Thinking of visiting Edinburgh this winter?
Contrary to popular belief, Edinburgh isn’t always damp and gloomy in winter. While the days are very short and it rains almost every other day, the city does get the occasional sunny spell during the winter months. It doesn’t often snow in Edinburgh, but when it does the city looks so magical. Meanwhile, frosty days are very common from December to February.
OK, enough talk about the weather – let’s move on to the fun things to do in Edinburgh in winter.
Recommended hotel: 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). The rooms are very clean and modern – and the beds are super comfy!
1. Get into the festive spirit at the Christmas market
If you’re visiting Edinburgh at Christmas, get ready to be blown away by the city’s festive atmosphere. The most popular attraction in Edinburgh during this season is the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens, which opens as early as mid-November and runs until the beginning of January. The garden’s pathway is lined with all sorts of colourful stalls selling beautiful gifts, as well as several food stalls where you can grab a hot snack (although the food at the market is a bit pricey).
2. Attend one of the largest street parties
Edinburgh is home to one of the largest New Year celebrations. Each year, Princes Street is turned into one big party to welcome in the new year. The New Year’s Eve street party draws thousands of people and brings together artists from all over the world. Make sure you wrap up well and show up early to find a good spot for viewing the spectacular fireworks display at midnight. Since the party is very popular, try to book your tickets as soon as they become available.
3. Walk through an enchanted forest
Another amazing Christmas attraction in Edinburgh is the Christmas at the Botanics event. The city’s beautiful botanic garden turns into an enchanted forest during November and December. An illuminated path takes you through mesmerising light displays set up across the garden, which you can enjoy along with a nice cup of mulled wine or hot chocolate. You will need to book your tickets in advance and choose your preferred date and time.
4. Light up the streets of Edinburgh
Every year between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, thousands of people walk through the streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town holding fire torches. The yearly Torchlight Procession is an amazing event which carries a different meaning or message every year – a message that is communicated with an image formed by the participants at the end of the procession. If you want to take part in this event, make sure you buy your tickets in advance. Some of the profits go to a local charity.
5. Beat the chills with a whisky tour
Whether you’re an avid whisky drinker or want to learn how Scotch whisky is made, you will find plenty of amazing whisky tours in Edinburgh. If you’re looking for interesting things to do on a cold, wet day in the city, pair a whisky tasting tour with storytelling, or just indulge in the ultimate Scotch whisky experience.
6. Eat haggis, neeps & tatties on Burns Night
On the 25th of January, the Scots celebrate the life and works of the poet Robert Burns. Typically, Burns Night is celebrated with with recitals of the bard’s poems over a hearty supper. Many pubs in Edinburgh have a Burns Supper menu on this special day (check out the Whiski Rooms), which traditionally consists of haggis with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes).
7. Marvel at giant animal lanterns
Every year, Edinburgh Zoo adds a bit of light and colour to the dark, cold days with Giant Lanterns – an exhibition that celebrates the diversity of wildlife and mythological creatures with mesmerising lanterns. A definite must-see if you’re visiting Edinburgh with kids.
8. Explore Scotland’s fascinating history
While it does rain quite often in Edinburgh, the good news is that there are plenty of free indoor attractions in the city, including the National Museum of Scotland. This large museum walks you through the history of Scotland, starting with the country’s earliest settlements up to modern times. Other interesting exhibitions include cultural artefacts from around the world and dinosaur skeletons. Make sure not to miss the Millennium Clock, which entertains visitors with a music display every hour on the hour.
9. Enjoy a nice drink by a log fire
For a truly amazing pub experience in Edinburgh, head to the Jolly Judge. This wee pub is located in a basement in Edinburgh’s Old Town and is one of the cosiest places in the city. In the cold months, you can sip a nice warm drink by the pub’s log fire and under a beamed, decorative ceiling. The pub is also known for its wide selection of malt whiskies and real ales.
10. Take pretty photos of the frost or snow
Clear winter days tend to be colder than damp ones, resulting in frosty mornings. If you want to enjoy beautiful sights of Edinburgh covered in a sparkling layer of frost, try to wake up early and head to Princes Street Gardens or one of the local parks. Sometimes the frost doesn’t last all day, so the mornings are the best time to go out and take beautiful photos of glimmering ice crystals on leaves and other surfaces.
11. Watch a world-class theatre performance
Winter in Edinburgh is also a great time to watch musicals and other theatre performances. Some venues to check out include Usher Hall on Lothian Road and the beautiful Festival Theatre and King’s Theatre.
12. Indulge in traditional afternoon tea
If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Edinburgh, treat your significant other to afternoon tea at some of the city’s exquisite tea rooms, such as The Dome on George Street and Colonnades at the Signet Library on the Royal Mile.
13. Watch a classic film at the Cameo
The Cameo is one of the oldest cinemas in Scotland. Stepping into this place feels like stepping back in time – the cinema has retained a lot of its original features, including the ticket kiosks and Art Nouveau decorative elements. The cinema mostly screens indie productions and classic films. There is also a nice cosy cafe where you can grab a hot snack.
14. Go to a ceilidh!
Want to have a truly Scottish experience in Edinburgh? Go to a ceilidh! This fun-packed social event is all about traditional Scottish music and dancing. Don’t worry if you’re new to ceilidhs – typically the steps are demonstrated before each dance. Ghillie Dhu hosts a ceilidh every Friday and Saturday. You can also visit Edinburgh Ceilidh Club for a list of ceilidh events and venues.
15. Sip your favourite brew in a cosy coffee shop
One of the many things I love about Edinburgh is the coffee scene. Home to several independent coffee shops, Edinburgh is a mecca for coffee drinkers (& cake lovers!). Nothing beats sipping a nice hot drink in a cosy coffee shop on a cold, rainy day. Some of my favourite coffee shops in Edinburgh include The Milkman on Cockburn Street, Wellington Coffee on George Street (they also make lovely brownies and scones), Cairngorm Coffee on Frederick Street and Lovecrumbs in West Port (the cakes here are divine).
16. Shop at the large malls
If you’re planning to do a lot of shopping during your trip to Edinburgh, I highly recommend visiting one of the large shopping malls. There are no big malls in Edinburgh city centre, but the ones on the outskirts are just a short bus trip away. These include Fort Kinnaird, which is one of the largest retail parks in the UK, The Gyle Shopping Centre and The Centre in Livingston. If the weather’s really bad, you can just spend the whole day at one of these big shopping malls.
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