Scotland in January: Our Complete Guide

Scotland in January

As one year turns to another, Scotland moves from year-end celebrations to a quiet contemplation of new beginnings. January in Scotland is usually a calm and serene month after the December winter activity, but it is still filled with plenty of attractions and things to do at your own pace. Long nights, warm traditional food, and a winter wonderland await those planning to visit Scotland in January.

As the middle of the winter months, January breaks will often have fewer visitors and fewer crowds around many of its popular attractions and events. This makes January a hidden gem for seeing major hot spots like Arthur’s Seat, the Royal Yacht Britannica, and Kelvingrove Art Gallery without worrying about large groups to contend with. If you’re looking for cheaper accommodation and flight deals, January is the ideal month for a Scotland winter itinerary.

If you want to know more about what to expect from visiting Scotland in January, from its weather, attractions, and events, then you’ve come to the right place. Read our complete guide, and you’ll know where to visit in January in no time!

Weather in Scotland in January

Weather in January

In January, Scotland is at the full height of the winter season, making it a frigid visit. Average temperatures during the day hover between 1 – 8℃ (33 – 46℉), but this can dip to below 0℃ if the nation sees more rain and snow than usual. While there is an ethereal beauty to a snow-covered city, Scotland’s weather in January is one of the coldest months in the year.

In addition to cold weather and snow, January in Scotland also has cold winds that blow through major cities like Edinburgh and Inverness from the east coast. This can drop the average temperatures, so always be on the lookout for wind speeds in your weather report.

January also has short daylight hours, usually over seven hours (between 9:00 and 17:00). As the month continues away from the winter solstice in December, the sun rises earlier. If you want to make the most of the day, then late January is ideal.

How to Pack for Scotland in January

To combat the winter weather Scotland affords in January, you’ll need to be smart about the things you pack and wear. The last thing you want is for your itinerary to be bested by a cold you caught, thanks to Scotland’s winter weather. Here’s how to pack for Scotland in January:

A Durable Pair of (Waterproof) Boots

Against frigid winds and snow, your best friend is a durable pair of boots. Scotland weather January [in] means icy surfaces, thick snow to trudge through, and muddy paths – which sometimes spell disaster for the ill-prepared traveller. To walk with confidence in Scotland in the winter, ensure you bring or buy a pair or two.

Fleece Top and Rain Jacket

Whether it’s a jumper, jacket, or your favourite warm vest, make sure that you’re layering clothing before tackling the weather in Scotland in January. We recommend a warm fleece top, jumper, and a poofy rain jacket that will keep you dry during January’s bad weather.

Thermal Pants

To complement your layering, it’s best to bring along a warm pair of pants or two. While summer months in Scotland are a great opportunity for shorts, it’s the worst thing to bring in January. Instead, opt for warm thermal pants and conquer Scotland in winter.

Warm Accessories

Finally, bundle your head, hands, and neck up with beanies, gloves, and scarves—preferably in some Scottish colours. Wearing warm accessories along with your favourite warm clothing will not only make Scotland’s January weather seem like a more temperate climate, but it’s also a chance to show off your fashion!

Things to Do in Scotland in January

Although January weather in Scotland may be cold, you’ll find that the frigid winter still has plenty of things to do in Scotland. If you need some events to add to your itinerary, read our guide for the top January attractions.

Treat Yourself to a Ski Resort Vacation

Ski Resort Vacation

One perk of winter in Scotland is the opportunity to enjoy skiing and snowboarding at one of Scotland’s amazing winter resorts. Scotland tours to major resorts like Cairngorm Mountain, Glencoe Mountain Resort, and Glenshee Ski Centre are necessary additions for anyone wanting to try winter sports.

While snow rarely falls in all of Scotland, the snow-capped peaks of its mountains regularly are dressed with ice and snow during winter. So, even if you’re not an avid outdoor enthusiast, the natural beauty to be seen from the tops of the mountains is well worth it.

See Scotland’s Attractions Without Crowds

Scotland's Attractions without Crowds

While winter in Scotland means that certain attractions are closed until April/May, you’ll find plenty of open year-round to explore. Best of all, many of even Scotland’s most famous attractions will have barely a soul present. There’s no feeling quite like seeing historic castles, standing stones, and museums all to yourself.

Delve into Scottish monuments like Arthur’s Seat, Stirling Castle, and the Calanais Standing Stones on your day trips without fear of overcrowding or high fees.

Hunt the Northern Lights and Dark Skies

Northern Lights

While shorter days may be a bummer to some, it’s an opportunity for others to see an entirely new world. Scotland is home to several Dark Sky Reserves – areas with minimal light pollution that let you see the unabashed night sky. For many budding astronomers, these night skies are the perfect place for spotting constellations, seeing the Milky Way, and hunting the Northern Lights.

