Scotland in December: Our Complete Guide

Scotland in December

Scotland in December: Our Complete Guide

Scotland in December is a magical time—snow-covered streets, delicious food served at Christmas markets, and hearty renditions of ‘Auld Land Syne”. While the summer season is when most of Scotland’s tourists arrive, visiting Scotland in December is a fantastic experience. The wealth of traditional festivals, food, and attractions during December makes the month a time you can’t experience at any other time during the year.

Best of all, there’s no place in Scotland that isn’t lively and festive during December. From the far-flung Scottish Highlands underneath the Northern Lights to the Scottish Lowlands, where mulled wine and hearty meals are quick to the table, you’re truly spoilt for choice on where to spend Xmas in Scotland. There’s no Christmas quite like a Scottish Christmas.

We’ll cover everything you need to know when you visit Scotland in December, including how to pack, events you should look out for, and some frequently asked questions about the Winter seasons. Put on your Christmas hats, and let’s jump right into it!

December Weather in Scotland

December Weather in Scotland

The biggest concern that people have during a holiday break is Scotland’s weather in December. And while a snow-covered city has an ethereal beauty, that beauty doesn’t hold up when you’re slipping and tripping on icy streets. Here are the facts when it comes to weather conditions in December:

  • Average Daytime Temperature ranges from -4℃ – 2℃ (25℉ – 32℉).
  • The weather tends to be cold and breezy, with wind chill making the temperature in Scotland in December feel colder than it really is.
  • On average, December receives 7 hours and 13 minutes of daylight each day. Since it’s early winter, the amount of daylight hours decreases as the month progresses.
  • Around a third of days during December are partly cloudy or sunny without clouds.

As you can see, as December heralds the winter months of Scotland, the weather in Scotland in December tends to be cold, cloudy, and with minimal daylight hours. So, what should you be packing to withstand this weather?

How to Pack for Scotland in December

The Scottish winter is a beautiful time of year, featuring gorgeous snow-capped peaks, clear night skies, and the soft crunch of snow underneath your footfalls. Nevertheless, if you’re an ill-prepared traveller coming during December, a few items are necessary for conquering the harsh and cold side of the weather. Here are the top things to pack for Scotland in December:

Thick Socks & Boots

The worst feeling during winter is getting snow if your shoes melt and wet your feet. To combat this, always bring a thick pair of socks and leave your skin tightly snuggled up and a pair of boots that have an excellent grip for walking on ice.

Hat & Scarf

Your head emits the most heat, so you trap that warmth with a hat and scarf. Frozen ears and noses can dampen the exciting events during the Scottish Winter, so don’t leave home without them.

Jacket & Jumper

Layering is key when preparing for the cooler weather during December. Ensure that you tackle outdoor activities with a combination of fleece, jumper, and jacket before you plan on seeing the region’s natural beauty.

Things to Do in Scotland in December

Don’t be deceived by the lack of sunshine and tourists, Scotland in December is packed with things to do for those who know what to look for. Here are a few of our favourite picks for things to do in Scotland in Winter, in no particular order.

Pay a Visit to the Cairngorms National Park

Visit the Cairngorms

When the snow falls onto the Cairngorms National Park, the 4,500 square kilometre nature park becomes an ethereal and beautiful landscape to explore. If you’re dressed up, navigating the attractions of the Cairngorms is one of the most peaceful and beautiful experiences you can enjoy during December.

The serene snow-capped peaks, the occasional scurry of a winter critter, and the crisp air make the Cairngorms one of the most unique places to visit in Scotland in December. No matter if it’s for a quick tour of the accessible paths or a hike up the Cairngorm mountain, don’t miss out on the winter wonderland that is Scotland’s largest national park.

Visit the Cairngorms Reindeer Centre

Cairngorm Reindeer Centre

While in the Cairngorms, indulge your Christmas spirit by visiting the Cairngorms Reindeer Centre! Learn about how these antlered friends of Santa Claus live and survive the colder weather, how they cope with the Scottish summer, and much more! There are plenty of winter activities, like petting and walking with the reindeer of the Cairngorms.

If you’re interested in seeing some winter animals when you visit Scotland in December, then also make sure to check out the Highland Wildlife Park.

Shop at Magical Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets

Throughout the tail end of the December period, you can look forward to an abundance of Christmas markets in the bustling cities of Scotland. From Edinburgh to Inverness, there are numerous markets where you can pick up some proper Scottish Christmas market food. Enjoy traditional holiday delights like sticky toffee pudding, shortbread, mulled wine, and drams of whisky to your heart’s content.

Many markets run from the middle of December right up until New Year’s Eve, so you can enjoy the Christmas events Scotland has to offer without spending your Christmas Day.

