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Scotland After Hours – ideas to get you outdoors at night

With the clocks changing, the dark nights drawing in and the temperature dipping, it’s tough to drag yourself away from the TV and off the cosy sofa in the evening. But autumn and winter fun in Scotland’s Great Outdoors doesn’t have to end when the sun goes down and the night sets in.

From adrenaline-induced adventure to sightseeing under the stars, there’s a host of activities and experiences for all to enjoy. So don’t hibernate this year, get out there and see Scotland in an entirely new light (or dark!).

Read on for further inspiration.

Starry, starry night

Northern Lights on the Fraserburgh coast, Aberdeenshire

Northern Lights on the Fraserburgh coast, Aberdeenshire

There is something magical about watching the night sky as it twinkles with stars and distant planets, or perhaps if you’re lucky you’ll see the shimmering Northern Lights or Mirrie Dancers as they’re known in the Northern Isles.

Scotland has some of the darkest skies in Europe. From the stellar spaces above the Isle of Skye and Galloway Forest Park – the UK’s first Dark Sky Park – to Moffat, Scotland’s first Dark Sky Town, you’ll find some of the best star gazing spots in the UK right here.

Why not visit the Mills Observatory in Dundee – Britain’s first purpose-built public observatory? If the picture above isn’t enough to inspire you, then our Dark Skies video definitely will!

Night fall

Blackout bungee jump with Highland Fling Bungee in Highland Perthshire

Blackout bungee at Killiecrankie, Perthshire © Highland Fling Bungee

Highland Fling Bungee, in Highland Perthshire, is the only permanent bungee jumping operator in the UK and offers thrill seekers the chance to jump at a height of around 40m from Garry Bridge at Killiecrankie near Pitlochry.

Not scary enough? Take the plunge in complete darkness with a Blackout Bungee between October and March! Highland Fling Bungee are the first to offer this experience in Europe.

Night rider

Night mountain biking, Glentress, Scottish Borders

Night riding at 7stanes Glentress, Peebles, Scottish Borders © Ian Linton/Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland

Scotland’s reputation for world-class mountain biking is well-founded and you’ll find some of the best trail riding centres in the UK here. But the action doesn’t have to cease when the sun sets. Take your riding to the next level and speed through the forests on a night ride for a completely new thrill.

Simply Epic Adventures offer guided night rides anywhere in Scotland, or speak to the good folks at Ridelines or Dirt School, based in the Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders, for options. Alternatively, combine a thrilling night ride with a powerboat trip across Loch Ken with Galloway Activity Centre in the south-west.

Night stand (up paddle-boarding)

Stand Up Paddle-boarding on Loch Insh, Cairngorms National Park

Stand up paddle-boarding, Loch Insh, Cairngorms National Park © Jakub Iwanicki/VisitScotland

It’s the fastest growing watersport in the UK and now you can also try it at night as a guided experience with GoSUP in North Berwick near Edinburgh, and Galloway Activity Centre in Dumfries & Galloway.

Stand up paddle-boarding (SUP) is a relaxing way to unlock the treasures of Scotland’s coast and inland waterways, and exploring these under a canopy of sparkling stars takes the experience to a whole new level.

Loch Insh Outdoor Centre, in the Cairngorms National Park, also offer a Sunrise SUP Tour starting at 7.30am, if you’re an early bird rather than a night owl!

Wild nights

Pine marten at night, Cairngorms National Park

Pine marten at night, Cairngorms National Park © Speyside Wildlife Evening Mammal Watch

From our ‘Big Five’ of red deer, golden eagle, otter, harbour seal and red squirrel to over-wintering wildfowl visitors, resident dolphins, magnificent white-tailed sea eagles and inquisitive pine martens, Scotland’s wildlife is fascinating to watch during the day. Some of our creatures however, can be a bit timid and sometimes the best time to see them is at night.

