As the days get shorter and the nights extend, Scotland becomes a winter wonderland and a feast for the senses with celebrations, light shows and magic. Scotland transforms in the winter months and a winter walk is the perfect way to make the most of the short, crisp days, watching as landscapes sparkle in the ethereal light and distant hills are capped with snow.
There’s nothing better than wrapping up warm and getting outside, especially knowing that the reward for a day well spent embracing the elements is warming up by the fire with a hot chocolate, or a wee dram, as part of a winter break in Scotland. If this sounds like the perfect match, then Scotland is the place to be as winter begins to call. So, coorie in and find out where the magic is happening this winter!
There ain’t no party like a Scotland party
Winter is not a time for hibernation, it’s a moment for celebration! Kicking off the festivities is St Andrew’s Day on 30th November. Celebrating Scotland’s patron saint is a great reason to put on a playlist of top Scottish tunes, get some haggis on the go and be inspired for future travels to Scotland. For those in Scotland on this day, this year, Blazin’ Fiddles will be setting toes tapping at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh and Mharsanta in Glasgow will be hosting an evening of traditional Scottish food and drink.
Looking ahead to all that awaits in the New Year, Scotland’s cities hold festivals and events throughout December, culminating in Hogmanay. At times like this, it seems as though the whole country is celebrating together with whisky, fireworks and ceilidh dancing. This year, Edinburgh’s four-day Hogmanay celebrations will kick off with the return of the Torchlight Procession which will blaze a trail through the capital’s Old Town for the first time since 2019. On Saturday 31 December, the tranquil Candlelit Concert at St Giles’ Cathedral provides a festive celebration featuring stunning music for brass, choir and organ.
New for 2023 Edinburgh’s Hogmanay introduces First Footin’, an afternoon of free live music and performance taking place across the Old and New Towns in some of Edinburgh’s landmark attractions, incredible venues and independent pubs including Cold Town House, Greyfriars Hall at Virgin Hotels Edinburgh, Rose Theatre and The Auld Hundred in Rose Street, the Grassmarket’s Black Bull and The Huxley in the West End. First Footin’ audiences can explore the city enjoying Hogmanay traditions of friendship, food and drink along with live music.
Beyond the cities, the party atmosphere spreads far and wide. Those venturing to Aberdeenshire can discover one of the oldest New Year celebrations in the world… The Stonehaven Fireballs. It doesn’t all end there; the festive spirit continues throughout the season with the Up Helly Aa Fire Festivals across Shetland (Jan-Mar), and on Burns Night, visitors can enjoy birthday celebrations for Robert Burns. Also in January, Celtic Connections, the city’s annual folk, roots and world music festival, comes to Glasgow – Scotland’s UNESCO City of Music.
The winter nights come to life across Scotland thanks to a variety of light trails and installations; the dark skies become dazzling spectacles transforming some the country’s most beloved attractions in unexpected ways.
Castle of Light: Magic and Mystery, Edinburgh Castle-Returning to transform the city’s skyline for a fourth fantastic year, Castle of Light promises to bring even more unmissable moments to Edinburgh Castle as the iconic landmark is illuminated with extraordinary light and sounds displays through much of December and into January. An enchanting experience for all ages, guests can uncover the secrets of Scotland’s past in the unique after-dark walking trail as a tapestry of all-new storytelling projections dance across the castle walls telling tales of magic, mystery and spectacular sorcery.
Monteviot Winter Light Trail, Jedburgh-Monteviot House and Gardens, near Jedburgh, will host its inaugural winter light trail, Monteviot Lights, until 10th December. The trail will shine a light on the beauty of the Scottish Borders as visitors embark on a captivating outdoor illuminated journey in Monteviot House’s spectacular gardens.
It wouldn’t be the festive season without a few seasonal essentials… Think meeting Santa, Christmas Markets and seeing a reindeer or two! Roaming freely since 1952, The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer with daily hill trips to see the reindeers up close.
Glasgow’s Christmas festivities -George Square will see the city’s festivities throughout December, as well as the Christmas Lights Switch On in late-November. As the event which kicks off the countdown to Christmas in Glasgow, a series of traditional festivities will follow. Among the family favourites are the Blessing of the Crib in George Square, the Style Mile Christmas Carnival and Baby’s First Christmas. St Enoch Square will be hosting The Christmas Fair where little ones can enjoy rides including The Blizzard and Santa’s runaway train. George Square will also be taking part in all the festive fun with its own Christmas Fair which will feature various attractions including an ice rink. The much-loved Glasgow Santa Dash takes place on Sunday 10 December, giving participants a chance to raise funds for the Beatson Cancer Charity and the Lord Provost’s Charity Fund.