Although you don’t have to be an astronomer to appreciate the night sky! If you want to take advantage of Scotland’s wintry landscapes, places like the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Dark Sky Park are stunning to behold. And for those interested in seeing the fabled Aurora Borealis, or ‘Mirrie Dancers’ as they’re known here, these havens of the night sky provide the perfect opportunity to do so.

Spot Local Winter Wildlife

Winter Wildlife

While many animals have their offspring in spring and summer, there’s still plenty of wildlife to spot during winter. Animals like red deer, reindeer, otters, seals, and beavers can be found amongst the spectacular scenery, scurrying and wandering the winter wonderland of the Cairngorms National Park.

The Cairngorms isn’t your only option either on the Scottish Highlands, with places like the Handa Island Nature Reserve, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, and the Highland Wildlife Park offering even more opportunities to see Scotland’s spectacular wildlife on a winter walk.

Warm Yourself Up With a Whisky

Whisky Warm-up

If the winter blues have your knees knocking and teeth chattering, warm yourself up with a wee dram of whisky! Scotland is renowned for its whisky culture, with distilleries that have hundreds of years of experience creating the finest signature single malts and blends.

You can learn about the intricate whisky production process at one of Scotland’s amazing distilleries, even during winter. The Isle of Mull, Scottish Highlands, and Campbeltown are distillery hot spots, so leave with warming yourself up at one of these bastions of Scottish culture.

Events in Scotland in January

Events in Scotland in January

Although much quieter than the rowdy December celebrations, January still has several unique events to look forward to. If you want to experience Scottish culture during your stay, here are some to look forward to:

Celtic Connections (18th January – 4th February, Glasgow)

Embrace Scotland’s Celtic culture at the Celtic Connections festival taking place in Glasgow. One of the highlights of the winter season, Celtic Connections puts on a magnificent display featuring 2,100 musicians from all over the world. Participate in free events, Scottish cuisine, talks, exhibitions, and more.

New Years (1st January, Scotland)

While December has many global celebrations, like the Edinburgh Christmas Market and Hogmanay Celebrations, New Year is shared by both. New Year’s, often referred to as Hogmanay in Scotland, is a festive and glorious celebration when whisky flows, food piles high, and renditions of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ are plentiful. If you want a particularly energetic New Year, come to Scotland!

Burns Night (25th January, Scotland)

Burns Night is a celebration of Scotland’s National Poet, Robert Burns. This Scottish holiday is typically celebrated with a Burns supper – a traditional dish of haggis, neeps, and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes). If you’re visiting Scotland towards the end of January, make sure to try this uniquely Scottish dish.

We’ve written about the top traditional Scottish dishes to try during your visit – check it out here!

Lerwick Up Helly Aa (Last Tuesday of January, Lerwick)

Feeling adventurous? Head to the faraway Isle of Shetland towards the final days of January, and you’ll be able to experience a festival unlike any other. Lerwick Up Helly Aa is a fire festival that is heralded as the northern Mardi Gras, with dancing, music, and good food galore.

For the proper experience, make sure you dress up as a Viking so you don’t stand out amongst the crowd.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have some questions about things to do during January in Scotland? Read our frequently asked questions, and you’re bound to learn something you didn’t before.

If you want to learn about the Fort William Mountain Festival in February or Hogmanay in December, read our complete guides to Scotland in February and Scotland in December to know what to look forward to.

Is January a Good Time to Visit Scotland?

Yes, if you’re prepared to dress warmly. While January isn’t a great time to visit Scotland for everyone, those who love winter sports, a snow-covered landscape, and don’t mind the cold will find that Scotland is splendid to visit.

Fees for accommodation, plane tickets, and attractions also tend to be lower during winter months, making Scotland an ideal budget break.

Is Scotland Worth Visiting in Winter?

Winter in Scotland is worth visiting if you’re arriving with a planned itinerary. While the summer months allow you to enjoy hopping from attraction to attraction, winter weather, unexpected closures, and short daylight hours mean you can easily lose a vacation day if you aren’t thinking ahead.

But if you don’t mind the cold and have an idea of your break, then Scotland in winter is worth visiting for its cheaper attractions, small crowds, and festive holidays.

Is Edinburgh Worth Visiting in January?

As Scotland’s largest city, Edinburgh is worth visiting no matter what time of year you arrive. However, in January, the weather makes visiting easier if you’re prepared for the cold. Edinburgh experiences an average temperature of 2 – 9℃ during January, although the frigid winds from the east coast can make it feel below zero.

Nevertheless, you’ll find that Edinburgh in January still has spectacular attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, Royal Yacht Britannica, and Holyrood Palace.

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