Scotland in December: a guide to visiting in the holiday season

With the promise of the festive season in the air and crisp winter days to enjoy Scotland in December has a lot to offer anyone who’s visiting. It’s great for visiting the cities and even for exploring the countryside where it will be a lot different to the summer months.

I love the excitement of December in Scotland with Christmas markets popping up and I’ve enjoyed many a Hogmanay (New Years Eve) celebrating in many ways too over the years. It’s a fabulous time to enjoy the country!

So, if you’re planning a winter trip to Scotland and it includes the month of December, this post is for you!

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Edinburgh street with snow and Christmas lights in December
Edinburgh’s Old Town with a sprinkling of snow – just sets off those Christmas lights!

A note from the writer: Hey! I’m Kirsty and I’m a UK travel expert – while I grew up in Scotland, as an adult I now return to visit almost every year – there’s so much to see! Shout (or comment below) if you have any questions about your next trip and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

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Booking in advance – is it advisable in December?

While it’s technically low season through winter, with school holidays and the Christmas festivities at the end of December it can get busy and booked up.

Accommodation is always worth booking in advance. Check Booking.com (best for hotels and also has some apartments/cottages) and also VRBO (similar to Airbnb).

You might wish to book any activities closer to the time, especially if you’re worried about weather. Many providers such as Viator and Get your Guide offer good cancellation policies though.

Is Scotland worth visiting in December?

Scotland is a place of wonder at any time of the year but visiting in the winter is particularly delightful.

In December you have the magic and wonder of the Christmas season with pubs and shops being decorated to the max, exciting events and entertainment on offer and of course Xmas markets too in most cities.

The weather can be cold and damp but in December you are probably expecting this. The short days are the hardest part of touring the country as it really means you have a short window of time to explore.

Glencoe in Winter

Scotland weather in December

As I mentioned before, Scotland in the month of December will likely bring cold, damp and rainy weather. Snow, frost and ice can also be part of a typical December day. Winds and storms can also feature. But you might be lucky and get stunning sunny days with crisp clear skies. Yup, all weather is a possibility.

Where you are in Scotland will dictate your weather and if you move from one coast to the other you can often see different weather patterns.

Does it snow in Scotland in December? It can do, but there are no guarantees. I grew up in central Scotland and never had a white Christmas!! Higher ground and hills will often have white peaks even if the lower regions and cities don’t.

Sunset and sunrise times

The days are very short in Scotland in December. I remember vividly going home from school as it was getting dark when I was young!

The further north you go the shorter the days, and with the winter solstice on the 21st December this is the shortest that the days will be.

EdinburghInverness
Dec 1st8.19 am/3.44 pm8.32 am/3.38 pm
Dec 15th8.37 am/3.58 pm8.52 am/3.31 pm
Dec 31st8.43 am/3.47 pm8.58 am/3.41 pm

What to pack for Scotland in December

With the potential for cold days and long nights you’ll want to be prepared for a trip to Scotland in December.

  • A down jacket is a good idea to keep warm – I like lightweight packable ones
  • A waterproof layer to go over will also be essential for the drizzly days
  • layers are great and can help to combat the different weather eventualities
  • Hats, gloves and a scarf
  • a thermal coffee cup to have with you when sightseeing can help keep you warm
  • binoculars are a good idea if you’re exploring the countryside or islands so you can spot wildlife

You will NOT need to pack any midge repellent as midges won’t be out in December. They are one of Scotland’s biggest annoyances but you’ll not see them in winter.

Christmas Market, lights and Ferris wheel in Glasgow Scotland
Christmas at George Square, Glasgow

Festivals and events in December

Christmas Markets

Most cities and large towns will have Christmas markets on at some point through December.

Larger cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow will have them running for a few weeks in the run up to the holidays and other places might just have them certain dates.

They are a great place to get a warm drink, enjoy some local food and pick up some unique souvenirs and gifts for others.

  • Edinburgh – between 19 November 2022 and 3rd January 2023. Location: Princes Street Gardens and The Mound
  • Glasgow – St Enoch’s Square and George Square

Sep 2022 update – the main organisers of the Xmas markets in both Glasgow and Edinburgh have pulled out recently. It’s hoped there will be still something going ahead however do check online before planning. I’ll update this as and when I know.

