Edinburgh is the best city in the world to spend New Years Eve, or as the Scots say “Hogmanay”, and with the airport a swift 35 minutes away from Princes Street on their brand new trams, and the train station and bus station right in the heart of the city, it has never been easier.
Edinburgh comes alive during the Christmas season, a magical winter wonderland filled to the brim with festive cheer. But fantastic as it is, it is New Years Eve that things really get going. Here are my top 10 reasons to visit at this thrilling time of year.
1. The Big Wheel and Star Flyer
For amazing views over the city take to the skies on the spine-tinglingly high Sky Flyer. At nearly 60 metres high you can get 360 degree views but you have to be brave. I’m not, and I watch from the side. The Big Wheel is a gentler alternative, and the pods are enclosed so you can stay cosy while hearing a brief history of the city, and taking in the views. At 42 metres high it is still colossal but since six people can fit into each pod it’s a great opportunity for a bit of less-noisy time with family or friends and a chance to take some excellent photos.
2. The European and Scottish Markets
The European Market lines Princes Street Gardens and the Mound. Little wooden huts filled with handmade wooden tree decorations, glassware, woolly scarfs and hats (I buy my daughter a funky one every year, this year it’s a rainbow stripped one with tassles down to her knees, she is getting less amused as the years go on, I think this might be the last year, she is 12!) and loads of other hand crafted pressies you’re not likely to see anywhere else. The food stalls are so tempting, the smell of melted Nutella on hot sweet waffles, or German smoked Beutelwursts(sausages) and fried onions, it is impossible to resist. Another must have is the hot mulled cider/wine which you can have in a Christmas souveneir cup, it heats you up nicely. This year Edinburgh also have a Scottish market in St Andrews Square, circling around the outer ring of the ice rink (I’ll come to that later). Showcasing the best Scotland has to offer, producers set up stalls selling everything from cupcakes to seafood. I can highly recommend the haggis bridies!
3. Ice rinks
There are two ice rinks this year, so stick on your skates and head to East Princes Street Gardens and once you’re done there, have a dander up to St James Square to the new rink where you can glide around the Melville Monument. It’s excellent fun to take the kids, go with a group of friends or your other half and when you’re finished head into the Scandanavian wooden monument bar for a hot toddy to warm up your hands and feet, take a seat too on the fur rugs to warm your bahooky!
4. Torchlit Procession
The Torchlit Procession traditionally begins Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations. Around 8000 torch bearers carry their stream of fire through the streets, along with 35,000 people joining the Up Helly Aa’ Vikings, massed pipes & drums, heading up to Calton Hill. Here you can enjoy the fireworks finale and enjoy some stunning views over the city while watching the burning of a lifesize Viking longboat. This tradition is taken from Shetland’s famous Up-Helly-Aa, the largest fire festival in the world. The Shetlanders actually come to Edinburgh to help carry the boat up the hill.
5. Candlelit Concert at St Giles’ Cathedral
This breaktaking concert takes place on New Years Eve, beginning usually around 7pm. St Giles is a beautiful cathedral and it looks even better by candlelight. An alternative to the mad parties on Princes Street the atmosphere inside this magnificent building is uplifting and reflective, the perfect way to think about the past year and look forward to the new one. The music this year includes Bach, Vaughan and Mozart.
6. The Ceilidhs
Nothing beats a good Scottish boogie at New Year and Edinburgh has three major Ceilidhs to choose from. If you want to be in the thick of the action, right next to the main Street Party and you want to watch the fireworks you can head to the Keilidh which is held on the Mound. This is the largest outdoor New Year ceilidh in the world and a ceilidh caller is on hand to talk newcomers through moves. There are plenty food stalls and a bar and you can join in the bells firework celebrations at midnight. If you fancy staying indoors in the warm, Edinburgh Corn Exchange hold their “Hoot Live” with the Scott Leslie Ceilidh band and live pipers and drums. This events has been held for over 10 years and you even get a haggis supper. The Assembly Rooms hold a glamorous evening bash, a glass of Rocco Fizz greets your arrival and you can then choose between the Ceilidh in the ballroom or a bit of Motown and soul in the music room. The bells are shown on TV’s in every room and the ticket price also includes free entry to the after party at La Monde until 3am and Shanghai until 5am.
7. Concert in the Garden
This is another fab option as again you are right in the middle of the action. Held in West Princes Street Gardens the ticket price includes free entry to the street party before 11pm. The headline act this year is Lily Allen, and in previous years Pet Shop Boys, Biffy Clyro, Simple Minds and Primal Scream have all performed. You can also buy tickets for the Garden where the giant TV screens show the bands and you can sit on the grass and enjoy a few drinks.
I really must learn how to take fireworks photos!
8, The famous Street Party
This mad, crazy drunken party lines the entire length of Princes Street with live music and plenty dancing. It’s busy, noisy and cold, but people love it. The event started in 1993 as a free event but got so busy that in 1997 they had to control it by blocking off the entrances and selling a limited amount of tickets. This is still a hugely popular event with an electric atmosphere. Countdown fireworks go off at 9pm, 10pm and 11pm before the Bells at midnight and a roaring rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Headlining this year is Twin Atlantic with Eddi Reader on the Scottish stage.
9. The Loony Dook
Get rid of that sore head in style and join hundreds of brave (or mad) participants taking part in the annual Loony Dook. After registering at the lifeboat station, and getting themselves dressed up in fancy dress, they parade along the High Street in South Queensferry before, to the sounds of the bagpipes, run head first into the freezing cold water of the Firth of Forth. Madness I tell you, madness!
A newbie on the Hogmanay calendar, this events was so popular last year that participants are required to register this year before they attend. Taking place from lunch time on New Year’s Day organisers promise “A cosmic journey across Edinburgh’s Old Town, the newly discovered constellation of Scot:lands”. Music, theatre and art combine in several locations throughout the city, starting from secret starts points emailed to participants after registration. Even though I’ve yet to try this out it sounds fantastic, click on the Hogmanay link below and have a read through the acts, it sounds amazing. As I’m rarely capable of anything more than a bacon buttie on the 1st January, if anyone has been to this or goes in the future I’d love to hear how you got on.
11. Street of Light
Edinburgh's Street of light started in 2015 and lined the Royal Mile. In 2016 it moved to George Street. A huge tunnel of lights dance in time to choirs and musicians from across the city. 60,000 lights are synchronised for a 15-20 minute performance, twice a night, every night, for up to month before christmas. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance.
Find out more about Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations at Edinburgh's Hogmanay