Get Cosy in a Scottish Castle

Cosy Scottish Castles

There’s something aesthetic about a large, insulated castle that looks over the snowy mountains and rugged landscapes. If you want to live out your royal dreams, why not book one of Scotland’s castles for a night or two? Plenty of holiday packages allow you to sit next to a roaring fire and stunning stone brick, away from the noisy cities.

Whether it’s with your partner or an entire family, end your day trips in a location you’ll never forget! Many Scottish castles also come with luxurious amenities, including hot tubs, saunas and Wi-Fi connectivity. Head indoors in style, and book a Scottish castle for your next December trip to Scotland.

Go Skiing Down the Scottish Mountains

Skiing Down Scottish Mountains

December heralds the return of snowports back to Scotland! The snow-capped peaks of the Scottish Highlands are the perfect chance for skiing and snowboarding and are considered the best places for outdoor snowsports in the UK. The snowsport season lasts from December to April, so be sure to pay a visit to centres like the Glenshee Ski Centre, Aviemore, and Glencoe to be one of the first to carve through the snow!

Always ensure that you factor in the weather conditions before heading out to the snow-capped hills. In December, Scotland is home to fairly changeable weather, and you don’t want to ruin your day trip to the ski resort by not packing the right gear.

Mush with Husky Sled Rides

Husky Sled Rides

One of the unique things to do in Scotland in December is undoubtedly the husky sledge rides. Racing through the snow, led by a team of well-trained snow dogs, is an extremely memorable activity, and Scotland is one of only five locations in Europe with a dogsled centre. The centre is located at the foot of the Cairngorms and is run by the experienced Stewart family.

At the centre, you can learn about the history of dog sledging in Scotland and the British Isles and have the chance to mush your very own sledge dogs! The Cairngorms host many major attractions you can enjoy during December in Scotland, so don’t miss out on this opportunity while you’re there.

Admire the Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis

The daylight hours during December tend to be the shortest during the year. The winter solstice on the 21st only offers just over eight hours of daylight, from 9:45 to 15:30. But this isn’t a bad thing—in fact, the low daylight hours offer the chance to admire the gorgeous Scottish night sky for far longer!

Throughout the Cairngorms and Isles, there are designated Dark Skies regions where there is minimal light pollution. Without the lights of cities and roads, the vast expanse of our galaxy is on full display. Spot constellations, stars and planets, and even the band of the Milky Way with ease at places like the Galloway Forest Park.

If you’re planning to see the Northern Lights, then your best chance is to head north to the Scottish Highlands and Islands. In Scotland, the Aurora Borealis is called the ‘Mirrie Dancers’, and you may have to exercise patience to see them. To account for potential bad weather, ensure you set aside at least a couple of days to go spotting for these magical lights.

Tuck into Scottish Cuisine at Christmas

Scottish Christmas Cuisine

Scottish cuisine is the envy of the United Kingdom, and no more is more evident than Christmas. If you’re already planning to visit a Christmas market or two, then be sure to keep an eye out for the following traditional holiday dishes during December:

Cranachan

This delightful dessert is most often enjoyed during Christmas. It’s made from whipped cream, whisky, raspberries from the June harvest, oat groats and honey—heaven in a cup.

Whisky

There’s nothing better to warm you up than a wee dram of whisky. If you’re not already trying Scotch whisky in the dishes and desserts during Christmas, then picking up a bottle for you or as a gift for a friend is necessary!

Neeps and Tatties

Typically served with haggis during Burns Night, this hearty and delicious side dish is made from mashed turnips and potatoes. Pair an Angus steak or fish with the meal, and we bet you’ll be coming back for more.

Celebrate Holidays the Scottish Way

Scottish Holidays

No Scotland tours in December should be complete without celebrating the major holidays the Scottish way. From Christmas to New Year’s Eve, Scotland is filled with unique traditions that will have you on your feet and proudly singing renditions of the Burns classic, “Auld Lang Syne”. We’ve listed plenty of attractions in the Scottish December Events, so if you want a more in-depth look, then please check them out.

New Year’s Eve, Christmas, and all the attractions during December have a Scottish flair added to them, from placing wreaths on the front doors of homes to the famed Hogamany festivals on New Year. Pick them at your own pace (Scots are great at drinking), and ‘Nollaig Chridheil!’

Warm Yourself Up at Whisky Distilleries

Whisky Distilleries

Fight back against the cold, harsh winter months of Scotland with a tour of Scotland’s finest whisky distilleries. No matter where you go, from the West Coast to the East Coast, there will always be a Scottish whisky distillery waiting to pour you a dram of whisky. When faced with colder temperatures, there’s nothing like Scotch whisky to combat it.

