Scotland’s 20 best winter adventures: Sled rides, stargazing and scenic road trips

IF the shorter days and dreary weather are getting you down, you are not alone. Slumping in front of the telly while consuming your own body weight in cheese may feel like the path of least resistance but getting out and about to explore Scotland is a great way to blow away the cobwebs.

Here, we pick some of our favourite winter adventures from scenic drives and wildlife safaris to cosy boltholes, pub walks and the best places to eat hearty food.


The Christmas star gets a lot of column inches around this time of year but there’s plenty of other celestial events to look out for. This month, it’s the Geminid meteor shower that takes centre stage. Peaking on the night of December 14, it is one of the few major showers produced by the stream of debris from an asteroid rather than a comet.

According to the Royal Observatory Greenwich, the meteors contain traces of metals such as sodium and calcium – similar to fireworks – which produce bright, multi-coloured bursts of light (mainly white, some yellow and a few green, red and blue).

Scotland has world-renowned dark skies free from light pollution, such as in Galloway Forest Park and around Tomintoul and Glenlivet in the Cairngorms. Nor do you need to venture too far: travelling a few miles outside built-up areas can open up a whole new perspective of the light show unfolding above our heads.

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HeraldScotland: Scotland has world-renowned dark skies perfect for stargazingScotland has world-renowned dark skies perfect for stargazing

Cheering pub walks

When it comes to a winning pairing, few things surpass a bracing stroll with a decent hostelry at the end. Here’s some choice pub walks to try: Arthur’s Seat and The Sheep Heid Inn in Duddingston; West Sands and the Jigger Inn at St Andrews; the Bathgate Hills and The Torphichen Inn in West Lothian.

The Millennium Forest Trail, starting from the Balmaha Visitor Information Centre, is a mile-long route, taking 45 minutes, packed with wildlife-spotting opportunities and sweeping views across Loch Lomond. Pop into The Oak Tree Inn for a warming tipple afterwards.


Cosy boltholes

If you’re looking for a home-from-home to hunker down, what better than a snug cottage, glamping pod or secluded cabin in the wilds.

The Bothy at Nether Glenny Farm near Port of Menteith is a perfect winter retreat, promising an enchanting off-grid experience (think: hot tub, wood-fired stove and fire pit) where the nearest neighbours are a herd of Highland cows.

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Sticking to agritourism, another gem in this little corner of Stirlingshire are the glamping pods at Arnprior Farm. Each eco-friendly and luxury pod sleeps up to five, with the site amenities including a heated indoor swimming pool.

Elsewhere, the picturesque Harvest Moon, near Dunbar, East Lothian, offers a mix of cabins and treehouses. If quirky is your vibe, check out The Shepherd’s Hut at Caledonian Cabins on the shores of Loch Garry or Coastal Carriage near Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire.


Movie “set-jetting”

Two glittering big budget romcoms shot in Scotland have been released by Netflix to mark the festive season. Why not do some “set-jetting” and visit a few of the places where they were filmed?

A Castle For Christmas, starring Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes, was shot largely at Dalmeny House near South Queensferry. Other locations to enjoy a cameo include Loch Fyne and Inveraray Castle, Argyll; the village of Culross in Fife; and Tantallon Castle, near North Berwick, East Lothian.

HeraldScotland: Vanessa Hudgens in The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star. Picture: Mark Mainz/NetflixVanessa Hudgens in The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star. Picture: Mark Mainz/Netflix

The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star, meanwhile, features Newbattle Abbey College near Dalkeith; Gosford House in East Lothian; Barnbougle Castle (in the same estate as Dalmeny House); and Hopetoun House in West Lothian.

This is the second time the Vanessa Hudgens-led Netflix franchise has used Scotland as a backdrop. The Princess Switch: Switched Again gave screen time to Glasgow Cathedral, Edinburgh Gateway train station and Mimi’s Bakehouse in Leith.

Some of the venues are open for pre-booked tours. Check individual websites for details.

To watch the films, visit

Seek out frozen landscapes

As the temperatures dip and things begin to freeze over into a sparkling frosted carpet, you can’t beat a Scottish panorama. There is no shortage of spellbinding spots, but we are particularly fond of the Lake of Menteith near Aberfoyle in winter.

Likewise, Loch Leven in Kinross-shire, Linlithgow Loch in West Lothian, Loch Katrine in the Trossachs and the majesty of Loch Maree in Wester Ross (you are probably sensing a theme here).

The exalted mountains of Glen Coe and the Cuillins in Skye always look rather fetching with a dusting of snow. But, in tricky winter conditions, these are perhaps best appreciated from ground level.


HeraldScotland: Lake of Menteith. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesLake of Menteith. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Try trigbagging

This year marked the 85th anniversary of the first triangulation pillars, or “trigs”, being installed across the UK by the mapping agency Ordnance Survey. Although 6,500-plus trig pillars were built, hundreds have since been lost to housing developments, farming and coastal erosion. Around 6,190 remain today.

