When it comes to New Year’s Celebrations, Scotland may not be your first thought, but it should be … Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is a three-day festival where the world comes to party, to celebrate the New Year. Edinburgh is a great place to start your exploration of Scotland’s holiday celebrations. My great-great-grandfather was born in Edinburgh, so it was especially moving for my family to walk the paths he did as a lad. Our most exceptional experience was the torch bearers ceremony and, while not available this year, we look forward to its return.
Experiences available this year
The Royal Yacht Britannia
We took the Hop On Hop Off Bus to reach the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre in Leith, a 20-minute drive from city center, to explore the Royal Yacht Britannia. With reservations, we entered to explore all five decks and discover what Royal service was like aboard what was reportedly Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite home.
Rugby remains one of Scotland’s favorite sports, and 2022 is the 150th anniversary of the 1872 Cup. The “World’s Oldest Intercity Derby,” pits rivals the Edinburgh Rugby vs. the Glasgow Warriors for epic bragging rights.
Pro Tip: Book early for the best seats.
Yet there’s no need to remain a spectator in Edinburgh with her 26th annualtriathlon and an ice rink on George Street ready to keep kids and adults in the middle of the city viewing all the festive lights and snow-scented air tingling your nose.
Visit Edinburgh Castle of Light: A Kingdom of Colours for a beautiful illumination ceremony with its family-friendly trail expanding to include new light installations. As you’re guided through this medieval fortress, learn the story of the castle and the way Scotland became part of the United Kingdom.
Pro Tip: Don’t forgot to snap the perfect shot in the tunnel of light!
Storytelling perfected during long Scottish nights and 500 years of Hogmanay celebrations weaves its way through performances from theater to dance to magic shows including MagicFest
Theater returns full force this season with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Festival Theatre, a Panto production straight from the London Palladium (book early) and My Fair Lady at the Edinburgh Playhouse with A Christmas Carol at the Royal Lyceum Theatre
Charles Dickens is forever tied to Edinburgh folklore with his stroll through a graveyard, coming upon the tombstone of “Ebenezer Scroogie” inspiring A Christmas Carol. Adapted since then, this version by Tony Cownie expects a visit from the legendary GreyFriars Bobby.
This sweet little Skye Terrier reportedly guarded his police officer owner’s grave for 14 years until his own death in 1872.
Many of the city’s parties are associated with live music. Enjoy the “Night Afore Disco Party” with Forth 1 or the New Year’s Eve Concert with the Pet Shop Boys headlining in the West Princes Street Gardens and surrounding Street Party. Perhaps you’ll like the “Final Fling” where Scottish group Tide Lines headlines the closing session of the official Hogmanay celebration. No matter which you choose, you’ll dance and sing until you’re breathless.
In addition to the city festivals, the Candlelit Concert at St. Giles Cathedral remains the perfect opportunity to view this architectural marvel and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays a Viennese New Year Concert at Usher Hall.
When you think it might all be over, “First Footin’s” first appearance presents free live music performances at various city center pubs and venues across both Old and New Edinburgh.
Other Unmissable Experiences
We’d heard of Balmoral Castle, of course, but never realized the Queen had a Palace directly across from Scotland’s Parliament in Downtown Edinburgh. The chilling historic events described during the tour provided a better understanding of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the influence of Elizabeth I across the lands, as well as the confusing succession that led to King James VI/I.
Visit The Scottish National Gallery
Located at The Mound, right on Princes Street, the Scottish National Gallery remains one of the top free attractions in Edinburgh where you can see fine art from the Renaissance to (nearly) modern day. With three gallery sites served by shuttle bus (voluntary donation of just £1), you can create a scavenger hunt for your party to find a Van Gogh, Botticelli, or Rembrandt amongst the collection.
Visit The National Museum of Scotland for Doctor Who: Worlds of Wonder
Having never seen an episode of Doctor Who, I can only share what I’ve learned about Time Vortex Corridors and the TARDIS Tech Room. But the eight zones of immersive, hands-on experiences will keep fans and scientists (like me) entertained (especially when you find out what you’d sound like as a Dalek).
Visit The Johnnie Walker Experience
The Johnnie Walker Experience offers the quintessential whisky adventure with a flavor tour, single malts, and whiskies straight from the cask. If you’re a fan of whisky, you’ll enjoy everything they offer.
Free Events To Enjoy Around Your Hogmanay Celebrations In Edinburgh
Museums and Galleries
Many of Edinburgh’s cultural centers offer free entry and even free daily tours. Some may ask for a volunteer donation. A little research will help you round out your trip for a taste of all that Edinburgh has to offer.
Edinburgh’s Christmas Markets
We enjoyed our visit to the Christmas Market as part of our Torchbearers Ceremony and Hogmanay Street Party. Outlawed until 1958, Christmas Markets only opened in Edinburgh in 1999. Now, it’s one of the United Kingdom’s most popular Christmas Markets.
Climb Arthur Seat
If you hike or walk or climb, you’ll want to pack plenty of water and head to Holyrood Park to climb Arthur Seat. A dormant volcano for the past 350 million years, it’s 823 feet (251 meters) high and offers startling 360-degree views from its summit. Leave time to wander the ancient hillfort, estimated to be 2,000 years old, and view the flora and fauna available even this time of year.
Pro Tip: If you walk from town, as I did from the end of the Royal Mile, mind your bearings on the return or you’ll find yourself circling half of it to get back where you want to be.
Climb Calton Hill
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Calton Hill has the other best views of Edinburgh and sunrises that make it worth it to get up a little early. You can drive via Regent Road and Royal Terrace and tour the City Observatory, the Dugald Steward Monument, National Monument, Nelson’s Monument, the Old Royal High School, Political Martyrs’ Monument, and the Robert Burns Monument.
Walk the Royal Mile
A wonderful thing to do every time you return to Edinburgh is stroll along the Royal Mile. You’ll check out all the new stores and restaurants from your last visit and determine your plan of attack.
Take a “Loony Dook” on New Year’s Day
While Polar Bear challenges have become fairly well known, taking a dip in Scotland’s freezing waters on New Year’s Day seems even more kooky, or loony, than usual. The festive, convivial atmosphere somehow allows the participants to keep warm as spectators cheer.
Many of these “Dooks” are free to attend but donations to charities are most welcome. Check your hotel or AirBnB for “Dooks & Dips” locations near you. The most popular ones we found include South Queensferry, North Berwick, and Portobello’s Loony Dook, now an established community event with participants gathering on New Year’s Day to brave the cold waters of the Firth of Forth. At “The Loony Dook” it’s the wacky outfits that really pique the interest to witness who can out-dress the others.
Visit The Royal Botanic Gardens
Just a mile from city center, The Royal Botanic Gardens, 72-acres established in 1670, provides respite to those weary after a busy city day. Local favorites include the Scottish Native Plants Collection, the Rock Garden, and the Chinese Hillside Garden.
Visit St. Giles’ Cathedral
Free (donations welcome) except during the New Year’s Eve Candlelight Concert, take the time to enter St. Giles’ Cathedral and marvel at the stunning architecture and gold-leaf ceiling. If you make the time, you’ll learn of its rich history. Founded in 1120s, it has consistently remained a working church.