Scotland’s historic capital has a wealth of amazing whisky and gin distilleries for you to enjoy during your trip, and it stands as one of the best places to visit in Scotland in Winter.

Take a Winter Road Trip

Winter Road Trip

Scotland is home to amazing routes for road trips, including the North Coast 500, North Coast 250, and many more to enjoy the spectacular winter wonderland that Scotland becomes in December. Many of the best attractions in Scotland, like Loch Ness, Cairngorms National Park, and Glen Coe, are still open during December, and a road trip is the best way to see them.

Make sure to plan your trip well though, as the Scotland weather in December can be quite temperamental. The train is also an excellent way to traverse the nation, with the snow-covered peaks racing past while you can stay warm and toasty inside.

Events Happening in December in Scotland

December Events

There are so many things to do in December while you’re in Scotland, but the major events are by far the most popular. Scotland embraces the holiday spirit and adds its own cultural flair, creating an unforgettable holiday break. Here are some of the events in December that you can attend.

Christmas at the Botanics, Edinburgh

Christmas at the Botanics is a beautiful festival held in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanical Garden. The event drapes Christmas lights around trees, creates beautiful structures out of light, and offers a chance to explore an after-dark event unlike any other. You may even have the chance to see Santa Claus himself!

Whether you’re with friends, family, or that special someone in your life, Christmas at the Botanics is an excellent place to visit Scotland in December.

Castle of Light, Edinburgh Castle

Watch as the stunning Edinburgh Castle is transformed into a Castle of Light between the 24th of November and the 3rd of January during specific time slots. The event is a fantastic place to end a day of sightseeing with your family, but be sure to bundle up, as Edinburgh Castle’s elevation can make it quite cold in the evenings.

Aberdeen City Winter Festival, Aberdeen

From the 17th of November to the 31st of December, Aberdeen city begins to look a lot like Christmas. An entire civic centre is dedicated to hosting Christmas markets, concerts, street entertainment, and traditional carriages. As the festival continues, expect visits from Santa and his Cairngorm Reindeer!

Perth Winter Festival, Perth

Alight with Christmas colours and the sounds of pop stars and groups Boney M, Perth ensures that nobody will be having a Blue Christmas on their watch. The Perth City Winter Festival is a fantastic holiday celebration that you should not miss while passing through the town.

Beecraigs Festive Forest, Linlithgow

The Breecraigs Festive Forest in Linlithgow is a unique and stellar opportunity to get out of Scotland’s cities for your Christmas festivals. The festive forest offers delicious traditional foods and drinks, plenty of attractions for the wee ones, and even storytelling by Mr and Mrs Santa Claus! What more could you want out of Scotland at Christmas?

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, Edinburgh

One of the most popular traditional celebrations in Scotland, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is the traditional New Year’s Eve celebration brimming with amazing activities. Revellers from all over the globe gather in Edinburgh between the 29th of December and the 31st of December to enjoy massive concerts, traditional and historic plays, and fireworks all while consuming so much whisky and food that it’s a Christmas miracle that they wake up the next morning.

If there’s any event that should be on your list, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay should be at the top of that list.

Frequently Asked Questions about Scotland in December

Have some more questions about travelling to Scotland in December? Don’t you worry – here are the most frequently asked questions and their answers.

What’s on in Glasgow in December?

There are plenty of amazing events that take place during December in Glasgow, no matter if you’re there for the Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations or not. Before the influx of the Christmas season, you can expect comedy nights, fine arts societies, and museum exhibitions.

But those who are coming with the Christmas Spirit in their heart can expect a Christmas market unlike any other, complete with hot chocolate, mulled wine, and hearty foods. The Christmas Market at Glasgow Fort, the Winter Show at the Compass Gallery, and the Glasgow Winterfest are all stellar options when visiting Scotland.

Best Places to Visit in Scotland in December?

The major cities of Scotland, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness, are filled with amazing attractions and are often people’s first choices. Edinburgh Castle, the Cairngorms National Park, and the Galloway Forest Park are some of the most popular things to do during the December period.

And if you want to get away from the major cities, Fort William, Linlithgow, Perth, and Portree are popular places to enjoy the December winter wonderland.

What’s Scotland’s December Weather Like?

December heralds the transition from Autumn into December, and the temperate climate drops to below 0℃ for the first time during the year.

During the day, December sees an average daytime temperature of 7, which drops to an average nighttime temperature of 2. The start of the winter months also means an increase in rainfall, with an average of 70mm throughout the month.

While December weather isn’t the best, a well-prepared traveller won’t have too much trouble visiting attractions. Always make sure to wear multiple layers, bring an umbrella wherever you go, and keep in mind the weather over the next couple of days.

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