25 Places to Visit in Scotland this Winter

Blog 25 Oct 2023

I know, I know. Halloween hasn't even passed us by yet. 

Winter is important though, and I want to give you all plenty of time to get ready and get all of your festive activities planned and in the diary. 

For an early Christmas present as well, you might want to scroll to the end of the page ?

Scotland (and the North of England - I'm looking at you Alnwick) is a country that looks fantastic no matter what season we are in. I always have a particular soft spot for winter though. The rugged landscapes of the country can get a glistening snowy blanket, frosty mornings, and of course a few hot toddys for good measure.

Just like any time of year, the country is absolutely full of things to do during the winter so as part of our 25th Anniversary, we have compiled a list of 25 places to visit and activities that you shouldn't miss, both to get you in the spirit of winter and Christmas, and to continue the celebrations right into the New Year. Don't say we're not good to you!

Christmas at the Botanics

Situated in the city centre of Edinburgh, the Royal Botanic Garden is beautiful all through the year but goes through a magic transformation for winter. With larger-than-life installations, plenty of festive food and drink available, and spectacular projections and lights all following a botanic theme, it’s the perfect place for a winter wander. You might even get a glimpse of the big man in red himself, so best behaviour required!

Christmas at the Botanics begins on November 16th and runs until December 30th.

Hopetoun House Christmas Market

Hopetoun House is a beautiful stately home, situated on over 100 acres of designed landscape and reflecting some of the brilliant work of Scottish architects Sir William Bruce and William Adam. Outlander fans may recognise it as the Duke of Sandringham’s home in the series. Each winter, it plays host to a sell out Christmas Fair which offers a fantastically festive shopping experience, with hundreds of gifts available to buy, and plenty of food and drink available in the Stables Kitchen or from outdoor caterers. And if you're anything like me (an absolute sucker for an Afternoon Tea) they are also offering an Afternoon Tea package this year, which gives you early access to the Christmas Fair as well - win win! 

This is a sell out event and runs in 2023 on Friday 24th November – Sunday 26th November. Pre-booking is essential.

Grab your tickets here!

Castle of Light: Magic and Mystery at Edinburgh Castle

We’ve all seen Edinburgh Castle stand proudly on top of Castle Rock at the very top of the Royal Mile throughout the year. In Winter though, it becomes something totally new. For the fourth year, the castle is transformed with enchanting projections, illuminations and installations for a truly stunning experience. Make sure to wrap up warm and take your camera to capture all of the magic.

The Castle of Light: Magic and Mystery begins on the 24th of November and runs until the 3rd of January.

Bo'Ness and Kinneil Santa Steam Train

What’s better than a journey on a steam train. One that goes to the North Pole (not really) and has Santa on it (yes really). The Bo’Ness and Kinneil railway is home to the Santa Steam Train. This journey to the North Pole South (Birkhill really) features a steam train with its halls decked, where you are able to book a reserved seat in a shared carriage or your own private compartment. Every child, toddler and baby on board will get to meet the big man himself and if they’ve been good, they will get a present as well. All of this plus complimentary seasonal refreshments, entertainment, and the experience of being on a real steam train. The perfect way to get in the Christmas spirit for the wee ones, and the bigger kids who still want to meet Santa. He is a great guy after all.

The train runs on December 2nd, 3rd, 9th, 10th, 16th, 17th, 23 and 24th.

Learn more here!

Midlothian Snowsports Centre

Just outside of Edinburgh City Centre, nestled on the side of the Pentland Hills, is the Midlothian Snowsports Centre. If all the winter weather has inspired you to get training for the next winter Olympics, head to the centre to get practicing on the year-round ski and snowboarding slopes. Hopefully there will have been some snow so it feels right, but even if there hasn’t, you can still go and get practicing!

Alnwick Garden Light Trail

Okay, it's not Scotland, but it's not far across the border.

We may not visit Alnwick during the winter, but that definitely doesn’t mean that you can’t. The beautiful Alnwick Gardens are another of our favourite locations that undergo a transformation for the winter. The stunning gardens that we know and love are adorned with lights, sounds and installations for a truly festive experience. Coupled with all of the delicious food and drink stalls that appear, it’s a perfect Christmas activity.

The Alnwick Garden Light Trail runs for its 5th year from November 13th to January 7th.

Beecraigs Festive Forest, Linlithgow

Near Linlithgow sits Beecraigs Country Park. This December, it will play host to the Beecraigs Festive Forest, set deep in the woods of the Country Park. The magical event will feature one of the country’s most powerful laser shows and spectacular lighting effects – making for an atmospheric event like no other. Thanks to its location near Linlithgow, it’s super central so easy to visit from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and while you’re there, go for a glimpse of Linlithgow Palace if you’re an Outlander fan.

