How to get the best out of Scotland’s unbeatable landscapes and wildlife this autumn
Lead image: A red deer in the Scottish Highlands © VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins
Northern Lights and stargazing
Scotland has some of the largest expanses of dark sky in Europe and while the country is famous for its beauty during the day, the twilight hours create a new air of mystery. The autumn and winter months in Scotland offer the perfect conditions to watch the night sky, so there is no better time to enjoy a stargazing holiday. Visitors might even be lucky enough to see the northern lights.
Pennan is a tiny seaside village located by a stunning backdrop of Aberdeenshire cliffs (famous for being where a lot of the 1983 film Local Hero was made). When the days get shorter and the nights get darker – that’s when the magic happens. Millions of lights seem to dance across the sky and the stars illuminate the night in an array of colour. During a stay at the Pennan Inn, guests can opt to purchase an alarm from the owners to be kept informed as to when the Northern Lights are visible (this could be the middle of the night!)
September – April. Price: From £216 for two for two nights. It costs an additional £39 per stay for a Northern Lights Tour with pager alarm (select optional extras when booking a stay). Go to: thepennaninn.co.uk/northern-lights-tours
Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway
The UK’s first Dark Sky Park, Galloway Forest Park stretches across the southwest of Scotland and is home to glens, lochs, hills and only a few buildings, which means it has very little light pollution. On clear nights it is possible to observe thousands of stars, making it one of the best places to stargaze in Europe. In nearby Kirkcudbright (which is also home to the Dark Sky Planetarium), the Selkirk Arms Hotel offers stargazing packages which include bed, breakfast, evening meals and talks with stargazing experts as well as a chance to head into Galloway Forest Park to see the skies.
17th and 18th November 2023 & 2nd and 3rd February 2024. Price: £299pp for a two-night package. Price inclusive of dinner, bed, breakfast, transport to and from the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, entrance to the Dark Sky Planetarium and all talks and lectures from expert Steve Owens. See: selkirkarmshotel.co.uk/stargazing-break
Orkney & Shetland
Looking for a real adventure? A stay in the northernmost regions of the British Isles to possibly witness the aurora borealis will feel like a world away. Stay at the Keeper’s Cottage at Sumburgh Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is the oldest in Shetland, and perhaps the most well-known. Rising above the precipitous Sumburgh Head cliffs at the southernmost point of mainland Shetland, the lighthouse is visible from land and sea for miles around.
Accommodation at the Keeper’s Cottage, Sumburgh Lighthouse costs £140 per night and sleeps 5. Go to shetlandlighthouse.com/sumburgh-lighthouse to book.
Take in the beautiful reds and oranges of the season with a spot of ‘leaf-peeping’ – a travel trend over the past few years, with people travelling to destinations only to see the fall foliage. Have a peek at some of Scotland’s leaf-peeping highlights:
- Roslin Glen, Midlothian
- Lochgilphead, Argyll & Bute
- Glenmore Forest, Cairngorms
- Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire
- Binning Wood, East Lothian
- Falls of Clyde Wildlife Reserve, Lanarkshire
- The Hermitage, Dunkeld
The Enchanted Forest, Pitlochry, Perthshire
The Enchanted Forest is back for 2023. Over the last two decades more than 650,000 visitors have flocked to Scotland’s favourite sound and light show, making The Enchanted Forest a must-see event for all ages. A truly special event with dazzling visuals and innovative design, all choreographed against an original music score, whilst exploring the stunning autumn woodland setting of Forestry & Land Scotland’s Faskally Wood near Pitlochry.
5th October – 5th November 2023. Prices: Adult: £26; Child 3 – 15: £14.50; Family Ticket: £72.50; Child Under 3: FREE. See www.enchantedforest.org.uk for more information and to book
When: Red deer are best spotted during the autumn months of September – November
One of the most iconic animals associated with Scotland, the red deer is the UK’s largest land mammal and can be spotted in almost every region in the country. These stunning animals can be seen in locations including the Isle of Arran, Isle of Jura, Lochaber, Torridon, Cairngorms National Park, and Queen Elizabeth Forest Park.
Visitors can stop by Aberfeldy, Perthshire and visit the Red Deer Centre to get up close and personal with these large mammals and learn about their unique traits.
Insider tip: The Cairngorms National Park is home to Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer. Find out more about how to visit this beautiful reindeer herd here
When: Seals are best spotted during the autumn months of September – November but can also be spotted during the summer.
Seals are very common inhabitants off the coastlines of Scotland. Visitors might be lucky enough in the autumn months to spot fluffy grey seal pups too.
These adorable creatures can be spotted all across Scotland, but in particular in the Moray Firth, Firth of Tay, Ythan Estuary, and on the Isle of May.
Basking Shark Scotland runs Seal and Lagoon tours throughout the year from Oban, Tobermory, or Isle of Mull, where visitors can swim in crystal clear water alongside seals. Basking Shark Scotland also runs various other tours to allow visitors the chance to enjoy the special wildlife in Scotland, including basking shark tours (of course!), snorkelling experiences, scuba diving trips, and more.