If you are looking for something really special to do in Edinburgh at Christmas time, then a trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens should be at the top of your list. Since 2017, visitors to the Scottish capital have had the opportunity to attend an enchanting Christmas Illuminated Trail at the Botanical Gardens. We decided to go on Christmas Eve and what a magical experience it was!
We took our two kids as well as our relatives (it was our Christmas gift to them) and we all loved it. It was a great way to mark the start of the festive season and will likely become a family tradition! So we thought we’d share our experience with you:
What will you see?
The Botanics Illuminated Trail is an organised event that takes place in the evening after dusk and runs for about 5 weeks starting from around the third week of November (check the website for exact dates).
You’ll enter the Botanics at either of the two entrances – East Gate or West Gate – and once inside the gardens, you’ll find a clearly marked pathway that weaves through the trees and next to the ornamental flower beds. The atmosphere is really special as you discover and explore each light experience with many designed by well-known art studios.
Highlights for us were the “Tunnel of Light”, made up of thousands of spectacular micro lightbulbs (instagrammers eat your heart out) as well as the festive light projections against Inverleith house. The attractive glow of the “Scented Fire Garden” makes a great photograph and is a fab way to warm up. New in 2019 was the “Laser Garden” show that promised to impress with many coloured laser lights dancing in a theatrical mist.
About half way round is a little wooden cabin adorned with various Christmas decorations – this is actually the scene of a short Santa themed stage show with the man himself as well as actors dressed as elves. The kids loved it.
Can you eat and drink in the Gardens?
Of course! No festive celebration would be complete without a mug or two of mulled wine to warm your bones. Luckily there is plenty of chances to enjoy a refreshment along the way. It’s possible to buy spiced cider, mulled wine, hot chocolate and some light snacks, such as hot dogs from little wooden cabins in the gardens.
And for something special for both kids and adults try toasting your own marshmallows. The sugary delights come in tempting flavours such Christmas pudding, blueberry + sipsmith gin or even caramel popcorn + cranberry and are handmade. You’ll be provided with long wooden sticks which makes them perfect for toasting over the fire pits.
You can also head to the Terrace café or the East Gate Lodge to pick up a hot drink and a snack. Alternatively book a table at the John Hope Gateway Restaurant which is located at the West Gate Visitor Centre and is open between 5:30pm til 7pm on the light trail nights.
Where are the Botanic Gardens and how do you get there?
Slightly off the beaten track, the gardens are around a 20 minute walk from the city centre (1 mile north of Princes Street) and there are also excellent bus services that will take you right to the entrance.
East Gate entrance: Lothian buses 8, 23 and 27 from the city centre
West Gate entrance (John Hope Gateway): Lothian buses 29, 42 and 24 from Stockbridge
You can also come by car, however, we suggest that you opt for entrance on the West Gate as there is more on-street parking available in that area.
Do I need to book tickets and how much do they cost?
At present, you will need to buy your tickets online ahead of your visit.
For advance tickets, it will cost £19 for an adult, £13 for a child and family ticket (2 adults + 2 children) will set you back £60. Your ticket will indicate whether you should enter the event by the West or East Gate, it can get busy so try to arrive a little early. There is also a booking fee of £2 (print at home tickets) or £2.50 (sent by post) that applies.
In previous years, you could also buy tickets over the phone and on the night at the box office although be aware that due to the current restrictions caused by the pandemic, ticket purchase options are limited so keep checking their website for up-to-date information.
When is it on?
The Christmas Light Trail starts on 26th November 2020 and runs until 3rd January 2021. It’s closed on Christmas Day as well as a number of other days which are indicated on their website.
Entry is available from 4:20pm until 8pm with specific time slots every 20 minutes. Again, check their website for details.
How long does it take to visit the Botanics Christmas light trail?
The trail is a one mile long pathway with many magical attractions to stop at, explore and enjoy along the way. We were booked on a 6 o’clock slot and were finished by 7:30pm so we reckon that to fully enjoy the experience, we recommend that you allow 1hr 30mins for your visit.
Is the Botanics Illuminated Trail suitable for children?
Absolutely! It’s the perfect family outing and will get everyone into the festive spirit. Little ones will enjoy the magical atmosphere, watching a Santa show and toasting marshmallows over the fire pit. We went with our children who were aged 9 and 11 at the time and we saw plenty of families with kids of all ages. Just remember to wrap up warm as little tots will likely get cold – especially if they’re in buggies. We were lucky with the weather – although cold – we didn’t experience any rain but it’s worth checking the forecast and dressing accordingly.
This is a very unique and memorable event to enjoy as part of your Edinburgh Christmas experience, and a welcome break from the Christmas market. It’s ideal for kids and adults of all ages, just make you sure book ahead to avoid disappointment. Check out the RGBE’s short trailer to get a wee taste of what lies in store!
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