Edinburgh Christmas Markets

The Edinburgh Christmas Markets are an institution these days, people flock from across the country for them. Princes Street Gardens are transformed, with German style stalls selling all sorts of Christmas gifts, huts full of festive food and drink like bratwurst and mulled wine, as well as plenty of funfair rides like Scotland’s largest ferris wheel at 46m tall to keep your heart rate up and make sure you feel a bit warmer against the east coast wind. The market does get very busy, so you might want to plan your visit for a weekday, or a bit earlier in the evening. Whilst you’re here for them, don’t forget to visit the George Street Ice Rink and the Winter Garden at St Andrews Square to keep the Christmas spirit going all through the New Town.

The Edinburgh Christmas Markets run from 17th November – 6th January.

Glasgow Christmas Markets

Edinburgh isn’t the only city in Scotland with a Christmas market. Glasgow is also home to two, one in George Square, just opposite Queen Street Rail Station, and another at St Enoch Square, which is just a short stroll from Central Station. These locations make them the perfect stop after a day of Christmas shopping on Glasgow’s Style Mile or a festive tipple at some of the chic bars in the Merchant City. I always hold the Glasgow Christmas decorations and markets close to my heart, as those were the ones we used to visit when I was small. Make it extra Christmas-y and visit both Edinburgh and Glasgow’s markets!

The George Square Christmas Fair runs from December 1st to January 7th.

The St Enoch Square Christmas Fair runs from November 17th to January 3rd.

Irn-Bru Carnival

For something a bit more thrilling this winter, head to the SEC in Glasgow for the Irn-Bru Carnival. Yes, we love Scotland’s National Drink so much we even have a festival named after it. For a few weeks every winter, the SEC is transformed into a massive funfair, Europe’s largest indoor funfair to be specific, full of rides and stalls for all the family.

The Irn-Bru Carnival runs from 22nd December – 14th January. Perfect to beat those New Year blues.


Aviemore, situated in the Highlands Cairngorm region of the country, is reminiscent of an Alpine Ski village at the best of times, so just think what it looks like in the winter, surrounded by snow covered mountains and forests. Whether you want to use it as a base for winter activities like skiing or hiking through the snow, or just visit for a quiet weekend with plenty of Scottish food and a few drams to keep you warm, it could be the perfect place to visit this winter.

Five Sisters Zoo

Located just outside of Livingstone, is the Five Sisters Zoo. Zoo’s are exciting at the best of times, getting to see all of the animals and learning all about them, but at Christmas, Five Sisters Zoo becomes extra special thanks to their Zoo Illuminations. Thousands of decorations and lights adorn the grounds, with projections, tunnels and of course plenty of festive food and drink from market stalls. There is also the chance to meet Santa, as well as seeing some of the zoo’s cute animals as well.

The 2023 Zoo Illumination dates are November 17th, 18th, 24th and 25th, and every night from December 1st – 23rd.

Northern Lights Spotting

Winters are dark here in Scotland, there’s no denying it. This has one definite advantage though, it makes it much easier to spot the northern lights. If you are up north, and it’s a clear winter night, keep your eyes to the sky. There’s no real guaranteed place to spot them, but the more north you go, the higher your chances are. There are also apps you can download to give you an idea of when you might have a better chance of seeing them.

So keep your eyes to the skies on a clear night wherever you are this winter!


New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay here in Scotland, is a big deal. We love nothing more than a big blowout at the end of the year, with huge street parties all over the country, ceilidhs, and heading round to be with family and friends as we bring in the bells. No matter where you are in Scotland on the 31st December, there will no doubt be something going on nearby. So look out your dancing shoes, and get ready to party into 2024. Edinburgh could definitely be considered the place to be, with fireworks, concerts, and huge street parties.


Panto in Scotland is an unmissable experience, and quite often a tradition for a lot of families here. I remember going to the Panto at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow every year when I was wee. No matter where you are, there will likely be a panto on nearby. Whether it’s a smaller one at a local theatre or community centre, or a big event at one of the big theatres in cities like Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Inverness. Here are a few you could consider this year:

The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, 25th November – 31st December 2023.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, King’s Theatre Glasgow. 2nd December – 7th January.

Sleeping Beauty, His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen, 2nd December – 7th January.

Alice in Pantoland, Church Hill Theatre Edinburgh, 6th December – 9th December.

Keep an eye out for posters in your local area or have a quick search to see if there are any others near you!

Nevis Range

To get up close and personal with the snow on the ski slopes, or to get some of the best views in the country of the snowy landscapes around you, head to the Nevis Range just outside of Fort William. This mountain experience offers activities like mountain biking and snowsports, as well as a handy mountain gondola to help you ascend, offering spectacular views over the area when you get to the top. Just think how beautiful it would be looking out over the scenery as the snow glistens, knowing you can head to the Snowgoose Restaurant to warm up if you get too chilly.

Cawdor Castle Christmas Market

Set on the grounds of Cawdor Castle, a castle built around a 15th century tower house just outside of Nairn near Inverness, will be the Cawdor Castle Christmas market. This market is fully outdoors, so be sure to dress for the weather, you know what Scotland can be like – especially in December! The event will play host to live entertainment, plenty of food and hot drinks, as well as all the classic goodness you would expect from a Christmas market.