Speyside Wildlife in Grantown-on-Spey in the Cairngorms National Park offer fascinating Evening Mammal Watches from a state-of-the-art, warm and comfortable hide. Whilst in Dumfries & Galloway, Nocturnal Wildlife Experiences led by photographer Keith Kirk, offer a unique wildlife-watching experience using cutting edge thermal imaging and night vision equipment, to introduce you to the often unseen ‘after hours’ lives of local species.

City nights, bright lights

Edinburgh and castle at night

Edinburgh cityscape and castle at night © Kenny Lam

Come rain or shine, day or night, whether you’re exploring in the mountains and glens or strolling around our colourful cityscapes, Scotland is always picture perfect. Autumn and winter are often the best seasons to capture that special moment and a good way to develop your skills is to join a unique night photography tour.

See a different side of Glasgow and snap some of the city’s most iconic landmarks such as the Riverside Museum, the Armadillo or the ‘Squinty Bridge’ with Photo Walk Scotland. Or join Iconic Tours in Edinburgh and capture some amazing shots of the Old and New Towns.

Red sky at night

Canoeing on Loch Lomond

Canoeing on Loch Lomond at sunset, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

Attune all of your senses as you explore your surroundings and drift quietly along Scotland’s waterways after dark to see stunning scenery, autumn colours and startled wildlife from a different perspective, in a kayak or canoe.

Head out on a still night with the stars and moon creating an amazing glow on the water and re-discover once-familiar parts of Scotland. Outdoor Explore run night kayaking and canoeing tours, suitable for both new and experienced paddlers, on Clunie Loch near Blairgowrie and Loch Faskally near Pitlochry, offering a truly unique outdoor experience during the winter months.

Spooky nights

Ghost tour Edinburgh

A ghost tour around Edinburgh Old Town © Richard Campbell/VisitScotland

Arguably the most haunted country in the world, Scotland is home to a huge array of myths, legends and superstitions, from the Loch Ness Monster and Burke & Hare, to the ghosts of Culloden Moor. So why not spend the dark evenings delving into Scotland’s sinister and murky past with a spine-chilling ghost walk?

Whether its Mercat Tours, Auld Reekie Tours or City of the Dead Tours in Edinburgh, Mostly Ghostly in Moffat in Dumfries & Galloway, the Stirling Ghost Walk or Dark Dundee, we can’t guarantee a spooky encounter but we can guarantee a spectacularly eerie evening.

Monumental nights

Kelpies at Dusk, Helix Park, Falkirk

The Kelpies at night, Helix Park, Falkirk

Many of Scotland’s attractions are beautiful during the day, but did you know they can also look just as stunning at night? Some of our most famous attractions look just as impressive lit against a dark sky as they do bathed in sunlight.

The unmistakeable Kelpies in Falkirk, the iconic Forth Bridges near Edinburgh spanning three centuries of Scottish engineering, historic Eilean Donan Castle near Skye and Glasgow’s OVO Hydro arena – the second busiest entertainment venue in the world – are well worth a visit when darkness falls.

In the night garden

Christmas at the Botanics, Edinburgh

Christmas at The Botanics © Raymond Gubbay Ltd

Prepare yourself for a magical outdoor evening experience for all the family. Guaranteed to get you into the Christmas spirit, follow the spectacularly illuminated Christmas at the Botanics trail through the world-famous Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh between 17 November and 30 December.

You’ll visit the Fire Garden and see a circular carpet of flames, see and hear a choir of ‘singing’ conifers, watch as a beech hedge is lit up with sparkling flashes, walk through the Crystal Lawn and enjoy some festive food.  Don’t forget to wave to Santa and his elves!

Night swimming

Wild swimming, which sees hardy souls don their wetsuits and head into Scotland’s dark lochs and rivers, has become increasingly popular over the last few years. It’s an invigorating way to awaken the senses and immerse yourself in Scotland’s unique landscape.

So imagine taking that up a notch and wild swimming by the light of the stars and the silvery moon. Galloway Activity Centre in Dumfries & Galloway offer guided trips where you can undertake this memorable experience in a safe and enjoyable way.