Best Places to Visit in Scotland in Winter

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I absolutely love Scotland.

I’ve visited loads of times, in all seasons, and I’ve enjoyed myself every time. So even though people reckon you shouldn’t visit Scotland in winter, I’m here to tell you that you definitely should. The weather isn’t as bad as people say, there are lots of brilliant events, many things to do, and there are plenty of great places to visit.

So in this article, I’ve brought you some of my favorites. Here are the best places to visit in Scotland in winter

1. Arthur’s Seat

Overlooking Edinburgh from Arthur S Seat in Early Winter
Overlooking Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat in early winter

A mini city-center hike over Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat is great—and it offers one of Scotland’s most famous views.

Any time of year, it’s a nice place for an easy wander, and the views are great. But in winter, if Edinburgh is coated in snow, it’s ridiculously beautiful—so if you get snow while you’re in the city, you should wander up Arthur’s Seat.

Maybe the best thing about Arthur’s Seat (if you’re a lazy traveler and you don’t like real hikes), is that it’s really easy and accessible, even in snow. The walk clocks in at 3 miles (4.75kms), the peak sits at a measly 251 meters (823 feet), and it should only take you a couple of hours at most to get to the top and back.

Compared to the tiny amount of effort you need to put in, you get brilliant views.

Arthur’s Seat is part of massive Holyrood Park, so there are lots of strolls nearby, all great for a winter walk.

  • Address: The Dasses, Edinburgh, EH8 8AZ
  • Entrance Fee: Free

2. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle under the snow as seen from Castle Street in New Town in the city centre of Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle under the snow as seen from Castle Street in New Town in the city centre of Edinburgh

Again, just like Arthur’s Seat, you can visit Edinburgh Castle any time of year.

But in winter, if you get snow, it looks magical—and the views from its grounds are fantastic. So I reckon winter is the best time to visit Edinburgh Castle.

Sometimes, the place hosts special winter events, including its brilliant ‘Castle of Light’ celebrations. During this period, the castle is adorned with mega-modern lighting installations, all with unique and innovative features. Imagine patterns, pictures, interactions and illuminations, and you’ve got a good idea of what you’ll get.

And on top of all that, the castle usually offers tasty winter treats as part of their Christmas Afternoon Teas.

  • Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG
  • Opening Hours: Typically 9:30am until 6pm, 7 days a week
  • Entrance Fee: £15.50 for adults, £9.30 for kids

3. Edinburgh Christmas Market

Edinburgh Christmas Market
Christmas market in Princess Street Gardens with Fair Ground Ride, Scott Monument and russian wheel during Christmas in Edinburgh

Another entry, another Edinburgh attraction.

Edinburgh Christmas Market is one of the best Christmas markets in the UK. Like most of them, you get lots of great stalls, selling festive food, tasty drinks, handmade crafts, and lots of other trinkets and treasures. Most of the traders at Edinburgh Christmas Market are local businesses, so it’s a nice place to invest in the local economy and see what regional people are getting up to.

But at Edinburgh Christmas Market, it’s not just market stalls. Yeah, there are plenty of them, but you also get an ice rink, a Ferris wheel, Santa’s grotto, a festive maze, and loads more fun for all the family.

And maybe best of all, iconic Edinburgh Castle looms over the market’s stands and stalls, so the views are great, and the entire event is really atmospheric and alluring.

It’s without doubt one of the best Christmas markets in the UK—so if you’re in Scotland while it’s on, you should absolutely visit.

  • Address: Usually East Princes Street Gardens
  • Opening Hours: Typically 10am until 10pm, 7 days a week
  • Entrance Fee: Free

4. Glasgow Christmas Market

Glasgow Christmas Market
Carousel at Glasgow Christmas Market

Glasgow Christmas Market is overshadowed by the massively-famous markets in Edinburgh. But I reckon Glasgow’s (though they might not be quite as big) are almost as fun, and definitely more friendly. Controversial.

Hugely underrated, you should definitely visit Glasgow’s Christmas markets if you prefer events that aren’t absolutely packed with endless numbers of tourists.

At Glasgow’s Christmas markets, you get two areas brimming with more than 100 different stalls. Again, you get crafts, food, drinks, local businesses, organic produce and traditional treats. And on top of all that, you get fairground rides, Santa visits, friendly faces and warm welcomes.

Even better, Glasgow is a massively underrated stop on Scotland’s tourist trail—so you can enjoy a great city while you’re lapping up all the festive fun.

  • Address: Usually George Square and St. Enoch Square
  • Opening Hours: Typically 10am until 8pm, 7 days a week
  • Entrance Fee: Free

5. Cairngorm Sleddog Center

This place is brilliant.

The only daily-working sleddog center in the UK, it offers one of the most magical experiences Scotland has to offer. You know in the movies, when you watch someone sit in a sled, and get pulled along by dogs? Well that’s exactly what this is, but in real life.

