Winter in the Highlands is a truly enchanted time. Snow-capped mountains, frozen lochs, white-dusted forests and glittering cities all create an extra touch of magic.
Clear your mind on a bright frosty morning and experience the serenity of the glens and hills, where wild deer roam and eagles soar. Or get active with some unforgettable winter adventures, from skiing and mountain biking to dog sledding and canoeing.
In the evening, cosy up by the fire with tasty local food and a warming dram of whisky, and marvel at wonderful winter sunsets and starry nights – you might even spot the Northern Lights!
Whether you are able to visit this year or just dreaming about your next escape, here are some great ideas for your perfect winter break in the Highlands.
1. Ski across snowy mountains
The Highlands is a magnet for snow lovers. With two of the best snowsports resorts in Scotland, Lochaber is truly the Outdoor Capital of the UK in every season. Visit the oldest ski centre in Scotland at Glencoe Mountain and enjoy awe-inspiring winter scenery as you hit the slopes. Here you’ll enjoy some exhilarating snowsports in 200 hectares of breathtaking scenery across 20 runs and 8 lifts, perfect for learning and honing your ski and snowboard skills. This is also a great venue for experienced snowsports enthusiasts with the longest and steepest runs in Scotland.
If you’re looking for slower-paced adventures, why not try snowshoeing or ski touring at Glen Shee in the Cairngorms National Park? You can book a guided tour and explore the vast snowy landscapes on foot.
2. Gaze up at the wonderful dark skies
The fun doesn’t stop after dark in the Highlands. As the sun goes down you will be treated to glorious sunsets at Sanna Bay in Ardnamurchan or from the top of Suidhe Viewpoint near Loch Ness. During the winter nights, the dark skies light up with millions of stars – even the Milky Way is visible without a telescope.
Bless your lucky stars at the incredible Tomintoul & Glenlivet Cairngorms Dark Sky Park. This is the most northerly Dark Sky Park in the world and the darkest in the UK. Or discover the celestial wonders of Skye’s stellar Dark Sky. You might even witness the Northern Lights!
Watch the full moon from beautiful Glen Nevis in Lochaber, the first place to be nominated a Dark Sky Discovery Site, or stare at the Milky Way from Abriachan above Loch Ness.
Find more stargazing spots in the Highlands and check Highland Astronomy for updates.
3. Clear your mind on a refreshing winter walk
Breathe in the crisp winter air on a peaceful walk around the Highlands most beautiful glens and coastlines. Take a frosty morning stroll on the geotrails of Glen Roy in the Lochaber Geopark or unlock the ancient secrets of the UNESCO North West Highlands Geopark at Knockan Crag, with some of the oldest rocks in Europe.
Explore the magical ancient Caledonian forests dusted with snow in the Cairngorms National Park or the remote Affric Kintail Way, a superb cross-country route stretching from Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness to Morvich in Kintail.
Experience the wild seas of the north along the dramatic Caithness coast – you will see spectacular geos, sea stacks and caves, as well as old castles, lighthouses and quaint harbours. For spectacular views, take a gentle coastal walk to the Singing Sands of Moidart, which overlooks the beautiful Small Isles of Eigg and Rum, or discover the lost village of Hallaig on the Isle of Raasay, a stunning place celebrated by Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean.
4. Get ready for unforgettable winter adventures
Get on your bike and cycle along the Loch Ness 360° Trail, an epic walking, cycling, running and outdoor activity trail looping Loch Ness. Or you could experience a once-in-a-lifetime thrilling dog sledding adventure. If you prefer water, try your hand at canoeing in winter. Paddle along the icy ancient Caledonian Canal on the Great Glen Canoe Trail near Inverness with In Your Element or kayak on glittering lochs in Assynt with Kayak Summer Isles.
Go winter mountaineering and scale the spectacular mountains of Torridon with an experienced winter guide, or hit the ice at the National Centre for Ice Climbing, Ice Factor near Glencoe, home of the largest indoor ice climbing wall in the world! Or get active in the Cairngorms National Park, the largest in the UK. At the Glenlivet Estate, there’s something for all the family, from walking, mountain biking, horse riding to fishing, skiing and even a wildlife safari. Or take a ranger guided walk at Atholl Estates and explore 145,000 acres of hills, woodlands and open countryside just waiting to be explored
5. Spot incredible winter wildlife
Winter in the Highlands is a great time to view wildlife. Come face to face with iconic Highland cows in the Highlands winter wonder-landscapes.
Witness majestic red deer stags from the hillsides around Glen Affric near Inverness, or cheeky red squirrels digging nuts at the Garbh Eilean wildlife hide on the shore of Loch Sunart in Ardnamurchan. Spot furry grey seal pups basking in the sun along the Caithness coastline or elusive otters splashing around in Spey Bay in Moray Speyside. Winter is also a great time to catch sight of golden eagles soaring over the sparkling lochs of Assynt, or magnificent white-tailed sea eagles in Lochaber.
