Our winter destinations in Scotland are an inspiring selection of the beautiful, the exciting and the fascinating. Scottish weather is famously unpredictable, but we’re pretty sure you’re not scared of a bit of rain, so we’ve included lots of spectacular outdoor options as well as indoor activities for families and days that are just a little too wild.
BEST WINTER DESTINATIONS IN SCOTLAND
Edinburgh is arguably the cultural heart of Scotland and is an elegant city full of friendly people and tourists from all over the world.
Visit Edinburgh’s Christmas Markets
The Edinburgh Christmas Markets open on Princes Street in late November and last till early January. You will find a traditional, German-style market with spiced Gluhwein, fairground rides, plus local stalls full of Scottish delicacies.
Visit Edinburgh Castle
The castle is one of the highlights of a visit to Edinburgh, and happily, it is open throughout the winter. This impressive edifice sits atop the hill in the city’s center and is a fantastic historic building to explore, especially on rainy days.
There’s a 12th-century chapel, imposing cannons, the Great Hall, and it is the home of the Scottish Crown Jewels. The castle is also the best place to get a panoramic view and photos of the city.
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is another Edinburgh classic. It’s the name of the maze of streets that run from the castle to Holyrood Castle, the traditional home of the British monarch in Scotland.
The main street is full of exciting and fun things to do, from the Writer’s Museum and the Museum of Childhood to whisky tasting and the quirky Camera Obscura.
Once there, you can enjoy a tour of Holyrood House and visit the part of the palace that Mary, Queen of Scots, occupied in the 16th century.
Shopping in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a sophisticated city, and the shops are a fabulous mix of high street classics, designer shops and independent boutiques. In addition, plenty of coffee shops, bakeries, and excellent restaurants are dotted in between the shops to fuel your expedition for new styles.
Trekking to the top of Arthur’s Seat
A bracing winter walk to the highest point in the city is a beautiful way to spend the day. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano that dominates the Edinburgh skyline. The climb is a steady walk uphill, but it’s worth it for the views and how good hot chocolate or a pint will taste once the hike is complete.
Hogmanay and Burn’s Night
After the festive season and Christmas Markets, there is no better place in the world to celebrate the New Year (Hogmanay is the Scottish word) than in Edinburgh. The city holds a spectacular torchlight procession, there are lots of wonderfully raucous parties, and the atmosphere is electric.
On 26th January, the city is a hub of celebration for Burn’s Night, a day that honours the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. People drink good whisky, eat haggis, neeps and tatties, recite poetry and enjoy traditional Scottish reels.
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Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city. It is vibrant, energetic and full of heart.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a 100-year-old building found in Glasgow’s sophisticated and leafy West End. You’ll find exhibits on dinosaurs, original Salvador Dali paintings and much more in 22 rooms. It’s free to visit, and it is surrounded by the city’s best restaurants so that it would make a great winter day out.
Gallery of Modern Art
Glasgow’s GOMA is home to an extensive collection of work by local and international modern artists. The building itself, on Royal Exchange Square, is stunning and was built in 1775. The gallery would be a great place to warm up after a morning exploring the nearby St George Square statues.
St Enoch Square
Lovers of great architecture will appreciate a mooch around St Enoch Square on a crisp, clear day. Sitting as it does, next to the mighty River Clyde, it has been one of the centres of public life and commerce in Glasgow for centuries and has seen many changes.
Glasgow Cathedral is one of the last remaining medieval cathedrals in the country and is the most well-preserved. This spectacular building has been a place of worship for 800-years, and visitors can see a vast collection of beautiful stained-glass windows, hand-crafted wooden pews and breath in the same air as generations of Glaswegians.
The struggles of the ordinary working man and woman are central to the history of this proud city. The Riverside Museum, a modern building by architect Dame Zaha Hadid, is home to the story of how heavy industry in Glasgow, shipbuilding, engineering, and transport, has had a significant impact on the world.
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ISLE OF SKYE
The Isle of Skye is one of the most beautiful places in the world, with dramatic mountain ranges, jagged rock formations and green glens that look like something out of a fairy tale.
Historic houses and castles
On the mainland, just over the Skye Bridge, you will find Eilean Donan Castle. It is one of the most photographed historic houses in the country, and unlike many tourist attractions in the area, it stays open throughout winter.
Shopping for local crafts
Mooching along the pretty lanes of Portree, Skye’s capital, and the tiny fishing village of Uig, you’ll find lots of cute shops selling local crafts and gifts. The Skye Brewery, UIG Pottery and Skye Skyns, weavers of colourful clothes and accessories on the Waternish peninsula, are all well worth a visit.
