From historical gems, unique cuisine and breathtaking landscapes, Scotland is a little slice of heaven and during winter the adventures and activities on offer embrace the season, with a wealth of cultural attractions in Scotland offering a magical Christmas and snow-topped season.
Snow Factor, Braehead, Glasgow
The longest real indoor snow slope has landed in Glasgow. And at 168 meters long this is the ultimate in winter-time experiences. Open all year round (except Christmas Day) visitors can try their hand at skiing, snowboarding and sledging. And for the more adventurous, why not try the new Ice Wall, which offers a thrilling ice climb for all abilities, from beginners to experienced mountaineers. And of course Santa himself will put in an appearance over the festive period. What more can you need at Christmas than Santa and real snow?!
Robert Burns Museum, Alloway
You can’t get more seasonal than the legendary song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which is sung across the world at New Year. It was penned in 1788 by iconic Scottish poet Robert Burns. And visitors can explore his birthplace in Alloway which now forms part of Aye. Scotland’s national poet was born in January 1759 and the museum tour include his birthplace cottage, a monument in Burn’s honour, iconic landmarks that provided inspiration for his works, the gardens opened in his honour and a large selection of his poems.
Falkirk Wheel, Falkirk
It seems that just about every town and city has its very own ferris wheel these days, although the Falkirk Wheel offers a unique experience as it’s the only rotating boat lift in the world. The engineering masterpiece joins the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. First unveiled in 2002 the wheel offers a host of seasonal activities including a guided ‘Walk from the Wheel’ along Falkirk’s many canals. And Father Christmas puts in an appearance too, onboard his Floating Grotto, catch him and his helper elves in his winter wonderland.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow
One of the largest free museums within Britain, Glasgow’s Kelvingrove contains more than 8,000 different objects spanning 22 galleries. The newly renovated museum and gallery covers art, history and natural history, spanning centuries. And this winter there are a whole host of special events and exhibitions, including a retrospective of Jack Vettriano’s works. Kids can get involved over the Christmas holidays with the Rainforest Object Cinema programme where you can complete an adventure trail though the gallery.
Nation Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
There is no better place to learn a little Scottish history than at the well-renowned National Museum of Scotland. The exhibits take visitors on a colourful journey of Scotland’s rich history via thousands of artefacts from the medieval period, right through to the present day. Whether you’re looking for art, design, science, world culture or nature – it’s all included! Don’t miss the uplifting concerts as part of the ‘Second Saturday Concerts’ programme. And this winter brings a special Christmas and New Year programme including craft workshops, choir groups and traditional ceilidhs. Don’t miss the Christmas art competition where you can enter your drawing and the Hogmanay Family Ceilidh. Early 2014 looks exciting too with workshops including the Wee Hansel and Gretel Ballet where kids and adults alike can get involved. And don’t miss the superb Ice Age ‘Meet the Mammoths’ exhibit.
Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian
Dating back to 1446, the gorgeous Rosslyn Chapel is bursting with ornate carvings and is linked with the Knights Templar. Its most famous recent appearance however is in the 2003 Dan Brown novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’, which has led to an influx of visitors. Rosslyn remains a working chapel, with services held ever Sunday morning and in the evening during summer. And throughout December the chapel comes alive with its own Christmassy magic with lunch time carols services and special Christmas craft workshops. Kids can attend the Festive Fridays throughout the month to create festive bunting, cards and themed photos.
Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh
There’s nothing more magical than a winter scene involving a commanding castle topped in a luscious layer of snow – cue Edinburgh Castle! Year round highlights include the Crown Jewels on display, the traditional One O’clock Gun and the opulent Great Hall. This winter, the castle hosts the special themed ‘Dickens Christmas’ magic which includes an insight into the legendary ‘A Christmas Carol’ novel (which also happens to be my favourite Christmas movie). Other winter highlights include the series of ‘Daft Days’, the ‘No Christmas Here’ exhibit that details Cromwell’s abolition of Christmas and late winter sees the start of the First World War centenary events.
Culloden Battlefield, Scottish Highlands
The site of Culloden changed world history on 16 April 1746, when the Jacobite’s fought to retake the British throne. Today the Battlefield museum and visitor centre take you back to the historic day via audio accounts, films and a battle site tour.
Riverside Museum, Glasgow
One of the most popular attractions in Scotland, the fascinating Riverside Museum provides a rare glimpse into transport and travel in Scotland from days gone by. Explore the rich heritage of vehicles, right from the early horse-drawn carriages, the first automobiles to be produced, early locomotives and the trams and buses that plied their trade along Scotland’s roads.
For a bracing winter walk, look no further than the stark yet beautiful Hebrides, which is sure to burn away the Christmas calories. The Hebrides is a wildlife haven with seals, otters, sharks and many bird species calling this archipelago home. In fact Ewan McGregor recently presented the BBC documentary Hebrides: Islands On The Edge which provided a fascinating insight into daily life on the island chain.
Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow
Founded in 1845 by legendary architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Glasgow School of Art building is something of a masterpiece. It’s most noted for its exquisite art nouveau detailing in the ironwork. It’s a working school of art so visitors will need to join the organised Mackintosh Building tour. The hour long tour is led by the students themselves and takes in the two phases of ‘Mackintosh’s Masterwork’. Explore the journey that Mackintosh’s unique style took architecturally and witness the fusion of Japanese architecture and traditional Scottish baronial styles.
Up Helly Aa, Lerwick Harbour, Esplanade, Shetland
And finally, kiss goodbye to the Christmas season at the end of January with this fire festival. In fact the largest European festival of fire draws curious visitors from all over the world and it celebrates the end of the Yuletide period. Highlights are undoubtedly the torchlit procession and the ritual burning of a Viking Longship replica.