Hogmanay / New Years Eve

Scotland really does love to bring in the New Year and Hogmanay celebrations happen all over the country.

  • Edinburgh Hogmanay. Tickets go on sale in early October. The official site is the best place to double check any information.
  • Stonehaven. A fire festival and procession takes place in this town on the East coast of Scotland. Check their website here.

Irn Bru Carnival

The Irn Bru Carnival takes place over the Christmas period, from 23 December – 15th January. It’s a fun fair with rides, stalls and plenty of fun. If weather is an issue you’ll be pleased to know it’s all indoors at the SEC in Glasgow.

A note about visiting Scotland over Christmas:

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, shuts down for Christmas Day with hardly any shops and attractions open or public transport running. This is great for Scottish people celebrating but hard for those visiting!

Christmas Eve and Boxing Day will also see many attractions shut.

While it’s a wonderful tome to visit it’s worth being aware of this and planning your day accordingly. That might mean booking a restaurant for meals and making sure you have enough snacks and food for the rest of the day in advance.

You might also like: Edinburgh in Winter

Things to do in Scotland in December

Here are just a couple of ideas of things you might like to consider if you’re visiting in the holiday season or through the month of December.

Visit some reindeer

In the Cairngorm mountains there are some real life reindeer herds that you can visit and what better time than in the run up to Christmas – especially if you’re traveling with kids. (Or even if you’re a self professed big kid like me!)

The herd is actually free ranging but they are fairly used to human interaction due to the daily walks that run up there.

In December you do have the inclement weather to contend with and trips might be cancelled. Make sure you have plenty of warm and waterproof clothes and suitable shoes.

Check their site here where you can prebook guided hill trips.

Try your hand at skiing

Scotland actually has some ski resorts so if you’re wanting to keep active on your December trip then it could be the perfect idea for you.

From the Cairngorm mountains to the slopes around Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, there are a lot of options to consider.

Take the train into the Highlands

While my favourite train ride, the Jacobite Steam train (otherwise known as the Harry Potter Train), doesn’t run in December you can still think about getting out of the cities and into the Highlands. Trains are an excellent way to do that and you’ll have the joy of watching the scenery as you go.

Perhaps take a train to Fort William? You could still then go on the Mallaig train on the route that the Jacobite goes on. You’ll be on a standard train but you’ll also still go over the viaduct – an amazing feeling!

Alternatively, you could head to Inverness, another interesting city in the north for a change of pace.

Check Trainline for booking your journeys and to see potential times and prices.

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🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland Travel FAQ 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Do I need insurance for traveling to Scotland?

YES! I always recommend people take travel insurance when exploring the world!

Check Travel Insurance Master for quote comparisons from different providers.

Do I need a car for visiting Scotland?

YES – If you’re wanting to explore Scotland fully then a car is worthwhile. It will get you to all the best sights and on your own timetable

I recommend DiscoverCars to compare car rental prices in Scotland

How to book accommodation in Scotland?

For hotels I recommend Booking.com

For apartments and cottages check out VRBO

Will my phone work in Scotland?

Perhaps – it depends if you have roaming enabled and beware this can be an expensive way to use your phone.

If you need a SIM for use in Scotland I recommend GiffGaff which you can get and set up before traveling.

What to pack for Scotland

Keep yourself dry be prepared for any weather is my motto for Scotland! A rain jacket and comfy shoes are a must.

See my post about what to pack for Scotland

Do I need midge spray for Scotland?

YES – if you’re traveling in the summer months to any of the west coast, highlands, islands or lochs it’s recommended.

Locals swear by Avon’s Skin So Soft!

If you’re sticking to the cities or traveling in winter, early spring or late fall then you likely won’t need it.

What’s the best guidebook for Scotland?

I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks

Where to get flights for Scotland

Skyscanner is my first port of call for finding cheap flights to Scotland.

Do I need a visa for Scotland?

Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting Scotland as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.

Photo of author

Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew is a travel expert and has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for over 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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