Hogmanay – or New Year’s Eve as the end-of-year celebrations on the 31st of December are called in most parts of Europe – is an incredible experience, and one very good reason to visit Scotland during the winter time. Fireworks and wild parties are a given anywhere in the country, but Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh go one massive step further. Here, Hogmanay is turned into a sparkling winter festival that lasts three days and attracts over 140,000 every year. Fasten your seatbelt and prepare for the party of the year(s) – here is everything you need to know in my quick guide to Hogmanay in Edinburgh.
I spent last year’s Hogmanay in Edinburgh – my first new year’s eve partying out on the streets in a very long time. In the past few years, I had preferred to escape the city to a lonely glen with friends, or gathered at someone’s house to count in the new year in the privacy of a flat party. Or I was simply sick in bed, with a fever and a hangover the next day from that one innocent glass of prosecco I allowed myself at midnight. But not this time. Hogmanay in Edinburgh was a promising light in the middle of the dull Scottish winter.
I had arrived in Edinburgh as usually by train from Glasgow and was happy that I had been booked into a city centre hotel in New Town. I didn’t want to waste anytime before exploring the bustling streets of Edinburgh once again, and hit up the Christmas Markets on St Andrew Square and Prince Street.
Dec 30: Torchlight Procession
If you can’t make it to Up Helly Aa in Shetland, the Torchlight Procession during Hogmanay, traditionally on the 30th of December, is the next best thing. The main viking squad from Lerwick comes down to Edinburgh every year to lead a ton of people – 40,000 to be exact, from the Royal Mile to Carlton Hill. Everybody with a ticket gets a torch, slightly smaller than the huge torches the vikings are carrying, but that’s OK, considering their weight.
The procession is accompanied by a squad of bag pipers – it’s Scotland after all – and excited crowds line the streets all the way through Old and New Town.
Up on Carlton Hill the vikings burn a structure resembling their ship and a triumphant firework marks the end of the first big Hogmanay event the city will experience.
Dec 31: Street Party
Today is the day – the end of the year – and there are almost more events happening today than one can handle. I certainly could not attend everything that was happening as part of the giant Street Party throughout the Old Town and had to pick some cherries over others.
Here is a quick rundown of events going down today: the Candlelit Concert at St Giles Cathedral, the Old Town Ceilidh, the Concert on the Gardens, the Street Party and of course the fireworks for the Midnight Moment.
Sadly, I had to give the Candlelit Concert and the Old Town Ceilidh a miss, because there was simply too much going on in the blogger headquarter and too many people slowing you down in the streets. So plan in plenty of time to walk from location to location, even if they all appear super close on the map.
I did get to see some of the bands during the Concert in the Gardens and dances to all the guilty pleasures in front of my favourite stage of the Street Party. My top tip would be to grab a couple of your best friends to do this trip – or join a group trip to Edinburgh for this occasion. I’m personally not a huge fan of Street Parties (remember I tend to go for house parties or remote getaways?), but can imagine that with the right people this would be the most fun you’ll ever have!
As someone who absolutely loves fireworks I was happy to find out that there is not only the main firework at midnight, the Midnight Moment, but also smaller displays of colourful fireworks every full hour leading up to the event starting at 9pm. Not one, but four fireworks for the countdown to the new year!
To give you a little preview of what to expect at midnight though, have a wee look at this:
Jan 1: Scot:Lands
Probably my favourite part of Hogmanay was the day after. Fresh as a daisy (haha) I had to rise early to make the most out of Scot:Lands, a day-long performance art festival that takes place all over the Old Town. Each station (or Land) is curated by outstanding local artists and offer the best from theatre, music, performance, film and art that Scotland has to offer. When you pick up your pass yo are randomly allocated a Land to begin with, and from then on you will always find out about one other location. You can stay as long as you want and visit as many of the Lands as you’d like – but manage to visit all 9 of them in one day and I’ll salute you!
Another staple of Hogmanay celebration in Edinburgh os the Stoats Loony Dook – a refreshing splash party in South Queensferry, just outside of Edinburgh. Every year only the bravest locals and visitors dare to dress up in their favourite costume and through themselves into the icy waves of the River Forth. Sadly tide times meant that I had to choose between this and Scot:Lands last year, but if the ocean allows, you should try and make it to both!
While you’re in Edinburgh
Coming from Austria, I do love a good Christmas Market and while I think nothing is as good as the ones back home in Vienna, Edinburgh’s markets do a pretty good job. There are fun activities like ice-skating and carousels (mostly targeted at children, but hey – don’t ever grow up!), awesome food stalls ranging from sweet Belgian waffles to traditional German sausages, and of course all the mulled wine and cider you can drink. The Christmas Market of Princes Street even has a Ferris Wheel from where you get a great view over the city and all the way towards the sea.
The markets are open until the 7th of January, so you’ve got plenty of time to indulge in Edinburgh’s Christmas spirit even after the holidays.
Edinburgh Gin Distillery
Visiting a whisky distillery in Scotland is on many people’s bucket list – but did you know that there are also a ton of gin distilleries open for tours? I personally prefer gin over whisky, and really enjoyed the change of gear at Edinburgh Gin Distillery in the heart of the city. It was a welcome activity to get away from the bustle of the Royal Mile and Princes Street and a great opportunity to try different flavours of Edinburgh Gin.
For more ideas browse my First Timer’s Guide and my ‘Advanced’ City Guide to Edinburgh.
Where to Stay
For my trip to Hogmanay last year I stayed at the Ibis Styles hotel on St Andrew Square which was simply the best location for this weekend. Close enough to everything that was going on, but still a bit off-the-beaten-track (read: not in the Old Town), so it was really quiet at night. Literally everything was in walking distance, which was particularly nice after a few party drinks at the Street Party.
Another great option in this area is Hotel Indigo where I stayed on a previous trip. I it slightly more up-market than Ibis Styles, with more focus on a design experience.
Finally, if you want to be in the middle of it all, check out Safestay Edinburgh, a hostel in the Old Town where the party might continue all night and morning!
Generally note that prices are incredibly high in Edinburgh during Hogmanay. The earlier you book, the better! Or try to get your hands on an AirBnB. Normally I’d say, save some pennies by staying in Glasgow and going to Edinburgh by train, but there are no train services in Scotland on January 1st, so you might get stuck here or there…
Hogmanay in Edinburgh is one of those experiences you should have at least once in your life, so put this festival on your bucket list and plan your trip to Edinburgh soon!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.