Scotland in Winter: 10 Best Activities December & Beyond
Visiting Scotland in winter? Discover a different, yet magnificent side to Scotland by exploring the beautiful winter landscapes!
There are so many places to visit in Scotland in winter, from exploring enchanting castles, climbing snowy munros, finding off-the-beaten-paths or overlooking our icy lochs, in winter Scotland is transformed into a wonderland that you don’t want to miss out on. Although it is colder, the stunning views and majestic scenery are still available to be enjoyed by all.
Visiting Scotland in December, staying at one of our gorgeous Scottish hotels and inns, will fill you and your loved ones with remarkable memories that will last a lifetime. There is something so special in warming up by the fire, nestling in with your loved ones and feeling accomplished after your adventurous day exploring the crisp surroundings Scotland has to offer.
If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Scotland in December or January, then we’ve got you covered! This is our top ten list of things to do in Scotland in winter.
1. Skiing in Cairngorms
Ski resorts in Scotland are the only place in the UK where you get the chance to thrillingly zip down mountains with real snow beneath your skis. Cairngorm National Park, in particular, is best known for its beautiful resorts that offer spectacular ski and snowboard areas. The country proudly homes five outdoor ski resorts located in the most mountainous parts of the country, three of which are found in Cairngorms National Park: Cairngorm Mountain, the Lecht and Glenshee.
With 40km of pitched runs, Glenshee Ski Centre - under 40 minute drive from our Balmoral Arms accommodation in Ballater (formerly called Deeside Inn) - is the largest ski resort in the whole of the United Kingdom. It is strategically equipt for individuals of all levels, with fantastically varied slopes categorised from blue (easy) to black (difficult). Not to mention, the ski lift to the top offers truly stunning 360° panoramic views overlooking Cairnwell pass.
The Lecht is beautifully located in the Eastern Cairngorms - just a 30 minute drive from our Balmoral Arms - and is the smallest ski resort in Scotland. There are a variety of phenomenal ski runs perfect for all levels, which will give access to the Osprey, the Robin & Wren, Magic Carpet and the Kestrel slopes. There aren’t many more fun things to do in Scotland in winter than skiing!
2. Whisky Tour in Tobermory
Discover Scotland's greatest export of over 500 years by touring where it is made. About a 30 minute drive away from our Isle of Mull Hotel & Spa, you can explore the prettiest port in Scotland and take a tour around the Tobermory Distillery for a truly authentic experience.
Tobermory is famous for its colourful buildings that were once the backdrop to the popular children’s TV show Balamory, and has since been labelled the prettiest port in Scotland. With the harbour-front buildings being so picturesque you can’t help but be drawn to what lies within. The main street is made up of gorgeous sweet shops, cafe’s, guest houses and an amazing array of unique, locally sourced arts and craft stores. Amongst these boutique shops you will also find the Tobermory Distillery, which holds a selection of memorable whisky experiences, including exclusive tasting of delicious local whisky straight from the cask.
There’s no doubt a real Scottish whisky distillery is one of the best places to visit in Scotland in winter, and just had to be high on our list.
3. Cruise on Loch Ness
Loch Ness is said to be one of the most famous bodies of water in the world, because of its association with the mythical monster that lies within its gloomy waters. The loch is Scotland's deepest loch, second biggest by surface area and is truly beautiful to set your eyes on. One of the best ways to experience the beauty Loch Ness has to offer is to take a cruise on the murky waters and search for Nessie yourself. Here you can overlook the stunning views of the loch, and its breath taking surroundings, discover the romantic ruins of Urquhart Castle while being in the perfect spot to search for Nessie up close.
There are day trips leaving from Clansman Harbour - under 45 minute drive away from our Golf View Hotel in Inverness to Urquhart Castle all year round.
4. Christmas Markets in Edinburgh
Throughout the year Edinburgh is loved for its elegant medieval and Georgian buildings, an iconic castle that overlooks the whole city and the buzzing Royal Mile rammed packed with amazing bars and restaurants. During winter however, Scotland’s capital holds a magnificent six-week celebration of festive entertainment in the heart of the city. Each year the magical city is transformed into a winter wonderland with its stunning light displays, stalls of delicious goodies and a huge array of memorable events. The bustling ambience is the perfect way to get you in the spirit of Christmas in Scotland and is easily enjoyed by the whole family.
5. Shopping in Glasgow
Take a direct train from our Oban Bay Hotel to Scotland’s largest city. Glasgow is home to the best shopping streets in Scotland, and is especially loved during the festive period. See Buchanan Street lit up with stunning, twinkling Christmas lights while you make your way into the abundance of shops that could keep you busy for a full day of shopping and beyond. When your hands are full and your arms are aching, the city’s atmosphere is pumping with lots of amazing restaurants and bars to choose from. Merchant City, in particular, is especially picturesque with it’s fairy light displays and energetic ambiance at night.
