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Scotland is a great destination any time of the year, but there are definite perks to visiting in the fall and winter. Not only are prices often more affordable but those pesky midges are gone too! Yet there’s no shortage of things to explore, see and do. Here are the top eleven fall and winter experiences in Scotland.

1. See Scotland in its Autumnal Glory

Scotland’s rugged beauty is even more dramatic in the fall. Head to Perthshire (aka Scotland’s ‘Big Tree Country’) or the Trossachs in Stirlingshire for woodland walks with vibrant fall colors. Or admire the russet hues of the moorlands aboard the historic Jacobite steam train which runs between Fort William and Mallaig until late October.

Loch Chon

2. Follow the Lights

Dark evenings become the perfect setting for mesmerizing light shows taking place across Scotland in the fall. Some of the highlights include the Enchanted Forest near Pitlochry, Illuminight in Kilmarnock, Christmas at the Botanics in Edinburgh, Kircudbright Festival of Light, Midlothian Fire and Light Walk, and St Andrews Voices.

Christmas Botanics in Edinburgh

3. Spot Iconic Wildlife

Fall is also an excellent time to spot some of Scotland’s wildlife. To see red deer stags battle it out during the annual rut, head to the Cairngorms National Park or the Isle of Arran. For a chance to see grey seals with their pups, make your way to the Moray Firth or the islands along the west coast.

Scotland wildlife

4. Experience a Halloween with a Celtic twist

You won’t see vampires and zombies on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill on Halloween night – otherworldly creatures of an altogether different sort appear there on 31 October. Inspired by Celtic traditions, the festival ushers in the winter with the help of fire and drums and culminates in a battle between the Summer King and the Winter King. Fancy more festivals with a pagan flavor? The fiery Up Helly Aa Viking festival in Shetland in January should fit the bill!

Up Helly Aa

5. Sample some Seasonal Food

Scotland’s hearty cuisine truly comes to its own when the weather gets chilly. A lot of the fresh produce is also at its best in the colder months of the year: look out for oysters, pheasant, and venison on seasonal menus, or if you’re self-catering, visit a fruit farm to pick your own apples, plums, brambles and other fruits.

apple orchard

6. Get into the Festive Spirit

A Christmas break in Scotland can be bustling or peaceful – it’s your choice. Head to the larger cities to explore traditional Christmas markets, sip mulled wine under the glittering lights, test out your skating skills on an outdoor ice rink – and stay on for Edinburgh’s legendary Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) celebrations. For a quieter holiday, rent a cosy self-catering cottage in the countryside.

Edinburgh Christmas market

7. Warm Up with a Wee Dram

A whisky distillery tour is a must in Scotland, and the colder fall and winter months are the ideal time to enjoy the country’s national tipple. Scotland boasts over 120 active distilleries (including nine on the island of Islay alone) so you’re spoiled for choice. Or would you rather enjoy your whisky in front of an open fire? Try Edinburgh’s historic Sheep Heid Inn, the Gleneagles Hotel near Glasgow, or the Glencoe House near Fort William.

Scottish Whisky

8. Enjoy Traditional Music

Lovers of traditional music, mark your calendars: the Islay Sessions in November and Glasgow’s Celtic Connections in January bring together some of the best folk musicians in the country. Or, catch a traditional tune or two in places like the Sandy Bells in Edinburgh, Star Folk Club in Glasgow, or Gellions Bar in Inverness. Fall and winter in Scotland is also when the Ceilidh season is in full swing. The dancing is fast-paced, but learning the steps is part of the fun!

Sandy Bells Music

9. Celebrate All Things Scottish

Thought we’d covered all the fall and winter festivals already? There’s more! On and around St. Andrew’s Day (30 November) Scotland celebrates its patron saint with a lively program of events and activities, and on 25 January Scots celebrate their national bard, Robert Burns. Attend a Burns supper to witness the ‘Address to a Haggis’, a humorous poem to praise the national dish before it’s cut.

Musicians in Kilts

10. Enjoy Winter Sports

Hands up if you prefer an active holiday! Winter in Scotland offers plenty of exciting activities: head to one of the country’s five ski resorts, try your hand at indoor ice-climbing at the Scottish Climbing Centre in Kinlochleven or the Ice Factor in Lochaber, rent snowshoes at the Nevis Range, or book a sled dog safari at the Cairngorm Sleddog Centre.

Scotland Sled Dog

11. See the Night Sky like Never Before

Scotland offers keen stargazers some of the darkest skies in Europe. You’ll find Dark Sky Parks in the Galloway Forest and the Cairngorms, while the entire Isle of Coll is designated a Dark Sky Island. With a bit of luck, you might even spot the Northern Lights in Scotland.

apple orchard

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