Tis the season of giving! Drop by one of Scotland’s eight cities for a spot of festive shopping. Think artisanal gifts from Perth, the UK’s first City of Craft. Pick up a tartan gift celebrating V&A Dundee’s landmark exhibition Tartan which runs to January 2024. Get historical in Dunfermline, Scotland’s former capital and go local in Stirling, exploring the Victorian shopping mall filled with independent retailers. Across Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen there’s a great mix of brands and local businesses to discover where shoppers can pick up the perfect gift of Scotland.
Head to a magical winter wonderland at Dundee’s WinterFest @ Slessor Gardens. Have fun at the vintage funfair, enjoy views over the city’s skyline on the Big Wheel and finish off with the Bavarian bar for some festive drinks or opt to dawn some ice skates and make the most of the open-air WinterFest ice-rink. Braemar’s Festival de Noël, featuring family events, 40 market stalls, Christmas concert and workshops. The Deeside village will be transformed into a winter wonderland with a Santa train, horse and carriage rides, wreath making and a host of workshops, including photography and chocolate and beer tasting with local producers. Sunday is market day, with over 40 food, drink and craft stalls spread over three venues — with free carriage rides to take shoppers from A to B as they are serenaded by carol singers, pipers piping and a brass band. Festival de Noel will take place from Friday 8th – Sunday 10th December 2023.
Get cosy and coorie in
Ross Bay Retreats, Dumfries & Galloway-Situated in the UNESCO Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere – a world class environment for people and nature and fifteen minutes away from the lively fishing port Kirkcudbright – ‘The Artists’ Town’, get set to be greeted with a homemade welcome cake upon arrival at one of these cosy coastal cottages overlooking Ross Bay. Featuring stunning scenery and sea views, guests can roam across the working farm (with the option to meet some of the animals) or opt to explore the acres of forest and coastline. Four legged friends are welcome, with pooches receiving a welcome pack of their very own.
Loch Katrine Eco Lodges, Stirling-Choose from 10 lochside lodges in one of the most beautiful parts of The Trossachs overlooking Loch Katrine and Ben Venue. Located seven miles from Callander and five miles from Aberfoyle, this eco camp is the perfect base to get away from it all but still be within a short drive to bustling tourist hubs. Walk, cycle and explore the beauty of this exceptional place, part of one of Britain’s largest National Nature Reserves. Set sail onto Loch Katrine and make the most of the festive celebrations on board including Santa sailings (over 11 days in December) on Lady of the Lake and in the Steamship Café, or opt for a New Year sail on 1st and 2nd January on the restored Steamship Sir Walter Scott (providing an hour long sail with a traditional Scottish band playing on board, a New Year welcome drink and shortbread).
Highland Coast Hotels, North Coast 500-Highland Coast Hotels brings together a collection of unique hotels on the North Coast 500. This winter, guests can embark on an adventure like no other, exploring three stunning coasts thanks to the East Meets West itinerary package. It’s the perfect way to be immersed in the local culture, explore hidden gems and tuck into seasonal produce at different properties along the route with a luxury winter lunch picnic.
Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder-Scotland’s own Glorious Playground comes alive at Christmas, with decorations designed to evoke the wintry scenery of the surrounding Perthshire countryside. The hotel will be transformed into a magical wonderland and a whole range of family friendly activities. From brisk trail walks, and outdoor adventures by day, to roaring log fires and decadent dining by night, there is something for everyone at Gleneagles.
Glenapp Castle, Ayrshire-Glenapp Castle, set on the stunning Ayrshire coast, is the perfect retreat to enjoy long scenic walks on a crisp winter day, whether that be throughout the estate or along the stunning Ayrshire Coastal Path. Choose to unwind with a relaxing in-suite massage, or warm up at the private members coastal spa nearby. Those looking for something more active can choose from Glenapp’s unique Glenapp activity programme, which offers over 70 different amazing activities and experiences both on and off-site, including axe-throwing, archery, hiking, mountain biking, cookery lessons, and more. After a day of exploring, tuck into a wonderful dining experience with a three-course gourmet dinner, offering mouth-watering canapes and handmade petit fours at the award-winning, three AA rosette dining room.
Main and cover photo: Winter magic at Glenmore Forest Park, Cairngorms National Park. Photo: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam.