Bustling Edinburgh’s Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens, George Street lights illuminating the midnight blue sky and The Dome’s towering tree of varying colours. Keep reading to find out the ultimate list of festive things to do in Edinburgh in winter for locals and tourists alike. Why don’t you stay a little longer and experience the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve party too? Edinburgh has three days of events celebrating Hogmanay.
Why trust us? I’m Gemma, a local who lives over the water in Fife. I love Edinburgh at Christmas. The smells, the skating, the shopping and the celebration!
» Don’t miss our guide to 70 things to do in Edinburgh all year round!
1. Edinburgh Christmas Market
Start at the top of the world-famous (East) Princes Street Gardens and get ready for sensory overload – sounds, smells and tastes from around Europe. The market consumes every stretch of the park.
For mulled wine and hot cider, there is ‘rent-a-cup’ service, to save on plastic waste. Drinks come in a festive mug which is ideal for photos, and when you return it, you’re given your deposit back.
A great way to stay eco-friendly.
Street food ranges from Scottish venison burgers to spiral potato fries on a stick.
Probably one of the most identifiable landmarks in the market is the Star Flyer. Soar 60 metres in the air above the shops, trams and Christmas huts.
Running from the 17th of November until the 4th of January, the market opens from 10 am to 10 pm every day.
If you can, avoid the weekends as the line goes as far back as Waverley Train Station, and then some.
→ Local’s Tip: Hit the Johnny Walker Bothy Bar (pop up venue) at The Mound for this view (below) of the Edinburgh’s Christmas. Hot toddies and whisky cocktails are optional! Note, there is no toilet on the premises, you have to use the Edinburgh Christmas communal toilets in the market which is about a two-minute walk away.
2. Edinburgh Christmas Lights
George Street is the street behind Princes Street (Edinburgh’s main drag) and by mid-November, part of the street is closed off to traffic and taken over by lights and Christmas huts.
Unfortunately, the Drop Tower 360 degrees fright ride was dropped (see what I did there) after noise complaints and ironically replaced with a Silent Light festive disco.
Silent Light is a guideless take on the popular silent disco tour which I (Gemma) think is the most fun you can have with your winter clothes on. No alcohol required.
Disco-goers get given a headset stocked with Christmas tunes to belt out at strangers. It isn’t really that silent after all. See below for more about the actual tour itself.
Wondering where to stay during your visit? Here’s our guide.
3. The Dome Cocktails
When The Dome winds its lights around its Graeco-Roman façade pillars, you know the festive period has started in Edinburgh. It is a tradition for many locals to grab a cocktail underneath the bar to ceiling tree.
It’s not really the tipple we are after, we want a waft of the legendary Christmas scent they fill the downstairs bar with. Good luck finding out what is in that magical potion.
4. Christmas Lights Switch On
Kick-off the festivities at Light Night on George Street as choir songs fill the air. Fireworks light up George Street at the end of the night after a celebrity guest switches on the Edinburgh Christmas Lights!
5. Ice Skating at St Andrews Square
Not on this year, sorry.
Now the official home of Edinburgh’s Chrismas ice rink, St Andrews is a hub for festive gatherings.
Edinburgh’s Christmas ice rink is a circular rink surrounding the ice skate exchange and St Andrew’s bothy bar.
→ Local’s tip: Dine at the Harvey Nichol’s Forth Floor Restaurant for St Andrews views, without the chill. Into fine dining? Here are three restaurants serving meals for under £30 in Edinburgh.
6. Jenner’s Christmas Tree
Think Hollywood style shopping mall tree and you are there!
Jenner’s tree is actually erected in store. A team harnesses the tree upright and then scales the branches to put on the light and decorations.
7. Edinburgh Botanical Gardens Light Trail
Music, lasers, water reflections and the tunnel of light, Edinburgh’s Botanics change shape come Christmas.
This popular thing to do in Edinburgh in December gets busy. You can actually book your tickets now.
- Address: Arboretum Pl, Edinburgh EH3 5NZ
8. Edinburgh Castle at Christmas
Forget a Game of Thrones feast with horror and tragedy and enjoy an Edinburgh Castle Christmas meal instead!
Lunch is served at the opulent Queen Anne Room, fit for royalty.
If you prefer to visit the Castle without forking out for food, you can pre-book your ‘skip the line’ reservation ticket here with GetYourGuide.
9. Walk up Calton Hill
Ok, not very festive but you do get magic views of the city all lit up. The walk up Calton Hill is relatively easy and close to Princess Street. You might just get some snow.
10. Silent Disco Adventure Tour
I’ve now done the silent disco tour around Edinburgh twice. Once at Christmas and once for a fitness class.
It is such a laugh. You get given headsets which tune into the same frequency and an enthusiastic guide coordinates a routine around Edinburgh’s landmarks.
Expect song battles, cheeky dance-offs to Mariah and lots of public snap-shaming.
It is super popular (runs throughout the year and is always sold out during the Fringe) so book before it is too late.
11. Catch a Panto
He’s behind you! Oh no, he isn’t.
Pantomime shows are engrained in Scottish Christmas tradition. Catch a show with the family at many of Edinburgh’s theatres and community centres.
Expect goodies, baddies, talking animals, and a whole lot of crowd participation.
12. See a Show
If panto isn’t your thing (if you are childless, I don’t blame you), then check out one of the festive shows running from November through to January.
Musicals, ballet and plays dominate the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh Playhouse and The Festival Theatre.
13. Watch a Festive Film
Honestly, Edinburgh has two of the most charming film houses, the vintage Cameo on Home Street and Morningside’s Dominion.
You can even buy some alcoholic drinks with your snacks at the Dominion. Chill with your partner on the comfortable seats, one of the romantic things to do in Edinburgh in December.
» 34+ best cities in Europe to visit for Christmas markets
14. Christmas Shopping
Edinburgh is great for shopping any time of year but especially at Christmas.
High street names can be found on Princes Street and at Ocean Terminal in Leith.
At OT, check out the Scottish Design Exchange and The Leith Collective for gifts made by locals.
You can also find independent stores on Cockburn Street on the way to the Royal Mile.
Commercial shop sales often start just before Christmas, if you are looking for some bargains.
15. The Royal Boat Britannia
Deck the deck with balls of holly…
Docked at Ocean Terminal, Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia is the former royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II and damn those royals know how to decorate their sea home.
Private tours only.
16. Take That Insta Pic on Circus Lane
Circus Lane is cute every day of the year but super cute at Christmas. The Insta-famous mews can be found in the New Town, wrapped up in green shrubbery with splashes of red bows.
17. Hike Arthur’s Seat
A very popular Edinburgh activity throughout the year is the short hike up Arthur’s Seat. It doesn’t matter that it is touristy because the views are worth it.
A great cobweb blower if you’ve had a bit too much the night ‘afore.
» You may also like: Edinburgh’s best day trips – history, hikes and Outlander
18. Do the Santa Run
Make some space for the turkey and chocolates to come by running the 2.5K Santa Fun Run around West Princess Street Gardens.
This event is for charity, infants run free.
Did I mention you have to wear a Santa outfit?!
Remember to take your outfit home, there was an uproar about the mess left in previous years.
19. Eat a Traditional Turkey Meal
No, Scots don’t eat haggis at Christmas! Traditionally meals include turkey, sometimes, ham, potatoes, vegetables and everyone’s seasonal favourite, pigs in blankets. These wee cheeky fellas are sausages wrapped up in bacon. Delicious.
Christmas meals can be found at many of the Edinburgh hotels and restaurants.
20. SKYBAR at Doubletree
If there’s any snow in the air and you happen to be in Edinburgh on the first Thursday of the month, head to SKYBar for floor to ceiling views on Edinburgh Castle and the city.
21. Cocktails at Juniper
A wee hidden gem across from the Waverley Train Station, Juniper’s windows span the city! Watch the Star Flyer while you sip on a Strawberries and Steam. Probably one of the most popular cocktails in Edinburgh on social media.
» Want to find the best of Edinburgh’s bars? Here’s a list of my favourites
Edinburgh at Hogmanay
22. Edinburgh Torchlight Procession
Of course, the holiday season in Scotland only begins with Christmas.
The real partying starts in the run-up to New Year.
One experience loved by tourists is the Edinburgh Torchlight Procession.
For the Procession, you purchase a fire and waxed based torch with your ticket. D
During the event, you walk with thousands of fellow torchbearers, pipers and drummers. Regardless of how many times I hear the pipe band, the hairs of my neck still stand on end when the drums do their intro and the pipes whining kicks in.
Try and stop yourself from dancing your way around the route! This event truly kicks off the Edinburgh at Hogmanay celebrations!
23. Edinburgh’s Street Party
Join Edinburgh for the world’s greatest street party! To really understand how to party Scottish style, get ready to ceilidh with strangers, party in the park and make a new pal or two or the bells.
Beginning at 7.30 pm, you will be dancing in the streets to well-known bands from across the globe. Wandering through Princes Street Gardens, you can soak up the happy atmosphere and enjoy meeting new people.
As the bells to welcome in the New Year, get ready to sing and dance to some well known Scottish tunes like Auld Lang Syne, Loch Lomond, and 500 Miles to name a few.
24. Loony Dook
On the 1st of January, visitors and some locals (mainly visitors) celebrate my birthday (I know, worst day ever), by running into the Firth of Forth waters with the Forth Bridges as company.
This tradition raises funds for charity and Loony Dookers are encouraged to wear costumes.
Getting to Edinburgh
Coming for the weekend?
If you arrive by air, the airport is a short ride from the city centre. There are a few ways to get into Edinburgh and it’s a good idea to have this planned before you arrive.
- Edinburgh Airlink: This is a bus which offers free wifi and comfortable seating. Located just outside the terminal, you won’t have to look hard for it. Per person: $6 or £5. Pre-book your ticket here.
- Private airport transfer. Take the worry out of waiting in cab lines and have a car pick you and your luggage up, taking you straight to your accommodation. Per person: $33 or £25. Book here.
- Edinburgh tram: the tram runs from the airport to Princes Street.
Whether you are nipping to the capital for a weekend festive cocktail or choosing the city as your annual December trip, there are so many things to do during the Edinburgh winter festival. Tell us what you do in the comments below.
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