Christmas breaks in Scotland

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It won’t be long until the lights go up, the tacky jumpers come out, and Slade, the Pogues and my personal favourite, Mariah Carey, take over the radio – yep, Christmas is fast approaching! But before you get swept up in a festive whirlwind of tinsel and Brussels sprouts and emotional John Lewis adverts, why not think about adding a little sparkle to your holidays with a Christmas break?

Whether you’re hoping to tackle the shopping on a weekend to the city, whisk your loved one off for a romantic getaway, or flee the country in a bid to escape the in-laws, Scotland is just the place for a winter break. Have a look at my suggestions for Christmas breaks in Scotland, and feel free to tell us about your holiday plans in the comments section.

Christmas shopping at the House of Bruar, near Blair Atholl
Shopping trips

Whether you love or loathe Christmas shopping, it can be a great excuse for a weekend away. As one of the UK’s best shopping destinations, Glasgow is the perfect place to spend a few days stocking up on presents. You’ll find all the gifts and stocking fillers you need on the Style Mile in the city centre, which has dozens of high street shops, designer stores and several shopping malls – Buchanan Galleries alone houses more than 90 shops, and the Hamleys toy emporium in the St Enoch Centre is the perfect place to spoil the kids.

If you’re travelling to Perthshire or the Highlands over the holidays, House of Bruar by Blair Atholl is a great place to pick up presents (especially when you’re zooming up the A9 on Christmas Eve and realise you’ve forgotten to get something for your dad… not that I’ve done that…). They stock a huge range of knitwear, country clothing, art and gifts, and their cashmere hall is the biggest in Britain. The food hall is chock full of Scottish products, and the restaurant does a mean bowl of soup.

Skating at the ice rink at Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland, Princes Street Gardens
 Romantic breaks

Edinburgh looks beautiful all year round, but there’s something really special about it at Christmas – in fact, CNN recently named it one of the top ten destinations for winter breaks. One of my favourite parts of the capital’s Christmas is the traditional European market by the National Gallery on Princes Street, this year opening on 22 November. It’s always very busy, but there’s a great vibe and you can’t help but feel Christmassy as you wander the stalls sipping on hot chocolate or mulled wine.

The neighbouring Princes Street Gardens are converted into an ice rink each year, so you can zip around hand-in-hand feeling like you’re in a movie scene (though I recommend doing this before the mulled wine, not after) and you can cosy up and enjoy great views of the sparkling city centre on the Big Wheel. Have a look at this post on Edinburgh’s Christmas events for a run-down of what’s going on in the capital this winter, including the world-famous Hogmanay celebrations – this year the party kicks off Scotland’s Year of Homecoming 2014, and the fireworks and festivities are sure to be bigger than ever.

For a more tranquil holiday, opt for a romantic break at a castle or country house. There are dozens of these luxury hotels all over Scotland, each offering 5-star service in truly glamorous surroundings. I can think of no better place to watch the Downton Abbey Christmas special than in a fancy stately home – you’ll feel posher than the Dowager Countess herself.

Sleddog racing at the Cairngorm Sleddog Centre, Aviemore
 Family holidays

Aviemore is a great choice for a Christmas break with the family, provided you can reassure the wee ones that Santa will still be able to find you that far north. As well as being one of the few places in the UK where you’re almost guaranteed a white Christmas, this small town offers loads to see and do with kids.

Visit Santa’s Bothy and Rudolph’s friends at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, or take a sleigh ride through the forest at the Cairngorm Sleddog Centre. The Fun House at the Hilton Coylumbridge offers 10-pin bowling, mini golf and a soft play area named Cyril’s Treehouse, while the mazes and woodland trails of Landmark Forest Adventure Park are just a 15-minute drive away.

If you’re in town for Christmas itself, the torchlit procession through the village on the 24th is sure to get you in a festive mood. And, of course, the Cairngorm National Park is right on your doorstep – try the Aviemore Ski and Snowboard School for lessons for over eights, or come aboard the Funicular Railway for stunning views from one of Scotland’s highest mountains.

Have you taken a Christmas break in Scotland before? Leave us a comment to share your suggestions and recommendations!

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Sophie Cameron

Content Executive at VisitScotland
Originally from the Black Isle, Sophie lives in Edinburgh and spends most of her time reading, running and roaming around Scotland.