Scotland in Winter: Our Complete Guide

Scotland in Winter

Between the months of December, January, and February, Scotland falls into a cold winter recess. The Scottish winter is cold and harsh, but also ethereally beautiful if you know where to look. The shorter daylight hours don’t put Scots down—in fact, they make a point to celebrate through the winter months as much as they can!

There’s no place quite as magical as Scotland in Winter; from amazing festivals like Hogmanay and Edinburgh Castle of Light to the opportunities for winter sports and gazing at the night sky, visitors to Scotland during the winter months have so many opportunities to enjoy Scottish culture. We’re here to break down everything you need to know about Winter in Scotland.

When Does Winter Start in Scotland?

The winter holidays in Scotland start properly on the 1st of December. The first week or two of December has the remnants of Autumn, with milder weather and a temperate climate compared to the rest of the winter months.

If you’re interested in enjoying the winter season at its best, then early December or late February offers the best of winter attractions with the most pleasant weather and minimal snowfalls.

Winter Weather in Scotland

Winter Weather in Scotland

Winter in Scotland, compared to the rest of the year, is quite cold. You can expect a mixture of clear, blue-skied days and cloudy days that bring rain, ice, and snow. Bad weather conditions mean that travelling to Scotland in winter should always be accompanied by an abundance of warm clothes, extra layers, and thick boots.

On average, the daytime temperature in Scotland is 4℃ (around 39℉). The wind chill may make this feel colder than it actually is, especially when exploring the rocky Highland coast or climbing one of Scotland’s Munros. Luckily, while Scotland does share the same latitude as Russia, Canada, and Alaska, you’ll find that the average daytime temperature is more balmy than any of these locations during winter.

Dressing for Winter Months in Scotland

It’s easy to be taken by images of snow-capped peaks and clear night skies during Scottish winter, but you should always be prepared for the harsh realities that the winter months bring. There are a few things that anyone travelling to Scotland should bring along on their trip to the nation, and we’ve outlined the essentials for your winter packing list right here:

Pairs of Thick Socks and Boots

Don’t spend your day out with wet socks, pack a pair of thick socks and boots to save yourself a rainy day catastrophe. For the best results, wear long socks that meet the bottom of your trousers without any skin showing.

A Cosy Hat and Scarf

Even when exploring Scotland’s cities, wrapping your head and neck in a hat and scarf is the best way to tackle the harsh winter wind. If you’re planning to attend exciting events in the evening, then doubly so.

Waterproof Trousers

Waterproof trousers are a godsend for when the winter weather lets it pour down. While Scotland in winter has some clear days, bringing a pair of waterproof trousers will save your trip and help avoid you catching a cold.

Scotland in Winter: Month by Month

Winter in Scotland is not the same on a month-by-month basis. In fact, travelling to Scotland in December, January, and February will differ quite a bit depending on the activities you’re looking for and the weather to pack for. We’ve outlined the winter months one by one in Scotland so you know exactly which one is right for your travels.

December in Scotland

December in Scotland

Scotland in December is undoubtedly one of the most exciting times for the nation, not only during the winter season but the entire year too! December is packed full of activities to do, from Christmas parties to New Year’s Eve parties and traditional Scottish celebrations. Accompanying these winter wonderland festivals are delicious Scottish cuisine and drams of whisky—what more could you ask for?

We also can’t forget about Scotland’s very own New Year’s celebration, Hogmanay! This famed Edinburgh party brings in the new year right, the Scottish way. The rest of Scotland in winter is also well worth exploring, with plenty of opportunities for a winter road trip. The Cairngorm National Park is also an excellent attraction when visiting Scotland in December, with the Cairngorm Reindeer Park being an especially festive attraction.

We’ve written a full guide to visiting Scotland in December and the festive season that awaits—check it out here.

January in Scotland

January in Scotland

As the festival season lulls into the New Year, January offers a blissful time for relaxed exploration in Scotland. The winter during December is still cold, although the days are slowly becoming longer and longer after the Winter Solstice. One of the highlights of the month is Burns Night.

Burns Night takes place on the 25th of January, celebrating the birthday of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Celebrate this heralded Scottish icon by having a Burns Supper, which is often a delicious haggis that’s served with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips).

