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14 Fun Things to Do in Edinburgh in Winter

Thinking of visiting Edinburgh in winter?

Contrary to popular belief, Edinburgh isn’t always damp and gloomy in winter. The city does get the occasional sunny spell during the colder months.

And when it snows, Edinburgh is simply magical.

In this guide, we’ll look at what to expect when visiting Edinburgh in winter. I also share my top recommendations for the best things to do in the city at this time of year. So, let’s dive right in!


Edinburgh weather in winter

As you might expect, Edinburgh is very cold in winter.

During the day, temperatures hover just above zero. The mornings and evenings are very frosty, so you’ll need to be very careful when walking and driving.

IMG 2856
Edinburgh in weather. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Additionally, the days are very short. The sun sets as early as 3.30pm, although you likely won’t see the sun at all while you’re there.

Having said that, sunny days are not unusual in winter. If you’re visiting Edinburgh in January, you might still get some lovely weather.

In fact, you’re more likely to get sunshine than snow!

If it does snow while you’re Edinburgh, consider yourself lucky. The city transforms into an even more magical place.


Where to stay in Edinburgh in winter

If you’re visiting Edinburgh in winter, you’ll likely get affordable accommodation. January and February are especially quiet, so you can splash out on a hotel in the heart of the city.

I highly recommend staying at ibis Edinburgh Centre on South Bridge – just around the corner from the Royal Mile.

My husband and I have stayed here a couple of times and we loved it. The rooms are very clean and cosy – and the beds are super comfy!


Best things to do in Edinburgh in winter

You don’t need to wait for the sun to come out in order to have some fun in Edinburgh. There are plenty of amazing things to do in the city, even on those cold, gloomy days.

So, here are the best things to do in Edinburgh in winter.

1. Get into the festive spirit at the Christmas market

If you’re visiting Edinburgh at Christmas, you’ll love the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens!

Colourful stalls line the pathways of the gardens, selling artisan products, Christmas decorations, delicious snacks, and more.

A stall at the Edinburgh Christmas Market.
A stall at the Edinburgh Christmas Market. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

The Edinburgh Christmas Market opens as early as mid-November and runs until the beginning of January.

2. Attend one of the largest street parties

Each year, Princes Street is turned into one big party to welcome in the new year. The Hogmanay street party draws thousands of people and brings together artists from all over the world.

Since the party is very popular, try to book your tickets as soon as they become available.

Also, you’ll want to wrap up well and turn up early so you can get a good spot for the fireworks.

3. Walk through an enchanted forest

If you’re visiting Edinburgh in December, make sure to check out Christmas at the Botanics.

Every winter, the Royal Botanic Garden is turned into an enchanted forest. You can marvel at beautiful light displays, walk through an illuminated tunnel, and enjoy a nice cup of mulled wine or hot chocolate.

Christmas at the Botanics, Edinburgh
Christmas at the Botanics. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

You’ll need to book your tickets in advance and choose your preferred date and time.  

4. 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.

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’ll find plenty of amazing whisky tours in the city.

Whisky in Edinburgh
Whisky in Edinburgh. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

If you’re looking for interesting things to do in Edinburgh in winter, 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 recitals of the bard’s poems over a hearty supper.

Many pubs in Edinburgh have a Burns Supper menu on this special day, which traditionally consists of haggis with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes).  

7. Explore Scotland’s fascinating history

If you’re visiting Edinburgh in winter, you’ll be pleased to know that most of the museums in the city are free. This means you’ll find plenty to do on a rainy day – and you won’t need to spend any money!

The National Museum of Scotland is one of the largest attractions in the city. The museum walks you through the history of Scotland, starting with the country’s earliest settlements up to modern times.

The National Museum of Scotlamd
National Museum of Scotland. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

You’ll find an exhibition of cultural artefacts from around the world, and an impressive life-sized skeleton cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex!

Also, make sure to check out the Millennium Clock, which entertains visitors with an animated show every hour.  

8. 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, under a beamed ceiling. The pub is also known for its wide selection of malt whiskies and real ales.

9. 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.

Edinburgh in the snow
Princes Street Gardens in the snow. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

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.  

10. Indulge in traditional afternoon tea

If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Edinburgh, treat your significant other to afternoon tea at one of the city’s exquisite tea rooms, such as The Dome on George Street and Colonnades at the Signet Library on the Royal Mile.

11. Watch a classic film at the Cameo

The Cameo Cinema is one of the oldest cinemas in Scotland.

Stepping into this place feels like travelling back in time. The cinema has retained a lot of its original features, including the ticket kiosks and Art Nouveau elements.

The Cameo Edinburgh
The Cameo. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

The cinema mostly screens indie productions and classic films. There is also a nice cafe where you can grab a hot snack.

12. 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.

13. 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).

14. 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’s only one big mall in Edinburgh city centre, and that’s St. James Quarter.

St. James Quarter, Edinburgh | Best things to do in Edinburgh in winter
St. James Quarter. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

However, you’ll find larger shopping centres on the outskirts, and they’re 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.


What to pack for Edinburgh in winter

If you’re visiting Edinburgh in winter, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of warm clothes. Here’s what you’ll need to pack.

A waterproof raincoat

coat

This waterproof rain coat is perfect for winter city breaks. It’s stylish and lightweight, and comes in a variety beautiful colours.

A warm beanie

beanie jpg

The crisp cold air can give you headaches. This pretty knitted beanie will keep your head warm, and it’s available in different colours.   

Thermal tights or leggings

leggings

You’ll also want to pack some thermals to wear under your clothes. These cosy fleece tights are perfect for a winter trip to Edinburgh. You can wear them as part of a casual outfit, or just pair them with a nice dress for a night out.

Here’s a complete winter packing list for Scotland.


Frequently asked questions about Edinburgh in winter

Still not sure about visiting Edinburgh in winter? Let’s answer some common questions.

Is Edinburgh worth visiting in winter?

Winter might not be the best time to visit Edinburgh. The weather is dreary and you might find it too cold to explore the city on foot.

However, Edinburgh is very quiet in winter (except in December). This means you can visit the city’s top attractions and museums without having to deal with crowds.

What is Edinburgh like in the winter?

Cold, dark, and quiet. However, Edinburgh still has a certain charm in winter, especially when it snows.

Is it worth going to Edinburgh in December?

Ediburgh hosts a large Christmas market in Decemver, as well as one of the biggest street parties on New Year’s Eve.

If you want to enjoy the festive spirit, then Edinburgh is a great place to visit in December. However, accommodation prices are sky high during this month, so you’ll want to book you trip well in advance.


Best Edinburgh tours in winter

Looking for the best tours in Edinburgh in winter. Here are my top recommendations.


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