Your Winter Bucket List for the South of Scotland

by Sara Barton, 13th November 2023
Starry Skies | Scottish Borders
Your Winter Bucket List for the South of Scotland

As winter’s chill settles in and the world transforms into a glistening wonderland, there’s something undeniably magical about this season. The South of Scotland provides the perfect canvas for creating unforgettable winter memories. Whether you want to experience our truly dark skies, savour our whiskies and ales or celebrate Burns’ birthday on his home turf, it is all waiting for you. Here is our winter bucket list of things not to miss while you embrace the beauty and charm of winter in the South of Scotland. So start planning how you will tick off all of our perfect winter experiences! 

Savour our starry skies

Did you know the Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries and Galloway was the first International Dark Sky Park in the UK? Or that Moffat was Europe’s first Dark Sky Town? We are blessed with low light pollution throughout the south of Scotland making it an ideal spot to view the night sky. If you are not sure what you are looking at, how about tagging along with the Dark Sky Ranger or heading out for a Star Picnic? Or head to the Community Observatory in Moffat where volunteers can help guide your night sky experience.  Several of the Forestry and Land Commissions car parks are now open through the winter for their popular Stay the Night feature so you can just park up with your motorhome or camper van and get some truly spectacular views. In Kirkcudbright, the Dark Space Planetarium offers visitors the chance to learn all about space. Through the winter, the Planetarium is running an educational series of lectures too. And some of our hotels like the Cairndale Hotel and Selkirk Arms, even run Dark Sky packages with everything organised for you so you just need to enjoy! 

Spectacular dark skies above Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfries and Galloway.
Stars abound in the dark skies across the South of Scotland including at Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries & Galloway.

Learn to curl  

Try a classic Scottish winter sport and learn to curl during your stay. There are three local ice rinks across the region in Kelso, Lockerbie or Dumfries and all offer trial evenings. Or opt to stay at North West Castle Hotel in Stranraer, which has its own curling rink! Just up the coast and off shore you can see the Ailsa Craig where all the stones used in the curling tournament for the 2022 Beijing Olympics came from. And if curling isn’t your thing, don a pair of ice skates and head to one of the regular public skate sessions held at the Dumfries Ice Bowl or on Sundays at Border Ice Rink in Kelso. 

Learn to curl during your visit to the South of Scotland.

Happy Birthday Rabbie Burns 

Plan to visit in late January and you can celebrate the great Scots Bard, Robert Burns in the very pub he himself used to eat and drink and make merry. The Globe Inn was Burns’ favourite Howff – the Scots word for a pub. You can take a tour and see the chair where he once sat, see his work etched into the window’s glass and book in for a meal at the award winning 1610 restaurant. Now replete you can work some of it off as you follow the Robert Burns Trail around town, visiting the Robert Burns Centre, Robert Burns House and see his Mausoleum in the nearby cemetery. Burns and his wife Jean Armour initially lived outside the town at Ellisland Farm, and while this is closed for the winter, there is an exciting opportunity to explore it digitially via Minecraft. The world of Burns was created by 15 students from the University of Glasgow’s Minecraft Society and visitors can interact with Burns, Jean and their son, while searching for books containing some of Burns’ famous works. 

Robert Burns Dumfries
The Robert Burns statue in Dumfries is one of the many stops on a tour of Burns in the town.

See our coos 

Your bucket list should definitely include the sighting of a Belted Galloway Cow – or coo as they say here in Scotland. This native breed had a distinctive white ‘belt’ around its middle.  There are still farms in the area who keep a few so keep your eyes peeled as you drive around. If you want to get up close and personal with its famous Highland Cow cousin you are in luck. The award-winning Kitchen Coos and Ewe offers a variety of farm tour/safari experiences to visit their herd of Highland Cows – who are equally happy in the rolling Galloway hills near Newton Stewart. Book ahead to ensure your place and we highly recommend the option including delicious scones and tea afterwards. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the Belted Galloway breed as you pass along the country lanes.

Fall in love with Gretna Green 

Ever since England’s 1754 Marriage Act, young couples have been fleeing to Scotland to get married. Today the Gretna Green Famous Old Blackshop’s Experience is one of Scotland’s Top 10 attractions and an absolute must visit for any bucket list. The visitor attraction offers insight into how the town became synonymous with elopements across England and Wales! Some may prefer to fall in love with the discounted prices at the nearby Caledonia Park.  Or make the short drive to Eastriggs where you will find the excellent Devil’s Porridge Museum. This 5-star visitor attraction celebrates, HM Factory Gretna, the largest munitions factory in the world during World War I. The Devil’s Porridge Museum shows not just this history but the stories of how both the First and Second World War affected the local region. The museum’s curious name comes from an observation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s when he visited the factory. He saw the cordite being mixed and remarked it looked like ‘porridge of a devilish sort’. 

Beyond Gretna Green, the South of Scotland is teeming with stories of undying love and heartfelt legends. Head to Sweetheart Abbey to discover the romance behind its creation, or investigate whose heart lies buried at Melrose Abbey.

