There are some excellent reasons to plan a Scottish winter vacation, especially around the festive period. The German Christmas markets, bringing in the Bells at the biggest street party, Edinburgh winter wonderland, the Torchlight procession, the crazy Loony Dook and for fitness fans, the Santa fun run.
Families will love the children winter wonderland, the Light show at the Botanical Gardens and this year myths and Legends Chinese Lanterns at Edinburgh Zoo. 450 lanterns weaving a magical trail through giants, unicorns, Kelpies and our very own Loch Ness Monster.
What to wear in Scotland.
It’s going to be cold, it may rain, high wind are normal and like any cold winter your dress code should include, plenty of layers, a good waterproof coat with a hood, gloves, hat and scarf. Good walking shoes are a necessity in Edinburgh. The city is uphill most of the time and has many cobbled streets, when wet these can be hazardous.
Waterproof shoes or ankle boots with a good grip are advisable. Remember we do have all the major clothes and shoe brands here, worse case scenario you buy some items in Edinburgh.
Dates for the German Market & Santa Grotto
The German Christmas markets will open on the 17th November at 1pm and will be in the city of Edinburgh until the 5th January 2019. East Princes street gardens will be filled with festive market stalls that open daily at 10am – 10pm, selling an assortment of gifts, souvenirs, candles, stockings, Christmas decorations and much more. Castle street will host Santa Grotto and mini children funfair rides.
Princes street gardens
There are food stalls, bars and a family area with a steam train, merry go round, helter skelter, children maze and other funfair rides. The ice rink can be found one street behind Princes street in St Andrews Square. Under 11 must be accompanied by an adult on the rink and you can pre book your time slot from November 16th onwards. Details at the end.
Santa can be found at the commonwealth pool and Ocean Terminal shopping complex. The Christmas weekend onboard the Royal Yacht Britannia is the 8/9th December and the Santa parade through the shopping complex starts at 12 noon on the 11th of November.
The Street of Light will be back on George street with a silent disco and the chance to dance under 60,000 lights. Choose one of three shows between 4.45pm and 10pm daily. Santa Sparkles for the family, Disco Delights or Christmas Crackers. Costs £4.50 a ticket. Details on edinburghchristmas.com
What is open on Christmas Day? The festive Christmas markets will be closed on the 25th December. Many tourists do not realise that much of Scotland closes on December 25th and January 1st. These are public holidays and visitors will struggle to find any museum or gallery, castle or historical building open on these days. Even the Zoo closes on the 25th December.
It is wise to plan a day of relaxation, a walk or a drive or pre book a pub lunch or afternoon tea. The Malt Shovel on Cockburn street does a great haggis/neeps and tatties.
Great city centre walks include Arthurs seat, Cramond Beach, Portobello Beach or the Water of Leith. Meander through the Grassmarket and Royal Mile. Stockbridge & Inverleith Park or take a hike up the Pentland hills or Blackford Hill.
Hogmanay/New Year –Do you want to bring in the bells in Scotland, December 31st? Plan ahead as ticketed events sell out fast and tickets are required to get to the street party. The torchlight procession is on December 30th at 7pm walking through the city but no children buggies are allowed and under 16 must be accompanied by someone over 21. The procession finishes in Holyrood. Safety guards are supplied to prevent dripping wax but the scottish wind is unpredictable, I would advise old clothes in the event of scorch marks.
Other great festive events include Bairns Afore, Symphonic Ibiza, Baby loves Disco, Ceilidh under the Castle and the family ceilidh, street party, concert in the Gardens, candlelit concert and Loony Dook. All events require tickets. Bookings from Edinburghshogmanay.com
How to celebrate New Year in Edinburgh city.
Many local people in Edinburgh celebrate the New Year with family and friends but for overseas visitors then a bit of forward planning is required for the New Year. The locals living in Edinburgh do not stand in a cold street for five hours waiting for the concert or fireworks to start. Many people are keen to ‘taste’ the hogmanay atmosphere without committing to the full 5 hours outdoors. Here are a few suggestions.
Luxury option – If you are attending the concert in the gardens, make sure you book premium tickets as the Gardens themselves are busy and the area underfoot gets muddy very quickly, toilet access and bar access can be very lengthy and bag searches will add more time to your entry. The Ross Bandstand offers the best concert views and is cordoned off from the rest of the gardens and has seats.
You can book a hotel within the city centre zone and attend the Christmas Gala Ball and then step outside to watch the fireworks, then return to the Ball. The best city centre hotels for this would be The Balmoral.
The Waldorf Astoria, The Sheraton Grand and the Principle George, Hotel. Many hotels make you commit to staying 3 nights which is not ideal..
