Pondering what winter in Scotland is really like? Or maybe you want an answer to the question, does it snow in Scotland? From facts about the weather to inspiration on things to do, we've got the answers to help you have the best winter break, with festive markets, twinkling lights, wintery landscapes and mouth-watering treats all included.
1. When is winter in Scotland?
The Torridon Estate, Wester Ross © The Torridon
Winter in Scotland roughly ranges from mid November till early March. However, winter conditions in Scotland can arrive as early as October and remain in the higher mountains until late April, early May.
2. How cold is winter in Scotland?
Despite what you may have heard, Scotland has a pretty temperate climate, even in winter! Generally, January and February are the coldest months, but even then the daytime maximum temperatures average from 5 °C (41 °F) to 7 °C (45 °F) - much higher than other places on the same latitude, such as Hudson Bay in Canada, Stavanger in Norway or Nunivak Island in Alaska.
3. What will winter conditions in Scotland be like?
Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor), Glencoe
In terms of where to expect snow in Scotland, it's very hard to say, and depends quite a lot on where you're going. You're much more likely to encounter freezing conditions and snow in the north of Scotland than in the south, while the west coast gets more rain and snow than the east.
On the whole you can expect cool and crisp weather, but ice, rain, wind and snow are all possible too. Extreme weather rarely lasts long in Scotland though. Often you can encounter freezing conditions one day and wake up to warming sunshine the next.
4. Does it snow in winter in Scotland?
Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire
In winter there's nothing more magical than fluffy snow on the ground, but how often does it snow in Scotland? Although we do regularly get fresh snowfalls in Scotland (on average it snows 15 - 20 days per year), the amount of snow - and likelihood of it lying - really depends on your luck and where you visit.
When it comes to snow in Scotland, the north of Scotland and the west coast are most likely to receive snow and you'll see snow on the mountains almost all winter. Check the Met Office weather forecast for your trip.
5. How easy is it to get around in a Scottish winter?
Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen
Although Scotland does experience extreme weather that can disrupt travel from time to time, getting around is relatively straightforward (and fun!), even in winter.
Scotland has a good road network that is carefully maintained throughout the year. Roads are regularly gritted in winter and any heavy snowfall is cleared as quickly as possible.
However, it's always sensible to check road conditions with Transport Scotland before setting off on any journey in winter, and to adjust your driving style to suit the conditions. Read Transport Scotland's advice on driving in bad weather.
By public transport:
Whether it's by bus, train, ferry or plane, there are plenty of options for getting around Scotland. Although services run regularly throughout the winter (some with winter timetables) if the country is experiencing extreme conditions some services may be delayed or even cancelled for safety reasons.
Always check your journey before heading off and, if you do encounter bad weather, consider travelling later, once the weather improves.
6. What are the winter daylight hours in Scotland?
Princes Street Gardens
At the beginning and end of winter, daylight tends to last from around 7am to 6pm. The daylight hours in Scotland gradually reduce through winter until the shortest day of the year on 21 December at around 8.45am to 3.30pm, at which point the days begin to get longer again. The timings above are for Edinburgh - the further north you go, the later the sun will rise, and the earlier it will set.
7. What is it like at night in a Scottish winter?
Cairngorms National Park, Highlands © VisitBritain/Joe Cornish
As night draws in expect to encounter fabulous sunsets that spill orange, red and purple hues across the sky.
Street of Light, Royal Mile, Edinburgh
When darkness settles you can feel the night wrapping around you like a velvety cloak. The skies above are inky black, encrusted with millions of glowing stars, while the streets around you twinkle with Christmas lights and winter cheer.
Northern Lights, East Lothian © Sarah White
If you're really lucky, and you time your trip just right, you might even see Scotland's sky illuminated with ribbons of colour, like the inside of a marble. This is called the Aurora Borealis, aka the Northern Lights.
8. Where can I visit in winter?
Stirling Castle © Kenny Lam
Although some attractions do close over the winter months (usually from the end of October to late March) there are still plenty that are open all year round and are quieter in winter than at any other time of year.
Experience world-famous castles without the crowds, see streets decked out in winter lights and snap pictures of Scotland's landscapes in all their winter finery.
Festive markets and winter activities
Princes Street, Edinburgh
In Scotland's cities including Edinburgh, snow occurences tend to be a rarity. But whether you get to experience a Glasgow winter or the festive season in Aberdeeen, Scotland's cities are still special places at this time of year. In fact, many of Scotland's cities and towns are home to magical festive markets. Dates for these vary, though usually you'll find them between late November and early January. Shop for unique gifts, sip on aromatic mulled wine, taste delicious festive treats and enjoy fun rides, such as a carousel or Ferris wheel, as well as ice skating.
Activities such as shopping and eating out are all given a dusting of winter magic, with twinkling streetlights and festive cheer sprinkled all around, and it's the perfect time book a trip to the theatre, with major productions, ballet performances, concerts and pantomimes packing Scotland's theatres and event spaces. Check out our events listings for inspiration.
If you need more ideas, check out our 5 perfect indoor winter activities.
Outdoor winter adventures
Whether it's a snowy winter wonderland or the fresh clear air of a bright winter's morning, Scotland in winter is dazzling.
Head to one of the country's ski resorts to enjoy the views from atop a mountain or lace up your winter walking boots and stretch your legs on a crisp winter walk. You might even spot unique winter wildlife including red deer, robins and squirrels.
9. When is the skiing and snowboarding season in Scotland?
CairnGorm Mountain, Cairngorms National Park
The snowsports season can start as early as December and has been known to last into May, but is usually best from January to April. This varies depending on snowfall so please check the snow conditions before booking anything.
Read our snowsports FAQs for more info.
10. Is Scotland expensive in winter?
Not necessarily. Scotland offers plenty of great value for money and low cost options in winter.
There are lots of wonderful accommodation options that are cheaper over the winter months than at any other time of year. Many boast some lovely toasty facilities too, including lodges with hot tubs, hotels with spas and self-catering cottages with coal fires.
There are plenty of free and cheap things to do too, including free attractions and winter walks, as well as a variety of places to eat that range from good value luxury to hearty cheap meals. Christmas markets are free to wander around and there are plenty of attractions that offer hours of entertainment for a relatively small entrance fee.
11. Can I Go Climbing in Scotland in Winter
There's nothing like Scottish winter climbing. Scotland's hills and mountain ranges in winter are beautiful and offer an array of terrains and altitudes to suit climbers of all abilities. Among the country's most popular climbing destinations are Aviemore in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park where you can access Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, the Southern Uplands to the south of the country, and other iconic summits and ranges such as the Cuillin ridge of Skye, mighty munros such as Glen Affric, and iconic peaks like Stac Pollaidh. As beautiful as Scotland's hills and mountains are, they can also be harsh and unforgiving environments no matter your level of experience or fitness. Before going climbing, preparation is key. Climb with an experience partner, join a club, or sign up for a training course like those offered by Mountaineering Scotland.
Got a question we haven't answered?
Head over to the iKnow Community forum to ask questions about Scotland and find top tips for your visit, or browse the links below for more information and inspiration.