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      Scotland in Winter

      Discover Scotland during the winter months. Immerse yourself in our frosty landscapes, breathe in the crisp and piney air, and gaze up at snow-capped peaks on beautiful winter walks. When darkness cloaks the countryside, head indoors to warm up with a dram by a crackling cosy fire. If you’re up for it, venture out to witness the spectacular night skies. If you’re lucky you might even see the elusive northern lights.

      Your Guide to Scottish Winter

      If the conditions are right, Scottish winters are the epitome of ‘winter wonderland’. Crunchy snow, sparkly fields, and clear blue skies. But even without the snow, Scotland has a lot to offer wintertime. Crisp clean air, the most beautiful night skies, and atmospheric landscapes.

      When it’s too “dreich” outside to play, there are plenty of Scottish indoor activities to keep you busy. Toast your toes by the fire with a warming glass of whisky, or warm up by participating in a Scottish ceilidh (traditional Scottish dance)

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      Our Winter Trips

      winter highland cozy cairngorms

      Winter Highlands Cozy Cairngorms

      Duration: 4 Nights
      Difficulty: Your Own Pace
      Style: Guided
      Comfort: Classic
      Deposit From: £678.75

       

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      winter highland explorations

      Winter Highland Explorations

      Duration: 5 Nights
      Difficulty: Your Own Pace
      Style: Self Drive with Guided Days
      Comfort: Classic
      Deposit From: £446.25

       

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      When is Winter in Scotland?

      Most people would say that winter in Scotland is between the months of December, January, and February, with some overspill into March. These months feature the coldest and shortest days of the year. Although temperatures drop, the weather is generally pretty mild.

      Starts
      Ends
      Meteorological spring in Scotland
      1st of December 28th/29th of February
      Astronomical spring in Scotland
      Between the 20th-22nd of December 20th of March
      What Scottish outdoor experts say
      1st week of December 2nd week of March

      Scottish Winter Weather

      Scotland has a very temperate climate. The weather is changeable this time of year, but rarely extreme. You can expect a mix of clear blue skies and cloudy grey days during winter in Scotland, with occasional rain, snow and ice.

      December
      January
      February
      Average monthly rainfall (mm)
      65mm 77mm 58.6mm
      Average days of rainfall ≥1 mm (days)
      13 13.6 11.4
      Average daytime temperature (High)
      7°C 7°C 7.3°C
      Average daytime temperature (Low)
      1.2°C 1.1°C 1.2°C
      Average daylight hours
      7 8 10

      Source: metoffice.gov.uk and timeanddate.com | based on Inverness (capital of the Highlands) as location.

      Snow in Scotland

      Machrie Moor Standing Stones, Photo Credit: Eilidh Cameron

      Many people ask us, “does it snow in Scotland?” And is the answer is most definitely, yes! On average there are 38 days of snow in Scotland, with 26 days of settled snow on the ground. Most of the snow falls in northern mountainous areas like the Cairngorms, Glencoe and Torridon.

      Generally, snowfall is in the colder months of January and February but can arrive as early as November and stay as late as April. With colder temperatures up north you can expect snow cover on higher ground for the duration of winter. Further south the snow tends to be wetter and does not stick around for very long.

      Pictures of Scotland During Winter

      Things to Do in Scotland During Winter

      Look Up at the Night Sky

      Bundle yourself up and head outside at nighttime this winter. Our long nights and easy access to areas with minimal light pollution make Scotland a prime destination for stargazing. On a clear night, you’ll see thousands upon thousands of stars, and at the right location, you can even see the milky way with the naked eye. Keep your eyes peeled for shootings stars, and if you’re really lucky you might even see the northern lights.

      Learn more about the Northern Lights in Scotland.

      Go for a Walk

      There is nothing more satisfying than the crunching of snow under your boots when out for a wintery walk. Head out and immerse yourself in Scotland’s landscape when it is blanketed in snow and sparkly. No snow? No problem. Winter is still a good time for some low level walking in the Highlands. The highland hills and moors are especially atmospheric in winter, and the low sun makes for spectacular light across the day.

      Check out Our Top 5 Scottish Winter Walks for some hiking inspiration.