There are plenty of other hotels but the ones mentioned are closest to Edinburgh Castle where the fireworks are located. They are also the most expensive. If booking a Gala ball, be aware that this will require packing formal dress and shoes. Men usually require Black Tie or Kilts. Check the dress code with the hotel prior to booking. There is also a Snow Ball Ceilidh at the Assembly rooms with a free after party till 5am at Le Monde, tickets subject to availability.
Alternatively book a rooftop restaurant and stay for the festive fireworks. This would be Harvey Nichols Forth Floor, the Tower Restaurant & Chaopyra restaurant. All of these have great city skyline views and easy access to the main event. The Principle Hotel on George street and the Principle Charlotte Square are one street back and would offer very easy access to the fireworks display as does the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton and Scotsman Hotel on the bridges.
There are plenty of restaurants overlooking the fireworks, reserve your table well in advance. Kyloe, steak restaurant or Ryans bar & restaurant, or Hotel Indigo on Princes street has superb views and sells a ticketed event to watch the display. There is a all night Massaoke at Summerhall with a live band starting at 10 blasting out tunes with lyrics on big screens, and DJ until 3am. Standing room only and tickets cost £20. Summerhall.co.uk
Regular Option – For cheaper accommodation I would consider AirBB, travel lodge, local guest houses around West End, Broughton street or Lothian road. Hostel world, Holiday Inn Express and Apex, will not necessary be as close to Princes street but this may be a bonus as you can watch the fireworks from other locations around the city such as Calton Hill, Bruntsfield Links and Inverleith Park. I hesitate to add Arthurs seat as it will be pitch black. It could be potentially dangerous underfoot.
Or pre book a local pub and enjoy the festive atmosphere, great pubs are the Doric, the Queens Arms, The Ghillie Dhu, Devils Advocate and the Dome. If travelling with children, check with pub/bar first regards any age restrictions. Scots drinking law is different to England regarding children.
For Clubbers check out Cabaret Voltaire, Lulu night club, Wee Dub, Summerhall and Why Not on George street.
If you are bringing children and are worried that they will be too tired, the festival organisers have an event called Bairns afore, where children and families can enjoy a one hour long celebration in Princes street gardens with live music, dancing and singing and a mini fireworks display at 6pm on the 30th & 31st December at 1pm. The new event for this year is the Baby loves Disco which is 2 hours of toddler clubbing at the Spiegeltent in Festival Square. There will be face painting, bubbles, games and much more. Suitable for 0-6years and babies in arms go free. Prices start at £10. details on edinburghshogmanay.com.
I would not recommend having small children at the large street party as the crowds are huge and trying to navigate small children is tiresome and frustrating if you have a buggy. A hotel close by or serviced apartments would be the best solution for getting children to bed and parents enjoying room service and a view of the fireworks.
Bruntsfield is a great suburb and has a large grassy area called Bruntsfield links which also has fabulous view to Edinburgh Castle, not to mention several very good children play parks.
The magnificent St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile is five mins from the Castle and has an amazing concert that starts at 6pm on the 31st December. Tickets cost £19.50 and this year year’s concert captures the splendour of the courts of Versailles with Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum and much more.
If you do not wish to visit for the concert just pop in to have a look another day, the stained glass is magnificent and of course, King James VI regularly attended mass here. Mary Queen of Scots did not as she was Roman Catholic and the Church was Protestant during the time of her reign.
The other two fabulous places of worship to visit are both called St Mary’s Cathedral, one is at the West End in Palmerston Place and the other is at the top of Leith Walk. These are stunning architectural gems and all visitors are welcome to attend. You can light a candle for loved ones or join a children’s mass or attend Midnight mass. There are also Polish masses and wonderful organ recitals that are played during the Christmas festive period. www.cathedral.net. and www.stmaryscathedral.co.uk
Free time over December? Stay dry indoors.
Edinburgh is cold and windy. If you prefer to stay indoors then pop into the Museum of Scotland, where you can spend hours and the kids will love the inter active activities.
Families also enjoy the Hop on Hop off bus to Ocean Terminal, which has a Vue Cinema, a Santa Claus and the stunning Royal Yacht Britannia. All indoors with children soft play/adventure zone and shops, restaurants and free parking. The hop on bus starts outside Waverley train station on the Princes street garden side and does a circular route.
Feeling Energetic : There is the Santa fun run which is great fun along Princes street on December 10th. Early December really is a great time to visit if you do not fancy Hogmanay. You would still get a flavour of a Scottish Christmas and avoid the crazy crowds later in December.
Remember most of the city closes on New Years Day, it is a public holiday. Head to Queensferry and watch the Loony Dook, the Scottish solution to a hangover. This event is great fun with a parade through the town but anyone wishing to participate must buy a ticket in advance and check in on the day by 12pm. Getting to South Queensferry can be an issue if you do not have a car as transport will be very limited. Also festive goers should be aware of the Scottish drink driving laws, again different from the UK.
I drove over last year and it was great fun to watch. There is a 3 min Christmas market video and Loony Dook video here: click youtube
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