails in England but none in Scotland.

    What the technology can produce now is very impressive indeed. I’d love to do some of these in Scotland.

  8. There are lots of interesting things to do and see in Scotland in the winter months, even if they are limited.. For instance, in the winter months, weekend tours of Dumfries House are available – during the summer months, they operate Sunday – Friday. Booking advisable. Lovely coffee shop/restaurant too. I believe access to the gardens is all year round, although obviously check with the website!

    Other great places to visit in Glasgow include Pollok House and the nearby Burrell Collection, the Riverside Museum and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    Enjoy your visit to Scotland, wherever you decide to go.

  9. We have only been up to Scotland in the summer but you paint a lovely picture of it in the winter. Our oldest is just getting to the age that he is understanding Christmas and we were thinking of heading over to Lapland to meet the reindeer and experience Christmas but Scotland sounds much more achievable without having to tackle the flight etc.

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