Edinburgh comes alive with Christmas magic during the festive season. The historic cobbled streets illuminate and transform into a winter wonderland. Towering Christmas trees serve as a beacon of hope, and the sweet aroma of gingerbread and roasted chestnuts fills the air.
The city welcomes an array of events and activities that celebrate Christmas traditions and local customs, promising to warm your heart and toes!
Let’s explore these more, including the wildly popular Edinburgh Christmas markets, spectacular Christmas lights, the Edinburgh Castle of Light (yes, you read that right!), and the delightful Christmas at the Botanics. We’ll also unearth some of the city’s quirky holiday traditions.
One of the highlights is undoubtedly the Edinburgh Christmas markets. From late November through early January, visitors are transported to a world of yuletide joy as markets and outdoor festivities pop up throughout the city.
Not only are they great for Christmas shopping, but the atmosphere is also rich in festive vibes, with food and drink stalls a-plenty to savour decadent seasonal treats and enjoy delicious warm servings of mulled wine. There’s a fun fair for kids big and small, ice skating and a Big Wheel perfect for those with a head for heights, worth it for the views alone.
Princes Street Christmas Market is a must-visit, set in the heart of the city. The market features over 100 charming stalls offering beautiful, handcrafted gifts, seasonal decorations, and wholesome hearty food. The east end is home to the Big Wheel and Helter Skelter, while the west end plays host to the kid’s Christmas zone, with fairground rides for all the family.
Just a hop and a skip from Princes Street is Santa Land in St Andrew’s Square, ideal for the little ones and ‘believers’. Santa and his very helpful elves will be tucked inside their cosy cabin ready to welcome children and families. There’s also ‘Stories with Santa’ and the Festival of Kindness, hosted by Social Bite.
Set just behind Princes Street on George Street is the Christmas Ice Rink. With an enclosed roof, visitors can don their skates, no matter the weather. There’s mulled wine and hot chocolate to keep you cosy and energised!
Admission to the Christmas market is free.
Edinburgh Christmas Lights
Edinburgh’s Christmas lights are mesmerising. As the sun sets over the city, the streets radiate with a vibrant sparkling glow. Some of the must-see displays include:
The Dome on George Street is a firm favourite with locals and visitors, particularly at Christmas time. It’s an elegant bar that epitomises festive charm, both inside and out. Its facade of Georgian columns are wrapped in glistening lights and colourful baubles. Even the stars in the sky are jealous – Instagram gold!
Edinburgh Castle of Light, a majestic sight in any season, becomes a fortress of illuminated technicolour during the holidays. This is a historical adventure learning about the Castle’s turbulent past in a whole new light – quite literally!
As you walk around the centuries-old stone walls expect to be entertained by an incredible array of audio-visual effects, light displays and projections exploring its hidden treasures, and narrated by the infamous red lion Rex. It’s a colourful fusion of the past and present, and a must-see for all the family.
Christmas at the Botanics
For a more serene yet equally enjoyable festive activity, Christmas at the Botanics is a great choice. The Royal Botanic Garden is a winter paradise, the ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
As you stroll through the gardens, follow the sparkling path one mile long with over a million twinkling lights. The famous Glasshouses are lit up in vibrant festive colours, and keep your eyes peeled for the glowing, larger-than-life incandescent flowers, and illuminated tree sculptures. The sparkling snowflakes, reindeer and stars are favourites with children, not to mention the gingerbread men. Santa and his elves make an appearance too. Just magical!
What are the Christmas traditions in Edinburgh?
In addition to the marvellous selection of events and activities, Edinburgh has its own unique and quirky festive traditions. Hogmanay, though not exclusive to Christmas, is Scotland’s New Year celebration.
Attracting visitors from all over the world to celebrate New Year, the city becomes an epic street party with music festivals and stunning firework displays. There’s also the age-old tradition of “first footing”, legend has it that the first person to enter your home after midnight brings a year of good fortune.
If you love the theatre and lots of giggles, make sure to go see a Christmas pantomime. It’s a beloved tradition of humour, slapstick fun and absolute hilarity. It’s guaranteed to leave your cheeks and sides feeling a bit sore!
After feasting on Christmas lunch, many Edinburgh locals take a leisurely walk up Arthur’s Seat, one of the city’s iconic hills. It’s a guilt-free way of getting lots of fresh air and enjoying beautiful views of the city, whilst working up an appetite for more mince pies.
Spending Christmas in Edinburgh is like being inside your favourite holiday movie. The city has a history as rich as a mouthwatering fruitcake, and a festive spirit merrier than Santa himself!
The combination of street markets, illuminations, the Edinburgh Castle of Light, and the serene Christmas at the Botanics captures every inch of festive magic and spirit.