Indulge in delicious local food and drink
Gazing out of the window of a real-fire warmed pub or restaurant at the ever-changing colours of the misty isle’s sky is a wonderful way to spend a winter day on Skye.
The Sligachan Hotel sits prettily at the foot of the Black Cuillin mountains next to the iconic Sligachan Bridge. The Cuillin Brewery sits next door, and though their tours don’t run in the winter, if you catch the brewer, Stewart, he will be thrilled to chat.
At The Flodigarry Hotel, in the northeast of the island, you’ll find a traditional, friendly welcome and an enthralling history. Set in ancient woodlands in the peculiarly beautiful Quiraing area, parts of the building were once home to the local heroine, Flora Macdonald, a brave lady who rescued Bonnie Prince Charlie as he escaped from British troops.
Hikes and Climbs
On Skye, it doesn’t rain every day of winter. Most, but not all! Some days dawn with bright blue skies and calm stillness. These are the days to explore the mountains, coast and moors.
That said, the weather is dangerously unpredictable. So, we recommend hiking to beauty spots that lie close to civilization, such as the Fairy Pools or The Old Man of Storr. If you’re feeling adventurous, booking a day with a professional guide is an exhilarating but safe way to experience the wintry landscape of this breathtaking island.
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CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK
If you’re careful not to explore beyond your skills and experience, the Cairngorms National Park is an excellent place to spend time this winter.
Taste the whiskey
The Cairngorms National Park is home to some iconic whisky distilleries. Dalwhinnie, Glenlivet, Speyside and Royal Lochnagar all have visitor centres with welcoming staff keen to explain the distilling process.
Aviemore is a popular base for tourists and has a thriving and friendly local community. In winter, the focus is on fuelling the adrenaline junkies flinging themselves off the local hills. However, there are plenty of family-friendly things to do in the town itself and amongst the gorgeous scenery.
Seek out the local wildlife
The Cairngorms is an area much loved by bird watchers. The Osprey population is booming, and enthusiasts might also see Golden Eagles, Capercaille and the Scottish Crossbill.
Animals are in abundance here too; deer, red squirrels, otters and mountain hares may be spotted by hikers who walk slowly and quietly through the countryside. An organisation called Speyside Wildlife offers guided trips to their secluded wildlife hides where you’ll see the most secretive creature in the Scottish hills.
The Cairngorms National Park is a hub for all kinds of winter sports, from the sedate art of snowman building to skiing, sledging and snowboarding. There are three ski resorts in the area, which all offer kit hire and lessons. However, we think that the best for height, excitement and variety is CairnGorm Mountain near Aviemore.
Hike Ben Macdui
Ben Macdui is the second highest mountain in the U.K. It’s a challenging climb that requires the correct kit, a keen eye on the weather and the ability to navigate. If you’re unsure that you have the mountain skills needed, hike to the summit of The Cairnwells instead or hire an experienced guide for the day.
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Glencoe is the gateway to the mountains of Scotland and is a source of endless delight for any lover of the great outdoors.
Loch Leven – RSPB Reserve
RSPB Scotland’s Loch Leven is on the southern banks of the loch and is situated a convenient hour-long drive from Edinburgh. It is a place of relaxation, enjoying the views and watching the antics of swallows, pink-footed geese and lapwing chicks. The visitor’s centre is fantastic, with knowledgeable volunteers on hand to answer questions and state-of-the-art binoculars available to hire. The café is fab too!
Hiking in Glencoe
Glencoe hikes can be as challenging or as easy as you please, depending on your fitness, skills and, of course, the weather. Sections of the iconic West Highland Way or trekking to the summit of the Pap of Glencoe can both be achieved in a day, or there’s the short 1.5-mile amble to Signal Rock from An Torr.
Skiing at Glencoe Mountain Resort
Glencoe Mountain Resort is the oldest of the ski resorts in Scotland, and the slopes all have fantastic views of the wildness of Rannoch Moor stretching endlessly below. It’s a small resort that is perfect for beginners and experts alike. It is home to the steepest and longest ski slope in the country.
Ice climbing at The Ice Factor
The Scottish can sometimes be too much for even the hardiest of souls. The Ice Factor is a brilliant option for when the outdoors gets too wild. This exceptionally well-run ice climbing centre in Kinlochleven has the tallest indoor ice climbing wall in the country and is an excellent place to learn new techniques, hone existing skills and have a lot of fun.
Just outside, Fort William, the town anyone who has climbed Ben Nevis will recognise, sits the relic of Old Inverlochy Castle. It’s a 13th-century ruin that is remarkably well-preserved and has a rich if brutally bloody, story to tell. Two violent battles occurred on the castle’s grounds, and there must be thousands of ghosts haunting what’s left of the castle.
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