Best things to do in Edinburgh for Christmas

London may get all the fame, but Edinburgh gets all the fun! Our local experts give you 7 reasons why.
Edinburgh is often overshadowed by the  more vibrant and multicultural London, but the Scottish capital has plenty to offer to those looking for a genuine Christmas spirit away from the crowds and the commercial frenzy of the holidays. In fact, when winter comes, the city becomes an enchanting fairy-tale like town underneath the blinking Christmas lights and the sound of bagpipes fills the streets with a charm that is truly hard to beat.

7. Christmas Lights in the city centre

It could be fairly said that Christmas is just a big rehearsal for Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year famously known for its torchlight processions up Calton Hill, large bonfires and the fabulous displays of fireworks from Edinburgh Castle. In fact, this year the countdown to Christmas will kick off on 23rd November with free music performances from 2pm until the fireworks lit up the sky over George Street at 4.50pm. From that day onwards, the whole city will be dressed in glimmering lights that simply take your breath away.

Insider tip: Walk up the stairs of the historic Scott Monument (E. Princes Street Gardens, Princes Street Gardens, EH2 2EJ Edinburgh, +44 (0) 131 529 4068) and admire the views over the gardens and all the Christmas lights from a unique vantage point. Tickets cost £4 for both children and adults. Open daily from 10am to 4pm.

6. Shopping spree at Jenners

London may get all the buzz during the festive season, but Edinburgh has a lot to offer to visitors looking for a last minute Christmas gift. Superstores like Jenners (48 Princes Street, EH2 2YJ Edinburgh, +44 (0) 131 225 2442) not only put on their best lights but also have superb discounts on clothing and accessories allowing clients to save up to 70%. The store is also great to battle the cold or the snow and admire the gigantic Christmas tree set indoors.

Insider tip: If the weather is unpleasant to stroll around the city centre and its many high-street shops, St James Shopping (Centre Management Suite, 1 Leith Street, EH1 3SS Edinburgh, +44 (0) 131 557 0050) is a great alternative. Aside from shops, it has great cafés and restaurants.

5. The best Scottish traditions in town

With St Andrew’s day (Scotland’s national day) falling on 30th November, the days prior to Christmas are filled with events celebrating Scottish traditions. One of them is ceilidh, a traditional social gathering where people dance to folk songs under the supervision of callers, people in charge of teaching the steps to those who don’t know them and generally make sure everyone has a great time. This year’s ‘Ceilidh at Christmas’ will take place in St Andrew’s Square at 9.30pm on selected days between November 28 – December 5 and will be presented by the Robert Fish Band. Tickets are available from £13.50.

Insider tip: If you’re coming to Scotland you’ve probably been told a thousand things about haggis and you may already think that it sounds disgusting, and you are right; it does sound disgusting but it tastes heavenly. Our favourite place in the city centre is the former bank turned restaurant The Standing Order (62-66 George Street, EH2 2LR Edinburgh, +44 (0) 131 225 4460)

4. History and scenic walks in the Old Town

If there is a place that takes your breath away in Edinburgh that is the Old Town. With its narrow, cobbled streets and historic buildings, you sometimes have to pinch yourself to make sure you haven’t travelled back in time. Every corner you turn, seems to hide a secret and this is particularly true of Greyfriars Kirkyard (Candlemaker Row, EH1 2QQ Edinburgh, +44 (0) 131 664 4314), the cemetery surrounding the quaint Greyfriars Kirk where it is remarkably easy to lose track of time thanks to its monuments and intriguing tombstones. No wonders Charles Dickens was inspired to write ‘A Christmas Carol’ after visiting an Edinburgh graveyard! The statue of the loyal dog Greyfriars Bobby is set at the entrance of the cemetery and very popular amidst tourists.

Insider tip: Taking a walk around a cemetery may be an odd enough Christmas activity for you, but if you are looking for something truly unique, we recommend you to visit the Real Mary King’s Close (2 Warriston’s Close, High Street, EH1 1PG Edinburgh, +44 (0) 845 070 6244), a warren of streets buried underneath the Royal Mile dating from the 17th century. Aside from the regular tours, this year they also offer bespoke Christmas tours for groups.

Discover more about the Christmas tours here

3. Rides & attractions for all the family in Princes Street Gardens

One more year, the area surrounding the Scott Monument and the Princes Street Gardens will be transformed into a Winter Wonderland with fun rides for all ages and sizes. From the Big Wheel offering stunning views of Edinburgh Castle, to the charming Santa Land where the younger ones can find smaller rides, visit Santa’s Grotto or buy sweets at their very own Children’s Market, everyone is in for a treat! Even toddlers can get their share of fun this year at the fantastic Baby Loves Disco’s Christmas Cheer, a unique dayclub for parents with babies and young children where they can hit the dancefloor, get their faces painted, dress-up and even meet Santa!

Insider tip: Family tickets (2 adults and 2 children or 1 adult and 3 children) are available for the Big Wheel, Star Flyer and ice skating. Additionally, you can purchase a Santa Land package wich enables the holder to sample all the rides and save up to £6.75.

Check out more special offers here

2. European and Scottish Christmas Markets in the city centre

From November 21 2014 to January 4 2015, Edinburgh welcomes artisans, artists and small producers from across Europe to the city centre to showcase their crafts and products. If you are looking for something typically Scottish, head to the beautiful St Andrew Square where you can find locally produced beer and food, woodwork, jewellery and accessories. If you are looking for unique or traditional Christmas gifts or a cup of mulled wine, then visit the European market located along the East Princes Street Gardens and around the Scott Monument. Both markets open their stands at 10am.

Insider tip: For Christmas 2014, aside from the Princes Street Gardens open-air ice rink, there is going to be a brand new outdoor ice rink on St Andrew Square suitable for wheelchair users. The rink is going to encircle the Melville Monument and will feature viewing platforms where non-skaters can take photographs and parents can supervise their children. Tickets costs £5 for both children and adults and include skate hire. Sessions are limited to 30 minutes.

1. Visit Edinburgh Castle

If there is a special time to visit Edinburgh Castle that is without a doubt winter, for it is then when visitors can truly grasp what must have been like to live within the walls of this magnificent fortress. There is nothing quite as soothing as watching the city stretch at your feet covered with a white blanket or as daunting as hearing the muffled sound of footsteps on the snow as you walk around the maze of streets that separate one building from the other. In fact, you don’t have to take our word for it, you can hear Mary, Queen of Scots tell you all about it herself as she will be holding audiences in the Great Hall this Christmas (December 24, December 27-31 2014) Tickets to enter the castle cost £16 for adults and £9.60 for children between 5-15 years old. Opening times during winter are from 9.30am to 5pm.

Insider tip: For a unique view of the castle, we highly recommend dinning at The Tower Restaurant (National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, EH1 1JF Edinburgh, +44 (0) 131 225 3003), the first rooftop restaurant in the city. For Christmas 2014, they have created a delectable menu inspired by local ingredients that will make you experience Scotland with all your senses.

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