In the Cairngorms National Park, look for capercaillie in the snowy Caledonian pine forests. Keep your eyes peeled for mountain hare and ptarmigan, who change their coats each winter to pure white, or the lovely snow buntings, also known as ‘snowflakes’. For a true festive experience, don’t forget to visit Santa’s reindeer at the Cairngorms Reindeer Centre!
6. Marvel at snow castles and ancient mysteries
Step back in time and explore a land of castles, clans and mysteries in winter. While many of the historic buildings are shut down for the winter, there are still plenty of historic gems to explore.
A white blanket of snow certainly adds a touch of romance and mystery to the Highlands’ many castles and historic buildings. Explore the atmospheric Castle Tioram in Lochaber, the mysterious Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness or the impressive Elgin Cathedral, known as the ‘Lantern of the North’ in Moray Speyside.
In the North Highlands, uncover the Pictish and Viking mysteries of Caithness with standing stones, cairns, castles and as many as 300 mysterious brochs. The Dunbeath Strath Heritage Trail looks stunning in winter, with its broch, ancient chapels, hut circles and gorgeous wintry views over the icy Strath river.
Near Inverness, you can explore the fascinating burial sites of the Clava Cairns dating back 5,000 years, learn the story of the last battle fought on British soil at the eerie Culloden Battlefield or visit Ruthven Barracks near Kingussie, which were built to forestall Jacobite uprisings.
7. Cosy up by the fire in a luxury retreat
After a day in the snow, you’ll want to snuggle up in front of a warm fire with a good book, a hot chocolate or a wee dram of whisky, and perhaps even a relaxing dip in a hot tub. The Highlands offers some wonderful cosy winter accommodation.
Indulge in luxury with a city break at Ness Walk Hotel on the banks of the River Ness in Inverness. Admire the breath-taking winter scenery from your cosy log cabin at Eagle Brae set in fairytale setting near Beauly or enjoy a stylish old manse at Highland Escape on Loch Ness. For a relaxing break, look no further than the Macdonald Aviemore Resort, with its large indoor pool complex, luxury shopping store and beauty treatments or the boutique Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar surrounded by the majestic landscapes of the Cairngorms National Park.
In Lochaber, make yourself at home at the Kingshouse Glencoe Hotel with private terraces and unbelievable views on this iconic glen, or treat yourself to a romantic wee lodge with hot tub at RiverBeds Luxury Lodges in nearby Ballachulish. On the west Highland peninsulas, you can enjoy the perfect cosy retreat at Ardtornish Estate near Lochaline or have your own island adventure on the stunning Eilean Shona.
Take your time on the Isle of Skye. You will sleep in a bed fit for a king at the Armadale Castle Lodges surrounded by stunning sea and mountain views or at the Monkstadt 1745 Luxury Lodge, the site of one of the greatest pieces of Scottish history as Bonnie Prince Charlie came ashore after fleeing Uist in 1746 on the beautiful Trotternish Peninsula. Further north in the beautiful north west Highlands, unwind at luxury retreat The Torridon or at the Kylesku Hotel with boutique-style rooms, modern comforts and a mouth-watering Scottish breakfast.
8. Get a winter taste of the Highlands
Support local businesses! Sample culinary delights regarded across the world and get a real flavour for the Highlands.
Enjoy a warming meal in the capital of the Highlands at one of the excellent restaurants or treat yourself to sweet treats at Corner on the Square in Beauly and An Talla restaurant on Loch Ness.
Tuck into juicy scallops at the Ceilidh Place in Ullapool or fresh langoustines at the Michelin-star Loch Bay restaurant on the pretty waterfront of Stein on Skye. Further east, you can enjoy delicious minted lamb at the Courtroom in Dornoch or succulent venison burgers at Bijou by the Sea in Buckie.
Beat the winter chill with a warming dram of whisky from the Royal Lochnagar Distillery in Ballater, a sip of gin from the Dunnet Bay Distillery in Caithness, or enjoy a pint of local ale by the award-winning Cairngorm Brewery.
9. Stock up on festive gifts
Support Highland businesses and shop local this winter – whether you are here in person or prefer to shop online, you’ll find some uniquely Scottish stocking fillers for your loved ones.
Inverness is undeniably the shopping capital of the Highlands. Visit the famous Victorian Market for handcrafted gifts or the Eastgate Centre for high street shopping.
There are also many independent boutiques, galleries and artisan workshops across the region. Buy stunning mugs and ceramic dishes at the Highland Stoneware Pottery in Lochinver, fine contempory art at the Resipole Studios in Strontian, or bespoke Christmas gifts at the Old School Beauly near Inverness.
On the Isle of Skye, you can explore the Skye Art Trail, and purchase a unique artwork to take home with you, such as the beautifully soft sheepskin products of Skyeskyns or the stunning tweed scarves of Skye Weavers.
Plan your winter break and find your Winter Wonder Highlands!
Find out more about the Highland regions:
- Inverness Loch Ness
- The Cairngorms National Park
- Lochaber, the Outdoor Capital of the UK
- The Isle of Skye
- Easter Ross Peninsula
- Wester Ross
- Coigach and the Summer Isles
- Caithness and Sutherland
- Moray Speyside