New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime. Where else can you see Vikings wielding torches, kilted men dancing beneath a 12th-century castle, and an unforgettable display of fireworks?
Scots are a spirited bunch, and their New Year’s Eve party reflects that. Forget one night of celebrations – Hogmanay festivities span over the course of three days. There are parties and events happening across the city, but I’ve highlighted a few of the main events you don’t want to miss, along with some survival tips to help you make the most of your Hogmanay experience.
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Hogmanay (pronounced hog-mah-nay) is the Scots word for the final day of the year. Many of the country’s New Year traditions are linked to ancient Pagan rituals and Viking celebrations.
Why is Hogmanay is such a big deal? Christmas celebrations were effectively banned in Scotland for 400 years (December 25th wasn’t considered a public holiday until 1958). Many people worked over Christmas, so New Year’s Eve became the primary time to celebrate with family and friends.
Hogmanay festivities kickoff on December 30th with the Torchlight Procession – a unique event you definitely shouldn’t miss. Picture this: a group of Vikings and kilt-clad pipers and drummers marching down the Royal Mile, leading thousands of torch-bearers toward Holyrood Park for a grand finale of fireworks. It’s a fantastic event, and it’s something you just have to see for yourself.
You can purchase a ticket and join the parade or head to Holyrood Park to watch the procession. Just be sure to get there early, and reserve tickets in advance if you want to take part. I didn’t quite realize the magnitude of this event when I went in 2015.
An outdoor event in Scotland during winter might sound like a nightmare, but it’s definitely worth braving the cold for. Thousands of revellers, live music, DJs, and various entertainment acts – it’s a fantastic atmosphere. This year, event organizers are adding street performers, dancers, acrobats, and fire-eaters to the mix, so it’ll take on a giant carnival-style theme.
If you’re anything like me, you probably want to know the answer to a very important question: can you get food at the Street Party? No need to worry – there are plenty of food stands and stalls, outdoor bars, and toilets in the vicinity. And the best part? You can bring your own alcohol (as long as it’s in a plastic bottle). This is why I love Scotland.
At midnight, find a spot below the castle for the spectacular nine-minute fireworks display (along Princes Street between The Mound and Castle Street is a good area). Get ready to link arms with your neighbour and join in on a mass rendition of Auld Lang Syne. It’s a magical moment.
Street Party survival tips:
- Tickets to the Street Party cost £26 and can be purchased here.
- Dress for every type of weather! Wear plenty of layers (thermals are always a good idea in Scotland) and bring waterproof clothing. I stayed extra toasty with hand and foot warmers.
- You can bring your own booze, as long as it’s in a plastic bottle.
- There’s no need to arrive early to secure a spot – you can enter anytime between 7pm and 10:30pm. Re-entry is not permitted.
- The music starts around 9pm, so aim to arrive around that time – unless you’re really keen to spend the entire night freezing your ass off.
- Choose a spot to view the fireworks and get there well before midnight. Leave yourself plenty of time to move through the crowds.
- Grab a Hogmanay programme to plan your night ahead of time.
Concert in the Gardens
If you want to catch the main Hogmanay headliners, be sure to get a ticket for the concert in Princes Street Gardens. The stage is directly beneath the castle, so you’ll have a prime view of the fireworks. You can also join the crowds and head into the Street Party if you want to experience both (tickets for Concert in the Gardens include access to the Street Party).
Ceilidh under the Castle
For the ultimate Scottish experience, don’t miss the outdoor ceilidh (an event with traditional Scottish music and dancing) in West Princes Street Gardens. Grab a partner – or any random person – and bust out your best moves. Once you’ve mastered the most popular dances, you won’t even feel the cold. A few drams of whisky will help with that too.
This is a separate event from the Street Party and tickets can be purchased here.
If you want to move the party indoors after midnight, there are plenty of pubs and bars to choose from. Bramble, Voodoo Rooms, and Panda & Sons are a few popular spots in New Town for cocktails. Rose Street is lined with a dozen or so pubs, and it’s only a short walk from Princes Street.
If you’re willing to venture into Old Town, the Grassmarket and Cowgate are two lively areas with plenty of options for live music, DJs, and late-night parties. Last call is extended to 3am or 5am, so you can dance into the wee hours of the morning. (Bear in mind some places will be hosting New Year’s Eve events that may require an advanced ticket purchase.)
Parking in Edinburgh can be tricky and expensive. If you’re planning to drive in the city, check out YourParkingSpace to easily find and book parking spaces throughout Edinburgh.
While the rest of the world is in bed nursing their hangover, Scots dress in costumes and throw themselves into the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth on January 1st. It’s all for a good cause, though – participants sign up for the Loony Dook to raise money for charities across the UK.
Don’t want to take the plunge? Grab a bottle of Irn-Bru (Scots swear by it for hangovers) and head to South Queensferry to watch the spectacle.
Where to eat
New Year’s Eve dinner:
Here are a few of my favourite restaurants in New Town, near the Street Party:
- The Dogs (contemporary Scottish)
- El Cartel and Miros Cantina (Mexican)
- Fishers in the City and Cadiz (seafood)
- The Queen’s Arms (pub food)
- Dusit (Thai)
- Dishoom (Indian)
What is New Year’s Eve without a late-night/early morning carb-loaded feast? Scotland is the home of deep-fried pizza and other ridiculous hangover food after all.
New Year’s Day:
Many restaurants will be closed on January 1st, so you may have to settle for chain restaurant fare (like Jamie’s Italian or Nando’s) for hangover sustenance. The Christmas Markets are open on New Year’s Day and there’s a range of food stalls (raclette!) to choose from.
Where to stay
Exploring Edinburgh and beyond
Once the Hogmanay celebrations have ended, it’s a great time to do some sightseeing. Some attractions will be closed on January 1st and 2nd as both days are public holidays in Scotland. The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle, and The Real Mary King’s Close are a few popular attractions open on New Year’s Day.
Edinburgh is easily walkable, and many of its best sights – like Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat – are free. Check out a few of my favourite spots in this post.
If you want to get out of the city, head north to the Highlands. Take a scenic drive through stunning Glencoe or discover the magic of Skye. Haggis Adventures and Rabbies offer one-day and multi-day tours if you’re limited on time or you don’t want to drive.
Have you been to Edinburgh for Hogmanay? Where’s your favourite place to celebrate New Year’s Eve?
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