Trigbagging – a bit like Munro bagging but centred on trigs – is a hugely enjoyable pursuit and becoming ever-more popular. Here’s some easy ones to get you started: Dumyat in the Ochil Hills near Stirling (418m/1,371ft); Binny Craig near Ecclesmachan, West Lothian (221m/725ft); and North Berwick Law in East Lothian (187m/614ft).

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A magical road trip

Few journeys spark joy like the Snow Roads Scenic Route, a 90-mile drive from Blairgowrie in Perthshire to the Moray town of Grantown-on-Spey, passing through Braemar, Ballater and Tomintoul.

It is a road trip to remember, packed with spectacular scenery and dramatic landscapes, as well as history, architecture, arts and crafts, distilleries, wildlife and a raft of hidden gems, such as waterfalls and mysterious stones bound by stories of age-old superstitions.

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HeraldScotland: Snow Roads Scenic Route. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesSnow Roads Scenic Route. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Embrace the darkness

The daylight hours may be fleeting as we edge closer to the winter solstice but that doesn’t mean you need to eschew the great outdoors until spring arrives.

Night kayaking is a wonderful way to switch off from the white noise of everyday life. Traverse the gently lapping waters of a loch and gaze up at the night skies, keeping your eyes peeled for shooting stars or – if you are very lucky – a glimpse of the northern lights.

Blairgowrie-based Outdoor Explore runs small group, night-time guided kayak tours that are novice paddler friendly. Locations include Loch Tummel, Loch Tay and Clunie Loch. Enjoy hot chocolate with marshmallows and a campfire stop-over as part of the trip.

Prices start from £50pp. Visit

Tuck into hale and hearty fare

In the colder weather, we all crave a bit of carb-heavy stodge. Tucking into a bowl of creamy Cullen skink or a slab of homemade cake is a special kind of bliss. For hearty fare, you can rarely go wrong with a farm shop.

READ MORE: 10 charming farm shops, independent boutiques and bookstores

Among our favourites are Loch Leven’s Larder in Kinross-shire; Gloagburn Farm Shop in Perthshire; The Heron, near Strathaven, Lanarkshire; Blair Drummond Smiddy, near Stirling; and Thorneybank Farm Shop, Rothienorman, Aberdeenshire. How many can you visit this winter?


A winter watch safari

Majestic red deer, shy mountain hare and snowy white ptarmigan are among the draws of a winter tour led by Aberfeldy-based Highland Safaris.

A Land Rover equipped with snow chains will be your trusty steed for the two-and-a-half-hour guided excursion.

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There is a stop-off for hot drinks, shortbread and a dram in a heated bothy. Departs twice daily, 9.30pm and 1pm, costing £47.50 (adult), £35 (teenagers) and £27.50 (child).


Chase the Northern Lights

Flickering across the dark winter skies, the Northern Lights – aka Aurora Borealis – are an otherworldly sight to witness with hues that range from yellowish green to intense crimson.

This natural phenomenon is reliant on the solar wind that causes electrically charged particles from the sun to interact with the Earth’s magnetic fields.

HeraldScotland: Chase the Northern Lights. Picture: Peter Summers/Getty ImagesChase the Northern Lights. Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images

Prime viewing locations include Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland and the Moray Coast, as well as Lewis, Harris and Skye’s most northerly tip.

If the Aurora is particularly strong you might even catch a glimpse from Fife, Perthshire or Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Try your luck late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.

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Grab a window seat

Hop aboard a Highland version of the Polar Express with a trip on the Strathspey Railway. Choose from a Mince Pie Special or Festive Afternoon Tea service, then sit back and soak up the views while trundling through the Cairngorms National Park aboard a steam train.

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The return trip between Aviemore and Broomhill, via Boat of Garten, lasts around an hour and 50 minutes. All tickets must be booked in advance with departures running at 11am and 2pm this weekend, December 18 and 19, then December 28 to 31. Tickets from £22 (adult) and £12.65 (child).


Thrilling dog sled rides

Dashing through the snow on a sled pulled by a team of huskies can be exhilarating fun. Head to Bowland Trails in Perthshire and Huskyhaven in Aberdeenshire to try your hand at mushing.

HeraldScotland: Huskies in the snow near Aviemore. Picture: Danny Lawson/PAHuskies in the snow near Aviemore. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

Eagle Brae at Struy, near Beauly, has a twist on the traditional dog sled experience by using hounds rather than huskies, as they claim hounds are faster. Buckle up.


Outdoor ice skating

Unleash your inner Torvill and Dean with a visit to the Ice Experience at Elfingrove. Set against the impressive backdrop of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, the skating rink is a must for anyone who ever fancied emulating a spin around the glitzy Rockefeller Centre in New York.

There is a skate-up Mallow Cafe, a Silent Snow Disco and The Candy Bar serving food and drink, such as pigs in blankets, fondue and cocktails. Runs until Christmas Eve. Tickets from £14 (adult) and £12 (child).