      Take Some Amazing Pictures

      As the sun stays low in the sky during the winter it means that when the sun shines every hour looks like the hour before sunset. Our high latitude and moisture-rich air help to increase this effect so Scotland is justly famous for the amazing quality of light. The light also helps make the colours pop so if you think Scotland is grey and moody in winter, you’ll find yourself quickly proven wrong.

      Discover other reasons why we think winter is a beautiful time in Scotland for walking and photography.

      Experience a Christmas Classic

      Come face to face with Christmas’s most friendly icon with a reindeer experience in the Cairngorms. You can walk alongside Britain’s only free-roaming herd of reindeer with local experts, hand feed them, and also give them a careful stroke. You’ll never forget the nuzzle of a warm velvety nose in your hands, an experience only made better by the spectacular Highland scenery which the reindeer call home.

      See what other wildlife you can encounter during winter in Scotland.

      Strap on your Skis

      Did you know that Scotland has 5 ski resorts? Yes, Scotland’s resorts are not as big or high as their cheese-loving Alpine cousins, but the terrain is still fantastic with rolling slopes, exciting steeps and wide-open runs for all levels. Scottish snowfall has been more and more reliable over the last few years and you can genuinely get some of the best skiing or snowboarding on Scottish slopes.

      Read more about skiing in Scotland here or have a look at VisitScotland’s snow sports page.

      Try Some Scottish Flavours

      Typical Scottish dishes are well suited to colder weather. Warm your body and soul with a hearty serving of haggis, neeps (turnips), and tatties. This ultimate Scottish classic consists of starchy veg and spicy haggis, ideally topped with whisky cream sauce. It’s a cuddle in food form. Not feeling adventurous enough for haggis? Stave off the winter chill with Scottish porridge, or try our famous smoked haddock soup, Cullen Skink.

      Try Scottish cuisine in our pick of the best restaurants in Scotland.

       

      Seeing the Northern Lights in Scotland

      northern lights winter scotland

      The Northern lights, or the Aurora Borealis, take place when electrically charged particles from the sun travel in solar winds and interact with the magnetic fields of the Earth’s atmosphere. This creates an ethereal glow and dancing lights in the sky.

      The Northern lights are most likely to take place between 60°-75° latitude. Winter in Scotland is a great time to view the Northern lights. We are on the same latitude as Stavanger in Norway and Nunivak Island in Alaska, so on a clear night, we’re in with a good chance of spotting the lights.

      Unsurprisingly, the best places to view the Northern lights is in the North. This includes Caithness, the North West Highlands, the Outer Hebrides, Shetland, the Cairngorms, and the Isle of Skye.

      Read our Guide on Seeing the Northern Lights in Scotland, and our blog on How to Best Photograph the Northern Lights.

      Highlands & the East Coast
      • With easily accessible hills and mountains, the Cairngorms are a prime mainland destination for spotting the northern lights. Visit Tomintoul and the Glenlivet Estate, both of which have dark sky status. An exceptionally good spot is the Cairngorm ski car park; as it’s halfway up the mountain, northerly facing, and away from any built-up area you have a good chance of seeing the lights from there.
      • Caithness on the Northeast coast of Scotland is known to be a good region for seeing the lights with various viewpoints like Noss Head and Wick.
      • Try your luck at Applecross, Lochinver, and Torridon on the North West coast. These coastal villages have all been home to some of the most spectacular displays.
      Central and South Scotland
      • Hit up the East Lothian beaches at Dunbar and North Berwick. These beautiful beaches are known to be good viewpoints if the lights are strong enough to be visible further south.
      • The lights have even been seen in Edinburgh, although the trick to seeing them is getting up high and away from as much light pollution as possible. Try Carlton Hill, Arthur’s Seat, or ideally the Pentland Hills.
      • This list would not be complete without a mention of the Galloway Forest Park. The most southern suggestion, the Galloway Forest Park was the UK’s first registered Dark Sky Park. The lack of light pollution increases your chances of seeing the lights. Even if you don’t see the aurora borealis, you will still experience some of the best stargazing of your life.
      Scotland’s Northerly Islands
      • Shetland is an ideal destination for seeing the northern lights in Scotland, as well as jaw-droppingly beautiful night skies. It may help that Shetland is the closest to the North pole out of all the British Isles, increasing your chances as well as being lightly populated with minimal artificial lighting.
      • Lewis & Harris are the most northern islands of the Outer Hebrides. Witness the lights dancing from one of the many secluded beaches.
      • The Orkney Isles are also a good destination as they are very northerly and have little light pollution.
      • If not quite willing to commit to a long ferry journey for your northern lights experience, the Isle of Skye is a more accessible island with various Dark Sky Discovery points.