You can enjoy these experiences any time of year, but they’re of course best in winter, if you’re lucky enough to get snow.

Aside from the rides themselves, the sleddog center also offers other action and adventure. There’s a small museum, along with chances to meet the dogs, and learning about their training and history.

This Cairngorm Sleddog Center is (unsurprisingly!) located in Cairngorms National Park, the biggest national park in the UK. It’s pretty close to Aviemore, one of the most charming towns in the region.

There are other sled dog places in Scotland, near both Inverness and Fort William. But I reckon the Cairngorm Sleddog Center is the best of them—and like I said before, the rest are only open on certain days.

  • Address: Moormore Cottage, Rothiemurchus Estate, Aviemore, PH22 1QU
  • Opening Hours: Book in advance for a timeslot
  • Entrance Fee: Various

6. Cairngorm Reindeer Center

The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd in Scotland, the Only Free Ranging Herd of Reindeer in Britain
The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd in Scotland, the only free-ranging herd of reindeer in Britain

Also in the Cairngorms (and also close to Aviemore!), you can find the only herd of free-roaming reindeer in the UK. There are around 150 of the horned little cuties, and they’ve been wandering around the area since 1952.

To see them, the best way is to organize a tour with Cairngorm Reindeer Center, who offer accessible on-foot trips around the mountains. Because they’re free-roaming deer, it can be hard to spot them, but the center’s staff know exactly where to look. If you find them, you can feed them, pet them, and be absolutely in awe that you’re looking at wild reindeer. In winter!

Cairngorm Reindeer Center offer tours year-round, but the best time to see reindeer is of course winter—and even better, in the snow. If you’re traveling with kids, they’ll absolutely love this. If you’re looking for magical, this is as good as it gets.

The center itself is pretty small and humble, but it offers other Christmas events in winter, including visits from Santa!

  • Address: Reindeer House, Glenmore, Aviemore, PH22 1QU
  • Opening Hours: 10am until 5pm 7 days a week, but book in advance
  • Entrance Fee: Hill trip prices are usually £18.50 for adults and £13.50 for kids

7. Irn Bru Carnival

Every winter, the Irn Bru Carnival descends upon Glasgow, offering the thrills and excitement of the biggest indoor funfair in Europe.

For 3 or 4 weeks in December and January, the carnival serves up hefty portions of funfair rides, inflatable play areas, food, drinks and more.

Imagine a traditional British funfair, make it bigger, put it indoors, and you’ve got Glasgow’s Irn Bru Carnival. Ridiculous fun, it’s a brilliant winter family activity, and it’s been entertaining families for over 100 years. So if you’re traveling to Scotland, join them—if you’re vacationing with little ones of any age, they’ll love it.

Just make sure you book up in advance, because it’s hugely popular, and you usually need a ticket.

  • Address: Scottish Event Campus, Exhibition Way, Glasgow, G3 8YW
  • Opening Hours: Various, but usually early afternoon to late evening
  • Entrance Fee: Usually £16 for adults, and £13 for kids

8. Glencoe Mountain Resort

Chairlift to the Mountain in Glencoe Ski Resort in Scotland

Not enough people know this—but during winter, you can ski in Scotland. And it’s way better than most people realize, with some brilliant slopes and resorts.

Glencoe Mountain Resort is probably the most famous place to do it, located (unsurprisingly) in Glencoe, and close to Fort William.

All in all, the place has 8 lifts and 20 slopes, including the longest and steepest runs in Scotland, so there’s loads of fun on offer.

If skiing isn’t your thing, Glencoe Mountain Resort also offers snowboarding, sledging, hiking, and ridiculously good views.

And if you’re visiting in summer, they also offer biking, tubing and chairlift rides. So whenever you’re in Scotland, it’s a great place to visit.

And on top of all that, there’s an on-site campsite, so you can wake up mega early right in the resort, ready to get involved in loads of action and adventure. If you don’t have your own tent, you can stay in one of the resort’s so-called ‘microlodges’.

If you want the best winter sports experiences in Scotland, I reckon Glencoe Mountain Resort is your best bet. Whatever you do, you’ll absolutely love the place.

  • Address: Kingshouse, Glencoe, PH49 4HZ
  • Opening Hours: Typically 8am until 8pm, 7 days a week, but check in advance
  • Entrance Fee: Various

9. Nevis Range Mountain Experience

Ski Resort of Nevis Range During Winter, Scotland

For more skiing, head to the surroundings of Ben Nevis, the loftiest peak in Scotland (clocking in at 1,345 meters / 4,413 feet, in case you’re wondering‎).

The skiing and snowboarding here don’t take you to Nevis or its peak, but you get great views of the mountain from lots of the resort’s slopes (which lie just north of Ben Nevis). Because it’s built on part of a lofty range, it’s the highest snowsports destination in Scotland.