6. Crerar450 Road Trip
Adventure Scotland’s wintery landscapes by embarking on a beautifully unique road trip in winter that will leave you with unforgettable memories. The route consists of 450 miles of breath-taking scenery, opportunities to explore famous towns and discover Scotland’s most special landmarks. The Crerar450 road trip driving route is perfectly organised for you to take a pitstop at each of our gorgeous hotels to experience local cuisine, luxury amenities and unique rooms.
We can’t think of many better things to do in Scotland in January, to drive away any post-holiday blues.
7. Discover Enchanting Castles in Aberdeenshire
If there is one thing Scotland is not short of, it’s castles! At one point it was said there were over 3,000 castles in the country, which are spread across the most scenic parts of Scotland. Over 200 of which are found in the country’s east coast, Aberdeenshire - all within a short drive from our Thainstone House hotel in Inverurie.
To help you organise your perfect castle trail, check out our blog post to find our enchanting list of Aberdeenshire castles and ruins, to feel like you’ve entered a real-life fairy tail winter wonderland this season.
8. Take a Walk on the John Muir Trail
The 134 miles of the John Muir Trail, located in Dumbarton, is labelled one of the nicest walks in Scotland. Although it’s colder in winter, the frosted branches of the surrounding trees and small dusting of snow transforms the walk into an amazing winter wonderland. Under an hour and 30 min drive away from our Loch Fyne Hotel & Spa in Inveraray, you have the opportunity to dwell in the country's beautiful scenery and make unforgettable memories with this day trip for you and your loved ones. The stunning coast-to-coast walk has been split into one-day and half-day routes where you can discover some of Scotland’s most enchanting castles, beautiful sandy beaches and overlook panoramic views from the hilltops.
Discover the different routes here.
9. Wildlife spotting in Cairngorms Wildlife Park
Thanks to our stunning landscapes, Scotland’s wildlife is plentiful and extremely diverse. Wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world visit Scotland to try and catch a glimpse of the country’s most beautiful natural history all year round, and the Cairngorms Wildlife Park is one of the perfect places to do it. If you’re a lover of hiking, bird-watching and taking beautiful seasonal pictures then you’ll absolutely love it there in winter. The wildlife park is home to a haven of Scottish wildlife, including the infamous red deer, golden eagle and even - the people’s winter favourite - freely roaming reindeer.
If you’re looking for things to do in Scotland in winter, see if you can spot Scotland’s ‘Big Five’: red deer, red squirrels, European otters, seals and golden eagles.
10. Northern Lights
The Aurora Borealis is one of nature’s most magical displays and Scotland is one of the few places in the world where you can be lucky enough to see them. This is when the night skies are lit up with vibrant stripes of green, purple and red, and can only be seen when there is a strong enough solar storm and skies are extremely clear.
December and January are said to be the best months to catch a glimpse, and although it is possible to see it in lower parts of the country, your chances will be much higher the further north you go. If you stay with us at our Glencoe Inn in the highlands this winter, where there is little artificial light, you may discover the simply stunning views of the night sky.
Organise your winter break in Scotland, and go on a magical adventure!
Our Hotels and Inns in Scotland are located throughout the most scenic areas and are ideally situated for your festive activities. No matter which gorgeous hotel you choose to experience, there is something magical for you to do nearby.
Take comfort in knowing after your day of adventure in Scotland’s cold wintery climate, you can warm up in a comforting, luxury hotel that will cater to your every need.
What should you pack for your winter trip to Scotland?
Through blasts of icy wind from the North, winter in Scotland can definitely get cold so you need to be fully equipt for your winter adventures.
- Keep warm in Scotland with layers. A t-shirt, jumper and warm waterproof jacket combo are suitable throughout the day. Add a thermal base if you are more prone to the cold.
- Best to bring your favourite hat, scarfs and gloves collection so you are ready for the cold, windy days.
- Warm waterproof boots and trousers would especially be handy if you are a hiking enthusiast as the hills can get very wet and muddy.
- Use your umbrella at your own risk. The winds can sometimes be too strong for your umbrella, making it difficult to use without breaking it. Although, it is great for city use when the weather is calm and wet.
- Please note, for activities like winter hiking and skiing, you should take extra precautions and ensure you have the correct clothes and equipment for the conditions and follow expert advice always.
What are the biggest events in Scotland during the Winter?
- Edinburgh Christmas Market is one of the biggest Christmas markets in the UK. It has lots of festive events and a variety of rides, traditional stalls and food on offer (Runs from mid-November to early January).
- Glasgow also holds two Christmas markets on George Square and St. Enoch Square, both situated in the centre of Glasgow. These include delicious food stalls and lots of mulled wine.
- Edinburgh holds the biggest celebratory event of the year on Hogmanay on its Royal Mile, as well as a ceilidh by the Castle on New Year’s Eve.