The beauty of Scotland is a year-round attraction, but during the winter months – and especially around Christmas – it comes into its own. Crisp mornings in charming cities illuminated with festive lights, cool mist over the Highlands landscapes, and slopes coloured white waiting to be carved by skis or snowboard. All of this, and more, can be found in Scotland.
This year, swap mornings spent de-icing the windscreen for strolls through the delightful streets of Edinburgh, or change the monotony of your usual morning walk with a hike up some of the UK’s highest peaks in the Cairngorms. Cities such Glasgow and Aberdeen offer more than enough to keep every day filled over a long weekend, while the country’s natural sights are great for outdoor activities, skiing and even spotting the Northern Lights.
If you’re planning a Christmas holiday in Scotland, look no further. We've rounded up some of the best places to go, as well as what to do and how to do it, for a memorable winter break.
The sophisticated Scottish capital is a grear choice for a city break at any time of year, but in winter it is even more captivating than usual. As darkness falls, the impressive skyline lights up from early in the evening, with the imposing castle and a series of Christmas markets – the main one at East Princes Street Gardens – providing a nighttime sparkle.
Though it’ll be cold, a hike up Arthur’s Seat or Calton Hill is worth it for the views, while the rest of the day can be spent exploring areas like the Royal Mile or Grassmarket, where the ever-charming streets are made even more so with festive lights and decorations.
How to do it
Book easyJet Holidays’ package to the Eden Locke for a stay in a Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh’s lovely New Town. Accommodation options consist of either studios or mini apartments, meaning your room will be both spacious and comfortable as well as stylish. At just 15 minutes away from the Royal Mile, it’s also an ideal base for exploring the capital.
From £421pp including three nights’ accommodation, return flights from London Stansted and one piece of checked luggage each. Departing 1 December.
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Aberdeen sits on the eastern coast of the country, and is self-styled as a “city of the sea”. It is still centred around its waters: the harbour showcases the industrial side of the city (and is the starting point for dolphin-watching tours), the fishing village of Footdee is one of its most attractive areas, and locals and visitors can enjoy a walk along the golden sands that meet the North Sea (though it may be a little chilly in December).
Previously labelled as “one of the most architecturally diverse cities in Europe”, it is often referred to as the ‘The Granite City’ after the material used to construct many of its main buildings, which range from the Victorian to the neo-Gothic, such as the recently renovated Art Gallery (which includes works from Monet and Francis Bacon). Walking tours are popular throughout the cobbled streets of Old Aberdeen, while the city’s Christmas Village bring a series of stalls and food vendors to the streets around Union Terrace Gardens.
How to do it
A British Airways Holidays package to the Mercure Aberdeen Caledonian hotel includes a stay in the heart of the city in an elegant Victorian building. Rooms are pared-back, modern and spacious, while the restaurant, bar and cafe provide plenty of dining options including afternoon tea.
From £195pp including three nights’ accommodation, return flights from London Heathrow and one piece of checked luggage per passenger. Departing 1 December.
Scotland‘s Highlands are home to several ski resorts to tempt people to the slopes. Consider Cairngorm Mountain over a trip to the Alps or Dolomites, an ideal place for skiers of all levels. With 12 lifts, 30km of pistes and plenty of freestyle terrain, as well as opportunities for backcountry skiing and touring, head north of the border for Christmas on the snow.
How to do it
Skinorwest provide a range of skiing packages for stays at either the Highlander Hotel, the MacDonald Highlands or the MacDonald Aviemore, ranging from two nights and two days to six nights and five days. Packages include dinners, equipment hire and lift passes; four-hour ski lessons can be purchased for an additional £50pp per day.
EasyJet run flights from Luton and Gatwick direct to Inverness from as little as £25 one way.
Prices from £391pp (£280 per child under 12) for a four-night stay, including four nights’ accommodation at the Highlander Hotel, breakfast and four dinner, all equipment hire and lift passes for the duration of your stay.
The Hebrides possess some of the most enthralling natural landscapes in the entire country, from rocky coastlines and stretches of sand to rugged hills and lochs. Parts of these isles lay on the same latitude as well-known Northern Lights destinations, such as Stavanger in Norway, and with some of the darkest skies in the UK, the isles of Skye, Lewis, Harris and Barra are good places to potentially see the phenomenon .
During the winter, take advantage of the surrounds, with plenty of outdoor activities on offer including water sports, boat trips, bike rides and hikes. Though the beaches will be cold, their natural beauty makes them worth a stroll, while a series of Neolithic stone circles, museums and archaeological sites give an insight into the history of the isles.
How to do it
The Isle of Lewis, Barra and Benbecula can be reached in an hour or less by plane from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness. Flights are operated by Loganair and start at around £51 each way.
The Royal Hotel sits near the middle of Stornaway right by the marina. A warm, welcoming hotel with rustic interiors, it benefits from its own restaurant and cafe bar and some excellent views across the marina to Lews Castle.
Scotland’s second city, Glasgow has become its cultural heart, with an array of impressive museums and galleries (including the Kelvingrove Museum and the Gallery of Modern Art), dozens of comedy clubs and one of the UK’s finest music scenes, with venues such as Barrowlands and the O2 Academy.
Glasgow has benefitted from the renovation of areas like Finnieston, while neighbourhoods like the southside, Merchant City and the West End remain as charming as ever, with leafy parks, colourful streets and striking Victorian architecture abound. From mid-November to early January, St Enoch Square is alive with a traditional Christmas market, while from early December, George Square is lit up by an extensive market complete with an ice rink and a 100-feet observation deck.
How to do it
British Airways Holidays offers a package stay at the voco Grand Central hotel, located near the central station and less than a mile from Merchant City, George Square and the city centre. Housed in a magnificent 19th-century building, the hotel has elegant, contemporary decor plus impressive bar and restaurant areas.
From £240pp for three nights’ accommodation, return flights from Heathrow and one checked bag. Departing 8 December.
Cairngorms National Park
Scotland has two national parks, with the Cairngorms is a best bet for the winter months. This is mainly due to its snow-capped mountains and opportunities for winter sports, walking or hiking – the UK’s largest national park is home to several of its highest peaks, including the 1,309-metre Ben Macdui.
In addition to hundreds of miles of walking trails, the Cairngorms contains several bike paths, mountaineering, climbing and sports centres. There are also opportunities to try your hand at activities like archery, clay pigeon shooting and horse riding. On more relaxed days, you can visit a series of castles, distilleries and wildlife parks.
How to do it
EasyJet run direct flights to both Aberdeen and Inverness from around £50 return.
The Balmoral Arms – located in Ballater on the eastern side of the national park – is an excellent option for a comfortable winter stay. Just 15 minutes from Balmoral Castle, the exquisite stone building is home to traditional interiors and quaint rooms, with an à la carte restaurant and a Scottish-styled bar (including a wood-burning stove).
Read our reviews of the best Scotland hotels