Again, it’s pretty close to Glencoe and Fort William, and therefore pretty close to Glencoe Mountain Resort, though it’s not quite as impressive (or as well-known).

You get skiing, snowboarding, hiking, paragliding, mountain biking and loads more. Lots of people just come here for the views, by riding the on-site mountain gondola to a 650-meter (2,133 feet) peak. There’s a nice restaurant here along with some great hiking trails.

If you just want good views without having to do any skiing or snowboarding, the Nevis Range Mountain Experience is a great choice. But no matter why you’re going, or what you decide to get up to, the whole area looks beautiful, and you’ll have loads of fun.

  • Address: Torlundy, Fort William, PH33 6SQ
  • Opening Hours: Typically 9:30am until 4:30pm, 7 days a week, but check in advance
  • Entrance Fee: Various

10. Glenshee Ski Center

Glenshee Ski Center

Another Scottish winter entry, another ski center.

This time, we’re in the Cairngorms (again, the biggest national park in the UK). Glenshee Ski Center is located in the southern part of the park, between Braemar and Spittal of Glenshee. It’s a pretty massive place, with 22 lifts, 36 runs, and lots of great skiing, snowboarding, sledging and more.

But this isn’t the only snowsport option in the Cairngorms. The huge park is home to two more skiing centers: Cairngorm Mountain and The Lecht. For kids and beginners, the Lecht is great.

But no matter which ski center you choose, the Cairngorms are great for outdoor adventure. For pure diversity, endless space, and loads of things to do, the Cairngorms is the best place in Scotland to explore slopes and snow.

The national park has a huge number of places to ski, snowboard and hike, along with (as we’ve covered!) dogs and reindeer. It’s usually best to stay in Aviemore, which is beautiful—and pretty close to all the stuff we’ve featured in this guide.

  • Address: Old Military Rd, Ballater AB35 5XU
  • Opening Hours: Typically 8:30am until 5pm, 7 days a week, but check in advance
  • Entrance Fee: Various

11. The Shetland Isles

Up Helly Aa, a Viking Fire Festival Unique to the Shetland Isles, North of Scotland
Up Helly Aa, a viking fire festival unique to the Shetland Isles, North of Scotland

In winter, Scotland’s massively-underrated Shetland Isles have loads of things to experience and enjoy.

First of all, they’re the best place to see the northern lights in Scotland. Because the Shetland Islands are so far north (more northern than some parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland!), they offer great views of the northern lights in the right season. And that right season is winter!

Fun fact: the Shetland Islands are closer to the north pole than any other part of Britain.

But arguably even better than that, the Shetland Islands host Up Helly Aa every January, a weirdly-named celebration of Shetland’s culture, history and Viking heritage.

During this festival, lots of Shetland’s residents take part in the fun. Locals get dressed up, march, carry torches and set fires, in one of the UK’s weirdest, wackiest celebrations.

And because Shetland is so remote and quiet, being there in winter can feel really magical. If you like to explore hikes, beaches, cliffs, coasts and small villages without crowds, you’ll love the Shetland Isles in winter. And if it snows, it’s outrageously beautiful.

12. The Fairy Pools

Scotland's Fairy Pools in the Winter

This is a bit of a leftfield choice, but listen up and you’ll understand.

Scottish beauty spots like the Fairy Pools (probably the most famous attraction in Skye) are ridiculously busy during summer. Yeah, these beauty spots look good in summer, and the weather’s good in summer, but you have to share the places with about 10 million other tourists.

And that can ruin the fun a little bit, especially if you’re the type of person who likes peace, serenity and solitude.

So the Fairy Pools are brilliant in winter, because you get to enjoy them with very few other people around. Just like the Shetland Isles, the Isle of Skye (and all other Scottish islands!) can be better in winter—assuming you’re going for the right reasons.

Other good winter picks on Skye for crowd-free fun include the Quiraing, the Old Man of Storr and the Fairy Glen. But on the other Scottish islands and on the mainland, there are plenty of great low-season winter options—if it’s a place that’s massively busy in summer, it’s sometimes better to visit in winter.

Final Words and Further Reading

There they are—the 12 best places to visit in Scotland during winter.

I love them all, but my two top picks are the Cairngorm Reindeer Center, and all the winter experiences on the islands. And if you’re traveling with kids, definitely check out the markets and the Irn Bru carnival.

If you want to know anything else about traveling in Scotland during the festive period, check out our guide to Scottish winter weather, and our article on the best things to do in Scotland during winter.

Thanks for reading!

Paul McDougal

Paul McDougal

Paul is a handsome and hilarious travel writer and travel journalist from the UK. He’s hiked, hitchhiked and laughed his way through more than fifty countries, and he’s always looking for a new place to call home. Originally from Newcastle, he’s lived all over the UK, spent more than three years in Asia, and most recently lived in Vietnam. Here’s his website.