Gretna Green Famous Blacksmiths Shop | Gretna Green

Explore our wintery landscapes

Top of the list for a late winter visit has to be the chance to appreciate the great swathes of snowdrops that appear across the South of Scotland. These delicate white flowers are the first harbingers of spring and once were shipped from Scotland to the south in vast quantities via the railway. Today they are protected in the wild, so bundle up warm and head out to marvel as they peek through the snow and leaves in late January through February. Here is our guide on where to find them.

If you are looking for the ideal jaunt during your stay we’ve assembled some of our favourite Winter Walks and there are superb coastal routes that can be sampled for blustery walks during the winter months too.  There is nothing better than a crisp winter’s day walk along the beach and we’ve plenty of those too! 

If you fancy getting out to explore on two wheels but are wary of not knowing the terrain in wintery conditions, how about booking a day out with one of our excellent cycling guiding companies? Several offer bespoke tours and their local knowledge will ensure you head out on routes that are suitable for your experience and the weather conditions. A few options, depending on where you are staying include Ridelines in Peebles, GoWhere UK near Selkirk, the Breakpad Bike Shop at Kirroughtree in Newton Stewart and Galloway Cycling Holidays near Castle Douglas. 

Wrap up and visit our beaches, coastal walks, woodlands – in late winter look out for snowdrops.

Sleep in style 

The South of Scotland can accommodate all manner of wishes when it comes to choosing where to lay your head after a day out exploring. Always wanted to sleep in a castle? Thirlestane Castle’s South Wing offers you the chance to relax in real style – there is even an option to be catered for! Or choose Barns Tower, a mini-tower for two! Want to be pampered? Head to Schloss Roxburghe Hotel where their recently opened spa is guaranteed to soothe away the stresses of modern life. 

With or without turrets, you’ll find plenty of snug stays in the South of Scotland. In addition to a bit of pampering and roaring fires, there are plenty of options for a romantic escape come Valentine’s Day.

luxurious stays option: Thirlestane Castle, Lauder
Picture perfect winter wonderland at Thirlestane Castle,Lauder. Photo Credit: Phil Wilkinson

Keep cosy and explore our local heritage 

If the weather just isn’t conducive for your planned outdoor activities, don’t despair! Now is the perfect time to head inside and explore our attractions and museums. The Great Tapestry of Scotland been wowing visitors to its Galashiels architect designed home since it opened in August 2021. The tapestry tells the story of Scotland through 160 stitched panels and is definite must see if you are visiting the region.  

Just down the road near Melrose is the amazing Abbotsford House, the home created by author Sir Walter Scott – another key highlight of a Borders visit. 

You could transport yourself to Greece with a visit to the Tweeddale Museum and Gallery in Peebles. The museum houses 16m of extraordinary plasterwork replica friezes of the Parthenon in Athens. 

While in Duns, sporting fans will enjoy the Jim Clark Museum, dedicated to the double F1 World Champion driver from the area who set records and delighted fans in the 1960s.  

In Hawick you can discover the story of Border knitwear and tweed in the beautifully-restored 16th century Borders Textile Towerhouse. Garments, artifacts and photographs bring to life over 200 years of tradition and innovation in the local woollen industries. And Hawick is the perfect place to pick up some cosy winter apparel for yourself at one of the many local producers in town.

From early 2024, you can see an entirely different view of Dumfries and its landscape from the world’s oldest Camera Obscura at the Dumfries Museum. And don’t miss the replica of the world’s first Velocipede – that’s a bicycle really – at the nearby Robert Burns Centre. The velocipede was the handiwork of Kirkpatrick McMillan, a blacksmith from nearby Keir Mill.  

Keep cosy as you explore the Borders Textile Towerhouse in Hawick

Tantalise your tastebuds 

All of these activities are sure to make you hungry and thirsty and the South of Scotland has a thriving local food and drink scene. Head to Bladnoch Distillery to tick Scotland’s most southerly Distillery off your list – pre-booked tours are available throughout the winter. Or go to visit the resurrection story of Annandale Distillery, which was rescued and brought back to life nearly a century after it stopped production in 1918. But don’t worry, there is whisky once more, so book your tour to sample their latest delights. 

If you’re an ale afficinado and want to tick the local ales of the South of Scotland off your list, you could start tasting those produced by Five Kingdoms Brewery at the Steam Packet Inn at the Isle of Whithorn.  For visitors to the Borders, be sure to head to Tempest Brewing Co, which opens its Taproom on Fridays and Saturdays with a revolving array of local food providers – booking is highly advised. Excellent fresh local Scottish produce means a super selection of great places to eat. Check out the monthly local producers markets in Langholm, Kelso, Selkirk and don’t miss Castle Douglas, also known as Food Town. The Michelin Guide has singled out several South of Scotland eateries too. If it is a cosy pub you are after, check out our blog on some of those too. 

Bladnoch Distillery
One to tick off – Scotland’s most southerly distillery, Bladnoch, Dumfries and Galloway.