Quite honestly, Scotland doesn’t get the love and attention that it should and our capital city is no exception, it is a wonderful place to spend a few days or a week at anytime of the year. But it is during the festive season that it really comes to life and shows its best colours.
Here we share our 12 favourite ways to celebrate Christmas and the festive season in Edinburgh. There are loads things to do in Edinburgh during the festive months which include browsing traditional Christmas markets, ice skating, Christmas shopping, afternoon teas, events and enjoying the holiday lights and decorations. We have also included how to get to and from Edinburgh and where to stay whilst there.
Head to the official Edinburgh’s Christmas website to see what events are scheduled during your visit. The official events this year are being held from November 16th 2018 to January 5th 2019. Each year the events may change but our list should give you a good idea of what Edinburgh has to offer.
Here is our list of 12 ways to celebrate the festive season in Edinburgh!
Browse the Edinburgh Christmas Markets
The main Christmas Market is held each year in the Princes Street Gardens and is a traditional European Christmas Market with stalls selling arts and crafts, scarves, leather goods, Christmas ornaments and trinkets plus a whole load more, including food stalls selling German bratwurst, waffles, chips, crepes, churros, and hot drink stalls selling hot chocolate and coffee, and alcoholic options like hot cider, mulled wine (Glühwein), and hot toddies.
Go Christmas Shopping
If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, you won’t have any trouble finding those last-minute bits in Edinburgh. Have a look at the Christmas Markets at the craft items or head to Jenners department store, it is one of the oldest department stores, and if you only window shop there, be sure to check out their amazing Christmas lights and decorations.
Ice Skating in Edinburgh
A few streets back from Princes Street you will find St. Andrew Square which has been transformed into a circular ice-skating rink surrounding the Melville Monument. Very Christmassy indeed.
The Big Wheel
Dominating East Princess Street Gardens, the Big Wheel has 36 enclosed, weather-proof pods, each seating six people, that offer a leisurely way to take in the sights and views of Edinburgh. The fun ride also gives you a short historical tour of the city.
For those that don’t mind braving the temperature at a height of 60-metres then take the ‘Star Flyer’ which offers a 360-degree view over Edinburgh as you whirl around.
Also located in East Princes Street Gardens, you will find Santa Land which features a Christmas Tree Maze with an Elves’ Workshop, Santa’s Grotto, the Santa Train and several family friendly rides. It’s good festive fun for everyone!
Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle
Can you even visit Edinburgh without visiting the world-famous Edinburgh Castle? Take a wander away from the Christmas theme and soak up the atmosphere in the Castle, from here you can also get amazing panoramic views of the city. The Castle is located on the Royal Mile which is the main area of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town. The Royal Mile is the best place to soak up Scotland’s history and unique architecture as you wander its cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways, here you will also find shops galore selling Scottish products, such as tartan scarves and shortbread- great Christmas presents for sure!
Street of Lights
The Street of Light is nothing short of spellbinding. Hundreds of thousands of lights, light up making picturesque scenes. In 2018 the street of lights is a paid event where there is a silent disco taking place.
Dinner at The Witchery
The Witchery near the Royal Mile is an Edinburgh institution, located in a sixteenth-century merchant’s house, it is named so for the hundreds of women burnt in the 17th century on Castlehill for Witchcraft. The Witchery has rich baroque surroundings with the dining room being oak panelled with tapestries lining the walls. This is one of the city’s most exceptional and memorable dining destinations. (Must reserve your table in advance)
The Dome sits resplendent with its Graeco-Roman façade and Corinthian Portico in central George Street, in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town, it is simply gorgeous any time of the year, but especially when it’s the holiday season and they go over the top with their decorations, lights, garlands and gigantic Christmas tree. Visit anytime of the day, but we recommend either afternoon tea in the Georgian Room or for cocktails. (Book in advance for afternoon tea and be aware that everyone knows how amazing this place is, so get in early to get a table!) But either way, be sure to pop in to admire the decorations!
Now The Dome got a special mention for its afternoon tea but there are other spots that normally serve Christmas afternoon teas (as well as normal afternoon teas throughout the year). Afternoon tea is that little indulgence that we all need at this time of year, we recommend The Signet Library, café at Jenners and The Tower (pictured above) adjacent to the Museum of Scotland (which is also a good rainy day activity)
(reserve your table in advance)
Having already shown our favourite place for cocktails- The Dome, we also want to give a special mention to the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh- The Caledonian. This A listed building was once a grand railway hotel and is located at the west end of Princes Street. The building is pretty and adorned this time of year with wonderful Christmas decorations, they have an extensive cocktail menu which shouldn’t be missed.
Being the capital of Scotland, of course there is many other non-Christmassy things to see and do if you are visiting over November, December or January. If this will be your first time in Edinburgh, we’d recommend checking our guide to 24 hours in Edinburgh blog. Also do not miss the chance to visit Edinburgh for Hogmanay!!
Where to stay in Edinburgh
It is best to book your accommodation far in advance, not only will it be very busy, and hotels will fill up fast, the prices could rocket too.
You can try Airbnb for quirky and different accommodation, which might be your last resort or treat yourself to luxury at the Radisson Blu Hotel, located on the Royal Mile or The Scotsman Hotel. Our recommendations are the Apex Grassmarket Hotel, situated in the Grassmarket area, it is in such a perfect location for Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile (pictured above), and the Premier Inn just off the Royal Mile, here you can snap up soon amazing prices (we are staying on 23rd-24th December for £23!)
How to travel to and from Edinburgh
Trains arrive at Waverly station from all over Scotland, and the UK, but if you are here on a day trip make sure you check when the last train leaves.
If you are driving, be expected to pay a considerable amount to park your car in city centre locations, instead for day trippers- park your car at a park and ride in Ingliston where you can then jump on a bus or tram for a few pounds return. If you are staying in the city overnight that park and ride is not suitable but try Hermiston park and ride which allows overnight parking.
Check if your hotel offers discount parking though, as some do.
*Notice to residents of Edinburgh- if you have an EH postcode you will be eligible for discounts on Edinburgh rides, attractions, and shows. Just show proof of address.