Winter is in full force, and the Scottish climate is even more unpredictable than usual. On the plus side, daylight hours are starting to creep up, with more than 10 hours per day by the end of the month. And while the temperatures are cold, they're not quite as bitter as the landlocked European countries. That's due to the Gulf Stream and Scotland's famous westerly winds that bring temperate air from the North Atlantic, forming more clouds and rainfall.
The eastern side of Scotland (further from the Atlantic) will be less rainy than the west and a touch colder. For instance, average temperatures in the nation's capital, Edinburgh, typically reach daily highs of 45°F (7°C) while lows are above freezing at 34°F (1°C). Scotland's largest city, Glasgow, has slightly milder temperatures that typically reach highs of 46°F (8°C) and 36°F (2°C) this month.
Wherever you travel, come prepared for all types of weather since it can change from day to day. Pack warm, waterproof layers, a hat and gloves, thick socks, and sturdy footwear to keep your feet dry. You may also want to consider thermal underwear when heading outside for walks and jogs and proper winter gear for activities in mountainous areas.
Crowds & Costs
February is a slow time to travel in Scotland with quieter, more peaceful environs and better deals on flights and accommodations. Many choose winter as an ideal season to plan an affordable city break or secluded, romantic escape (especially around Valentine's Day) in Scotland's majestic wilderness. Book early to get the best prices on flights, hotels, and activities. It's also good to check attractions before heading out, as some close or have limited hours for the winter season.
Where to Go
Making up the northern half of Great Britain, Scotland has dramatic geography with over 900 offshore islands. It can be intimidating to know where to start. An easy way to comprehend a trip is by dividing it into two sections: the Highlands and the Lowlands. Many visitors begin and end their journey in the Lowlands, particularly in the two biggest cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, which are less than an hour apart by train. Winter is a great time to dedicate a few days or more in either city (or both!), visiting uncrowded landmarks and attractions. You can also add a day trip to Scotland's oldest university, St Andrews, or Stirling Castle, one of the country's biggest and most important castles.
Plan several days in the Highlands, as many highlights are accessible from Edinburgh or Glasgow in about three hours by car if you have more time. Though wintry weather could make travel conditions tricky, this is a great time to take advantage of uncrowded roads and photogenic landscapes due to the winter season's distinct light. If you don't have much time, a good option is to head to the city of Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, while stopping at Loch Ness for a winter walk. While here, pay a visit to Urquhart Castle and have lunch at the onsite café. This drive also puts you within reach of Cairngorms National Park and several whisky distilleries in the region of Speyside.
The west coast is another trip in itself, and there are numerous options. This month draws famous mountaineers to attend a festival at Fort William, called the outdoor capital of the United Kingdom. This area is the gateway to Ben Nevis, the UK's highest peak, and Glencoe Valley, with numerous trails and waterfalls. Also near here is Scotland's other national park: Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. Meanwhile, the resort town of Oban is a good base if you want to explore one or two of the islands.
What to Do
If you find yourself in compact, hilly Edinburgh, start with a walk along the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and the 16th-century Holyrood Palace. You can also hike up to Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park, the highest point in the city, where you'll find a stunning view of the city's iconic churches and medieval buildings.
Glasgow, for its part, offers beautiful Art Nouveau architecture and museums, like Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which houses one of Europe's great art collections, as well as gentrifying neighborhoods to explore on foot. Skiiers and snowboarders can hit the indoor slopes at Snow Factor near Glasgow or head to one of Scotland's five outdoor ski and snowboard areas, like Nevis Range Mountain Resort in the Glencoe area. If the snow isn't great, you can still ride a gondola for views.
A road trip through the Highlands will give you many opportunities for winter hiking and meeting some wildlife, like eagles and red deer, that can be easier to spot in winter because there is less foliage. Head for the Cairngorm Reindeer Center if you want to meet the UK's only wild reindeer herd.
Winter is also an ideal time to focus on the culinary delights of Scotland. Take a meandering drive along Scotland's scenic east coast and tuck into fresh shellfish and the specialty Arbroath smokie, a locally smoked haddock. Winter is also a great time to sample whisky as Scotland has over 130 malt and grain distilleries. You can also order a tumbler after dinner in front of a roaring fireplace before peering outside for the Northern Lights, which can sometimes be spotted in the Highlands. Either way, Scotland is known to have one of Europe's largest areas of dark sky, with spectacular visibility on a clear night.
Events in February
Valentine's Day, nationwide. Like much of the rest of the world, Scots celebrate their loved ones on February 14 by exchanging cards, flowers, and small tokens of love. If you have your heart set on a particular romantic restaurant this evening, book early.
Glasgow Film Festival, Glasgow. This exciting new film festival takes place in February and showcases over one hundred films over 10 days. Look for premieres, gala nights, and guest appearances.
Fort William Mountain Festival, Lochaber. This special annual festival takes place on the west coast of Scotland in Fort William (dubbed the outdoor capital of the UK). It offers a busy five-day schedule with speakers, workshops, and plenty of films celebrating the mountains and outdoor activities.
Traveling to Scotland in February? Check out these great itineraries
Discover Scotland - 9 Days. Combining day trips to Glasgow, St. Andrews, and Loch Ness, you'll spend each evening in Edinburgh, taking in everything this historic capital has to offer. Wander centuries-old castles, tour modern galleries, and visit medieval seaside villages.
Winter in the Scottish Highlands - 6 Days. This week-long itinerary takes you to frozen lochs and ancient pine forests for scenic treks, wildlife watching, whisky tasting, and cozy fireside evenings.