With short days and long, cozy nights, December is an atmospheric time in Glasgow and Edinburgh with traditional festivities and Christmas markets. Elsewhere, this is one of the quietest (and cheapest) times of the year to enjoy Scotland's beauty on a scenic road trip, whether you prefer wildlife and whiskey tasting in the northern Highlands or cliff walks and seafood on the rugged west coast.

Weather

Scotland's transition from late autumn to early winter brings cooler weather and early sunsets—before 4 pm—with only around seven hours of daylight per day. You can expect a mixed bag of weather conditions, but there are regional variations depending on where you travel: western Scotland (including Glasgow) will likely see slightly milder temperatures from the Gulf Stream, plus more rain and wind coming from the North Atlantic, while eastern Scotland (including Edinburgh) will have less rain and cooler air from the North Sea, and possible snow in the Highlands.

The resort town of Oban on the west coast sees average highs of 47°F (8°C) and lows of 40°F (4°C) this month, while St Andrews on the east sees average highs of 45°F (7°C) and lows of 34°F (1°C). Given the wintry temperatures and changeable weather, it's best to come prepared with a thick jacket that can handle moisture (rain or snow), a hat and gloves, an umbrella, and good walking shoes to keep your feet warm and dry.

Crowds & Costs

December is a busy and festive time to visit Scotland's cities, and prices for flights and accommodations tend to climb around mid-month for a few weeks during Christmas and Hogmanay (New Year's celebrations); it's best to book hotels, activities, and restaurants well in advance. That said, if you come in the early part of the month—and on a weekday—you should find the lowest prices and plenty of elbow room while exploring Glasgow and Edinburgh's top museums and attractions.

Elsewhere in Scotland, this is one of the cheapest months to travel around the countryside due to the shortened days and colder weather. If you are taking a road trip, you can expect light traffic on the scenic roads allowing you to pull over on a whim to explore the photogenic landscapes and wildlife at your own pace. Plan your route carefully as some tourist attractions, like castles, distilleries, boat tours, and even some hotels and restaurants, may shutter for the season.

Where to Go

Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, and Edinburgh, the smaller, charming capital, are usually high on visitors' lists this month. Both cities are fun to explore for a few days, and there's a loaded holiday schedule of events happening this time of year. It may not matter that much to you which city you arrive in as they are only 47 miles (76 km) apart and accessible via train in less than an hour.

If you have a long weekend in either city, take a day trip and see the countryside (just be wary of shortened daylight hours when planning). Edinburgh has easy access to the eastern shores, where you can take a coastal walk between harbor towns in Fife, followed by fish 'n' chips and a visit to St Andrews to see the oldest university in the country. Glasgow, for its part, has easy day trips to the beautiful western lochs (lakes) and hiking trails in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. Both cities are close to the 12th-century Stirling Castle, one of Scotland's largest and most important castles.

With more time, you can plot your own scenic road trip. Head north from Edinburgh along the east coast to get to the third-largest city in Scotland, called Aberdeen, with granite architecture and quality seafood restaurants. The surrounding Aberdeenshire region is full of coastal walking paths, cliffside ruins, and restaurants serving comforting bowls of Cullen skink (smoked haddock soup). This northeastern route pairs well with activities in Cairngorms National Park, monster-spotting in Loch Ness, and whiskey distilleries in Speyside.

You can also plan a longer driving route throughout the western Highlands with stunning views in Glencoe Valley—a great spot for outdoor activities, especially near Fort William, nicknamed the adventure capital of the UK, with some of the best hikes and scenery in the country. In nearby Oban, you'll find one of the gateways to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, with access to isles like Iona, Mull, and Staffa by ferry, where you can enjoy breathtaking coastal roads and walking paths.

Another option from Fort William is to ride a scenic train called the Jacobite Express Steam Train to get to the Isle of Skye. However, you may prefer having a car to explore the rugged landscapes, medieval castles, and natural wonders.

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What to Do

Edinburgh's holiday festivities occur in various locations, but none more so than East Princes Street Gardens, with a popular Christmas Market selling local gifts and mulled wine and hot chocolate. The city also has Europe's largest outdoor ice rinks, as well as a Ferris wheel and other rides. If you're in the capital during New Year's, you'll want to participate in Hogmanay, the Scottish festival for New Year, with live music and fireworks. In December, you should book reservations for afternoon tea, say at Balmoral Hotel's Palm Court, and meals at the city's best restaurants far in advance.

Glasgow has several events on stage and a few Christmas Markets, like the charming setup at St Enoch Square featuring dozens of chalets serving local crispy duck rotisserie, bratwurst, and crepes. Make sure to stroll through George Square to see the traditional festive lights, while famous buildings like the City Chambers, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, and Buchanan Galleries are transformed into winter wonderlands with dazzling light displays. For more wintry fun, you can ski and snowboard indoors near Glasgow at the Snow Factor.

For outdoor skiing, Aviemore, on the edge of Cairngorms National park, is known as one of Scotland's best places for snow skiing. If the snow isn't great, the area is also excellent for winter hiking and wildlife viewing—and this time of year is easier to spot red deer, golden eagles, and the elusive pine martens. If history is more your thing, head to Urquhart Castle, next to Loch Ness, and the nearby Culloden Battlefield (Scotland's Alamo) with interactive exhibits.

On the west coast, you can grab a map and follow the official Seafood Trail, featuring member restaurants and purveyors, or create your own food tour and tuck into Scottish oysters, langoustines, scallops, mussels, smoked salmon, and king crab. The west coast has its fair share of famous whiskey distilleries, too, like the famed 18th-century Oban Distillery and the Lagavulin Distillery on the Isle of Islay, known for its peaty single malts.

Keep an eye out for stunning early sunsets that turn into cozy evenings wherever you go. This is the time of year to absorb the warm Scottish hospitality, called còsagach, the equivalent of Danish hygge. The Scots love to huddle up by the fireplace, light candles, and provide tartan blankets. Stargazing is exceptional on a clear night, and there may even be glimpses of the Northern Lights.

Events in December

Edinburgh's Christmas. This six-week holiday festival (end of November through early January) takes place in various locations across the capital with amusement rides, a Christmas market, and an ice skating rink.

Christmas Day & Boxing Day, nationwide. Public holidays. Expect closures on both days.

Hogmanay, Edinburgh. The Scottish New Year is celebrated in Edinburgh, kicking off with a torch-lit procession, followed by several days of music, street theater, fireworks, and carnivals that may last through the first few days of January.

Traveling to Scotland in December? Check out these great itineraries

Discover Scotland - 9 Days. This classic trip is based in Edinburgh and combines day trips to Glasgow, St Andrews, and Loch Ness with plenty of free time to take in everything the historic capital offers.

Winter in the Scottish Highlands - 6 Days. Surrounded by frozen lochs and ancient pine forests, you'll settle into a wonderland of scenic treks, wildlife watching, whiskey tasting, and cozy fireside evenings in the Scottish Highlands.

More Helpful Information

Scotland in November
Scotland in January
Best Time of Year to Visit Scotland
How Many Days to Spend in Scotland