11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

Edinburgh has the festive season down to a fine art — from street parties and fireworks, carol services and light shows, to the Loony Dook or ‘the lunatic dip’ into the icy waters of the Firth of Forth

11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

By Alice Howarth, Condé Nast Traveler

Edinburgh might be famed for the Fringe, but when the nights draw in and the frost sets on the spiralling medieval roads and Georgian New Town, it’s a magical time to visit. Whether you’re looking for a candlelit pub to cosy up in or a world-famous event to bring in the bells, there is no shortage of things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas.


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

The city’s European Christmas market takes place each year in East Princes Street Gardens, between the Old and New Towns. It’s one of the biggest Christmas markets in the country, and dozens of stalls line the gardens. Shop for small hand-crafted tree decorations, pick up a wooden German nutcracker or spend the day grazing and drinking piping-hot glühwein. If you have children in tow, they’re bound to enjoy a ride on the neighbouring ferris wheel too. 


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

If you’re in the mood for food on a Sunday, then head to the city village of Stockbrige, a 10-minute stroll from the centre of Edinburgh. Each week, many of Scotland’s best artisan food and drink vendors pitch their stalls, and from November they’ll be selling all sorts of festive goodies from mince pies to warm spiced cider. Once you’ve feasted your fill, browse the second-hand bookstores and independent shops that line the main street. There are some great charity shops there too, where you might just snap up some stellar stocking fillers for bargain prices. For more information:


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

Stretching from Edinburgh down to Carlops, the Pentland Hills sit to the south-west of the city. They’re a scenic spot to fill your lungs with crisp Scottish air, criss-crossed with more than 100 kilometres of mapped paths, but one route in particular really shows off the city. From Hillend Country Park lower car park follow the castle waymarkers, taking in panoramic views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth along the way. During November and December, you can almost guarantee the peaks will be coated in thick snow, which only makes for a more magical hike. For more information:


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

Ask anyone who knows Edinburgh where to have a celebratory cocktail and they’ll almost certainly recommend The Dome. It’s a Christmas institution and each year the Corinthian columns of the Greco-Roman-style building are wrapped with thousands of fairy lights and fir cones. Inside baubles, wreaths and decorations deck the halls and a magnificent Christmas tree sits on top of the marble bar. The Dome is on George Street, smack bang in the city centre, so it’ll be hard to find an excuse not to pop in for a tipple or two. For more information:


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

Narcissus florist, established on Broughton Street for more than 20 years, holds various Christmas-themed workshops during the festive period. At the flower school around the corner from the shop, you can learn anything from wreath making to Yuletide table dressing.

When: 27 November to 15 December
Address: The Narcissus Flower School, 15 East Norton Place, Edinburgh


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

Joined by live pipers, dancers and drummers, an illuminated crowd of around 8,000 will make its way through the city on the night of 30 December to kick off Hogmanay. Those taking part will walk from Edinburgh’s Old Town along the Royal Mile, past the Scottish Parliament to Holyrood Park, holding a firelit torches and creating a rather breathtaking river of light. If you’d rather spectate than join in, Arthur’s Seat and Carlton Hill both offer great vantage points.

When: 30 December 2019


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

Edinburgh’s renowned Hogmanay celebrations see in the New Year over not one but three days, kicking off with the Torchlight Procession and closing with the Loony Dook on 1 January. For New Year’s Eve, the world-famous Street Party returns with Mark Ronson headlining. There will also be traditional Scottish music in the dramatic shadow of Edinburgh Castle and a no-expense-spared fireworks display, which you can watch from Princes Street Gardens. It’s always advisable to brush up on your Auld Lang Syne lyrics. For more information:


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

Welcome in the season with Carols by Candlelight at St Mary’s Cathedral in the West End. The A-listed Gothic building, which is part of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site, looks particularly beautiful washed in an amber glow. St Giles’ Cathedral, in the heart of the Royal Mile, is also hosting a range of concerts throughout December. Sing carols alongside the cathedral choir or sit back and listen to the Piccadilly Sinfonietta, made up of some of the UK’s leading soloists and chamber musicians, perform Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

When: Carols by Candlelight at St Mary’s, 12 December
Address: St Mary’s Cathedral, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh, EH12 5AW


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

Christmas at the Botanics, a night-time trail through the Royal Botanic Garden just outside the city centre, is back for a third year. As darkness falls, the one-mile path that winds around the 70 acres of gardens will be illuminated by twinkling installations. Grab a hot chocolate or something stronger and wander past the Scented Fire Garden, the Festive Flotilla, where hundreds of glowing boats bob on the garden’s pond, and the glittering Tunnel of Light. A winter wonderland where a warm festive feeling is guaranteed.

When: 22 November to 29 December 2019
Address: Christmas at the Botanics, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

Opened in 1938, the family-run Dominion Cinema in Morningside is an Art Deco treasure. Staff wear tuxedos, squidgy sofas and armchairs face the screens and walls are lined with photographs of film stars who’ve visited (spot the picture of Cary Grant there in 1961). Book to watch a classic Christmas film and then venture down the hill to Morningside. Pop into the Canny Man’s, one of the city’s most beloved pubs, decorated wall-to-wall in trinkets, or cross the street for mulled wine and excellent cheeses at IJ Mellis cheesemongers. For more information:


11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year

The Loony Dook, which translates in Scots as ‘the lunatic dip’, sees hundreds of brave souls, typically clad in fancy dress, walk the length of South Queensferry high street before running into the icy waters of the Firth of Forth. The New Year's Day tradition has been going for more than 25 years and now attracts people from all over the world. If you can’t quite face the chill yourself, you can cheer on the swimmers from one of the pubs or cafés that line the shore. Rumour has it, though, that this is the only way to truly rid yourself of a Hogmanay hangover.

When: 1 January 2020
Address: The Loony Dook, South Queensferry, Edinburgh
11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year


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Bloom Magazine: 11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year
11 things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and New Year
Bloom Magazine
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