Scotland in January: what to do in the New Year

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With the promise of a new year in the air and crisp, cold winter days to enjoy Scotland in January still has a lot to offer anyone who’s visiting. It’s a great time for visiting the cities and even for exploring the countryside where it will be a lot quieter to the summer months filled with hikers.

January brings a little bit of peace and quiet after the festive month of December but Scotland still has a couple of ways to enjoy this dark and quiet month.

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

Booking in advance – is it advisable in January?

It’s technically low season through winter, but with the New Years celebrations at the beginning of the month you may find it can be busy.

Accommodation is worth booking in advance if you have specific places to stay in mind. Check (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.

Fire festival on Shetland in Scotland in January
Fire Festivals take place through January like Up Helly Aa

Is Scotland worth visiting in January?

Scotland is a place of wonder at any time of the year but visiting in the winter is particularly interesting since it’s free from so many tourists.

In January it’s a quiet time of year as many children head back to school and adults head back to work. There’s a couple of festivals that are unique to the country that you’ll want to enjoy though (see below)

The weather can be cold and damp but in January, as with much of visiting in winter, you are probably expecting this. The short days are the hardest part of exploring Scotland as it really means you have a short window of time to get around. The days are starting to get longer, but it’s still an early sunset.

edinburgh snow what to pack
Hiding from the snow in an alleyway in Edinburgh!

Scotland weather in January

As I mentioned before, Scotland in the month of January will likely bring cold, damp and rainy weather. Snow, frost and ice can also be part of a typical January day, specifically in the mornings after a cold night. Winds and storms can also be prevalent. You might be lucky with the weather though and get sunny days with crisp clear skies. All kinds of weather is a possibility.

Where you are based in Scotland will dictate your weather and if you move from one coast to the other you can often see different weather patterns. If you’re flexible you could certainly go where the weather is best.

Does it snow in Scotland in January? Yes, it can snow, but there are no guarantees. Higher ground and hills will often have white peaks, covered in a dusting, even if the lower areas and cities don’t.

Sunset and sunrise times

The days are short in Scotland in January, although getting longer. When I was young I’d often be walking home from school in the dark!

The further north you go the shorter the days will be.

Jan 1st8.43 am/3.48 pm8.58 am/3.42 pm
Jan 15th8.33 am/4.10 pm8.47 am/4.05 pm
Jan 31st8.09 am/4.43 pm8.20 am/4.40 pm

What to pack for Scotland in January

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

  • A down jacket is a great idea to keep warm – I like lightweight packable ones
  • A waterproof layer to go over the top will also be essential for the wet days and waterproof trousers make sense if you want to go walking.
  • layers are great and can help to combat the different weather eventualities. Thermal layers are definitely a cosy option I’d recommend.
  • Hats, gloves and a scarf are always good in the winter
  • a thermal coffee cup to have with you when sightseeing can help keep you warm inside
  • binoculars are an essential if you’re exploring the countryside or islands so you can spot wildlife

You will NOT need any midge repellent as midges won’t be a problem in January. They are one of Scotland’s most famous annoyances but you’ll not see them in winter.

Festivals and events in January

Hogmanay / New Years Eve/New Years Day

(Brought over from our December guide as many will be here for the New Year)

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 and runs into January. (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.

Burning of the Clavie

Taking place in Burghead in Morayshire on 11th January this fire festival celebrates the New Year. Why not on the 31st Dec or 1st January? It’s to do with the changing of calendars back in the 1750s – the people of the village decided to keep the date and it’s been celebrated then ever since.

For more information check out their website here

Burns Night

25th January every year is known as Burns Night in Scotland and you’ll find events and dinners (known as Burns Suppers) taking place to celebrate.

Robert Burns is the man being celebrated and the 25th January is his birthday. He was a poet and many of his words are still read and loved all over. It can be hard to read (I know – we often read it at school!) as it’s written in an old Scots dialect but fun nonetheless.

Up Helly Aa

The Shetland Islands is a great place to visit in January with a Viking Fire Festival taking place in Lerwick. It happens on the last Tuesday of January and so in 2023 this festival takes place on 31st January so right at the end of the month.

If you’re interested in checking this out then I recommend their website here.

You might also like: Edinburgh in Winter

glass of whisky overlooking Edinburgh in Scotland
Whisky can really warm you up on a cold Scottish January day

Things to do in Scotland in January

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 January.

Go for a New Years dip in the sea!

A New Years tradition all around the UK and it’s no different in Scotland. If you’re by the coast you’ll see all manner of people going for a paddle on New Years Day to celebrate.

If you’re in Edinburgh then look to go to Loony Dook which takes place at South Queensferry (just by the Forth Bridges) where there’s a big parade, fancy dress and lots of people going for a dip.

Visit a Whisky Distillery

On a cold winters day what’s better than a tot of the old fire water to warm you up? All over Scotland there’s a tonne of whisky distilleries where you can visit and learn about how the drink was made before having a taste.

Many are open all year round but with shorter days and it being out of season it’s always a good idea to check opening times when planning a trip.

You might like my posts about whisky distilleries near Inverness and also about whisky tours near Edinburgh.

Eat Haggis and Neeps

It’s traditional Scottish food and you’ll see it a lot throughout the country in January due to Burns Night being celebrated. On a cold day it’s a great dish to warm you up too.

Haggis is sheep innards cooked in it’s stomach. Sounds not very nice I know, but it’s incredibly tasty. If you can’t face the real thing you can try a vegetarian version – it’s really good too!

Neeps is Scots word for turnips and it’s often cooked, mashed and served alongside some potatoes and vegetables.

Burns Cottage Alloway
Burns Cottage in Alloway near Ayr

Visit the Birthplace of Robert Burns

With Burns Night happening in January what better place to visit and learn about the legendary Scots poet than his Birthplace in Alloway, near Ayr in the South West of the country.

You can see where he grew up and also take a look at a load of artefacts that have been collected over the years and learn about some Scots words that he used in his poems.

The cafe is also worth checking out where they almost always have a haggis dish to enjoy! Check out more details here.

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for 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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