As New Year’s Eve approaches, I’m thinking about last year’s celebrations, which for me, were in Edinburgh. Apologies to Sydney and all the other big cities that compete for the most spectacular fireworks display, but the Scots started celebrating the last day of the year long before anyone else. There’s a feeling of tradition here that you just can’t get anywhere else in the world.
Here’s my pick of Edinburgh experiences – not limited to New Year’s Eve, but that were part of my Hogmanay experience and each has its own story to tell.
- Princes Street Christmas Market
Edinburgh’s European Christmas Market actually runs for six weeks, from late November to the first week of January, and unlike some Christmas Markets (which now seem to have sprung up pretty much everywhere), these seem a bit more traditional. The market stalls sell mulled wine, German sausages and a range of arts and crafts.
There’s nothing quite like warming your hands on a cup of mulled wine! In nearby St Andrew Square the Scottish Market is also worth visiting to sample some fine Scottish food and craft beer.
- Walter Scott Monument.
December is probably not the best time to visit this beautiful monument, because for the entire month, it’s surrounded by a fairground (and of course it’s usually cold and wet). However I have fond memories of being both claustrophobic and scared of heights while climbing it as a child. So it has to be done. An alternative to climbing in the rain would be to take a ride on the Ferris wheel that’s right next to it, for equally good views of Princes Street Gardens and the Mound beyond.
- The Royal Mile.
We were lucky enough to stay halfway along the Mile at Frasers Suites Edinburgh, opposite St Giles Cathedral so we got to spend lots of time exploring its nooks and crannies. There are plenty of places here to sample whiskey or invest in tartan, but I’m happy just to wander up and down the cobbled street gazing at the beautiful old buildings.
- Writers Museum.
Speaking of nooks and crannies, this little gem is hidden down a little close, leading off the Royal Mile, which opens up into a courtyard called Makars’ Court. The Scots word Makar means ‘ writer, author or one who fashions, constructs, produces, prepares’. The courtyard is paved with stones engraved with quotes by well-known Scottish writers, everyone from John Buchan, to Nigel Tranter and Muriel Spark. The museum itself is housed in Lady Stair’s House and celebrates the lives and works of Scotland’s finest scribes; Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
- Grey Friars Bobby.
Bobby is still standing on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge, waiting for his long-dead master. These days he’s in danger of having his nose rubbed off by tourists eager for a bit of the supposed good luck this is said to bring.
Local authorities would like you to refrain by the way, they’ve already had to fix Bobby’s nose once and it’s not really a tradition. In true Scottish tradition however there are several versions of the story, the best-know version being that he belonged to a night watchman called John Gray, and when Gray died, the dog sat on his grave until he died himself 14 years later on 14 January 1872.
- The elephant house
A little further along George IV Bridge, this fine establishment serves (arguably) the best coffee in Edinburgh, however it’s more famous for its regular literary customers, which include JK Rowling, Alexander McCall-Smith and Ian Rankin. It’s now promoted as “The Birth place of Harry Potter” and has spawned a new Edinburgh tradition; that of writing a message of Harry Potter fandom on its toilet walls.
- National Museum of Scotland.
A short walk from the elephant house, the National Museum of Scotland tells the story of Scotland from prehistory to present day. Rising up through the four storeys of the museum, the light-filled atrium of its Grand Gallery is one of Scotland’s most beautiful spaces, with soaring pillars and high windows. It’ll make you smile.
- Grass Market
Take a sharp right turn off George IV Bridge and follow the road round to the Greater Grassmarket area, home to some of the oldest and most photographed streets in Edinburgh.
The shopfronts are painted bright colours that stand out against the sandstone buildings and there are great views up towards the castle. There are lots of great little cafes, bars, and pubs and great little bookshops, gift shops and boutiques to explore.
- Edinburgh Castle
This majestic old structure is beautiful from all angles, and especially at night when it’s lit up. We followed a route up towards the castle starting at Princes Street Gardens, across The Mound and up the Royal Mile to take in the view from the top, on one side looking down on The Grassmarket, and the other to Princes Street Gardens.
- Holyrood Palace
At the opposite end of the Royal Mile to the Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is of course the official residence of the Queen in Scotland, so it’s still in Royal use.
Apparently during Holyrood Week (in Summer) the Queen entertains upwards of 8,000 guests here in a series of garden parties and formal engagements, but she’s not here right now so we can wander around in peace.
- Arthurs Seat.
Just past Holyrood Palace you can start to wind your way up 250m in elevation to the top of Arthur’s Seat, the huge mound of a hill that overlooks the city and dwarves the castle.
Amazingly, the day we climbed it, was possibly the clearest day in winter, and our view took in the entire city and possibly the entire length (in each direction) of the Firth of Forth.
- The Meadows.
I’m ending my Edinburgh story here, partly because we walked through The Meadows so many times during our stay, and also because this is where we spent our New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Avoiding the crowds at the huge street party in Princes Street Gardens (the headlining act at which was Lily Allen), we all attended our own little private parties before wandering down here at midnight to watch the fireworks display above Edinburgh Castle.
For more information on Hogmanay in Edinburgh, visit This Is Edinburgh.