      Winter Wildlife in Scotland

      Scotland is known to offer year-round wildlife watching opportunities. On land, you are most likely to see red deer in the wintertime as they descend the colder slopes for food and milder temperatures. You can also expect occasional sightings of red squirrels, foxes, and mountain hares. Why not go for night time wildlife watching tour, and spy hedgehogs, bats, and badgers.

      When looking to the seas, you can still see common and grey seals as well as harbour porpoises in Scottish waters. Unfortunately, there are little to no seabirds staying in Scotland over winter. You will be able to see grouse, ptarmigan, and buzzards in the skies as well as rarer species like the golden eagle and capercaillie.

       

      Scotland’s winter wildlife – How to See Them

      Scottish Winter Events

      Scotland is far from bleak, cold, and dark in winter. It’s actually bustling with activity! Towns compete with each other for the best festive decorations, so expect many twinkling high streets. There are also various light exhibitions and fire festivals on throughout winter to brighten up the long nights.

      Christmas markets have grown in popularity over the years, and now Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen host decent-sized fairs filled with the festive classics. Hot chocolate or mulled wine are just the things to take the stress out of Christmas shopping don’t you think?

      It’s unabashedly that we say that Scots know how to party, so why not ring in the New Year in Scotland? Celebrate “Hogmanay” dancing the night away at a traditional ceilidh (dance), and don’t worry, visitors are more than welcome at local ceilidhs. Many Scottish cities will have big street parties on with organised entertainment which are generally ticketed but worth experiencing as the atmosphere is always great. It doesn’t matter if you’re friends, family, neighbours, or strangers. Everyone comes together on Hogmanay to celebrate. If you are after a really unique experience join one of the fire parades that take place in various Scottish towns and villages on New Year’s Eve.

      No need to ask yourself, “what to do in Scotland in winter?”, we’ve got plenty of suggestions below with key events to plan into your itinerary. Updated October 2019. 

      December
      • Glasgow Christmas Market, 9th of November till the 23rd of December
      • Aberdeen Christmas Village, 21st of November till the 31st of December
      • Edinburgh Christmas Market, 16th of November till the 4th of January
      • Christmas Shopping Fayre at Stirling Castle, 3rd of December
      • Winter Solstice, 21st of December
      • Torchlight Procession in Edinburgh, 30th of December
      • Comrie Flambeux, 31st of December
      • Stonehaven Fireballs, 31st of December
      • Edinburgh Street Party, 31st of December
      • Red Hot Highland Fling in Inverness, 31st of December
      January
      • Loony Dook in Edinburgh, 1st of January
      • Mid Winter Film Festival at Castle Douglas, 9th of January
      • Burning of the Clavie in Moray, 11th of January
      • Scotland’s Speciality Food Show in Glasgow, 19th-21st of January
      • Burns Supper, 25th of January
      • Come Gin with Us, 26th of January
      • Up Helly Aa in Shetland, 28th of January
      • Sled Dog Rally in the Cairngorms, 26th-27th of January
      • Celtic Connections, traditional Scottish Music Festival in Glasgow, 16th of January till the 2nd of February
      February
      • Hebridean Dark Skies Festival, 7th-22nd of February
      • The Bute Gin Festival, 7th-9th of February
      • Edinburgh Mountain Festival, 8th-9th of February
      • Valentines Day, 14th of February
      • February Fest in Glencoe, all month
      • Fort William Mountain Festival, 19th-23rd of February
      • Glasgow Film Festival, 20th of February till the 4th of March
      • Inverness Music Festival, 27th of February till the 4th of March

      Scotland's Winter Larder

      No wonder we do a lot of feasting come year-end. The variation and quality of seasonal produce this time of year are fantastic, and perfect for the various festive occasions. No need to fly in exotic treats, tuck into hearty Scottish meals perfect for staving off the winter cold. 