HeraldScotland: Elfingrove in GlasgowElfingrove in Glasgow

M&D’s theme park at Strathclyde Park near Motherwell has added an open-air ice rink for the festive season, alongside a Bavarian bar and artisan food stalls. Runs until January 4. Tickets cost £7.95 (adult) and £6.20 (child).

Dundee WinterFest at Slessor Gardens also has outdoor skating (until January 2; tickets £8), while Edinburgh’s Christmas has turned a section of the city’s George Street into an alpine-style rink (until January 2; tickets from £6).


Bracing beach strolls

There is something sublime about walking across almost deserted sands on a bitterly cold day watching the galloping white horses of the crashing waves. Dunnet Bay in Caithness, the stretch around Seacliff in East Lothian or anywhere down the Ayrshire coast will do us nicely.

For more ideas, check our Best Walks in Scotland series at

The roaring game

Scotland invented curling and it is a sport we repeatedly excel at on the world stage. If you have ever been wowed by the ice magic of Rhona Howie or Eve Muirhead, Curling Scotland runs taster sessions and beginner classes at rinks across the country. As the lingo goes: hurry hard.


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Stay in a castle

If the Netflix movie A Castle For Christmas has whet the appetite for a lavish pile of bricks, why not book a weekend away? There are options to suit all budgets from castle hotels to private rooms, B&B, self-catering and group accommodation.

Choose from the likes of Glenapp Castle, a 17-bedroom boutique hotel in Ayrshire, or Torrisdale Castle Estate on the Kintyre peninsula where you can stay in the former Servants’ Quarters (now a plush apartment).

HeraldScotland: Cary Elwes as Myles and Brooke Shields as Sophie in A Castle for Christmas. Picture: Mark Mainz/Netflix © 2021Cary Elwes as Myles and Brooke Shields as Sophie in A Castle for Christmas. Picture: Mark Mainz/Netflix © 2021

Traquair House in the Borders has a royal seal of approval – it has previously welcomed 27 kings and queens. Stay in one of four luxury bedrooms or rent out nearby Howford House overlooking the River Tweed.

Aberdeenshire boasts more than 260 castles, stately homes and ruins, earning itself the title of “Scotland’s Castle Country”. According to VisitScotland, there are more castles per acre here than anywhere else in the UK.

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Scotland’s Castle Trail takes in 19 of the most famous and striking, with a six-day itinerary that includes Dunnottar Castle, Castle Fraser, Fyvie Castle, Duff House and Leith Hall.


Hit the slopes

It would be remiss to write about winter pursuits in Scotland and not mention snowsports. We are spoiled for choice with The Lecht, Glenshee, Nevis Range, Glencoe Mountain and Cairngorm Mountain, as well as the Lowther Hills in the Southern Uplands, all on our doorsteps.

Gliding about with skis or a snowboard strapped to your feet isn’t for everyone. There’s always the option of pulling up a pew in a mountain cafe to marvel at the views while sipping a hot beverage.

HeraldScotland: Enjoy some snowsports fun. Picture: Colin Mearns/NewsquestEnjoy some snowsports fun. Picture: Colin Mearns/Newsquest

If there’s a dearth of the white stuff, you could always try Midlothian Snowsports Centre (known to many simply as “Hillend”) near Edinburgh, home to the second longest dry ski slope in Europe.

Rookies will soon get the hang of it. There is no better incentive than falling over onto what feels like millions of sturdy loo brush bristles to speed up the learning process (as anyone who did outdoor education classes at school in the Lothians can testify).


Cairngorm reindeer herd

Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer herd has lived in the Cairngorm mountains since 1952. There are around 150 of these tame and friendly creatures, ranging from Glenmore Forest Park as far as the Glenlivet Estate, some 30 miles away.

HeraldScotland: Cairngorm reindeer herd. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesCairngorm reindeer herd. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Throughout December, a series of Christmas Fun events are being held at the Reindeer Centre in Glenmore where the paddocks have been spruced up with decorations. Youngsters can tackle a festive quiz and Santa himself will swing by for a visit.


Marvel at the Christmas lights

There has been a Christmas tree on The Mound in Edinburgh since 1949 when it was gifted by Hordaland County Council as a token of gratitude to Scotland for its assistance to Norway during the Second World War.

Accompanying this year’s tree is an installation work by Edinburgh-based artists Hannah Ayre and Amanda Yates who have created a series of illuminated and cascading geometric snowflakes.

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It has been tradition for generations to go see the Christmas lights at Glasgow’s George Square. In 2016, the decorations used since 1990 – the year of European City of Culture – were replaced. Even now, some still lament that they “miss the bells”, referring to the previous distinctive lights.

The Twelve Days of Christmas Sculpture Trail returns to Aberdeen city centre until December 24. A series of totem poles – created by chainsaw carver Garry Shand – depicts the festive carol.


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