Christmas starts early in Edinburgh. Many places around the city bring out their Christmas decorations and products right after Halloween, while the Christmas market opens in mid-November. For almost two months then, Edinburgh is a magical winter wonderland.
You don’t have to visit over the holidays to experience Edinburgh’s Christmas spirit. However, if you visit on Christmas week and the New Year, you can participate in a variety of exciting events, including ceilidhs, street parties and the popular torchlight procession.
So, if you’re thinking of spending Christmas in Edinburgh, here’s a quick guide to help you make the most of your stay.
Recommended hotel in Edinburgh
If you’re looking for a central hotel in Edinburgh, I highly recommend staying at ibis Edinburgh Centre on South Bridge (just around the corner from the Royal Mile).
My husband I have stayed here a couple of times and we loved it. The rooms are very clean and modern – and the beds are super comfy!
The ibis also has eco-friendly bathrooms and free Wifi.
The Christmas market in Edinburgh
The Edinburgh Christmas market is set up in Princes Street Gardens, and it’s huge. It starts from street level, where you can find a variety of food stalls, and goes all the way down to the bottom of the gardens. There are many colourful stalls lining the paths of the gardens, and a few rides and attractions situated along the way.
I should warn you though – the food at the market is a bit pricey. Expect to pay something between £5 – £10 for a wee snack (and you’ll still be hungry afterwards). I wouldn’t recommend getting something from the market for dinner.
Christmas events in Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s Christmas season launches on the second last Sunday of November with an event called Light Night, the highlight of the event being a fireworks display and the switch on of the Christmas lights in the city. There are also carol services held at St. Giles’ Cathedral and other locations in the city throughout the month of December. Check out Edinburgh’s Christmas for a full list of Christmas events and attractions.
For a truly magical experience, check out Christmas at the Botanics. Every year, Edinburgh’s botanic garden is turned into an enchanted forest for the festive season. Meanwhile, Edinburgh Zoo hosts a colourful exhibition of large animal lanterns, called Giant Lanterns, which normally runs from November till February. And Edinburgh Castle hosts Castle of Light, a colourful celebration of storytelling through lighting installations on the castle’s ancient walls.
Hogmanay events in Edinburgh
The Hogmanay celebrations draw thousands of people to the city every year, and the New Year’s Eve street party in Princes Street is one of the biggest of its kind in the world. The Torchlight Procession opens the Hogmanay celebrations. This event is normally held a couple of days before New Year’s Eve (check out this year’s event date on Edinburgh’s Hogmanay). You will need to book your tickets in advance and collect them from Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Box Office in George Street.
If you’re spending your first New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh, you might want to buy tickets in advance for the famous street party in Princes Street. Although I had a great time at the party in 2012, it is not something that I’d be willing to do again (perhaps it’s because I’m getting old). Well, if you don’t mind standing in a crowded place for about five hours, then you will definitely have a great time.
If you’re not a fan of street parties, there are many other things you can do on New Year’s Eve. You don’t have to go to the street party to be able to watch the midnight fireworks – there are various vantage points around the city, although places like Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill might not be safe or accessible on that night. St. Cuthbert’s Church in Lothian Road offers a night service starting at around 11pm, after which you can watch the fireworks from the church grounds.
Instead of going to a New Year’s Eve party, you might want to dance the night away at a traditional Scottish ceilidh. There are ceilidhs held across the city, including one in Princes Street Gardens (tickets might be expensive, but it will be a night to remember).
Tips for spending Christmas in Edinburgh
1. Edinburgh is extremely busy at this time of year. If you want to dine at a particular place, I highly recommend making a reservation at least a day in advance.
2. I also recommend staying at a place which is close to the city centre so you wouldn’t have to worry about queuing for the night bus or trying to get a taxi, especially if you’re planning to attend the Hogmanay celebrations.
3. Tickets for the Hogmanay events are normally out in August or September. Some of the events sell out fast, so make sure to plan your trip to Edinburgh well in advance if you want to attend any of the parties and concerts.
4. Pack very warm clothes. Edinburgh is freezing cold in November, December and January. Check out this winter packing list for Scotland.
Looking for more fun things to do in Edinburgh in winter? Check out this post.
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