      December
      January
      February
      Vegetables & Fruits
      Cabbage, celeriac, chestnuts, shallots, parsnips, leek, Brussels sprouts, and apples. Onion, beetroot, carrot, leeks, and turnips. Purple sprouting broccoli, horseradish, and Jerusalem artichoke.
      Meat & Game
      Grouse and turkey. Venison and guinea fowl. Hare, wood pigeon, and venison.
      Fish & Seafood
      Lobster, clams, mackerel, plaice, and turbot. Mussels, langoustine, lobster, and haddock. Halibut, langoustine, lemon sole, and salmon.

      Please read VisitScotland’s Seasonal Food Calendar here for more detailed information of what’s available and when in Scotland, or have a look at: www.eattheseasons.co.uk

      Winter FAQs

      What months are winter in Scotland Read More

      Winter takes place between December, January, and February. Although, the last couple weeks of November and the first of March can definitely have a wintery feel to them. December, January and February are the darkest months with the shortest days and are often the coldest and snowiest. Annually, snowfall varies, and it also varies across the country with typically more inches of snow in the Highlands.

       

      How cold is Scotland in winter? Read More

      As Scotland has a temperate climate, our winters can be quite mild. Average day time temperatures sit between 1°C and 7°C. The lowest temperature ever recorded during winter in Scotland was -27.2 7°C. This was in the highland town of Braemar, on the 10th of January 1982.

      *Weather data taken from the metoffice, with averages for the city of Inverness (capital of the Highlands).

      What is winter like in Scotland? Read More

      The most reliable thing about winter in Scotland is the unreliability of it. The weather is so changeable that you need to be prepared for any weather event. It’s without exaggeration that the Scottish say you can experience all 4 seasons in a day. Bundle up with layers, especially if you are heading up into the hills, the wind chill will make it feel much colder. Another characteristic of winter is darkness. At the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the sun rises around 8.45 am in the Highlands and sets around 3.30 pm.

      Is it worth visiting Scotland in winter? Read More

      This is something many people ask us, and although we may be a little biased, the answer is most definitely yes. Scotland’s winters are relatively mild, so it’s still a good time of year to get outside. If you’re lucky you get to enjoy snow crunching underneath your boot. If not underneath your boot you will be able to enjoy the snow-capped hills in the distance. Soak up our atmospheric glens and enjoy the peace and quiet as it’s less busy in Scotland during winter.

      Winter is also a great time to visit as there are various festivals and light shows on during winter. Marvel at the street of light in Edinburgh or visit one of the many Christmas markets that pop up across the country. Tuck into a traditional Burns supper in a highland house or be amazed by the Up Helly Aa, the fire festival that takes place in Shetland in January

      Does it rain much in Scotland? Read More

      Not as much as you’d think! Inverness on average receives around 30 inches of annual rainfall. This is little compared to more famous destinations like New York which gets 50 inches and notoriously sunny Milan with 37 inches. Scotland is famed for rain, but consider that it’s the rain that makes our landscapes so lush and green. Rain is what makes our rivers and waterfalls so impressive. Rain is at the heart of our whisky industry. But the best thing about Scottish rain? It never rains for long. Before you know it the sun is bursting through and warming you up again.

      *Weather data taken from the metoffice, with averages for the city of Inverness (capital of the Highlands).

      What should I wear in Scotland? Read More

      Layers. Scotland’s weather is known for its changeability, so prepare yourself for any eventuality. Be prepared to add and lose layers according to the temperature, and carry waterproofs with you if you are heading out into the countryside.

      Can you see the northern Lights in Scotland? Read More

      Due to our northern latitude, you can see the northern lights in Scotland during the autumn and winter months.

      Is Scotland colder than England? Read More

      The weather is generally cooler in Scotland than in England, Wales, Ireland or Northern Ireland, however, it is also less likely to be extreme.

      Our holidays reviewed
      in your own words

      Wilderness Scotland blew my expectations away. With 9 nights accommodation, luggage transfers, and taxi arrangements, I prepared for something to go wrong along the way. However, everything was flawless! The expert planning, help, and tips provided by the company allowed me to fully enjoy my experience hiking the West Highland Way. I have memories that will last me a lifetime and returned home feeling stronger and more capable than when I left. I would absolutely recommend Wilderness Scotland to anyone planning adventure trips in the country - in fact, I already have! Thank you so much for your help in providing me this incredible opportunity. I can't wait to visit Scotland again.

      Carolyn Roberts
      Self Guided - West Highland Way
      Reviewed on 22/10/2018

      Rated 4.87 out of 5 based on 4,394 reviews

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