The event will run on both the 9th and 10th of December.

Up Helly Aa

Every year on the Shetland Isles, there is a fire festival called Up Helly Aa. The festival is used to mark the end of the Yule Season and has been held annually since the 1880s, only being cancelled for things like the Covid Pandemic or World Wars. The festival is truly a spectacle, with hundreds of people carrying burning torches and marching through the streets, culminating in the torches being thrown onto a Viking longship replica. It’s fairly easy to get to Shetland, but it can be a long journey. You can fly from Glasgow and Edinburgh on Loganair, or catch a ferry from Aberdeen, but that takes a lot longer and is prone to some rough North Sea crossings in the winter.


One place in Scotland that especially suits the winter is the dramatic Glencoe area. With its huge valleys and towers mountains covered in snow, its like stepping into something from a fairytale. It also gives you a shocking realization of the kind of conditions people in the area would have lived through back in the day. The 1692 massacre of the MacDonald clan took place in the area in February, so you can get a feel for just how cruel the winter days back then would have been.

You can visit Glencoe on many of our tours this winter, such as:

Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands from Edinburgh

Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands from Glasgow


Portree has to be one of the most picturesque places we visit on our tours, so it stands to reason that in winter, when all the Christmas lights are up and the capital of Skye has one of the coziest vibes, it would be even better. If you’re lucky, the area around the town might have a dusting of snow, making it seem like you’re in a Christmas village. With it being colder and darker, you might also find Skye to be a bit quieter, allowing you to explore the island with a bit more peace and quiet.

You can head there on our 1-day Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan tour from Inverness, or our 3-day Isle of Skye and the Highlands tour from Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Winter Wildlife Spotting

No matter where you go in Scotland, you’re bound to come across some of our wildlife. Whether you look to the skies to see the seasonal birds that come to visit, like the hundreds and thousands of geese that visit us from Greenland to avoid the intense cold, or look to the ground to see cute red squirrels or red deer (pretend they are reindeer for Christmas if you need to). Red Squirrels are particularly prevalent in wooded areas on bright days, with red deer being common to moors and reserves.

Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms are the perfect location for winter activities. As mentioned above, using the village of Aviemore as your base opens up the National Park to you, one of only 2 National Parks in Scotland (bonus points if you can name the other). The Cairngorms are full of opportunities, like skiing. The mountains are the perfect playground for skiing and snowboarding, with shops available in Aviemore to help you get kitted out. There’s also the Highland Wildlife Park if you want to get up close and personal with some festive friends like polar bears and snow leopards. Or, you could simply wrap up, strap on some sensible shoes, and explore the winter wilderness.

Celebrate Burns Night

Every January 25th, we celebrate the life of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet. Not long after we’ve all sang Auld Lang’s Syne on Hogmanay (he wrote it), we celebrate Rabbie’s birthday. This is usually done by attending a ceilidh, or a dinner, where haggis will definitely be served, and a few drams.

If you want to learn more about how to throw the perfect Burns’ Night and what to expect, have a read of our blog about it here, then get searching for one to go to yourself!

Explore the Highlands

The Highlands are known for their rugged beauty, no matter the time of year. During the winter, they transform. Towering peaks become softened with glistening snow, and the valleys seem to stretch on for miles with their frosty coatings. It can feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale universe, or stayed on one of our tours a bit too long and ended up in the Arctic circle. No matter what though, it makes for unparalleled scenery so you won’t want to forget your camera. You also won’t want to forget your hats and gloves, it gets cold.

Visit a St Andrews' Day Ceilidh

Every year, on the 30th of November, we celebrate St Andrews' Day here in Scotland. 

It's a day to celebrate the patron Saint of Scotland, you guessed it, Saint Andrew, namesake of one of our favourite cities, but I surely don't need to tell you which one.

There are many legends as to how Saint Andrew came to be the patron Saint of Scotland and if you want to learn about more about them, you can read our blog all about the man himself right here.

One thing we do know for sure, is that we love to celebrate the day, especially with a ceilidh. They shouldn't be too hard to come by, but you can expect plenty of dancing, plenty of music, and of course, plenty of whisky - or Irn-Bru if that's more your style. Ceilidhs are a type of gathering, where everyone takes part in traditional Scottish country dances that are drilled into us in school. Don't worry if you don't know any though, as they are pretty easy to learn, and we will all definitely help you get your moves perfected. They can get pretty rowdy, so expect to be a bit sore the next morning - it is absolutely worth it though!

So hopefully this list will help you curate your perfect winter calendar!

Don't forget - we run our tours all through the winter, come rain or shine, or snow (as long as there's not too much).

As a wee early Christmas present from Santa Timberbush, we're also giving you a helping hand on starting your 2024 plans - until the end of November, we are offering 10% off all 2024 tours booked using the code "NOV10OFF" - so get planning!

Happy Winter - wrap up warm!