Check out our Scotland in January guide if you want to learn more about visiting Scotland during this wintery month.

February in Scotland

February in Scotland

To round out the winter season we have February, the shortest month in the year. But while winter conditions haven’t ceased just yet, you can see plenty of attractions with the 28 days that February has to offer. The highlight of the month is undoubtedly the Scottish Snowdrop Festival.

The Scottish Snowdrop Festival rounds off the winter months beautifully, and you can see these budding flowers bloom in several locations throughout the country. Some popular ones include the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Dunrobin Castle in the Highlands, and the Logan Botanic Garden in Dumfries and Galloway. These beautiful flowers are quite the sight to behold, signifying that the icy conditions fading away come early March.

A romantic Valentine’s Day trip is also well worth visiting Scotland for, with plenty of options for attractions to see, like Arthur’s Seat, Stirling Castle, and more. Scotland sees fewer visitors in February, which is ideal for a romantic getaway. Read our full guide for Scotland in February here.

Winter Events in Scotland

Now that you’re all packed and know which month you’ll be visiting our fair nation, you need some attractions, things to do, and events to look forward to! We’ve detailed all the major attractions and events during Scotland’s winters that are worth attending, so feel free to add some of these to your to-do list on your journey.

Enjoy Edinburgh’s Holidays Attractions

Edinburgh Holiday Attractions

From December to February, Scotland’s winter months are filled with beautiful attractions to look forward to. Each month is stocked full of activities, from the abundance of winter festivals in December to the quaint and natural Scottish holidays in January and February. Let’s take a quick tour of what Winter Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the rest of Scotland have in store for you.

In December, Scotland comes alive with Christmas markets—indulge yourself with twinkling lights, hot chocolate, mulled wine, and piping hot Scottish foods. Edinburgh and Glasgow are winter hot spots, with notable events like the Edinburgh Castle of Light, Winter Wonderland Glasgow Festival, and plenty of opportunities for Christmas shopping to be had.

Come January and February, and the events die down, but there’s still plenty to see. Burns Night, Six Nations, and the Snowdrop Festival are all unmissable attractions for a visitor to the Scottish cities during the new year.

Have a Burns Night Supper

Burns Night Supper

Speaking of, why not participate in a thoroughly Scottish like Burns Night! There are several festivals year-round that celebrate Scottish figures, like St Andrew’s Day. These amazing traditional festivals offer the chance to enjoy proper Scottish meals and drinks along with Scots to celebrate the nation’s fascinating history.

Burns Night takes place on the 25th of January, the birthday of Robert Burns—renowned poet of Scotland. A Burns Supper is typically a traditional meal consisting of Scotland’s favourite Haggis and Neeps and Tatties (mashed potatoes and turnips). It’s a scrumptious meal unique to Scotland, so don’t miss out the next time you’re visiting Scotland in January.

See the Northern Lights

Northern Lights

When someone talks about visiting Scotland in the winter, the Northern Lights are one of the top attractions to see. The daylight hours during Scottish winter are much shorter than the rest of the year, offering visitors the chance to see the aurora borealis if they’re patient enough. So when the sun begins to set at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, think of it as your chance to see the fairy lights of the night sky!

For the best chances to see the Northern Lights, always head to the northern parts of Scotland that have few major cities. The Highlands and Islands of Scotland are considered to be the very best places to visit in Scotland in winter for a chance to see the Northern Lights, or the ‘Mirrie Dancers’ as they’re called in Scotland. But even within the Highlands and Islands, there are few locations that offer an unparalleled view of the night sky.

These are designated Dark Skies areas, where the Scottish night sky can be seen without the interference of light pollution. Places like the Galloway Dark Forest Park in the Cairngorm mountain range show off the stars, planets, and even the Milky Way in full glory. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars—you’ll need them!

Dive into the Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park

While the Cairngorms National Park is a hot spot during the Scottish summer, winter brings an ethereal beauty to the national park that can’t be missed. Although some of the park’s attractions are closed during the winter months, there’s still plenty to see during your visit.

For example, the snow-laden forests are still home to birds and critters who scurry along the tree limbs and roots to find pockets of food and warmth. The night sky is also one of the defining features of the Cairngorms in winter, with long stretches of sky that aren’t affected by light pollution. If you have a day where all you want to do is appreciate winter’s majesty in Scotland, then the Cairngorms are the place for you.

Visit the Cairngorms Reindeer Centre

Cairngorms Reindeer Centre

One of the highlights of the Cairngorms National Park during Winter is undoubtedly the Cairngorms Reindeer Centre. Here, you can learn plenty about how reindeer combat the cold winter weather of Scotland and how they survive in the summertime when it gets warmer. You can walk alongside the reindeer, pet them, and take plenty of photos too.

Scotland in Winter has plenty of great activities at places like the Highland Wildlife Park, so we highly recommend you pay this attraction a visit during your visit.

Enjoy Scotland’s Ski Resorts

Ski Resorts

One of the most popular sports activities in Scotland is skiing and snowboarding. During Winter, the snow-capped peaks of the Highlands become a hub for activity, with thousands of tourists flocking to get their ski poles in the snow. The winter ski resort seasons last from December to early April, so ensure you try famed resorts like Glenshee Ski Centre and Glencoe.

Indulge in your Favourite Malt

Whisky Distilleries

While May is considered to be “Whisky Month” in Scotland, you’ll soon find that a good malt whisky during the height of the Scottish winter is one of the best ways to savour the spirit. There’s hardly a town or city in Scotland that doesn’t have a distillery serving decade-old whisky, gin, or rum, so you’re really spoilt for choice on where and what to taste.

If you want to try the best of the best, warm yourself up on the Isle of Arran, the Scottish Isles, and the capitals of Edinburgh and Glasgow. We’ve written extensive pieces of each of them, so please check them out if you’re interested in discovering the top distilleries that Scotland has to offer.

Explore the Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is one of the most popular attractions in Scotland, and in winter, you can enjoy all the amazing wildlife and historic attractions that the isle has to offer without the tourists. The Isle of Skye sits offer Scotland’s West Coast, within the region known as the Outer Hebrides. It takes a little driving, but rest assured, there are plenty of things to do along the way.

The perks of visiting the Isle of Skye during the winter season are the untapped wilderness that you can enjoy. Without the summer wave of tourists, the Isle of Skye becomes the untamed and rugged natural haven that many come to visit. Birdlife, deer, seals, orcas, and sheep are happy to welcome new visitors to the Isle. And although daylight hours are shorter, the Northern Lights can be easily seen by the naked eye— if you have the patience, of course!

Stay in a Beautiful Scottish Castle

Stay in a Scottish Castle

There’s nothing more comforting than a roaring fire, stunning views, and a warm grip around a mug of hot chocolate. This and more can be your reality when you book one of Scotland’s castles for a few nights. There are plenty of amazing places in the Highlands and Lowlands that allow you to stay overnight in a historic Scottish castle—which is an experience you won’t soon forget.

So why not get away from the noisy hustle and bustle of the city and cuddle up with that special someone in an accommodation that will have your friends and family in disbelief?

Frequently Asked Questions

Have a few more questions about exploring Scotland in Winter? We’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions and answered them here for you to read.

What is Inverness in Winter like?

Inverness sits in the Scottish Highlands, which means that it experiences a harsher winter climate compared to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Inverness during winter is cold, wet, and crisp—with snow occasionally falling over the city. If you’re interested in exploring a winter wonderland, then climbing the snow-capped peaks near Inverness will be your top opportunity.

The daylight hours in Inverness are slightly shorter than in Edinburgh and Glasgow, with daytime lasting between 8:00 to 16:00 on average. This will depend on the month in winter you visit (December has the shorter daylight hours), and the cloudiness of the weather can affect this too.

Is Scotland Colder than England in Winter?

Scotland in winter is generally colder than England. Scotland sits on a higher latitude, and so the daylight hours are shorter, the days are colder, and snow is more prevalent. Scotland’s exposure to the cold Atlantic and North Sea also contributes to the country’s colder temperatures. If you’re planning to visit Scotland during its winter season from England, you may need to pack an extra layer of clothing but not much more.

What are the Coldest Months in Scotland?

As you’d expect, the coldest months in Scotland are its winter months; December, January, and February. During these months, you should expect daily maximum temperatures that don’t exceed around 5℃ and around 10 to 20 days of snowfall. The days are also shorter during winter months, which contributes to making Scottish winters colder on average.

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